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        Romance

Tyger, Tyger_p
By Anne Louise Bannon

Set in Los Angeles, teacher Brenda Finnegan and her animal trainer boyfriend Bob Zebrinski witness a kidnapping. Brenda decides she must do what she can to find the people behind the crime and the victim's subsequent murder.

ISBN 978-1-61386-192-9 Romance/Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter One

“It started when they shot my father,” I told Bob.

We were strolling down Ocean Front Boulevard in Santa Monica. Not the most auspicious atmosphere for heart-wrenching confessions, but that was Bob’s fault. He has this nasty habit of getting me into utterly casual settings, where I’m off my guard, then turning my guts inside out.

“Your father?” His interest picked up.

“He’s not the issue,” I said quickly. “The violence is.”

“Oh.”

It was a warm evening in July. We’d had a late dinner, and the sun was sinking into the ocean across the street, giving everything a warm orange glow.

My latest spill had Bob nodding sympathetically as he ambled along, hands in jeans pockets, with his green satin letterman jacket hanging over his elbow. Complete nonchalance. You’d think I was complaining about a stapler that didn’t work instead of the violence that has dogged me for last twelve years of my life.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“I know. I just don’t buy your excuse is all.” His arm swung out and landed on my shoulders.

“It’s not an excuse. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that since we’ve been friends, we’ve witnessed three armed robberies and a murder?”

“What I object to is you calling yourself a magnet for violence.”

I snorted. “What else do you call it?”

“Dumb luck, engineered for a Higher Purpose, which, my dear Brenner, is not to give you an excuse for tearing yourself down and avoiding commitments.”

“I’m still seeing you.”

He laughed. “It’s taken me two years to get this far.” He suddenly stopped. “Whoa. Look at that baby.”

He gazed through the window I’d just passed. It belonged to a restaurant, a mom and pop place trying to look trendy with hanging plants and a Cajun menu. Neither of the above had caught Bob’s attention, though. There was a fish tank in the window, filled with live cat fish, including one old monster big enough to feed three families.

“Wonder if he’s for sale.” Bob’s eyes gleamed as the fish wound its way around its fellows.

He had not forgotten my problem. It was merely on hold while his other passion took over for the moment. That, and Bob knows when to back off. He led me into the restaurant.

In Southern California, everyone’s a hyphenate. The owner-cook-maitre d’ greeted us as we came in. Bob went straight for the fish tank.

“How much you want for the bruiser?” Bob is tricky, but rarely subtle.

“He’s not for sale,” said the owner-cook-maitre d’. “You’d never be able to eat that much.”

“I hate fish,” said Bob. “I want him for my cat. You got a pan big enough to keep him in water?”

“All that for one cat?” The man laughed. “Must be pretty big pussy. Bigger than my Hercules?”

Hercules, happily defying the Health Department, wandered out from behind a table. Even accounting for the gross amounts of black and white hair, he was immense. His head, alone, was bigger than my fist. Bob squatted and clucked. I’ve yet to meet the animal that could resist him. Hercules was no exception. Bob chuckled.

“He’s a big one.” He stroked the body. “Good muscle tone. How much for the fish?”

“Hercules couldn’t eat that fish. You can’t tell me your cat is bigger.”

Bob shrugged and stood. “Okay, I won’t. But that fish will barely make a snack for Sweetness. How much?”

I tried not to giggle. Bob loves putting people on about his cats. Not that they believe him when he tells them the truth.

“For a tale like that, fifty dollars.” The owner-cook-maitre d’ laughed, shaking his head.

“Great.” Bob snatched his wallet, then paused. If there was more than ten dollars cash in it, I would’ve eaten the fish raw. He grinned sheepishly. “I wonder if my MasterCard will go through.”

“Never mind.” Trying not to laugh, I got out my wallet. “I’ll put it on my card. You can pay me back when you get your check cashed.”

“Now, Brenner, you don’t have to.”

“It’s been a while since I spoiled Sweetness.” I handed over the card. “I may as well.”

I used to tease Bob about hanging around me because I kept my charge cards paid off. Until that resulted in an agonizing session over my self-image.

“So why did the violence begin with your dad?” he asked when we got back to the sidewalk. He had the pan holding the fish.

I shifted. “He was killed in a convenience store robbery. I told you that. You sure you don’t want me to carry the fish?”

“You can hold it while I get the van open.”

We’d been headed for Bob’s van when we stopped. Sweetness was inside, trashing the shocks. For some reason, she let out one of her loud grumblies, scaring the shit out of a young woman passing the van. She had a firm grip on a little girl who looked like she was around five or six. Bob handed me the pan and dug out his keys.

“What is in there?” the woman gasped as Bob unlocked the back. I struggled with the catfish.

“Just my kitty,” teased Bob, with a grin.

“It, uh, sounds like a lion.” The woman, a rabbity looking brunette, did not want to be talking to us. Yet, she stayed, making conversation in spite of it, and the bored little girl.

“No, it doesn’t. Lions roar.” Bob opened the doors. “This is a Bengal tiger. Hello, Sweetness, baby.”

Sweetness, at least three hundred and sixty pounds bigger than Hercules, put her massive face up against the bars across the back of the van. A tongue that could strip wallpaper flicked out and over her nose. She’d smelled the catfish and fixed her eyes on the jiggling pan I held.

“I’d hate to have him looking at me like that,” said the woman.

“Me see!” yelped the child.

She wrenched her arm from the woman’s grasp. Bob put his hands out to stop her, but she approached slowly.

“Apphia!” the woman yipped, then smiled awkwardly. “She’s very good with animals. We are all God’s creatures, you know. There are many good lessons to be learned from tigers, if you would study the Bible, you know.”

Bob kept one wary eye on Apphia, as she and Sweetness gazed at each other.

“No tigers in the Bible,” said Bob, cheerfully. “I already checked, unless, you know, you treat them like lions, you know. Cats are cats, you know. And this one is hungry, aren’t you, Sweetness, baby? Brenner, you want to bring Sweetness her snack?”

In the shuffle, the woman slid back from the van. Bob maneuvered Apphia to where she could still see, but was well out of Sweetness’s reach. Together, Bob and I wrestled with the aluminum pan, while he kept one shoulder on the gate. Not that Sweetness would ever bolt. But she’s still a cat, and cats, if anything, are unpredictable.

The van rocked as the tiger pounced on her treat. The fish flopped around the floor while Sweetness teased it. Apphia laughed.

The woman screamed. I turned. Violence. Again.

Two men shoved the woman into a light colored Mercedes, and jumped in after her. The car was already moving as the doors slammed shut. Seconds later, I lost it in the sea of red tail lights.

Bob slammed the van doors closed, and bolted for the front.

“They’re gone!” I hollered.

Apphia almost was, herself. Bob ran for the sidewalk, and caught her half a block later.

“My god, did you see that?” a female voice gasped. She had that ageless, face-lifted look you see a lot of in Southern California. “They just took her. That poor woman.”

“Call the police,” I snapped. I’d seen too much of this sort of thing to lose my head.

A crowd collected. Bob returned, holding Apphia’s head to his shoulder. Sweetness growled loudly.

“Quiet!” Bob slapped the side of the van.

Murmurs rippled through the crowd as they tried to figure out what he had in there. It took the cops fifteen minutes to show. Most of the crowd had left by then, except the woman with the lifted face. Her name was Florence Woodfield.

Most of the cops I know are LAPD, since that’s where I usually run into my trouble. These were Santa Monica PD, since Santa Monica, contrary to popular belief, is a city unto itself. Officer J. Smalley was the senior and a woman, a no-nonsense type with short hair. Officer R. Diaz had that earnest rookie feel about him. Just what I needed.

Worse yet, there was no reason to believe a crime had taken place, only the word of three adults and a traumatized child. Apphia wouldn’t say a word. It was eerie, really. She didn’t cry, she didn’t whimper. She just went blank, as if it didn’t matter that her mother had been grabbed and taken away.

Woodfield managed to tell her tale in a reasonably coherent way, although she did say that the car was a dark Jag. Bob hadn’t seen the car, and didn’t say what we were doing at the back of the van. Sweetness had long since settled down, ignoring the siren when the cops pulled up. The lazy butt was probably napping.

I gave the officers the license number, and the correct details on the car.

“You think your daughter saw anything?” Smalley asked me.

“My daughter?” I asked. “Oh. Damn. No. She’s not ours. It was her mom that was kidnapped.”

“I was showing her my cat,” said Bob. “In the back of the van. We were outside.”

Smalley gave us a skeptical glare. “I thought you said you didn’t know the victim.”

“We’d never seen her before,” said Bob. “Sweetness got noisy as we came up, and scared her. She asked what it was, and we got to talking.”

“Sweetness,” repeated Smalley.

“My cat,” said Bob. “I’m an animal trainer. I got the permits for her. My friend has a private beach, and Sweetness likes to go swimming, so we took her down there for the day, and stopped here for dinner.”

“Your cat likes to go swimming?” chuckled Diaz.

“It’s not unusual for—uh…” Bob paused.

“Let’s get a look in the back of that van,” snapped Smalley.

“I’d better do it,” said Bob quickly. “I’m not sure I locked the gate in the commotion.”

He handed Apphia to me, then opened the back of the van. Sweetness was already on her feet.

“That’s a tiger,” Smalley said.

“They’re cats.” Bob locked the gate and checked it.

“Oh, my god,” groaned Woodfield. “I just thought it was some weird car alarm.”

“I’m an animal trainer,” Bob said again. “I work big cats for the movies. Here’s my card. Remember ‘Would Be Adam’? Cliff Englewood’s film?”

“That’s that tiger!” Diaz grinned. “His name is Sweetness?”

“Her name is,” said Bob. “She’s quite an actress. Had even the zoo believing she was a male.” He grinned nervously at Smalley. “She’s really very gentle, and, believe me, I’ve been working big cats long enough to know you don’t take chances.”

Smalley bought it. Well, Bob is blonde, blue-eyed, nice shoulders and chest, with a gorgeous tight ass. The world’s lucky he’s so religious, because with his baby face, he’d have it made as a con man. Not that Bob was lying. He doesn’t mess around when it comes to his cats, and he carries his permits with him.

“So the girl is not your daughter,” said Smalley.

“No,” Bob replied.

“All we know is that her name is Apphia,” I said.

Apphia buried her face in my shoulder.

“Diaz, get a call out to child services for a bed,” ordered Smalley. After getting Woodfield’s name and address and dismissing her, the officer came over and gently touched Apphia’s back.

“Apphia,” she said with more kindness than I would have expected. “Honey, we know you’re scared. But can you tell us your mommy’s name?”

Apphia grabbed on tighter.

“Sweetheart, we want to help you,” Smalley continued. “And we want to help your mommy. Can you tell us your last name?”

Apphia wouldn’t budge. Smalley kept trying, and Bob tried. Even I tried. None of us could get the little waif to say a word. She didn’t tremble or act scared. If she hung on Bob or me, it was more out of defiance than fear.

Unfortunately, Diaz came back with the news that the McLaren Home was filled to the rafters again. That’s where they usually put kids who’ve been traumatized or abused, and it would have been ideal for Apphia. The only place available was a group home in Echo Park run by a widow named Amarilla Wilson. My colleagues and I referred to her as the schoolmarm from hell. Diaz and Smalley would take Apphia there in the squad car.

Smalley turned to us. “I’ll need your names and address.”

“Robert Zebrinski,” he said, then spelled it. “The address is on the card. Call first. I sometimes let the cats roam.”

Smalley made a note. “And you, ma’am? Same name?”

“No!” I yelped. “Uh. It’s Brenda Finnegan. Like the song.”

Both Smalley and Diaz looked puzzled.

“I keep telling you that reference is too dated,” snickered Bob.

I spelled it. Without melody.

Smalley clicked her pen. “Well, we’ll hand this over to the detectives. With luck, someone will report her missing. A small kid. Somebody’s bound to notice. Stay in touch.”

We had to pry Apphia off of Bob. The officers put her in the car and away they rolled.

“She never asked my address,” I said.

Bob’s chuckle rolled out from deep in his throat.

“Ah, the misguided values of our society. She probably figured if you weren’t terrified of Sweetness, you had to be living with me.”

“Hm.” We got in the van, and Bob pulled out. “I told you I attract violence.”

“Damn it, Brenner, you teach high school in South Central LA. What do you expect?”

“You should’ve seen what happened when I taught in Palos Verdes. Damned senior blew his brains all over first period algebra.”

“Higher Purpose. Like tonight. You stayed clearheaded, got an accurate description of the car, and the license number. Now, that poor woman has a chance.” He reached over and held my hand. “It’s obvious things happen to you. But you keep hiding behind that, and it’s ridiculous. Okay. Your father died a violent death. You’ve seen a lot of violent crimes. You’re scared of getting hurt. Who isn’t? But, Brenner, I’ve survived two maulings and a major automobile accident. When I go, you can be sure God, Himself, called me, and it was my time. And if God calls me, He’ll be there to take care of you.”

I didn’t say anything. When Bob gets religious, there isn’t much to be said. It’s easy for him. If he gets mauled, he can write it off to the perverse nature of cats. It’s the way they are, and you don’t dare take a big cat for granted, even Sweetness.

But how do you handle the pure malevolence we humans throw at each other? I never could answer that, and heaven knows, I’ve seen plenty of it. A perverse nature? We’re supposedly intelligent beings, able to rise above our baser instincts. That may be why Bob and I get on so well. I don’t dare take a human being for granted.

$19.95
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House on the Bluff
Legacy Series, Vol. 1

by Elena Dorothy Bowman

The last voice heard from the house was an 18th Century ancestor's blood-curdling screams in the dark of night. What was it about the "house" that made people tremble? Why had no one dared venture near it since 1789? Had it not been there for centuries, tall, empty, beckoning? Abigail Adams Pierce could not envision that the information she stumbled upon would take her on a hair-raising journey she would never forget. A journey that once started would have no turning back, even at the risk of losing her life in the physical sense and being trapped within the spiritual realm, which had invaded the Pierce House. And nothing, in her wildest imagination, could have prepared her for the effect her discovery would have on her life from that moment on.

ISBN 1-59431-363-6 Romantic Suspense/Mystery/Thriller

Cover Art © David P. Bowman



Prologue

Situated in a dense forest, a scroll, in White Stone Abbey, which held the secret to the present Pierce House, lay hidden in a chamber behind an altar, protected, down through the ages until the18th Century, by brown-robed monks. The papyrus, enclosed in a white leather hand-bound sheath, emblazoned with a Crest and a Cross, had been consecrated and sealed with a Royal Imprint.

Sometime during the 18th Century, those who had no fear of God, or man, plundered the Abbey. The case was stolen, the scroll removed, and the seal broken. On the hand-printed, quill- scripted parchment were words that foretold the future of a dwelling, its surrounding properties and, through generations, its final location. Granted by Divine Decree, to a mortally wounded Noble Knight and all his descendants in perpetuity, this Royal Boon was awarded in tribute for his sacrifice in the service of God and King.

The bequest, and all it contained, passed from one generation to another. With the seal of both a reigning King and Archbishop’s blessing, along with the request of the Royal Knight’s descendants, the Royal Grant was eventually transferred to consecrated ground in a distant land across the seas.

When the Nobleman’s descendants left England for the Colonies, they took with them a small bronze cask containing a relic of the Noble Knight. To lay claim to the consecrated land forever, the Relic was to be buried within the foundation of their home in the new land-its final resting place.

The papyrus wound its way to America and into the hands of vandals. From the latitude and longitude inscribed within the scroll, these raiders knew the location of the grant and set out to find it. Word reached them about the priceless articles that were purchased over time, to furnish the now existing dwelling, and the tragic death at sea of the most recent in its long line of owners. This spurred them on. It was their intention, then, to use the sacred document as a means of obtaining possession of the property and all within it.

Since the residence was built on an isolated bluff above the bay, a sailing ship could easily slip its way up the cove away from prying eyes, and pillage the place. In order for these marauders to keep their dastardly and diabolical act secret, any vessel, along with its crew, entering the harbor, would surreptitiously vanish. It didn’t take long before the inlet became known as the Bay of Death and, from the 18th Century to the present, no one dared sail nor moor their boats in the beautiful blue pristine sound.

With the bay secured, the buccaneers launched a full-scale assault on the house on the bluff. With visions of riches clouding their minds, they invaded and ransacked indiscriminately. But, to their complete horror, the house fought back. It restored everything to its untarnished condition, at the same time, assimilating the transgressors within its confines, while the sailing ship, anchored in the bay, slipped quietly beneath the sea, taking with it the sacred papyrus stolen from the White Stone Abbey.

Only the Holy Knight’s descendants, however remote, connected with, and in-line to, the prophecy could claim ownership of the property and all it contained, by right of succession. Any violation or attempted usurpation of the sacred bequest or authority, whether intentional or accidental, would only bring misery and gloom to its perpetrators and, as punishment, doom such brigands to spend an eternity as non-entities within the confines of the estate for violating the edict of the God-centered prophesy.

The energetic memory that encompassed the dwelling and its surrounding area was in tune with those not yet born, whose own vibrational energy stemmed from the passing down through the ages. To ensure the authenticity of the true line, it was ordained that the descendent who opted to claim ownership must remain in the house alone, enduring whatever precarious events occurred until such time as the house permitted the intrusion of others-a champion, but especially a Consort. Failure to adhere to the doctrine would negate that descendant’s right of ownership forever and could, instead, claim that person for its own as it would with any interloper.

Of the two, only the true Consort’s vibrational energy passed down through time would be in-line with, and connected to, the prophesy, as well as the vibrational energy of the house, and to its future occupant. And, it was the Consort who would be the vessel necessary to ensure the prophecy’s manifesto coming to fruition.

According to the Legacy, the entire estate would be within an extremely strong, eternal, energy vortex. Since we are all energy and the energy of that vortex is timeless, nothing within it ages as we perceive aging to be. As a living entity, it would bring forth a time-capsule of History, as well as forming visions of people, places, and things that did not exist, to thwart those who might become too curious or those whose intentions were ominous, to intimidate a descendant who didn’t have the stamina to withstand the onslaught manifested by the house itself, or one whose only purpose was to plunder. Since, in reality, time and space have no meaning, but simply are, all things are possible.

To the day Abigail entered her ancestral home, with its promise of fulfillment, it maintained its enchantment and its ageless elegance, standing as a silent sentinel waiting for the one long destined to enter along with her Consort, to claim ownership. At that moment in time, the papyrus would physically appear as a sign and a blessing to the rightful heirs.



Chapter One



Abigail stood against her red Jeep Cherokee parked at the edge of the gravel driveway of the deserted mansion. The wind blowing out of the Northeast across Adam’s Point flattened her long-sleeved white blouse and new navy blue pantsuit against her body, whipping her hair around her face while she desperately tried to keep its long strands from blocking her view of the scene spread before her. Her unbuttoned jacket took on the appearance of a navy blue sail flapping in a gale behind her. The widow’s walk perched high above, struck her as a crow’s nest on a sailing vessel of long ago. Shading her eyes, she swept the dunes to the ocean beyond and back to the house. A flutter of a curtain from the third floor caught her attention. She looked again, but saw nothing. Must be tired, she thought. I’m beginning to imagine things. She laughed.

Her laughter, echoing over the dunes, stopped short as the curtain on the second floor moved ever so slightly. When she looked again, all was still. She shook her head. Without knowing why, her heart suddenly began to race as an excitement arose within her being. Spellbound, she held tightly onto the front of her jacket and to a broken picket. As she stood transfixed, with her gaze upon the house, her long dark hair blew unrestrained in the wind.

It didn’t look any different from other stately houses she had seen on her travels along the shoreline and inlet seas of New England. It still had an air of dignity about it with itswhite, clapboard-covered, multi-tiered and dormer-studded roofs, and its blue shuttered windows. And, it seemed to be easily accessible by front, back, side, or basement doors. As always, there were the large floor-to-ceiling windows, first and second floor wrap-around porches, and a widow’s walk sitting high atop the house. But then, too, there was a white picket fence in disrepair, running along the front of the property, its broken slats standing aloft, weaving in and out of the holding rails like drunken sailors on shore leave. To complete its demeanor, the gate squeaked unattended as it swung free from restraint. On the top floor, from a shattered window, curtains periodically flowed through the break as gusts of wind blew wantonly through it.

The house sat imperviously on a bluff, above windswept dunes that seemed to drift down to the sea. The open ocean beckoned as its waves washed against the fragile shoreline. What was it about this place that caused one to silently shiver, then shudder violently, and swiftly pass, always looking back over one’s shoulder until they were a safe distance away? No one could be sure. Was it because it stood unoccupied for decades, appearing so alone and forbidding? Or was it because the last person to stay there had vanished into the night after a blood-curdling scream had permeated the air? Something had happened here. Yet, to this day, no one was really sure what.

Abigail felt a compulsion to move forward toward the house. Though her head told her “no,” she wasn’t listening to her head, only to the challenge that was in her heart.

In a rash moment, she was standing inside the grand main entrance hall. Before her, the stairs rose to the second level and above. Her heart thumped as she felt herself being propelled forward step by step to the second floor. The click of her heels echoed throughout the house.

From the darkened second floor hallway, she looked furtively around at the closed doors leading to the rooms behind them and shuddered. Then she looked up. The stairs led even further. She followed them to the third floor. Again, the doors were closed to the rooms hidden behind them. What am I doing here?

The light flickering in from atop the house sought her attention. She again moved forward, on up a ladder, and out to the widow’s walk above. Staring at the vast ocean before her, she wondered about the people who had once lived here, and who they might have been searching for as they scanned the ocean, waiting for the sailing ships to return to shore.

Abigail felt a tap on her shoulder and turned. No one was there. She laughed silently as she shook her head. My imagination again.

Once more, her eyes sought the sea before her. There wasn’t a single ship in sight. No sails. No modern vessels. Nothing—just the clear blue ocean. Its waves were washing gently upon the dunes and back again into the waters, taking with them a part of the fragile land.

It was dark when she looked away from the sea and back into the house. If she were going to get out, she would have to make her way through a lightless house. Then again, she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave. She would wait for morning. At least here, on the widow’s walk, she would be safe. Wouldn’t she?
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Whispers
A Novel of Romantic Suspense

by Nancy Madison

In the wee hours of her wedding day, whispering wakes New York heiress Layne Hamilton. Investigating, Layne finds herself in the darkened hall outside her guest room. Through a closed door, she hears her fiance and maid-of-honor planning her death.

Realizing they are in bed together, Layne uses that as her excuse to cancel the wedding and flees south to Virginia. Freddy pursues his runaway bride, but when she rejects his attempts at reconciliation, Freddy loses his self-control and Max Carter, the county sheriff, comes to her rescue.

Max hopes Freddy will give up and go back to New York, but Freddy, desperate due to gambling debts, needs Layne's fortune too much.

ISBN 1-59431-322-9 Romance/Mystery/Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



The night before her New York City wedding, heiress Layne Hamilton dreamed she heard someone whispering in her West Central Park apartment. After she opened her eyes, the whispering continued. Puzzled as to who it might be, she raised her head off the pillow, listening.

Straining to hear, she sat up in bed. There it was again. Now she could distinguish two voices. The deeper one sounded like her fiancé Freddy. The higher voice belonged to Trish, her friend and maid-of-honor in tomorrow’s wedding.

There must be an emergency. That was the only reason for Freddy to be in her apartment tonight of all nights.

Turning on a bedside light, Layne put on her robe and slippers and left her bedroom to find out what happened.

The guest room Trish occupied that night was close to the front door. Trish must have heard Freddy’s knock and let him in. Perhaps she didn’t want to disturb Layne. A busy day lay ahead for Layne and Freddy with a morning wedding then a luncheon reception before their flight to Tahiti.

Don’t turn on the hall lights. A silent voice warned her. Aware she was probably overreacting to a situation that would be explained in a few minutes, Layne padded down the dark corridor toward the guest room and the sound of Trish and Freddy’s voices.

Their voices grew louder. Be careful.

Layne stopped to listen outside the guest room before knocking on the door.

Then Freddy said something that froze her in her tracks.

“Don’t look at me like that.” Freddy spoke to Trish. “You know what we agreed. And it must appear to be an accident.”

“Hush. Suppose she heard.” Trish’s low voice replied.

“You worry too much,” he said. “Come here.”

There was a rustling sound followed by silence.

Stunned, Layne managed to stumble back to her own room. Lock the door? Not a good idea. They mustn’t know she was on to them.

Uncertain what to do, she huddled under the covers, shocked and trembling. No wonder. She’d just overheard her bridegroom and her best friend plotting her death.

She wiped away her tears. So that was how it was. Freddy lied. He didn’t love her. He loved tall, curvy Trish.

In the back of her mind, Layne had always wondered how he could possibly want her with Trish around. The gorgeous redhead exuded sexuality the moment she walked into a room.

Layne prided herself on being able to see things as they were. And she knew her own limitations. Five foot four, a heart-shaped face, brown eyes and hair, she was no competition for tall and sexy Trish with her flaming red curls.

The two people she trusted most had deceived her. Well, she wouldn’t fall into their trap. Still, she couldn’t march into Trish’s room and announce she was on to them. If they’d kill her after the wedding, they might be dangerous before it took place.

Yet, if she happened to find them together in bed, that would be a good excuse to cancel the wedding. With that thought in mind, Layne wiped away her tears, climbed out of bed and marched back down the hall.

At the guest room door, she sucked in her breath. She threw open the door, found the light switch on the wall and turned on the ceiling fixture.

The light dazzled her eyes. Blinking hard, she saw Freddy and Trish on the bed. Their heads turned and they were looking in her direction. Layne screamed.

Before Freddy could jump out of bed and stop her, Layne ran back to her own room. This time she slammed the door with all her might then locked it.

Her mind racing, she fought down panic while deciding on a course of action. Then she picked up the phone on the nightstand. Punching in the extension for the guest bedroom, she waited for someone to answer.

Trish picked up the phone. “Hello, hello. Well, talk to me, Layne. I know it’s you.” Sarcasm replaced Trish’s customary sugar-sweet tone, like Layne had done something really stupid.

“I want both of you out of my home. If you’re still here in ten minutes, I’m calling the police.”

“Wait a sec, baby doll…” The voice changed to Freddy’s Southern drawl.

“You heard me.” Hanging up, Layne glanced at the clock. Two-thirty. She’d give them until two-forty. No, be generous. It wasn’t every day you lost a fortune. Make that two forty-five.

Layne dressed while she was waiting. At two-forty, there was a light tap on her bedroom door. She didn’t answer.

Five minutes later the front door slammed. She waited a few minutes to give them a chance to take the elevator. Then she thought of the night watchman downstairs.

The apartment she’d inherited from her grandmother was in the Majestic. With large rooms, hardwood floors, fireplaces and terraces, it had long been considered one of the most prestigious residential addresses in the city. Though her owner’s maintenance fee was steep, it included excellent security.

Layne punched in a number. A man’s voice answered.

“Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss. What can I do for you?”

“Did you just see my fiance and girl friend leaving?”

“Want me to catch them? They’re probably in the garage.”

“No, thank you. By the way, Mr. Jenkins?”

“Yes, Miss?”

“Make a note, please. As of right now, those two are not to be allowed access to my floor.”

“Yes, Miss.”

If Jenkins was curious, it didn’t show in his voice.

Relieved to have avoided a face-to-face confrontation, Layne visited the guest room. It stood vacant, the sheets on the bed rumpled, an ashtray full of cigarette butts.

She winced, seeing the crude message Trish left behind. On one wall, in large shiny red letters, presumably lipstick, the word “Bitch” was printed.

That room would need a fresh coat of paint. Layne shook her head. The woman never had any class. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed that earlier. Maybe she was just too grief struck, too lonely after her grandmother died following a long illness.

All of a sudden, she yearned to get away but didn’t know where to go. Not to Tahiti where Freddy and she planned to fly today for their honeymoon.

There must be somewhere you can go. Her grandmother had gently nagged her for years. Go to Virginia and visit your roots. Layne’s great-great-grandfather had migrated from Virginia to New York City after the Civil War. In New York he’d made his fortune in banking. And his family remained in the city.

All at once she made up her mind. Virginia, here I come.

Eager to get away, Layne dialed the airline that Freddy and she would have flown to Tahiti. Explaining there’d been a change in plans, she cancelled the reservations and purchased a seat on a noon flight to Richmond.

With that done, she grabbed her designer silk-and-lace wedding gown off its hanger on the closet door. Stuffing it, veil and all, into a plastic trash bag, she left it, note attached, for the weekly cleaning service. Someone else might enjoy wearing it. She never wanted to see it again.

Moving on, she unpacked her suitcase, shoving her Pacific resort clothes back in the closet and refilling the suitcase with casual outfits suitable for Virginia, jeans and sweaters, a dress or two and some walking shoes. How she’d spend her time down south, she had no idea yet it did not matter. All she wanted was to escape.

Maybe she should consider changing employers. A good suspense editor was always in demand at the publishing houses. That idea she entertained for all of one minute. Then she reminded herself of the four years she’d invested in her firm since college, including many late nights reading manuscripts. And the hours she’d spent with authors, working with them, helping them smooth their novels’ rough spots.

Trish had joined Layne’s firm six months ago as a secretary to one of the publishers.

Layne shrugged, not feeling charitable towards the woman who’d stolen her fiancé and been his accomplice in a hideous scheme. Let Trish change jobs if she felt uncomfortable being around Layne.

One thing was sure, Freddy better keep away from her. If he didn’t, she’d tell the police about his scheme. Of course it would be her word against the two of them. Freddy could always say he’d dropped her for Trish and Layne was trying to strike back at them.

The phone rang, stopped and rang again. She didn’t answer. At daybreak, she couldn’t wait any longer. She checked the apartment once more then took the elevator to the ground floor.

“Good morning Miss Hamilton.” George McGregor, a tall, graying Scot in an immaculate maroon uniform and the building’s senior doorman, greeted her in the front lobby. “Isn’t this the big day?”

Layne hated to spoil her old friend’s fine mood. Still, he needed to know. “There’s been a change in plans, George. I’ve cancelled the wedding.” Hopefully he wouldn’t press her for the details. Her composure was tentative at best.

“I see.” He gazed kindly at her. “Anything I can do?”

A flurry of affection filled Layne, easing her pain. Always available when needed, George had helped her with countless problems since she moved in with her grandmother, following the death of her parents in an automobile accident. Recently George had grieved along with her when Nana, her last surviving relative, died.

“I’m on my way to Virginia for a few days. My family comes from there. Nana always wanted me to go back for a visit.”

“Ah, Virginia should be beautiful right now.” George seemed to be making an effort to lift her spirits. “It’s April so the cherry blossoms should be in bloom.”

She nodded. There was no need to inform the old Scot that the famous cherry trees bloomed around the Reflection Pool in Washington, D.C., not across the Potomac in Virginia.

“Do you have a number where you can be reached in case of an emergency?” George’s furrowed brow indicated his concern.

Layne shook her head. “I’ll call you when I know where I’m staying.” She patted his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

“The last conversation I had with your grandmother, I promised her to look out for you.” He hesitated. “Excuse me. I don’t mean to intrude. It’s not like I’m part of your family.”

“With Nana gone, I don’t have any family that I know of, except you, George.” She tiptoed and kissed his cheek.

The old man flushed. “Thank you for that.” He heaved a deep sigh. “Well, we don’t want you to miss your flight so let me get that taxi.” He stepped off the curb and blew his whistle. The first of two yellow cabs waiting down the block whizzed to the front of the elegant old building.

Layne stood by while George loaded her suitcase into the vehicle and helped her into the back seat. Leaning into the taxi, he reminded her of her promise. “Don’t forget to let me know where you are.”

“I will.” She waved to him as the taxi driver edged into the morning traffic. “LaGuardia, please. Take me to the American Airlines Terminal.” Sitting back, she tried to relax.

The driver nodded and gave the rush hour traffic his undivided attention. Thank goodness. She wasn’t good at small talk with strangers.

***

A few hours later Layne had checked in at the ticket counter and boarded a Super 80, taking her place by a window. The aisle seat remained vacant until right before takeoff. At the last moment, a large breathless woman squeezed into the space. Meeting Layne’s gaze, the woman flashed a bright smile.

If you were too friendly on a plane, some passengers would talk your ear off. With that in mind, Layne nodded briskly then pulled a manuscript from her shoulder bag and began to read.

The new author’s story caught her attention. Soon she became absorbed in a cleverly woven tale of suspense.

Rustling paper broke her concentration when her neighbor folded the newspaper she brought aboard and Layne braced herself for unwanted conversation. She was relieved when the other woman turned to a crossword puzzle, making no attempt to talk.

In the main cabin, people in business attire prevailed, yet there were a number of passengers dressed more casually. Vacationers, she surmised.

An older gentleman two rows ahead on the aisle bothered her for some reason. He was dressed casually yet his rigid posture and somber manner indicated this was no holiday outing for him. A thick gray beard hid most of his face below a pair of strangely familiar hazel eyes when he passed her once on the way to the restroom. She reminded herself that many people had hazel eyes. Still, whenever she looked his way, he was watching her.

Layne smiled at her own foolishness. That’s what came of reading too many suspense novels. Between her position as an editor of suspense for a large publishing house in Manhattan and her own natural interest in the genre, she spent a lot of time reading suspense and intrigue.

Later she noticed the bearded gentleman chatting pleasantly with the lady seated next to him while he admired her snapshots.

The plane flew over Washington, D.C. with the congenial captain directing the passengers’ attention to the various national monuments. Minutes later the Super 80 crossed the Potomac River into northern Virginia. First they flew over suburban communities. After they’d passed a certain point, settlement was less dense. As the Virginia countryside unfolded below, Layne gazed down on pine forests intersected by highways and small towns and villages.

Marking her place, Layne tucked the aspiring author’s manuscript back in her bag, settled back in her seat and closed her eyes. As long as she’d kept busy, she could avoid thinking of the reason for this solitary flight on what would have been her wedding day. Now her thoughts traveled back to last night.

The rehearsal for the wedding had gone well. Afterwards, Freddy’s three groomsmen, waiters at the restaurant where he worked when not looking for parts in off-Broadway productions, led him off to the traditional bachelor dinner. Layne and Trish shared a quiet supper with her two other attendants in a restaurant near her apartment building.

As soon as they’d finished dining, Layne and Trish returned to Layne’s apartment in the Majestic near the Park. Layne needed to finish packing for the flight to Tahiti.

As she checked her luggage contents, she could hear the muffled sounds of a Survivor show coming from the direction of the guest bedroom.

All was quiet in the apartment by the time Layne took a shower and slipped into bed. Later her safe, normal world began to fall apart.

Hearing that hideous conversation and then finding Freddy and Trish together would have upset Layne even as a nightmare. It was terrifying because it really happened.

When she considered what a close call she had, escaping those two cold-blooded schemers, she became breathless. She was running away as fast as the plane could carry her.
$16.95
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Gatekeepers Realm
Legacy series, Vol 2

by Elena Dorothy Bowman

Any paranormal fan will enjoy...The talented author, Elena Dorothy Bowman, has created a world unlike any other with this tale and you will want to read the first book The House onthe Bluff also to enjoy the beginning of the experience. I'm pleased to recommend this book as something different in reading and definitely worth the time. Enjoy. I really did." —Anne K. Edwards, author of Death on Delivery and Journey into Terror.

ISBN 1-59431-451-9 Romance/ Paranormal / SciFi

Cover Art/David P. Bowman



Prologue

In a White Stone Abbey situated in a dense forest a scroll, which held the secret to the present Pierce House, lay hidden in a chamber behind an altar protected, down through the ages until the18th Century, by brown-robed monks. The papyrus enclosed in a white leather hand-bound sheath emblazoned with a Crest and a Cross, had been consecrated and sealed with a Royal Imprint.

Sometime during the 18th Century those who feared God, nor man, plundered the Abbey. The case was stolen, the scroll removed, and the seal broken. On the hand-printed, quill-scripted parchment were words that foretold the future of a dwelling, its surrounding properties and, through generations, its final location. Granted by Divine Decree to a mortally wounded Noble Knight and to all his descendants in perpetuity, this Royal Boon was awarded in tribute for his sacrifice in the service of God and King.

The bequest, and all it contained, passed from one generation to another. With the seal of both a reigning King and an Archbishop’s blessing, along with the request of the Royal Knight’s descendants, the Royal Grant was eventually transferred to consecrated ground in a distant land across the seas.

When the Nobleman’s descendants left England for the Colonies, they took with them a small bronze cask containing a relic of the Noble Knight. To lay claim to the consecrated land forever, the Relic was to be buried within the foundation of their home in the new land—its final resting place.

The papyrus wound its way to America and into the hands of vandals. From the map markings, meridians and celestial navigational notations inscribed within the scroll, these raiders were able to discover the location of the grant and set out to find it. Word reached them about the priceless articles that were purchased over time, to furnish the now existing dwelling, and of the tragic death at sea of the most recent of its long line of owners. This spurred them on. It was their intention, then, to use the sacred document as a means of obtaining possession of the property and all within it.

Since the residence was built on an isolated bluff above the bay, a sailing ship could easily slip its way up the cove away from prying eyes, and pillage the place. In order for these marauders to keep their dastardly and diabolical act secret, any vessel, along with its crew, entering the harbor, would surreptitiously vanish. It didn’t take long before the inlet became known as the Bay of Death and, from the 18th Century to the present, no one dared sail nor moor their boats in the beautiful blue pristine sound.

With the bay secured, the buccaneers launched a full-scale assault on the house on the bluff. With visions of riches clouding their minds, they invaded and ransacked indiscriminately. But, to their complete horror, the house fought back. It restored everything to its untarnished condition, at the same time, assimilating the transgressors within its confines, while the sailing ship, anchored in the bay, slipped quietly beneath the sea, taking with it the sacred papyrus stolen from the White Stone Abbey.

Only the Holy Knight’s descendants, however remote, connected with, and in-line to, the prophecy could claim ownership of the property and all it contained, by right of succession. Any violation or attempted usurpation of the sacred bequest or authority, whether intentional or accidental, would only bring misery and gloom to its perpetrators and, as punishment, doom such brigands to spend an eternity as non-entities within the confines of the estate for violating the edict of the God-centered prophesy.

The energetic memory that encompassed the dwelling and its surrounding area was in tune with those not yet born, whose own vibrational energy stemmed from the passing down through the ages. To ensure the authenticity of the true line, it was ordained that the descendent who opted to claim ownership must remain in the house alone, enduring whatever precarious events occurred until such time as the house permitted the intrusion of others—a champion, but especially a Consort. Failure to adhere to the doctrine would negate that descendant’s right of ownership forever and could, instead, claim that person for its own as it would with any interloper.

Of the two, only the true Consort’s vibrational energy, passed down through time, would be in-line with, and connected to, the prophesy, as well as the vibrational energy of the house, and to its future occupant. And, it was the Consort who would be the vessel necessary to ensure the prophecy’s manifesto coming to fruition.

According to the Legacy, the entire estate would be within an extremely strong, eternal, energy vortex. Since we are all energy and the energy of that vortex is timeless, nothing within it ages as we perceive aging to be. As a living entity, it would bring forth a time-capsule of History, as well as forming visions of people, places, and things that did not exist, to thwart those who might become too curious or those whose intentions were ominous, to intimidate a descendent who didn’t have the stamina to withstand the onslaught manifested by the house itself, or one whose only purpose was to plunder. Since, in reality, time and space have no meaning, but simply are, all things are possible.

To the day Abigail entered her ancestral home, with its promise of fulfillment, it maintained its enchantment and its ageless elegance, standing as a silent sentinel waiting for the one long destined to enter along with her Consort, to claim ownership. At that moment in time, the papyrus would physically appear as a sign and a blessing to the rightful heirs.

Having fulfilled the prophecy Abigail and her consort, Ethan, were now the true owners of The House On The Bluff. But still something was not quite right. The final conflict between the old and the new was just about to start—and no one was sure of where it would all end.



Chapter 1

Pacing back and forth on the Widow’s Walk overlooking the bay and the vast ocean beyond it, Abigail nervously awaited the arrival of her first guests. They were coming by boat—Ethan’s boat. Ethan and Tony Harridan, the town’s sheriff, a sometimes-permanent resident of the infamous Inn when he wasn’t working at his job on the mainland, met their first adventurers at the dock in Caleb’s Cove. Once the group had gathered, they were to board the Abigail for a sightseeing cruise along the coastline and the sea-lanes between the various islands to the Inn on Adam’s Point—all part of the package.

Knowing it would add an air of mystery to the Inn, formerly known as the foreboding Pierce House, Abigail and Ethan set the stage for their guests by having them approach the house overlooking the bay in a modern day, state-of-the-art, two-masted schooner. It was up to Ethan and Tony to mesmerize them with tales of Abigail’s and their own ominous beginnings in the house, and how the Inn came to be. The stories included: the relic of the Royal Knight, the significance of the special Land Grant displayed in a frame on the wall, the haunting strains emanating from an elusive Stradivarius, and the legend surrounding Adam’s Point. And, of course, there was the possibility of becoming entangled in a web the Inn might weave. Ethan brushed over the fact that he was the first person who dared sail into the Bay of Death alone. And announced that the guests now had the honor of being the first full ship’s complement to break the curse on the bay leading up to the old Pierce House, now officially known as The House On The Bluff.

* * *

Abigail smiled inwardly wishing she could see the looks on their faces while held in the grip of the stories. She was afraid her first guests might take one look at the place, even though it was all the publicity said it was, bolt and change their minds once the Abigail dropped anchor. Then Ethan and Tony would have to turn around and take them back to Caleb’s Cove, and she would be alone again on Adam’s Point. Well, not really.

The brochure assured those who sought a new and different vacation that they would not be disappointed. It trumpeted a vacation hideaway that had no electricity, no running water, pumps only, no central heating system, no phones and no television. It also boasted of fabulously appointed rooms, fireplaces, breathtaking ocean views, swimming, underwater caves, sailing, and a touch of suspense and intrigue.

The beautiful crystal clear bay had a special attraction. For centuries, it was noted, no ships, sail or otherwise, had ventured upon the waters leading to the House On The Bluff, due to the nefarious blot upon it. Since the time of the pirates, the sound had been known as the Bay of Death, not only for the ships who were ensnared within but also for those who sailed aboard them. Now, however, any brave soul who cared to dive beneath the sea, properly attired in protective gear, could take the time to wander among the wreckage of the ships that lay scattered on the bottom of the bay. Ships that had in times past attempted to sail into its waters—that is, if one had a mind to venture forth—at their own peril.

* * *
$16.95
451c
Format: 
World Enough And Time
A Historical Novel based on True Events

by Nancy Madison

At the end of the Civil War southerners look forward to more peaceful times. Instead the Reconstruction Period is a tumultuous era. Many former Confederates leave their homes in search of a better life. About twenty thousand southern residents sail to Brazil to homestead. In late 1865 Tom Mahon and his friend disinherited Virginian Randolph Carlisle finally reach Galveston after traveling cross-country from a Union prison in Maryland. Good-natured, trusting Tom is no match for clever, unscrupulous cardsharp Randolph to whom winning is everything. Meeting Tom’s dark-eyed sweetheart Mattie Ratliff, Randolph decides to steal her from Tom. He has Tom framed for a crime he didn’t commit then sails off to Brazil with Mattie and her family, leaving Tom in a Galveston jail.

ISBN 1-59431-589-2 Historical / Romance

Cover art by Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

Point Lookout, Maryland

January, 1865

Bayonet fixed, a grim Union soldier charged Tom Mahon as he tried to help a wounded comrade on a Virginia battlefield. Trapped, Tom squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself to die.

Seconds later when nothing happened, Tom woke. He sighed with relief finding himself back in his tent at Point Lookout Prison Camp. He had been part of a group of captured Confederate soldiers transported there the day before.

Water dripped on his head through a hole in the tent and the wind howled through the openings in the canvas. At the moment a cold rain mixed with sleet soaked him and the eleven other men huddled in the inadequate shelter.

Tom stood and hugged the remnants of his threadbare Confederate uniform to his body in a desperate attempt to keep warm. In all his nineteen years, he'd never lived anywhere as miserable. Texas was never like this.

A few feet away an older soldier raised his head. "Go back to sleep, son," the man advised Tom in a Virginia drawl.

Reluctant to return to his pallet in the crowded, malodorous quarters, Tom climbed over several snoring bodies and flung open a flap of the Sibley tent to peer into the darkness. It was twenty-four hours since a Union train brought them to Point Lookout. It seemed an eternity.

How long would it be until they regained their freedom? The last two years the Union refused to exchange prisoners. Unless that policy changed, the war must end before they were free of this godforsaken hellhole.

At supper last night another man complained about the meager rations. In response, an indifferent guard jeered at him. Tom remembered the guard's words. "You men are lucky to be here. This place is heaven on earth compared to Andersonville."

Tom wasn't about to argue with their keepers yet based on what he'd seen so far, their current dwelling place must be worse than any prison camp created by the Confederate forces.

An old-timer in their tent warned Tom and the other new arrivals. If they survived the winter, they'd face another adversary. Swarms of mosquitoes thrived in swampy areas in warm weather, often carrying malaria.

The war he'd been so eager to join last autumn dragged on after almost four years. Loyal to the Confederacy, Tom still hoped his side would emerge victorious. But he was beginning to think he might have supported a lost cause.

The North outnumbered the South in manpower and supplies. It would take a miracle for the Confederacy to defeat the Union.

As Tom watched a wintry sun rising in a pewter-gray sky, bugles announced the arrival of another day for the inmates, mostly military with a sprinkling of Maryland sympathizers.

"Wake up." Tom nudged a large dirty mound of rags with his boot. Slowly the mound unfolded to become Floyd, one of Tom's friends. The large, grizzle-bearded man spread his long legs like an arthritic stork and stumbled to his feet.

Randolph Carlisle, a man closer to Tom's own age still slumbered under his rag of a blanket. Having failed to wake the Virginian, Tom leaned over and yelled in what he presumed was Randolph's ear. It was hard to tell. Like the rest of the Confederate prisoners in camp, Randolph's shaggy hair would challenge any barber.

"If you don't get up, I'll eat your breakfast," Tom said. Grinning, he watched Randolph scramble to his feet.

Tom, Floyd, Randolph, and Rob, a younger soldier they'd befriended on the train, pushed their way out of the tent. After a hurried walk to the mess hall, they joined one of the lines of prisoners waiting for breakfast.

While they waited they chatted with other inmates. A Maryland native next in line told them about Point Lookout.

"You may not think this place has much to offer but before the war Lookout was a popular beach-front resort. Its thirty acres of land were leveled for the prison camp. There used to be a fashionable hotel and one hundred cottages for vacationers here," he told them. "After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union armies apparently needed another location for a prison camp so they selected Point Lookout since it was convenient to the eastern battlefields."

At the head of their line a sullen-faced guard doled out a cup of coffee and a loaf of bread to each man.

"How in the world do they expect us to survive, feeding us this slop? The hogs on my cousin's plantation eat better," Randolph complained while he chewed on the stale bread.

"Don't you understand?" Thinly veiled contempt rang in their youngest comrade's words. "These damn Yankees don't give a rat's nest if we live or die."

The oldest child of German-born sharecroppers, sixteen-year-old Rob had joined the Army last autumn. Rob's fierce spirit contrasted sharply with his scrawny, undernourished body. Though Rob didn't start fights, if insulted he never walked away from one. He also seemed to enjoy poking fun at those he considered snobs.

"Whether they care or not doesn't matter," Tom advised. Stepping into his self-appointed role as peacemaker for their group, Tom positioned himself between large, muscular Randolph and cocky little Rob in an attempt to ward off a possible fight. Crowded together day and night, men's tempers were often quick to flare.

"We're going to survive this miserable hellhole and go home," Tom promised his companions and himself.

Looking around he studied the other prisoners gulping down their meal. Other than Randolph few complained about the food. They'd eat almost anything the prison staff gave them just to fill their growling, empty stomachs.

To forget his own gnawing hunger, Tom focused his thoughts on home and those he loved. He remembered more pleasant times with his family and Mattie, the girl in his life as long as he could remember. A gypsy-like creature with olive complexion, dark ringlets and tawny brown eyes, Mattie had become a beautiful young lady two years ago when she turned sixteen.

If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost hear Mattie's soft voice calling his name. And if he closed his eyes, he'd envision her smiling face. He vowed they'd be together one day, whether his parents approved or not.

Mattie's father worked in Mahon's Merchandise, Tom's father's store in Galveston, Texas and her family rented the smaller house next door owned by Tom's family. Since Ratliff was hired help, Tom's mother didn't think his older daughter was good enough for her only son.

Tom shook his head, as ever puzzled by the enigma he called 'mother.' The woman was fond of Mattie's blonde almost thirteen-year-old sister Angela but didn't like Mattie.

Perhaps his mother saw herself in Angela. A handsome woman with now faded blonde looks and creamy complexion, Iola Mahon still reminisced about being the 'belle of the ball' in Charleston. That was before she met Tom's father. A poor man, Aurelius Mahon nevertheless swept Iola off her feet. The young couple had eloped after Iola's wealthy father refused Aurelius permission to court his only daughter. Her family disowned her and never saw her again.

Every time Tom saw the other prisoners receiving mail he wanted some of his own. His first message from Point Lookout was already on its way to Mattie. Reason told him that it might be a long time before it reached Galveston. Even so, he was present every day at mail call, waiting for a letter.

***

February, 1865, Galveston, Texas

The day Tom's letter was delivered Mattie hid in the pantry to read it while her parents and sister were upstairs. Wiping away tears of relief she realized she had been preparing herself for the worst, word of his death. No wonder when every week their neighbors received news of their loved ones dying on faraway battlefields.

Since Tom went off to the war, she thought about him every day. In spite of a busy schedule of running their own household, while her mother recovered from yet another miscarriage, and helping care for Tom's ailing father, she always managed to find time to say a small prayer for Tom's safe return.

Mattie chose her words with care while responding to his letter. There was no sense in worrying him. Tom was far away and could do nothing to help. She put down her pen by the ink well and walked to the window to stare out at the Bay. Since the Union blockaded Galveston harbor, she sometimes felt like a prisoner in her own city. She often caught herself watching the Bay.

Moments later a tangy whiff of stew cooking on the stove sent her scurrying to the kitchen. Angela, her younger sister had been instructed to watch the stew for a few minutes yet the girl was nowhere in sight.

Mattie shrugged. At eighteen, she was five years older than her sister. Even so the responsibilities of adulthood weighed her down. Angela never helped with the cooking and cleaning unless forced to do so. She preferred to spend most of her time with Tom's mother listening to Mrs. Mahon's stories of her debutante days. The girl did provide companionship for the older woman. Tom's father's health was failing so his wife couldn't stray far from home.

Well, at least Mattie didn't have to worry about her sister's whereabouts whenever she couldn't find Angela. The girl was almost always with Tom's mother except when Tom was home. Then she followed Tom around like a puppy. Mattie imagined Angela thought of him as a big brother.

Blowing a stray lock of hair off her forehead, Mattie's thoughts shifted from her sister to more immediate problems. Food was becoming more expensive all the time. Tonight they'd have a treat, a tiny tough piece of beef, some rice and peas. Even so, Mattie suspected their dinner would be better than that of many local residents. The selection at the butcher wasn't as good as pre-war and he apologized for his meager goods when regular customers like Mattie or her mother visited his shop.

She told herself that the war wouldn't last forever. If those brave young men fighting the Yankees could manage on limited rations, the least their families could do was not complain about the food they ate at home.

One thing she definitely wouldn't tell Tom. Her father was running the dry goods store on his own since Tom's father took a turn for the worse. The family doctor kept prescribing different tonics for Mr. Mahon yet nothing seemed to help. Mattie suspected the doctor didn't know just what was wrong with the man. From his cough and loss of appetite she suspected all the tonics in the world wouldn't cure Mr. Mahon.

Consumption came to mind and Mattie frowned. What would they do if Mr. Mahon didn't get well? People still died of the illness. Also, Tom's mother had a weak heart, perhaps due to her having scarlet fever as a child. If Tom's father died, the shock might kill his mother.

When Mattie visited the larger, more elaborate house next door, Angela met her at the door. Without a word she slipped past her older sister and went home.

Mrs. Mahon's gaze was pensive greeting Mattie. As usual the lady didn't appear overjoyed to see the girl her son professed to love, however Mrs. Mahon did condescend to accept a bowl of stew and some corn muffins for their dinner.

Remembering the news from Tom, Mattie flushed and handed his mother his letter before the lady asked to see it. She was rewarded with a slight smile and regal nod of the head. A former society belle, Iola Mahon never let anyone forget it.

"Thank you, dear." Tom's mother scanned the brief message and folded it again, handing it back to Mattie. "I'm sure my son will be all right. I think the Union should send him home now, don't you?"

Mattie nodded. Even if she could explain the complexities of war to Mrs. Mahon, it would be a waste of time. Let Tom's mother believe the rival armies trying to annihilate each other might consider the opinion of one foolish former debutante.

Entering her own smaller, less elaborate dwelling, Mattie ached with loneliness. I miss you.

At the dinner table her parents discussed the war as usual while Mattie and her younger sister ate in silence. Angela finished her meal first and was excused.

Pa had been too old to join the Confederate forces at the outbreak of the war. He kept up-to-date with new developments as much as possible and appeared to suffer every time news came of the Confederates losing a battle, as if his own honor had been damaged. His hatred for the Union seemed to grow with each passing day.

Seated between her parents at the dinner table, Mattie did her best to keep the conversation on local news, knowing as soon as she stopped Pa would begin another of his monologues on the war. He'd become almost rabid about the Union, President Lincoln and all he represented.

Mattie chattered on about the weather, the prices of food, and the health of everyone she knew including Tom's parents. Finally she ran out of breath and topics.

Pa jumped into the temporary lull. "You mark my words," he began, pausing to gaze at Mattie and Ma.

At that moment annoyance welled inside Mattie. Her sister should be there with her family. Mattie quickly chided herself. Don't be too harsh on the girl. She hasn't been the same since dear Andrew… It hurt to think of Angela's twin brother. The boy had drowned while he and Angela fished off-shore last year. Mattie blinked hard and focused on what Pa was saying.

"Sad days are coming," he said. "It looks like the Union may defeat us. If they do, no Confederate will be safe. The Union will grind its boot heel against southern throats, but not mine and not this family's." At this point Pa stood and saluted the Confederate flag on the dining room wall.
$16.95
589-p
Format: 
Spirit of Wind
Spirit Series, Vol. 3

by Arline Chase

A society murder, his psychic sister, Jillian,and suspicions of a departmental cover-up, all contribute to the complications that find Jack Abercrombie resigning from Baltimore’s Police Department and going on tour with his actress friend Genevieve Desmond during the hurricane-laced summer of 1906. Jill sees the storm coming and tries to warn them, but when have her family ever listened to her?

ISBN 1-59431-651-1 Paranormal / Mystery / Romance

Cover Art: Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

A Body on the Bed

Baltimore, February 27, 1906

Detective Sergeant Jonathan Lloyd Abercrombie III stared down at the body of Thaddeus Forthwright IV and bit his lip. As soon as the murder had been reported, Police Commissioner Harry Burke had sent for Jon and refused to allow anything to be moved. Another society crime. I might have known. Now the commissioner paced back and forth across the room, fidgeting with his bowler hat, but not touching anything.

"Pictures?" Jon asked.

"The photographer's on his way." Burke fished a cheroot from his coat pocket and stuck it in his mouth, but when Jon gave him an impatient look he didn't light it. The commissioner, a large, bluff Irishman who still spoke with something of a brogue, had been asked before not to add things like dead matches and cigar ashes to murder scenes.

Jon busied himself with his notebook, writing quick descriptions of all that he saw and making notes of what things he'd like to take into evidence. At twenty-seven, Jon was the youngest detective sergeant on the force and though he frequently heard remarks about his rapid advancement in the department being due to his family's influence, he had learned to ignore them. "Rich kid" they called him, when in actuality Jon had no other income than his salary. True, his attorney father was quite rich and his sister, Jillian, was very rich indeed, but Jon himself had almost nothing. Having no cost-of-living expenses was one of the reasons he lived in his sister's house on Hunter Street, but the least important one. Jon was genuinely fond of his sister and he felt protective of her as well, so living in her home was both a pleasure and a duty. Besides Genevieve Desmond, the woman he loved, had refused to marry him at least a hundred times and she was his only good reason for moving out.

Jon sighed and told himself silently to get his mind back on business. He noted a vast quantity of home remedies, including purges, bromides and a generous-sized bottle of Heroin cough syrup, and another of Fowler's solution littered among the gleaming silver-backed combs and brushes on the dresser and thought the victim had perhaps been something of a hypochondriac.

The body lying on the bed was naked, but for a pair of silk drawers, though a fresh shirt and trousers lay across the foot. The bullet had pierced his neck and traveled upward exiting at the temple, just above the left eye, but the damaged side of his face lay against the pillow. Forthwright had been thin, tall, and sported a trimmed-back mustache that hardly looked worth the trouble to shave around it. Except for the mess on the headboard he might almost have been asleep. He smelt of gunpowder, some kind of fancy cologne, and death.

"Did you find the gun?

"Outside the front door in the bushes under that window." Burke pointed across the room, then indicated a short-barreled, .22 revolver small enough to fit in a lady's reticule. The pearl handles gleamed in the lamplight. "Four cartridges left, only one fired. The cartridges are old rounds and the barrel doesn't seat well. Wonder it even went off. "

"Powder burns behind his ear, but nothing on his hands. Who found him?"

"The wife…she went out to the theater. Came home late. Said it must have been an accident."

"Oh, sure." Jon gave the commissioner a disgusted look. "Same as Mayor McLane year before last. Cleaning his gun. Shot himself in the head by accident." Jon looked at the window across the room by the desk. "Except in this case Forthwright threw the gun out the window afterward, shut it, and went back to bed? Tidy of him."

"McLane's death wasn't your case and I don't want to hear you mention it ever again, boyo. But this one's yours--all yours. And I want results."

"I'll do what I can, but I don't know him, nor anything about him. Living up here on Bolton Hill--he's not in my precinct. Why, me?"

"Well, now he works in your precinct, boyo. He runs Buckland Shipping now that the old man's in residence over to Forrest Street."

"Buckland--?"

"He's some relation Mrs. Penelope sent down from Philadelphia to run things here while Buckland's in prison. Not that your old man has made it easy for him. I hear that Buckland Shipping is in sad shape and may go belly-up."

Jon's face looked pale as he stepped back to make room for the photographer. "I thought we'd heard the last of the Bucklands. This will upset my sister. It's bound to."

"Do your best to keep Miss Jillian right out of it. As for hearing the last of Buckland, I wouldn't rightly count on that. Seems the old man's been angling for a pardon from the Governor's office. He might get out yet--if his pockets are still deep enough when your old da gets through with him."

"Surely you don't think the governor--?"

"Well, perhaps not. But his staff makes recommendations now, don't you know? The poor fellow might sign something recommended without checking too close into it then, might he not?"

Jon's sister Jillian, once engaged to the Buckland heir-apparent, had certainly suffered enough at the hands of his family. But keeping her "right out of it" would be downright impossible. Jon had learned at an early age that there was no keeping secrets from his sister. With another sigh he said, "Let's go talk to the wife."
$16.96
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Telepaths of Theon, SL2
Sarah's Landing Series, Vol. 2

by Elena Dorothy Bowman

The saga continues as Joahua's loyalties are divided between Earth and Theon. Torn by the plight of the people of the Planet Theon, his love for one of their daughters, and his alien son, the Earthling, Joshua, tries to reevaluate his dedication to his first love. His loyalty to the Theonians is questioned, endangering the lives of his Earth family. In his attempt to resolve his problem, he tleports to Earth seeking to inform his Earth love of the decision he must make for her safety as well as the safety of their son. Traveling through space between Earth and Theon he is unaware of the pull towards the dark planet Crillion until an internal alarm alerts him that the Barbarians are trying to divert his trajectory and bring him within their grasp.

ISBN 978-1-59431-598-5 Sci-Fi / Suspense / Romance

Cover art: David P. Bowman



Prologue

Earth’s reach for the stars, catches the interest and attention of a culture existing on a shrouded planet who have commissioned a highly technically superior force to search the universe for compatible life forms. The alien race, who call themselves Theonians, are capable of fantastic psychic abilities, one of which allows them to travel anywhere in the universe at will. The Theonians’ advanced society is on the brink of disaster. These aliens must now enlist, but are forbidden to conquer, a race of beings whose genetics are similar to theirs to ensure the continuation of their own existence. Settling on the planet Earth as their primary objective they surreptitiously send a member of their Inner Council to scout out this promising aspect. He takes on the name of Henderson, and the role of a Caretaker, so as to slip among the people of the planet with ease. Thus, in the first episode of the Series, Sarah’s Landing, one of the last surviving vestiges of an earlier era situated along the rocky coast of New England, becomes the village where Henderson begins his mission.

* * *

Ten years before the twenty-first century people began to disappear without warning, vanishing before the eyes of their spouses, their lovers, and their friends. Fifty-one years into the new millennium, Joshua Morgan, special investigator for the Alien Intelligence Team of the Space Intelligence Command (SICOM), comes to this place out of time, this New England village called Sarah’s Landing. Somehow Morgan knows that hidden among the archaic weather-beaten wooden buildings of this village lay the key to where those people had gone.

His interest is not totally official, for Joshua Morgan, scientist, biologist, and astronaut, has himself lost friends, has in fact almost been one of them. He was to be the lead biologist on the maiden voyage of the Earth Star-1, the most important deep-space mission yet. But hours before the flight, he is stricken with a serious viral illness forcing him to stay behind. And Earth Star-1 vanishes.

Joshua Morgan, “scrubbed” from the most ambitious deep space mission yet, is temporarily assigned to the Space Intelligence Command’s (SICOM), Investigative Branch to solve the mystery of these disappearances. He must determine the thread between a Centuries old mystery, people vanishing before the new millennium, a lost star-ship in deep space, and a New England village, a place out of time, called Sarah’s Landing. In his search for answers, Joshua stumbles upon a mystery dating back 111 years to Einstein’s Electro-Magnetic Field Flux Theories, and our initial experiments with inter-dimensional travel.

During his search for the truth, Joshua meets and falls in love with Alexandra, a telepath, who senses danger in Joshua’s life. The first inkling of the Alien bond manifests itself in Alexandra’s dreams after her lover, Joshua Morgan, disappears while she is away from Sarah’s Landing.

* * *

The story begins in the year 2055, and weaves around Sarah’s Landing, one of the last surviving vestiges of an earlier era. Unknown to most of its inhabitants, it maintains an unusual bond with an alien city, and its unseen planet light years away, in an undiscovered galaxy the New Englanders have not been privy to; and with it, its people…the empathies and Telepaths of Theon. It involves a race of beings whose telepathic, telekinetic, and psychic abilities are more powerful and far-reaching than anyone could have imagined.

In the obscurity of deep space, this shrouded planet (Theon) is quietly sending a technically superior force to search the universe for compatible life forms. The aliens, who call themselves Theonians, have become victims of their own advanced culture and are facing extinction unless a solution can be found. While on Earth, they assimilate among the people of the planet with ease and are undetectable.

Earth Star-I’s historic flight is in response to a message sent by a newly contacted star in the vicinity of the Reticulli System, 37 light years away. The ship is equipped with two propulsion systems; one for physical space travel, the other, an untried hyperspace drive system capable of traveling faster than the speed of light. The second system designed by Allen, Joshua’s replacement, is a device for dimensional and hyper-dimensional transitions capable of transporting ship and crew light years away, almost instantaneously, eliminating the meaning of time and space as we know it. But there is a danger. If the starship breaks through the barriers of light velocity without reaching hyperspace instantaneously, the ship and its crew will either disintegrate or wander forever between the corridors of time.

Seconds after hyper-drive ignition, the Lunar telescope records a light flash of tremendous proportions. The ship and its crew go silent. There is no word, just loud crackling static then dead silence. Houston attempts to launch a rescue mission. The plans for the propulsion system have mysteriously disappeared.

During the course of his investigation, Joshua is drawn to Sarah’s Landing by an inexplicable gut feeling. The only office space available to him is in a musty old mausoleum, that not even the ‘natives’ would enter. He believes that there is a link between this quaint village and to the people, who have vanished, as well as to the 111-year old mystery, and to the enigma of the ship’s disappearance.

For several months, Joshua’s probing in Sarah’s Landing is stymied when he meets and falls in love with a beautiful, redheaded telepath, Alexandra McKay. She senses that as long as he stays in ‘that building’ his life is in danger. But she cannot persuade him to leave. When she embarks on a weekend trip, Joshua is forcefully reminded of his purpose.

During a violent electrical storm, he willingly moves through a disappearing door, a portal, transporting him to a cryogenic lab on a different planet. Here he is held prisoner until his transformation. He develops new abilities and incredible alien powers. Given a choice to join the aliens or face entombment, he joins them hoping to escape.

* * *

Upon her return to Sarah’s Landing, Alexandra, Joshua’s psychic lover, searches frantically for him. Henderson, the caretaker of the old building, arouses suspicion as to Joshua’s disappearance and he is arrested. He inexplicably disappears from both sight and mind of all but Alexandra. She soon discovers this devious character is her alien nemesis, responsible for the strange happenings in Sarah’s Landing.

In her waking hours, Alexandra tries desperately to find Joshua, enlisting the aid of Lieutenant Henry Jacobsen, of the Space Intelligence Command, only to have her efforts blocked at every turn by Henderson, her strange, devious nemesis, who is responsible for her many bizarre nightmares. After his own investigation as to the whereabouts of Joshua proves fruitless, Lt. Henry (Harry) Jacobsen, Joshua’s closest friend, arrives to help. Although eager to be of service, Harry is far more interested in Alexandra. He spends all his spare time with her and hopes for more.

Unknown to her, Henderson’s prime responsibility is twofold: stop Alexandra from using her psychic powers to contact Joshua and, stop her from learning of the existence of the Alien Planet. But Alexandra is determined not to be dissuaded. She pushes ahead and succeeds in thwarting Henderson. Successfully contacting Joshua, she brings him back to her for almost twenty-four hours. She discovers the existence of the alien planet and ultimately places herself, her unborn child, and Harry Jacobsen in mortal danger.

* * *

Alexandra McKay and Lieutenant Henry Jacobsen, of SICOM, as far as they knew, are the only two Earthlings, presently residing in Sarah’s Landing, who were aware of the extraterrestrial tie. Harry, concerned for Alexandra’s safety, decides, for the present, to keep what he knows about the Aliens and Sarah’s Landing to himself. During his efforts to help Alexandra search for Joshua, he grows to love her and Joshua’s unborn son. Alexandra, although fond of Harry as a friend, a brother, has only one love in mind - Joshua.

* * *

Joshua is fascinated by the Theonians, who materialize and dematerialize with little effort. One night while imprisoned in his living quarters, Joshua suddenly hears Alexandra, and realizes they are capable of linking their minds across the vast reaches of space. Heron, Theon’s Leader, sends his daughter, Adrianne, to meet with Joshua. Adrianne befriends Joshua without divulging her identity. Due to her youth and inexperience, Adrianne unwittingly allows Joshua to escape to her planet’s surface. In the alien’s inhospitable atmosphere, Joshua almost dies before discovering the lost ship and the identity of the young scientist who replaced him on the flight.

Shocked by his discoveries, he teleports back to his living quarters. Confusing Adrianne long enough to access her mind, he learns his friends no longer yearn for Earth and he is meant to ‘join’ with her to be the new Leader of Theon.

Joshua learns from Adrianne, that long before he came to be on the alien planet, the Theonians, under Heron’s leadership, were searching the galaxies for intelligent beings. Upon their discovery of the blue planet, Beam Ships and transporting sensors were sent to various locations on Earth. Activating their long unused sensors, accidents began to happen and citizens of the Planet Earth began appearing on the surface of Theon. Many of the transplanted people suffered severe damage in the process. Out of compassion, those afflicted were entombed in Theon’s cryogenic laboratories. Survivors were allowed to establish an Earth Colony on Theon. Heron orders the deactivation of the sensors.

* * *

As the years pass, a puzzling pattern emerges. The children of the Earth Colony are unaffected by the centuries of genetic engineering practiced on Theon. A practice, which, after a period of time, was the cause of a gene mutation, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Theonian children. Theon’s survival is at stake, Heron orders the sensors reactivated. He sends Henderson along with Allen, one of the Colony’s children, an ingenious, brilliant, young scientist, to Earth — to bring back healthy specimens and a new leader for Theon.

* * *

In the time it has taken Joshua to find the link between Sarah’s Landing, the missing people, Earth Star-1, and the alien impact on the 111-year-old mystery, he has become sympathetic to Theon’s cause and has ‘joined’ with Adrianne.

A quadrangle develops when the main characters are helplessly caught in the entanglement of an affair that spans two different planets light years apart. Joshua has discovered that his love of both women has resulted in two sons — siblings — one from the alien planet Theon, and one from the planet Earth — empowered with their father’s mind-linking capabilities not only to their father and to their mothers, but to each other as well across the vastness of space. This phenomenon results in the safety of both planets being compromised and is now susceptible to detection by an ominous dark force.

* * *

All of this, together with Heron’s disclosure of the danger from an outside galaxy, a danger, which could destroy both Earth and Theon, adds to Joshua’s struggle with his decision on whether to return to Earth. Believing he has only one choice left to him, he teleports to Earth to explain to Alexandra what his decision must be.

And that is the way things stand as the Telepaths of Theon begins slightly before the time of Andrew’s birth.







Chapter 1

Sarah’s Landing, Earth

The weeks were rushing by and Alexandra was getting bigger and bigger. The townspeople under the leadership of the owl-faced Postmistress, Emily Pritchard, were now looking at her with a mixture of contemptuousness and fear.

“What do you suppose her baby will look like?” ‘Old-Lady’ Pritchard asked the tall, burly, full bearded General Store Proprietor, Ebenezer Grayson.

“I hear her talking to ‘it’ when she doesn’t think anyone can hear her,” a woman customer volunteered.

“And,” another added, “she acts as if ‘it’ answers her.”

“Well, I don’t believe the stories we’ve heard,” ‘Old-Lady’ Pritchard interrupted. “Lt. Jacobsen is the father of her child and she is trying to make it out to be the poor soul who disappeared. I don’t believe that one for an instant!”

“Well what is she staying here for?” Ebenezer Grayson thundered. “Why doesn’t she go back with her Lieutenant when he leaves?”

“I think she’s trying to shame us all for the way our town acted when her ‘friend’ disappeared, don’t you know,” Emily Pritchard answered. Then she added haughtily, “Flaunting her ‘condition’ and allowing the Lieutenant into her home whenever he comes to town, so it would appear he’s not the real father! Harrumph!”

And so it was with most of the townspeople. Alexandra, and her unborn child, became their favorite subject for gossip.

* * *

The stories spread by the women in the town reached Alexandra. She did her best to ignore them and tried to avoid running into them whenever she went into town to shop. Most of her daylight hours, when Henderson was not harassing her, were spent walking along the shoreline, afraid to climb or walk along the rocks above, afraid something or someone would cause her to fall and injure Joshua’s child.

On nights she could not sleep, she wandered along the lonely beach, staring at the stars trying to contact Joshua and hoping he would answer her.

She sorely needed a friend. All of her friends had long since left town and gone their separate ways. They had begged her to leave with them, but she would not. Sarah’s Landing was the only place she felt close to Joshua. With the exception of her doctor and the two police officers, no one in town spoke to her, afraid too, afraid of what might happen if they did; and she felt desperately lonely.

One afternoon, when she was at her lowest ebb, a messenger rapped furiously on her door and scurried away after leaving a long white box, in the hallway, at the foot of her door.

When she answered the door, she was surprised to see the white box sitting there. Looking around for the person who delivered it, she saw no one. She reached down to retrieve the box. Taking it inside, she cautiously looked at it before opening it. Not knowing who could have sent it, she wondered if Henderson has something to do with it.

“It would be just like him to drop this at the foot of my door and disappear pretending someone else had sent it to me.”

I’m almost afraid to open it, she thought. If it is from Henderson it could be a bomb. She shook her head. No, not even he would stoop that low.

She finally decided it was safe enough and gingerly opened the box. A dozen of the most beautiful red roses she had ever seen greeted her. The card inside read, “Thought you could use a little cheering up…will call tomorrow. Love, Harry.” His timing could not have been more perfect.

Tears ran down her face when she heard his voice the following day and saw his smiling face on the vicom unit. He said he had a few days off and if she was up to it, he would like to come up and visit.

She answered first by telling him how happy his roses made her, and how much they lifted her spirits. His smile deepened, delighted he had pleased her. And when she added she could not wait for him to get there, his heart soared.

Harry made it a point to send flowers or telegrams just to cheer her up and called as often as possible between his brief visits. He had a long leave coming up in a few months. He planned to spend it all with her. She did not object.

She liked Harry, he was a good friend. He was thoughtful, considerate, and always seemed to know the right time to call or drop in for a brief visit. She knew he hoped for more. If it was not for Joshua, things might have been different.

Harry’s visit was all too short. To Alexandra, it seemed as if he had just arrived, when he had to leave and she was alone again…Alone to face the town and Henderson.

* * *

Henderson, the Elder’s right hand man, had been constantly harassing Alexandra, with occasional periods of abstinence in order to throw her off balance. And its effects were beginning to show on her. His unnerving calls, intermittently spaced during her waking hours, coupled by his deliberately disturbing her sleep with bizarre nightmares, were finally wearing her down. He was desperate. He had orders to force her to relinquish her claim on Joshua, and to that end, he obeyed them with an insatiable degree of enjoyment. But now he was running out of time.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she screamed wildly. “No more! Please…no more! What are you trying to do…kill us both! Stop!”

Her screaming woke her. She was covered with perspiration. Her damp hair was strewn across her face in stark testimony to her terror-filled night.

Henderson’s retreat was swift. All he wanted her to do was release her claim on Joshua. He had felt closer to success than he had ever felt. “But, kill them? No!” That was not his intention. It was never his intention.

“It must not happen. Let her rest awhile. He was so close to success, so very close. The Council will be pleased,” his smile was malevolent.

She was weakening. He would return again, and this time he would succeed. He admired her strength, in spite of himself. She had been a worthy opponent, for an Earthling. She had been able to pit her power against his, all this time. He marveled at her resiliency. But now, he had the upper hand. In the final outcome, he was going to win and she would eventually learn to forget all about her Joshua. There was no way she could beat him now. Her long pregnancy had taken its toll on her frail body and she was in no condition to resist his powers any longer. Soon she will deliver and after all, the baby is Joshua’s. What more could she want? She would always have a part of him with her.

“Rest, sweet adversary, rest…Tomorrow will come soon enough for both of us.”

Her tired, swollen body rebelled at her attempts to stay awake. She was afraid to sleep. Afraid he might return. But her eyes refused to stay open. She felt herself going, and abruptly opened her eyes, the cold sweat of fear adding to her apprehension.

“I must stay awake. Don’t go to sleep. He’ll come back…,” she repeated over and over to herself, until intermittent, restless, sleep periodically overcame her objections.

Morning light was a welcomed sight. She felt safe at last. Somehow she had managed to make it through the night and her fears had subsided to some degree. Comforted by the rising sun, she turned on her side, pulled the extra pillow closer to her for comfort, closed her eyes, and slept peacefully for a few short hours.
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598-p
Format: 
Christmas Ball
A Collection of Christmas Stories

by Ludima Gus Burton

At last a great sweet romance collection for the holidays!

Each story has its unique ghost and psychic experience where holiday traditions are kept alive and a love story warms your heart. And the most delightful ghost of all, Mary Blake's Christmas rubber ball, connects the stories to give you a read that will leave you sighing for more.

ISBN 978-1-59431-655-5 Holiday / Romance /Paranormal Perfect Binding: Trade Paper

Cover art: Maggie Dix



Prologue



Mabs Brandon studied the Danbury County History spread open on her desk.

It was true.

Three members of her family within the last fifty years had purchased three Blake houses.

Her grandmother had bought the historic Blake Manor built in 1853 on Blaze Road by Joshua Blake. Her cousin Sarah’s house located outside of Hammomd was a former Blake house. And was it coincidence that her own family house in Brewster was built by Aaron Blake, the son of Joshua Blake?

Here were the four accounts of how the long dead Blakes had manifested themselves to each of the present day owners. Family legend was that the real “ghost” was an illusive, phantom red rubber ball given to the first Mary Blake as a child. It appeared and disappeared through the Christmas love stories.

That evening, late, Mabs made herself comfortable in the four-poster bed with only a reading lamp on the bedside table. Her computer was dark. The corners of the room were in deep shadow. Silence enveloped her family house in Brewster. The setting was perfect for reading the first of the family ghost stories.



Part I

The Christmas Ball



Abigail Henderson’s Experiences in Brewster

Chapter 1

At six o’clock Abigail Henderson opened the kitchen door to her dark house.

Her heart almost stopped beating. She could only stare. Where were her pristine white appliances? Where was the maple dinette set she had proudly purchased two years ago?

Before her startled eyes, this kitchen glowed with the soft light from a hanging brass oil lamp. At her right, a bright flame shone through the grates of the big black kitchen stove. On it a polished-copper tea kettle hissed a steady stream of steam.

By the window the oak rocker with its soft blue cushions, was still rocking. Across the braided oval rug her daughter’s red ball rolled toward Abigail.

She reached down to pick it up...and grasped only air.

At that moment, the old fashioned kitchen scene vanished before her eyes. Darkness surrounded her.

With a trembling hand Abigail reached around the door jamb and flicked on the electric light switch, flooding the room with glaring light. She stepped in and leaned her back against the closed door. Her knees suddenly felt like cooked noodles and threatened to collapse.

What had she just seen? She must be dreaming or something.

This was her kitchen. The white electric stove on her right. The dinette set in front of the windows with its red cushions. No light fixture hung from the ceiling. To her left was the two-door refrigerator. A modern, efficient room. Her kitchen had looked this way for the five years they had lived in this large Victorian house in the small village of Brewster.

The room had been empty when they moved in. Then, why had she seen it as it might have looked when the house was built around 1860?

Abigail shook her head. She was tired, dead on her feet. Since Gary and she had separated two months ago, she hadn’t been able to sleep. No wonder she was seeing things that weren’t there.

Still ...surely she had seen and tried to pick up her daughter Mary’s ball, her favorite one. The ball had appeared under the Christmas tree last year. A gift no one admitted giving to Mary. Everyone, finally, laughingly, gave the credit to Santa—who else?

Abigail put on her enamel kettle to make a pot of tea. She frowned. Wait—she remembered that the ball was in the box of Christmas decorations she had mailed to be part of Mary’s first Christmas away from her. How could it be here if it were there? Gary and her precious 5-year-old Mary had left for Connecticut three days ago.

While she waited for the water to boil, she thought again of the trial separation that had turned difficult and probably permanent. How could two people who had been so in love with each other become cold and hateful?

The breakup had started three months ago.

Gary had rashly promised Mary that the Birthday Fairy would bring her a pink pedal car, one she could drive herself.

As though it were yesterday, Abigail remembered her reaction on hearing his words.

“An expensive pedal car! We can’t get her one,” she had said later. “The Birthday Fairy can’t bring a car.”

That was Gary, believing in birthday fairies and Santa Claus and leprechauns while she juggled the finances to make these promises come true. She was the one who had to make excuses for not paying the bills on time. She was the one who humiliated herself asking his parents for the money to pay the mortgage. Never Gary. Oh, no, Gary was not one to deal with domestic problems.

Two months too late Abigail realized she hadn’t been fair. Gary worked as hard as he could, going on TV service calls, missing his supper. And he had always been so loving. His touch and his caresses were all a wife could desire from a husband and lover. He just didn’t have any money sense, and she should have accepted this one shortcoming.

When he went to work in the Appliance Department in the Underwood Store, she became jealous and distrustful. All because she saw a newspaper picture of the beautiful Mrs. Underwood, the woman training her husband Gary on the computer.

Numerous arguments about his overtime had turned ugly. She even accused him of being unfaithful. Gary’s tight-lipped refusal to defend himself made her feel certain this was true. After a bitter verbal fight she asked him to leave.

Counseling her that her request for an immediate divorce was premature, the lawyer suggested a trial separation of six months.

When Gary’s parents asked to have Mary for two weeks at Christmas, Abigail agreed. She didn’t tell them of the separation or that she would be spending Christmas alone in Brewster.

Abigail drank her tea. Thoughts of her failed marriage took precedence over attempts to explain the strange kitchen vision. It would never happen again.
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Format: 
Swan Song
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 4

by Brenda M. Boldin

Alex Masters is back for the forth and final episode in this popular mystery series. This time she's a suspect in a drug deal gone wrong? This time it looks an awful lot like she might be guilty. Will Cole Armstrong lose his favorite songbird forever? For before it's over, Alex's/Lexi's life is on the line again? Will it be wedding bells for Alex and Cole at last? Will she even survive?

ISBN 1-59431-294-X Mystery/Romantic Suspense Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prelude

Alex Masters ducked into the alley. She peeked around the corner, trying to make sure she'd just seen what she thought she'd seen. Her heart rate had suddenly tripled at the sight of him. Just one more look to be sure.

No. It wasn't him, too young. She let out a sigh of relief. That ghost wasn't back to haunt her at least. At first glance the resemblance had been amazing. She watched him walk by the alley and saw the difference in build, gait.

When she caught her breath once more and her heart stopped pounding, she slipped back onto the sidewalk and continued on her way to Jellyroll's.

He answered at her first knock and ushered her inside. Alex stepped through the doorway a bit warily. This was her normal time, her normal day. He should have been ready with her stuff and just given it to her. She stayed just inside the entrance.

"What's going on? Where's my stuff?"

Jelly gave her a big smile, suspicious in and of itself. "Just a little mix up. I didn't get a delivery last night. I have something else though. Do the same thing. Just keep your energy up."

Alex eyed him suspiciously as he reached under a sofa cushion and pulled out a small packet of white powder.

"No. I'm not going on the hard stuff. I told you when I started coming here, I just need a little pick me up because the pain meds drag me down so much."

"Easy girl. Easy. This is the same thing, just in a powder. I swear. It's just this one time." He eyed her. "Of course if you'd rather go home empty-handed."

Alex dropped her head back and it smacked against the wall. Shit, that hurt.

Maybe this was a sign she was supposed to stop. She needed to cut back at the very least. If she could only kick the painkillers it'd all be fine. But she couldn't sleep without them.

A shiver of cold went through her and her body trembled, begging to be fed what it needed.

"Just this once?"

"Sure. I'll have your regular stuff next time, I promise."

"Same price?"

He grinned. "Same price." He handed it to her as she handed him the wad of bills.

Chapter One



Homicide Lieutenant Cole Armstrong followed the sound of raised voices. At the closed door to Vice Lieutenant Steve Miller's office stood four detectives, with their ears to the wall. When they saw Cole they straightened and had the decency to look slightly embarrassed.

Cole indicated Steve's office with his chin. "What's going on? I heard it all the way down the hall."

"The Loot and Alex are going at it."

Cole raised an eyebrow. "Alex Masters?" They all nodded in unison. Cole sighed. "How long has this been going on?"

To a one, they looked at their watches. "More'n five minutes." Butch Gordon replied.

Cole debated almost a full minute, still the arguing continued. It didn't sound like they were going to wind up any time soon. With another heavy sigh he stepped to the door and quietly opened it.

Alex Masters had both hands flat on the desk and she was leaning into Steve's face. Steve, normally a very placid man, had a complexion the color of Bing cherries.

"This is useless," Alex was bellowing. "I quit. Do everyone a favor Miller: go shoot yourself." She pushed herself off the desk, started to turn away, then whirled back. "Better yet, tell me when you're ready and I'll do it for you!"

She brushed past Cole without seeing him or any of the men standing around the doorway.

Steve sank back into his chair with a sigh of relief. "I was beginning to think I was going to have to throw her out bodily." He glanced at Cole. "What a law suit that would've been, huh?"

Sensing that as an invitation Cole closed the door, much to the disappointment of the rest of the Vice squad. Taking a seat across from Steve he asked, "What the hell was that about?"

"Your girlfriend's using Armstrong. You know that?"

"Whoa. Back the train up. In the first place, she's not my girlfriend." At his colleague's skeptical expression, he felt the need to defend himself. "We're friends. She sings in my band, but that's as far as it goes."

"Whatever you say."

"What makes you think she's using drugs?" Cole tried to shift the topic.

Steve gave a short burst of laughter and pointed at the door. "That wasn't proof?"

"Some people have tempers."

The Vice detective leaned back in his chair and looked at Cole. "In denial are we?"

Choosing not to answer, Cole asked another question. "So that's what all the shouting was about? You accused her of using and she denied it?"
$16.95
575-p
Format: 
Night of the Tiger
By Debi Emmons

When 16-year-old Teresanna sees her step-father beat her mother to death, she runs, and runs again, leaving the fearful adolescent behind to become "Tanya," a sophisticated and artistic stripper, better known as "The Lady Tigre." But inside, she is still a frightened and innocent child, still running from the man who knows the only way for him to be safe, is if the witness is dead.

Will a long-haired trucker named, Kyle Benton, be a man she can trust, at last? Or will Tanya's fears return to destroy their love?

ISBN 1-59431-552-3 Romance/Suspence

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue - Teresanna One week before Prom Night, 1988

Sixteen-year-old Teresanna Montesallo smiled as she walked toward the door of the apartment she shared with her mother, her dark eyes glowing with happiness. After three years of pain, her life was finally turning around, and it had all started with the restraining order that her mother had finally placed on her stepfather! For three wonderful months, Teresanna had been able to go to school every day instead of spending her days healing from "Big Daddy Long's" loving attention. Many of the kids at her school had come forward when the story made it's way through the grapevine to offer their sympathies, and she had found herself suddenly popular, never having realized before that it was her own attempts at hiding the truth that had erected barriers between herself and her classmates.

The best thing of all, however, had come to pass that very afternoon. Tom Gormley, whom she had always thought of as one of the nicest guys in school, had asked her to the Junior/Senior Prom. She hurried up to the door with her key in hand, eager to tell her mother, thinking only that her mother had anticipated her return when the door pushed open before the key was fully in the lock. As she pushed the door the rest of the way open, she called out "Hey Mom, guess what?" - and stopped with a gasp, unable to believe what she was seeing.

Linda Montesallo-Long lay on the living room carpet, bleeding profusely from her ears and nose as her face swelled and darkened, the bruises combining into one huge, purple mask. As Teresanna took another step forward, a wheezing laugh that sent shivers down her spine at its familiarity came from her right. She turned to look in that direction just as a fist came her way. Seeing it just a split second too late to avoid it completely, she dodged to one side and caught the blow on her cheek and shoulder instead of on the nose. Spun off-balance, she stumbled back, wondering distantly how long it would take to recover this time, and found herself suddenly bursting with renewed hope as the sound of sirens reached her.

"They're on their way, Big Daddy. Our new neighbors were once abused women, and they know what to do when a little weasel like you invades the hen house and starts beating on one of their own."

Teresanna didn't know if this was fact or not, but she was willing to lie if it meant sending Big Daddy running for cover, despite her mother's insistence on always telling the truth. The sirens got louder, and Big Daddy's lips curled back to reveal his large front teeth, whose irregular spacing beneath his long, thin nose gave him a rat-like appearance. His small, black eyes peered at her with sheer hatred from beneath his disheveled shock of black hair, and then he was moving toward the door, his hand snaking out as he went past to tangle in her thick, chocolate-brown locks and snap her head around so that her eyes were forced to meet his.

"Wherever you go, I'll find you, because no matter what you and that bitch you call Momma may think, you're MINE!"

His liquor-tainted breath touched her face, making her want to retch, and his mouth covered hers in a sloppy semblance of a lusting kiss, producing nothing but hatred in his stepdaughter's heart. Then he was suddenly gone, leaving his unwashed odor in the air and his rancid taste on Teresanna's lips. With utter revulsion, she wiped at her mouth as she hurried over to the phone in the kitchen to make sure an ambulance really DID come for her mother.

With the calm sureness that came from three years of practice, she gave the address to the operator, then quietly hung up the phone and slipped back to her mother's side. Even after seeing her mother in bad shape uncountable times before, Teresanna could never remember seeing Linda's ears bleed, and she worried that Big Daddy had finally gone too far. Rocking back and forth, unable to do anything for her mother but pray, her eyes suddenly focused on the small metal box under the edge of the couch where all their important papers were kept.

As if drawn by a force outside of herself, Teresanna got her mother's keys off the kitchen table and unlocked the box, pulling out the envelope that held both her Birth Certificate and her Social Security card. She thought long and hard about going into Linda's purse for a driver's license, but decided that would never do, even if there was the vaguest chance of getting a car. Her mother was very obviously Caucasian, with big blue eyes and pale ivory skin. Teresanna showed the influence of her Asian father in her brown, almond-shaped eyes and olive skin tone. The only things the two women had in common were their small size and soft, chocolate-brown hair. Trained well by the fists that had pummeled her for leaving even a pen in the wrong place when she was done with it, Teresanna re-locked the box and returned the keys to the table where she'd found them.

Running into the apartment's one bedroom, she dumped her school books out of her backpack and quickly threw in some clean clothes, slipping the envelope inside as well so it wouldn't get lost. She nearly jumped out of her skin when the doorbell sounded, then forced herself to take a deep, calming breath as she realized that the red flashes that lit the room meant that the ambulance had arrived..

Tossing her backpack over her shoulder, she hurried out to open the door, hovering anxiously close as her mother was lightly and quickly bandaged, then loaded carefully onto the gurney. Grabbing her mother's purse and keys last-minute, she followed the paramedics out to the ambulance, where a police officer gently herded her into his car so that he could hear what happened on the way to the hospital while allowing the paramedics the extra room necessary to work on Linda.

By the time they arrived at the hospital, the officer had a fair idea of what happened and had called it in over the car's radio, putting out an APB on one Mark "Big Daddy" Long. In return, he had been assigned to protect the one witness to the deed until re-enforcements could be dispatched, and didn't seem to be too upset at the idea of protecting the very young, but already exotically pretty brunette from her abusive stepfather.

Teresanna was smoothly polite to her assigned guard, but spent most of her time in the waiting room trying to decide what to do if, as she feared, this beating was too severe for her mother to recover from it. Plan after plan was thought of and rejected as she tried to come up with a place where Big Daddy wouldn't be able to find her, but where she wouldn't need money to go. She was having no luck at all until she looked over at her so-called "protector" and saw an advertisement on the back page of the newspaper he was reading.. It was for "Amateur Night" at a local strip club, and announced the grand prize in big, bold letters. It wasn't a huge amount, but it was enough to see her to the next city, where there just might be another "Amateur Night" and another grand prize. Part of her argued that Big Daddy just might go into a strip club and see her, but then another part of her, a deeper instinct that had preserved her more than once, insisted that he would be far too busy following police cars around and looking in all the places she had already rejected to ever think of looking for his errant stepdaughter in a strip club. This was especially true since that same stepdaughter refused to even wear a one-piece bathing suit in front of him without having extra clothes over it, fearful of the leeringly hungry gazes he tossed her way more and more as she developed from a bone-thin, flat-chested girl to a small, trim, yet well-rounded young woman..

By the time the doctor came out to tell Teresanna that her mother was in a coma and showing no normal brain wave activity, Teresanna's path was clear.. She would go to the home of a computer-geek friend she had never mentioned to Big Daddy, a boy who had bragged about forging himself an ID with the help of his computer and his mom's home office equipment so he could go into bars at 17. He had once looked at the black eye she was trying to pass off as an accident on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and offered to make minor changes to her Birth Certificate and Social Security card so she could "escape". At that time, she had angrily turned him down, her pride stung by the fact that he had so easily seen through her lie, but she thought he might still be willing to help her if she apologized and asked for his help.

She would start by making herself old enough to work in a strip club as well as changing her name to make it harder for Big Daddy to find her, especially since her given name wasn't a common one. Disowned by her well-to-do parents for having a child out of wedlock, Linda Montesallo had named her half-Asian daughter for her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Teresa Wadsworth and Anna Montesallo. It was the first time that Teresanna found fault with that touch of sentimentality, and she would now have to get used to being called something entirely different in order to stay hidden.

With any luck, she would win that contest and get out of town before Big Daddy finished making the rounds of her known friends and started checking on anyone who had ever been to school with her. If she wasn't lucky, she'd probably end up sharing her mother's fate for daring to slip away from the dubious "protection" of the ones who were supposed to make sure that Big Daddy obeyed the restraining order.

Escorted to a "safe house" by the police officer, Teresanna pretended to make herself comfortable and even managed to doze briefly.. Her eyes popped open just as everything got quiet, and she listened for a long time to the policeman who had been left to watch her snoring in his chair, almost deciding that her plan was suicide. With a deep sigh, she collected her bag and slipped silently out the window and into the darkness, disappearing into the shadows with only one regret. She didn't tell her mother goodbye.

$16.95
552-p
Format: 
Obsession
By Marie Prato

The psychic warned Theresa the man would haunt her for the rest of her life ... and her dark prediction was becoming true.

For Theresa the dating scene is bleak as all the best young men are being called up for active duty in Vietnam. She's interested in three, but is warned by a psychic she will love one, marry the wrong one, and be haunted all her life by the third. Soon, all three men are dead and the dark predictions are coming true.

1-59431-236-2 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter One

New York, January 11, 1998

I parked near the woods that surrounded the funeral home. Wind shook the thin trees. Long shadows were beginning to move across the asphalt. It would be dark in a few minutes.

Sighing, I laid my head on the steering wheel. When my friend had called me two days ago, I had managed to keep my voice steady until Linda and I said good-bye. Rita had been run over while taking her evening walk! The police were looking for the driver. I had sat for hours rocking back and forth in my small apartment wondering what to do.

“Rita’s dead,” I whispered. I had always believed she was invincible.

“What will happen to me now?” I whispered, knowing I was being selfish. But I was too frightened to care. “Please don’t let it start again.”

It can’t happen again, I vowed. I won’t let it. I was eighteen-years-old and vulnerable in 1967. That was the year I had been terrorized. I’m a grown woman now. I’ve been married, became a widow before I was twenty, and have taken care of myself for years. People are always telling me how independent and gutsy I am. They can’t all be wrong. Besides, the man who was the source of my terror has probably forgotten all about me.

A car pulled into the empty space next to where I was parked. I moved as far away from the driver’s door as my seat belt would allow. Through the foggy windows, I saw the car was a station wagon with two people in it. I sighed in relief. I watched the elderly couple get out and walk hand and hand to the building. Several other vehicles circled the parking lot. Their headlights flickered in and out as they drove through the lanes, looking for a place to park.

I took a tissue from my purse and wiped the tears from my eyes. Then I used the tissue to get rid of the condensation that had accumulated on the car’s front windshield. I peered upwards through the partially cleared glass. The clouds looked as if they would burst any minute. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I had to go inside and pay my last respects to Rita.

Funeral homes always give me the creeps. Glancing up as I walked toward the entrance, I saw what looked like an apartment on top of the white building. I’d rather live on the streets than a penthouse apartment in a funeral home, I thought, shivering.

I opened the heavy front door and stood in the carpeted hall. The walls were the color of fresh cream. Along the edge of the mauve rug, three overstuffed armchairs in mauve print were positioned in strategic places. Tasteful, but still a funeral home.

People in dark clothing milled around the hall. Several woman were heading toward the stairs where a sign said the restrooms were located. Walking down the long hall, I saw that there were two other occupied rooms. It appeared to be a busy day for wakes. At the end of the hall I found Rita. In the front row with his head bowed sat her husband. The other chairs in the row were empty. Rita didn’t have any children.

Sitting in wooden chairs in back of Gene were a sprinkling of people. In Rita’s line of work people weren’t too eager to acknowledge that they had gone to her for help.

Rita’s husband looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. I hadn’t seen him in over thirty years. Many things had changed in those years but Gene’s hair had stayed the same. His too-full toupee sat like a Cheshire cat on top of his head.

I never liked Rita’s husband. It wasn’t anything that he did or said that turned me off. It’s just that the man always reminded me of a parasite living off Rita’s talents. I wondered what he would do now that his meal-ticket was gone.

I nodded to him and knelt in front of Rita’s coffin. Near the closed casket sat a small table with several pictures on it. One photograph was of the couple on their wedding day. Gene looked smug and pleased with himself. Rita looked homely.

Rita had married late in life. She must have been close to forty in the picture. Rita’s billowing lilac dress made her look heavy and ungainly. Resting on her shoulders were several strands of limp black hair. The camera caught all the bulges and hollows that had made up Rita’s face. But in between the folds and wrinkles shone two bright blue eyes—eyes that could see the past and the future.

“I’m sorry you were killed,” I whispered, bowing my head. “I wish I could have helped you the way you helped me.” Don’t let him harm me, I silently begged. Keep protecting me from him and myself. I knelt there for several minutes, hoping Rita could hear my thoughts. Could she still help me beyond the grave?

I made the sign of the cross and stood up. Rita’s husband still sat with his head bowed. Gene’s palms were turned upwards and hung between his knees. He probably wouldn’t remember me but I had to at least say a few words to him. “I’m Theresa Fortunado,” I said, leaning down to touch his shoulder. “I knew Rita years ago. I’m so sorry she died.”

“She cancelled her insurance policy six months ago,” Gene said, looking around the room as if he were in a daze. “I just found out when she died.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, withdrawing my hand before it actually made contact with him. I turned away before he could see the look of disgust on my face. I found a seat near the back of the room and sat down. In another fifteen or twenty minutes I would say good-bye for the last time to the woman who had saved my sanity and my life.

Staring at Rita’s casket, I thought of myself as the teenager who had gone to her for help in 1967. Rita had told me then that, if I allowed my psychic ability to develop, I could do everything she did and more.

Since my first meeting with Rita, I had grown from a naive girl who thought marriage was the only option she had to a woman who not only could take care of herself but enjoyed being free and independent. I had also grown to accept the psychic ability she had sensed in me.

But there was one thing I had never accomplished. Even after all these years I couldn’t forget the dark things that had happened to me when I was eighteen. And I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t happen again.

Rita’s death brought it all back. Suddenly I was eighteen again.

$16.95
229-p
Format: 
Settling p
By Joan L. Cannon

Ruth Duchamp leaves New York in order to find a way to come to terms with a future she fears. She and her husband Alex married not so much in haste as with too little self-knowledge. Attractive without being conventionally pretty, red-haired Ruth is a product of the rock-bound coast of Maine with all that implies and a reserved and practical upbringing.

Alex, an orphan from a small Quebec town, is so handsome he turns heads wherever he goes. Reared by a simple couple who adopt him, he has always felt out of place. Frustration and boredom make him run away from his loving parents to follow uncrystallized dreams. After meeting in New York, Alex is intrigued by Ruth's differences from other women he has known and she is drawn by his extraordinary looks and air of mystery. Over the years, disappointments and unrealized hopes make Alex vulnerable to predatory women and Ruth refuses to give him a divorce.

This is a story that explores steadfastness and the true value of real good will

ISBN 978-1-61386-188-2 Romance Women's Contemporary Fiction

SAMPLE

Chapter 1

Ruth March reached for the arm rest to steady herself as the big black Buick sedan slewed on a curve. She wondered why Realtors felt such a pressing need to show how big a car they could afford. Her mind felt as unbalanced as her body, turning from one misgiving to another with the futility of a goldfish circling its bowl. She wound down her window to get some fresh air on her face. The view through the windshield showed her how far she was venturing from Greenwich Village, from everything she had known for over twelve years.

A moist wind blew across her face and pulled strands of her copper-colored hair free, dragging them into her eyes. She pulled down the visor and used the mirror to try to tuck them into place again. She was surprised at the face she saw there, not the features, which showed some distinction, with her short nose and wide mouth, high cheekbones and level brows, but rather by the expression. She had been unaware of how mournful she looked.

Mrs. Chapin, the real estate broker, had a nasal voice, full of flat As. “Don’t you want to run the window up? The wind is spoiling your hair. You say you’re moving out of the city?”

Slightly startled out of her reverie, Ruth nodded. “Yes.” She pushed up the visor and made an attempt to arrange her face to look more cheerful.

“How’s that?”

“Well, I’ve—. It’s time for a change.” Ruth had known she would have to learn how to field questions like these, but certainly she wasn’t ready now.

“Tch!” clucked Mrs. Chapin, twitching the wheel to avoid a pothole. “It’s hard when things don’t work out. You did say you were by yourself, didn’t you?”

“Mm-hm.” Ruth closed her eyes for an instant as if she could shut out even inward sights. She fingered the scarf at her neck, then pressed at the pins securing her chignon. Her long legs were cramped by a short driver’s adjustment of the front seat. The scenery at least was soothing, but she longed for silence. She reminded herself that panic only thrust tranquility further out of reach, and did her best to resist it, but was unnerved by a sensation of sinking into a void.

Mrs. Chapin piped up again. “Just tell me if you want me to mind my own business. I suppose you’re divorced. I’m sure you’ll find some other young women—.” She rattled on, apparently oblivious to her passenger’s discomfort. Ruth knew that Mrs. Chapin was only trying to do her job, which was to sell real estate, and maybe she even meant to be friendly, but she itched to tell the woman to be quiet.

Finally Mrs. Chapin said, “We turn here where the mailboxes are. It’s the last house on the road, about a mile in from the highway. You wouldn’t mind being alone? So few neighbors and all?”

Ruth said, “No, I was raised in the country.” In the field on her side of the car, small dark junipers scattered among golden bunches of poverty grass showed that no one had mowed the pasture for some time. On its far side a small hill, wooded with oaks and beeches, rose against a sky roiling with massing clouds. Stone walls were partly hidden by young trees and brush, draped with hoary seed-heads of wild clematis, clumps of barberry, grape vines, brambles. A clear brown stream, overhung by maples and ashes, angled off from a culvert they crossed. Early leaves were turning; Virginia creeper flamed against dark tree trunks and silvery fence posts.

The catalogue of plants flowed comfortably through Ruth’s mind like the names of old friends. She drew a deep breath, savoring the mossy smells, the scents of earth and dead leaves and coming rain. A flood of girlhood memories rushed into her mind.

She leaned forward in the seat to see around her companion’s plump bosom. A feathery hemlock partly hid the corner of a house, its weathered clapboard siding blending into the landscape like the plumage of a grouse in the woods. A small lawn separated it from the road and showed green through a drift of new-fallen, golden leaves.

Ruth turned her gaze hungrily to the fading autumnal countryside. She thought how the scene was so unlike her childhood home on the coast of Maine. Here horizons were close and cozy, formed by thick woods or the folds of hills. She recognized her rush to the rural as an atavistic move, but was already reassured. The country itself lifted her spirits. Maybe nature and solitude—a symbolic return to innocence—might help.

When they stopped with a jerk, Ruth jumped out and hurried around the front of the car up to the paneled door of the house. Mrs. Chapin went on talking like a nervous hostess as she rummaged in her handbag. “I’ll just find the key, and then we can go inside.” She raised her voice to cover the distance between them, as Ruth, standing on the porch, leaned sideways to look in a window. “There’s a good, dependable water supply. You can see the spring house roof there back of that big rock—. ”

Ruth didn’t listen, waiting impatiently for Mrs. Chapin to bring the key. She looked up at a deserted phoebe’s nest above one of the porch posts, saw a cracked pane in an eyebrow window, a row of neat dentils almost hidden by the gutter. The louvers of the real shutters were lumpy with generations of repainting. Suddenly she felt like an exile returning, overcome with eagerness to see every detail, to compare this place with her unexpressed—indeed barely acknowledged—expectation. The saleswoman’s monologue ran on, praising meaningless details of renovation, while she made her way across the lawn to Ruth on the porch.

Once inside, Ruth rebelled against the remorseless flow of information. “Mrs. Chapin, would you mind very much if I just spent a few minutes looking around by myself? I’ll meet you at the car shortly.”

Eyebrows raised, unmistakably miffed, her guide flounced back to the car, leaving Ruth alone in the quiet old house. The darkening day accentuated the sheltering character of low-ceilinged rooms and heavy beams, wide boards and paneling. Plaster, uneven over old lath, was scabrous; paint was smudged and faded on the woodwork. Mouse droppings littered corners, and when Ruth opened the cellar door, her nose told her the floor down there was earth. There were old fashioned registers in the floor, but plumbing in kitchen and bathrooms looked less antiquated than what she had grown up with.

She went up the steep boxed stairs, and looked at the three rooms on the second floor. When she stooped to one of the small-paned eyebrow windows, she could see over a granite outcrop to the mossy shingles on the spring house roof. Beyond thickets stretched the small meadow that went with the house, a clump of molting cattails showing where the ground was wet.

Something in this pastoral setting gave her a sense of second wind, like a tiring runner. In the few minutes since she had seen this house, her thoughts had taken an eager leap forward. It was the first time in long months that she began to feel less burdened by sadness, less hopeless. She pictured her great-grandmother’s sampler hanging above a rocking chair, delphiniums and hollyhocks planted along a stone wall.

Downstairs again, she looked up at the beams that someone had exposed in what had once been a kitchen, but now would serve as living room. They ran out from the chimney wall, where she knew they were supported by the fieldstone structure in the middle of the house. The kitchen, the center of the home, and the prop for the whole structure. Symbolic. Ruth bent to look up through the large opening and saw swifts’ nests silhouetted on the sides of the chimney. A whiff of old smoke and ashes made her sneeze.

With a quick turn that was almost a pirouette, she scanned the room one more time, then went out the back door and headed for the spring house.A few large drops of rain fell heavily from the lowering sky. Where water overflowing from the spring drained away into the field, the small runnel was fringed with cattails, ferns, loosestrife, and wild flags. For an uplifted moment she stood, breathing the smells of wet earth and dry leaves. Like a tiny kingdom, this was complete. She held her palms up to the rain. Drops fell more rapidly as the air cooled abruptly, and a breeze sprang up.

Distracted with her impressions, she had no idea Mrs. Chapin was watching her from the driveway. “Mrs.Duchamp, don’t you think we ought to be getting back?” The shrill voice slashed through the whisper of raindrops.

“Coming,” Ruth called. Hugging herself as if she were protecting her joy, she hurried to head off this garrulous, anxious person she already viewed as an intruder.

As they drove away, Ruth kept silent, while Mrs. Chapin renewed her gush of superfluous data, punctuated by requests for agreement. Ruth tried to shut out the voice next to her; she wanted to review every detail of what she had seen before they reached the real estate office. She walked again in her mind through each room, recalling yet more delightful particulars: how the view through the narrow windows under the eaves provided a special slant on the world outside, the texture of worn chestnut planks, smoke stains on the mantels, even the corners where cobwebs hung fluttering gently in the air her passage stirred. She knew she could be at home there.

Ruth interrupted the monologue. “Would there be an option available, if I should be interested in buying later?”

Mrs. Chapin glanced away from the road. “I’ll be happy to inquire for you, but I’m sure something could be arranged. It’s part of an estate, and they’re just beginning probate now, so I imagine they’d be happy to settle matters expeditiously.”

“When could I move in?” Ruth blurted.

“Oh,” Mrs. Chapin said, taking her eyes off the road and trying to see Ruth’s expression. “Then you do like it? You didn’t say—. ”

“My lease in the city is up in a very short time, and I want to spend the autumn here.”

Ruth couldn’t hide a smile, but it was no longer important. At least now there was silence in the car. Mrs. Chapin was apparently satisfied. Clearly, nothing short of a deal could have stemmed her tide of maddening conversation.

Back in the office, Ruth signed necessary papers with a feeling of calm gratification mingled with anticipation.

$24.95
2-188_p
Format: 
Ancient Memories
By Terry L. White

When Nancy Hunter meets Peter Allen, sparks don't exactly fly, but there is definitely something worth exploring between them. Imagine their surprise when they discover they have loved each other for centuries, through life after life after life.

ISBN 1-59431-046-7 Romance / New Age

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter One

What do you do with yourself when your life is over? I don't know about everyone else, but when my mother passed away and I no longer had to be at her beck and call every minute of the livelong day, I started signing up for things.

I took telephone calls at the local bottle museum as an unpaid volunteer. I passed out juice and cookies for the semi-annual blood drives at the local firehouse. I joined a singles group one week and un-joined the next - every guy there was looking for someone to either support him or to nurse him through the infirmities of his old age. Romance, apparently, was not in the cards, so I decided to take some classes. After all, I had the time and I could afford to do so.

Mother had left me well, off, I can't complain about that at all. She came from money and she left money. After she was gone, I didn't need to work-- unless I wanted to, but I had remained home most of my adult life, to cater to her endless needs and petty complaints.

I was ready for some excitement. If not excitement, then perhaps, the next best thing - a little mental stimulation.

"Creative Writing class offered by Adult Education." I read in the Prairie Star and called the community college to sign myself up. I had been planning to begin the Great American Novel for the past forty-five years, ever since I learned to read, but life got in the way. Now that I had time I figured it couldn't hurt to learn a little bit about the art of writing before I began.

Thursday night, the sky was just off dark, a whining north wind scoured the last faded leaves from the maple outside my front door.

"I might rather stay in and cozy up in front of the TV," I told myself and pumped the gas pedal a couple of times to prime my Oldsmobile, Good Girl, into action. I always say "Good Girl!" when she starts successfully, and that night was no exception. She started, but I could have withheld the praise.

Good Girl choked out before I got her out of the yard and I'll bet I drove most of the ten miles to the campus before I could feel my toes. She was getting old, and so was I.

The classroom was too bright. Flourescent lights always seemed to pick up every flaw in my complexion and tend to hurt my eyes.

I was first in the room, a little too eager to begin, and it was maybe ten minutes before the rest of the new class found the correct classroom and chose their places at four long tables arranged in a square. There were fifteen or sixteen students in the room by the time the halls quieted down and the other classes in the building started. By tacit agreement, the chair nearest the blackboard was reserved for our instructor, Mrs. Harriet Blake, newspaper reporter, prize winning author, and aspiring novelist.

"Is this seat taken?"

I looked up into a pair of the loveliest deep blue eyes. They were complimented very nicely by a handsomely tanned face and a pair of respectably wide shoulders encased in the ubitiquious plaid flannel of early winter. The owner's hair was white, but the rest of him was utterly beautiful. I shook my head. "Not at all. Be my guest."

My tablemate introduced himself. "Peter Allen."

"Nancy Hunter."

So far, so good. Mr. Allen unzipped his leather briefcase, settled himself with legal pad and pencil. "Have you written anything yet?"

I decided he was just being friendly and shook my head. "I used to write bad poetry in high school. It was always about love and it always rhymed. Nothing rhymes these days, someone said it's not supposed to. Love is out of style right now, so that's a bust. But what I did write was ages ago, so I'm going to excuse my poor taste and put it off to youth and inexperience. You?"

Peter laughed, his teeth were white and even. "Reports, magazine articles, boring stuff. Nothing rhymed."

I couldn't help but wonder where I knew this man before. Those eyes were so familiar. But I didn't have long to brood about my classmate's eyes. Our teacher arrived. I couldn't help but notice Mrs. Blake had a limp. I felt a vague sense of uneasiness and wondered what caused the injury.

"Why don't we all introduce ourselves?" Mrs. Blake prompted, very much a veteran teacher. She sat at the chair her students left near the blackboard and sorted a big stack of papers while everyone said who they were and why they were in her class.

"I want to write romance novels," I heard myself say. But that wasn't right.

I wanted to write something people would read a hundred years from now. I wanted to write something significant. I wanted to write a book people would talk about on subways and pass around at family gatherings because my vision was so much like their own, my thoughts so deep, so pure.... "I'm here because I want to learn to write well."

Every other person in the room said the same thing. They said it fifteen different ways.

Mrs. Blake was plump and kind. You could see it by the way her lips twitched at our enthusiastic pursuit of the sublime and ephemeral. "We will discuss the elements of good writing during the ten weeks this class meets. Each week will be focused some different aspect of writing such as character, dialogue, plot, tension, hooks and transitions...."

Pencils scratched against paper, eyes raised to squint at Mrs. Blake's crabbed, crooked handwriting as she listed the points we would cover. After a few minutes she limped back to her seat, looked at her watch and sighed.

"Did anyone bring anything to read?" she asked hopefully.

No one had.

Mrs. Blake sighed again, this time there was no mistake. She drew in a deep, deep breath and let it out slowly, as if she were preparing herself for a long-distance run.

"Okay, since the object of this course is to help you learn to write, one of the things I will expect is that you come to class with something to read. It doesn't have to be long, and it doesn't have to be finished, but I can't talk for two solid hours and continue to make sense. You wouldn't enjoy it and neither would I." She paused to quell the fluttering of papers that came in the wake of this statement.

"The best way for a writer to learn what he or she is doing wrong...," Mrs. Blake paused again and raked her naturally frosted blonde-gray hair back from her ears. "....or right, is to read his or her work aloud in front of a group of interested persons and listen to what they think is good or bad about the work."

Peter Allen tensed at my left.

"We will have rules." Mrs. Blake had been teaching a long time. She recognized beginner's jitters when she saw them. "We say what happened, what was good, and what we would change if the work were ours. Everybody's...." she paused and beamed at her new students. "... work is good, everyone has a different voice and a different story to tell. I'm here to help you do it and I am looking forward to hearing something each and every one of you has written.

"But since none of you brought anything to read that won't begin until next week. In the meantime, I would like to discuss some common-sense elements that will make all of you good writers from the very start." Mrs. Blake's smile was encouraging. "The first thing you have to remember, no matter what kind of project you want to do is to write what you know."

I sighed. I had spent forty years of my life, ever since I was ten, taking care of my invalid mother. I knew about back rubs and I knew about antispasmodics, but I didn't know much at all about the world. I, most particularly, didn't know much about love. Mother always told me I would have been a better daughter if I had been more loving. But where would I have learned? After high school I had rarely been outside the house in which I had been born.

You could say I didn't know much about life at all.

And here I was setting out to write a piece of immortal fiction that would hang around a bezillion small-town libraries for the next couple of hundred years. I sighed.

Perhaps the spirit of my inadequacy was catching.

Peter Allen sighed as well.

"I don't mean to say you can't write about things that have happened outside of your own life." Mrs. Blake limped to the blackboard and picked up the chalk. "There are any number of ways to put yourself in other places and times so that you can relay those realities to your reader. We will explore some of them as well. The main thing," she paused to scribble more of her heiroglyphic scribbles on the board. "Is not to wake the reader from the dream. Don't draw the gun if you don't intend to shoot."

Peter shifted in his chair. I got a sudden whiff of some woodsy, clean aftershave lotion. I could almost feel his eyes, moving across my body like a caress.

Just the kind of material I was going to need, once I got to the love scenes.

Mrs. Blake continued to talk.

I had an affair with Peter Allen in the secret rooms of my mind. He was a very good lover.

"Time for a break. Stretch, be back in ten minutes." Mrs. Blake exhaled, settled back in her chair like an empty balloon. Several of my classmates ducked out for a smoke.

Two earnest young women in sweat pants huddled up with Mrs. Blake to discuss their plans for a science fiction novel. I started down the hall to look for the rest room.

"I seem to have forgotten your name." My erstwhile seatmate, Mr. Peter Allen followed.

"Nancy," I said. The restroom loomed on the left. What to do now? Go, and be comfortable for the rest of the class, or make some time with the silver-haired Romeo?

Peter decided for me. "If you'll excuse me." He opened the men's room door. Okay, so his hair was white. He still had the shoulders of a DaVinci statue. "See you back in class."

I did my business, fluffed my own graying brown hair and squirted just a smidge of perfume on the inside of my wrists. I dug in my purse and found my tube of peach frost lipstick. Right about then I was wishing it was vamp red, but you have to work with what you've got.

"Write what you know." Mrs. Blake proved her prediction. She couldn't lecture for two hours. She gave us an exercise.

"Pretend you are seven years old and it is your birthday. You know everything there is to know about being seven and being you. You know about cakes and candles and presents. I know you know and you know you know. The next step is to start putting it all down on paper."

Mrs. Blake looked at her watch. "You may write for ten minutes. I'll let you know at the end of nine so you can wind up whatever you're working on."

I looked at the miniscule scratch pad I had brought along for notes and a piece of yellow lined paper slid across the table. Peter Allen grinned and winked.

I mouthed my gratitude and did a little time travel.

Well, I tried. Seven was a very foggy age for me. According to Mother, I hadn't shown much promise as a child. Mother had been pecking at my self-esteem since the day I was born.

But everyone else in the room was either busy thinking or scratching their thoughts down on paper and I couldn't help but wonder how I was ever going to write a novel when I couldn't knock out an impromptu essay based on an actual event in my own life.

Even the handsome Mr. Allen knew no lack of words. His pen was as busy as all the rest.

"All right," Mrs. Blake said after what seemed like an eternity. "Who wants to read?"

No one did.

"Jackie?" She called on one of the sweat pants girls.

Jackie flushed and wriggled around in her chair for a while before she began to read. "When I was seven I wanted to be a ballerina. My mother sent me to Miss Pearl Hineman's class and I walked on my toes for seven months straight. She gave me my first tutu on my birthday. I remember it was pink and the skirt was real fluffy. I don't remember what kind of cake she made, but it was probably chocolate. My father came home late and he brought me a doll. My seventh birthday was one of the best I can ever remember."

I huddled over my paper, partly to hide my yawn at my classmate's deathless prose and partly because I hadn't written anything yet. I could feel Peter Allen's amusement at my expense. He shoved a scrap of paper my way. "Coffee after?" I read.

"What happened in this story?" Mrs. Blake led the critique of Jackie's work. I decided teachers had to look the other way at note-passing between adult students.

"She got something she dreamed about." Jackie's friend Connie offered. "I mean, she walked on her toes for seven months before her mother bought the tutu. Did she buy the tutu?" She looked at Jackie. "Or did she make it?"

"She made it."

Mrs. Blake smiled. "You might think about telling your reader that. Anything you recall about your subject is important. I can see a woman staying up late to sew a pink tutu after she sends her daughter to bed, can't you?"

Jackie shrugged.

"What was good about Jackie's story?" Mrs. Blake had her work cut out for her.

They say good writers don't talk much. If this class was any indication, they were right on the mark.

"What would you change if you were writing this story, Nancy?"

I jumped. I gulped. I was not here to critique someone else's lame walk down memory lane. I wasn't qualified. "I would try to make the story more...." I stopped. More. But what?

Mrs. Blake rescued me. "A little more sensual?"

I nodded vigorously. "I couldn't taste the cake."

"Good observation." Mrs. Blake moved to the blackboard, swiped at it with the eraser and began to write. Cake. Chocolate Cake. Three layers. Vanilla creme filling. Pink icing. Seven blue candles. Strawberry ice cream, hand dipped. "What we have to do is to engage the senses of the reader. "People know what chocolate smells and tastes like. They know what it is like to blow out candles and make a wish. They know that nasty smell of burning wax that comes between the wish and eating the cake. They know what it is like to be seven, and if you can't help them remember, then you aren't doing your job."

The hands of the big clock above Mrs. Blake's head moved very, very slowly. Three other would-be writers read about their seventh birthday and received comments from Mrs. Blake and the class at large.

At long last it was nine o'clock. "Bring something to read next week." She began to stuff papers in her carryall and sighed as several members of the class closed in for private conferences. I could almost hear her think it would have been nice if everyone had said what they had to say during the class and cut her a little slack.

Peter Allen picked my blue wool coat up from the back of my chair and held it so I could slip my arms into the sleeves.

I fell in love.

"Was that a yes or no to the coffee?" He smiled down at me. I almost drowned in those big blue eyes.

"Sure, um, why not?" My cat was home, probably sprawled out on the back of the sofa to take the advantage of the heat duct that came up behind it. But something had my tongue.

We drove our separate cars to the all-night diner. It had rained just enough so that everything glittered like sequinned black velvet. The air was as fresh as spring. I discovered I could to brush my hair with one hand and and drive with the other. It is a wonder what a woman will do for the possibility of love.
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Mystick-Moon
By Terry L. White

Travel with Rebecca as she starts her new life in Puritanical New England. How will having the gift of "second sight" affect her in the New Land?

ISBN 1059431-223-0 Romance / Historical / Paranormal

Cover Art by Maggie Dix

Chapter 1

Rebecca could not sleep. She stared out the small porthole beside her bunk and wondered about the strangely forbidding place that would soon be her new home.

The moon shone brightly on the waters of Bloody Cove. The town, betrayed by the twinkling of one small lantern, seemed distant and closed under the baleful glare of Sachem’s Head, the promontory that guarded the harbor.

These strange names, falling from the sailor’s lips as they grunted at capstan and line, sent shivers of apprehension down Rebecca’s spine. She was glad the disembarking of the Endeavor’s passengers had been delayed until morning. As uncomfortable as her berth was in this tiny cabin beneath the ship’s deck, it had become a kind of home. She closed her eyes against the reflection of moonlight across the choppy water and tried to make sense of her short and eventful life.

At ten, Rebecca often had to think very carefully before she could understand the odd things grown-ups did and the reasons they did them.

When Rebecca’s mother told her they were to sail to the Colonies to start a new life, she had been uncertain of all that might entail. Certainly her own life had seen enough beginnings and endings over the past two years.

First of all, her father died; and everything about her world had changed. Gone were the dancing lessons, the tutor, the new dresses of shiny silk and subtle velvet Rebecca had always taken for granted. Gone, as well, was the gracious and elegant home of her birth, exchanged a few months after her father’s burial for a small apartment in a part of London so run down and seedy her mother did not dare to let her walk about in the fresh air for fear the Rebecca would come to some dire, nameless harm.

Rebecca’s first new home had been three small rooms; a kitchen with a smoky hearth, a parlor as cold as a tomb in the winter season in which they moved house, and the narrow, dark bedroom Rebecca shared with her mother.

Not that Rebecca had minded sharing a bed so very much. She had never liked sleeping alone in the nursery of their other, grander home. Still, her whole life had become so very different.

The flat Elizabeth had taken in her newfound poverty was somehow friendlier than the stylish townhouse where all too often Rebecca’s childhood dreams had been plagued with scenes of red destruction, peopled the pale, ethereal faces of her family. Not that she hadn’t dreamed in the flat surrounded by muffled voices and strange thuds and crashes of her neighbors’ daily life, but the dreams had been mundane, colored by the shades of generations of hopeless striving of the previous occupants of their dank and alternating sweltering or chilly rooms.

Rebecca had once, before everything changed and in a waking dream, seen her pretty cousin Molly fall down a flight of stairs and lie, still and white, at the foot. There had been an awful look of shocked stillness on Molly’s familiar face. Rebecca had run at once to tell her mother about her strange vision.

Elizabeth had pooh-poohed the idea—and her daughter’s oddly disturbing vision—until a message edged in black told of the fatal fall of her own dear sister’s youngest daughter.

Molly, a winsome child of peach and cream beauty, pride of the family, had tripped and fallen on the stair. Her neck was broken in the accident. Death had been instantaneous.

Elizabeth, dainty feet propped on a petit point hassock, had crumpled the evil missive and stared at her fey daughter with something like horror in her eyes.

“How did you know?” Elizabeth’s voice had been irritable, heavy with grief. “How did you know Molly would die?”

“I dreamed it, Mama.” Rebecca could only whisper.

Rebecca didn’t like that sort of dream, especially when it concerned people she loved. But the dreams still came, whether she wanted them or not, whether she was sleeping or not. Her vision of a cousin’s untimely demise had not been the last she had seen in her young and strife-torn life.

Rebecca had been so disturbed by the odd distance in her mother’s voice the day Cousin Molly died the dreams had stayed away for a while, perhaps held at bay by the terrible fear and guilt Rebecca carried over her cousin’s accidental death. But in time they came back, as dream monsters always do.

She had, one dreadful morning between sleep and waking, seen her own dear father lying upon the pavement of a narrow, darkened street, his head in a black, viscus pool of blood, his pockets turned out white against the darkness of his fine woolen suit, his face ashen and still.

Rebecca did not recognize the squalid alley in which her father lay, but the staring of eyes of death were no stranger to this child.

She had been frightened to tears upon waking fully and had cried incessantly until Nanny had taken her to Elizabeth. It took much cuddling and petting before Rebecca relaxed and told her mother about this new dream that had frightened her so.

Elizabeth, unwilling to believe her daughter might have been given another prophetic dream, especially one foretelling such a dire end for the true love of her life, shivered and sent Rebecca upstairs for her morning lessons.

Try to concentrate as she might, Rebecca had not been able to erase the aching image of her father’s dead face. Her book brought no comfort or distraction. She was hardly surprised an hour later she heard her mother’s scream of outraged shock.

A pair of constables, as alike as twins in dark uniforms hardly brightened by their official brass buckles and buttons, had come to tell Elizabeth of the robber who had accosted her husband as he made his early morning way to work through the poor section of town that lay near his foundry.

“The perpetrator had not contented himself with gold. Or perhaps Mister had put up a fight. In any case, very sorry, Mum, to bring you this shocking bit of news.”

“How did you know?” Elizabeth sobbed, and looked at Rebecca with something like horror when the constables had retreated to their headquarters and official papers. “Only a monster could see such a horrible, horrible thing.”

Rebecca, frightened by the harsh note of fear in her mother’s voice, had hidden her head in her hands. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind at that moment that her strange visions the cause of all the sorrow in her mother’s life.

***

Then there had been the funeral, and their removal from their home after endless tedious discussions with lawyers and creditors, during which Elizabeth had listened in stony silence and accepted the fact her prosperity had quite dissolved with her husband’s death, while her guilt-ridden daughter hid in corners, and tried to will her father back to life.

Rebecca’s Papa was dead, she knew she was the cause. She had to be. The pictures in her mind always came when she was happy, but then everything went black and someone she loved was dead. Somehow, deep inside, Rebecca knew if she could no longer see the visions, the terrible events they depicted would end as well.

And so, with all the fire in her small body, Rebecca told the dreams to go away. They did for a while, but sometimes they would return in the night and she would wrestle with images of death and blood until she could struggle toward wakefulness, sickened by premonitions she could neither control nor understand.

Tonight on the Endeavor Rebecca had no dreams or visions, but rather a vague dread for the new life that would come, whether she willed it or not. If anyone had asked, she could not have said why she felt so edgy, only that she did.

The cove in which the Endeavor lay anchored seemed peaceful enough, but why would a beautiful harbor such as the one she glimpsed through the dwindling twilight be daubed with the name of blood?

“Bloody Cove,” she whispered and cries of unspeakable pain and torture ran beneath her consciousness. The cries linked Rebecca to an event she somehow understood had passed some years before.

Dancing figures, some in familiar European garb, others clad in feathers, furs, and beads, dipped and swayed in a macabre dance of scarlet death. The moon glittered on the waters of Bloody Cove and suddenly Rebecca knew without knowing this was a memory of the past and not a future event she saw.

She sighed in relief. If she had been cursed with a dream of her future, who knows what she would have done, for Rebecca had been uneasy about their journey to the colonies ever since she had been told she was to go.

Every time she thought about her new home in New England Rebecca felt a pang of fear invade her consciousness. Mystick Town, although her stepfather had spoken highly of the place, did not feel as if it were going to be a good place to live.

The wolves were what worried her most.

Mr. Stark, Mama’s new husband, Rebecca’s new father, had mentioned the wolves a hundred times as they prepared for their odyssey to the New World.

“The beasts are a plague. So bad—” he said, passing his sadistic hearsay for wisdom with a nod of his oblong Saturnine head. “—folks dare not leave the safety of their homes without arms, and some have even cut enormous slabs of stone to guard new graves to protect the bodies of their dead.”

Rebecca did not have to work very hard to imagine wolves; great doglike beasts with gleaming golden eyes and teeth like glistening ivory knives. They whined at the doors of her imagination, ready to devour her if she did not acknowledge their very real threat. Their tails thumped the ground as they drooled and waited.

Now the Endeavor lay outside Mystick Town the wolves seemed very near and dangerous. Rebecca shivered and huddled more deeply into her blanket which smelled of sickness and the bodily humors of a tedious and uneasy voyage. Her skin itched, from being weeks unwashed, from the small vermin that infested the thin straw mattress upon which she rested.

Her hair had been combed and plaited afresh daily, but it was greasy from being long unwashed, and her clothing was frayed and threadbare from continuous wear.

Rebecca was unused to being neglected in the past, which had grown dimmer and more distant with every passing moment. Until she’d met Master Stark, Elizabeth had always put her child’s needs first.

Rebecca knew her mother had not understood she would not have her trunks close at hand throughout the voyage. Their luggage had been stored in a deep hold, forbidden to the Endeavor’s passengers. In time Elizabeth had given up trying for permission to go below to find clean clothing for her family. The undershift Rebecca slept in was the one she’d worn the day they’d embarked upon this journey into the unknown.

Never in her life had she felt so unclean, or so alone.

Her mother breathed softly on the bunk below, her body anchored by the heavy limbs of her new husband, Graham Stark. Rebecca shrank from the thought of her stepfather’s hard, unkind hands touching her gentle mother’s skin. He touched Rebecca often as well, pinching and slapping her for every small transgression.

In a reaction as unconscious as it was primitive, Rebecca hated the thought of Mr. Stark’s hands and lips claiming the breasts that were once hers alone. She winced each time the man passed a proprietary hand across Elizabeth’s bosom when he thought no one was looking.

Rebecca did not like Mr. Stark, but she thought he was well named. Mr. Stark had thin eyebrows and lips, and his ears hugged his long head to near invisibility. His voice rang often with the Puritan’s “thee’s” and “thou’s,” but Rebecca soon came to understand Master Stark did not mean these words in the humble and neighborly spirit of their fellow travelers.

They were, she knew, a means to his own somewhat nebulous ends.

Mr. Stark meant to become a wealthy man in the New World. In the privacy of their tiny cabin he made no bones about having no real religious reason for joining the colony.

Of course, Stark possessed a mask, the one that made his presence acceptable to his fellow pilgrims, but it fell away when he and Elizabeth were alone in their cabin, one dearly purchased luxury that separated the Stark family from the religious dissenters who made up most of the rest of the Endeavor’s passengers who suffered a much less pleasant passage in the ship’s damp, stinking hold.

Rebecca stirred, tossed on the creaking narrow bunk.

“Does the brat never sleep?” her stepfather hissed to Elizabeth Hunter Stark. He knew the chit lay awake nights, listening to them when they whispered under the covers.

Elizabeth stirred wearily and drew herself to the furthermost reaches of the narrow bunk which was all the bed she had known since embarking on this dreadful journey.

“Surely she sleeps,” she murmured, wishing her husband did not rest so closely and warmly by her side. “Rebecca is a good child, if she is too aware for her years.” Elizabeth excused her daughter mildly.

Stark’s hand stole between her thighs, fumbled with the moistness at their joining. Elizabeth released a breath, half moan of resistance, half sigh of resignation, and allowed her husband his dubious pleasure in silence. Mating with Stark had not been what she’d imagined during their courtship when her prospective husband had offered her a release from her poverty and sudden chastity.

Elizabeth’s first marriage had been for love and the sexual congress involved had been of a higher order, a release to spirit for both parties, not the sticky, pounding coupling of Mr. Stark’s preference. She had not been prepared for the icy meetings of a loveless marriage, had not yet accustomed herself to the utter lack of feeling that accompanied her intercourse with Stark.

Still, as she had so often told her daughter, Elizabeth had entered into the marriage willingly, and hoped for distraction from the constant grief that nearly disabled her after her beloved Raymond died. She had wed, and now crossed the ocean together with a stranger to find a new life. Learning too late she did not love her new husband, Elizabeth also knew her promise of faith until death would not be a lie.

She was bound to her new husband by a thousand ties, the newest, more frightening and imposing than any that had come to this point in her life.

She was pregnant with Graham Stark’s child.

Her courses had not come with the moon’s passing, but Elizabeth had not forsaken her aversion to her husband’s embrace now the threat of pregnancy far away from home and medical attention no longer loomed as formless danger. Her new child, conceived in apathy, would occupy Elizabeth’s body and then her days.

There were times she thought her life would be better when it was born.

Elizabeth sighed remembering how, when Rebecca was conceived, Raymond had laughingly chided her for her lusty conjugal behavior. How surprised they had both been to learn pregnancy had released her from fear of her own sexuality. It had been a wonderful time, those months she had carried her daughter, wonderful even, after Rebecca was born, but life was Stark was different, harder, despite his endless promises. Elizabeth felt nothing but disgust and dread as he labored noisily over her swelling body.

Rebecca heard, but did not fully understand, these thoughts of loss and resentment above her mother’s soft moans of resistance. Were these thoughts her fault as well? If her mother had been childless, would Elizabeth then have not had a better chance to make an amiable match with a man more suited to her sensibilities than the judgmental and forbidding Mr. Stark?

Rebecca did not know, but she wondered.

The moon slowly sank into the cove as the mists of morning enveloped the Endeavor in gray and clinging shrouds. The sounds of men’s voices, of children whimpering to wakefulness, brought Rebecca to the happy awareness that soon she might soon quit her hard, verminous bed and be carried to the shores of Mystick Town itself.

She still did not think it would be a happy place to live.
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Saranac Lake Revisited: Saranac Lake Series, Vol 2
Saranac Lake Series, Vol. 2

by Shel Damsky

Hangovers were nothing new to Tony Flanders, but this time he didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed—he woke up on the wrong side of the century.

Tony Flanders went up to Saranac Lake for a few days fishing—a little R&R from his job as a police detective in 2001 Albany. He didn't expect to wake up in 1927. He didn't expect to help Legs Diamond find out who was trying to murder a beautiful woman, and he certainly didn't expect to fall in love.

ISBN 1-59431-204-4 Period Mystery /Romance /Suspense

Cover Art by Ariana Overton



Chapter 1

“Why in hell,” Jacob Rosen asked Katherine Schwartz, “would anybody try to kill you? In a town where everybody dies of TB? Why would anybody try to kill anybody? Especially you?”

“That’s stupid, Jake, and you know it. I hate it when you talk like that.”

Jake enjoyed watching Katherine when she got mad. She was beautiful to look at any time. But when she got mad the blue eyes turned to a kind of violet and she kept blowing a loose strand of hair off her forehead. Black as black could be, that hair. Even with her left arm in a sling and the bandage wrapped around her head just above her eyes and the crutch, she still looked lovely.

“C’mon,” he said, “It’s not stupid and you know it. The whole town is devoted to sickness. Doctors trying to find a cure and hundreds, hundreds hell, thousands of people coming here hoping to get well, and a lot of them not making it. So I repeat my question, why in hell would anybody jump the gun and kill somebody? And you’re not even a patient. You take care of patients. You’re a damn institution in this town. So again, why would someone want to kill you?”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a long sigh, the sound the wind makes when it’s caressing the tops of the trees. Just watching her take the breath was enough to make Jake forget what they were talking about. With the long knit dresses she usually wore, reaching almost to her ankles, and her slim, graceful body, a deep breath could make any conversation veer away from where it had started. She wasn’t young, maybe early to middle forties. About ten years short of him. But time, he thought, never told her body she wasn’t young.

“I suppose you came here to die?”

Jake looked at her. He didn’t answer for a time. “Okay, maybe I was too flip. Maybe nobody goes anyplace just to die, not on their own anyway. No matter how bad you are you always think that someplace there’s some hope, there’s maybe someone who can help you. That’s one thing I learned as a criminal lawyer, listening to cops tell stories while we were waiting for court to open. Whether somebody’s standing on the top of a bridge over the Hudson, or staring at a bottle of pills in their hand, or even pressing a gun to their head, they really hope somebody will step in and stop them. I guess even at the end you don’t stop hoping.”

She put her hand on his arm. “And in spite of the hard boiled talk, you think that way, don’t you Jake?”

Jake pulled the blanket away and started to get out of the cure chair. “Let me get up, okay, Kat?” he asked her. “I get antsy when I been down too long. I just want to get up and have a smoke.”

“All right,” she said. “But not too long. Doctor Kaplan was pleased with you at the weigh-in last week. Your temperature was finally down and you gained a pound. Your face is long and bony enough without your cheekbones sticking out making you look like you were an Indian. Don’t overdo now. The last time you started getting better you went downtown and got drunk and played poker for three straight days. You have to take better care of yourself. You can’t do those things and get well.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell me that before,” Jake shot back. “Those country boys took me pretty good.” He got out of the chair and walked over to the porch railing. He leaned against it and took a pack of Luckies out of his bathrobe pocket. Katherine held her hand out so he lit two and handed one to her. He took a deep drag, hoping he could blow these thoughts away along with the smoke. A shiver went through him, making his shoulders tremble.

“I told you,” Katherine said. “It’s too cool for you. Get back under the blanket.”

“No, it’s all right. It’s not that. I guess it’s the way our conversation was going. I don’t know what the hell got me on that kick, that’s all. I don’t think I’ll ever believe that I’ve been here for almost two years and that I spent the first few months in bed. In bed for chrissakes.” He smiled at her. “But it’s a nice thought, Kat, you wanting me to get back under a blanket.” He held a hand up, as if to ward off her next remark. “Sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist. Let’s get back to what you wanted to ask me.”

”If you could, no, if you would help.”

“Help who?”

“Me.”

“How?”

“I don’t care what you say, somebody tried to kill me that night. I had a week in the hospital to think about it and I’m sure. That big black car was waiting for me to cross the street.”

Jake lit another cigarette. “All right, let’s say you’re right. Just what can I do?”

“I heard last night that somebody’s in town. He was a patient some years ago. We were—” She hesitated. “We were friends. His name is Flanders—Tony Flanders.”

Jake wondered why the hesitation, but didn’t ask.

“He was a detective. In Albany. I imagine he still is. Anyway, I’d like to see him.”

“If you know where he’s staying, why not call him?”

“I don’t know if he’d remember me. I was thinking that maybe someone could go downtown this morning and look him up. Ask him to come for dinner tonight.”

“I’ll go, if you want me to.”

“No, not you. I don’t like the way you look. I want you to rest. I thought maybe John Michael would go. He told me about Tony being in town.”

“How did he know?”

“I don’t know. I think he said someone mentioned it at O’Rourke’s when he was having a drink there.”

As if summoned by thought, the screen door opened and John Michael Xavier Muldowney, who had dropped the ‘Xavier’ somewhere along the line, came out onto the porch, as if he was entering from stage left to an adoring audience. He nodded to Jake Rosen then took Katherine’s hand and pressed to his lips. He was dressed, as always, in the height of fashion. A blue striped seersucker jacket over a neatly pressed pair of white ducks with a dark blue cravat at his throat. Tall, lean, dark of countenance, he looked like Abe Lincoln in pictures taken during the Civil War. Time worn, but with kindness and humor coming through.

“Top of the mornin’ to you, lovely one,” he said to Katherine. “You don’t just walk in beauty like the night, child, you surround yourself in it all the day long. Get me out of this place, lass. Let me show you the greater world out there.”

Katherine started to look stern but gave it up and laughed. “Thank you, John Michael,” she said, drawing her hand away. “I was just going to tell you breakfast would be ready in a little while, but I can smell that you’ve already had your juice. Isn’t it a little early for that, especially when you’re not feeling well?”

“Who isn’t feeling well?” Muldowney asked. “Who is spreading that calumny? Tell me his name, just tell me that, and I’ll give him enough of a thrashing to stop him from doing it again.”

Katherine laughed again. “Stop it, fool,” she said. “You know it’s Doctor Kaplan who said it. Last week your temperature was almost a hundred and one and you had lost over a pound and a half from the week before. He’s worried about you. So am I. You won’t take care of yourself, you won’t stay in bed. This is a cure cottage, damn it. Why won’t you try to cure? You’re a hell of an example for him,” pointing to Jake, who was trying not to laugh too hard at the scene before him, which he should have been used to by now, but could never watch enough.

Muldowney looked over his shoulder at Jake. “You’re telling me, Madam,” he said, making a show of pointing one foot out at an angle and putting a hand high on his hip, “He said that? That it is I who is leading him down the garden path? It is I who causes him to stray, him who was born with a deck of cards in one hand, a tattered law book in the other and a gloomy view of the world over all? He who doesn’t spare one kind thought to any of mankind?” He spun around to Jake, taking care not to alter the pose.

“Good morning, Mr. Pot,” he said. Every word dripped with acid. “My name is Kettle. I’ve heard so much about you.”

In spite of trying to hold it, Jake started to laugh again and knew it was getting away from him. He started to cough and could taste a bitter warmth in the back of his throat. He pulled a handkerchief from his bathrobe pocket and held it to his lips. Katherine and Muldowney rushed over to the railing, but Jake turned away from them. Katherine gently turned him around and looked at the handkerchief.

“No,” she said. “No blood. But not far from it. You get back in the chair. And you,” she said to Muldowney, “go easy on the music hall humor. He’s doing all right. The last thing he needs is a hemorrhage.” They walked Jake over to the cure chair and eased him into it. Muldowney spread the blanket over him and patted his hand. “Sorry lad,” he said, gently. “I get a bit carried away. Are you all right? Anything?”

“A glass of juice,” Jake answered. “That would help. I’m okay, really. I got as carried away by your routine as you did.” Muldowney went into the house and came back out in a minute with a glass of orange juice and handed it to Jake. Jake sipped it slowly, trying to hide a look of surprise. Katherine shot a look at Muldowney. “You put something in it, didn’t you?”

“A spot of gin,” Muldowney answered. “A touch, at that. It can’t hurt. Gin is one of the few things of worth the British ever created. It won’t hurt him.”

Katherine started to say something, but Jake stopped her. “I’m okay, honest,” he said. He looked his thanks to Muldowney, then turned to Katherine. “Can we get back to what we were talking about before?” he asked. “John Michael might be interested.”

“What’s this?” Muldowney asked. “A plot? No, not a plot, a play.” He framed Jake with his hands, as if he was readying a bit of stage business. “A play, of course. The tough criminal lawyer, the king of night court, the scourge of law enforcement citizens everywhere, now a consumptive, lying pale and wan in his chair. Slightly graying hair, lean frame, prominent bones under eyes dark as Queen Vic’s soul, eyes showing a Mongol stopping by the village a long time ago.” He turned to Katherine. “Barrymore, Kat, we’ll get Barrymore, to play him. No, better Gielgud.”

Jake controlled his laughter this time, but waited a minute before he spoke. “Katherine was telling me her accident was no accident. At least that’s what she thinks.”

Muldowney turned serious. “Really, Katherine? That’s what you think?”

“I guess,” Jake said. “Is that it, Kat?”

“Yes.” Katherine Schwartz said. As the owner of one of the largest cure cottages in Saranac Lake, New York, a little village which had become over the past fifty years almost solely devoted to the care of those afflicted with the White Plague, and the head nurse, friend and confidante of those who desperately sought some sort of return to health under her care, she was more than used to death and suffering. But she had never thought about it in reference to herself.

She turned to Muldowney. “Yes,” she said finally. “I’m sure of it. And I was going to ask you to help out.”

“Help out how?”

“Nothing special. Really. I was just telling Jake that an old friend of mine is in town. I thought you’d go downtown, look him up and ask him over.”

“What’s his name?”

“Flanders. Tony Flanders.”

She walked back to the door, stopping only to say over her shoulder, “Come into breakfast.”

John Michael Muldowney helped Jacob Rosen out of the chair, his questioning look reassured by Jake’s nod, and they walked into breakfast, in the cure cottage known as Red Gables, at 4 McCarthy Terrace, Saranac Lake, New York.

It was June 26, 1927.
$16.95
203-p
Format: 
Runaway Hearts
by Terry L. White

Stories of Maryland's Eastern Shore, all told in rhyme. Tales of love and derring-do, of those who lived and loved in a place time almost forgot. Tales of the pirate, Jonathan Bright, and the changeling child he adopted. Of Jack Tilghman, who came home from the war in 1864, and his wife, Nicey, who waited, not always patiently. And of Harriet Tubman, the woman called Moses, who truly had a Runaway Heart, if anyone every did.



ISBN: 1-59431-164-1 Poetry / Black History/ Romance

Perfect Binding: Trade Paper 135 pages . Illustrated.

Cover art by Terry L. White





A Freedom Dream

Harriet Tubman was fine-boned,

but strong!

She worked in the world like a man.

Her story is here in the marshes

and woods

I’ll tell you as much as I can:



Screech owl call on a Bucktown night

Ain’t no moon, ain’t no light.

Child at rest on a corn shuck bed.

Strange dreams fill Mis Hattie’s head!



Seven years old,

a runaway twice,

Once, last fall.

before, there was ice!

There’s a tune that struggles

deep in her soul

Hat’s star points North,

a new life her goal.



“Rise up, Hat. You make your bed.

Poke that fire,” her mother said.

“Sun’s come up, don’t play the fool.

Time to bend to Massa’s rule ...”



Gathers them eggs in the

pink-washed dawn.

Brown feet bare, shift is torn.

Springy hair matted with

dust and chaff

Big brown eyes, don’t never laugh.



Hat plucks hen-fruit one by one,

Tears fall quick.

Hen pecks her thumb!

Round, white, smooth,

warm from breast,

She finds ten eggs in

a hidden nest.



Out from the Big House

Mam gives a yell,

“Bring that water from the well!”

Sun come hot, work begins.

Hat’s heart rides out

on a freedom wind



Sent to work on down the road,

Always hungry, tired, alone.

The babe she tends, it frets at best –

Cries all night and steals her rest.



Hat just does the best she can

Dream of a home in

Freedom Land.

Out through the marsh

her soul burn a path.

Can a white God hear the

thing she ask?
$16.95
164-p
Format: 
Lady Lightkeeper
Misty Cover Series, Vol. 2

by Nikki Leigh

Lizbeth is a woman of uncommon strength and determination and that's one of the things that her husband William, loves about her. When an unexpected turn of events cuts Lizbeth's happiness short, that strength is tested in ways she never imagined. Her children are growing up in a time and place where death and loss are a common part of life. While she struggles with her own fears, she must help her children find their way through an uncertain future. Lizbeth keeps an almost obsessive vigil from the lighthouse catwalk. This makes her the ideal choice for the new lightkeeper for the Stormy View lighthouse. She must decide if she's ready to move forward. Misty Cove residents are concerned about whether Duncan, the assistant lightkeeper, is hiding a dark secret? What long-buried secrets will challenge Lizbeth as she makes the journey through the pages of Lady Lightkeeper?

ISBN 1-59431-409-8 Historical Romance / Suspense

Cover art© 2006 magictouchimages.com, cover photograph Magic Images provided the photograph “By the Pale Moonlight” on the cover. Thanks to Paul Taitt and Scott Grant of Magic Images in Wilton, ME for giving us permission to use it.



Chapter 1

(Monday, September 27, 1852)

The ocean mist brushed across my face. Amber, orange and pink fingers of sunlight wrapped around the rails. My seat on the floor of the parapet was wet, but it didn't matter. From my perch high atop the lighthouse, I scanned the horizon. There was no sight of the Misty Pride II. William should've been home weeks earlier. He sailed with his men over six months ago. Where was he and why wasn't he home? Our children needed him and so did I. Waves crashed against the sandy floor far below.

As the sun rose, my frustration grew. "William, where are you? I need you here with me." The words escaped my lips. Turning from side to side, I made sure no one heard my words.

Holcomb would arrive to check the light soon. Each morning he extinguished the light and began his daily chores. I should know the responsibilities after all these months. My presence day after day must irritate him, but the lighthouse was the best vantage point in Misty Cove. I could view the coast from the lamp room. Normally, the sheer beauty along our section of the Massachusetts coastline would take my breath away, but not as long as William was missing.

I could watch from the widow's walk at home. Shivers raced along my spine and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Even looking at that part of the house gave me chills. With William missing, I simply couldn't think about that. The name seemed like an warning and I would not give up hope that William and his men were fine. I couldn't give up.

Tears flowed from my eyes and ran down my mist covered face. My thoughts wandered to Marta and Aidan. Our children were our greatest job and they needed a father and a mother. I grew up without my mother because she died when I was young. But, my children needed both parents. I remembered Marta's sad expression when William's boat set out to sea. Before the Misty Pride II had cleared the dock she wanted to know when her daddy would be home because she already missed him.

In my heart, I knew he would be home. He'd been gone for over six months, but he would return to us. How many times had father's fishing boat been late returning to shore? I couldn't remember the exact number of times, but it was common for the men to arrive home later than expected. I leaned against the metal rails and gripped the wet surface with all my might. I wouldn't lose again. I couldn't lose again.

I shook my head and tried to clear my thoughts. Things happened on the ocean. I knew that better than most people. There had to be a good reason why the was late, we just hadn't received the details. I would continue to keep an eye on the dock and speak to any sailors that came ashore. Someone had to know where William and his crew were.

Dark gray clouds moved closer to the lighthouse and obscured my view of the harbor. Maybe it was time to go home and get breakfast. The cloud cover made it difficult to see any boats from the lighthouse, but I could see from the bay window in my bedroom. I'd return to the house to wake Marta and Aidan while Sara prepared breakfast. I had to smile when I thought of Sara. She and I had been close since the day father brought her home to care for me and the house.

I heard footsteps beside me and I turned to see Holcomb. "Good morning, Mrs. Kinsey. Can I help you this morning?" He leaned against the rail.

"No thank you, Mr. Holcomb." I hesitated for a moment. "Why don't you call me Lizbeth?"

He tilted his head toward me. "Are you sure, ma'am?"

Smiling I held my hand out to him. "I am. Do you mind if I call you James?"

He shook my hand and a warm smile crept across his face. "That would be nice." He turned to face the ocean. "Have you seen anything this morning?"

Shaking my head, I spoke. "No, nothing yet. I didn't see any boats coming into the harbor before the clouds moved in." I watched the horizon and soaked in the sparse rays of sun that filtered through the gathering clouds.

James Holcomb kept his feet rooted to the platform but reached out to me with his words. "If you need anything, just tell me. I know the details about your father's accident. Actually, that's why the government brought me to Misty Cove. You can trust me to keep the light shining for Mr. Kinsey to find his way home."

I hadn't thought about the time of year. How could the date have escaped me? The eleventh anniversary of father's accident was only a few weeks away. Tears flowed down my face. I lowered my head into both hands.

Holcomb placed a hand on my shoulder with a tentative touch. "I didn't mean to make you unhappy. Please ignore me and I will leave you alone."

He turned to leave, but I stopped him. "I've been so overwrought about William that I forgot about the anniversary of father's death. I have to remember father, no matter how worried I am about William."

"Can I do anything to help?" He asked in a ragged voice.

"Sara and I set aside time to remember father each year. I want my children to know about their grandfather. He was a wonderful man. It is a shame they will never meet him."

"It's wonderful that you help your children to know their grandfather. I've heard stories about George Sullivan. He was loved and respected by many people." His eyes faced the sea. "I remember the hearings after Grimes let the light go dark during that storm. The first and foremost responsibility of the keeper is to keep the light shining. Grimes deserved to be jailed for shirking his duties."

I touched James shoulder and smiled at him. "I'm glad to know you feel that way. The government built a lighthouse here because the sailors need the beacon. The October Gale of 1841 was bad, but I still believe father could've gotten home if the light had shone that night. He knew this coast better than anyone I know, except maybe William."

"You husband is a competent captain and he will get his men and the boat home if it's possible. There's probably a good reason why they are late."

"I know you're right. Somehow, I have to find out why he isn't home." Determination pushed me to find the information I needed. "I will go to the docks and ask every captain who puts into shore, whether he has heard anything about the ." The heel of my hand slammed against the rails.

"I'll check information I get for details about Mr. Kinsey and his crew."

"Thank you. Please let me know if you hear anything."

"You will be the first person I tell." His words touched me.

I reached for my coat and turned to the door. "Sara is expecting me, so I need to go. The children will want breakfast and they don't like to eat without me." Thoughts of my children brought a bittersweet smile to my lips.

James stepped back to allow me to enter the lamp room. I reached out to touch the reflector that would magnify the light from the lamps. It was clean and that enabled the lamp to shine the furthest distance. It might seem unimportant to many people, but I knew the importance of keeping the lamp room clean and functioning properly.

Curving stone steps led to the door of the lighthouse. My hand laid gently on the rail as I made my way down the stairs. There was a little bounce to my steps when I thought about my children. My boots clinked on the stones as I reached the bottom. James stayed upstairs to begin the morning duties. My horse stood by the hitching post. I climbed into the saddle for the ride home.
$16.95
409
Format: 
Widow's Walk
Misty Cove Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Nikki Leigh

First in a series of three. Days before her wedding, in October 1841, Lizbeth climbs to the widows walk atop her home, with her fiancé. They search the dark and stormy horizon for her father's fishing boat and Lizbeth notices the darkened lighthouse on the point.

In such a violent storm, her father and the other men from Misty Cove need the lighthouse to guide their boats safely into harbor. In the morning and the lighthouse lamps shine out, but it's too late. Death had come in the stormy night and the community is devastated by loss. Is love enough for Lizbeth to overcome the needless death of her father?

Mourning and an investigation into the light's failure delay the wedding. When, at last, Lizbeth and William pledge their love, will they find happiness?

ISBN 1-59431-343-3 Historical/Romance

Cover Art by Nikki Leigh



Chapter One

October 3, 1841 Sunday Evening

Brilliant flashes of lightning lit the night sky and the thunder rumbled my soul. The cold raindrops brushed my cheek while the storm drew near. Intense heartbeats hammered in my chest as I thought of father and his crew. Their fishing boat was on its way home. We hadn’t heard exactly when they planned to return, but this storm worried me. I reminded myself that my concern could be unfounded.

Through the years, I watched many storms approach the Cape Ann coastline. We lived on a section of the Massachusetts coast which didn’t see many hurricanes but, this one promised to be powerful.

The cool early morning breeze turned into a cold, stiff wind. My thoughts crossed the churning waters of the Atlantic, which spread in front of me. I couldn’t help but worry about Father. Once his boat was in sight, I could relax because then the lighthouse beacon would guide him safely into the harbor. Waves pounded the rock cliffs far below my perch on our widow’s walk.

My eyes caught the light from the Stormy View lighthouse. The beacon reassured me that father would find his way home. I knew in my heart that he could get home, once he saw the coastline. The beacon shone above our small fishing village of Misty Cove. Clusters of clouds were visible in the light, making them appear ominous.

The gale moved closer to shore as I scanned the horizon for father’s fishing boat from my perch on the widow’s walk atop our home. Would Father stay at sea until the storm passed? I pulled my coat collar against the cold rain and opened the door to scurry back inside the house.

My dear friend Abigail waited for me inside where she was working on the wedding dress I would wear in a few days. I could try to hide my concern, but Abigail knew me well.

“Lizbeth, are you all right?” her soft voice called out to me.

“I need to sit by the fire and get warm. The temperature has dropped since this afternoon.” I walked straight to the hearth.

Abigail looked in my direction. Concern lined her face. “Could you see anything from the widow’s walk?”

A chill raced up my spine when I heard the words widow’s walk this close to my wedding. My fiancée, William was safe onshore, but Father might be in danger.

Abigail added the final touches to my wedding dress. I wanted something simple, but she had wonderful ideas that made my dress a treasure.

“You’re soaked.” Abigail walked to me, a cloth in hand, and shook her head. “I’ll dry your hair. I won’t allow a cold to interfere with your wedding.” She laid one of mother’s quilts over my shoulders and ruffled my hair.

“Speaking of your wedding, if your mother was here, she would have this talk with you.” I knew what she was about to say. “We should talk about your…behavior on your wedding night.”

With a touch of hesitation, I spoke in a low voice. “Sara and I talked about that.”

Abigail coughed. “I’m not sure that Sara’s advice would be the best in this situation.”

“Abigail, I know you mean well, but I won’t listen to you insult Sara. She’s cared for father and me since I was a young child and father has been happy with her. There’s no reason to ignore her now.”

Abigail sputtered as she spoke. “H-he can’t think that she would be the best person to talk to about—”

“Abigail, you said your piece.” She opened her mouth to speak, but I held up a hand. “This is the end of the conversation.”

Her hands worked on my hair with rough movements. She was mad, but I wouldn’t let her insult Sara. Both women were special to me, besides it was easier to discuss things like that with Sara. I needed to think of something more peaceful.

I remembered the time when I met William, who became my best friend when I was six years old and he was nine. Twelve years later, he was still my best friend and fiercest protector. Anyone who was cruel to me had to deal with William. He’d always been at my side to save me from harm.

No other young men sparked the same enthusiasm in me. William stirred excitement along with love, loyalty and devotion; a good foundation for our marriage. If my mother was here, I’d talk to her about it, but she died giving birth to my younger brother. I was only three years old at the time and a year later I lost my brother too.

“In any case, the preparations for your wedding are almost done.” She peered out the window as she spoke. “I wish this storm would move off our coast.”

I looked into Abigail’s weathered face. She took great care to dress her best, but her face and hair were mussed from the weather earlier in the afternoon. Scant streaks of gray within her brown hair gave her an air of sophistication. Years ago when I commented on Abigail’s blue eyes, she told me they were the same shade as mothers. People said they were mistaken for sisters when they were young.

“I’ll feel better when father’s boat has docked. Mr. Lockwood shouldn’t have insisted they go out this late in the season.” I paced the floor. “Do they think father will get home before the storm hits?”

Abigail rose from her seat, wrapping a wrinkled hand around my shoulder. “Your father has sailed these waters for years. It would take an incredible storm to keep him away. He always says that the Stormy View lighthouse is his constant star to guide him home.” Her words were a comfort, but I noticed the shadow of concern in her eyes.

“What do we need to do before Wednesday?” I counted the things that remained on my fingers. “Our invitations are delivered. My beautiful dress is almost finished.” A wave of sadness washed over me. “I considered wearing a veil, but I’d rather wear a wild flower headdress. Besides, Mrs. Gardner refused to order a veil for me.” I struggled to push her from my mind. This was not a time to think about my problems with Ida Gardner.

Many happy thoughts had filled my days over the past few weeks. William was almost finished renovating our house. Normally, he would be on the boat with father, but it was better for him to stay and work on our home. With reports of a storm off the coast, completing the roof became our top priority. He finished a day early.

Sara and I would work on the interior of the house after we moved in. We had already moved mother’s linens into the cupboards beside my dishes. Sara and I canned beans, corn, and other foods during the summer. I helped with the finishing touches on our furniture. William assembled the chairs, tables and our bed. I sanded the rough sawn lumber and applied finishes when they were complete. The renovations to our home would be ready before we moved in next week. Father owned the house for years and we renovated it to accommodate ourselves.

“I finished attaching this piece of lace on the shoulder. What do you think?” I studied her work. The vivid blue lace would match my eyes while the pale yellow flowers would blend with my blonde hair.

My light coloring was a contrast to William’s dark good looks. His dark brown eyes matched his dark brown hair. Hours on the fishing boat gave his skin a deep tanned appearance. My skin didn’t darken, even after many hours along the docks or on the water. Our contrasting appearances complemented each other.

“I want to check the weather. Nolan should be by shortly in the landaulet. It’s an ostentatious carriage, it will keep us warm this winter. I’ll have to take you for a ride.” Abigail’s eyes shone bright as she looked at me. “Would you and William like to use it after the wedding? You could travel to your new home in comfort.”

“I’ll ask William and see what he thinks. He may have a surprise planned.” A warm smile crossed my face each time I thought of my fiancée.

I heard rocks crunch in front of the house and I glanced out the window. With a couple of steps, Abigail stood by me and we saw Nolan stop near the front door. Their horse pranced while Nolan struggled to tie him to a fence post. A crack of thunder rang through the air. The horse reared back and brought his front hooves down near the gate. Nolan grabbed the reins and held fast to calm the horse until the lightning ceased.

I noticed Nolan Westley’s profile in the storm. He was a distinguished man. His hair was thinning, but he combed it over to give the impression of more hair A tall, thin man, he walked with a air which exuded confidence. The residents of Misty Cove were fortunate to have him as our mayor.

His gray hair blew free in the wind. He maintained a neat mustache and beard, which added to his fine appearance. Abigail and Nolan made a handsome couple and the town folks treated them with respect.

I opened the front door when Nolan climbed the steps. “Come in and get out of the storm.”

“Thank you for meeting me. This is a strong one. Are you both all right?” He shook the rain from his head in the foyer.

“We’re fine.” My shoulders tensed when I turned to him. “Have you heard any word about father and the Misty Pride?”

“I haven’t heard anything, but he’s a skilled captain and knows these waters better than anyone. They will come within sight of the lighthouse, and the beam will guide him into the harbor.” He sounded certain.

“I’m sure you’re right. Mr. Lockwood shouldn’t have made them go out this late in the season. He’s a selfish and greedy man.” My anger flared and I stomped on the floor.

“Your father wouldn’t go out this late unless it was important.” He gripped my arm, and I felt his strength.

“Mr. Lockwood has enough money, but one day he’ll have to consider other people. I don’t know what will have to happen to make him change.” What could I ever do about Mr. Lockwood?

“I don’t like your being alone in this storm. You can come home with us if that would make you feel better.” Abigail sounded like a mother hen.

“In a few days, I’ll be a married woman and there will be times when William is away. I better get used to spending some time alone.” I walked Abigail toward the door and gave her a quick hug. “You need to get home before the storm gets worse. Nolan, take care of her, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

We walked outside together and I realized just bad the storm had become. I hugged Nolan and Abigail before they stepped into the landaulet. The wind whipped my skirts and the hard rain fell on my head. I hiked up the dress hem and ran toward the house, boots sloshing in the mud.

“Close the door tight behind us and check the windows. If they aren’t closed, they’ll make a racket in this storm,” Abigail continued, as Nolan nudged her across the carriage.

“I will. But I’ll rest better knowing you’re home safe,” I called out, trying to be heard over the howling wind.

“Sleep well and I’ll check on you in the morning,” Nolan bellowed.

I closed the door and noticed the candle had burned low and I searched for a replacement. It was a dark night, and I shouldn’t be without a light.

I entered the keeping room and reached for my wedding dress. The lace Abigail added to the shoulders was a wonderful touch that came from one of mother’s dresses. A small piece of mother would be at our wedding. What would it be like to have mother with me? I doubted that my mother could be more dedicated to my happiness than Abigail and Sara.

With a candle in hand, I climbed the stairs to my room and lit the oil lamp on my bedside table. My chamber set was near the window. Earlier in the day I filled the pitcher with water. I poured it into the bowl and washed my face. This simple cleansing ritual relaxed me.

I pulled my rocking chair in front of the window that faced the harbor. Tomorrow I planned to visit our house and work with William. My ride to the house would depend on how bad the storm was in the morning. It might pass us overnight. I hoped father would return sometime late the next day, after the storm had move away from our coastline. My eyes grew tired as I peered into the stormy night and before I knew it, I dozed off.

***

A crash of thunder woke me. Tree branches slammed against the side of our house, rain pelted the window keeping me awake as the storm bore down on us. I shifted in the chair and tried to soothe the crick in my neck.

I wrapped myself in a robe and raised the wick in the lamp before walking down the stairs with care. A knock on the door startled me as I reached the bottom step. I peered through the side window, but I couldn’t make out who it was in the dark. A flash of lightning lit the sky and I smiled when I recognized William.

“Lizbeth, are you all right?” His tone was frantic.

With a sense of panic, I opened the door. “I’m fine. Get out of the rain.”

I helped him out of his soaked coat. He wore his banyan, the blue morning coat I made for him. The coat seemed out of place. I wasn’t used to seeing him in his sleepwear.

William glanced at his attire and his face turned red. “I didn’t think about my clothes, or lack of them.” He cleared his throat and continued, “My only thought was to make sure you were safe.” He paused for a moment and looked in my eyes. “Are you all right?”

I smiled at him and reached up to hug him around the neck. “I’m fine. This is a solid old house and I was asleep until the storm worsened.” Branches from a nearby tree hit the house causing me to jump at the noise. It must’ve been a large branch to make such a ruckus. “How did you get here?”

I led him into the keeping room and stoked the embers on the hearth. After wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, I added several logs to rekindle the fire.

“Thank you. This is so warm.” He snuggled into the blanket.

William shivered while I stoked the fire and pleaded silently for heat to penetrate the room. Slowly the fire grew larger and radiated some warmth.

I sat on the floor beside William’s slat back chair and the bottom of my robe spread along the chair legs. “I appreciate your concern, but you could’ve been seriously hurt.” I touched his knee. “How will you get back home in this weather?”

William’s eyes grew large. “I didn’t think about that. The important thing was to make sure you’re all right.” His smile was genuine and I held his cold hands in mine. I rubbed them and shared my warmth with him.

“It isn’t proper, but you should stay here because I won’t risk your being hurt. Father would understand under the circumstances. He’d be upset if you left me alone in this storm.” I smiled at him and said, “We could stay awake here on the rockers. What do you think?”

With a soft touch to my cheek, he spoke to me. “Why don’t you sit beside me? You can tell me how our wedding plans are coming.” He stood and slid the chair next to his.

I sat near him, recounted the day’s events and enjoyed the warmth from the fireplace. Deep down I knew that I should lock myself in my room or send William away but I couldn’t find the motivation to do either.

***

Something banged loudly against the side of the house and the noise woke me. William wasn’t in the chair next to me. I stood and dropped my blanket to the floor. He wasn’t in the kitchen or the washroom. I ran up the stairs and looked for him. He wasn’t in the house.

“William, where are you?” My words held an anxious tone. The wind blew hard and rain pounded the windows.

The front door slammed with a thud and William entered the hallway.

“Why were you outside?” I asked.

“The shutters blew loose and I secured them.” He pushed back a loose strand of my hair with his cold wet hand. “Did I wake you when I went outside?”

“The loud noise woke me. Come back to the fire with me.” My voice was barely audible, “Do you think father is safe?”

William held my hand and kissed my cheek, “He’ll probably stay away from the coast and wait out the storm. When he sees the lighthouse, he’ll adjust his course to stay out of harm’s way.”

“That means his life is in the hands of Edward Grimes.” Panic rose within me.

“Not necessarily. Your Father knows this coast better than anyone I know. He’s a strong and capable man. I’ll climb onto the widow’s walk and look around. Stay here where it is dry.”

“I have to see for myself,” was my determined reply.

William shook his head and laughed, “You will do what you want. It’s a good thing I love you, even with that stubborn streak.”

I hugged him and grabbed the spyglass before we started up the stairs. William pushed the door open and we stepped onto the narrow platform. Clouds hung lower in the sky and lightning gave them an eerie appearance. The centuries old trees in the yard creaked under the strain of the wind.

I could barely see the waves as I struggled to make out the white caps. With a sudden feeling of dread, I realized the problem.

“William, the light isn’t shining.” I squeezed his arm.

“Give me the spyglass for a moment.” I handed him the scope.

“Oh please, no!” I heard his hushed words through the wind and rain.

“What do you see?” The walkway was narrow and I lost my footing in the rain.

William grabbed my arm and held me. “Lizbeth, you need to go inside. I have to get Mr. Westley.” He moved me toward the door and held my arm tight as we walked down the tapered stairs. “Will you stay in the house and out of the storm?”

“Did you see father?” My voice was shrill.

“Promise me you will stay here.” He looked stern.

“I’ll stay, but only if you insist.” I pursed my lips and hoped he wouldn’t.

“I think it’s the Misty Pride and they need the light at once. Please don’t make me worry about you too.”

“Father is in danger.” I choked on the words..

“Stay here where you will be safe.” He kissed me with fierce determination and disappeared into the night.

I had a clear view of his horse carrying him down the muddy road from my bedroom window. That was the best place to watch. I tried to see the Misty Pride in the intermittent flashes of lightning, but there were only shadows on the rough sea.

I perched on the window seat and tried to stay calm, but it was no use. The lighthouse remained dark, but William was on his way. How much time did they have to help father and the crew? I needed to be by his side and help protect father.

I rose from my window and pulled on my boots and cloak. Taking the stairs two at a time, I hastily unlocked the door and it blew backward in the wind. Once I started toward the front yard, the wind gusted and I landed in a mud puddle. Pushing my hands against the ground, I stood and slogged through the mud before I reached the barn door.

William’s words echoed in my mind. He didn’t need to worry about me too and it would risk the lives of father and his men if I followed William. For once in my life, I decided to stay put although it would drive me crazy. I turned back to the house and climbed the stairs to take a seat at my window. Watching out the rain soaked window, I prayed for the safe return of the two most important men in my life.

$16.95
343-p
Format: 
Saratoga Summer, 1863
Saratoga Series, Vol. 1

by Dorice Nelson

Connor O'Malley marries Sinead Brennan-Cavanaugh by proxy, forcing him to leave a peaceful Irish horse farm for the turbulent streets of New York during the Civil War Draft riots.

"A fantastic read...5 Roses," LoveRomances.com.

The story moves on to the vibrant bustle of a Saratoga summer. Connor wants only to return to his homeland and his beloved horses. Sinead hates horses, is responsible for a child not her own, and refuses to go to Ireland, fighting Connor every step of the Way

ISBN 1-59431-192-7 Historical Romance/Civil War/ Horse Racing

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prologue

Ireland

Summer, 1843

In the usual fashion of uncut equine males, the leggy chestnut stallion shrieked and whinnied to attract the attention of the mares in the next field. Head held high, he ran the perimeter of his enclosed grassy paddock and worked up a heavy sheen of sweat.

He had been at the farm for a month but still behaved in this fashion when other horses were being led into the nearby pastures. His shrill bellows caused eleven-year-old Connor O’Malley to glance up and shake his head in apparent disgust. No one else seemed to pay much attention to the stallion’s nervous calls, so Connor kept watch.

At the chestnut’s continued trumpeting, Bowes Brennan, a short, bandy-legged young man with a thatch of hair the color of ripe straw, peered from behind the barn’s double doors. He, too, shook his head but grinned as he checked the outside area. He waved to his wife, Annie, round with child, who sat on the top rail of the stallion’s paddock fence. He blew her a kiss and disappeared back into the bowels of the barn.

Annie sat high on the fence, seemingly amused at the prancing stallion’s comical attempts to entice the mares. With a joyful smile on her face, she turned and called out to the elder of her two small daughters playing in the sand pit at the near side of the barn. “Sinead, darlin’. Look,” she shouted, her voice filled with merriment. “Isn’t he the most glorious looking beast?”

“Aye, Mam, he is. Pretty horsey,” came the childish shout from the four-year-old. The little girl smiled broadly, displaying perfectly aligned small white teeth. “Almost pretty as you.”

Annie turned back to watch again, her smile wider than before.

Now unbearably anxious, the chestnut focused on the mares in the nearby field. He snorted and called again. Suddenly, in desperation, he propelled himself into a tearing gallop. His massive muscles bunched and stretched, bunched and stretched. He ran straight at the fence, rocked back on his hocks, and propelling himself forward, leapt to jump from the paddock.

The stallion missed the top rail in his surge for freedom. He was almost over when his front hooves clipped the rail, knocking Annie—and him—off balance. She tipped backward and fell to the ground. The stallion’s back legs crashed onto wood, hard and split the rail in half. The two pieces of stout logs plummeted to the ground, hitting Annie, who lay crumpled in a heap outside the paddock.

Her single scream resounded above the hushed hillsides, silenced by more than a thousand pounds of horseflesh landing atop her. The stallion thrashed and kicked in his struggle to regain his feet. He crushed Annie beneath him before he stood upright.

At the sound of the scream, Bowes, his jockey-sized body pumping his legs like pistons, exploded out the barn doors. Connor bolted from the far pasture where he had been teasing the new foals. The two girls rose and stood in the sand, dumbstruck, their faces crossed with horror and their hands tightly clasped.

Bowes reached her first. He lifted her battered body into his arms. “Annie, Annie,” he sobbed, watching the blood seep from her mouth. Her eyes stared blankly at the serene sky. Her lips hung open as if that one scream would be the last sound she would ever make. “Annie, lass, don’t be leaving me. Please, me darling, don’t go…”

Finn O’Malley, Connor’s father, stormed out of the manor house, shouting, “What in hell’s name is going on out here?” Bowes was on the ground holding a body. Finn turned his head and called, “Mary, come…”

The new stallion hovered nearby, head hanging, muscles quivering, his weight on only three of his four legs, unable to move. Finn’s expression was wild. He shouted to Connor, who was fast approaching from the field. “Fetch the gun from the house. Quickly now, lad.”

Connor swerved at his father’s command and dashed into the house, pushing past his mother, who stood frozen in the doorway, her hand covering her mouth. Finn tore across the lawn toward the accident, his face a mask of sorrow.

Bowes nestled his wife in his arms and looked up at the man standing over him. “Och, dear God! She’s gone, Finn,” he cried. “Me Annie-girl is gone. The babe with her. I felt the last breath leave her.” He sobbed with earth-shaking, gulping howls. “Only a moment ago. Me Annie’s gone and the babe she carried with her.” He clutched his wife closer to his narrow, heaving chest and rocked the body. Keening, he rained kisses over her bruised and bloody face.

Face drawn, Finn hunkered down next to Bowes and put a consoling hand on his shoulder. “Here, man.” He patted the shoulder then rubbed the young man’s head with a gentle hand.

Tears of anguish gushed from Bowes’s blue eyes and forged paths down his cheeks. He looked up at the older man with an almost vacant expression. “What’ll I do without me Annie?”

“Let me take her from ye, laddie. I’ll be bringing her up to the house for me Mary to care for. There’s nothing ye can be doing for Annie now. See to yer girls.” Finn nodded in the direction of the barn. “They’re little forms are shaking yet, stiff with the fright.”

Slowly, with movements meant to soothe, Finn eased Annie’s limp body from Bowes’s grasp and lifted her gently into his own strong arms. Connor ran from the house with a rifle grasped tightly in his hand and moved to his father’s side.

The sight of the blood and gore hit young Connor him with the impact of a runaway train. He fell to his knees. He dropped the gun, crossed himself and murmured a short prayer.

Finn gazed down at his son. “Lad, yer Ma and I will be busy. We must see to Annie. Ye’ll have to be taking care of that crippled creature yerself,” he said quietly, pointing at the forgotten stallion. “There’s none other to do it. ’Tis this very day ye’ll be turning into yer manhood, son. I trust ye to do the deed right, and quick.”

Fighting back tears, Connor’s father turned and shuffled toward the house, carrying Annie Brennan in his arms. The quiet sound of the manor’s door closing was punctuated by the sobbing of a boy becoming a man, the horrific wailing screams of two frightened children and the sound of a gunshot.

* * *

Two months later

The two little girls, eyes wide, gripped each other’s hands tightly. This farm was the only home they’d ever known. Now, they were leaving it. Sitting in a narrow cart amongst their luggage, they stared straight ahead, seeming no longer to recognize the people standing on the porch of the stone manor house. Their father, unlike his former laughing, teasing self, stood morose, stiff.

“Bowes, ye don’t have to be leaving. Ye know me Mary and I will take care of ye and yer lasses.”

“Aye, I do that, sir.” He shook his head. “But the very sight of the horses scares the girls far too much for any pleasure in them. Sinead, in her mourning for her mam, is afraid to leave our cottage. She’s afraid to go anywhere near the horses.”

“We can move ye to another place, perhaps, in the village. At least, ye’d know ye’d be having steady work. Ye’re too much of a horseman to be leaving the beasts forever.”

“Nae, Finn, ’tis better I take the lasses away from the scene of the accident.”

Mary O’Malley, her soft brown eyes filled with unshed tears, asked, “Where will ye go, Bowes? Where will ye be taking those lovely girls?” She paused to look at the sad little girls, her desire for daughters apparent on her face. “I’ll be missing them so. They were the daughters I’ve not had.”

“I think we’ll head toward Dublin first,” Bowes said, taking off his cap and crushing it against his chest. “I have sisters there who will watch the lasses while I work.” He turned away but turned back again, as if reluctant to leave. “They’ll be having family around and a routine to follow. It’ll be better for them.”

Finn put an open hand out to Bowes. “Ye’re a good man with people and a finer hand with the horses. How will ye ever stay away from the beasties? They’ve been yer life’s work, for sure,” he said, in a hopeful pleading tone.

“I think some time soon, we may travel across the pond to America. I have sisters there, too, in a city called New York. It’ll be a new place, a new life for me and the girls,” he said, gripping Finn’s hand then letting it go and walking down the steps, saying good-bye to Mary and Finn O’Malley for a final time.

Finn followed him down to the drive. He put his arm around Bowes’s thin shoulders and hugged the young man to him. They broke apart, embarrassed at the sudden show of affection. Bowes took a step closer to the overloaded cart.

Finn said in a low voice, “The money I’ve given ye is not near enough for the care of your girls. ’Tis not enough for me to do for ye. Bowes, ye know ye can always count on me if ever yer family runs into any kind of trouble.”

“Thank ye, Finn. Ye’ve always been most generous to me and mine. I don’t think things will ever get this bad again. At least, not in my lifetime.”

A short grunt of derision burst from Finn’s mouth. “There’s no telling the amount of tragedy God will put into a fellow’s life, just to test him.” He crossed himself quickly. “But if ever ye should need me or mine, we’ll be there for ye. ’Tis my solemn promise to ye, man to man.”

The two men embraced again and gave each other quick pats on the back. Neither looked up to notice the grave forlorn faces of Connor and his four younger brothers. The boys stood huddled together and watched the leave-taking from an upstairs window.

Bowes trotted toward the cart alone. Inserting himself between the protruding frames, he grasped them and, with a grunt, pulled the cart down the road, away from the manor house. He didn’t look back.

Chapter One

Ireland

April 1863



Connor O’Malley scanned the pasture and studied the new foals racing across the field in playful abandon. He chortled over their antics. Lord, but I love these horses!

Looking guiltily to each side, at the ground in front of him, and then up to the sky, he crossed himself quickly and added both his family and Ireland to his mental list of things he loved, whispering aloud, “In that order.”

Connor laughed at himself for the many insignificant superstitions ruling his life. He shook his head in further amusement at his own daftness. He knew full well, whenever he got a chance, he would tell everyone or anyone who would listen or not, about the best breeding program of racing stock in all of Ireland. He smiled. And the best racing training to boot.

This morning, he was puffed up with a sense of pride in what he considered his accomplishments and downright smug in his beliefs about his future in the European world of horseracing. He was hotter-than-hell from planting oak and elm saplings in the pastures, to cover his beloved horses from the ravages of Ireland’s quick downpours and shade them from the strong bursts of sunshine. It became more important each day to maintain the proper condition of their coats.

Beads of perspiration rolled from beneath the blue cloth circling his brow. He stopped digging and, with the turned-up sleeve of his grimy cotton undershirt, wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked around. Where had his four brothers gone, he wondered. The damned fools disappear every time there’s hard work to be done.

A dull jangle of out-of-tune iron bells made Connor turn from the foals clustered around him, now shoving and poking at him, to look down the road leading to the manor. Ill-matched hoof beats of a poorly shod horse accompanied the discordant clang of the bells and drummed up thin clouds of dust on the dirt road.

Slowly, an ancient gray horse struggled into view over the last slight rise in the roadway. Connor chuckled and leaned on his shovel to watch the old gray, with an even older white-haired man perched atop him, approach the stone house.

His cousin Padrik O’Malley from the village, a pouch slung over his shoulder, sat draped atop his plug of a horse. Padrik’s chin rested on his chest. His eyes were closed.

The flea-beaten horse plodded across the gravel path straight to the most vibrant green of the grassy lawn surrounding the house. Once there, he spread his front legs and stretched his neck down to graze.

The sudden movement upset the elderly man’s balance. Slipping and sliding in the leather saddle, almost falling, Paddy grabbed a handful of mane and pushed hard to right himself. He looked around him with a silly and guilty expression on his face, obviously startled by the rude awakening.

“Good day to ye, Cousin Padrik,” Connor called while moving steadily toward the old man.

“Aye?” Paddy called in return. He looked around with a vacant stare. “Aye? Och, there ye are, Connor, me lad,” he shouted. Cupping his ear as if he could barely hear, he beckoned Connor closer with his free hand. “A good day to ye, laddie. Come closer,” he bellowed, his voice growing louder the closer Connor came. “Yer horses are looking right fine, a rompin’ in that new field at hill’s bottom. Sleek-looking, a gleamin’ in the sun they are.”

“Why, thank you, cousin,” Connor said. He grinned, suspecting Padrik had been sound asleep when he passed the lower field. “’Tis a beautiful day for taking leave from your duties and traveling a bit. A visit to me da, is it now?”

“Nae. ’Tis me duty I’m doing. As post fer the village, I’m deliverin’ a packet to yer da.”

Connor strolled to Paddy’s side and lifted the horse’s head to wipe the half-chewed grass from his mouthpiece. He handed the reins to his cousin. “Padrik, I think the packet’s for me. ’Tis expecting one from an English breeder I am.”

With the mail pouch clutched to his chest in a tight grip, Paddy shook his head. “Nae, Con. The packet’s addressed to your da, it is.” He leaned down and whispered in a gravelly voice, “Lots of papers shoved inside, it has. Givin’ it some bulk. Came from across the pond, it did. Important, I’m thinkin’.”

“America?” Connor frowned. “Well then, it’s surely not for me.” Connor edged around the horse in the direction of the pasture. “Have yourself a short nip while you’re visiting with me da,” he said as an afterthought.

He wheeled around and strode back toward the pasture, mumbling to himself, “As if you hadn’t thought of that nip all by your wee self.”

Connor briefly wondered how a packet, from America no less, would concern his da, but he shrugged off his thoughts and marched back to the field. Why should he worry about something from America? He had everything he needed to keep his life content. His horses, his family and Ireland itself were the very things on this earth to fill him with supreme happiness.

I am blessed!

* * *

Four days later

Only minutes earlier, a heartbroken Finn O’Malley rang the huge iron bell on the manor’s porch to summon his five ‘boyos’ from the fields. He let the bell peal on by itself while he retired to the library.

Finn’s eyes filled. He let the wetness slither down his face as he stood at the tall windows waiting for his sons to appear in the distance. Vivid sunlight danced over his face in flickering movements. He shaded his eyes from the glow, for its very brightness made a sad mockery of the dark deed he would commit this day.

He wondered what the mother of his sons, his sweet Mary, gone these past ten years, would think of him. What would she think of his promise and of his newfound scheme to honor it? Would she sling curses from heaven upon his head for severing the family life she so cherished?

Over the years, Finn presumed the vague promise, barely remembered, would never come to pass. How could he explain to his grown sons the promise made so long ago, before they were adults? In twenty years, no mention of it crossed the O’Malley threshold. Now, Bowes Brennan had called it in, a Bowes Brennan from the new country, a Brennan who desperately needed an O’Malley.

Finn’s heart filled with sadness. He knew he would lie to his lads. One of his sons must…

They appeared in the distance. Finn shook his head to chase his dour mood away. With pride, not unlike Connor’s, he watched the young men leap the pasture fences with an agility born to them. Each stopped long enough to pat every grazing horse they passed before they met in the center of the biggest field. There, they jostled and shoved each other around in their usual roughhouse ways.

Finn carefully studied them, committing to memory each and every precious feature. They were of the same sturdy stature—tall, with corded muscles thick and deep from daily dealings with the land and the animals. Their coloring, different for each one, was not unlike their rainbow temperaments— from fiery redheaded, green-eyed Egan, the youngest, to enigmatic, dark brown-haired, dark-eyed Connor, the eldest at thirty-one.

He watched them enter the house and knew they would clean up before entering the library. When he heard the shuffle of their feet in the hallway, he turned to face the library door.

* * *
$18.95
192-p
Format: 
Journey of the Eagle
by Priscilla A. Maine

Danielle Alexander's life has suddenly turned upside down. On a wagon train to California to join her fiance, her father falls terminally ill. Add to that a motherless newborn half-breed baby boy dropped literally into her arms by a wise, ancient Indian chief, who wants her to be the baby's mother "just until" her fiance comes to rescue her. Throw in, for good measure, a heady attraction to a handsome stranger named Joel Riley now making his fortune in the untamed west by providing lumber from his sawmill. Danielle certainly has her hands full, and her truant fiance is the least of her problems.

ISBN 1-59431-216-8 Historical/Western/Romance

Cover Art by master artist Skip Rowell With updates by Priscilla A. Maine



Chapter One

"Papa, what if Alan has changed his mind?" Danielle asked.

Nathaniel Alexander shifted the leather lead lines in his big hands before responding to his daughter's question. "What if you have, you mean."

"Well, it's been months since Alan left for California. A lot of things could have happened to make him change his mind about our engagement." Danielle refused to look up at her father, knowing he knew her too well to hide her doubts from him for long.

"If he loves you, no amount of time nor distance will change his feelings." Nathaniel wiped sweat from his brow. "Daughter, it's normal to have uncertainties. Marriage is a big step and shouldn't be taken lightly."

When he paused, Danielle glanced up and noticed her father flexing the fingers of his left hand. Moisture beaded his forehead, though the morning wasn't unduly warm. She also observed the paleness of his skin. "Are you having that pain in your chest again, Papa?"

"Don't try to change the subject on me, young lady. My health is no cause for concern." Again, he swiped his brow. "You are the one I'm worried about." From his perch on the wagon's seat, Nathaniel watched his daughter walking beside the team. "Danielle, remember it's never too late to--"

When her father didn't finish his sentence, Danielle looked up and saw him clutching his chest, his face a purplish hue and contorted with pain. "Papa! Someone help me!" She grabbed for the reins dangling over the side of the wagon. Her fingers had barely locked about the leather straps when she heard a horse galloping toward her. She turned toward the sound, expecting to find the Wagon Master or another of the men from the train. Instead, the rider was someone she didn't know. But before she had time to ponder the situation further, her billowing skirts tangled about her legs causing her to stumble, then fall. In a cloud of dust and yards of gingham, her bottom smacked the hard-packed ground, but her fingers still clutched the lines to the horses.

"Are you hurt, ma'am?" a deep, husky voice asked.

Before she could catch her breath to reply, she felt him jerk her skirt-tent away. She looked up into the most striking green eyes she'd ever seen, and they seemed to be devouring her. Even in her distraught condition, those eyes held her captive longer than they should. She felt an unfamiliar tightening in the lower region of her stomach and a flutter in her heart.

"Here, let me help you." Strong hands pulled her to her feet, leaving her only inches from his broad chest. A heady masculine scent filled her nostrils, disturbing her even more. "You all right?"

That baritone voice snatched her to her senses. "Papa." She whirled about, almost losing her balance until strong fingers locked about her upper arm, steadying her. Danielle refused to look into those hypnotic eyes again. "Help him, please."

"What's going on here?" David Sutton, the Wagon Master, asked, stepping around the end of the wagon. "Why are you stopping?"

"It's Papa. I think he's sick," Danielle replied, welcoming the reassuring presence of someone she knew.

"Go get Henry to help me with him," Sutton instructed before turning to the stranger.

Danielle dashed off in search of Henry Logan. Henry, the youngest of three brothers traveling with the wagon train, had been helping Danielle and her father the past two weeks. Ever since the loss of one of the Logan's own wagons, Nathaniel had hired the young man to spare Danielle from the heavier duties of harnessing and unharnessing the team, and gathering wood for their cook fire. The young man had even started taking his meals with the Alexanders in the evenings. In those passing weeks, Danielle had caught Henry watching her when he thought she wasn't aware of his presence. She suspected the young man was forming more than a casual interest in her, but had brushed the suspicion aside.

When she and Henry arrived back at the Alexander wagon, they found Nathaniel lying on a folded quilt in the shade of a nearby oak tree. Reassured by the fact her father was now conscious, she whisper his name. "Papa." Kneeling beside the makeshift bed, she took his hand in hers and new alarm raced through her at the heat emanating from his flesh.

"It's all right, daughter. I just need to rest a bit." The weakness in his voice sent a ripple of fear down her spine.

"You need a doctor," Danielle replied, hoping her voice didn't reveal the fear she felt. What on earth would she do if anything happened to him? He was the only family she had. Her mother had died when Danielle was nine, her grandparents soon afterward. It had been just her and her father these past ten years. She couldn't imagine being without him.

"Mr. Riley here has offered to send a doctor out to check on your father, ma'am," the Wagon Master said.

Danielle looked up and, realizing Mr. Sutton was referring to the green-eyed stranger, smiled weakly. "Tell him to hurry please."

"I'll do that, ma'am," the man said. He tipped his hat and shifted his attention briefly to Henry Logan. He then turned and walked to his horse, gathered up the reins and mounted. "The Depot on Boggy is only two miles west of here. If he's not out on a call, Doc Fulton should be here within the hour, Mr. Logan."

Danielle wondered why he addressed this information to Henry, though it was only a fleeting thought. Her main concern centered on her father. But in the silence that followed the man's departure, Danielle found herself wondering if she would ever see him again. Almost immediately she chastised herself. Why should it matter? Yet, she knew it did.
$17.95
216-p
Format: 
Angels Unaware
by Priscilla A. Maine

Widow Rebecca Rice moves to Oklahoma planning to begin a hew life as a nurse and healer.

It was 1895 and time for a change, or so Rebecca thought. For thirteen years Rebecca Rice had suffocated under the social restraints of widowhood, soaking up the leftovers of other people's lives. Armed with a knowledge of nursing and faith- healing that she learned from a visiting missionary group, she heads for the hill country of southeastern Oklahoma, Indian Territory, to share her new vocation. The clannish folk of the hill country, reared and groomed in suspicion and superstition, resent Rebecca. Faced with hate, distrust, and ignorance, she must also struggle with the destructive forces of nature. But the circuit-riding preacher, Zake Daniels, fears Rebecca's teachings will threaten his hold on his flock. Is her faith strong enough to sustain her through the most trying battles and help her stand strong in the midst of her adversities?

ISBN 1-59431-286-9 Historical/Westernl/Romance

Cover Art master artist Skip Rowell Updated by Priscilla A. Maine



Chapter One

"Papa, what if Alan has changed his mind?" Danielle asked.

Nathaniel Alexander shifted the leather lead lines in his big hands before responding to his daughter's question. "What if you have, you mean."

"Well, it's been months since Alan left for California. A lot of things could have happened to make him change his mind about our engagement." Danielle refused to look up at her father, knowing he knew her too well to hide her doubts from him for long.

"If he loves you, no amount of time nor distance will change his feelings." Nathaniel wiped sweat from his brow. "Daughter, it's normal to have uncertainties. Marriage is a big step and shouldn't be taken lightly."

When he paused, Danielle glanced up and noticed her father flexing the fingers of his left hand. Moisture beaded his forehead, though the morning wasn't unduly warm. She also observed the paleness of his skin. "Are you having that pain in your chest again, Papa?"

"Don't try to change the subject on me, young lady. My health is no cause for concern." Again, he swiped his brow. "You are the one I'm worried about." From his perch on the wagon's seat, Nathaniel watched his daughter walking beside the team. "Danielle, remember it's never too late to--"

When her father didn't finish his sentence, Danielle looked up and saw him clutching his chest, his face a purplish hue and contorted with pain. "Papa! Someone help me!" She grabbed for the reins dangling over the side of the wagon. Her fingers had barely locked about the leather straps when she heard a horse galloping toward her. She turned toward the sound, expecting to find the Wagon Master or another of the men from the train. Instead, the rider was someone she didn't know. But before she had time to ponder the situation further, her billowing skirts tangled about her legs causing her to stumble, then fall. In a cloud of dust and yards of gingham, her bottom smacked the hard-packed ground, but her fingers still clutched the lines to the horses.

"Are you hurt, ma'am?" a deep, husky voice asked.

Before she could catch her breath to reply, she felt him jerk her skirt-tent away. She looked up into the most striking green eyes she'd ever seen, and they seemed to be devouring her. Even in her distraught condition, those eyes held her captive longer than they should. She felt an unfamiliar tightening in the lower region of her stomach and a flutter in her heart.

"Here, let me help you." Strong hands pulled her to her feet, leaving her only inches from his broad chest. A heady masculine scent filled her nostrils, disturbing her even more. "You all right?"

That baritone voice snatched her to her senses. "Papa." She whirled about, almost losing her balance until strong fingers locked about her upper arm, steadying her. Danielle refused to look into those hypnotic eyes again. "Help him, please."

"What's going on here?" David Sutton, the Wagon Master, asked, stepping around the end of the wagon. "Why are you stopping?"

"It's Papa. I think he's sick," Danielle replied, welcoming the reassuring presence of someone she knew.

"Go get Henry to help me with him," Sutton instructed before turning to the stranger.

Danielle dashed off in search of Henry Logan. Henry, the youngest of three brothers traveling with the wagon train, had been helping Danielle and her father the past two weeks. Ever since the loss of one of the Logan's own wagons, Nathaniel had hired the young man to spare Danielle from the heavier duties of harnessing and unharnessing the team, and gathering wood for their cook fire. The young man had even started taking his meals with the Alexanders in the evenings. In those passing weeks, Danielle had caught Henry watching her when he thought she wasn't aware of his presence. She suspected the young man was forming more than a casual interest in her, but had brushed the suspicion aside.

When she and Henry arrived back at the Alexander wagon, they found Nathaniel lying on a folded quilt in the shade of a nearby oak tree. Reassured by the fact her father was now conscious, she whisper his name. "Papa." Kneeling beside the makeshift bed, she took his hand in hers and new alarm raced through her at the heat emanating from his flesh.

"It's all right, daughter. I just need to rest a bit." The weakness in his voice sent a ripple of fear down her spine.

"You need a doctor," Danielle replied, hoping her voice didn't reveal the fear she felt. What on earth would she do if anything happened to him? He was the only family she had. Her mother had died when Danielle was nine, her grandparents soon afterward. It had been just her and her father these past ten years. She couldn't imagine being without him.

"Mr. Riley here has offered to send a doctor out to check on your father, ma'am," the Wagon Master said.

Danielle looked up and, realizing Mr. Sutton was referring to the green-eyed stranger, smiled weakly. "Tell him to hurry please."

"I'll do that, ma'am," the man said. He tipped his hat and shifted his attention briefly to Henry Logan. He then turned and walked to his horse, gathered up the reins and mounted. "The Depot on Boggy is only two miles west of here. If he's not out on a call, Doc Fulton should be here within the hour, Mr. Logan."

Danielle wondered why he addressed this information to Henry, though it was only a fleeting thought. Her main concern centered on her father. But in the silence that followed the man's departure, Danielle found herself wondering if she would ever see him again. Almost immediately she chastised herself. Why should it matter? Yet, she knew it did.

Less than an hour later, Doctor Fulton rode his lathered horse into the circle of wagons. After a quick examination of her father and a few questions, the doctor said, "Mr. Alexander, in my opinion, continuing west in your condition would be foolhardy." He strapped his black leather bag to the pommel of his saddle while he spoke.

"I have no choice," Nathaniel said. "I must get my daughter to her fiancé in California."

"Then let her young man come here," Fulton replied. "If you're wise, you'll take my advice and stay put."

"Where?" Nathaniel asked.

"Well, I hear Frank Geary is selling his lease and moving his family back east. The cabin isn't much, but it would serve your purpose. The place isn't far from here. I'd look into it if I were you. In plain words, sir, your heart won't take the strain." The doctor turned to Danielle. "Make him as comfortable as possible, and under no circumstances should he exert himself. His gaze shifted to Nathaniel, then back to Danielle. "Unless you want to bury him here on the banks of Boggy." With that cold announcement, the young doctor mounted his house. "If you need me, you know where to find me. Good day and good luck."

"Then it's settled," David Sutton said, slapping his leather gloves against his leg. "Young Henry here will stay with you folks until you're feeling up to travel. Then you can join up with us later. Sorry we can't stay with you, but you understand that every minute counts if I'm to get these folks over them mountains before the snow falls. Nathaniel, I will get that message off to your daughter's fiancé when we come to a town with a telegraph office."

"I appreciate that, Sutton," Nathaniel said.

The men had set up a bed under the big oak so Nathaniel would be off the ground and more comfortable. From there the three watched their fellow travelers pull out without them.

Only a thin wisp of dust remained of the wagon train's departure when Nathaniel called Henry to his bedside. "Saddle up my gray. I want you to ride into that town up ahead and find out about that place the doctor mentioned."

Danielle waited until young Logan rode off before approaching her father. "Papa, what is this all about? What message is Mr. Sutton sending to Alan? And what is this about housing here?" She pushed the thin quilt back a bit and sat on the edge of her father's bed. "What is it you're not telling me?"

"Daughter, it's time you faced the truth," Nathaniel said, taking her hand in his. "I may not be able to continue to California." When Danielle started to object, he silenced her with his uplifted hand. "Just listen to me. Hear me out." His fingers stroked her hand a moment before he continued. "Your safety and welfare are all that matter to me. If for any reason I should have to leave you, I want to know you are settled in a safe place with folks nearby to look after you. I can't be assured of that if we continue and I should fall ill--or die."

"Papa--"

"You must face that possibility. I have. I've asked Sutton to telegraph Alan where to find us."

"Then you have no intention of joining the train later?" Danielle interrupted.

"No. I have sent young Henry to find us a place here, if he can. I have arranged with his brothers to sell them one of our wagons and teams and send Henry on to join them a bit later." Just when had he made all these arrangements with the Logans? How long had her father suspected there was a need for such decisions? Obviously long enough if he'd already sold one of the wagons and the Wagon Master knew how to contact Alan should the need arise. She had never known her father to keep secrets from her before. That he had done so now frightened her more than she had been frightened since losing her mother. You and I will wait here for Alan." When he hesitated, Danielle thought for a moment he would say no more. But he did. "Remember this, daughter, there is no shame in changing one's mind. If for any reason you should decide that you and Alan--well, just know that I would never want you to keep your betrothal if in your heart you feel it's not right. Your happiness is all that truly matters. Will you remember that?"

His announcement alarmed Danielle more than she cared to admit. Her own doubts had plagued her ever since her father had sold his newspaper and they had started for California. But for some reason, her father's words troubled her more than her own uncertainties.
$16.95
286-c
Format: 
Banners of Alba
by Jen Black Alba Series, Vol. 1

Finlay was the recognised heir to the throne of eleventh century Alba when the king began a plot to install his grandson Duncan. Finlay finds his girl is married off to his cousin, his best friend joins the opposing side, and Duncan plans war. Life becomes especially difficult when Thorfinn of Orkney and his sister take hand in the game.

ISBN 1-59431-325-3 Historical/Medieval/Romance Cover Art by Jen Black
$17.95
323-c
Format: 
Spirit of Fire
Spirit Series, Vol. 2

By Arline Chase

The story was fiction, but the Fire was real. When the most hated man in Baltimore is stabbed in the back, youthful detective Jon Abercrombie hunts a murderer as the city burns around him. When an newspaper editor is killed, Jillian, his psychic sister, offers her advice, but her warnings of fire make little sense. A blackmail scheme and more murders build the suspense. Then Jon's mother is kidnapped by the killer. Can Jon track down the murderer in the midst of the greatest conflagration 1904 Baltimore has ever seen? Can he do it in time to save his mother?

ISBN 1-59431-066-1 Historical / Mystery / Romantic Suspense

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Baltimore Winter, 1904

On the ground floor of the Flag-Bulletin Building the mighty presses of the Federalist Flag newspaper roared out the green edition, while two stories above in a paneled office just off the newsroom, a man with a large pair of composition scissors protruding from his shoulder, lay slumped across a roll-top desk. Blood darkened the blotter, ran across the desktop and stained its walnut wood.

The figure watched as the pool of blood reached the telephone cord and ran in a semi-circle around the loop., then stopped. The blood had stopped.

A figure backed away slowly, opened the door to the office and left without a sound.

Inside the office, T.P. Fitzgibbons’s hand crept across the bloody desk top and reached over his shoulder for the scissors. He dragged them away from the wound and sat up, as fresh blood flowed. He reached for the telephone, smeared sticky half-congealed blood on the standard, then stopped and hung the earpiece back in the cradle with a thoughtful look. Behind him, a door opened, but Fitzgibbons did not turn around. He only glanced up at the convex mirror on the mantle, an expression of surprise on his face.

“Oh, it’s you? Good.” He did not even look up as a gloved hand reached over his shoulder to pick up the bloodstained scissors from the desk.

* * *

Detective sergeant Jonathan Lloyd Abercrombie III’s neat hands tightened on the neck of the telephone as if he wanted to strangle it. His sister Jillian’s voice came over the line with only a mild stutter of static. “There’s death wrapped in old glory! You must be careful Jack, for you will soon be in grave danger.”

Jon entertained thoughts unbecoming to a police detective sergeant, albeit a newly appointed and exceptionally youthful one. In these modern times, there were more than ten thousand telephones in Baltimore City. He cursed the day his sister Jillian had installed one in the front hall of the Tyson Street mansion they shared. Jilly was difficult enough at best, but since she had embraced spiritualism her constant messages from “the other side” had exhausted Jon’s patience. The telephone only extended her range for dispensing pointless information.

“Are you listening?” Jill sounded exasperated. “Heloise has been nattering away at me all day in medieval French and you know how bad my French is, Jack. But now I’ve figured out what she’s saying. You are in grave danger. Hello! Are you listening to me?”

“Yes.” Jon closed his hazel eyes and bit back a curse. All the family did it, but he hated to be called Jack, his father’s boyhood nickname, almost as much as he hated Heloise. Jilly had clung to her imaginary playmate long past babyhood and had recently elevated her erstwhile make-believe friend to the role of “spirit guide.” For the past year she’d filled her house with a host of table-tapping, ectoplasm producing, last-trump-blowing, frauds. Jon tried to be tolerant of Jill’s supernatural “studies,” but he privately thought she used her quest for the spirits as an attempt to escape her grief after the death of her fianc‚ and the bitterness that had followed. He wanted to hang up, and he would have, but Jill would probably only call back.

“Jack? Don’t you dare hang up on me! I hear what you’re thinking.”

Jon could almost see her running her hand through that wild gold-streaked hair, her brown eyes moist with tears as she clutched the fluted handset in the entry hall. He turned his lean body away from listening ears, thinking were it not for the fortune she had inherited from their grandmother, half the world would have thought his sister stone mad, rather than “eccentric.” Jillian’s behavior sometimes embarrassed Jon, yet he loved her with all the exasperated resignation of an indulgent older brother. Not for the first time, he wished he knew what to say.

“Jack! Say something, can’t you?”

He chose his words carefully, knowing the other men in the station were listening. “Jill, really, it’s an exceedingly dull day here. The kind that makes me wonder why I gave up law school.” Jon winced. Why had he mentioned law school? The senior men would think him pretentious and any mention of the bitterness that had all but destroyed their family, and resulted in Jon’s choosing to walk a beat in Pigtown rather than finish his law degree, always upset his sister.

“How is she?”

“Who?” Jon’s eyes flicked to the framed daguerreotypes on his desk. One was of his parents, one was Jill dressed in the fashionable ruffles often depicted by Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings. On the wall above was a framed poster of a young woman with long shapely legs, half-falling off the back of a nervous looking horse. Theatrical type proclaimed, “Genevieve Desmond as Mazzeppa.”

“Your friend, the one “

“Desmond is fine and none of your business.”

“Yes, well, I must be going. You’re much too busy to talk to me right now. The bull dog will be along any minute.”

“What?” Jon bit his lip. “What are you talking about?”

“How should I know? The voices never explain anything. All I know is the bulldog is coming and it means danger. Oh! And do wear your gloves, Jack. The thick ones. Heloise says that’s very important, though she doesn’t know why. You mustn’t take them off at all for the next week. I’ll see you at dinner. Maggie’s roasting a leg of lamb. And don’t forget, Madame Hortense is coming tonight to materialize her spirit guide for us. Sir Harold? Sir Hart? I forget. Anyway, he’s a Knight of the Round Table and communicates directly with King Arthur.” Jill’s voice took on excitement. “Oh how I wish I had a true talent like Madame’s. I mean can you imagine what would happen if I had the power to bring Heloise into the corporeal world?”

“I shouldn’t care to think about it.” At Jill’s sharply indrawn breath, Jon realized he had hurt her feelings. “Dash it, Heloise cause quite enough trouble as a disembodied spirit. Why on earth would you want to materialize her so she could plague us even more?” Jon caught the grin on Cameron Hollister’s face. The older detective would never let him live this down. So much for his plans to be circumspect.

“Jack, I wish you’d have a little respect. I may not have a true talent like Madam Hortense, but “

“Balderdash!” His comment was followed by a resounding bang from the other end of the line.

Jon rubbed his ear, hung up the telephone, and apologized to the duty sergeant for tying up the line.

“It ain’t everybody on the force that gets personal calls over the telephone.” Hollister cleaned dark-rimmed nails with a matchstick. “‘Course I reckon an Abercrombie can afford it.”

Jon shrugged. In theory, Hollister was his mentor, but they had never got on well, in part because they came from such different backgrounds. Hollister had worked his way up from the ranks and often told war stories of bloody battles with railroad strike-breakers and the horrors of cleaning up after the Jones Falls flood, back in the ‘80’s. Jon was the youngest detective in the city and he had risen to his rank with less than a year in the field. He’d be a fool to expect Hollister to like him, but he found the older man’s superior attitude tiresome, nonetheless.

“How about that?” The duty sergeant grinned as he looked up from his log book. “Miss Jill Abercrombie called, and asked to speak to her brother, JACK.”

“Jack, Jack, Jack! You’ve been keeping secrets from us.” Hollister started on his other hand. The matchstick left a rim of black close to the quick. “Jack and Jill. How cute. My, what a cozy little family the Abercrombie’s are!”

“Actually I’ve always preferred Jon. Jack was my father’s nickname as a child. And after Jill was born, calling me Jack became his idea of a joke.”

“Your old man? Ain’t he that hotshot lawyer? High-muckety-muck in city politics.” Both Hollister’s feet hit the floor and he leaned forward, staring at Jon. “With all the strings your old man must’ve pulled no wonder say, how come he ain’t got you stationed uptown with the rest of the rich bastards?”

Jon only shrugged and reached for some paperwork. No point in denying Hollister’s accusation. If he said he hadn’t spoken to his father in nearly two years, nobody would believe him. Or worse, maybe they would and he’d find himself reading it in the newspapers over breakfast. Jon stared at the rain beating on the windows, remembering. During what Jill always referred to as the “family quarrel,” in a cold rage his father had instructed Jon to stop seeing a certain actress whom he termed “nothing but a cheap gold digger.” Unless Jon complied, his father said, he’d be cut off without a penny. Jon had joined the police force the next day. Since then he had not accepted a cent of his father’s money. Living on a policeman’s salary, Jon could no longer afford to send Desmond roses after every performance. Now he was lucky to manage a modest floral tribute on special occasions. And that only because he saved on living expenses by sharing his sister’s household. Jon glanced at the framed pictures again and smiled, then devoted his attention to a treatise on the work Scotland Yard was doing on the newly developed standardization of fingerprints. He ignored a steady stream of jokes about disembodied spirits and nursery rhymes passed back and forth between Hollister and the desk sergeant. Jon had heard them all before.

“Oh, Ja-ack! Sorry, I didn’t mean to spook you, but you’d better wake up. We wouldn’t want Jill to break her little crown worrying about you making a bad impression.” The duty sergeant nodded toward the door. “The bulldog’s on a tear!”

“Bulldog?”

“Burke, you idiot! The police commissioner is parking his automobile outside. Boy, you really are green.”

“Have you already forgotten me, boy?” Harry Burke, swung through the door, propelling his large frame and beer belly forward with a fluid motion. Jon remembered him all right. Though their former association had been brief, Jon’s life had changed forever that night. Burke’s dark grey eyes missed nothing, despite the bags under them. He exuded the scent of cigar smoke and bourbon, but nobody complained. Neither did they mention the puddles forming on the floor from his dripping boots and umbrella.

Hollister got to his feet. “Commissioner.” Belatedly, Jon remembered his manners and rose from the own chair. Burke nodded to Hollister, but leaned on Jon’s desk, spattering raindrops on the curly oak. “Got us a murder. You’re reassigned!”

Jon fought to gather his wits, banishing echos of Jill’s voice whispering murder. “Who? Where?”

“Somebody finally stabbed T.P. Fitzgibbons in the back. ‘Course it was only a matter of time. Anyway, we got to get right over there.” Burke snapped his fingers under Jon’s nose. “Wake up, boy! Get your coat.”

“Wait a minute! Ain’t he that newspaper editor? The Federalist Flag? That’s it.” Hollister gave Burke a belligerent look. “Hey, this should be my case. I’m senior man, here.”

“I make the assignments on this one.” Burke blew smoke in Hollister’s face.

“Harry, how can you send in a green kid? You need somebody with balls on this.” Hollister glowered at Jon.

“I need somebody with brains on this! Half the city hated the bastard. The mayor’s already yelling “ Burke raised one eyebrow and stared at the older detective. “Do you really want to be the cop who couldn’t crack this one, Hollister?”

Hollister dropped into his chair like a stone. Jon got his coat and followed the commissioner outside into the rain.

“Hurry up, can’t you?” Burke dashed to the yellow Stanley Steamer he had parked in front of the station house. Jon wondered briefly where Burke got the money to afford such luxuries, then climbed into the waiting machine. Even the novelty of riding in the unusual vehicle could not distract him from his private thoughts. Burke had said everyone hated the editor of the Flag As they motored past seemingly endless brick row houses with rain-slick white marble steps, Jon summoned up bits and snatches of conversations he had heard about Fitzgibbons. No one had said anything good about the man. Fitzgibbons had married well Suzanne Lanier. Jon had known her as a child, but had not seen her in recent years. He remembered reading about the wedding, which Jilly had attended, though his mother had refused on grounds that she was unwilling to “sanction Suzanne’s unfortunate connection to an Irishman with absolutely no breeding.” Now there was gossip that things were less than perfect for the couple. Jon knew full-well that gossip was not evidence, but his mother lived for the stuff. What Burke had said was true; Fitzgibbons was one of the least liked men in Baltimore. It wasn’t just the business community he had offended. The masthead of his newspaper might claim it was “A Shining Flag of Truth,” but the social lions of Baltimore would cheerfully have lunched on his liver. Almost everything he printed stepped on somebody’s toes.

Finding the murderer would test Jon to the limit. He knew that Burke would take the credit if he cracked the case. If he failed, the commissioner could point to Jon’s legal training and say he’d assigned the best-qualified man on the force. And he was young and inexperienced enough for failure not to ruin his career completely maybe. If Burke was hedging his bets so soon, he must have serious doubts about finding the murderer. Jon sighed as the bright yellow steamer pulled up and parked beside a fire hydrant in front of the Flag building.

“How much leeway will I have on this? Experts, that sort of thing?” Jon opened the door, then glanced back.

“Anything you need, I’ll authorize the expense.” Burke reached for his umbrella, dripping on the floor between them. “Fitzgibbons has been crucifying the mayor, and half the city council, in that dirty rag of his. We can’t afford to have anyone say we ain’t trying on this one.”

Jon took a deep breath and leaned forward. “DO you want me to find the killer, or only look as if I’m working?”

“I want you to do your best, boy.” Burke met his gaze. “And I don’t want anyone to be able to say we’ve missed anything.”

“But you don’t think we’ll succeed.”

“No, sir. I do not. By god, it could have been anyone. Half Baltimore thought the man was the devil incarnate.”
$16.95
66-p
Format: 
Clan Gunn: Gerek
Scottish Heritage Series, Vol. 1

By Dorice Nelson

To become chief of his clan, Gerek Gunn must wed before his 30th birthday, an arranged marriage, but that was how things were done—or so Gerek thought until he met his bride. Catronia has no desire to wed any man and certainly not one known as the "Beast of Battle." In disguise, Catronia flees, only to find herself sharing a crofter's hut with the very man she ran from.

ISBN 978-1-59431-190-0 Historical Romance /Suspense /Action Adventure

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prologue

Gunn Country

The Highlands—1632

Two days after his twelfth birthday, his mother died of a sudden stomach ailment and took with her the last thin thread of his identity. Now, the day of her funeral, he sat stiffly on a stout oak chair in the library at Killearnan. His companion since cradle days, Dubh, a huge, dark gray Scottish deerhound, lay stretched at Gerek Gunn’s feet, large head upon paws, and gazed at his master’s face. Gerek patted the dog for comfort.

The candlelight surrounding the wooden casket shimmered and swayed. The light reflected off the room’s stone walls but did not soften the angles and planes of his mother’s bold Scottish face. He looked at the shrouded woman, pale and motionless against the white cotton lining. She no longer resembled the spirited woman he knew. Alone, he grieved but did not weep over his mother’s passing.

What was he to do? Where could he go? Back to the desolate hut at the edge of the keep? Fearful of the future, he ground his teeth and cried out to his inert mother. “How could you leave? You never told me about my father as you promised. I’m not ready to be in this world without you.”

He drew in a powerful breath. It burst from him in a torrent of words. “Who was he? This father who was never father to me?” A single tear slipped to nestle at the edge of his mouth. He flicked the wetness with the tip of his tongue. He tried to halt the emotions raging through him, but her death had abandoned him. Her silence about his father had betrayed him. How could she leave him without a father, or even the name of one? He forced himself to breathe slowly. Somehow he’d get through this day, and the next. But never would he allow another woman to deceive him. His lanky body shook with despair. Trust a woman? Never!

Taps by a booted foot against the door scattered his thoughts. Dubh uttered a low growl. Gerek wiped his nose on the sleeve of his only clean shirt. “Enter.”

A serving girl whom he didn’t know slunk into the room without looking at him. With fitful movements, she put a cloth-covered tray on the table near the door and bobbed a curtsy.

“There’s nourishment for ye. To break yer fast.”

She skittered out the door and slammed it shut.

The smell of food turned his stomach. He went to the table where he removed the cloth, set the tray on the floor and gestured to the dog. “This shouldn’t go to waste. Go ahead, Dubh. You eat,” he said, moving to the tall windows of the cavernous room.

Dubh dashed to the tray and devoured the food. Just as the great dog finished and was licking his lips, he sank to the floor, thrashing in silent spasms of agony. Within seconds, the hound convulsed and lay still.

Gerek raced across the room. He stopped in mid-step. “Dubh. Dubh. Get up. No silly tricks today.” When the animal did not move, Gerek knelt and whispered, “Dubh, please. Get up.”

Nothing moved on the great dog. Gerek touched the deerhound’s neck. His friend was dead. He clasped the head and thick shoulders in his arms and dragged the body over his knees. Cradling the animal, Gerek rocked back and forth, consumed by sobs.

* * *

A day later, Harald Gunn, chief of Clan Gunn, summoned his grandson to the library. When the boy entered, Harald watched as Gerek’s eyes searched the room as if looking for his dog. The lad’s dark features and sturdy physique, the pure Norse stature, gave proof his grandson would surpass his own six feet. He smiled in welcome and motioned the lad toward a carved chair close to the fire.

Gerek slumped into the seat, asking, “Grandda, do you know who my father was?”

Harald hid his surprise. His self-restrained grandson suffered few trappings of polite society. “I’ll answer ye true, child. I have suspicions but dinna’ know for sure. Because of clan business, I never knew yer mother as well as I might have. After yer grandmother died, I could not deal with either of me daughters. Yer mother was wild, willful, with many secret yearnings.”

What happened to his eldest daughter? She spent nights away even when the lad was in his cradle, forcing Harald to send a deerhound pup for protection. The lad remained quiet, composed, too controlled for twelve. Had he understood the answer? Harald shook his head. It was too late to sorrow over things.

The cracking voice of a twelve-year-old intruded on his thoughts. “How could my mother leave me not knowing the name of my father?”

“She did, laddie. There’s naught to be done for it now.” He hoped the brusque comment would end the conversation. “What’s important now is the danger for ye here with none but meself to protect ye. Ye have enemies who might wish ye dead.”

“Why? Why would anyone want me thus?” Gerek asked. “I’ve done nothing bad to anyone in the clan.”

“Aye, but what if yer father were someone of note? Would he somehow cause trouble for the Gunns? Our clansmen fear things they do not know.”

A wary expression furrowed Gerek’s brow. He slouched in his chair. “But Grandda….”

“I must speak with ye as if ye were full-grown. Yer uncles are dead. Only last week, we lost me youngest in a battle with the Keiths. Yer cousin Baen and ye are the last of the male line. One of ye must become Gunn or our line will die.”

Gerek’s mouth opened but he closed it. His gray eyes widened and he tilted his head toward Harald.

“Laddie, I canna’ keep constant watch over ye. Ye must leave here.”

Gerek flattened himself against the back of the chair. “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” His stomach muscles tightened. Sweat dampened his palms.

“Foster with a man who has recently gained his title. I’ve sent someone to make the arrangements.”

Gerek’s hands, slippery with sweat, were planted on the chair seat. He pushed himself upright and stared at his grandfather. Grandda didn’t look very well. His face was gray, and white hair mixed with black. His eyes were rimmed with sorrow. Why hadn’t he seen all this before? Grandda meant more to him than any other person.

“It pains me, laddie, but I will speak harsh words to ye. Ye came into this world a bastard. Ye’ll need to make yer way in this world. But ye’re brave and determined, a strong, towering lad for yer years. ‘Tis best ye become a warrior. Forge a reputation.”

Gerek scrutinized his grandda whose eyes were shiny from unshed tears, his shoulders bowed from worry. “A warrior?”

“’Tis not what I had in mind fer ye.” His grandda paused. “But if ye make yer name on the battlefield, bastard though ye be, ye’ll be welcomed everywhere in Scotland.” He placed a large hand on Gerek’s head and said softly, “’Tis time to leave, son, to find a place of yer own making. There’s none here can do it fer ye.”

Gerek cocked his head. “A warrior? Well, if you want me to be a warrior, then a warrior I’ll be. A brave one. Then I will be The Gunn.”

His grandfather nodded. “Also, ye are to marry before the end of yer thirtieth year. I’ve pledged with Angus MacFarr, the Earl of Crannog, whose wife we rescued from the Keiths.” He stood, stretched and walked to the windows.

“Marry?” Marrying meant nothing to Gerek. “I don’t understand.”

Glow from the departing sun streamed through the glass onto his grandda’s skin. “Ye dinna’ have to marry tomorrow, son. The child is newly born.” His grandfather smiled as he approached and grasped the back of a chair. “’Tis a promise I made with MacFarr when we rescued his wife this past week, the wee bairn in her arms. Gerek, ye know how I feel about promises. A man must honor them always.” His grandda’s gaze penetrated his own.

Gerek didn’t care about marrying. If he was to be a warrior, he might not live to marry anyone, or be Gunn either. Head down, he vowed, If I live, I will be chief of all the Gunns. Decision made, he laughed for the first time in weeks.

Grandda laughed with him. “Ye need not concern yerself with the pledge now, son. Make yer name and all will be well, I promise ye.”
$16.95
190
Format: 
Lost Son Of Ireland
By Dorice Nelson

Deadlocked by a legend, Kellach must find her kidnapped mother to remove the Dark Druid's curse and save her people from the rampaging Norse. Bruic the Badger must find local trading ports for the Norse in order to save his sons, who are held hstage by a Norseman, and to find his siblings, lost during his youth. Neither has time for love. Ah! Fate and circumstance tak the advantage away from them both...

ISBN 1-59431-197-8 Romance/Historical/Action

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

Corca Dhuibhne Peninsula, Gael—May, 834 AD

Bruic the Badger focused on the lifeless bodies scattered across the sandy beach. Undulating rivulets of blood mixed with the sea. The ocean’s tangy smells wafted on air, to combine with the odor of hot smoke pouring from a fortress on the promontory. In contrast to the swirling gray smoke, shards of sunlight glittered and warmed the area with golden beams.

Sea birds raced from nearby islands to encircle the tiny cove and dive at the still forms. Shrieks resounded for miles as the creatures swooped down, squealed and fought over tidbits of raw, plucked tissue.

Bile rose in Bruic’s throat and threatened to choke him.

Despite the gruesome sight before him, he feared returning to the sturdy wooden ships berthed in the next bay, wanting desperately to remain in his native land. Turning slightly, he scanned the area, searching for a place to hide from those who had stolen him from these shores seven years ago.

No safe haven presented itself on the barren beach. Only scrawny trees and high rocky ledges kept him from seeing the shapes of the tall vessels in the other cove. As wind and waves beat the bodies of the dead, a sea-laden breeze blew a lock of dark hair over his face. He pushed it back with unnecessary roughness and fought the urge to retch.

Bruic shook his head in anger, frustrated. “I’ll never get away from them,” he mumbled, just to hear the sound of his own voice.

Since his enslavement, he had witnessed battles often, but the results never resembled the carnage before him. Now, at thirteen, his intention to become a warrior of note vanished in the face of this destruction. He had grown older in the last hour. He sucked in rank air and plunged his sword into the ground. Kneeling on one knee, he bowed his head. An almost forgotten Gaelic prayer flew into his mind. He mouthed the words.

Once done, he pushed on his sword and rose to his feet. Without another glance, he scuffed through the sand toward the granite boulders that separated this cove from the next. At the bottom of the ledges, he paused to look back at the mangled bodies.

A flash of movement and unexpected color in the high reedy grasses that topped the nearest dune caught his gaze. A red-haired child teetered to the edge of the sandy ridge. Behind her, a yellow-haired girl peeped through the grasses. Bruic suspected they had witnessed the raid from a secret hiding place.

The redhead slowed, looked back at the yellow-haired girl but kept her forward motion. Not watching where she was going, she lost her balance and slid on her bottom to the beach. Her choking hiccups dispersed the feasting birds. They rose in the air, flapping and screeching in protest at the disturbance. Muted sobs shook her body. A choked, whispered cry tore from her mouth, “Mama! Help!”

Startled, Bruic whirled around. His eyes wide, he glanced toward the rocky ledges.

The men in the next cove. Had they heard the little girl cry out?

Struggling upright and lifting a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, the girl brushed her tattered tunic and then raised both arms high to balance in the deep sand.

With a grimace meant to frighten, Bruic spun to face her, hoping to scare her back onto the ridge. Body bent, sword thrust before him, he rushed at her. He hesitated when he noticed the glazed look in her overbright green eyes.

In a hoarse voice, she whispered louder. “Help me. My mama—”

A sharp whistle came from the next cove, followed by a shout. “Badger?”

“Allo,” Bruic called back over his shoulder, in the language of his captors.

For a second time, flapping wings rose in the air. This time the birds flew higher, circled wider, and cawed their continued displeasure in much bolder tones.

With hands balled into fists, the girl stopped and covered her ears. She closed her eyes as if she thought closing them might make her invisible. She opened them slowly and moved closer, blinking hard. “Man?”

Another sharp whistle, accompanied by laughter and shouts from the men, far louder than the squawking of the birds, cleared the large rocks of the ledge. The men bellowed and cursed, obviously eager to leave the carnage they had created.

The same voice called, “Badger? Come. It’s time we leave this gods-forsaken hole.”

Angered by the calls, Bruic hissed at the girl in broken Gaelic, his speech garbled, littered with Norse words. “Get back, goose!” He pointed to the next cove, then to the spot where the girl had come from. “They’re ready to leave this place before more guards come.” He peered at her through squinted eyes. “You don’t want them to carry you away, do you?”

She tilted her head, but her gaze lowered to the ground. Her thumb went to her mouth; but she must have thought better of it for her hand quickly cupped her chin in a childish gesture instead. Her reactions puzzled Bruic. He wondered if she understood what he was trying to say.

She shuffled nearer. Her lower lip quivered. “Help me find my mama?”

He bent closer and spoke into her face, pointing to the dunes. “Go. Hide. Now.” He shoved her. She fell backward into the sand. “Go back!” he whispered, poking her shoulder.

Her unwavering gaze met his. They stared for an elongated moment. Her large eyes, the color of the deep sea, seemed to beg him for something.

Then, she glared at him and shook her head. “No!”

“Why won’t you listen to me, tiny one? I’m trying to help you,” he said.

She pounded a fist in the sand. “Mama. I want my mama.”

Muscular Annar, his long yellow hair hanging to his shoulders, appeared on top of a boulder. Dressed all in brown, a black cloth over one eye, he made an unnerving picture against the soft blue of the sky, and his sudden appearance surprised Bruic. He jumped in front of the child.

The small girl trembled and turned onto her knees. Bruic forced her flat and put a foot on her shoulders. He heard her short, ragged breaths and, glancing down, saw her tears flow to form a lump in the sand. To keep her still and hide her presence, he knelt on one knee over her squirming body.

Annar adjusted his eye cloth, cupped his mouth, then yelled. “It’s your master, boy. He wants you. Now! Stop your prancin’ amid the dead, pretendin’ you’re some kind of warrior-hero.” He laughed and slapped his leg. “Not yet, slave, not yet.” He beckoned. “Come along or we’ll leave you behind.”

“Stay down, fool,” Bruic rasped at her through clenched teeth, his knee pressing her deeper into the gritty ground with all his weight.

“What have you there, boy?”

Bruic shouted back, “Nothing of worth—an old log.”

The man chuckled then his face grew grim. With a great roar, he yelled, “Hurry, boy,” then leaped onto another rock and slipped out of sight.

* * *

Kellach gasped as she realized the man touching her was one of the bad ones. Unable to move, she had studied the man on the rock and recognized both the yellow hair and the black cloth draped over his one eye. He was the man who had thrown her mama to the ground and jumped on top of her.

She wriggled but cringed. Would the man holding her hurt her? Carry her away? He stood, releasing her. She crawled away, her heart pounding. Particles of sand had mixed with saliva in her mouth. She spat. Her chest heaved. Her knees burned from the coarseness of the sand. She turned toward the young man and narrowed her eyes to give him her fiercest look.

He grinned at her, before another whistle captured his attention. He ran toward the boulders, hesitating only once to look back. In a huge bound, he vaulted over several of the boulders and disappeared from her view.

Gasping to catch her breath, she sat still. Tears rolled down her face. Her legs shaking beneath her, she stood and searched the beach for her mother. She wanted to tell her what good girls she and Olwen had been. How they had hidden, holding each other hard, but never made a sound.

The two girls had watched Dun Geata’s warriors fall, heard the terrible screaming of men and horses. They’d seen the bad men run after the ladies. Not even when the man with the patch jumped on Kellach’s mama did the girls make a sound. Her mama screamed, but they stayed silent.

Now, everyone was silent.

Kellach curled a strand of her hair around a finger and picked her way across the beach, stepping around body parts. She thought she spied her mother’s gray skirt and ran to the spot. A long piece of gray cloth, obviously ripped from her mother’s garment, lay in strips on the blood-soaked sand.

Shocked and bewildered, she reverted to infancy, looking around and calling, “Mama—? I hided like you said. Kellach’s a good girl. Please, Mama—” Her hand rubbed her chest. She looked at it as if it belonged to someone else. Numbness whipped her.

Several minutes passed until she understood that her mama was not going to answer her. The bad men must have taken her away, for she was nowhere to be seen.

Kellach picked up the cloth. She fluttered her hand in a beckoning gesture toward the ridge, to Olwen who had hidden with her. She called out in a husky whisper, “Olwen, come. Please come to Kellach.” She waited. No answer came from the dunes.

Kellach’s body chilled despite the warmth of the spring sun. Through a fog of shock, she sat by the water. Her hand crumpled the piece of cloth she clutched. She pressed it to her cheek and mumbled a lullaby, rocking back and forth as her mama did when she sang to Kellach at bedtime.

Kellach choked and gagged on her melody, her tears flowing into the sea.



Chapter One

An Dun Geata, Gael—852 AD

Destiny hurled him home to do a godless deed, a deed evil enough to live on in the memories of bards for eons to come.

Unable to ease the guilty ache in his heart over what he must do to his fellow Gaels, Bruic the Badger paced the shale-covered ground between a huge monolith and the band of hidden Norse horsemen. The monolith protected an ancient burial site close to the raid’s objective, An Dun Geata fortress.

The nearby men, an elite set of guards, protected him.

During the night, a host of the men under his command infiltrated the stone beehive huts of those living across from the fort. He calculated this unusual strategy, the element of surprise, might work best to secure the area without loss of blood. His return to the land of his birth had come through express orders from Olaf the White, who was attempting to reclaim Dublin from the Danes.

Drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Bruic worried over the release of his young sons held hostage by Olaf, and looked out to the nearby coves that hid his raiding party’s ships. The coves would make fine ports for the trading Olaf desired, once all of Gael was conquered. Perhaps, the location of trading ports would please the man enough to free the twins.

The morn was bleak and still, yet the sound of the rolling ocean and the fragrant but fractious wind of dewy predawn sang to Bruic’s soul. He slid to a bare knee, crossed himself and whispered thanks for this restoration, however brief, to Gael. Unprepared for the vivid memory of his former visit to his homeland, his heart raced.

At thirteen, Bruic had witnessed the natives annihilated, women raped and pressed into bondage, or slain on the spot. No group deserved such slaughter or enslavement once, much less a second time, and he recognized the general region as the one he had visited before. He shook off the internal guilt he’d held for years over his part in that earlier raid and made a silent vow. This one would be bloodless.

A hand signal from the nearby copse of trees caught his eye. Only Fergus, the only other Gael and his second in command, would dare attract attention. All others waited for Bruic’s cue to move. Careful not to be seen, Bruic stood and darted toward the line of trees.

He peered into the branches where some of his men had chosen to hide. The rest stayed on the ground, holding the horses. An edge of anticipation sliced the air around the greenery, anticipation sharp as blades that lay concealed in the scabbards of his men.

“What?” Bruic asked, keeping his tone low.

Fergus, who sat hunched behind a wide tree trunk, spoke softly, “The men are in position, Bruic, but impatient to begin. The animals grow restive.”

“Warn the men again. I want no spilling of the natives’ blood, regardless of the resistance. That’s an order, Fergus.”

“Short of an unexpected outburst, it should be an easy raid. It’s only a minor queen in charge, one who must grapple with a Dark Druid’s curse upon her. She’ll have no strength to fight a greater force, nor will her people.”

Bruic nodded. “Keep my horse at the ready. It’s almost time but wait for a sign from me.”

“Aye. As always.” Fergus backed further behind the trunk of the closest tree.

Bruic moved away on a spongy carpet of grass. Once again at the base of the monolith, he climbed from one boulder to another until he reached the top, where he lay prone. With a practiced eye, he studied the terrain below. The small number of huts across the narrow, rutty road…the small stone walls around the fields, set in precise lots to keep the cattle in…the escarpment soaring into the sky from beneath the fragrant ocean…the nearly impregnable stone fort with its massive wooden door…

His body stiffened, alert. Two people entered the yard through the fort’s front portal. A red-haired woman and an older man, whose gray beard grazed his short neck, walked in the direction of the inner walls, set away from the sea. The woman reached up and dragged a multicolored shawl over flame-colored hair.

Knowing the improbability, Bruic wondered if this woman could be the grown-up version of the little girl he’d saved from discovery years ago. With a shake of his head, he dismissed his fanciful thoughts of the little girl, who still sparked thoughts of his infamous day on a beach, and whose bravery had remained unforgettable throughout his life.

The people below drew closer to the walls weakened by the Norsemen helping to conquer the lonely fort. Surely the two would notice the undisguised damage done to the inner walls and even to the ones beyond. Would they alert the compound? How many others were within the fortress? A large number of raging Gaels might disrupt his plans for no bloodshed. Tension hung in the air around him, promising little relief.

The woman stopped, turned and then ran back toward the fort. Obviously, the destruction of the walls had been discovered. No shouts rang out. About to raise a hand to signal his men, Bruic hesitated. When the woman leaned against the fort, he knew he’d be better served to wait and watch.

But waiting was not something Bruic did well.
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Saranac Lake Requiem
Saranac Lake Series, Vol. One

by Shel Damsky

When Gabriel Levine punches out a guy who is being rude to a dancer, then learns the next day the guy's name is Dutch Schultz, retreat seems in order.

To avoid a gang war Lucky Luciano sends Gabe to Saranac Lake to recuperate from tuberculosis.…in love with a beautiful woman, and surrounded by people who look up to him, Gabe doesn't know that even in Saranac Lake, tuberculosis is not his most dangerous enemy.

ISBN 978-1-59431-202-2 Historical / Mystery /Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art by Ariana Overton



Chapter 1

New York City

At ten o’clock on a Spring morning, as the noises and smells of the crowded Lower East Side came in the window. Housewives screamed at the pushcart guys; the pushcart guys tried to stop the gangs of kids from stealing their rotten vegetables.

Gabriel Levine sat on the edge of his rumpled bed, not tumbling yet to the idea of how much trouble he was really in. He ran his hand through his light brown hair, lit a Lucky Strike, drank a shot of bad bootleg whiskey, coughed for almost thirty seconds straight and wondered why naked women walked like ducks.

Like the mahogany beauty coming into the bedroom with a cup of coffee for him. Even with her lithe dancer’s body, naked she walked like a duck. In clothes and high heels they walked just great, with everything moving the way it should. But considering everything, Gabe thought, naked ducks had a lot going for them too.

“Here’s your coffee, babe,” she said, putting the mug on the bed table. Like the rest of the room the table was old and scratched. Two books almost evened up the bottom of its broken leg. Other than the railroad flats he had grown up in, until their new country had killed his father and mother, his father from never understanding and his mother from tired, and his sister had married the first luftmensch that promised to take her out of there, this room was the only home Gabriel Levine had ever known.

The girl sat next to him on the sagging mattress. “You’re too skinny,” she said. “You’re almost six feet, and I bet I weigh almost as much as you do. And you’re too pale. Don’t you ever get any sun?”

“I lost some weight,” he answered, “but I’m okay. And how much sun do you get driving a hack?” But he wondered if the coughing had anything to do with it. Doc Horowitz had told him that he was getting worse, that pretty soon he had to get out of the City, go somewhere in the mountains. Wherever they were.

“How you feeling?” she asked, with concern in her voice that puzzled Gabe.

“Pretty good,” he answered. He smiled. “You give a guy a workout. But something’s bothering me, something running around the back of my head. Like when you wake up all of a sudden and you don’t remember all the money you lost playing poker or on the horses. Then it hits you. Only whatever it is, it’s where I can’t reach it.”

“You don’t remember last night?” she asked.

“Sure. I dropped some fares off up in Harlem, the Cotton Club, went in to see if I could scare up some business back downtown, had some drinks and then—”

“And then?” she prodded.

“Jesus, I got in a fight. Now I remember. Some bozo got fresh with you and grabbed your ass and…. A grin pulled up one side of his wide mouth. “And I hit him. I decked him. Son-of-a-bitch, I got in a fight and knocked somebody down. I knocked somebody down.”

She stared at him as if she thought he had missed a cue somewhere.

“Some bozo?” she said, her voice rising, “some bozo? You don’t know who you hit?” Her eyes were so wide all he could see were the whites. Like Ruby Begonia must look like on Amos ‘n’, Andy, he thought.

“No. Should I?”

“You’re goddamned right you should.”

Sounds from the street came into the window. Yelling, screaming, cursing, in Yiddish, Italian, German, and Polish, floated up from the teeming street.

“Because ‘that bozo’ was Dutch Schultz, that’s why. It was wonderful the way you helped me, but you hit Dutch Schultz. The Dutchman was who you hit.”

“Oh my god!” Gabe said. “I don’t do much right, do I? Why didn’t he kill me right there?”

“Oh, he would have, believe me. But there was too much confusion. He was screaming, his bodyguards were trying to get him up off the floor, and I got you the hell out of there.”

There was a loud knock at the door. They looked at each other, and then Gabe put on a robe while the girl ran into the bathroom. Gabe opened the door and stepped back. The man was so big that there didn’t seem to be any light coming in the doorway around him. Gabe started to say something but the man held up a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt.

“Ten minutes,” he said. “Fifteen tops. Downstairs.”

Gabe closed the door and went back into the bedroom. He sat down on the bed and took a pull at the bottle. He looked up at her as she came into the room. She was partly dressed. Her eyes were wide, staring at him.

“You see him?” he asked her. “You see the size of him?”

She nodded. “I was peeking around the bathroom door,” she said.

“He must be one of Schultz’s boys,” he said. “They’re going to kill me, aren’t they?” He stared up at her, his hazel eyes narrowed to slits over his narrow face. She sat down on the bed and took the bottle from him, took a long pull and put it back on the bed table

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve seen him at the Club, but not with Schultz. He’s always with Lucky Luciano. But everybody knows Lucky and Schultz hate each other. So why should Lucky’s goon want to see you?”

“How the hell do I know,” Gabe said, his forehead creased with deep wrinkles. “To kill me, probably. Anyway, I got five minutes to shower and shave and get down there. Can I see you later?”

“Sure. Call me at the Club tonight if everything’s all right. And Gabe—?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks again for helping me. Maybe we can see each other some more?”

“If I live until tonight, sure,” he answered, going into the bathroom.

He shaved quickly, nicking himself a couple of times because his hands were shaking and rushed through a shower. He splashed Lucky Tiger on his hair and combed it straight back, no part, like Valentino did in The Sheik, dressed and went downstairs. The huge man was leaning against the door of a black La Salle. He opened the front door and motioned Gabe in. Gabe snuck a look in the back seat, wondering if someone was waiting for him there. He knew, hell, everybody knew, that the Jewish gangs used ice picks, the guineas used garrotes, both easy from the back seat of a car.

The back seat was empty. Gabe let out a long breath, and asked the driver where they were going.

“Shut the fuck up,” he responded, the only thing he said the whole trip. He stopped the car in front of the Hotel Astor, which stood high over Times Square like a fat rich lady looking over her estate. Two men in dark suits waited at the curb, not bothering to hide the bulges under their armpits.

“He heeled?” one of the men asked the driver.

The driver laughed. “This punk?” he said, “he never had nothin’ but a water pistol his whole life.”

One of the men opened the door and Gabe got out. They herded him across the lobby to the elevators and rode to the top floor. And into the first hotel suite he had ever seen, where, like in a William Powell movie, the elevator door opened right into the living room. But that was nothing compared to the shock when he saw the two men sitting at a coffee table, drinks in front of them, their faces showing all the expression of wallpaper.

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. He had never seen them, just their pictures in the paper, but he knew who they were. Everybody knew who they were.

They were both dressed in dark blue pin striped suits, over white on white shirts and regimental striped neckties. They looked nothing alike, but they were thought of as twins. People said they didn’t have to even talk to each other; from the time they were kids on the street stealing pennies from back alley crap games, they could read each others minds. The dark man with the straight black hair and one droopy eyelid, was Luciano. Charley Lucky, the capo de tutti capi. The little man with the deeply lined face and big ears, his face tanned from all the time he spent in Miami and Havana, was Lansky, the brains behind Charley Lucky.

They said around town that Meyer Lansky trusted only Lucky Luciano and Lucky Luciano trusted nobody.

Besides the two at the cocktail table, a half dozen men ranged around the room. They played gin rummy, stood around, or looked out the windows at Times Square far below. They were interchangeable in dark clothes, expressionless faces and guns in shoulder holsters. They appeared to have no interest in the meeting, but each one was ready on request to serve drinks, open a window, or shoot someone—whatever was required.

When he had walked into the suite, the little man with the big ears got out of his chair and extended his hand. “Good morning, Gabriel,” he said. “Thank you for coming up,” like it had been Gabe’s idea to stop by as long as he was in the neighborhood. “This is Charles,” nodding toward Luciano, who stood, walked over to Gabe and shook hands, like he was meeting his banker, Gabe thought. “Get Mr. Levine a drink,” Luciano said over his shoulder, and one of the gorillas went over to the wet bar and poured some whiskey. He handed the drink to Gabe. “Here, you Jew son-of-a-bitch,” he said, “choke on it.”

“Easy, Salvatore,” the little man said. “Bad temper got us into this mess. Let’s not make it any worse.”

Bad temper, Gabe thought. Then this was about the fight last night. He had relaxed a little when they gave him a drink instead of shooting him. Now he stopped relaxing. Stopped dead, he couldn’t help thinking.

“Tell me Gabriel,” Meyer Lansky said, “what do you know about Saranac Lake?”

The question came from so deep in left field that Gabriel didn’t know what to say at first. Finally, “I don’t know. It doesn’t ring a bell. What is it?”

“It’s not a thing,” Luciano answered, “it’s a place. Upstate. You know upstate?”

”I was in Albany once,” Gabe answered. “Drove a Senator up there. Is it near there?”

Lansky nodded. “Saranac Lake is another couple of hours north of there. It’s mostly for people with TB.” He stopped. “We did some checking. You got TB, don’t you Gabriel?” he asked.

Gabe nodded. He didn’t know how they knew, but they knew.

“Not only a TB place,” Lansky went on, “but I hear there’s a lot of action up there. Somebody told me it’s a cross between a big hospital and a wide-open town. I can’t picture that mix, but that’s what they say.”

“But why would I be interested?” Gabe asked.

“Let’s stop the shit, kid,” Luciano growled. “One, it’s a famous place for getting cured of TB If you don’t do something you could be dead in maybe a couple of years.” He thought for a minute. “And after last night, if you stay here you could be dead in a in a couple of hours. So there might be better.”

Lansky broke in. “Let me put this in perspective, Gabriel,” he said. “You see, there’s lots going on. And suddenly you’re part of it.”

“Oh.” It was all Gabe could think of to say.

“I’ll make this quick. Dutch Schultz wants our okay to kill this new prosecutor. And that would be the dumbest thing we could do. The heat would never let up.”

He paused and without any break, Luciano took up the story. “And we can’t let that happen. Because it would start a war. And if we have a war here, people like Capone look to pick up the pieces, or Longy Zwillman is licking his chops across the river in Jersey, or the Purple Gang in Detroit would love to move in and everybody all of a sudden got his hand on his gun.”

“Schultz wants to kill everybody in sight. Between him and that grizzly bear he’s got for a bodyguard, nobody’s safe,” he went on. “And after last night, they’d be happy to start with you.”

Lansky took up the story. “And Legs Diamond is always looking for an excuse to rub out Schultz. They hate each other.” He paused, sipped his drink, and said, almost sadly, “Now you’re up shit creek, and all just the Dutchman grabs your girlfriend by her black ass.”

“You got to leave town, kid.” This from Luciano, who almost sounded like he really cared what Gabe did. “But it works out for everybody. We’re interested in all the booze that the Bronfmans and their people are sending in from Canada. We know it goes over the border somewhere near this Saranac Lake. You’re a cab driver. You could help a lot.” He looked at Gabe for a minute, lit a cigarette, and then went on.

“If we go into business up there, you can drive for us. Make sure the stuff gets in from Canada, through little places they call Chateaugay and, I think, Chazy and this Saranac Lake to Albany and here in the City. And maybe get your health back at the same time.”

“That sounds great,” Gabe said, not sure at all how it sounded, but at least it sounded better than getting shot right here in this room. “I can be ready to go in just a couple of weeks.”

“You go this afternoon,” Luciano said. He nodded to one of the hoods at the door, who brought an envelope over to him. “Here’s your ticket. Your train leaves Grand Central at 5:30. And here’s everything you need to know, about where you’re staying and like that. And there’s some cash in here.”

Gabe took the envelope and put it in his pocket without looking at it. He didn’t think it would be smart to look like he didn’t trust them. As it was, he didn’t know whether he trusted them or not, because everything was going too fast for him. The last thing you wanted to do, Gabe thought, was make these people think you didn’t trust them. It could really be the last thing you did.

“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about last night. I’m really sorry I started this mess. I’m sorry I caused so much trouble for you. And I appreciate your helping me like this, instead of, uh, instead of ….” He didn’t finish the thought, because he didn’t want them to start thinking about an instead solution to all this.

“Could I ask you something?” he asked.

“Sure.”

Well,” he started, slowly, “you already know. About the girl, I mean. The dancer. The one I socked Dutch Schultz over, even if I didn’t know it was him.”

“So?” Luciano said.

“Well, she’s pretty swell, and she’s pretty scared about what happened last night. She’s afraid to even go back to work, you know? So I wonder if, maybe, if it’s okay with you, if she could maybe go with me to this Saranac Lake place. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about her. And maybe — “

Lansky put up his hand, stopping Gabe. “Don’t worry kid,” he said. “We already thought about her. We don’t want her getting hurt, so she’s going to be a featured dancer in one of our places. Miami, maybe, or Havana. Anyway, it was important to get her out of town before she got hurt. In fact, she’s on her way south right now. I’m sorry you won’t get a chance to say good-bye.” He looked at Luciano who looked back with no expression at all.

Gabe couldn’t think of anything else to say, and no one seemed to expect anything. He stood up and shook hands with each of them. He started to leave the room when Luciano called him back.

“You carry?” he asked.

“Do I what?”

“A gun,” Luciano said. “You got a gun?” He shook his head in disgust, like he had to ask if Gabe wore shoes.

“No.”

Luciano turned to one of the men looking out the window. “Give him a piece,” he said. The man walked over to Gabe, reached under his left arm, which made Gabe wince, and pulled out a large revolver. He handed it to Gabe. “Here,” he said, “shoot yourself. Save us all the trouble.”

Gabe put the pistol in his coat pocket, surprised at how heavy it was. He nodded at Lansky and Luciano and left the room with the two big men who had brought him there wondering how much trouble having a gun was going to get him into.
$16.95
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Format: 
Bird By Any Other Name-p
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3

by Brenda M. Boldin

In the third of the Alex Masters series, Alex has started a new life yet again. She’s calling herself Lexi now, and working for her brother’s company in Bay City. When a co-worker is found stabbed to death, Lexi is suspect #1. Police Lt. Cole Armstrong finds himself hoping against hope that the clues won’t lead back to his favorite girl-singer.

ISBN 1-59431-411-X Mystery / Romance / Suspense / Series

Cover Art/ Maggie Dix



Alex Masters Series, Vol. 3 by Brenda M. Boldins

Chapter 1

Lexi Masters kept her eyes on the parking lot around her as she slid the ID card through the computerized lock entry system to the Trent Industries, Inc. building. Ears alert to any sound, she turned her attention to the numeric key pad and punched in the top secret code. The door clicked and she yanked it open. As she slipped inside, her stomach tightened and she felt a tremor just beneath her skin.

Security camera lenses followed her path across the lobby like so many eyes of portraits in a haunted mansion.

“Stop thinking like that!” She pressed the elevator button.

“Hol’ it righ’ there, don’ move!”

Lexi screamed at the top of her lungs, her feet actually leaving the floor, her hands flying toward the ceiling. The ID card sailed across the room and landed with a slap at the feet of the security guard. Lexi’s reaction startled the guard, causing his index finger to jerk on the trigger of his .9 millimeter handgun.

It all happened in under five seconds: Lexi’s scream, the guard’s startled response, the gunshot, and Lexi’s instinctive reaction to the sound of weapon fire. She found herself face down on the cold marble floor, arms spread, trembling, and very near tears. In the next instant, however, she reprimanded herself and regained control. As she tried to get to her feet, she felt a knee in the center of her back, pushing her onto the floor.

“I said don’ move!”

“Look,” she turned her head and tried to make eye contact with the guard. He was a hulk of a man. She almost giggled as her mind corrected her opinion. He looked a lot more like The Body Ventura than Hulk Hogan. “Control yourself! He shot once, he could do it again.”

“Sir,” using her most respectful voice. “I have Mr. Trent’s permission to be here. How else could I have gotten into the building? See?” She nodded in the direction of her ID card still lying on the floor. “That’s my ID. I work for my brother, Alexander Masters. He’s head of Team 3 on the Time Warp Project. He forgot some papers for an important meeting and sent me to pick them up.”

The guard didn’t move. “Why didn’ he come get ’em ’imself?”

“He’d have been late for the meeting. Look, you can call him, or Mr. Trent, they’ll tell you it’s true. Mr. Trent was supposed to have already called you.”

At that precise moment the phone at the guard desk rang. The man holding her captive looked at her with great suspicion. Still holding his gun on her, he slowly rose to his feet.

“You stay put.” He backed away, keeping his eyes, and the gun, on her as he made his way to the reception desk and picked up the phone.

“Yes, sir?” He cradled the handset between his ear and shoulder, maintaining his vigilant surveillance of Lexi as he responded to the answer at the other end of the phone line.

“Yes, sir. I see, sir. All righ’, sir.” He nudged the receiver off his shoulder and placed it back on the cradle using his left hand.

Lexi noticed he let his gun hand drop to his side as he crossed the lobby, but he continued to keep his fierce gaze focused on her. When he stood above her, his feet so close she could smell the leather of his boots, he said, “All right get up!”

As Lexi got to her feet he took a few steps away, picked up her ID card and scrutinized it. His gaze shifted from the card to her, back to the card, then settled on her again. The corners of his mouth turned down in an almost angry pout as he handed the card to her.

“Mr. Trent says to let you on up.”

Lexi allowed him to hear her huge sigh of relief as she took the card from him.

“Thank you.” She used the meekest tone she could muster, though inside she wanted the moron to have a piece of her mind. She’d never been one to respect authority figures. Not that this rent-a-cop could in any way, shape or form, be considered to represent authority, at least not in her mind.

Lexi pressed the button, again, for the elevator. To her surprise, the guard spoke.

“An’ I apol’gize about the gun goin’ off. I wasn’ really shootin’ at ya, but ya scared the hell outta of me when ya screamt like that.”

Lexi turned and gave him a small smile. “Think how I felt!”

The elevator doors slid open and she stepped inside and out of his sight. That was the last she ever saw of him.
$16.95
411
Format: 
Jailbird
Alex Masters Series, Vol. 2

By Brenda M. Boldin

In the sequel to Dead Birds Don't Sing Alex Masters is still awaiting trial for murder after spending a year in the Bay City Jail. Her new lawyer has gotten her out from behind bars, placed under house arrest instead and put into a Work Rehab program. She's doing clerical work at the police station of all places . Her "probation" officer can monitor her movements 24 hours a day on computer through the bracelet she has to wear. Meanwhile, someone is strangling the prostitutes in Bay City, and Alex is being stalked. Cole Armstrong, now a Lieutenant on the Homicide squad wants Alex to use her connections and inside information to help them catch the strangler. Alex wants Cole and his band, Ancient Rebellion, to use some of the music she wrote while in jail. Once again they form a precarious alliance to attain their means and Alex ends up face to face with a killer one more time.

ISBN 1-59431-028-9 Mystery/Romance/ Suspense Cover Art/Maggie Dix



"So, I wonder how she's doing

I hate it when the rumors fly.

They give off such a strange sense of mission,

Wing your helplessness on high.

But she would never run from strangers.

She sang alone like a bell will toll,

way above all the clang and the clatter,

out of fear of her demon soul."

___From Blue Chalk by John Gorka (c)1996 Blues Palace Music (ASCAP) used by permission

Prologue

The slam of a car door broke the peaceful quiet of the tiny ground floor apartment.

"Quick! Your father's home! Hide!" The young woman hustled the small child into the make-shift closet and pulled the sheet that functioned as a door across the opening. "Now don't make a sound. If he can't find you, he can't hurt you."

The child obediently crouched in the far corner of the dark alcove.

A door crashed open followed by the bang as it shut.

"Where are you slut?" came an inebriated voice, full of anger and hatred.

"I'm here." The woman's voice was soft and timid, the child strained to hear it.

Heavy footsteps entered the small bedroom. The man sniffed the air.

"You've had someone here, haven't you?" he demanded.

"No, James, no."

The loud sound of flesh slapping flesh filled the air, followed by a dull thud as the woman landed on the bed.

"You're nothing but a whore. I know it. You have men here when I'm gone. You think I don't bring home enough money to support you and that brat. So you sell yourself. You think I don't know what you do?"

The child in the dark winced and cowered as the sound of the man's fists striking the woman came over and over. The woman did not cry, but the child could hear her timid pleas.

"Please, no. It's not true. Don't hit me, please."

"You get what you deserve woman. Whores and sluts like you don't deserve to live."

There was a strange gurgling noise the child could not recognize. A small, unobserved peek through the curtain was more than enough. Large, thick, strong hands around a slim, delicate neck. Then nothing but the man's heavy breathing.

"You got what you deserved, whore."

Heavy footsteps left the room and there was silence.

Terrified, the child remained in the closet for two days. Demands from the stomach and bladder went unheeded as the child waited. Waited while the room filled with police. Waited while the man was cuffed and taken away. Waited while they placed the woman in a black bag that zipped closed, put her on a long table with wheels, and rolled her away. Waited in the empty silence for darkness to come again and then sun to rise once more.

Then the child darted out of the closet, ran for the door of the apartment and just kept running. Running forever.

Chapter One

"Cole! My man!"

"Well, here comes the man himself."

"Cole! Buddy. How ya doing?"

Cole Armstrong, a well-built six-foot two, dark blond, full-time cop, part-time musician, stopped two steps into the room and looked at his three friends.

Jimmy Carrington, Cole's best friend since elementary school. Five foot eight, close-cropped brown hair and eyes, with the build of a wrestler and a voice like Lindsay Buckingham. Bruce Willoughby, the drummer, reminded Cole of a character in an old television show called Room 222. Tall, blue eyes, with the fair skin of most red heads. Woody Hannaford, keyboardist extraordinaire and the strong silent type. Six foot ten inches tall, Woody could have been a professional basketball player, but he had chosen not to play ball after high school. His one love was the piano, it came before all else. Cole could sit and watch his mahogany fingers run up and down the ivory keys for hours on end.

Now, all three pairs of eyes were focused on Cole and he knew something was brewing.

"All right guys, what's up?" He put his guitar cases carefully on the floor.

The trio looked at him, expressions on their faces he'd seen elsewhere so many times he'd lost count. Usually they were accompanied with the words, "Honest, officer, I didn't do it!"

"Nothing's up." Jimmy smiled. "Why does something have to be up?"

Cole shook his head. "Uh, huh pal. I'm not buying it. I walk in here and find you three with your heads together instead of warming up. Then I'm welcomed like a long lost brother. You guys want something. Spill it."

The three looked at each other, their eyes conveying messages back and forth. No one seemed to want to be the one to confront the leader of Ancient Rebellion.

"That bad huh?" Cole sighed, picked up his gear and moved over to the rehearsal area and started to set up his instruments. "We aren't starting until someone talks." He spoke with his back to them as he plugged in his acoustic guitar with electronic pickup.

"Yeah, well we were just talking." Jimmy shuffled up to his best friend's side. "Of course we read the paper this morning."

Cole looked over his shoulder, eyes wide. "You actually read the paper? You?"

That comment got him a rough slug in the shoulder.

"Okay, look." Woody sauntered up and seated his long legged figure on the stool to Cole's left. "We want to know if you can pull strings to get Alex back in the band."

Cole became still. Alex's face appeared before him as though he'd seen her yesterday. Bleached-out hair, oval face with hazel eyes that flashed green when she was riled, which was most of the time. At length he looked up into Woody's dark brown eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"We figured," Bruce entered the fray. "That you being a cop, well you ought to be able to convince the judge, or whoever, that working with us is good rehabilitation too."

"Now, Cole, before you blow up." Jimmy put out a hand. "We know you may not be comfortable around her right now. But in time that should pass. It's been close to twelve months and we're still getting people asking us when she's coming back."

"She only sang with us that one night!"

Jimmy nodded. "Amazing isn't it? The people really liked her. We need her. She's our ticket to bigger and better things."

Cole shook his head. "I still don't get it. I didn't read the paper this morning."

That drew a chorus of "What?"

Cole held his hands up in surrender. "I've been out of town. Went down to the ocean for a couple days."

"I thought you were in charge of that serial killer case." Woody looked at him in wonder.

"I am. But the damn case is driving us all nuts. Chief practically ordered everyone to take a couple days off and get away from it. So, when it was my turn, I went surfing." He shrugged.

"Tough life," Bruce muttered.

"Anyhow. Someone bring me up to speed here. I thought Alex wasn't going to trial for several weeks yet."

"Right." Jimmy started fingering his electric bass. "This new hot shot lawyer King Marshall finally hired for her seems to be working miracles."

"What do you mean?" Cole's head jerked up and he stared at Jimmy.

"Did you know that guy you've been looking for finally showed up?"

Cole's eyes narrowed. "No."

The Bay City police had been looking for Harry Sheppard for months in connection with the Alex Masters case. No one denied Alex had shot police Lieutenant Anthony Morello, the question to be debated in court was whether it had been in self-defense.

The entire case centered around a robbery at Bay City Central Bank a year ago. At present the prosecution had nothing more than circumstantial evidence tying Alex to the robbery and the murder of Roger Beauregaurd. The state claimed Beau, as he was known, spearheaded the plan to hit the bank on the one day when it would have more than twice its normal amount of cash on hand. Alex claimed that Morello was the mastermind behind the heist and had killed three people to cover his involvement. Harry Shepherd seemed to be the only person who could prove, or disprove, Alex's allegations.

Now, Jimmy filled Cole in on the news.

"Must have been right after you left town then, 'cause it was a day or so ago. Just sort of showed up and said he wanted to talk."

"What!" Cole had been kneeling on the floor, turning dials and knobs on the sound system. This news brought him to his feet.

"Well, he really hasn't said much. Yet. But he said he could clear Alex if the District Attorney would cut him a deal."

"So you're saying they just let her go? Just like that?"

"No way," Woody chimed in. "But it was enough to get her out of jail. She's now under house arrest. The hot shot lawyer arranged for her to get into some kind of job rehabilitation program while she's out."

"Yeah." Jimmy took over once more. "So we figured if they let her out of the house to type all day, surely they should let her practice and perform with us. It's her real career, we all know that."

Cole sighed and shook his head. "You guys are nuts. One: there is no way on this earth any judge or parole officer is going to let her do it. Two: you could probably promise her immediate freedom, all charges against her dropped, and a million dollars. She still wouldn't do it."

Review at SUSPENSE MAGAZINE

The tale revolves around Alex Masters, a former girl of the streets, awaiting trial for murder and currently on house arrest, and a series of murders of prostitutes which take place in the neighborhood where > she used to work. > > Boldin has excellent command of language and dialogue. There were a few typos here and there, but these can be easily forgiven since the writer has done a great job in creating a suspenseful story bound to leave you on the edge of your seat as we try to figure out who is responsible for the killings. This is one of the better mysteries I have read recently. Filled with many twists and turns, as well as a surprise ending, the book is guaranteed to leave you wanting more from this talented author.

> John Raab, Editor

SUSPENSE MAGAZINE
$16.95
287-p
Format: 
Web Of Fear
By Marie Prato

Marcia wanders the streets of Cracow, Poland searching for the man she once intended to marry ....

She's unaware that her every move is being watched. Is Lazarz still alive? Which side did he spy for? Marcia refuses to give up searching for some kind of closure after the man she loves didappears. Then she finds more than she bargained for.

ISBN 1-59431-124-4 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



PREFACE



When I began to write this story, the true account of my relationship with Lazarz, I thought I was writing a mystery, or a love story, or both. I worried about where to begin. One can always "begin at the beginning." In my case, the love story began not long after I met Lazarz but it wasn't until almost a year later that I realized I was involved in a conspiracy involving several government agencies.

From the first, Lazarz was a mystery to me. Maybe that was part of the reason I loved him. But the longer I knew him the deeper the mystery became. Was he ever who I thought he was? Will I ever know who he really was?

It wasn't until I found a newspaper clipping that I realized my story is history. It may also be a love story of a strange kind, and it certainly is a mystery, at least it was to me for over ten years. It's still a mystery in many ways, but at last I can put it down as history.

I thought after I returned from Poland that what I found out there was enough to make the story history in my own life, history I could finally lay to rest. But this article showed me that I was living history on a greater scale than I knew and up to my neck in events I had no way of knowing about at the time. I thought I was just a woman in love with a man__a handsome, very intelligent man__perhaps a powerful man in his world, but I had no idea! The danger signs were always there, I just didn't see them. Or maybe I didn't want to see them.

The news article before me answers questions I would have paid a lot to learn about years ago. Trying to solve the mystery of Lazars has cost me a great deal of money, time and heartache. It could and still might cost me my life. I played with fire beyond my wildest dreams. As the paper says, "...FBI agents have already conducted at least one search...for secret stockpiles of everything from nuclear weapons to pistols, radios, maps, and currency."

While they have been looking for the stockpiles of Russian planted weapons in the United States, I have been looking for one of the Russian agents who very likely did the planting.

All along I thought I was looking for my lost love, for our future together and our chance at happiness or, at the very least, the reasons why that could never be. Holding this paper in my hand, I now know why so many people were watching me. I was followed, spied upon, wire tapped, and warned. For over ten years I have had my rights as a citizen of the United States violated. And it apparently is still going on.

How could it be that I, a single, hard_working, mind_my_own_business sort of woman, could find myself involved with being part of a Cold War investigation just by falling in love? Looking at this newspaper and knowing what I know now, I see that maybe this is how history gets made. A woman goes out one evening looking for Mr. Right and finds what appears to be the perfect mate __ a man full of intelligence and old_world charm. Only it turns out that Mr. Right is really living a double or possibly even a triple life. And, in spite of what Mr. Right might want, there is no room in any of those lives for love.

What went wrong to twist my hopes for the future into history? It was 1986. The words Cold War meant nothing to me then. I had a lot to learn.



CHAPTER ONE

Cracow, Poland

Monday, March 18, 1996



Icy fingers of air raked my cheeks as I hurried along a store_studded street near the University of Cracow. Passing in front of a tiny shop with ceramic bowls in its window, I looked at the warm glow from the lights inside the store. Better to move on. I had been walking from store to store for the last two hours. That was enough for this morning. I had gotten the lay of the land, so to speak. It was time to go back to the hotel and decide on the best way to proceed.

Despite the March wind, Cracow's streets were filled with pedestrians. Directly in my path, three teenagers ambled along giggling and talking in Polish. Below their heavy coats, the kids were dressed in the same uniform as teenagers back in the States__jeans and sneakers. As I debated whether to pass the group on the right or the left, I noticed one of the boys handing something to the girl. I saw the girl unwrapping a piece of candy. As she fumbled with the wrapper, the thin covering slipped from her gloved hands and floated down to the icy sidewalk. Stopping so quickly that I almost tripped over her, the girl bent down to pick up the small piece of paper. As I passed the group, I saw the girl clutching the litter in her gloved fist.

What seemed to be Poland's daily dose of snowflakes began falling from the gray sky. I quickened my pace. Another block and I would be at the restaurant. Last night, after arriving on the train from Warsaw and checking into The Old World Inn, I had eaten at the hotel restaurant. The potato pancakes were the best I had ever tasted. And all the tables in the restaurant were covered with immaculate white lace tablecloths. Lazarz hadn't lied about that__almost everything else had been lies__but the tables in the restaurant did have lace cloths on them.

I jabbed a gloved finger in the corner of each eye, trying to halt the tears before they had a chance to flow out and freeze on my face. And Lazarz had told the truth about loving me. Nothing that had happened could make me believe he hadn't loved me. And if I needed reassurance, all I had to do was take a deep breath. The mere fact that I was still alive was proof enough.

If you go to Poland you will never come back, I heard my uncle saying. Then Lazarz's voice whispered to me, "No one will ever hurt you as long as I am alive." How could Lazarz promise that? How could I believe anything he promised?

Spotting the gray stone facade of my hotel, I congratulated myself that I hadn't booked a room at one of the new hotels that recently had sprung up in Cracow since the fall of Communism. While in Poland, I wanted to stay in rooms rich with experiences. Lazarz loved the traditional. In Warsaw I had stayed at The Haven, one of the few hotels that had survived the Nazi occupation. And here, just like in Warsaw, I both feared and hoped for some contact to be made. Contact by whom or what method I didn't know.

Trudging up the concrete stairs, I hurried toward the warm glow of the lights. "Like a moth hurrying toward a light bulb," whispered a taunting voice that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside me. "A light bulb that will turn the moth into a Crispy Critter." Before I could change my mind and run toward the airport, I walked rapidly through the beckoning door.

"Excuse me, Ms. Delmonico," said a fair_haired man, walking toward me. "The hotel manager wants to see you."

"Why?" I asked, a sense of numbness stealing over me as I pulled off my gloves. "Is there a problem?"

"I don't know," stammered the man, looking everywhere but at my face. "Please. Go to manager's office."

"Why?" I asked again.

"Please, go take elevator to third floor and turn right," said the hotel employee in a pleading voice. "Please go. See, the elevator is ready to go up."

He fled back to the safety of the reception desk.

The same elevator that had probably carried Nazis to their beds during World War II and, although I tried to push the thought from my mind, Jews to their doom, groaned and creaked as it took me and a middle_age couple to the floors above. I tried to imagine what James Bond would do in a case like this. 007 always looked smug and confident when he was in danger. Of course, Bond could afford to be detached about his pending doom__after the scene he would be going home to a nice warm bed and a fatter bank book. What might I have at the end of my visit to Poland? If I was very lucky, I would still be alive and allowed to board the plane home. But I had known the danger I could be in when I had decided to use myself as bait. I had been warned years ago by the CIA that if I went to Poland I wouldn't be coming back.

"Are you an American?" asked the woman in the elevator. "Yes," I answered. "I live in New York. Not in the City, though," I quickly added, as if I didn't want to be tainted by the crime and dirt in Manhattan. "I live Upstate, about fifty miles from Manhattan." I was nervous or I wouldn't have been giving out so much information to strangers.

"My wife and I are from Australia," said the man, as if his accent hadn't already given his origin away. "We've been here about a week. But we are leaving tomorrow."

"Have you enjoyed your visit to Poland?" I asked.

"Very much," answered the man.

"I bought such beautiful amber jewelry in Cracow," added his wife. "I feel like a thief paying so little for the many exquisite gifts I bought for myself and our daughters. And the hotels, restaurants, and stores in Poland! They are so desperate for tourism and money that my husband and I have been spoiled splendidly everywhere we go."

"Are you here with a group?" asked the husband.

"No," I answered. "I came alone to see some of the religious shrines."

"Alone?" asked his wife. "Aren't you afraid to travel by yourself?"

"I've been to Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and other shrines around the world," I answered. "Going alone gives me more time to meditate." I didn't tell her I refused to let myself be afraid.

After saying goodbye to the friendly couple and wishing them a safe trip home, I got off the elevator and turned right. Two doors down was a small brown sign on a half_opened door. In the room, at a long rectangular table, sat two women. The woman at the head of the table facing the door was heavyset with short, frizzy blonde hair. From the door, I could see the top of her white uniform and the yoke of the woman's blue apron. The expression on her pale, round face reminded me of a woodchuck I had seen in Canada. Terrified, its torn leg still caught in a trap, the animal was being hauled by a farmer to a barn across the road. The younger woman sitting at the side of the table had a thin face, framed by straight blonde hair just touching the collar of her navy blue wool suit.

"Sorry," I said, backing out of the doorway. "I was told the hotel manager wanted to see me but I will come back when you are free."

"It is fine," answered the thin, blonde woman as she got up from her seat.

I detected only a slight accent in her English.

"We are waiting for you," continued the blonde. As I entered the room, the woman closed the door behind me.

The blonde woman and I shook hands and smiled at each other. I was proud to see that my hand had been as cool and steady as her own when we shook hands.

"Please sit down," the young woman instructed, pointing toward a wooden chair away from the table and midway between her and the woman in uniform. "This woman is the supervisor on the floor where your room is," said the blonde, nodding in the direction of the older lady.

"Is there a problem?" I asked, feigning a look of puzzlement.

"There is a very big problem, Ms. Delmonico," said the woman, who knew my name but hadn't bothered telling me her name or the name of the supervisor.

"And what is the problem?" I asked, looking directly at the supervisor. The only reaction from the large woman was a twitch on the left side of her face. Aside from that slight movement, the supervisor sat in the chair like a statue.

"What is the problem?" I repeated, turning toward the woman in the suit. Lazarz had told me that in Poland anyone caught stealing had their hand cut off. What would be the punishment for possession of drugs or guns? Maybe someone had already put cocaine or ammunition in my coat pockets. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from digging through my coat and purse. If their game was to accuse me of being a thief or possessing something illegal in order to arrest me or have me deported, more than likely, whatever I was going to be accused of had already been planted in my room while I was out.

"I have been asked by the hotel to speak to you," said the young woman, her alert blue eyes fastened on me. "We must watch everything. Everything we watch."

I tried to appear calm as I waited to hear the charges against me.

"It is a serious problem the hotel has called me here to handle," continued the woman. "A very serious problem."

"What is the problem?" I asked for the third time. "What have I done that is so serious?"

"I have been told that you dirtied a towel and a rug in the bathroom," answered the pretty blonde. "It is a very big problem. Much work has been done to this hotel. We watch everything. We look at everything."

My mouth dropped open as I stared in surprise at the blonde woman.

"I dirtied a towel and the bathroom rug?" I repeated, purposely emphasizing each word. "Then it is no problem. I will pay for the towel and the rug. How much did they cost new?"

"Big, big problem," again said the manager, locking eyes with me. "We watch everything. We look at everything."

"I will pay," I offered again. "Tell me the amount and I will give you the money."

"A lot of work has been done on this hotel," repeated the manager. "We own most of the old hotels in Poland. We watch everything."

"Do the same people who own this hotel own The Haven Hotel in Warsaw?" I asked.

"Yes," answered the blonde. "We own that one too."

"I stayed there when I arrived in Poland. There are big roaches running around that hotel," I accused. "Do you know what a roach is?"

"I know what a roach is, yes," answered the blonde.

"I didn't complain about roaches running around to the owners of that hotel," I said. "Now, you are complaining about a dirty towel and rug?"

The blonde turned to the woman in uniform and spoke to her in Polish. The elderly woman stammered out a response.

"I am told that the owners of this hotel do not own the hotel you are speaking of," answered the blonde. "Sorry. The owners of this hotel own most of the hotels in Poland so I thought they owned The Haven as you called it. I don't work for the hotel."

She doesn't work for the hotel? I thought, trying my best to maintain the same expression on my face so she wouldn't know I had caught her slip. The man at the front desk had told me the hotel manager wanted to see me. If she doesn't work for the hotel, who does she work for? Would this hotel go out and hire an interpreter to accuse me of dirtying a towel and small rug? Not likely.

"I washed my hair last night and used the towel," I explained. "The towel got dirty. I walked on the rug. Some dirt from my shoes may have gotten on it. Put them in the wash and the towel and rug with be clean. For that matter, use some bleach on all the towels. The linen in this hotel is dingy and gray."

"I am told the towel and rug are very dirty. It is a big problem."

"I'll go to the room and bring them down," I answered, standing up. "Then we can settle this."

"Please, sit," stated the young woman. "I will call and the maid on that floor will bring the towel and rug down."

I took a quick glance at the heavy, elderly woman at the head of the table. She was still sitting straight and stiff in her chair. Her eyes continued to stare at the closed door. We waited in grim silence until the maid knocked on the door.

"It looks clean," the blonde said, surveying the towel and rug that the maid had brought into the office. "Before the towel was dirty so it was a problem. Now it is clean so there is no more problem."

The maid left and Ms. Non_Hotel Employee turned toward me. I looked directly into her eyes and smiled. As I continued to look into her eyes, the phony smile she had maintained throughout my interrogation slowly began to disintegrate. Amazed, I watched the blue eyes turn into slivers and the woman's nostrils flare. With her face contorted by anger, the blonde sneered at me. This was contact__not what I had in mind or the kind I wanted but it was definitely contact.

For a moment I was stunned. Then I realized why she was staring at me with such animosity. I hadn't stopped prying in the United States and, as long as I'm alive, I never will stop. Not this bitch with the cold eyes or anyone else will make me stop looking for answers about the man I love. As long as I am alive, I silently vowed, I will be a thorn in their side until I find out the truth.

For several moments we stayed locked onto each other's eyes. Her face was the first to shift back into a phony smile. Two can play this game, I thought. I smiled back at her. Checkmate.

"The towel and rug are clean," announced the blonde. "You can go now."

"If this is how the hotel owners act over a towel, remind me not to steal anything while I'm here or go out with any spies in Cracow. Have a nice day."

I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator feeling pretty pleased with myself. Move over 007! I had kept my cool and pretended that our little discussion had been about dirty towels when we both knew what the purpose of our meeting had been. "We watch everything. We look at everything," she had warned. So now I knew. Just like in the good old United States, I was being watched and followed. But by whom?

I knew the KGB had been officially dispersed when Communism collapsed in 1989. Although the leaders of the United States and Russia had called an end to the Cold War and, just last year, a Russian space station had its first American visitor, the two great powers, along with all the other nations were still sending agents to steal military, scientific and industrial secrets from each other. And all of these countries were not above using any organization, whether they condemned them publicly or not, to do their dirty work. Lazarz had been in Russia. Uncle Sean had said Lazarz might be connected with the KGB.

Maybe the woman who had interrogated me at the hotel was, like Uncle Sean, from our own home_grown CIA. But I quickly ruled that out. The CIA had never threatened me directly in the United States and I couldn't see them coming out into the open in Poland. They didn't want me__only Lazarz.

What about the Neo_Nazis? When East and West Germany was reunited in 1990, many people feared that revised nationalism would encourage the Neo_Nazis to attempt to form another fascist government. These fanatics needed money and connections if their plan was to succeed. What reason would they have to want Lazarz? Damn Lazarz's secrecy. What couldn't he have trusted me more?

The Russian Mafia was another possibility. But, from what I had read about the violent Russian Mafia which had become home to many displaced KGB agents, the "hotel manager's" threats seemed too subtle to have come from them. My bet was that the woman who had "warned" me came from Polish Intelligence. And I was being told politely, very politely to watch my step. Yes, it had to be Polish Intelligence. This was Poland where teenagers were afraid to drop candy wrappers on the street. Whatever else he was, Lazarz was Polish.

That had been the story of my life since 1986. There had been nothing but problems since I had met Lazarz at a bar near my apartment. Problems for my family and everyone else I turned to for help. Problems that had forced me to seek help from people connected with the Mafia and the Klan. Problems that despite the fall of communism, the turnover in the CIA, and the disbandment of the KGB never seemed to end.

"A very serious problem," I whispered, mimicking the blonde. "We watch everything. You brought me nothing but problems, Lazarz. Nothing but grief."

Taking off my coat, I cursed my miserable luck. Why had this inner voice that had warned me about so many things throughout my life decided to go on vacation when I met Lazarz? "I wish I never met you," I whispered, tears beginning to trickle from my eyes. Yet, even as I wallowed in self_pity, I knew that I was lying to myself. There wasn't one single minute I had spent with Lazarz that I would give up even if I had known on July 4, 1986 what I know now.
$16.95
124-p
Format: 
Gator Hole
by Marjorie Doughty

Deputy Amy Donovan puts her life on the line every day as a law enforcement officer, then she realizes that the danger is coming from within the ranks. Gulf shrimp fishermen, a bunch of their do-gooding wives, and the members of a religious cult add spice to a mystery set in a sleepy Florida town.

ISBN 1-59431-152-8 Mystery/ Suspense/ Romance

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



PROLOGUE



Hot, pulsing, terror was so intense from the four men standing near the edge of the ’gator hole it overrode the smell of damp, rotting vegetation and stagnant backwater. The tall man could feel it radiate toward him as he waited on the bank with his captive close to the edge of the dark brown water. He smiled.

A middle-aged Hispanic man, bound and gagged with electrical tape, rolled his dark eyes wildly in all directions, his long black hair flipping as his head moved from side to side. The tall man pushed him to the ground and took a switchblade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, grabbed the man’s bare foot and sliced open the big toe as easily as if he had been cutting a piece of tender steak on a diner plate. Blood spurted onto the ground, then steadied into a drip.

Effortlessly, using his right hand and arm, the tall man grasped the victim around the waist and held him up and over the water at the edge of the gator hole, while using his left hand to hit the water with a long stick.

“We’re waiting for my pet,” he told the four men. “He shouldn’t be too long because he knows he can depend on me for a meal.”

“Jesus,” one of the men breathed into the humid night air.

The tall man, dressed in black jeans and black T-shirt, eyes the color of old pewter in the uncertain moonlight, turned to stare at the man who had spoken.

“Never let me hear you again take the Lord’s name in vain. If you do, you’ll find yourself in a similar position.” He voice was calm and even. “Is that understood. Justice is mine, said the Lord, and I am his emissary.”

The offender gulped audibly and managed a shaky nod.

What appeared to be a dark stationary log stirred and the snout of an eleven-foot alligator started moving, disturbing a leaf on top of the water. Senses aroused, the ’gator started its hungry way toward the gator hole, piloted by the leaf caught in the movement of the water.

The tall man waited patiently, now using both hands to hold the struggling victim over the dark water, apparently without any strain on his muscles. Drops of blood from the victim’s toe silently hit the water, like polluted raindrops.

Suddenly a prehistoric head made its way around the slight bend in the current the leaf still leading the way. The tall man waited until the beast was directly under him and he lowered the bound victim toward the gator’s open mouth. Intensified breathing of the four spectators filled the small clearing. The man smiled as the ’gator made a gulping sound, then grabbed the victim’s bound ankles and started spinning around in the water. It continued twisting as the tall man pitted his strength against that of the ’gator. The victim’s bones snapped and he hung limp, as the gator continued until flesh began to tear loose from the man’s torso. His muffled moans filled the silence until he fainted. For another few seconds the man and beast struggled for the prize. Laughing out loud, the man released his victim and then ’gator, victim and leaf disappeared beneath the dark surface of the water.

“My friends.” His voice was soft, almost gentle. “You have just witnessed what happens to anyone who is a traitor to our organization. I’ve explained that I will not tolerate any disloyalty and he was foolish enough not to believe it. But do not be too concerned for him. The gator is a very considerate diner. He will not eat him immediately but will let him ripen for a day or two.”

One of the men on the bank vomited.





CHAPTER ONE



Palmetto City, Florida

Taylor, County



On a morning in early fall, the sun was gradually burning off the early morning haze over the inlet from the Gulf of Mexico. Local people were already up and moving. School buses blinked their red and yellow way down the unpaved country roads, picking up half-awake children.

In Dorkey’s Diner, newly appointed Deputy Amy Donovan sipped her coffee and studied the greasy breakfast menu. Sergeant Tom Williams, with whom she was working partnered shifts that week, placed his large index finger on a piece of dried egg stuck to the scratched plastic covering the handwritten limited choice of food. The inked writing had run a little where moisture had leaked under the covering, so the reader had to occasionally guess at some of the dishes.

“Look, you don’t have to read the menu, just look at the bits of food stuck to it and make a decision that way. Then you’ll at least know what color food you’ll get.”

Amy laughed and looked around. The place was crowded with mostly local fishermen eating heavy breakfasts of fried or scrambled eggs, biscuits covered with gravy, grits, hash brown potatoes and thick slices of ham with red-eye gravy. They talked, laughed and drank coffee from old chipped mugs.

The aging waitress, Mazie, her ample hips stretching her brown skirt until it was in danger of bursting at the seams, shuffled toward them. Her feet slapped across the floor, in flat brown shoes with portions cut out on the front insides to allow her bunions freedom from pressure. Mazie’s bunions were the subject of much speculation at Dorkey’s. The local people thought she should go into the Guinness Book of Records because her bunions were grotesque in size and shape. The one on the base of her right foot had a knobby growth on the side.

“Mazie, your bunions have bunions,” one fisherman told her. “Maybe we should cut them off and use them for bait?”

Mazie ignored such remarks and told anyone who would listen, “My daddy and momma had bunions, bad bunions, and I ain’t no different. God gave ’em to me and I gotta accept that.”

“Why don’t you have them cut off?” one sympathetic woman asked.

“No way. I ain’t going through all that pain. ’Sides, I ain’t got the time or money. Gotta work. My old man ain’t able to do nothing since he got hurt on that there shrimp boat. Somebody’s gotta pay them bills.”

But when it came to her hair, she had a different viewpoint. Mazie’s hair balanced her feet. It was the work of a local beautician and each week she had it teased, piled high and covered with hair spray until it was rigid as plastic, impossible to brush or comb. It was the color of shiny egg yolks that had been fried sunny side up. Part of her weekly salary and tips went into this creation. When she was low on cash and couldn’t afford the bleach job, dark roots mingled with some gray hair that showed through, but as soon as she had a few dollars, Mazie was off to the hairdresser.

Now she stood in front of Amy and Williams and shifted her weight to the foot that hurt the least. “What’ll you have?”

Amy was watching Dorkey, the only name she had ever heard the owner called, as he filled orders. His big fleshy hands moved with quick precision from years of practice. Not a movement was wasted. Amy was impressed with his efficiency. Dorkey was a bulky man, who filled most of the space in the cooking area. His totally bald head was shiny with sweat that he wiped away with the back of his right arm. Amy breathed deeply, taking in the heavy smell of fried foods and coffee that hung like a curtain about to drop and smother her.

Williams leaned across the small table in the booth and tapped her hand. “Hey, you gonna wake up and order?”
$16.95
218
Format: 
Reenactment
By Marjorie Doughty

What if possession were possible and an errant spirit from another time took over the body and subsequent actions of a living susceptible person. What would happen, especially if an avenging spirit felt the killings were justified? In Re-enactment, this does occur and bewildered law enforcement and others come to a conclusion that the person committing the crimes was chemically imbalanced. This the logical mind can accept; possession it cannot. However, some southern re-enactors, descendants of slave owners, have a foregone destiny with death because of this vengeful ghost that will not die, using the physical body of someone on the edge to commit these crimes.

Could this happen as told in this story? Skeptics say no – others who ask questions, are not that certain.

ISBN 1-59431-095-5 Mystery/Paranormal/Romance

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

It was an unusual place to die, on the open field in daylight, able to see from only one eye. Pine trees blurred by heavy white smoke from cannons and muskets lined each side of the open area. The sound of artillery roared into his ears. Above him the sun appeared, gave brief sullen light before dirty clouds closed in and dumped more thin chilling rain on the sandy soil. He didn’t feel the cold or wet.

Men in gray uniforms fired reloaded and surged around him and other fallen comrades, down the field toward the enemy in blue. He became faintly aware of sticky fluid inching down the side of his face. I’m going to be 21 on Saturday.

Then he thought how his grandfather and father would be so disappointed in him, because they had been successful reenactors of the South. He gave a great sigh of bewilderment and died.



Chapter 1

College student, Alice Benton, looked around the basement of the Victorian house where she had been born and raised. She had been cleaning for hours. There was something different in the old basement she couldn’t identify, but it was not threatening. Curious. She stood motionless under the uneven light leaking from three seventy-five watt bulbs hanging haphazardly on sagging black wire that made small inroads into the gloom. The Beatles had finished singing “Hey, Jude” from a small cassette player she had placed on the high windowsill beneath a tiny window. But she didn’t bother to turn the tape over. Instead, she leaned on the broom, wondering about the urgency that drove her to the basement this morning. This feeling of something waiting for her. Something she sensed just out of her reach but silently calling.

The place hadn’t been touched since her mother and father’s deaths three years ago. She had worked all day. Finished with the final sweeping of the cement floor, Alice looked at the shadowed corner of the basement that held all that remained of her parents’ lives. The old huge seagoing chest contained their precious memories. To Alice, that part of the basement was hallowed ground.

Approaching exhaustion, but satisfied with her work, she placed the broom against one of the filled black plastic trash bags. There was one more task to take care of and then she was finished. She glanced around and again felt something different.

“Probably just my imagination,” she said to herself.

“Too much imagination,” her parents had often told her. They had worried about her when she was a child, the fact that she never wanted friends. She tried to make them understand. But that only worried them more. After school she would go straight home to her room and study, or let her mind drift into her own imaginary adventures, adventures she always shared with her twin, Alex, who understood how she felt. He, too, wanted only to be with her. They never felt the need to include outsiders in their play. She smiled as she thought of Alex. She was sorry he had gone to another school when they were younger, but for some reason her parents had felt it was necessary. Now they could be together whenever they wanted to. Soon he would be coming back from a Civil War reenactment in Andersonville and they would talk and talk.

Alice knelt down on the cold cement floor and opened the lid of the remaining chest. She had meant to check it out long before this, but something always interfered. Now she felt the need to know.

It was some kind of dark wood, slightly splintered on the edges, held together with tarnished metal bands. It had belonged to her Aunt Jessie, who was part of a traveling troupe of actors around the turn of the century. As she reached in, a small shiny black spider landed on her hand. She brushed the body to the floor before it could bite, stood up and grabbed the broom, smashing it down on the spider as it tried to run away. The spider's body flipped over and she saw the red markings on the belly. A black widow. She grabbed the dustpan and swept the dead spider into it. Then she dumped the contents of the dustpan into one of the trash-filled bags. After rubbing the palms of her hands against her dirty jeans, Alice looked into the chest to see if there were any more spiders lurking, but she couldn’t see clearly. She closed her eyes and waited for the red spot before her eyes to clear.

After a few minutes, she reached in again. Alice lifted out each costume, shaking it vigorously before spreading it on the floor. The musty smell from the inside of the trunk tickled her nostrils, making her sneeze. She remembered stories her aunt had shared with her of wearing these very costumes back when she was still “treading the boards” as she put it.

A mild envy filled Alice. She sat back on her heels for a moment, holding a long red ruffled dress in her hand, something she could never successfully wear with her tall straight body and barely noticeable breasts. This was a dress that needed filling out, she told herself. She was built too much like her brother, Alex. She knew her parents had wanted only boys. She had lived in Alex’s shadow when they were alive. In fact, sometimes Alice felt as if her whole life had been a sort of shadow existence. But she didn’t blame Alex. He was perfect. She loved him too much to ever do that. It was the fault of the world into which she was born.

Alice lifted out the last piece of clothing and placed it on top of the others, smoothing out the material. It was the uniform jacket of a Union soldier, a lieutenant. For a moment she felt a surge of excitement that quickly died. It was only part of a Civil War uniform used on stage . She glanced at the trunk. The only thing left was a small object wrapped in a piece of age-yellowed linen. When she touched it, it felt like a book. It slipped from her tired fingers onto the floor and a small leather-bound volume fell out. She gingerly picked it up. There were smudges on the outside of the book, but no title or identification of any kind.

Intrigued, she sat down, resting her back against the trunk. The leather cover was cracked in places so she opened it slowly and stared at the date on the inside cover. 1861. Her long, bony fingers carefully turned the brittle pages of the book containing handwritten entries. It was a journal of some kind. She read a few sentences and sat enthralled. The faded writing was difficult to make out, the closely penned letters cramped and some of it had faded. The first entry was legible if she went slowly.

“My name is George Blakely and today I have joined the Union Army. The arrogant, self-serving men who drain the very lifeblood of others have left me no other choice. My destiny has been made known to me. I must restore dignity to those stripped of it.”

Her breathing became rapid. What she had here was a treasure. This truly was the diary of a Union officer during the Civil War. Alice’s gaze riveted on the page with its old-fashioned writing, her fatigue forgotten.
$16.95
132-p
Format: 
Sense of Endless Woes
A Tornado Man Mystery Impossible Mystery

by Matthew L. Schoonover

Former FBI agent Jack Monosmith survived being sucked into a tornado and thrust into fame. Now in A Sense of Endless Woes, Jack works for Griselda the Great, astrologer to the stars, and finds himself the major suspect in the murder of her billionaire client.

ISBN: 1-59431-153-6 Mystery/Locked Room

Cover: Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



I wanted a cigarette bad. Yeah, I know it’s not politically correct. They say the last twelve years of a smoker’s life can be a living hell, what with emphysema, heart problems, and about a dozen different kinds of cancer, but why trade on something I probably wasn’t going to have anyway.

This isn’t to excuse my behavior in the following hours but to explain it. When I’m cranky I show it and say it and I’m never at my best. I can apologize later, which I usually do, but people have told me I’m Jekyll and Hyde about my smokes. At least since the tornado I am.

It was almost ten hours—ten waking hours—since my last smoke and I was itching in places I couldn’t scratch. First off, I don’t like flying, and LAX did nothing to alleviate those fears. They have two rules at LAX. No smoking, and don’t do anything today that you can put off until tomorrow. It took forever to get boarded on my flight and then we ended up sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, waiting for other planes to take off ahead of us. Then the flight, long and boring. After landing, another forty_five minutes in baggage claims—the airport was kind enough to lose only one of my two bags. All through the terminal I was looking for a place to stop and refresh myself but there were No Smoking signs everywhere.

When I stepped outside my first reflex was to reach for my pack and look for the crowd of guys off in one corner with a cloud for a halo and ecstasy—the short term kind—all over their faces. The night was hot and muggy and I felt sweat climb across my forehead and upper lip immediately. I spotted the crowd across the street under an overhang for a rent_a_car company. I stepped off the curb and damn near got run over. The driver of the taxi was kind enough to suggest ancestral fault and drove on without stopping. And me needing a ride. In return, I was kind enough to wave him good_bye with a special one_finger salute. I made it to the overhang, nodded at my fellow second class citizens, dropped my bag and had the pack out. Of all the second class citizens there, I was probably more second class than all of them. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, doing a job I wasn’t getting paid for. And why? Because of my boss, that’s why.

For those of you who haven’t met her or seen her picture in all those ads she puts out, Griselda the Great is a tall woman (not that you can see that in the ads) of exceptional Mediterranean beauty. She wears black when she’s working or wants to impress people. She has raven black hair and sultry dark eyes that slant ever so slightly to give a hint of Oriental mysticism to her trained look. High cheekbones, aristocratic nose and lips that could invite a man’s temptations in neutral or incite riots at the Vatican when she let it beam. She could also turn her look into something terrible. Most people didn’t know this, but Griselda had complete control over all her facial muscles and many was the time I’ve seen her do something undefined, unidentifiable, that changed her look completely and still left you wondering what was different. She was also a trained ventriloquist, which I guess was important if you were going to be Psychic to the Stars. Rumor had it that she first came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes, but cattle calls and directors’ couches dissuaded her. She always insisted on being her own boss anyway.

Less then twenty_four hours before she had called me into her office. This was the working office, not the show office, where she took clients who wanted to be impressed—she had two of those kind of offices. One was a round room with a crystal ball on a round table and only two chairs on opposite sides of the table. The room was all dark and moody and gave me the creeps. She did a lot of business in there. The other room was on the third and top floor of her mansion. The ceiling had been rebuilt in some kind of glass to let in the night sky and stars. Hidden lights, holographic imaging and state of the art sound effects rounded out the special services. It was a room where you could just turn off the lights and stare up at the night for a long time. A very humbling room. I liked that one much better.

The working office was a white room with a couple of computers, DSL lines and satellite link_up. When I walked in, she was cracking and eating pistachios. She slid a paper—one of those rag mags you can pick up at any convenience store or supermarket—across the table at me. I looked at it briefly. There was a picture of me and some print.

THE TORNADO MAN
$16.95
153-p
Format: 
Mr. Right in Turn-outs
Stockland Fire Department Series, Vol.1

By Tonya Ramagos

Gabrielle McPherson's looking for Mr. Right, but not if he's in a dangerous line of work. Then a firefighter saves her life....

In Book I of the Stockland FD Series, Lance Cavenaugh is drawn to Gabrielle, but he is plagued by demons—memories of a late fiance he couldn't save from a fire, and of the work he did as a volunteer at Ground Zero following 9/11. Now he works in a small-town department, trying to shake off his burn-out, and he's sworn off women for good. Can Gabrielle change his mind? If she does, how will she cope when he faces danger once again in an explosive factory fire?

ISBN 1-59431-687-2 or 978-1-59431-687-6

Cover art by Maggie Dix



Exerpt

Gabrielle McPherson’s project of remodeling the old house had begun about six months ago. It was the only house left on the block that didn’t have the modern-day style. The other houses around hers had either been built later or had been remodeled long ago. That’s what she planned to do with hers. She had decided to start from the inside and work her way out. When her plans were complete the house was sure to look far different than it did now.

At first she had felt incredibly wrong and guilty about making all the changes she intended. It was as if by doing so she would be betraying the memory of her grandparents. It had been their house. They had raised her in this house. Her parents had died tragically in a car accident when she was still a young child and her grandparents had stepped in to take care of her. As the only other member of the family, when her grandparents passed away, all of their belongings including the house and store were left to her.

It probably would have been far less expensive and a whole lot easier to simply demolish the old house and start from the ground up with a new one. She was doing the repairs herself—most of them anyway. She’d had the help of some friends here and there. Bonnie-Jean and Clyde were lending their hands whenever possible as well as a few of the other neighborhood residents. They were making good progress too! So far, one of the two bedrooms and the laundry room were complete. The hall leading to the bathroom and other bedroom had been next on the list.

The old house had been neglected for so long and so many things had deteriorated over the years. But it was home. Other than the short time Gabrielle had been married to Noah, she had never lived anywhere else. Deep in these walls were memories that would always be there no matter how many repairs were done. Still, after pondering her actions for a moment, she came to the conclusion that she deserved one night off.

She placed the book and glass of wine on an overturned bucket inside the hall, stripped off her slacks, stockings, burgundy blouse and undergarments and tossed them in the overfilled clothesbasket before heading to the bathroom. Moments later, the aroma of strawberry bubble bath entwined with the steam of the water confirmed the relaxing soak time would be just what the doctor ordered.

She twisted her hair into a loose knot and lit two aromatherapy candles before settling into the scented water, glass and book in hand. The water was a chip of the paradise she so longed to have. A small chip, mind you, but a chip nevertheless.

She sank lower and opened her new book but suddenly her eagerness to read was swept away. Instead, it was replaced by the need to see the hunk from the bookstore again. Her gaze averted to the suds surrounding her. The bubbles played prettily over her breasts. The only thing that would make her bath better was if he were there. She placed the book on the rim of the tub and sipped her wine. Closing her eyes, she allowed the full image of her mystery man to form in the darkness.

She found herself fantasizing about having those big, muscular arms wrapped around her, her body pressed against the hard wall of his chest—among other places. She gazed up into those amazing eyes and instantly became lost in an intimate, private world. In that world, only the two of them and the phenomenal attraction they shared existed. Her focus slid to his lips, moist and inviting. She felt his arms tighten around her waist as he continued to hold her in a passionate embrace. The space between their faces closed until their lips met in a kiss so light, so soft. Then the kiss became deeper and deeper and…

***

Gabrielle wasn’t sure what startled her awake. She hadn’t realized she had dozed off. The water was on the verge of being cold so she knew she had been out for a while. She pushed herself straight in the tub and was reaching for the stopper when she smelled—smoke! Thick, scorched smelling atmosphere. She glanced at the aromatherapy candles she had lit before climbing into the tub. The candles had burned themselves out. Slowly, her gaze traveled around the bathroom. And then she saw it. A fog of gray smoke was rolling in under the bathroom door from the hall. The house was on fire!

Panic seized her insides, threatening to send her into hysterics. “Stay calm,” she coached herself in a whisper. She tried not to breath too deeply. The air in the room was hazy and reeked of burnt newspaper and heaven only knew what else. She had to get out of there.

She leaped from the tub, threw a thick terrycloth robe over her wet, naked body and reached for the doorknob. But the instant her skin touched the brass she jerked her hand back. The heat of the knob scalded her palm. Almost instantly a red welt rose in the center. Clenching her wrist, she hugged her injured hand to her chest. Her racing pulse hammered in her eardrums, drowning out any sounds that may have been around her. The fire was on the other side of the door. She was trapped!

Stay calm, her inner voice chanted. Panicking now would only seal her fate. Frantically looking around the bathroom, she quickly went over her options. There weren’t many. The only window was high above the tub and too small even for her slim figure to crawl through. The smoke was getting thicker. If she didn’t do something soon she would pass out from smoke inhalation. Thankfully there were plenty of towels in the room. Using the water still standing in the tub, she soaked two towels and jammed them between the bottom of the door and broken tiled floor. That would buy her some time. Her only hope was to break the small window and shout for help. She could only pray like the dickens that someone would hear her.

She grabbed a hairdryer from the cabinet under the sink and used it to break the window. The smoke that blanketed the room poured out making her gag and momentarily eliminating any hopes of fresh air. It was then that she heard the scream. Bonnie-Jean. In a ripple of time, the short, plump woman came running around the side of the house. Gabrielle had never been so relieved to see anyone in her life. How Bonnie-Jean had known she was in trouble she had no clue. She was just grateful to have help.

“Gabrielle, are you all right?” Bonnie-Jean cried frantically.
$16.95
687-p
Format: 
Barbarians, Sarah's Landing Series, Vol. 3-p
by Elena Dorothy Bowman

Sarah's Landing Series, Vol. 3

A Crlllion Armada is detected heading toward Earth. And a single battlecruiser, with the last of the civilized captives fleeing from Crlllion on board, is on an intercept course.

As the alarm is triggered in Space Command the Pleiades roars off the launching pad. Andrew learns that Adam is on board and is his weapons officer, and with that, knows what type of weponry he now has. Andrew changes course as an explosion rocks his ship. Adam fires back. Blinding explosions light up the darkness of space as one Crlllion ship after another vaporizes.

Two ships from Crlllion survive the explosions. One with the madman in command, bent on savagery and destruction streaking toward Earth and a confrontation with Andrew and the Pleiades; the other, unknown to Andrew, Adam and the Earth Defenses, commanded by a leader fighting for survival and refuge, was rushing to intercept and protect the vulnerable Earth ship and in so doing, Earth. Could the Pleiades stop the mandman's apparent suicide attempt? the fate of Joshua's two sons lay in the balance as well as many lives on Earth if they fail.

ISBN 1-59431-598-1 Science Fiction / Paranormal / Romance

Cover Art by David P. Bowman





Prologue

In the third episode, due to the unprecedented development of a highly secretive and selected relationship between the planet Earth and the Planet Theon, the new Ruler of Theon, an Earthman, is being confronted with problems he had not anticipated or desired.

Dissension began developing on Theon when the former Earth residents, from the ill-fated Starship, and earlier abductions, learn of the arrival and sudden departure of Alexandra without her three-year-old son Andrew. Seven years would pass before Joshua would allow Andrew to return to Earth.

Meanwhile, tensions were building slowly. Since Joshua was now Ruler, it was up to him to convince those seeking repatriation to Earth that their safety and the safety of Theon must be assured before he could let them return. Three more years of delaying tactics on the part of the Council would pass before violence finally erupts.

***

In order to prevent Andrew from joining his brother and father on Theon again, once he returned to Earth, Alexandra contemplates the destruction of the botanical garden, which had been their focal transportation site, thus cutting off all means of communication with Theon. Joshua banishes the leaders of the revolt and allows the childless couples to return to Earth. For the safety of both planets, the decision is made to sever contact between the two planets for two or three decades. Joshua sends a former astronaut, a Theonian contact, who was instrumental in the starship’s disappearance, to accompany the returnees and to assist surreptitiously in Earth’s space exploration.

***

Andrew, Joshua’s Earth son, enters the space academy at an early age and several years later enters Earth’s space program. As the years pass, he moves into leadership and assumes command of the spaceship, Pleiades. But on Theon, Adam, Joshua’s alien son, has developed traits of the long-forgotten warrior class. Meanwhile the Crlllions, forgotten by the Theonians, continue to hunt for people to conquer, and for slaves to serve them. Unrelenting surveillance tracks signals directed toward Earth, coming from empty space, so the Crlllions launch an inter-planetary battlecruiser against Earth.

An explosion destroying one orbiting platform, manned by humanoids, catches Earth by surprise. All manned platforms are placed on alert. Station #3, near India, is being pulled into space by an unknown force. Earth launches the Pleiades under Andrew’s command. Andrew fires Nuclear-tipped missiles in the direction of the unseen enemy. Station #3 is suddenly released after explosions in deep space. They wait for a counter-attack but it does not come.

The death of the Crlllion ship does not go unnoticed on Earth, on Theon, or on the Pleiades.

All of the witnesses were bonded by a ‘communion of spirits’ to one another, to the scene that exploded in their minds, and to the instinct for survival.

The Theonian assisting Earth’s Space Program asks for Theon’s capability. Joshua sends the weapons to Earth with his Theonian son Adam. Another Crlllion Armada is detected heading toward Earth. And a single battlecruiser, with the last of the civilized captives fleeing from Crlllion on board, is on an intercept course. Joshua decides it is time to neutralize the dark planet, Crlllion.

As the alarm is triggered in Space Command the Pleiades roars off the launching pad. Andrew learns that Adam is on board and is his weapons officer, and with that, knows what type of weaponry he now has. Andrew changes course as an explosion rocks his ship. Adam fires back. Blinding explosions light up the darkness of space as one Crlllion ship after another vaporizes.

Two ships from Crlllion survived the explosions. One with the madman in command, bent on savagery and destruction streaking toward Earth and a confrontation with Andrew and the Pleiades; the other, unknown to Andrew, Adam and the Earth Defenses, commanded by a leader fighting for survival and refuge, was rushing to intercept and protect the vulnerable Earth ship and in so doing, Earth.

The Space Command could not launch any missiles without endangering the Pleiades. Could the Pleiades stop the madman’s apparent suicide attempt? The fate of Joshua’s two sons lay in the balance as well as many lives on Earth if they failed.









Chapter 1

On the Hills Outside Star City, Theon

Memories stirred deep within him as Andrew swept his eyes across the boundless deep green valleys and plush hills. Behind him, Star City glistened in the background in mute testimony to the existence of life in a seemingly otherwise silent world. But for the dying echo of his call, which shattered the eerie stillness, not a sound could be heard.

“Where did he disappear to now?” Andrew demanded frowning. “I’ll bet he’s off somewhere with Maia.”

His thoughts turned toward Ballard’s younger daughter and his frown deepened. If she was missing as well, then Adam discovered another hiding place where they could be alone. He would only be wasting his time searching for them. Andrew knew he would never find them unless and until Adam wanted him to.

Maia is all Adam thinks about these days, Andrew thought. Guess he doesn’t have time for anyone anymore, including me. But then he didn’t know I was coming. How could he? I didn’t know myself. Well, maybe next time. He remembered a time when it was different. When no one could come between them—not even his mother.
$16.95
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Conduct Unbecoming
by Nina M. Osier

Captain Rik Boehmer is the first Human, the first native of the colony on Luna to which his ancestors fled from the Protectorate’s compulsory amalgamation of species, to leave that colony and enter military service. For this his people have ostracized him, allowing him to come home only for the purpose of fathering children in order to conserve the precious "pure Human" genes his body carries.

Now the Humans have a plan, and they’re ready to take back their world at any cost. So Rik Boehmer, caught squarely between his duty to his comrades and his love for his young family on Luna, has some hellishly difficult choices to make.

Science Fiction, Futuristic Romance, Adventure

ISBN 1-59431-227-3



Chapter 1

“What happened? Anja, where’s Rik?”

Commodore (Retired) Thanta Orwell stirred experimentally in the sickbay bed, and squinted against impossibly bright lighting. The last place she remembered being was dark, and the H’cpt had kept her there for what seemed like a long, long time.

“Commodore, how are you feeling?”

It wasn’t the voice she wanted to hear. It belonged, apparently, to a woman in a medical uniform—a woman who had pink skin, a flat-boned face, and gentle hands.

Hands that pressed Thanta down again when she tried to sit up. That was foolish, because she felt fine. Just a little disoriented, maybe, after something had knocked her cold—something she didn’t remember.

“I’m okay,” she said testily. “Anja! Where is Rik?”

Commander Anja Britton, executive officer of the Protectorate Defense Forces starship Solomons, leaned against the nearest bulkhead and held her arms folded just below her breasts. It was a posture Thanta Orwell had seen Anja Britton use many times before—always when the Patriarca native was trying to carry off a bluff.

Anja couldn’t be doing that now. She had no reason, no reason at all, for wanting to deceive Orwell…did she?

“The captain took your place, Commodore.” The medic, who must be largely Charonese if her appearance was anything to go by, answered when Britton didn’t. Tartly, as if she found the silence exasperating. “That’s how he got you away from the H’cpt.”

“What?” Now Thanta did sit up—glaring at the medic as she did so, almost daring the woman to force her down again. This time her head didn’t spin. “Commander Britton. Where’s Captain Boehmer? And where in hell is the new ambassador? Report, dammit! Now!”

* * *

It couldn’t be true. The ruling principle of Anja Britton’s life was, “Thou shalt accept reality and deal with it, no matter what that means!” Yet this time, she couldn’t believe her own memories had happened.

She stared for a moment longer at Commodore Orwell, who’d been her captain in tours of duty gone by. A captain whom Anja both respected and liked; a captain for whom she would, if anyone asked her, have been willing to take considerable personal risk. But hazard Rik Boehmer’s life to protect Thanta Orwell’s? That Anja would not have done, not under any circumstances.

Which made no difference now. Anja moved to the commodore’s bedside, and she sat down there. She said quietly, “Backup’s not here yet, Commodore. The Solomons is alone. I’m not sure why the H’cpt decided to hold you, after you called us and requested an early pickup—but Rik offered to take your place when he tried to open hostage negotiations and he got ignored. The H’cpt started paying attention then, and they accepted. So they’ve got him now. I’m waiting for the new ambassador and the amalgamation team to get here before I do anything else, because that’s what Rik ordered me to do.” She paused, staring into the older woman’s eyes with angry intensity. Then she demanded, “What went wrong down there? What did they want from you, and what are they doing to Rik now that you’re safe and he’s the one they’ve got instead?”

* * *

Orwell failed to flinch under Britton’s accusing stare. That wasn’t surprising, of course, if you considered that not so many years ago Orwell was captain to Britton’s conn lieutenant—but most people reacted quite differently when Anja decided to glare at them. Patriarca’s children tended to be a pugnacious lot, and a first-generation amalgam like Anja was apt to have both a bad temper and a parsec-wide stubborn streak to go with it.

Thanta Orwell, whose ancestors amalgamated into the Protectorate generations ago, had thirty-five years of starship service to help her face Anja down. She also had memories of Anja as a junior officer, and before that as the scared (although still decidedly contentious!) kid whom Rik Boehmer took in hand during the evacuation of survivors from what was left of Patriarca after the rebels were through there.

The H’cpt weren’t the first species to decide that they would take almost any risk rather than submit to amalgamation, once they learned what the Protectorate required of its members. The rebels of Patriarca were willing to do whatever it took to cleanse their planet of youngsters like Anja Britton, after all; and there had been movements like theirs on other worlds. But the H’cpt panicked much earlier in the process—and that was Thanta Orwell’s fault. This was her mission, her first as a diplomat. A solo diplomat, to a culture on the verge of entering into its initial covenant. Orwell didn’t yet know exactly how she had failed, but she knew for sure it had happened.

“Have you had any contact with the H’cpt since Rik went down there?” she demanded of Anja Britton. “And how long is it going to be until help gets here?”

Before Rik’s executive officer could reply to either question, the comm whistled. A disembodied voice wanted to know, “Commander Britton? Is Commodore Orwell available yet? There’s a H’cpt who wants to speak with her.”

“Tell her, him, or it to go ahead,” Anja said into the small silence that followed, after she glanced first at the medic—who nodded reluctantly—and then at Orwell.

“Thanta,” said someone whose voice the commodore recognized easily, after months of living among the H’cpt. They were beings who used single names and avoided addressing others by titles, and she’d adapted to their ways out of courtesy.

“Yes, H’rck. I’m listening.”

“The man who offered to replace you as our messenger is on the flying boat that he used to come here. You may retrieve him now. Good-bye, Thanta. I will not see you again, I think.”

“H’rck! Wait!” Thanta found her voice, frantically. Lack of dignity didn’t matter right now. “Communications. Get him back! Immediately!”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. No response.” From the bridge, from decks above sickbay, came the apologetic reply.

“Britton to ops,” Anja snapped, stepping into the situation with confidence now that she knew what needed to be done. “Get a tractor beam on the captain’s shuttle, and bring it on board. Stat!”

“Aye, Commander.” There was a pause, an endless several minutes during which a small craft on the H’cpt planet’s surface was lifted through layers of atmosphere to intercept the starship’s orbit. Then, “We’ve got it on board. But there are no life signs.”

“Oh, no.” Thanta drew in a horrified breath. She knew, now, what kind of message the H’cpt were sending to the Protectorate’s leaders—and what her own fate would have been, if her friend hadn’t replaced her.
$16.95
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Format: 
High Places
Minders Series, Vol. 1

by Nina M. Osier

It’s been 20 years since Maisie Thurlow last saw her big sister. First a team of government "minders" tore their family from the pastoral religious colony that was the only home small Maisie had known. Then a mutiny aboard the star liner carrying the displaced colonists separated the sisters, with Eve boarding a lifeboat aimed toward a vacant but inhabitable planet. Now Maisie is Captain Thurlow of Star Guard, and she can’t resist trying to find her sister when her patrol ship’s course takes it temptingly near that remote world. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicks in with a vengeance, bringing Maisie’s ship down in flames on the mountain where Eve’s lifeboat landed. Throwing Maisie and her surviving crew members into a survival scenario none of their training anticipated, because this planet’s atmosphere does strange things to Humans...and they’re just as trapped on it, now, as Eve is.

ISBN 1-59431-667-6 Sci-Fi / Romance

Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“Jack, I’m sorry.” Star Guard Captain Maisie Thurlow whispered the words into a commlink that she thought had gone silent. So First Officer Jacques Qiero’s answer, reaching her helmet speakers in an equally hushed tone despite the racket all around them, made her start against her command chair’s restraint harness.

“For what, Maisie? You didn’t know this was gonna happen.” The familiar voice did what it always did. It centered her, and gave her back her focus.

No, she hadn’t known. Couldn’t have. Yet the captain must be held responsible, nevertheless, for all that happened aboard her ship. Authority she could delegate, but accountability clung to her no matter what.

So be it. Thurlow squared her shoulders and braced her feet against the ship’s bucking. Closed her ears to the screaming alarms, and spoke into the commlink on purpose this time. “All hands, this is the captain. Check in with your mates as soon as you can after we’re down. I’m assuming we won’t have a working intercom, but we will have a breathable outside atmosphere and gravity pretty close to T-normal. So get yourself out of the ship, and then get your helmet off so you can hear. If you need to shuck your suit so you can run better, do it! Stay alive, people. That’s your only priority right now. I’ll see you dirtside. Thurlow out.”

Dirtside on a dirt ball that didn’t even have a name on the star charts. Coming down through its atmosphere trailing fire, and hoping the shields would hold and their power source wouldn’t fail until the ship’s outer skin was no longer endangered by heat-generated friction. Trusting to restraint harnesses and envirosuits to protect their fragile Human bodies from the forces of such a ride, and then from whatever fires and fumes a crash landing would set loose inside the breached hull.

At least they had military-issue gear to guard them against all that, and at least they had years of training in how to get through this. Did she dare to hope that a band of untrained civilians, the oldest among them not long out of childhood, had survived a similar landing some 20 years earlier? Not all of them could have, common sense told her. But maybe some had. Survived not only landing, but everything that must have come afterward…Thurlow stopped listening to her ship, now that nothing she did in response to it could make a difference, and fixed a face from the past firmly in her mind.

I’m coming, Big Sister. Not quite like I promised I would, because I sure didn’t plan on crashing my ship beside yours! But I’m coming after you anyway, at last. And no matter what things look like right now, I’m making you another promise. I’ll get us both off this dirt ball somehow. Sometime. One way or another, I’ll get you home.

With those words and Eve Thurlow’s image filling her thoughts, she bid instinct be damned and forced her muscles to relax. Shut everything outside her body away from consciousness, and waited for the next few minutes to be over.
$16.95
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Format: 
Chesapeake Legacy
Chesapeake Series, Vol2

by Terry L. White

The family saga continues, as Hannah tries to find her place between two worlds. Raised by the English colonists, she is forced from her home and sent off to fend for herself, because of her Indian heritage. At last, she finds a place among the Native American people. But where will she find love?

ISBN 978-1-59431-666-X Series / Historical / Romance

Cover Art by Dawn Tarr



Chapter 1

When I was young I thought I would never find my place in the world.

My name is Hannah Carter and my great-grandmother Mary Carter was one of the first white women to set foot on the shores of the New World. She was an old woman when I knew her, but she was still alert, and had a loving heart and sharp tongue during my middle years. I hoped we might have her with us for a long time, for I loved her as the mother I never had. I also loved to hear her stories about the old days in the new area called Dorchester County when the neighbors were miles away and the native people who called themselves Nanticoke would come and leave a haunch of venison on the stoop when the hunting was good.

I would set Mom Mary’s stories down if I could, but I am a woman and a native and so have not been allowed to learn to read or write. I can only tell you my story as it unfolded.

Grandma Mary could read and write a little. Her people were gentry. But she fell on hard times, and worked as hard as any slave, coming here as a redemptioner like she did. She never did work off her indenture, though. Her mistress died, and the master married her. Just like that.

She never said so, but I have an idea she didn’t like her first husband William Baron very much. It was just something that happened back then. Men married the first handy woman to take care of their homes and children. Women had no power, but much responsibility. It was the way of the world in which she lived.

Tom Carter was another indentured servant, and the love of Mom Mary’s life. I don’t remember him much. He died of a broken leg and the subsequent infection when I was little. He must have been a wonderful man, though. Hardly is his name spoken than someone has a tale about how Tom Carter helped them put up a barn or clear a field. Mom Mary’s eyes lit up like a girl’s when his name was mentioned, even years after he was gone.

I hoped some day I have that same light of love in my eyes, and I hoped I could do as well in marriage, for it seemed to me that one should love one’s mate. When the young men saw me in town, however, they looked the other way. It was against the law for mixed bloods to marry the white settlers, even if they were the great-granddaughters of the original colonists of this difficult land, and so they looked elsewhere for a wife, despite the dowry Mom Mary’s position implied.

My grandmother, Mom Mary’s own daughter, married a native man you see. They had a baby boy. When she died, Mom Mary and Tom raised her boy like he was one of their own.

They gave that boy Tom Carter’s surname, but my father’s native people called him Roaring Water because he was born in the teeth of an autumn storm that scoured the bay and flattened the dead pines in the marshes. My father didn’t take to civilization. As soon as he found his feet, he wandered to the marshes to find where his people hid. He loved hunting and trapping, and fishing, but put his hand to the plow and he would run away every time. Mom Mary said the lad never would stay close to the house, and when he married the woman named Osprey in the native way, she wasn’t much surprised when he brought me home for her to raise as well. Osprey died in childbed fever, so I would never have known the love of a mother at all if not for Mom Mary.

I could never understand why the folks in town had no use for the Indians who were so kind to their parents while the soft-handed gentry from Mother England arrived and were forced to learn the ways of husbandry on the Eastern Shore. Without the Nanticoke, who gave them corn and taught them to fish, the first colonists might have starved, they say Captain Smith’s party down in Virginia did just that, for no one ever learned where they disappeared.

Today folks don’t wear skins as much as they did at first, and there is a lot more beef than venison on their tables, so being a native is not a good thing. Times change, attitudes change. Perhaps in time it will be a good thing to be an Indian, but that I can’t foresee. In my time, we might as well have been lepers for all the disdain the whites showed my people.

Mom Mary said people couldn’t take a chance the Nanticoke might want to live on some good piece of land that the whites took to farm. She didn’t like this segregation – more for my sake I think than for the wrongness of the situation. Like all mothers, she wanted me to marry well and to be safe in the world. It hurt her to see people being unkind to me.

Some of my father’s people had traveled North during my childhood: the ones with the pure blood of the Nanticoke, joining others of the Lenape people who were migrating steadily toward the kingdom of the Iroquois. This choice is not without danger, for the Six Nations did not tolerate invasions by our people well. They were especially suspicious of the people from the marshes and wetlands of the middle colonies for we had different ways.

I will tell you it was no mean thing for my ancestors to live in the forests and marshes of tidewater Maryland. A marsh has its feet wet, but it nourishes all manner of small creatures that in turn nourish men. The Creator made the rabbits, turtles and muskrats that taste so good in our stew pots. The Creator made the fat turkeys and the succulent oysters. The Creator made the eagle that soars high above the marsh, king of all it surveys.

Of food my people had plenty, but as soon as the colonists began to arrive, the Nanticoke found themselves pushed unto the less desirable lands while the immigrant farmers raised the crops of tobacco that sucked all the good from the land and left it unfit for anything but pasture in a few year’s time. The king-across-the-water wanted the tobacco, and the people grew it to pay a tax to the king. Every autumn great ships came to carry the dried tobacco leaves back to England where it was consumed in drawing rooms and coffee shops across the land.

Mom Mary owned land in Virginia, where she had gone to live when she married Tom Carter; but the land at Somerset had been her charge for a lifetime, and when her boys Henry and William fell to the marsh fever, she had chosen to come home to manage the farm and leave her Virginia property in the hands of an overseer who mainly lived in the house and kept it from falling down against the day she might want to return. Mom Mary brought me with her from Virginia and we all lived together: Mom Mary, Jem her adopted son who was old and blind, and a grandson Percy Kinnon, who would inherit it all when she went to meet her Creator.

Of course, I could inherit nothing. Women could not own any property at all in those days. Given that, native women could surely never hope to own the land that had belonged to their people for time untold. The best I could hope is that Percy would not put me out or beat me when Mom Mary was gone. I often saw him look at me in a calculating way that told me he meant me no good.

Uncle Percy was a mean man, sour of face and crooked of limb from a wasting disease in his youth. He rode when he could walk, and kept a fine bay mare with a smooth gait to carry him from field to field. Percy was the child of Harriette, my great-uncle Henry’s twin. She had married a man with some standing, for she had a good dowry from the land in Virginia and Mom Mary made sure she was well guarded until her wedding night.

The story goes that Albert Kinnon, Percy’s father, had crossed eyes and a powerful yen to return to England. Once he had my aunt in foal, he sold her dowry lands and booked passage on the first ship for London. He was never seen again.

Mom Mary delivered her daughter’s son Percy and nurtured him as she did every child that appeared in her life when his mother passed, sick to death of her betrayal. My great-grandmother tried to teach the boy right from wrong, but the lad had a crooked nature to match his deformed body. I hated to think what might come of the farm known as Baron’s Hope when Mom Mary was gone. More than that, I hated to think what might happen to me.
$16.95
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Format: 
Ghost of a Chance
by Elizabeth Eagan-Cox

Shannon Delaney Series, Vol. 1

Shannon Delaney's writing assignment in San Diego opens new doors for her young career. She has no idea that her temporary home, the Victorian-era Blackthorne House mansion is a portal to a century-old mystery. On her first night a ghostly encounter entagles her in the spectral mission of the mansion's original owner-Eric Blackthorne, master magician. Complicating matters is Alex Blackthorne, handsome and charming descendent of the ghostly magician. Also, there's Zach Zavala, who has guy-next-door good looks and a straightforward manner. Plus, Zach's grandfather Francisco is a retired detective and a kindred spirit who appreciates Shannon's apprehension about her paranormal experiences. Things-that-go-bump-in-the-night clues haunt Shannon's sleep. By daylight eerie occurrences make it crystal clear what path Shannon must take. After solving the Blackthorne House mystery, Shannon is left with the biggest question of all… What about Alex and Zach, must she choose between them?

ISBN 978-1-59431-680-5 Romance / Romantic Suspense/ Inspiration

Cover Art: Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“Are you sure this is the correct address?” I questioned, not believing what I was seeing with my own two eyes.

“You asked for 571 Yorba Lugo Road. Blackthorne House, right?” The driver replied.

“Yes, that’s it.” I paid the fare and stepped out of the taxi to face my new home.

Blackthorne House wasn’t a house, per se. It was a mansion done up in the high-Victorian hues of rose, brown and green. I stared up in wonder at the home’s intricate gingerbread trim and counted seven gables, four recessed porches, three balconies and one turret.

“Stop gawking!”

That command scrambled my thoughts. I turned my attention toward the voice to find the familiar figure of Sister Rosario Santiago waving to me from the mansion’s front porch. Not one to disregard sage advice, I made haste up the front steps and into the inviting warmth of the front parlor.

“Neither this house nor the cold weather is what I expected to find in San Diego,” I remarked as I dropped my luggage and shrugged off my coat.

“I think the chilly wind followed you in from Chicago,” Sister Rosario teased. “Even for February this is unusually cold weather for us. As for Blackthorne House, it is atypical of San Diego architecture. However, it is exemplary of a classic painted lady Victorian house. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable here while working on our project.”

“House? You mean mansion, don’t you?” I teased back. “Does this place come complete with a hidden stairwell and things that go bump in the night?” I was on a roll; “There must be some aura of mystery to this mansion.”

“Now, now,” Rosario deflected my query, “enough of this nonsense. Shannon Delaney, you haven’t changed a bit since you were a little girl. Always looking for a good scare. And such an imagination you have, why, it’s no wonder you’ve become a popular author.”

I couldn’t help noticing that Sister Rosario hadn’t lost her talent for turning a chide into a compliment.

“Okay, you’ve called my bluff. But…” I paused. “There must be some history to this house, it’s just too old not to have a fascinating bit of mystery. And, knowing you, I bet you’ve looked in all the nooks and crannies only to discover a back-door story about Blackthorne’s mansion.”

“Later, Shannon. I promise you can pick my brains over lunch. Which, by the way, is just about ready. Now, go on up to your room and unpack. It’s on the second floor, first room on the right as you enter the corridor. We’ll chat over lunch.”

I rolled my eyes to heaven, made a funny face at my favorite nun and trudged up the stairs thinking—Foiled, again, by the good sister’s quick draw!

Lunch was laid out on a small table at a windowed alcove in the front parlor. I welcomed a cup of Sister Rosario’s Mexican coffee—brewed strong with a touch of cinnamon, every bit as delicious as I remembered it. The coffee revived my jet lag and my appetite. Sister Rosario said a few words of grace and then I dove into the salad and soup. We ate in silence until I looked up and out the window.

“It’s amazing how very different the outside seems from in here. It’s so bright. The only hint of winter weather is in the wind. What a contrast to Chicago! I’ve always associated cold temperatures with an overcast sky.”

“It’s the Santa Ana winds,” Rosario offered. “In winter they bring freezing temperatures and a crystal clear sky. It’s peculiar, though, for the Santa Anas to howl this far south. Usually, it’s the inland area and coastal region north of here that gets the brunt of them. More coffee? More soup? Maybe a few more bites of salad?”

“Yes to the coffee, no thanks to seconds of the chowder and salad. As always with your cooking, everything was scrumptious. I suppose your strategy is to keep me chewing so I won’t pester you about this mansion? But I’ve had enough, so please… tell me everything you know about Blackthorne House. How did it come under the auspices of the local diocese?”

“Long story,” Rosario answered. “I’ll attempt a Readers’ Digest version.”

“I’m all ears.”

“The house was closed and boarded up for nearly two decades and prior to that various members of the Blackthorne family lived here. Last year a relative of Blackthorne’s designated the parish as trustee of the estate with the binding stipulation that the property be put to use to benefit the local parish. After much consideration, it was decided to renovate the mansion and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast inn. I was put in charge of the entire project.”

“I see… and that’s where I come in?”

“Certainly is, what with your writing credentials and passion for history, I was adamant about hiring you to chronicle the project and design the advertising campaign.”

“Rosario, I’m thrilled to be the bard of choice for the Blackthorne House project, but do you mean to say—you didn’t have in mind I needed some place to stay after my home caught fire and burned to the ground?”

“Now, Shannon, I always keep my word and I promised your parents I would look out for you, to the best that a nun can, that is. The fact that you were living out of a suitcase when this project came up is pure coincidence and a great amount of faith. God works in mysterious ways, therefore it’s not for me to question the circumstances that made an award-winning writer available for this project.”

“Amen to that. I’m thankful for this job and a place to live. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined residing in such a grand dame of a Victorian. But, I’m letting you get off track, let’s see… you were about to reveal the history of this place and its mysterious owner?”

Sister Rosario sighed and took a deep breath. She met my gaze with the look of a confidant.

“Near as we can discern, this mansion was built in the late 1880’s, the same era as the great real estate boom in San Diego. That was a period of Old West grandeur. Wyatt Earp lived here, so did a dog named Bum. Who, for lack of a better description, was San Diego’s canine mayor. Anyway, the boom attracted people from all walks of life. Americans, Europeans, Asians and the founding California Hispanics mingled and created their own unique society based on Hispanic and American culture. The original owner, Eric Blackthorne, fit superbly into the social scene of the time. He was quite a charmer, and wealthy to boot.”

“So, he made a killing on the high tide of real estate investments… Is that how he managed to build this mansion?

“No, not at all. Blackthorne the Magician, that’s what he was,” Rosario said with a mischievous smile. “Stories abound about his antics and affairs. Parties ‘til dawn with elaborate entertainment, including tables of faro and poker. He even hosted seances for the traveling circuit of clairvoyants. And then there were the scandalous relationships with San Diego’s most prominent women. Quite a lady’s man he was. Of course, there was a respectable side to the man as well. Blackthorne sponsored numerous charitable organizations and events.”

“Sounds like he was a regular rogue,” I surmised. “Is he buried near here?”

“Shannon! Leave it to you to sniff out the mystery in a man. Not a living soul knows where he is buried, let alone when he died. Blackthorne, the magician that he was, seems to have just vanished from the living.”
$16.95
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Format: 
Journey of the Eagle
by Priscilla A. Maine

Danielle Alexander's life has suddenly turned upside down. On a wagon train to California to join her fiance, her father falls terminally ill. Add to that a motherless newborn half-breed baby boy dropped literally into her arms by a wise, ancient Indian chief, who wants her to be the baby's mother "just until" her fiance comes to rescue her. Throw in, for good measure, a heady attraction to a handsome stranger named Joel Riley now making his fortune in the untamed west by providing lumber from his sawmill. Danielle certainly has her hands full, and her truant fiance is the least of her problems.

ISBN 1-59431-216-8 Historical/Western/Romance

Cover Art by master artist Skip Rowell With updates by Priscilla A. Maine



Chapter One

"Papa, what if Alan has changed his mind?" Danielle asked.

Nathaniel Alexander shifted the leather lead lines in his big hands before responding to his daughter's question. "What if you have, you mean."

"Well, it's been months since Alan left for California. A lot of things could have happened to make him change his mind about our engagement." Danielle refused to look up at her father, knowing he knew her too well to hide her doubts from him for long.

"If he loves you, no amount of time nor distance will change his feelings." Nathaniel wiped sweat from his brow. "Daughter, it's normal to have uncertainties. Marriage is a big step and shouldn't be taken lightly."

When he paused, Danielle glanced up and noticed her father flexing the fingers of his left hand. Moisture beaded his forehead, though the morning wasn't unduly warm. She also observed the paleness of his skin. "Are you having that pain in your chest again, Papa?"

"Don't try to change the subject on me, young lady. My health is no cause for concern." Again, he swiped his brow. "You are the one I'm worried about." From his perch on the wagon's seat, Nathaniel watched his daughter walking beside the team. "Danielle, remember it's never too late to--"

When her father didn't finish his sentence, Danielle looked up and saw him clutching his chest, his face a purplish hue and contorted with pain. "Papa! Someone help me!" She grabbed for the reins dangling over the side of the wagon. Her fingers had barely locked about the leather straps when she heard a horse galloping toward her. She turned toward the sound, expecting to find the Wagon Master or another of the men from the train. Instead, the rider was someone she didn't know. But before she had time to ponder the situation further, her billowing skirts tangled about her legs causing her to stumble, then fall. In a cloud of dust and yards of gingham, her bottom smacked the hard-packed ground, but her fingers still clutched the lines to the horses.

"Are you hurt, ma'am?" a deep, husky voice asked.

Before she could catch her breath to reply, she felt him jerk her skirt-tent away. She looked up into the most striking green eyes she'd ever seen, and they seemed to be devouring her. Even in her distraught condition, those eyes held her captive longer than they should. She felt an unfamiliar tightening in the lower region of her stomach and a flutter in her heart.

"Here, let me help you." Strong hands pulled her to her feet, leaving her only inches from his broad chest. A heady masculine scent filled her nostrils, disturbing her even more. "You all right?"

That baritone voice snatched her to her senses. "Papa." She whirled about, almost losing her balance until strong fingers locked about her upper arm, steadying her. Danielle refused to look into those hypnotic eyes again. "Help him, please."

"What's going on here?" David Sutton, the Wagon Master, asked, stepping around the end of the wagon. "Why are you stopping?"

"It's Papa. I think he's sick," Danielle replied, welcoming the reassuring presence of someone she knew.

"Go get Henry to help me with him," Sutton instructed before turning to the stranger.

Danielle dashed off in search of Henry Logan. Henry, the youngest of three brothers traveling with the wagon train, had been helping Danielle and her father the past two weeks. Ever since the loss of one of the Logan's own wagons, Nathaniel had hired the young man to spare Danielle from the heavier duties of harnessing and unharnessing the team, and gathering wood for their cook fire. The young man had even started taking his meals with the Alexanders in the evenings. In those passing weeks, Danielle had caught Henry watching her when he thought she wasn't aware of his presence. She suspected the young man was forming more than a casual interest in her, but had brushed the suspicion aside.

When she and Henry arrived back at the Alexander wagon, they found Nathaniel lying on a folded quilt in the shade of a nearby oak tree. Reassured by the fact her father was now conscious, she whisper his name. "Papa." Kneeling beside the makeshift bed, she took his hand in hers and new alarm raced through her at the heat emanating from his flesh.

"It's all right, daughter. I just need to rest a bit." The weakness in his voice sent a ripple of fear down her spine.

"You need a doctor," Danielle replied, hoping her voice didn't reveal the fear she felt. What on earth would she do if anything happened to him? He was the only family she had. Her mother had died when Danielle was nine, her grandparents soon afterward. It had been just her and her father these past ten years. She couldn't imagine being without him.

"Mr. Riley here has offered to send a doctor out to check on your father, ma'am," the Wagon Master said.

Danielle looked up and, realizing Mr. Sutton was referring to the green-eyed stranger, smiled weakly. "Tell him to hurry please."

"I'll do that, ma'am," the man said. He tipped his hat and shifted his attention briefly to Henry Logan. He then turned and walked to his horse, gathered up the reins and mounted. "The Depot on Boggy is only two miles west of here. If he's not out on a call, Doc Fulton should be here within the hour, Mr. Logan."

Danielle wondered why he addressed this information to Henry, though it was only a fleeting thought. Her main concern centered on her father. But in the silence that followed the man's departure, Danielle found herself wondering if she would ever see him again. Almost immediately she chastised herself. Why should it matter? Yet, she knew it did.
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World Enough And Time
A Historical Novel based on True Events

by Nancy Madison

At the end of the Civil War southerners look forward to more peaceful times. Instead the Reconstruction Period is a tumultuous era. Many former Confederates leave their homes in search of a better life. About twenty thousand southern residents sail to Brazil to homestead. In late 1865 Tom Mahon and his friend disinherited Virginian Randolph Carlisle finally reach Galveston after traveling cross-country from a Union prison in Maryland. Good-natured, trusting Tom is no match for clever, unscrupulous cardsharp Randolph to whom winning is everything. Meeting Tom’s dark-eyed sweetheart Mattie Ratliff, Randolph decides to steal her from Tom. He has Tom framed for a crime he didn’t commit then sails off to Brazil with Mattie and her family, leaving Tom in a Galveston jail.

ISBN 1-59431-589-2 Historical / Romance

Cover art by Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

Point Lookout, Maryland

January, 1865

Bayonet fixed, a grim Union soldier charged Tom Mahon as he tried to help a wounded comrade on a Virginia battlefield. Trapped, Tom squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself to die.

Seconds later when nothing happened, Tom woke. He sighed with relief finding himself back in his tent at Point Lookout Prison Camp. He had been part of a group of captured Confederate soldiers transported there the day before.

Water dripped on his head through a hole in the tent and the wind howled through the openings in the canvas. At the moment a cold rain mixed with sleet soaked him and the eleven other men huddled in the inadequate shelter.

Tom stood and hugged the remnants of his threadbare Confederate uniform to his body in a desperate attempt to keep warm. In all his nineteen years, he'd never lived anywhere as miserable. Texas was never like this.

A few feet away an older soldier raised his head. "Go back to sleep, son," the man advised Tom in a Virginia drawl.

Reluctant to return to his pallet in the crowded, malodorous quarters, Tom climbed over several snoring bodies and flung open a flap of the Sibley tent to peer into the darkness. It was twenty-four hours since a Union train brought them to Point Lookout. It seemed an eternity.

How long would it be until they regained their freedom? The last two years the Union refused to exchange prisoners. Unless that policy changed, the war must end before they were free of this godforsaken hellhole.

At supper last night another man complained about the meager rations. In response, an indifferent guard jeered at him. Tom remembered the guard's words. "You men are lucky to be here. This place is heaven on earth compared to Andersonville."

Tom wasn't about to argue with their keepers yet based on what he'd seen so far, their current dwelling place must be worse than any prison camp created by the Confederate forces.

An old-timer in their tent warned Tom and the other new arrivals. If they survived the winter, they'd face another adversary. Swarms of mosquitoes thrived in swampy areas in warm weather, often carrying malaria.

The war he'd been so eager to join last autumn dragged on after almost four years. Loyal to the Confederacy, Tom still hoped his side would emerge victorious. But he was beginning to think he might have supported a lost cause.

The North outnumbered the South in manpower and supplies. It would take a miracle for the Confederacy to defeat the Union.

As Tom watched a wintry sun rising in a pewter-gray sky, bugles announced the arrival of another day for the inmates, mostly military with a sprinkling of Maryland sympathizers.

"Wake up." Tom nudged a large dirty mound of rags with his boot. Slowly the mound unfolded to become Floyd, one of Tom's friends. The large, grizzle-bearded man spread his long legs like an arthritic stork and stumbled to his feet.

Randolph Carlisle, a man closer to Tom's own age still slumbered under his rag of a blanket. Having failed to wake the Virginian, Tom leaned over and yelled in what he presumed was Randolph's ear. It was hard to tell. Like the rest of the Confederate prisoners in camp, Randolph's shaggy hair would challenge any barber.

"If you don't get up, I'll eat your breakfast," Tom said. Grinning, he watched Randolph scramble to his feet.

Tom, Floyd, Randolph, and Rob, a younger soldier they'd befriended on the train, pushed their way out of the tent. After a hurried walk to the mess hall, they joined one of the lines of prisoners waiting for breakfast.

While they waited they chatted with other inmates. A Maryland native next in line told them about Point Lookout.

"You may not think this place has much to offer but before the war Lookout was a popular beach-front resort. Its thirty acres of land were leveled for the prison camp. There used to be a fashionable hotel and one hundred cottages for vacationers here," he told them. "After the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union armies apparently needed another location for a prison camp so they selected Point Lookout since it was convenient to the eastern battlefields."

At the head of their line a sullen-faced guard doled out a cup of coffee and a loaf of bread to each man.

"How in the world do they expect us to survive, feeding us this slop? The hogs on my cousin's plantation eat better," Randolph complained while he chewed on the stale bread.

"Don't you understand?" Thinly veiled contempt rang in their youngest comrade's words. "These damn Yankees don't give a rat's nest if we live or die."

The oldest child of German-born sharecroppers, sixteen-year-old Rob had joined the Army last autumn. Rob's fierce spirit contrasted sharply with his scrawny, undernourished body. Though Rob didn't start fights, if insulted he never walked away from one. He also seemed to enjoy poking fun at those he considered snobs.

"Whether they care or not doesn't matter," Tom advised. Stepping into his self-appointed role as peacemaker for their group, Tom positioned himself between large, muscular Randolph and cocky little Rob in an attempt to ward off a possible fight. Crowded together day and night, men's tempers were often quick to flare.

"We're going to survive this miserable hellhole and go home," Tom promised his companions and himself.

Looking around he studied the other prisoners gulping down their meal. Other than Randolph few complained about the food. They'd eat almost anything the prison staff gave them just to fill their growling, empty stomachs.

To forget his own gnawing hunger, Tom focused his thoughts on home and those he loved. He remembered more pleasant times with his family and Mattie, the girl in his life as long as he could remember. A gypsy-like creature with olive complexion, dark ringlets and tawny brown eyes, Mattie had become a beautiful young lady two years ago when she turned sixteen.

If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost hear Mattie's soft voice calling his name. And if he closed his eyes, he'd envision her smiling face. He vowed they'd be together one day, whether his parents approved or not.

Mattie's father worked in Mahon's Merchandise, Tom's father's store in Galveston, Texas and her family rented the smaller house next door owned by Tom's family. Since Ratliff was hired help, Tom's mother didn't think his older daughter was good enough for her only son.

Tom shook his head, as ever puzzled by the enigma he called 'mother.' The woman was fond of Mattie's blonde almost thirteen-year-old sister Angela but didn't like Mattie.

Perhaps his mother saw herself in Angela. A handsome woman with now faded blonde looks and creamy complexion, Iola Mahon still reminisced about being the 'belle of the ball' in Charleston. That was before she met Tom's father. A poor man, Aurelius Mahon nevertheless swept Iola off her feet. The young couple had eloped after Iola's wealthy father refused Aurelius permission to court his only daughter. Her family disowned her and never saw her again.

Every time Tom saw the other prisoners receiving mail he wanted some of his own. His first message from Point Lookout was already on its way to Mattie. Reason told him that it might be a long time before it reached Galveston. Even so, he was present every day at mail call, waiting for a letter.

***

February, 1865, Galveston, Texas

The day Tom's letter was delivered Mattie hid in the pantry to read it while her parents and sister were upstairs. Wiping away tears of relief she realized she had been preparing herself for the worst, word of his death. No wonder when every week their neighbors received news of their loved ones dying on faraway battlefields.

Since Tom went off to the war, she thought about him every day. In spite of a busy schedule of running their own household, while her mother recovered from yet another miscarriage, and helping care for Tom's ailing father, she always managed to find time to say a small prayer for Tom's safe return.

Mattie chose her words with care while responding to his letter. There was no sense in worrying him. Tom was far away and could do nothing to help. She put down her pen by the ink well and walked to the window to stare out at the Bay. Since the Union blockaded Galveston harbor, she sometimes felt like a prisoner in her own city. She often caught herself watching the Bay.

Moments later a tangy whiff of stew cooking on the stove sent her scurrying to the kitchen. Angela, her younger sister had been instructed to watch the stew for a few minutes yet the girl was nowhere in sight.

Mattie shrugged. At eighteen, she was five years older than her sister. Even so the responsibilities of adulthood weighed her down. Angela never helped with the cooking and cleaning unless forced to do so. She preferred to spend most of her time with Tom's mother listening to Mrs. Mahon's stories of her debutante days. The girl did provide companionship for the older woman. Tom's father's health was failing so his wife couldn't stray far from home.

Well, at least Mattie didn't have to worry about her sister's whereabouts whenever she couldn't find Angela. The girl was almost always with Tom's mother except when Tom was home. Then she followed Tom around like a puppy. Mattie imagined Angela thought of him as a big brother.

Blowing a stray lock of hair off her forehead, Mattie's thoughts shifted from her sister to more immediate problems. Food was becoming more expensive all the time. Tonight they'd have a treat, a tiny tough piece of beef, some rice and peas. Even so, Mattie suspected their dinner would be better than that of many local residents. The selection at the butcher wasn't as good as pre-war and he apologized for his meager goods when regular customers like Mattie or her mother visited his shop.

She told herself that the war wouldn't last forever. If those brave young men fighting the Yankees could manage on limited rations, the least their families could do was not complain about the food they ate at home.

One thing she definitely wouldn't tell Tom. Her father was running the dry goods store on his own since Tom's father took a turn for the worse. The family doctor kept prescribing different tonics for Mr. Mahon yet nothing seemed to help. Mattie suspected the doctor didn't know just what was wrong with the man. From his cough and loss of appetite she suspected all the tonics in the world wouldn't cure Mr. Mahon.

Consumption came to mind and Mattie frowned. What would they do if Mr. Mahon didn't get well? People still died of the illness. Also, Tom's mother had a weak heart, perhaps due to her having scarlet fever as a child. If Tom's father died, the shock might kill his mother.

When Mattie visited the larger, more elaborate house next door, Angela met her at the door. Without a word she slipped past her older sister and went home.

Mrs. Mahon's gaze was pensive greeting Mattie. As usual the lady didn't appear overjoyed to see the girl her son professed to love, however Mrs. Mahon did condescend to accept a bowl of stew and some corn muffins for their dinner.

Remembering the news from Tom, Mattie flushed and handed his mother his letter before the lady asked to see it. She was rewarded with a slight smile and regal nod of the head. A former society belle, Iola Mahon never let anyone forget it.

"Thank you, dear." Tom's mother scanned the brief message and folded it again, handing it back to Mattie. "I'm sure my son will be all right. I think the Union should send him home now, don't you?"

Mattie nodded. Even if she could explain the complexities of war to Mrs. Mahon, it would be a waste of time. Let Tom's mother believe the rival armies trying to annihilate each other might consider the opinion of one foolish former debutante.

Entering her own smaller, less elaborate dwelling, Mattie ached with loneliness. I miss you.

At the dinner table her parents discussed the war as usual while Mattie and her younger sister ate in silence. Angela finished her meal first and was excused.

Pa had been too old to join the Confederate forces at the outbreak of the war. He kept up-to-date with new developments as much as possible and appeared to suffer every time news came of the Confederates losing a battle, as if his own honor had been damaged. His hatred for the Union seemed to grow with each passing day.

Seated between her parents at the dinner table, Mattie did her best to keep the conversation on local news, knowing as soon as she stopped Pa would begin another of his monologues on the war. He'd become almost rabid about the Union, President Lincoln and all he represented.

Mattie chattered on about the weather, the prices of food, and the health of everyone she knew including Tom's parents. Finally she ran out of breath and topics.

Pa jumped into the temporary lull. "You mark my words," he began, pausing to gaze at Mattie and Ma.

At that moment annoyance welled inside Mattie. Her sister should be there with her family. Mattie quickly chided herself. Don't be too harsh on the girl. She hasn't been the same since dear Andrew… It hurt to think of Angela's twin brother. The boy had drowned while he and Angela fished off-shore last year. Mattie blinked hard and focused on what Pa was saying.

"Sad days are coming," he said. "It looks like the Union may defeat us. If they do, no Confederate will be safe. The Union will grind its boot heel against southern throats, but not mine and not this family's." At this point Pa stood and saluted the Confederate flag on the dining room wall.
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House on the Bluff
Legacy Series, Vol. 1

by Elena Dorothy Bowman

The last voice heard from the house was an 18th Century ancestor's blood-curdling screams in the dark of night. What was it about the "house" that made people tremble? Why had no one dared venture near it since 1789? Had it not been there for centuries, tall, empty, beckoning? Abigail Adams Pierce could not envision that the information she stumbled upon would take her on a hair-raising journey she would never forget. A journey that once started would have no turning back, even at the risk of losing her life in the physical sense and being trapped within the spiritual realm, which had invaded the Pierce House. And nothing, in her wildest imagination, could have prepared her for the effect her discovery would have on her life from that moment on.

ISBN 1-59431-363-6 Romantic Suspense/Mystery/Thriller

Cover Art © David P. Bowman



Prologue

Situated in a dense forest, a scroll, in White Stone Abbey, which held the secret to the present Pierce House, lay hidden in a chamber behind an altar, protected, down through the ages until the18th Century, by brown-robed monks. The papyrus, enclosed in a white leather hand-bound sheath, emblazoned with a Crest and a Cross, had been consecrated and sealed with a Royal Imprint.

Sometime during the 18th Century, those who had no fear of God, or man, plundered the Abbey. The case was stolen, the scroll removed, and the seal broken. On the hand-printed, quill- scripted parchment were words that foretold the future of a dwelling, its surrounding properties and, through generations, its final location. Granted by Divine Decree, to a mortally wounded Noble Knight and all his descendants in perpetuity, this Royal Boon was awarded in tribute for his sacrifice in the service of God and King.

The bequest, and all it contained, passed from one generation to another. With the seal of both a reigning King and Archbishop’s blessing, along with the request of the Royal Knight’s descendants, the Royal Grant was eventually transferred to consecrated ground in a distant land across the seas.

When the Nobleman’s descendants left England for the Colonies, they took with them a small bronze cask containing a relic of the Noble Knight. To lay claim to the consecrated land forever, the Relic was to be buried within the foundation of their home in the new land-its final resting place.

The papyrus wound its way to America and into the hands of vandals. From the latitude and longitude inscribed within the scroll, these raiders knew the location of the grant and set out to find it. Word reached them about the priceless articles that were purchased over time, to furnish the now existing dwelling, and the tragic death at sea of the most recent in its long line of owners. This spurred them on. It was their intention, then, to use the sacred document as a means of obtaining possession of the property and all within it.

Since the residence was built on an isolated bluff above the bay, a sailing ship could easily slip its way up the cove away from prying eyes, and pillage the place. In order for these marauders to keep their dastardly and diabolical act secret, any vessel, along with its crew, entering the harbor, would surreptitiously vanish. It didn’t take long before the inlet became known as the Bay of Death and, from the 18th Century to the present, no one dared sail nor moor their boats in the beautiful blue pristine sound.

With the bay secured, the buccaneers launched a full-scale assault on the house on the bluff. With visions of riches clouding their minds, they invaded and ransacked indiscriminately. But, to their complete horror, the house fought back. It restored everything to its untarnished condition, at the same time, assimilating the transgressors within its confines, while the sailing ship, anchored in the bay, slipped quietly beneath the sea, taking with it the sacred papyrus stolen from the White Stone Abbey.

Only the Holy Knight’s descendants, however remote, connected with, and in-line to, the prophecy could claim ownership of the property and all it contained, by right of succession. Any violation or attempted usurpation of the sacred bequest or authority, whether intentional or accidental, would only bring misery and gloom to its perpetrators and, as punishment, doom such brigands to spend an eternity as non-entities within the confines of the estate for violating the edict of the God-centered prophesy.

The energetic memory that encompassed the dwelling and its surrounding area was in tune with those not yet born, whose own vibrational energy stemmed from the passing down through the ages. To ensure the authenticity of the true line, it was ordained that the descendent who opted to claim ownership must remain in the house alone, enduring whatever precarious events occurred until such time as the house permitted the intrusion of others-a champion, but especially a Consort. Failure to adhere to the doctrine would negate that descendant’s right of ownership forever and could, instead, claim that person for its own as it would with any interloper.

Of the two, only the true Consort’s vibrational energy passed down through time would be in-line with, and connected to, the prophesy, as well as the vibrational energy of the house, and to its future occupant. And, it was the Consort who would be the vessel necessary to ensure the prophecy’s manifesto coming to fruition.

According to the Legacy, the entire estate would be within an extremely strong, eternal, energy vortex. Since we are all energy and the energy of that vortex is timeless, nothing within it ages as we perceive aging to be. As a living entity, it would bring forth a time-capsule of History, as well as forming visions of people, places, and things that did not exist, to thwart those who might become too curious or those whose intentions were ominous, to intimidate a descendant who didn’t have the stamina to withstand the onslaught manifested by the house itself, or one whose only purpose was to plunder. Since, in reality, time and space have no meaning, but simply are, all things are possible.

To the day Abigail entered her ancestral home, with its promise of fulfillment, it maintained its enchantment and its ageless elegance, standing as a silent sentinel waiting for the one long destined to enter along with her Consort, to claim ownership. At that moment in time, the papyrus would physically appear as a sign and a blessing to the rightful heirs.



Chapter One



Abigail stood against her red Jeep Cherokee parked at the edge of the gravel driveway of the deserted mansion. The wind blowing out of the Northeast across Adam’s Point flattened her long-sleeved white blouse and new navy blue pantsuit against her body, whipping her hair around her face while she desperately tried to keep its long strands from blocking her view of the scene spread before her. Her unbuttoned jacket took on the appearance of a navy blue sail flapping in a gale behind her. The widow’s walk perched high above, struck her as a crow’s nest on a sailing vessel of long ago. Shading her eyes, she swept the dunes to the ocean beyond and back to the house. A flutter of a curtain from the third floor caught her attention. She looked again, but saw nothing. Must be tired, she thought. I’m beginning to imagine things. She laughed.

Her laughter, echoing over the dunes, stopped short as the curtain on the second floor moved ever so slightly. When she looked again, all was still. She shook her head. Without knowing why, her heart suddenly began to race as an excitement arose within her being. Spellbound, she held tightly onto the front of her jacket and to a broken picket. As she stood transfixed, with her gaze upon the house, her long dark hair blew unrestrained in the wind.

It didn’t look any different from other stately houses she had seen on her travels along the shoreline and inlet seas of New England. It still had an air of dignity about it with itswhite, clapboard-covered, multi-tiered and dormer-studded roofs, and its blue shuttered windows. And, it seemed to be easily accessible by front, back, side, or basement doors. As always, there were the large floor-to-ceiling windows, first and second floor wrap-around porches, and a widow’s walk sitting high atop the house. But then, too, there was a white picket fence in disrepair, running along the front of the property, its broken slats standing aloft, weaving in and out of the holding rails like drunken sailors on shore leave. To complete its demeanor, the gate squeaked unattended as it swung free from restraint. On the top floor, from a shattered window, curtains periodically flowed through the break as gusts of wind blew wantonly through it.

The house sat imperviously on a bluff, above windswept dunes that seemed to drift down to the sea. The open ocean beckoned as its waves washed against the fragile shoreline. What was it about this place that caused one to silently shiver, then shudder violently, and swiftly pass, always looking back over one’s shoulder until they were a safe distance away? No one could be sure. Was it because it stood unoccupied for decades, appearing so alone and forbidding? Or was it because the last person to stay there had vanished into the night after a blood-curdling scream had permeated the air? Something had happened here. Yet, to this day, no one was really sure what.

Abigail felt a compulsion to move forward toward the house. Though her head told her “no,” she wasn’t listening to her head, only to the challenge that was in her heart.

In a rash moment, she was standing inside the grand main entrance hall. Before her, the stairs rose to the second level and above. Her heart thumped as she felt herself being propelled forward step by step to the second floor. The click of her heels echoed throughout the house.

From the darkened second floor hallway, she looked furtively around at the closed doors leading to the rooms behind them and shuddered. Then she looked up. The stairs led even further. She followed them to the third floor. Again, the doors were closed to the rooms hidden behind them. What am I doing here?

The light flickering in from atop the house sought her attention. She again moved forward, on up a ladder, and out to the widow’s walk above. Staring at the vast ocean before her, she wondered about the people who had once lived here, and who they might have been searching for as they scanned the ocean, waiting for the sailing ships to return to shore.

Abigail felt a tap on her shoulder and turned. No one was there. She laughed silently as she shook her head. My imagination again.

Once more, her eyes sought the sea before her. There wasn’t a single ship in sight. No sails. No modern vessels. Nothing—just the clear blue ocean. Its waves were washing gently upon the dunes and back again into the waters, taking with them a part of the fragile land.

It was dark when she looked away from the sea and back into the house. If she were going to get out, she would have to make her way through a lightless house. Then again, she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave. She would wait for morning. At least here, on the widow’s walk, she would be safe. Wouldn’t she?
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Full Circle
Full Circle Series, Vol. 1 by Anna Dynowski

Allegra returns to her home town following her mother's death, a town she had fled because of her broken romance with Nick. Even though Nick had betrayed her in the past, Allie has forgiven him--of course she has--after all it's the Christian thing to do. But it would be silly to consider resuming their romance. She had been hurt too badly the last time. Still Allie finds Nick and his young daughter irresistable.

ISBN 1-59431-257-5 Inspiration / Romance

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



CHAPTER 1

The phone peeled. Leaving the unopened box of aromatherapy candles on the counter, Allie Blackwell reached for the phone on its second ring.

“Heal Thyself Health Food Store. How may I help you?”

“May I speak to Allie Blackwell, please?” a warm masculine voice responded.

“You got her!”

“Allie, my name is Joshua Lockhart. I’m the pastor at Paradiso Tabernacle.”

“Oh, yes, my mom has mentioned you. How are you, Pastor Lockhart?” A smile tugged at her lips as she sat down on the stool behind the counter.

He hesitated before replying, “I’m fine, thank you. And please call me Joshua.”

She missed neither the slight hesitation nor the uneasiness that crept into his gentle voice. A shiver ran down her back and she shuddered. Her hand grasped the counter, her knuckles white from the pressure. An inexplicable fear gripped her. Exhaling a deep breath, she willed her fingers to release their vice-like grip and waited.

When next he spoke, his voice was full of compassion. “Allie, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your mother just passed away.”

Shock paralyzed her. She felt the color drain from her face. As her hand flew to her throat, she shook her head in disbelief.

“Mom passed away?” she parroted blankly, raking an unsteady hand through her hair. “That can’t be! I just spoke to her by phone two nights ago and I …I saw her three weeks ago when she came to visit me here in Toronto.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Tears flowed down her cheeks. “How? When?” she choked.

“About an hour ago. I was with her. Your mother apparently had been sick for some time. Her illness went undiagnosed until it was too late. I’m sorry, Allie. If you’d like, I can help you with the arrangements,” he offered.

She swiped at the tears rolling down her face. Why didn’t you tell me, mom?

“I’ll go home and pack a few things. I…I should be there in about four, maybe five hours,” she stammered. “Uh, where do I go? To the hospital? Or the funeral home?” She tried gallantly to clear her benumbed head.

“Why don’t you stop by the Church office and I’ll accompany you,” he suggested.

“Thank you. I’d appreciate it very much.”

As Allie replaced the phone on its hook, Samantha Jones came out from the back storage room, fussing with her wild riot of strawberry red curls.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Samantha was at her side, draping a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Through her tear-dimmed eyes, Allie gazed at her friend. She’d first met Samantha ten years ago when Allie had escaped to Toronto. She’d been a loyal friend with her rock-solid support. Now, the concern in Samantha’s voice tugged at Allie’s heart, bringing a fresh wave of tears flowing down her cheeks.

Her words came out in gulps and gasps. “Sam, my mom just died. I…I have to go to Paradiso right away.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. Don’t worry about a thing here. I’ll hold down the fort. Just call me.”

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Mystick-Moon
By Terry L. White

Travel with Rebecca as she starts her new life in Puritanical New England. How will having the gift of "second sight" affect her in the New Land?

ISBN 1059431-223-0 Romance / Historical / Paranormal

Cover Art by Maggie Dix

Chapter 1

Rebecca could not sleep. She stared out the small porthole beside her bunk and wondered about the strangely forbidding place that would soon be her new home.

The moon shone brightly on the waters of Bloody Cove. The town, betrayed by the twinkling of one small lantern, seemed distant and closed under the baleful glare of Sachem’s Head, the promontory that guarded the harbor.

These strange names, falling from the sailor’s lips as they grunted at capstan and line, sent shivers of apprehension down Rebecca’s spine. She was glad the disembarking of the Endeavor’s passengers had been delayed until morning. As uncomfortable as her berth was in this tiny cabin beneath the ship’s deck, it had become a kind of home. She closed her eyes against the reflection of moonlight across the choppy water and tried to make sense of her short and eventful life.

At ten, Rebecca often had to think very carefully before she could understand the odd things grown-ups did and the reasons they did them.

When Rebecca’s mother told her they were to sail to the Colonies to start a new life, she had been uncertain of all that might entail. Certainly her own life had seen enough beginnings and endings over the past two years.

First of all, her father died; and everything about her world had changed. Gone were the dancing lessons, the tutor, the new dresses of shiny silk and subtle velvet Rebecca had always taken for granted. Gone, as well, was the gracious and elegant home of her birth, exchanged a few months after her father’s burial for a small apartment in a part of London so run down and seedy her mother did not dare to let her walk about in the fresh air for fear the Rebecca would come to some dire, nameless harm.

Rebecca’s first new home had been three small rooms; a kitchen with a smoky hearth, a parlor as cold as a tomb in the winter season in which they moved house, and the narrow, dark bedroom Rebecca shared with her mother.

Not that Rebecca had minded sharing a bed so very much. She had never liked sleeping alone in the nursery of their other, grander home. Still, her whole life had become so very different.

The flat Elizabeth had taken in her newfound poverty was somehow friendlier than the stylish townhouse where all too often Rebecca’s childhood dreams had been plagued with scenes of red destruction, peopled the pale, ethereal faces of her family. Not that she hadn’t dreamed in the flat surrounded by muffled voices and strange thuds and crashes of her neighbors’ daily life, but the dreams had been mundane, colored by the shades of generations of hopeless striving of the previous occupants of their dank and alternating sweltering or chilly rooms.

Rebecca had once, before everything changed and in a waking dream, seen her pretty cousin Molly fall down a flight of stairs and lie, still and white, at the foot. There had been an awful look of shocked stillness on Molly’s familiar face. Rebecca had run at once to tell her mother about her strange vision.

Elizabeth had pooh-poohed the idea—and her daughter’s oddly disturbing vision—until a message edged in black told of the fatal fall of her own dear sister’s youngest daughter.

Molly, a winsome child of peach and cream beauty, pride of the family, had tripped and fallen on the stair. Her neck was broken in the accident. Death had been instantaneous.

Elizabeth, dainty feet propped on a petit point hassock, had crumpled the evil missive and stared at her fey daughter with something like horror in her eyes.

“How did you know?” Elizabeth’s voice had been irritable, heavy with grief. “How did you know Molly would die?”

“I dreamed it, Mama.” Rebecca could only whisper.

Rebecca didn’t like that sort of dream, especially when it concerned people she loved. But the dreams still came, whether she wanted them or not, whether she was sleeping or not. Her vision of a cousin’s untimely demise had not been the last she had seen in her young and strife-torn life.

Rebecca had been so disturbed by the odd distance in her mother’s voice the day Cousin Molly died the dreams had stayed away for a while, perhaps held at bay by the terrible fear and guilt Rebecca carried over her cousin’s accidental death. But in time they came back, as dream monsters always do.

She had, one dreadful morning between sleep and waking, seen her own dear father lying upon the pavement of a narrow, darkened street, his head in a black, viscus pool of blood, his pockets turned out white against the darkness of his fine woolen suit, his face ashen and still.

Rebecca did not recognize the squalid alley in which her father lay, but the staring of eyes of death were no stranger to this child.

She had been frightened to tears upon waking fully and had cried incessantly until Nanny had taken her to Elizabeth. It took much cuddling and petting before Rebecca relaxed and told her mother about this new dream that had frightened her so.

Elizabeth, unwilling to believe her daughter might have been given another prophetic dream, especially one foretelling such a dire end for the true love of her life, shivered and sent Rebecca upstairs for her morning lessons.

Try to concentrate as she might, Rebecca had not been able to erase the aching image of her father’s dead face. Her book brought no comfort or distraction. She was hardly surprised an hour later she heard her mother’s scream of outraged shock.

A pair of constables, as alike as twins in dark uniforms hardly brightened by their official brass buckles and buttons, had come to tell Elizabeth of the robber who had accosted her husband as he made his early morning way to work through the poor section of town that lay near his foundry.

“The perpetrator had not contented himself with gold. Or perhaps Mister had put up a fight. In any case, very sorry, Mum, to bring you this shocking bit of news.”

“How did you know?” Elizabeth sobbed, and looked at Rebecca with something like horror when the constables had retreated to their headquarters and official papers. “Only a monster could see such a horrible, horrible thing.”

Rebecca, frightened by the harsh note of fear in her mother’s voice, had hidden her head in her hands. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind at that moment that her strange visions the cause of all the sorrow in her mother’s life.

***

Then there had been the funeral, and their removal from their home after endless tedious discussions with lawyers and creditors, during which Elizabeth had listened in stony silence and accepted the fact her prosperity had quite dissolved with her husband’s death, while her guilt-ridden daughter hid in corners, and tried to will her father back to life.

Rebecca’s Papa was dead, she knew she was the cause. She had to be. The pictures in her mind always came when she was happy, but then everything went black and someone she loved was dead. Somehow, deep inside, Rebecca knew if she could no longer see the visions, the terrible events they depicted would end as well.

And so, with all the fire in her small body, Rebecca told the dreams to go away. They did for a while, but sometimes they would return in the night and she would wrestle with images of death and blood until she could struggle toward wakefulness, sickened by premonitions she could neither control nor understand.

Tonight on the Endeavor Rebecca had no dreams or visions, but rather a vague dread for the new life that would come, whether she willed it or not. If anyone had asked, she could not have said why she felt so edgy, only that she did.

The cove in which the Endeavor lay anchored seemed peaceful enough, but why would a beautiful harbor such as the one she glimpsed through the dwindling twilight be daubed with the name of blood?

“Bloody Cove,” she whispered and cries of unspeakable pain and torture ran beneath her consciousness. The cries linked Rebecca to an event she somehow understood had passed some years before.

Dancing figures, some in familiar European garb, others clad in feathers, furs, and beads, dipped and swayed in a macabre dance of scarlet death. The moon glittered on the waters of Bloody Cove and suddenly Rebecca knew without knowing this was a memory of the past and not a future event she saw.

She sighed in relief. If she had been cursed with a dream of her future, who knows what she would have done, for Rebecca had been uneasy about their journey to the colonies ever since she had been told she was to go.

Every time she thought about her new home in New England Rebecca felt a pang of fear invade her consciousness. Mystick Town, although her stepfather had spoken highly of the place, did not feel as if it were going to be a good place to live.

The wolves were what worried her most.

Mr. Stark, Mama’s new husband, Rebecca’s new father, had mentioned the wolves a hundred times as they prepared for their odyssey to the New World.

“The beasts are a plague. So bad—” he said, passing his sadistic hearsay for wisdom with a nod of his oblong Saturnine head. “—folks dare not leave the safety of their homes without arms, and some have even cut enormous slabs of stone to guard new graves to protect the bodies of their dead.”

Rebecca did not have to work very hard to imagine wolves; great doglike beasts with gleaming golden eyes and teeth like glistening ivory knives. They whined at the doors of her imagination, ready to devour her if she did not acknowledge their very real threat. Their tails thumped the ground as they drooled and waited.

Now the Endeavor lay outside Mystick Town the wolves seemed very near and dangerous. Rebecca shivered and huddled more deeply into her blanket which smelled of sickness and the bodily humors of a tedious and uneasy voyage. Her skin itched, from being weeks unwashed, from the small vermin that infested the thin straw mattress upon which she rested.

Her hair had been combed and plaited afresh daily, but it was greasy from being long unwashed, and her clothing was frayed and threadbare from continuous wear.

Rebecca was unused to being neglected in the past, which had grown dimmer and more distant with every passing moment. Until she’d met Master Stark, Elizabeth had always put her child’s needs first.

Rebecca knew her mother had not understood she would not have her trunks close at hand throughout the voyage. Their luggage had been stored in a deep hold, forbidden to the Endeavor’s passengers. In time Elizabeth had given up trying for permission to go below to find clean clothing for her family. The undershift Rebecca slept in was the one she’d worn the day they’d embarked upon this journey into the unknown.

Never in her life had she felt so unclean, or so alone.

Her mother breathed softly on the bunk below, her body anchored by the heavy limbs of her new husband, Graham Stark. Rebecca shrank from the thought of her stepfather’s hard, unkind hands touching her gentle mother’s skin. He touched Rebecca often as well, pinching and slapping her for every small transgression.

In a reaction as unconscious as it was primitive, Rebecca hated the thought of Mr. Stark’s hands and lips claiming the breasts that were once hers alone. She winced each time the man passed a proprietary hand across Elizabeth’s bosom when he thought no one was looking.

Rebecca did not like Mr. Stark, but she thought he was well named. Mr. Stark had thin eyebrows and lips, and his ears hugged his long head to near invisibility. His voice rang often with the Puritan’s “thee’s” and “thou’s,” but Rebecca soon came to understand Master Stark did not mean these words in the humble and neighborly spirit of their fellow travelers.

They were, she knew, a means to his own somewhat nebulous ends.

Mr. Stark meant to become a wealthy man in the New World. In the privacy of their tiny cabin he made no bones about having no real religious reason for joining the colony.

Of course, Stark possessed a mask, the one that made his presence acceptable to his fellow pilgrims, but it fell away when he and Elizabeth were alone in their cabin, one dearly purchased luxury that separated the Stark family from the religious dissenters who made up most of the rest of the Endeavor’s passengers who suffered a much less pleasant passage in the ship’s damp, stinking hold.

Rebecca stirred, tossed on the creaking narrow bunk.

“Does the brat never sleep?” her stepfather hissed to Elizabeth Hunter Stark. He knew the chit lay awake nights, listening to them when they whispered under the covers.

Elizabeth stirred wearily and drew herself to the furthermost reaches of the narrow bunk which was all the bed she had known since embarking on this dreadful journey.

“Surely she sleeps,” she murmured, wishing her husband did not rest so closely and warmly by her side. “Rebecca is a good child, if she is too aware for her years.” Elizabeth excused her daughter mildly.

Stark’s hand stole between her thighs, fumbled with the moistness at their joining. Elizabeth released a breath, half moan of resistance, half sigh of resignation, and allowed her husband his dubious pleasure in silence. Mating with Stark had not been what she’d imagined during their courtship when her prospective husband had offered her a release from her poverty and sudden chastity.

Elizabeth’s first marriage had been for love and the sexual congress involved had been of a higher order, a release to spirit for both parties, not the sticky, pounding coupling of Mr. Stark’s preference. She had not been prepared for the icy meetings of a loveless marriage, had not yet accustomed herself to the utter lack of feeling that accompanied her intercourse with Stark.

Still, as she had so often told her daughter, Elizabeth had entered into the marriage willingly, and hoped for distraction from the constant grief that nearly disabled her after her beloved Raymond died. She had wed, and now crossed the ocean together with a stranger to find a new life. Learning too late she did not love her new husband, Elizabeth also knew her promise of faith until death would not be a lie.

She was bound to her new husband by a thousand ties, the newest, more frightening and imposing than any that had come to this point in her life.

She was pregnant with Graham Stark’s child.

Her courses had not come with the moon’s passing, but Elizabeth had not forsaken her aversion to her husband’s embrace now the threat of pregnancy far away from home and medical attention no longer loomed as formless danger. Her new child, conceived in apathy, would occupy Elizabeth’s body and then her days.

There were times she thought her life would be better when it was born.

Elizabeth sighed remembering how, when Rebecca was conceived, Raymond had laughingly chided her for her lusty conjugal behavior. How surprised they had both been to learn pregnancy had released her from fear of her own sexuality. It had been a wonderful time, those months she had carried her daughter, wonderful even, after Rebecca was born, but life was Stark was different, harder, despite his endless promises. Elizabeth felt nothing but disgust and dread as he labored noisily over her swelling body.

Rebecca heard, but did not fully understand, these thoughts of loss and resentment above her mother’s soft moans of resistance. Were these thoughts her fault as well? If her mother had been childless, would Elizabeth then have not had a better chance to make an amiable match with a man more suited to her sensibilities than the judgmental and forbidding Mr. Stark?

Rebecca did not know, but she wondered.

The moon slowly sank into the cove as the mists of morning enveloped the Endeavor in gray and clinging shrouds. The sounds of men’s voices, of children whimpering to wakefulness, brought Rebecca to the happy awareness that soon she might soon quit her hard, verminous bed and be carried to the shores of Mystick Town itself.

She still did not think it would be a happy place to live.
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Lost Son Of Ireland
By Dorice Nelson

Deadlocked by a legend, Kellach must find her kidnapped mother to remove the Dark Druid's curse and save her people from the rampaging Norse. Bruic the Badger must find local trading ports for the Norse in order to save his sons, who are held hstage by a Norseman, and to find his siblings, lost during his youth. Neither has time for love. Ah! Fate and circumstance tak the advantage away from them both...

ISBN 1-59431-197-8 Romance/Historical/Action

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue

Corca Dhuibhne Peninsula, Gael—May, 834 AD

Bruic the Badger focused on the lifeless bodies scattered across the sandy beach. Undulating rivulets of blood mixed with the sea. The ocean’s tangy smells wafted on air, to combine with the odor of hot smoke pouring from a fortress on the promontory. In contrast to the swirling gray smoke, shards of sunlight glittered and warmed the area with golden beams.

Sea birds raced from nearby islands to encircle the tiny cove and dive at the still forms. Shrieks resounded for miles as the creatures swooped down, squealed and fought over tidbits of raw, plucked tissue.

Bile rose in Bruic’s throat and threatened to choke him.

Despite the gruesome sight before him, he feared returning to the sturdy wooden ships berthed in the next bay, wanting desperately to remain in his native land. Turning slightly, he scanned the area, searching for a place to hide from those who had stolen him from these shores seven years ago.

No safe haven presented itself on the barren beach. Only scrawny trees and high rocky ledges kept him from seeing the shapes of the tall vessels in the other cove. As wind and waves beat the bodies of the dead, a sea-laden breeze blew a lock of dark hair over his face. He pushed it back with unnecessary roughness and fought the urge to retch.

Bruic shook his head in anger, frustrated. “I’ll never get away from them,” he mumbled, just to hear the sound of his own voice.

Since his enslavement, he had witnessed battles often, but the results never resembled the carnage before him. Now, at thirteen, his intention to become a warrior of note vanished in the face of this destruction. He had grown older in the last hour. He sucked in rank air and plunged his sword into the ground. Kneeling on one knee, he bowed his head. An almost forgotten Gaelic prayer flew into his mind. He mouthed the words.

Once done, he pushed on his sword and rose to his feet. Without another glance, he scuffed through the sand toward the granite boulders that separated this cove from the next. At the bottom of the ledges, he paused to look back at the mangled bodies.

A flash of movement and unexpected color in the high reedy grasses that topped the nearest dune caught his gaze. A red-haired child teetered to the edge of the sandy ridge. Behind her, a yellow-haired girl peeped through the grasses. Bruic suspected they had witnessed the raid from a secret hiding place.

The redhead slowed, looked back at the yellow-haired girl but kept her forward motion. Not watching where she was going, she lost her balance and slid on her bottom to the beach. Her choking hiccups dispersed the feasting birds. They rose in the air, flapping and screeching in protest at the disturbance. Muted sobs shook her body. A choked, whispered cry tore from her mouth, “Mama! Help!”

Startled, Bruic whirled around. His eyes wide, he glanced toward the rocky ledges.

The men in the next cove. Had they heard the little girl cry out?

Struggling upright and lifting a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, the girl brushed her tattered tunic and then raised both arms high to balance in the deep sand.

With a grimace meant to frighten, Bruic spun to face her, hoping to scare her back onto the ridge. Body bent, sword thrust before him, he rushed at her. He hesitated when he noticed the glazed look in her overbright green eyes.

In a hoarse voice, she whispered louder. “Help me. My mama—”

A sharp whistle came from the next cove, followed by a shout. “Badger?”

“Allo,” Bruic called back over his shoulder, in the language of his captors.

For a second time, flapping wings rose in the air. This time the birds flew higher, circled wider, and cawed their continued displeasure in much bolder tones.

With hands balled into fists, the girl stopped and covered her ears. She closed her eyes as if she thought closing them might make her invisible. She opened them slowly and moved closer, blinking hard. “Man?”

Another sharp whistle, accompanied by laughter and shouts from the men, far louder than the squawking of the birds, cleared the large rocks of the ledge. The men bellowed and cursed, obviously eager to leave the carnage they had created.

The same voice called, “Badger? Come. It’s time we leave this gods-forsaken hole.”

Angered by the calls, Bruic hissed at the girl in broken Gaelic, his speech garbled, littered with Norse words. “Get back, goose!” He pointed to the next cove, then to the spot where the girl had come from. “They’re ready to leave this place before more guards come.” He peered at her through squinted eyes. “You don’t want them to carry you away, do you?”

She tilted her head, but her gaze lowered to the ground. Her thumb went to her mouth; but she must have thought better of it for her hand quickly cupped her chin in a childish gesture instead. Her reactions puzzled Bruic. He wondered if she understood what he was trying to say.

She shuffled nearer. Her lower lip quivered. “Help me find my mama?”

He bent closer and spoke into her face, pointing to the dunes. “Go. Hide. Now.” He shoved her. She fell backward into the sand. “Go back!” he whispered, poking her shoulder.

Her unwavering gaze met his. They stared for an elongated moment. Her large eyes, the color of the deep sea, seemed to beg him for something.

Then, she glared at him and shook her head. “No!”

“Why won’t you listen to me, tiny one? I’m trying to help you,” he said.

She pounded a fist in the sand. “Mama. I want my mama.”

Muscular Annar, his long yellow hair hanging to his shoulders, appeared on top of a boulder. Dressed all in brown, a black cloth over one eye, he made an unnerving picture against the soft blue of the sky, and his sudden appearance surprised Bruic. He jumped in front of the child.

The small girl trembled and turned onto her knees. Bruic forced her flat and put a foot on her shoulders. He heard her short, ragged breaths and, glancing down, saw her tears flow to form a lump in the sand. To keep her still and hide her presence, he knelt on one knee over her squirming body.

Annar adjusted his eye cloth, cupped his mouth, then yelled. “It’s your master, boy. He wants you. Now! Stop your prancin’ amid the dead, pretendin’ you’re some kind of warrior-hero.” He laughed and slapped his leg. “Not yet, slave, not yet.” He beckoned. “Come along or we’ll leave you behind.”

“Stay down, fool,” Bruic rasped at her through clenched teeth, his knee pressing her deeper into the gritty ground with all his weight.

“What have you there, boy?”

Bruic shouted back, “Nothing of worth—an old log.”

The man chuckled then his face grew grim. With a great roar, he yelled, “Hurry, boy,” then leaped onto another rock and slipped out of sight.

* * *

Kellach gasped as she realized the man touching her was one of the bad ones. Unable to move, she had studied the man on the rock and recognized both the yellow hair and the black cloth draped over his one eye. He was the man who had thrown her mama to the ground and jumped on top of her.

She wriggled but cringed. Would the man holding her hurt her? Carry her away? He stood, releasing her. She crawled away, her heart pounding. Particles of sand had mixed with saliva in her mouth. She spat. Her chest heaved. Her knees burned from the coarseness of the sand. She turned toward the young man and narrowed her eyes to give him her fiercest look.

He grinned at her, before another whistle captured his attention. He ran toward the boulders, hesitating only once to look back. In a huge bound, he vaulted over several of the boulders and disappeared from her view.

Gasping to catch her breath, she sat still. Tears rolled down her face. Her legs shaking beneath her, she stood and searched the beach for her mother. She wanted to tell her what good girls she and Olwen had been. How they had hidden, holding each other hard, but never made a sound.

The two girls had watched Dun Geata’s warriors fall, heard the terrible screaming of men and horses. They’d seen the bad men run after the ladies. Not even when the man with the patch jumped on Kellach’s mama did the girls make a sound. Her mama screamed, but they stayed silent.

Now, everyone was silent.

Kellach curled a strand of her hair around a finger and picked her way across the beach, stepping around body parts. She thought she spied her mother’s gray skirt and ran to the spot. A long piece of gray cloth, obviously ripped from her mother’s garment, lay in strips on the blood-soaked sand.

Shocked and bewildered, she reverted to infancy, looking around and calling, “Mama—? I hided like you said. Kellach’s a good girl. Please, Mama—” Her hand rubbed her chest. She looked at it as if it belonged to someone else. Numbness whipped her.

Several minutes passed until she understood that her mama was not going to answer her. The bad men must have taken her away, for she was nowhere to be seen.

Kellach picked up the cloth. She fluttered her hand in a beckoning gesture toward the ridge, to Olwen who had hidden with her. She called out in a husky whisper, “Olwen, come. Please come to Kellach.” She waited. No answer came from the dunes.

Kellach’s body chilled despite the warmth of the spring sun. Through a fog of shock, she sat by the water. Her hand crumpled the piece of cloth she clutched. She pressed it to her cheek and mumbled a lullaby, rocking back and forth as her mama did when she sang to Kellach at bedtime.

Kellach choked and gagged on her melody, her tears flowing into the sea.



Chapter One

An Dun Geata, Gael—852 AD

Destiny hurled him home to do a godless deed, a deed evil enough to live on in the memories of bards for eons to come.

Unable to ease the guilty ache in his heart over what he must do to his fellow Gaels, Bruic the Badger paced the shale-covered ground between a huge monolith and the band of hidden Norse horsemen. The monolith protected an ancient burial site close to the raid’s objective, An Dun Geata fortress.

The nearby men, an elite set of guards, protected him.

During the night, a host of the men under his command infiltrated the stone beehive huts of those living across from the fort. He calculated this unusual strategy, the element of surprise, might work best to secure the area without loss of blood. His return to the land of his birth had come through express orders from Olaf the White, who was attempting to reclaim Dublin from the Danes.

Drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Bruic worried over the release of his young sons held hostage by Olaf, and looked out to the nearby coves that hid his raiding party’s ships. The coves would make fine ports for the trading Olaf desired, once all of Gael was conquered. Perhaps, the location of trading ports would please the man enough to free the twins.

The morn was bleak and still, yet the sound of the rolling ocean and the fragrant but fractious wind of dewy predawn sang to Bruic’s soul. He slid to a bare knee, crossed himself and whispered thanks for this restoration, however brief, to Gael. Unprepared for the vivid memory of his former visit to his homeland, his heart raced.

At thirteen, Bruic had witnessed the natives annihilated, women raped and pressed into bondage, or slain on the spot. No group deserved such slaughter or enslavement once, much less a second time, and he recognized the general region as the one he had visited before. He shook off the internal guilt he’d held for years over his part in that earlier raid and made a silent vow. This one would be bloodless.

A hand signal from the nearby copse of trees caught his eye. Only Fergus, the only other Gael and his second in command, would dare attract attention. All others waited for Bruic’s cue to move. Careful not to be seen, Bruic stood and darted toward the line of trees.

He peered into the branches where some of his men had chosen to hide. The rest stayed on the ground, holding the horses. An edge of anticipation sliced the air around the greenery, anticipation sharp as blades that lay concealed in the scabbards of his men.

“What?” Bruic asked, keeping his tone low.

Fergus, who sat hunched behind a wide tree trunk, spoke softly, “The men are in position, Bruic, but impatient to begin. The animals grow restive.”

“Warn the men again. I want no spilling of the natives’ blood, regardless of the resistance. That’s an order, Fergus.”

“Short of an unexpected outburst, it should be an easy raid. It’s only a minor queen in charge, one who must grapple with a Dark Druid’s curse upon her. She’ll have no strength to fight a greater force, nor will her people.”

Bruic nodded. “Keep my horse at the ready. It’s almost time but wait for a sign from me.”

“Aye. As always.” Fergus backed further behind the trunk of the closest tree.

Bruic moved away on a spongy carpet of grass. Once again at the base of the monolith, he climbed from one boulder to another until he reached the top, where he lay prone. With a practiced eye, he studied the terrain below. The small number of huts across the narrow, rutty road…the small stone walls around the fields, set in precise lots to keep the cattle in…the escarpment soaring into the sky from beneath the fragrant ocean…the nearly impregnable stone fort with its massive wooden door…

His body stiffened, alert. Two people entered the yard through the fort’s front portal. A red-haired woman and an older man, whose gray beard grazed his short neck, walked in the direction of the inner walls, set away from the sea. The woman reached up and dragged a multicolored shawl over flame-colored hair.

Knowing the improbability, Bruic wondered if this woman could be the grown-up version of the little girl he’d saved from discovery years ago. With a shake of his head, he dismissed his fanciful thoughts of the little girl, who still sparked thoughts of his infamous day on a beach, and whose bravery had remained unforgettable throughout his life.

The people below drew closer to the walls weakened by the Norsemen helping to conquer the lonely fort. Surely the two would notice the undisguised damage done to the inner walls and even to the ones beyond. Would they alert the compound? How many others were within the fortress? A large number of raging Gaels might disrupt his plans for no bloodshed. Tension hung in the air around him, promising little relief.

The woman stopped, turned and then ran back toward the fort. Obviously, the destruction of the walls had been discovered. No shouts rang out. About to raise a hand to signal his men, Bruic hesitated. When the woman leaned against the fort, he knew he’d be better served to wait and watch.

But waiting was not something Bruic did well.
$16.95
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Gator Hole
by Marjorie Doughty

Deputy Amy Donovan puts her life on the line every day as a law enforcement officer, then she realizes that the danger is coming from within the ranks. Gulf shrimp fishermen, a bunch of their do-gooding wives, and the members of a religious cult add spice to a mystery set in a sleepy Florida town.

ISBN 1-59431-152-8 Mystery/ Suspense/ Romance

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



PROLOGUE



Hot, pulsing, terror was so intense from the four men standing near the edge of the ’gator hole it overrode the smell of damp, rotting vegetation and stagnant backwater. The tall man could feel it radiate toward him as he waited on the bank with his captive close to the edge of the dark brown water. He smiled.

A middle-aged Hispanic man, bound and gagged with electrical tape, rolled his dark eyes wildly in all directions, his long black hair flipping as his head moved from side to side. The tall man pushed him to the ground and took a switchblade knife from his pocket, flicked it open, grabbed the man’s bare foot and sliced open the big toe as easily as if he had been cutting a piece of tender steak on a diner plate. Blood spurted onto the ground, then steadied into a drip.

Effortlessly, using his right hand and arm, the tall man grasped the victim around the waist and held him up and over the water at the edge of the gator hole, while using his left hand to hit the water with a long stick.

“We’re waiting for my pet,” he told the four men. “He shouldn’t be too long because he knows he can depend on me for a meal.”

“Jesus,” one of the men breathed into the humid night air.

The tall man, dressed in black jeans and black T-shirt, eyes the color of old pewter in the uncertain moonlight, turned to stare at the man who had spoken.

“Never let me hear you again take the Lord’s name in vain. If you do, you’ll find yourself in a similar position.” He voice was calm and even. “Is that understood. Justice is mine, said the Lord, and I am his emissary.”

The offender gulped audibly and managed a shaky nod.

What appeared to be a dark stationary log stirred and the snout of an eleven-foot alligator started moving, disturbing a leaf on top of the water. Senses aroused, the ’gator started its hungry way toward the gator hole, piloted by the leaf caught in the movement of the water.

The tall man waited patiently, now using both hands to hold the struggling victim over the dark water, apparently without any strain on his muscles. Drops of blood from the victim’s toe silently hit the water, like polluted raindrops.

Suddenly a prehistoric head made its way around the slight bend in the current the leaf still leading the way. The tall man waited until the beast was directly under him and he lowered the bound victim toward the gator’s open mouth. Intensified breathing of the four spectators filled the small clearing. The man smiled as the ’gator made a gulping sound, then grabbed the victim’s bound ankles and started spinning around in the water. It continued twisting as the tall man pitted his strength against that of the ’gator. The victim’s bones snapped and he hung limp, as the gator continued until flesh began to tear loose from the man’s torso. His muffled moans filled the silence until he fainted. For another few seconds the man and beast struggled for the prize. Laughing out loud, the man released his victim and then ’gator, victim and leaf disappeared beneath the dark surface of the water.

“My friends.” His voice was soft, almost gentle. “You have just witnessed what happens to anyone who is a traitor to our organization. I’ve explained that I will not tolerate any disloyalty and he was foolish enough not to believe it. But do not be too concerned for him. The gator is a very considerate diner. He will not eat him immediately but will let him ripen for a day or two.”

One of the men on the bank vomited.





CHAPTER ONE



Palmetto City, Florida

Taylor, County



On a morning in early fall, the sun was gradually burning off the early morning haze over the inlet from the Gulf of Mexico. Local people were already up and moving. School buses blinked their red and yellow way down the unpaved country roads, picking up half-awake children.

In Dorkey’s Diner, newly appointed Deputy Amy Donovan sipped her coffee and studied the greasy breakfast menu. Sergeant Tom Williams, with whom she was working partnered shifts that week, placed his large index finger on a piece of dried egg stuck to the scratched plastic covering the handwritten limited choice of food. The inked writing had run a little where moisture had leaked under the covering, so the reader had to occasionally guess at some of the dishes.

“Look, you don’t have to read the menu, just look at the bits of food stuck to it and make a decision that way. Then you’ll at least know what color food you’ll get.”

Amy laughed and looked around. The place was crowded with mostly local fishermen eating heavy breakfasts of fried or scrambled eggs, biscuits covered with gravy, grits, hash brown potatoes and thick slices of ham with red-eye gravy. They talked, laughed and drank coffee from old chipped mugs.

The aging waitress, Mazie, her ample hips stretching her brown skirt until it was in danger of bursting at the seams, shuffled toward them. Her feet slapped across the floor, in flat brown shoes with portions cut out on the front insides to allow her bunions freedom from pressure. Mazie’s bunions were the subject of much speculation at Dorkey’s. The local people thought she should go into the Guinness Book of Records because her bunions were grotesque in size and shape. The one on the base of her right foot had a knobby growth on the side.

“Mazie, your bunions have bunions,” one fisherman told her. “Maybe we should cut them off and use them for bait?”

Mazie ignored such remarks and told anyone who would listen, “My daddy and momma had bunions, bad bunions, and I ain’t no different. God gave ’em to me and I gotta accept that.”

“Why don’t you have them cut off?” one sympathetic woman asked.

“No way. I ain’t going through all that pain. ’Sides, I ain’t got the time or money. Gotta work. My old man ain’t able to do nothing since he got hurt on that there shrimp boat. Somebody’s gotta pay them bills.”

But when it came to her hair, she had a different viewpoint. Mazie’s hair balanced her feet. It was the work of a local beautician and each week she had it teased, piled high and covered with hair spray until it was rigid as plastic, impossible to brush or comb. It was the color of shiny egg yolks that had been fried sunny side up. Part of her weekly salary and tips went into this creation. When she was low on cash and couldn’t afford the bleach job, dark roots mingled with some gray hair that showed through, but as soon as she had a few dollars, Mazie was off to the hairdresser.

Now she stood in front of Amy and Williams and shifted her weight to the foot that hurt the least. “What’ll you have?”

Amy was watching Dorkey, the only name she had ever heard the owner called, as he filled orders. His big fleshy hands moved with quick precision from years of practice. Not a movement was wasted. Amy was impressed with his efficiency. Dorkey was a bulky man, who filled most of the space in the cooking area. His totally bald head was shiny with sweat that he wiped away with the back of his right arm. Amy breathed deeply, taking in the heavy smell of fried foods and coffee that hung like a curtain about to drop and smother her.

Williams leaned across the small table in the booth and tapped her hand. “Hey, you gonna wake up and order?”
$16.95
218
Format: 
Settling p
By Joan L. Cannon

Ruth Duchamp leaves New York in order to find a way to come to terms with a future she fears. She and her husband Alex married not so much in haste as with too little self-knowledge. Attractive without being conventionally pretty, red-haired Ruth is a product of the rock-bound coast of Maine with all that implies and a reserved and practical upbringing.

Alex, an orphan from a small Quebec town, is so handsome he turns heads wherever he goes. Reared by a simple couple who adopt him, he has always felt out of place. Frustration and boredom make him run away from his loving parents to follow uncrystallized dreams. After meeting in New York, Alex is intrigued by Ruth's differences from other women he has known and she is drawn by his extraordinary looks and air of mystery. Over the years, disappointments and unrealized hopes make Alex vulnerable to predatory women and Ruth refuses to give him a divorce.

This is a story that explores steadfastness and the true value of real good will

ISBN 978-1-61386-188-2 Romance Women's Contemporary Fiction

SAMPLE

Chapter 1

Ruth March reached for the arm rest to steady herself as the big black Buick sedan slewed on a curve. She wondered why Realtors felt such a pressing need to show how big a car they could afford. Her mind felt as unbalanced as her body, turning from one misgiving to another with the futility of a goldfish circling its bowl. She wound down her window to get some fresh air on her face. The view through the windshield showed her how far she was venturing from Greenwich Village, from everything she had known for over twelve years.

A moist wind blew across her face and pulled strands of her copper-colored hair free, dragging them into her eyes. She pulled down the visor and used the mirror to try to tuck them into place again. She was surprised at the face she saw there, not the features, which showed some distinction, with her short nose and wide mouth, high cheekbones and level brows, but rather by the expression. She had been unaware of how mournful she looked.

Mrs. Chapin, the real estate broker, had a nasal voice, full of flat As. “Don’t you want to run the window up? The wind is spoiling your hair. You say you’re moving out of the city?”

Slightly startled out of her reverie, Ruth nodded. “Yes.” She pushed up the visor and made an attempt to arrange her face to look more cheerful.

“How’s that?”

“Well, I’ve—. It’s time for a change.” Ruth had known she would have to learn how to field questions like these, but certainly she wasn’t ready now.

“Tch!” clucked Mrs. Chapin, twitching the wheel to avoid a pothole. “It’s hard when things don’t work out. You did say you were by yourself, didn’t you?”

“Mm-hm.” Ruth closed her eyes for an instant as if she could shut out even inward sights. She fingered the scarf at her neck, then pressed at the pins securing her chignon. Her long legs were cramped by a short driver’s adjustment of the front seat. The scenery at least was soothing, but she longed for silence. She reminded herself that panic only thrust tranquility further out of reach, and did her best to resist it, but was unnerved by a sensation of sinking into a void.

Mrs. Chapin piped up again. “Just tell me if you want me to mind my own business. I suppose you’re divorced. I’m sure you’ll find some other young women—.” She rattled on, apparently oblivious to her passenger’s discomfort. Ruth knew that Mrs. Chapin was only trying to do her job, which was to sell real estate, and maybe she even meant to be friendly, but she itched to tell the woman to be quiet.

Finally Mrs. Chapin said, “We turn here where the mailboxes are. It’s the last house on the road, about a mile in from the highway. You wouldn’t mind being alone? So few neighbors and all?”

Ruth said, “No, I was raised in the country.” In the field on her side of the car, small dark junipers scattered among golden bunches of poverty grass showed that no one had mowed the pasture for some time. On its far side a small hill, wooded with oaks and beeches, rose against a sky roiling with massing clouds. Stone walls were partly hidden by young trees and brush, draped with hoary seed-heads of wild clematis, clumps of barberry, grape vines, brambles. A clear brown stream, overhung by maples and ashes, angled off from a culvert they crossed. Early leaves were turning; Virginia creeper flamed against dark tree trunks and silvery fence posts.

The catalogue of plants flowed comfortably through Ruth’s mind like the names of old friends. She drew a deep breath, savoring the mossy smells, the scents of earth and dead leaves and coming rain. A flood of girlhood memories rushed into her mind.

She leaned forward in the seat to see around her companion’s plump bosom. A feathery hemlock partly hid the corner of a house, its weathered clapboard siding blending into the landscape like the plumage of a grouse in the woods. A small lawn separated it from the road and showed green through a drift of new-fallen, golden leaves.

Ruth turned her gaze hungrily to the fading autumnal countryside. She thought how the scene was so unlike her childhood home on the coast of Maine. Here horizons were close and cozy, formed by thick woods or the folds of hills. She recognized her rush to the rural as an atavistic move, but was already reassured. The country itself lifted her spirits. Maybe nature and solitude—a symbolic return to innocence—might help.

When they stopped with a jerk, Ruth jumped out and hurried around the front of the car up to the paneled door of the house. Mrs. Chapin went on talking like a nervous hostess as she rummaged in her handbag. “I’ll just find the key, and then we can go inside.” She raised her voice to cover the distance between them, as Ruth, standing on the porch, leaned sideways to look in a window. “There’s a good, dependable water supply. You can see the spring house roof there back of that big rock—. ”

Ruth didn’t listen, waiting impatiently for Mrs. Chapin to bring the key. She looked up at a deserted phoebe’s nest above one of the porch posts, saw a cracked pane in an eyebrow window, a row of neat dentils almost hidden by the gutter. The louvers of the real shutters were lumpy with generations of repainting. Suddenly she felt like an exile returning, overcome with eagerness to see every detail, to compare this place with her unexpressed—indeed barely acknowledged—expectation. The saleswoman’s monologue ran on, praising meaningless details of renovation, while she made her way across the lawn to Ruth on the porch.

Once inside, Ruth rebelled against the remorseless flow of information. “Mrs. Chapin, would you mind very much if I just spent a few minutes looking around by myself? I’ll meet you at the car shortly.”

Eyebrows raised, unmistakably miffed, her guide flounced back to the car, leaving Ruth alone in the quiet old house. The darkening day accentuated the sheltering character of low-ceilinged rooms and heavy beams, wide boards and paneling. Plaster, uneven over old lath, was scabrous; paint was smudged and faded on the woodwork. Mouse droppings littered corners, and when Ruth opened the cellar door, her nose told her the floor down there was earth. There were old fashioned registers in the floor, but plumbing in kitchen and bathrooms looked less antiquated than what she had grown up with.

She went up the steep boxed stairs, and looked at the three rooms on the second floor. When she stooped to one of the small-paned eyebrow windows, she could see over a granite outcrop to the mossy shingles on the spring house roof. Beyond thickets stretched the small meadow that went with the house, a clump of molting cattails showing where the ground was wet.

Something in this pastoral setting gave her a sense of second wind, like a tiring runner. In the few minutes since she had seen this house, her thoughts had taken an eager leap forward. It was the first time in long months that she began to feel less burdened by sadness, less hopeless. She pictured her great-grandmother’s sampler hanging above a rocking chair, delphiniums and hollyhocks planted along a stone wall.

Downstairs again, she looked up at the beams that someone had exposed in what had once been a kitchen, but now would serve as living room. They ran out from the chimney wall, where she knew they were supported by the fieldstone structure in the middle of the house. The kitchen, the center of the home, and the prop for the whole structure. Symbolic. Ruth bent to look up through the large opening and saw swifts’ nests silhouetted on the sides of the chimney. A whiff of old smoke and ashes made her sneeze.

With a quick turn that was almost a pirouette, she scanned the room one more time, then went out the back door and headed for the spring house.A few large drops of rain fell heavily from the lowering sky. Where water overflowing from the spring drained away into the field, the small runnel was fringed with cattails, ferns, loosestrife, and wild flags. For an uplifted moment she stood, breathing the smells of wet earth and dry leaves. Like a tiny kingdom, this was complete. She held her palms up to the rain. Drops fell more rapidly as the air cooled abruptly, and a breeze sprang up.

Distracted with her impressions, she had no idea Mrs. Chapin was watching her from the driveway. “Mrs.Duchamp, don’t you think we ought to be getting back?” The shrill voice slashed through the whisper of raindrops.

“Coming,” Ruth called. Hugging herself as if she were protecting her joy, she hurried to head off this garrulous, anxious person she already viewed as an intruder.

As they drove away, Ruth kept silent, while Mrs. Chapin renewed her gush of superfluous data, punctuated by requests for agreement. Ruth tried to shut out the voice next to her; she wanted to review every detail of what she had seen before they reached the real estate office. She walked again in her mind through each room, recalling yet more delightful particulars: how the view through the narrow windows under the eaves provided a special slant on the world outside, the texture of worn chestnut planks, smoke stains on the mantels, even the corners where cobwebs hung fluttering gently in the air her passage stirred. She knew she could be at home there.

Ruth interrupted the monologue. “Would there be an option available, if I should be interested in buying later?”

Mrs. Chapin glanced away from the road. “I’ll be happy to inquire for you, but I’m sure something could be arranged. It’s part of an estate, and they’re just beginning probate now, so I imagine they’d be happy to settle matters expeditiously.”

“When could I move in?” Ruth blurted.

“Oh,” Mrs. Chapin said, taking her eyes off the road and trying to see Ruth’s expression. “Then you do like it? You didn’t say—. ”

“My lease in the city is up in a very short time, and I want to spend the autumn here.”

Ruth couldn’t hide a smile, but it was no longer important. At least now there was silence in the car. Mrs. Chapin was apparently satisfied. Clearly, nothing short of a deal could have stemmed her tide of maddening conversation.

Back in the office, Ruth signed necessary papers with a feeling of calm gratification mingled with anticipation.

$24.95
2-188_p
Format: 
Obsession
By Marie Prato

The psychic warned Theresa the man would haunt her for the rest of her life ... and her dark prediction was becoming true.

For Theresa the dating scene is bleak as all the best young men are being called up for active duty in Vietnam. She's interested in three, but is warned by a psychic she will love one, marry the wrong one, and be haunted all her life by the third. Soon, all three men are dead and the dark predictions are coming true.

1-59431-236-2 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Chapter One

New York, January 11, 1998

I parked near the woods that surrounded the funeral home. Wind shook the thin trees. Long shadows were beginning to move across the asphalt. It would be dark in a few minutes.

Sighing, I laid my head on the steering wheel. When my friend had called me two days ago, I had managed to keep my voice steady until Linda and I said good-bye. Rita had been run over while taking her evening walk! The police were looking for the driver. I had sat for hours rocking back and forth in my small apartment wondering what to do.

“Rita’s dead,” I whispered. I had always believed she was invincible.

“What will happen to me now?” I whispered, knowing I was being selfish. But I was too frightened to care. “Please don’t let it start again.”

It can’t happen again, I vowed. I won’t let it. I was eighteen-years-old and vulnerable in 1967. That was the year I had been terrorized. I’m a grown woman now. I’ve been married, became a widow before I was twenty, and have taken care of myself for years. People are always telling me how independent and gutsy I am. They can’t all be wrong. Besides, the man who was the source of my terror has probably forgotten all about me.

A car pulled into the empty space next to where I was parked. I moved as far away from the driver’s door as my seat belt would allow. Through the foggy windows, I saw the car was a station wagon with two people in it. I sighed in relief. I watched the elderly couple get out and walk hand and hand to the building. Several other vehicles circled the parking lot. Their headlights flickered in and out as they drove through the lanes, looking for a place to park.

I took a tissue from my purse and wiped the tears from my eyes. Then I used the tissue to get rid of the condensation that had accumulated on the car’s front windshield. I peered upwards through the partially cleared glass. The clouds looked as if they would burst any minute. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I had to go inside and pay my last respects to Rita.

Funeral homes always give me the creeps. Glancing up as I walked toward the entrance, I saw what looked like an apartment on top of the white building. I’d rather live on the streets than a penthouse apartment in a funeral home, I thought, shivering.

I opened the heavy front door and stood in the carpeted hall. The walls were the color of fresh cream. Along the edge of the mauve rug, three overstuffed armchairs in mauve print were positioned in strategic places. Tasteful, but still a funeral home.

People in dark clothing milled around the hall. Several woman were heading toward the stairs where a sign said the restrooms were located. Walking down the long hall, I saw that there were two other occupied rooms. It appeared to be a busy day for wakes. At the end of the hall I found Rita. In the front row with his head bowed sat her husband. The other chairs in the row were empty. Rita didn’t have any children.

Sitting in wooden chairs in back of Gene were a sprinkling of people. In Rita’s line of work people weren’t too eager to acknowledge that they had gone to her for help.

Rita’s husband looked at me with red-rimmed eyes. I hadn’t seen him in over thirty years. Many things had changed in those years but Gene’s hair had stayed the same. His too-full toupee sat like a Cheshire cat on top of his head.

I never liked Rita’s husband. It wasn’t anything that he did or said that turned me off. It’s just that the man always reminded me of a parasite living off Rita’s talents. I wondered what he would do now that his meal-ticket was gone.

I nodded to him and knelt in front of Rita’s coffin. Near the closed casket sat a small table with several pictures on it. One photograph was of the couple on their wedding day. Gene looked smug and pleased with himself. Rita looked homely.

Rita had married late in life. She must have been close to forty in the picture. Rita’s billowing lilac dress made her look heavy and ungainly. Resting on her shoulders were several strands of limp black hair. The camera caught all the bulges and hollows that had made up Rita’s face. But in between the folds and wrinkles shone two bright blue eyes—eyes that could see the past and the future.

“I’m sorry you were killed,” I whispered, bowing my head. “I wish I could have helped you the way you helped me.” Don’t let him harm me, I silently begged. Keep protecting me from him and myself. I knelt there for several minutes, hoping Rita could hear my thoughts. Could she still help me beyond the grave?

I made the sign of the cross and stood up. Rita’s husband still sat with his head bowed. Gene’s palms were turned upwards and hung between his knees. He probably wouldn’t remember me but I had to at least say a few words to him. “I’m Theresa Fortunado,” I said, leaning down to touch his shoulder. “I knew Rita years ago. I’m so sorry she died.”

“She cancelled her insurance policy six months ago,” Gene said, looking around the room as if he were in a daze. “I just found out when she died.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, withdrawing my hand before it actually made contact with him. I turned away before he could see the look of disgust on my face. I found a seat near the back of the room and sat down. In another fifteen or twenty minutes I would say good-bye for the last time to the woman who had saved my sanity and my life.

Staring at Rita’s casket, I thought of myself as the teenager who had gone to her for help in 1967. Rita had told me then that, if I allowed my psychic ability to develop, I could do everything she did and more.

Since my first meeting with Rita, I had grown from a naive girl who thought marriage was the only option she had to a woman who not only could take care of herself but enjoyed being free and independent. I had also grown to accept the psychic ability she had sensed in me.

But there was one thing I had never accomplished. Even after all these years I couldn’t forget the dark things that had happened to me when I was eighteen. And I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t happen again.

Rita’s death brought it all back. Suddenly I was eighteen again.

$16.95
229-p
Format: 
Web Of Fear
By Marie Prato

Marcia wanders the streets of Cracow, Poland searching for the man she once intended to marry ....

She's unaware that her every move is being watched. Is Lazarz still alive? Which side did he spy for? Marcia refuses to give up searching for some kind of closure after the man she loves didappears. Then she finds more than she bargained for.

ISBN 1-59431-124-4 Romance/ Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



PREFACE



When I began to write this story, the true account of my relationship with Lazarz, I thought I was writing a mystery, or a love story, or both. I worried about where to begin. One can always "begin at the beginning." In my case, the love story began not long after I met Lazarz but it wasn't until almost a year later that I realized I was involved in a conspiracy involving several government agencies.

From the first, Lazarz was a mystery to me. Maybe that was part of the reason I loved him. But the longer I knew him the deeper the mystery became. Was he ever who I thought he was? Will I ever know who he really was?

It wasn't until I found a newspaper clipping that I realized my story is history. It may also be a love story of a strange kind, and it certainly is a mystery, at least it was to me for over ten years. It's still a mystery in many ways, but at last I can put it down as history.

I thought after I returned from Poland that what I found out there was enough to make the story history in my own life, history I could finally lay to rest. But this article showed me that I was living history on a greater scale than I knew and up to my neck in events I had no way of knowing about at the time. I thought I was just a woman in love with a man__a handsome, very intelligent man__perhaps a powerful man in his world, but I had no idea! The danger signs were always there, I just didn't see them. Or maybe I didn't want to see them.

The news article before me answers questions I would have paid a lot to learn about years ago. Trying to solve the mystery of Lazars has cost me a great deal of money, time and heartache. It could and still might cost me my life. I played with fire beyond my wildest dreams. As the paper says, "...FBI agents have already conducted at least one search...for secret stockpiles of everything from nuclear weapons to pistols, radios, maps, and currency."

While they have been looking for the stockpiles of Russian planted weapons in the United States, I have been looking for one of the Russian agents who very likely did the planting.

All along I thought I was looking for my lost love, for our future together and our chance at happiness or, at the very least, the reasons why that could never be. Holding this paper in my hand, I now know why so many people were watching me. I was followed, spied upon, wire tapped, and warned. For over ten years I have had my rights as a citizen of the United States violated. And it apparently is still going on.

How could it be that I, a single, hard_working, mind_my_own_business sort of woman, could find myself involved with being part of a Cold War investigation just by falling in love? Looking at this newspaper and knowing what I know now, I see that maybe this is how history gets made. A woman goes out one evening looking for Mr. Right and finds what appears to be the perfect mate __ a man full of intelligence and old_world charm. Only it turns out that Mr. Right is really living a double or possibly even a triple life. And, in spite of what Mr. Right might want, there is no room in any of those lives for love.

What went wrong to twist my hopes for the future into history? It was 1986. The words Cold War meant nothing to me then. I had a lot to learn.



CHAPTER ONE

Cracow, Poland

Monday, March 18, 1996



Icy fingers of air raked my cheeks as I hurried along a store_studded street near the University of Cracow. Passing in front of a tiny shop with ceramic bowls in its window, I looked at the warm glow from the lights inside the store. Better to move on. I had been walking from store to store for the last two hours. That was enough for this morning. I had gotten the lay of the land, so to speak. It was time to go back to the hotel and decide on the best way to proceed.

Despite the March wind, Cracow's streets were filled with pedestrians. Directly in my path, three teenagers ambled along giggling and talking in Polish. Below their heavy coats, the kids were dressed in the same uniform as teenagers back in the States__jeans and sneakers. As I debated whether to pass the group on the right or the left, I noticed one of the boys handing something to the girl. I saw the girl unwrapping a piece of candy. As she fumbled with the wrapper, the thin covering slipped from her gloved hands and floated down to the icy sidewalk. Stopping so quickly that I almost tripped over her, the girl bent down to pick up the small piece of paper. As I passed the group, I saw the girl clutching the litter in her gloved fist.

What seemed to be Poland's daily dose of snowflakes began falling from the gray sky. I quickened my pace. Another block and I would be at the restaurant. Last night, after arriving on the train from Warsaw and checking into The Old World Inn, I had eaten at the hotel restaurant. The potato pancakes were the best I had ever tasted. And all the tables in the restaurant were covered with immaculate white lace tablecloths. Lazarz hadn't lied about that__almost everything else had been lies__but the tables in the restaurant did have lace cloths on them.

I jabbed a gloved finger in the corner of each eye, trying to halt the tears before they had a chance to flow out and freeze on my face. And Lazarz had told the truth about loving me. Nothing that had happened could make me believe he hadn't loved me. And if I needed reassurance, all I had to do was take a deep breath. The mere fact that I was still alive was proof enough.

If you go to Poland you will never come back, I heard my uncle saying. Then Lazarz's voice whispered to me, "No one will ever hurt you as long as I am alive." How could Lazarz promise that? How could I believe anything he promised?

Spotting the gray stone facade of my hotel, I congratulated myself that I hadn't booked a room at one of the new hotels that recently had sprung up in Cracow since the fall of Communism. While in Poland, I wanted to stay in rooms rich with experiences. Lazarz loved the traditional. In Warsaw I had stayed at The Haven, one of the few hotels that had survived the Nazi occupation. And here, just like in Warsaw, I both feared and hoped for some contact to be made. Contact by whom or what method I didn't know.

Trudging up the concrete stairs, I hurried toward the warm glow of the lights. "Like a moth hurrying toward a light bulb," whispered a taunting voice that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside me. "A light bulb that will turn the moth into a Crispy Critter." Before I could change my mind and run toward the airport, I walked rapidly through the beckoning door.

"Excuse me, Ms. Delmonico," said a fair_haired man, walking toward me. "The hotel manager wants to see you."

"Why?" I asked, a sense of numbness stealing over me as I pulled off my gloves. "Is there a problem?"

"I don't know," stammered the man, looking everywhere but at my face. "Please. Go to manager's office."

"Why?" I asked again.

"Please, go take elevator to third floor and turn right," said the hotel employee in a pleading voice. "Please go. See, the elevator is ready to go up."

He fled back to the safety of the reception desk.

The same elevator that had probably carried Nazis to their beds during World War II and, although I tried to push the thought from my mind, Jews to their doom, groaned and creaked as it took me and a middle_age couple to the floors above. I tried to imagine what James Bond would do in a case like this. 007 always looked smug and confident when he was in danger. Of course, Bond could afford to be detached about his pending doom__after the scene he would be going home to a nice warm bed and a fatter bank book. What might I have at the end of my visit to Poland? If I was very lucky, I would still be alive and allowed to board the plane home. But I had known the danger I could be in when I had decided to use myself as bait. I had been warned years ago by the CIA that if I went to Poland I wouldn't be coming back.

"Are you an American?" asked the woman in the elevator. "Yes," I answered. "I live in New York. Not in the City, though," I quickly added, as if I didn't want to be tainted by the crime and dirt in Manhattan. "I live Upstate, about fifty miles from Manhattan." I was nervous or I wouldn't have been giving out so much information to strangers.

"My wife and I are from Australia," said the man, as if his accent hadn't already given his origin away. "We've been here about a week. But we are leaving tomorrow."

"Have you enjoyed your visit to Poland?" I asked.

"Very much," answered the man.

"I bought such beautiful amber jewelry in Cracow," added his wife. "I feel like a thief paying so little for the many exquisite gifts I bought for myself and our daughters. And the hotels, restaurants, and stores in Poland! They are so desperate for tourism and money that my husband and I have been spoiled splendidly everywhere we go."

"Are you here with a group?" asked the husband.

"No," I answered. "I came alone to see some of the religious shrines."

"Alone?" asked his wife. "Aren't you afraid to travel by yourself?"

"I've been to Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and other shrines around the world," I answered. "Going alone gives me more time to meditate." I didn't tell her I refused to let myself be afraid.

After saying goodbye to the friendly couple and wishing them a safe trip home, I got off the elevator and turned right. Two doors down was a small brown sign on a half_opened door. In the room, at a long rectangular table, sat two women. The woman at the head of the table facing the door was heavyset with short, frizzy blonde hair. From the door, I could see the top of her white uniform and the yoke of the woman's blue apron. The expression on her pale, round face reminded me of a woodchuck I had seen in Canada. Terrified, its torn leg still caught in a trap, the animal was being hauled by a farmer to a barn across the road. The younger woman sitting at the side of the table had a thin face, framed by straight blonde hair just touching the collar of her navy blue wool suit.

"Sorry," I said, backing out of the doorway. "I was told the hotel manager wanted to see me but I will come back when you are free."

"It is fine," answered the thin, blonde woman as she got up from her seat.

I detected only a slight accent in her English.

"We are waiting for you," continued the blonde. As I entered the room, the woman closed the door behind me.

The blonde woman and I shook hands and smiled at each other. I was proud to see that my hand had been as cool and steady as her own when we shook hands.

"Please sit down," the young woman instructed, pointing toward a wooden chair away from the table and midway between her and the woman in uniform. "This woman is the supervisor on the floor where your room is," said the blonde, nodding in the direction of the older lady.

"Is there a problem?" I asked, feigning a look of puzzlement.

"There is a very big problem, Ms. Delmonico," said the woman, who knew my name but hadn't bothered telling me her name or the name of the supervisor.

"And what is the problem?" I asked, looking directly at the supervisor. The only reaction from the large woman was a twitch on the left side of her face. Aside from that slight movement, the supervisor sat in the chair like a statue.

"What is the problem?" I repeated, turning toward the woman in the suit. Lazarz had told me that in Poland anyone caught stealing had their hand cut off. What would be the punishment for possession of drugs or guns? Maybe someone had already put cocaine or ammunition in my coat pockets. I folded my hands in my lap to keep them from digging through my coat and purse. If their game was to accuse me of being a thief or possessing something illegal in order to arrest me or have me deported, more than likely, whatever I was going to be accused of had already been planted in my room while I was out.

"I have been asked by the hotel to speak to you," said the young woman, her alert blue eyes fastened on me. "We must watch everything. Everything we watch."

I tried to appear calm as I waited to hear the charges against me.

"It is a serious problem the hotel has called me here to handle," continued the woman. "A very serious problem."

"What is the problem?" I asked for the third time. "What have I done that is so serious?"

"I have been told that you dirtied a towel and a rug in the bathroom," answered the pretty blonde. "It is a very big problem. Much work has been done to this hotel. We watch everything. We look at everything."

My mouth dropped open as I stared in surprise at the blonde woman.

"I dirtied a towel and the bathroom rug?" I repeated, purposely emphasizing each word. "Then it is no problem. I will pay for the towel and the rug. How much did they cost new?"

"Big, big problem," again said the manager, locking eyes with me. "We watch everything. We look at everything."

"I will pay," I offered again. "Tell me the amount and I will give you the money."

"A lot of work has been done on this hotel," repeated the manager. "We own most of the old hotels in Poland. We watch everything."

"Do the same people who own this hotel own The Haven Hotel in Warsaw?" I asked.

"Yes," answered the blonde. "We own that one too."

"I stayed there when I arrived in Poland. There are big roaches running around that hotel," I accused. "Do you know what a roach is?"

"I know what a roach is, yes," answered the blonde.

"I didn't complain about roaches running around to the owners of that hotel," I said. "Now, you are complaining about a dirty towel and rug?"

The blonde turned to the woman in uniform and spoke to her in Polish. The elderly woman stammered out a response.

"I am told that the owners of this hotel do not own the hotel you are speaking of," answered the blonde. "Sorry. The owners of this hotel own most of the hotels in Poland so I thought they owned The Haven as you called it. I don't work for the hotel."

She doesn't work for the hotel? I thought, trying my best to maintain the same expression on my face so she wouldn't know I had caught her slip. The man at the front desk had told me the hotel manager wanted to see me. If she doesn't work for the hotel, who does she work for? Would this hotel go out and hire an interpreter to accuse me of dirtying a towel and small rug? Not likely.

"I washed my hair last night and used the towel," I explained. "The towel got dirty. I walked on the rug. Some dirt from my shoes may have gotten on it. Put them in the wash and the towel and rug with be clean. For that matter, use some bleach on all the towels. The linen in this hotel is dingy and gray."

"I am told the towel and rug are very dirty. It is a big problem."

"I'll go to the room and bring them down," I answered, standing up. "Then we can settle this."

"Please, sit," stated the young woman. "I will call and the maid on that floor will bring the towel and rug down."

I took a quick glance at the heavy, elderly woman at the head of the table. She was still sitting straight and stiff in her chair. Her eyes continued to stare at the closed door. We waited in grim silence until the maid knocked on the door.

"It looks clean," the blonde said, surveying the towel and rug that the maid had brought into the office. "Before the towel was dirty so it was a problem. Now it is clean so there is no more problem."

The maid left and Ms. Non_Hotel Employee turned toward me. I looked directly into her eyes and smiled. As I continued to look into her eyes, the phony smile she had maintained throughout my interrogation slowly began to disintegrate. Amazed, I watched the blue eyes turn into slivers and the woman's nostrils flare. With her face contorted by anger, the blonde sneered at me. This was contact__not what I had in mind or the kind I wanted but it was definitely contact.

For a moment I was stunned. Then I realized why she was staring at me with such animosity. I hadn't stopped prying in the United States and, as long as I'm alive, I never will stop. Not this bitch with the cold eyes or anyone else will make me stop looking for answers about the man I love. As long as I am alive, I silently vowed, I will be a thorn in their side until I find out the truth.

For several moments we stayed locked onto each other's eyes. Her face was the first to shift back into a phony smile. Two can play this game, I thought. I smiled back at her. Checkmate.

"The towel and rug are clean," announced the blonde. "You can go now."

"If this is how the hotel owners act over a towel, remind me not to steal anything while I'm here or go out with any spies in Cracow. Have a nice day."

I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator feeling pretty pleased with myself. Move over 007! I had kept my cool and pretended that our little discussion had been about dirty towels when we both knew what the purpose of our meeting had been. "We watch everything. We look at everything," she had warned. So now I knew. Just like in the good old United States, I was being watched and followed. But by whom?

I knew the KGB had been officially dispersed when Communism collapsed in 1989. Although the leaders of the United States and Russia had called an end to the Cold War and, just last year, a Russian space station had its first American visitor, the two great powers, along with all the other nations were still sending agents to steal military, scientific and industrial secrets from each other. And all of these countries were not above using any organization, whether they condemned them publicly or not, to do their dirty work. Lazarz had been in Russia. Uncle Sean had said Lazarz might be connected with the KGB.

Maybe the woman who had interrogated me at the hotel was, like Uncle Sean, from our own home_grown CIA. But I quickly ruled that out. The CIA had never threatened me directly in the United States and I couldn't see them coming out into the open in Poland. They didn't want me__only Lazarz.

What about the Neo_Nazis? When East and West Germany was reunited in 1990, many people feared that revised nationalism would encourage the Neo_Nazis to attempt to form another fascist government. These fanatics needed money and connections if their plan was to succeed. What reason would they have to want Lazarz? Damn Lazarz's secrecy. What couldn't he have trusted me more?

The Russian Mafia was another possibility. But, from what I had read about the violent Russian Mafia which had become home to many displaced KGB agents, the "hotel manager's" threats seemed too subtle to have come from them. My bet was that the woman who had "warned" me came from Polish Intelligence. And I was being told politely, very politely to watch my step. Yes, it had to be Polish Intelligence. This was Poland where teenagers were afraid to drop candy wrappers on the street. Whatever else he was, Lazarz was Polish.

That had been the story of my life since 1986. There had been nothing but problems since I had met Lazarz at a bar near my apartment. Problems for my family and everyone else I turned to for help. Problems that had forced me to seek help from people connected with the Mafia and the Klan. Problems that despite the fall of communism, the turnover in the CIA, and the disbandment of the KGB never seemed to end.

"A very serious problem," I whispered, mimicking the blonde. "We watch everything. You brought me nothing but problems, Lazarz. Nothing but grief."

Taking off my coat, I cursed my miserable luck. Why had this inner voice that had warned me about so many things throughout my life decided to go on vacation when I met Lazarz? "I wish I never met you," I whispered, tears beginning to trickle from my eyes. Yet, even as I wallowed in self_pity, I knew that I was lying to myself. There wasn't one single minute I had spent with Lazarz that I would give up even if I had known on July 4, 1986 what I know now.
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Night of the Tiger
By Debi Emmons

When 16-year-old Teresanna sees her step-father beat her mother to death, she runs, and runs again, leaving the fearful adolescent behind to become "Tanya," a sophisticated and artistic stripper, better known as "The Lady Tigre." But inside, she is still a frightened and innocent child, still running from the man who knows the only way for him to be safe, is if the witness is dead.

Will a long-haired trucker named, Kyle Benton, be a man she can trust, at last? Or will Tanya's fears return to destroy their love?

ISBN 1-59431-552-3 Romance/Suspence

Cover Art/Maggie Dix



Prologue - Teresanna One week before Prom Night, 1988

Sixteen-year-old Teresanna Montesallo smiled as she walked toward the door of the apartment she shared with her mother, her dark eyes glowing with happiness. After three years of pain, her life was finally turning around, and it had all started with the restraining order that her mother had finally placed on her stepfather! For three wonderful months, Teresanna had been able to go to school every day instead of spending her days healing from "Big Daddy Long's" loving attention. Many of the kids at her school had come forward when the story made it's way through the grapevine to offer their sympathies, and she had found herself suddenly popular, never having realized before that it was her own attempts at hiding the truth that had erected barriers between herself and her classmates.

The best thing of all, however, had come to pass that very afternoon. Tom Gormley, whom she had always thought of as one of the nicest guys in school, had asked her to the Junior/Senior Prom. She hurried up to the door with her key in hand, eager to tell her mother, thinking only that her mother had anticipated her return when the door pushed open before the key was fully in the lock. As she pushed the door the rest of the way open, she called out "Hey Mom, guess what?" - and stopped with a gasp, unable to believe what she was seeing.

Linda Montesallo-Long lay on the living room carpet, bleeding profusely from her ears and nose as her face swelled and darkened, the bruises combining into one huge, purple mask. As Teresanna took another step forward, a wheezing laugh that sent shivers down her spine at its familiarity came from her right. She turned to look in that direction just as a fist came her way. Seeing it just a split second too late to avoid it completely, she dodged to one side and caught the blow on her cheek and shoulder instead of on the nose. Spun off-balance, she stumbled back, wondering distantly how long it would take to recover this time, and found herself suddenly bursting with renewed hope as the sound of sirens reached her.

"They're on their way, Big Daddy. Our new neighbors were once abused women, and they know what to do when a little weasel like you invades the hen house and starts beating on one of their own."

Teresanna didn't know if this was fact or not, but she was willing to lie if it meant sending Big Daddy running for cover, despite her mother's insistence on always telling the truth. The sirens got louder, and Big Daddy's lips curled back to reveal his large front teeth, whose irregular spacing beneath his long, thin nose gave him a rat-like appearance. His small, black eyes peered at her with sheer hatred from beneath his disheveled shock of black hair, and then he was moving toward the door, his hand snaking out as he went past to tangle in her thick, chocolate-brown locks and snap her head around so that her eyes were forced to meet his.

"Wherever you go, I'll find you, because no matter what you and that bitch you call Momma may think, you're MINE!"

His liquor-tainted breath touched her face, making her want to retch, and his mouth covered hers in a sloppy semblance of a lusting kiss, producing nothing but hatred in his stepdaughter's heart. Then he was suddenly gone, leaving his unwashed odor in the air and his rancid taste on Teresanna's lips. With utter revulsion, she wiped at her mouth as she hurried over to the phone in the kitchen to make sure an ambulance really DID come for her mother.

With the calm sureness that came from three years of practice, she gave the address to the operator, then quietly hung up the phone and slipped back to her mother's side. Even after seeing her mother in bad shape uncountable times before, Teresanna could never remember seeing Linda's ears bleed, and she worried that Big Daddy had finally gone too far. Rocking back and forth, unable to do anything for her mother but pray, her eyes suddenly focused on the small metal box under the edge of the couch where all their important papers were kept.

As if drawn by a force outside of herself, Teresanna got her mother's keys off the kitchen table and unlocked the box, pulling out the envelope that held both her Birth Certificate and her Social Security card. She thought long and hard about going into Linda's purse for a driver's license, but decided that would never do, even if there was the vaguest chance of getting a car. Her mother was very obviously Caucasian, with big blue eyes and pale ivory skin. Teresanna showed the influence of her Asian father in her brown, almond-shaped eyes and olive skin tone. The only things the two women had in common were their small size and soft, chocolate-brown hair. Trained well by the fists that had pummeled her for leaving even a pen in the wrong place when she was done with it, Teresanna re-locked the box and returned the keys to the table where she'd found them.

Running into the apartment's one bedroom, she dumped her school books out of her backpack and quickly threw in some clean clothes, slipping the envelope inside as well so it wouldn't get lost. She nearly jumped out of her skin when the doorbell sounded, then forced herself to take a deep, calming breath as she realized that the red flashes that lit the room meant that the ambulance had arrived..

Tossing her backpack over her shoulder, she hurried out to open the door, hovering anxiously close as her mother was lightly and quickly bandaged, then loaded carefully onto the gurney. Grabbing her mother's purse and keys last-minute, she followed the paramedics out to the ambulance, where a police officer gently herded her into his car so that he could hear what happened on the way to the hospital while allowing the paramedics the extra room necessary to work on Linda.

By the time they arrived at the hospital, the officer had a fair idea of what happened and had called it in over the car's radio, putting out an APB on one Mark "Big Daddy" Long. In return, he had been assigned to protect the one witness to the deed until re-enforcements could be dispatched, and didn't seem to be too upset at the idea of protecting the very young, but already exotically pretty brunette from her abusive stepfather.

Teresanna was smoothly polite to her assigned guard, but spent most of her time in the waiting room trying to decide what to do if, as she feared, this beating was too severe for her mother to recover from it. Plan after plan was thought of and rejected as she tried to come up with a place where Big Daddy wouldn't be able to find her, but where she wouldn't need money to go. She was having no luck at all until she looked over at her so-called "protector" and saw an advertisement on the back page of the newspaper he was reading.. It was for "Amateur Night" at a local strip club, and announced the grand prize in big, bold letters. It wasn't a huge amount, but it was enough to see her to the next city, where there just might be another "Amateur Night" and another grand prize. Part of her argued that Big Daddy just might go into a strip club and see her, but then another part of her, a deeper instinct that had preserved her more than once, insisted that he would be far too busy following police cars around and looking in all the places she had already rejected to ever think of looking for his errant stepdaughter in a strip club. This was especially true since that same stepdaughter refused to even wear a one-piece bathing suit in front of him without having extra clothes over it, fearful of the leeringly hungry gazes he tossed her way more and more as she developed from a bone-thin, flat-chested girl to a small, trim, yet well-rounded young woman..

By the time the doctor came out to tell Teresanna that her mother was in a coma and showing no normal brain wave activity, Teresanna's path was clear.. She would go to the home of a computer-geek friend she had never mentioned to Big Daddy, a boy who had bragged about forging himself an ID with the help of his computer and his mom's home office equipment so he could go into bars at 17. He had once looked at the black eye she was trying to pass off as an accident on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night and offered to make minor changes to her Birth Certificate and Social Security card so she could "escape". At that time, she had angrily turned him down, her pride stung by the fact that he had so easily seen through her lie, but she thought he might still be willing to help her if she apologized and asked for his help.

She would start by making herself old enough to work in a strip club as well as changing her name to make it harder for Big Daddy to find her, especially since her given name wasn't a common one. Disowned by her well-to-do parents for having a child out of wedlock, Linda Montesallo had named her half-Asian daughter for her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Teresa Wadsworth and Anna Montesallo. It was the first time that Teresanna found fault with that touch of sentimentality, and she would now have to get used to being called something entirely different in order to stay hidden.

With any luck, she would win that contest and get out of town before Big Daddy finished making the rounds of her known friends and started checking on anyone who had ever been to school with her. If she wasn't lucky, she'd probably end up sharing her mother's fate for daring to slip away from the dubious "protection" of the ones who were supposed to make sure that Big Daddy obeyed the restraining order.

Escorted to a "safe house" by the police officer, Teresanna pretended to make herself comfortable and even managed to doze briefly.. Her eyes popped open just as everything got quiet, and she listened for a long time to the policeman who had been left to watch her snoring in his chair, almost deciding that her plan was suicide. With a deep sigh, she collected her bag and slipped silently out the window and into the darkness, disappearing into the shadows with only one regret. She didn't tell her mother goodbye.

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Ancient Memories
By Terry L. White

When Nancy Hunter meets Peter Allen, sparks don't exactly fly, but there is definitely something worth exploring between them. Imagine their surprise when they discover they have loved each other for centuries, through life after life after life.

ISBN 1-59431-046-7 Romance / New Age

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter One

What do you do with yourself when your life is over? I don't know about everyone else, but when my mother passed away and I no longer had to be at her beck and call every minute of the livelong day, I started signing up for things.

I took telephone calls at the local bottle museum as an unpaid volunteer. I passed out juice and cookies for the semi-annual blood drives at the local firehouse. I joined a singles group one week and un-joined the next - every guy there was looking for someone to either support him or to nurse him through the infirmities of his old age. Romance, apparently, was not in the cards, so I decided to take some classes. After all, I had the time and I could afford to do so.

Mother had left me well, off, I can't complain about that at all. She came from money and she left money. After she was gone, I didn't need to work-- unless I wanted to, but I had remained home most of my adult life, to cater to her endless needs and petty complaints.

I was ready for some excitement. If not excitement, then perhaps, the next best thing - a little mental stimulation.

"Creative Writing class offered by Adult Education." I read in the Prairie Star and called the community college to sign myself up. I had been planning to begin the Great American Novel for the past forty-five years, ever since I learned to read, but life got in the way. Now that I had time I figured it couldn't hurt to learn a little bit about the art of writing before I began.

Thursday night, the sky was just off dark, a whining north wind scoured the last faded leaves from the maple outside my front door.

"I might rather stay in and cozy up in front of the TV," I told myself and pumped the gas pedal a couple of times to prime my Oldsmobile, Good Girl, into action. I always say "Good Girl!" when she starts successfully, and that night was no exception. She started, but I could have withheld the praise.

Good Girl choked out before I got her out of the yard and I'll bet I drove most of the ten miles to the campus before I could feel my toes. She was getting old, and so was I.

The classroom was too bright. Flourescent lights always seemed to pick up every flaw in my complexion and tend to hurt my eyes.

I was first in the room, a little too eager to begin, and it was maybe ten minutes before the rest of the new class found the correct classroom and chose their places at four long tables arranged in a square. There were fifteen or sixteen students in the room by the time the halls quieted down and the other classes in the building started. By tacit agreement, the chair nearest the blackboard was reserved for our instructor, Mrs. Harriet Blake, newspaper reporter, prize winning author, and aspiring novelist.

"Is this seat taken?"

I looked up into a pair of the loveliest deep blue eyes. They were complimented very nicely by a handsomely tanned face and a pair of respectably wide shoulders encased in the ubitiquious plaid flannel of early winter. The owner's hair was white, but the rest of him was utterly beautiful. I shook my head. "Not at all. Be my guest."

My tablemate introduced himself. "Peter Allen."

"Nancy Hunter."

So far, so good. Mr. Allen unzipped his leather briefcase, settled himself with legal pad and pencil. "Have you written anything yet?"

I decided he was just being friendly and shook my head. "I used to write bad poetry in high school. It was always about love and it always rhymed. Nothing rhymes these days, someone said it's not supposed to. Love is out of style right now, so that's a bust. But what I did write was ages ago, so I'm going to excuse my poor taste and put it off to youth and inexperience. You?"

Peter laughed, his teeth were white and even. "Reports, magazine articles, boring stuff. Nothing rhymed."

I couldn't help but wonder where I knew this man before. Those eyes were so familiar. But I didn't have long to brood about my classmate's eyes. Our teacher arrived. I couldn't help but notice Mrs. Blake had a limp. I felt a vague sense of uneasiness and wondered what caused the injury.

"Why don't we all introduce ourselves?" Mrs. Blake prompted, very much a veteran teacher. She sat at the chair her students left near the blackboard and sorted a big stack of papers while everyone said who they were and why they were in her class.

"I want to write romance novels," I heard myself say. But that wasn't right.

I wanted to write something people would read a hundred years from now. I wanted to write something significant. I wanted to write a book people would talk about on subways and pass around at family gatherings because my vision was so much like their own, my thoughts so deep, so pure.... "I'm here because I want to learn to write well."

Every other person in the room said the same thing. They said it fifteen different ways.

Mrs. Blake was plump and kind. You could see it by the way her lips twitched at our enthusiastic pursuit of the sublime and ephemeral. "We will discuss the elements of good writing during the ten weeks this class meets. Each week will be focused some different aspect of writing such as character, dialogue, plot, tension, hooks and transitions...."

Pencils scratched against paper, eyes raised to squint at Mrs. Blake's crabbed, crooked handwriting as she listed the points we would cover. After a few minutes she limped back to her seat, looked at her watch and sighed.

"Did anyone bring anything to read?" she asked hopefully.

No one had.

Mrs. Blake sighed again, this time there was no mistake. She drew in a deep, deep breath and let it out slowly, as if she were preparing herself for a long-distance run.

"Okay, since the object of this course is to help you learn to write, one of the things I will expect is that you come to class with something to read. It doesn't have to be long, and it doesn't have to be finished, but I can't talk for two solid hours and continue to make sense. You wouldn't enjoy it and neither would I." She paused to quell the fluttering of papers that came in the wake of this statement.

"The best way for a writer to learn what he or she is doing wrong...," Mrs. Blake paused again and raked her naturally frosted blonde-gray hair back from her ears. "....or right, is to read his or her work aloud in front of a group of interested persons and listen to what they think is good or bad about the work."

Peter Allen tensed at my left.

"We will have rules." Mrs. Blake had been teaching a long time. She recognized beginner's jitters when she saw them. "We say what happened, what was good, and what we would change if the work were ours. Everybody's...." she paused and beamed at her new students. "... work is good, everyone has a different voice and a different story to tell. I'm here to help you do it and I am looking forward to hearing something each and every one of you has written.

"But since none of you brought anything to read that won't begin until next week. In the meantime, I would like to discuss some common-sense elements that will make all of you good writers from the very start." Mrs. Blake's smile was encouraging. "The first thing you have to remember, no matter what kind of project you want to do is to write what you know."

I sighed. I had spent forty years of my life, ever since I was ten, taking care of my invalid mother. I knew about back rubs and I knew about antispasmodics, but I didn't know much at all about the world. I, most particularly, didn't know much about love. Mother always told me I would have been a better daughter if I had been more loving. But where would I have learned? After high school I had rarely been outside the house in which I had been born.

You could say I didn't know much about life at all.

And here I was setting out to write a piece of immortal fiction that would hang around a bezillion small-town libraries for the next couple of hundred years. I sighed.

Perhaps the spirit of my inadequacy was catching.

Peter Allen sighed as well.

"I don't mean to say you can't write about things that have happened outside of your own life." Mrs. Blake limped to the blackboard and picked up the chalk. "There are any number of ways to put yourself in other places and times so that you can relay those realities to your reader. We will explore some of them as well. The main thing," she paused to scribble more of her heiroglyphic scribbles on the board. "Is not to wake the reader from the dream. Don't draw the gun if you don't intend to shoot."

Peter shifted in his chair. I got a sudden whiff of some woodsy, clean aftershave lotion. I could almost feel his eyes, moving across my body like a caress.

Just the kind of material I was going to need, once I got to the love scenes.

Mrs. Blake continued to talk.

I had an affair with Peter Allen in the secret rooms of my mind. He was a very good lover.

"Time for a break. Stretch, be back in ten minutes." Mrs. Blake exhaled, settled back in her chair like an empty balloon. Several of my classmates ducked out for a smoke.

Two earnest young women in sweat pants huddled up with Mrs. Blake to discuss their plans for a science fiction novel. I started down the hall to look for the rest room.

"I seem to have forgotten your name." My erstwhile seatmate, Mr. Peter Allen followed.

"Nancy," I said. The restroom loomed on the left. What to do now? Go, and be comfortable for the rest of the class, or make some time with the silver-haired Romeo?

Peter decided for me. "If you'll excuse me." He opened the men's room door. Okay, so his hair was white. He still had the shoulders of a DaVinci statue. "See you back in class."

I did my business, fluffed my own graying brown hair and squirted just a smidge of perfume on the inside of my wrists. I dug in my purse and found my tube of peach frost lipstick. Right about then I was wishing it was vamp red, but you have to work with what you've got.

"Write what you know." Mrs. Blake proved her prediction. She couldn't lecture for two hours. She gave us an exercise.

"Pretend you are seven years old and it is your birthday. You know everything there is to know about being seven and being you. You know about cakes and candles and presents. I know you know and you know you know. The next step is to start putting it all down on paper."

Mrs. Blake looked at her watch. "You may write for ten minutes. I'll let you know at the end of nine so you can wind up whatever you're working on."

I looked at the miniscule scratch pad I had brought along for notes and a piece of yellow lined paper slid across the table. Peter Allen grinned and winked.

I mouthed my gratitude and did a little time travel.

Well, I tried. Seven was a very foggy age for me. According to Mother, I hadn't shown much promise as a child. Mother had been pecking at my self-esteem since the day I was born.

But everyone else in the room was either busy thinking or scratching their thoughts down on paper and I couldn't help but wonder how I was ever going to write a novel when I couldn't knock out an impromptu essay based on an actual event in my own life.

Even the handsome Mr. Allen knew no lack of words. His pen was as busy as all the rest.

"All right," Mrs. Blake said after what seemed like an eternity. "Who wants to read?"

No one did.

"Jackie?" She called on one of the sweat pants girls.

Jackie flushed and wriggled around in her chair for a while before she began to read. "When I was seven I wanted to be a ballerina. My mother sent me to Miss Pearl Hineman's class and I walked on my toes for seven months straight. She gave me my first tutu on my birthday. I remember it was pink and the skirt was real fluffy. I don't remember what kind of cake she made, but it was probably chocolate. My father came home late and he brought me a doll. My seventh birthday was one of the best I can ever remember."

I huddled over my paper, partly to hide my yawn at my classmate's deathless prose and partly because I hadn't written anything yet. I could feel Peter Allen's amusement at my expense. He shoved a scrap of paper my way. "Coffee after?" I read.

"What happened in this story?" Mrs. Blake led the critique of Jackie's work. I decided teachers had to look the other way at note-passing between adult students.

"She got something she dreamed about." Jackie's friend Connie offered. "I mean, she walked on her toes for seven months before her mother bought the tutu. Did she buy the tutu?" She looked at Jackie. "Or did she make it?"

"She made it."

Mrs. Blake smiled. "You might think about telling your reader that. Anything you recall about your subject is important. I can see a woman staying up late to sew a pink tutu after she sends her daughter to bed, can't you?"

Jackie shrugged.

"What was good about Jackie's story?" Mrs. Blake had her work cut out for her.

They say good writers don't talk much. If this class was any indication, they were right on the mark.

"What would you change if you were writing this story, Nancy?"

I jumped. I gulped. I was not here to critique someone else's lame walk down memory lane. I wasn't qualified. "I would try to make the story more...." I stopped. More. But what?

Mrs. Blake rescued me. "A little more sensual?"

I nodded vigorously. "I couldn't taste the cake."

"Good observation." Mrs. Blake moved to the blackboard, swiped at it with the eraser and began to write. Cake. Chocolate Cake. Three layers. Vanilla creme filling. Pink icing. Seven blue candles. Strawberry ice cream, hand dipped. "What we have to do is to engage the senses of the reader. "People know what chocolate smells and tastes like. They know what it is like to blow out candles and make a wish. They know that nasty smell of burning wax that comes between the wish and eating the cake. They know what it is like to be seven, and if you can't help them remember, then you aren't doing your job."

The hands of the big clock above Mrs. Blake's head moved very, very slowly. Three other would-be writers read about their seventh birthday and received comments from Mrs. Blake and the class at large.

At long last it was nine o'clock. "Bring something to read next week." She began to stuff papers in her carryall and sighed as several members of the class closed in for private conferences. I could almost hear her think it would have been nice if everyone had said what they had to say during the class and cut her a little slack.

Peter Allen picked my blue wool coat up from the back of my chair and held it so I could slip my arms into the sleeves.

I fell in love.

"Was that a yes or no to the coffee?" He smiled down at me. I almost drowned in those big blue eyes.

"Sure, um, why not?" My cat was home, probably sprawled out on the back of the sofa to take the advantage of the heat duct that came up behind it. But something had my tongue.

We drove our separate cars to the all-night diner. It had rained just enough so that everything glittered like sequinned black velvet. The air was as fresh as spring. I discovered I could to brush my hair with one hand and and drive with the other. It is a wonder what a woman will do for the possibility of love.
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Ghost Dancer
By Arline Chase

Broken hearted, New York debutante Christianna Lawrence flees her home and meets a Blackfoot white captive on Montana's high plains. Saved from a flash flood as a boy, Rowan Cameron was destined to become a shaman. Divided by cultural misunderstandings, the extraordinary lovers surpass contrasting beliefs and join forces against railroad saboteurs--only to unleash the magic and spirit of the Ghost Dancer. Eppie Finalist.

ISBN 1-59431-068-8 Historical / Romance / Mystery /Adventure

Cover Art Maggie Dix



Chapter 1

Fort Benton, Montana March, 1890

"GHOST DANCERS?" Christianna Lawrence jumped as Jim Hill's rich voice boomed clearly through the closed door of the colonel's inner office. "Don't be an idiot, man! You can't think some religious tomfoolery amongst the Indians will be any problem to my railroad crew. The Indian wars were finished years ago!"

Alone in the anteroom, Christy watched through the window as soldiers led a straggling band of renegades into the snow_covered compound. Despite Colonel Richardson's warning, she thought they looked a sorry lot to be passing themselves off as a Blackfoot war party. The soldiers had placed the Indians' war lances across their shoulders and bound their wrists to them. Bloody bruises and cuts gave evidence the troops had been none too gentle when they chained the prisoners together. The ankle irons had abraded cold_shriveled flesh that oozed blood as they marched across the snow and their moccasins left bloody tracks wherever they stepped.

Half sick, Christy turned away to warm her hands at the pot_bellied stove in the corner of the commissionaire's office, with hardly a glance for the dusty wooden chairs or an unmanned desk laden with dispatches. She sighed, removed her kid gloves and smoothed the skirts of her proper traveling suit with only a hint of a bustle. The seams had been taken in as far as they would go and still the suit hung on her as on a clothespeg. Even a reflection caught in the chrome top of the stove, showed the shape of her bones plainly beneath the pale skin of Christy's heart_shaped face. That warped image still showed the high cheekbones, pointed chin and tipped up nose of a face meant to be rounded and flushed with color and only served to accentuate her present gaunt appearance.

"I WON'T HEAR OF IT!"

Christy blinked as Jim's voice again boomed behind the heavy wooden door.

Though she couldn't hear the colonel's reply, Christy knew his was the voice of reason. Reason? With James Jerome Hill in this mood? A fat lot of good that would do. Even MaMá had never been able to prevail against Jim, who was a distant cousin on the Dunbar side and Christy's godfather.

Some of the railroad construction crew were already encamped up near the trestle bridge across the Big Sandy, waiting for a break in the weather. The rest were housed in dormitory cars in the train that would move west as soon as the snow melted. Jim had been out of sorts ever since he'd received communication from the colonel the day before. Today, the officer had met them with a warning of Indian trouble almost before their carriage stopped rolling and he was still harping on the same theme. The colonel wanted to send a troop of cavalry west as far as Santa Rita with the railroad crew to "protect them from Indians."

Jim claimed the Army wanted a free ride and swore he'd be damned if he'd feed and transport any troop of cavalry hundreds of miles without payment. Did he look like a fool? Christy smiled, remembering that she'd asked if he could not afford to move a few soldiers. From his reaction anyone might have thought she'd suggested he give away the entire St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba line. When people rode on his railroad, Jim Hill said, they damn well paid to do it! Now Jim had come to Fort Benton to refuse in person and had brought Christy along "to soften the old fool up." Christy almost wept when she considered how little effect a bony scarecrow like herself could have upon the gentleman, even here in the west where women were still something of a rarity. The colonel had lost no time in shutting her out of his office.

Christy removed her feather_trimmed hat, ran her fingers through her short curls and blinked back tears that threatened to fall. MaMá had all but died of vapors when Christy had announced her plans to visit Montana. MaMá said the wild west was no place for a well_brought_up young lady. And Christy's 18_year_old sister, Elaine_the_perfect, had almost fainted at the thought.

After all that had happened in the past few months, Christy failed to see how it mattered what she did. Only last September she had been a popular debutante, renowned for being an ugly duckling who had achieved grace at last. Christy moistened her lips, a habit retained from the weeks her body had burned with fever. Gone were the long wavy tresses, the shapely figure, and the habitual sparkle in her green eyes. For months she had lain helpless and weak, with her hair falling out. Though her fiancé had visited every day, Christy soon realized it was only from duty. She knew her future could hold no love now —not after what the doctors had done....

When she had recovered most of her strength Christy never guessed the final indignity she must withstand. Visions had come to her mind unbidden. When she mentioned them to her doctors, they had begun to look at her strangely. Christy's mother had wept, but it had been Elaine who had informed Christy her reason was being questioned. If the doctors thought her deranged, Christy knew her next action must have confirmed their suspicions. When she knew she would recover, Christy had written to Jim and poured her heart out, telling him just how incapable she felt of going on with her life in New York. His response had been a telegraphed invitation to join him on the high plains for a season of roughing it. He said the change would do her good.

Christy had packed her trunks and left within a fortnight. Her lips curved in a smile when she thought about Jim's idea of "roughing it." He lived in an opulent private railroad car complete with electric light, steam heat, and hot and cold water running from gold taps. Since her arrival, Christy had enjoyed every comfort and luxury, yet she had not been able to leave her unhappiness behind. Christy gave herself a mental shake. There was no profit in dwelling on bitterness. She resolved to turn her thoughts away from the past and forced her attention back to the scene outside the window.

Two of the captured Indians fell to the snowy ground. They were the weariest human beings Christy had ever seen. One of the others, a tall man with long hair flowing loose, leaned down and spoke to them. They regained their feet, holding their heads proudly in spite of their defeat. Mounted cavalry troops in their dark blue uniforms poured through the gate and rode within a foot of the tall Indian, but he didn't appear to notice. He stared straight ahead from hooded eyes.

Christy thought the Indian's manner strange for a warrior who had been captured by the Army. He stood with his head high, all trace of suffering, shame, or defeat held firmly in check. She noticed his wide shoulders, held square beneath a stained and tattered buckskin shirt, the muscled shape of his thigh as he moved a foot to ease the strain of the chains on the man standing next to him.

Christy watched the captive renegades and eavesdropped unashamed as the Colonel's voice took on volume. "If you won't think of your men, at least think of that fragile young woman out there. How long do you think she'd last as a captive in the hands of men like the ones we just took prisoner?"

A fate worse than death? The colonel must have read one too many dime novels. At any rate, now that the surgeons had accomplished their miracle, she was by definition no longer a maid and perhaps excused from the "death before dishonor" convention. A leaky appendix was a tiny thing to have caused so much trouble. The life_saving surgery had been attempted too late. Infection had spread agony throughout her body and corrupted even the secret feminine places. For more than a week, doctors had pronounced every hour Christy's last. For more than a month, they had lanced new pockets of infection and despaired of her life. Considering the news they gave her later, Christy almost wished the fever had taken her. Though her body would regain strength and the appearance of health, Christy would never be able to conceive a child, because of the internal scars.

Staring through the wavy_paned glass, Christy thought those renegade Blackfoot captives looked just as she felt inside: dried up, half dead, soul weary. They, too, must have had their dreams dashed and defeated. The tallest one stood straight and stared into space. The others drooped, but kept to their feet. Their coppery skins looked rusty in the late winter light. Beneath his war paint the tall one's skin shone several shades lighter, though it was just as weathered. His blue eyes gazed into the middle distance. Christy's own eyes narrowed and she moistened her lips. Blue eyes?

The door to the colonel's office burst open, and Jim Hill stormed through it. "Yes, there are plenty of men who'd like to stop me, but they are all back east. I'm moving no soldiers. No, no, NO!"

With an air of exasperation, the colonel turned to Christy. "Miss? Can't you make him see reason? I beg of you."

"My dear Colonel, nobody tells James Jerome Hill what to do. If you and all your troops can hold no sway, what makes you think he'll bow to my address?"

"He's dead wrong." The colonel paced around the office, anger clear in every motion. He picked up a paper from the pile of dispatches, then tossed it back with a growl of disgust. "You people back east just don't understand the Indian problem. Now, Washington wants us to search for captives living on the reservations and return them to their white relatives. That's just plain stupid."

"I am sure if a member of my family had been held captive, I'd be most anxious to have them home again." Christy smiled at the colonel. "And if I were the one so unfortunate as to be captured, I think I should be grateful to the Army for helping me return."

"Would you?" Anger blazed in the colonel's eyes as they met Christy's. "Would you really want to go back after you'd lived as a white slave to some Blackfoot buck and borne him two or three half_breed brats? Would you leave your children behind? If you took them with you, how long before your relatives back home wished they'd never seen you again?"

Christy choked back a sob and looked down to hide the tears that closed her throat. That problem would never be hers.
$16.96
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Never Love A Stranger
By Nancy Madison

Investigating Paul Martin, estranged husband of a missing Richmond architect, undercover detective Julie Taylor finds murder, mayhem and the love of her life. Why does Paul's mother-in-law insist he's done away with his soon-to-be ex-wife? Is he an innocent victim, framed for someone else's crime? Or is Paul a clever monster in disguise?

ISBN 1-59431-403-9 Romance/Suspense

Cover Art/Maggie Dix

Chapter 1

Thunder rumbled and lightning streaked across the late winter skies that morning while rain poured down on Pollard Park, an older suburb of Richmond, Virginia.

Julie Taylor opened the front door and stepped out on the porch. Taking a deep breath, she raised her collapsible umbrella and ventured into the storm. The small umbrella provided little protection, and soon her jeans stuck to her body like a wet, uncomfortable second skin. Her soggy Reeboks swished with every step she took.

“Misty! Misty!” Tired and frustrated, Julie called her elderly Schnauzer until she was hoarse. The dog had wandered away before the storm hit, while Julie was unloading her car.

The last straw came in the form of a strong gust of wind that turned her umbrella inside out. In less than a minute, the rain had plastered her hair to her head and soaked her shoulders.

Despite all of her efforts, Misty didn’t appear. “You should have paid more attention to her.” Julie scolded herself. “You know how she likes to roam.”

Soaked to the skin, Julie gave up, temporarily. With sinking spirits, she turned around and headed back the way she had come. Maybe the dog had found shelter from the storm or returned home.

Julie reentered the rental house, dropped the damaged umbrella in the foyer then kicked off her soggy shoes. Watching where she stepped, she climbed the stairs. Like the rest of the older frame house, the tired burgundy carpet with its ragged edges had been better days. The last thing she wanted to do was catch her foot in the carpet and take a tumble.

In the spacious if dated bathroom, the white tiled walls and old-fashioned footed tub seemed to invite her to take a long, leisurely soak. Relieved to take off her soggy jeans and sweater, she heaped them in a corner then turned on the hot water faucet and waited. Nothing! She frowned and twisted the cold water faucet. That worked fine.

“Damn. I don’t know what’s wrong with this stupid plumbing but the Realtor is going to hear from me. Oh, well. Pretend you’re back at Girl Scout camp. Cold showers never bothered you then.” With a shrug, Julie stepped into the tub and turned on the shower. The icy fingers of cold water didn’t encourage her to linger. Moments later, she got out, dried herself, and slipped on her flannel robe. She hugged the robe to her cold body and walked into the bedroom she had claimed to get dressed.

A lump formed in her throat at the mental image that had haunted her since Misty slipped away—a lost, frightened, little dog out in the rain. Maybe a kindhearted neighbor had found her pet. As soon as the storm passed, she would go out again and conduct a more thorough search.

While Julie stood in front of a wall mirror in the bedroom, trying to unsnarl her wet tangled hair, the doorbell chimed. Who could that be? Experience had taught her to be cautious so she didn’t rush to the door. The bell chimed again and again until she ran barefoot downstairs.

At the front door, she paused. Just two people in Richmond knew she had arrived that day and neither of them would visit her at home. She peered through the peephole on the door but couldn’t see anything. At last, curiosity got the better of her and she pulled the heavy door open. Startled by what she saw, she sucked in her breath and stepped back. A tall, blue-eyed man stood on her front porch with Misty in his arms. His dark auburn hair sparkled with raindrops. “Hello.” She recognized him right away but gave no sign. “I’m Paul Martin from next door. Are you the new tenant?” “Why, yes. I’m Julie Taylor.” The good-looking guy whose photograph she had studied more than once was the last person she had expected to find on her doorstep. Later, she would make an excuse to go next door and meet him.

“I found this dog on my front porch. Is she yours?” He patted Julie’s pet and Misty licked his hand.

“She sure is! Thanks for bringing her home.” Julie reached for her soggy canine.

Paul clutched the bedraggled dog against his chest and wagged his finger at her. “You ought to be more careful. Your pooch could’ve strayed into traffic and been hit by a car. This is a busy street.” As if to prove his point, a ramshackle vehicle raced up the hill, splashing water to the sides of the street.

“Look, I don’t need a lecture.” Who does this jerk think he is? “She slipped out while I was unloading my car. She must have wandered off, then the storm hit and I couldn’t find her.” Julie again reached for her pet and this time he surrendered the Schnauzer.

“Are you okay?” Julie checked her beloved pet’s body for signs of injury and found none.

She must be more tired than she had realized. She had just been rude to the person who rescued Misty. Besides, Paul Martin was the last person she wanted to antagonize. He was the reason she had moved to Richmond. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be impolite. Thanks for bringing her home.”

“It’s all right.” His voice warmed, became friendlier. “I shouldn’t have scolded you. I can see you care for her. It’s just that so many people neglect their pets.

“Well, if you’ve just arrived, you must have a million things to do. Keep an eye on her, okay?” Brushing wet dog hair from his navy sweater, he patted Misty’s head then stepped off the porch. Before Julie could reply, he had slushed across the soggy lawns and entered the neighboring house.

Closing the door, Julie addressed the wet bundle in her arms. “Well, he sure isn’t what I expected. After I get unpacked, I’ll go over and thank him again. The sooner I get to know him, the better.”

Julie rubbed her pet with a towel and laid her in the dog bed she had brought from her condo outside Washington, D.C. The one-bedroom unit had been her home for four years since she had graduated from college.

“Now stay there and you’ll be dry soon.” A few minutes later, she returned to the den with several dog biscuits and enticed Misty to eat them. With a sigh, the Schnauzer curled up in her bed. The fragrance of wet fur filled the air.

Perched on the brick hearth, her shoulders soaked up the warmth of the fire while Julie studied the room. The worn carpet and the armchair near the television indicated the deceased owner of the house had spent a lot of time here. Of course, it didn’t matter what kind of place it was. She was here to do a job. Still, she was grateful to be somewhere warm, dry, and relatively comfortable on a rainy cold night.

The old man’s son, a State Department employee, had been delighted to lease the house, furnished. Eager to return to his overseas assignment, he had removed his father’s personal effects then turned the house over to her.

Impatient to make a fresh start, she would still use all of her expertise in the days ahead. “Always do your best.” That was one ethic her father had instilled in her, and one she strived to uphold. Thinking of him brought an ache to her heart. Six weeks ago today he had died of a massive heart attack. She missed the man who had been both her father and best friend.

With a sigh, she pushed back the ripple of loneliness that slid into the room and threatened to overcome her. Better get settled in now. This is home until you’re finished here.

She lugged her suitcases upstairs to the bedroom she had claimed and hoisted them onto the four-poster bed. While catching her breath, Julie gazed at the room. A glass case of dolls and the pastel draperies and comforter soothed her, reminded her of her bedroom when she was a child.

Misty wandered into the room and begged until Julie picked her up and placed her on the foot of the bed. Worn out by her adventure, the old dog wasted no time in falling asleep. Soon, her soft snores broke the silence. While she unpacked, Julie thought of Paul Martin next door. She had to admit he was the best looking man she had met in a long time. Get a grip on yourself. He’s a good-looking hunk, but you’ve seen handsome men before this. Finding a suspect attractive is just another sign you need to get out of law enforcement. But as she hung her clothes in the large double closet, she remembered her neighbor’s light blue eyes, reserved smile, and the cleft in his chin.
$16.95
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Clan Gunn: Gerek
Scottish Heritage Series, Vol. 1

By Dorice Nelson

To become chief of his clan, Gerek Gunn must wed before his 30th birthday, an arranged marriage, but that was how things were done—or so Gerek thought until he met his bride. Catronia has no desire to wed any man and certainly not one known as the "Beast of Battle." In disguise, Catronia flees, only to find herself sharing a crofter's hut with the very man she ran from.

ISBN 978-1-59431-190-0 Historical Romance /Suspense /Action Adventure

Cover Art by Maggie Dix



Prologue

Gunn Country

The Highlands—1632

Two days after his twelfth birthday, his mother died of a sudden stomach ailment and took with her the last thin thread of his identity. Now, the day of her funeral, he sat stiffly on a stout oak chair in the library at Killearnan. His companion since cradle days, Dubh, a huge, dark gray Scottish deerhound, lay stretched at Gerek Gunn’s feet, large head upon paws, and gazed at his master’s face. Gerek patted the dog for comfort.

The candlelight surrounding the wooden casket shimmered and swayed. The light reflected off the room’s stone walls but did not soften the angles and planes of his mother’s bold Scottish face. He looked at the shrouded woman, pale and motionless against the white cotton lining. She no longer resembled the spirited woman he knew. Alone, he grieved but did not weep over his mother’s passing.

What was he to do? Where could he go? Back to the desolate hut at the edge of the keep? Fearful of the future, he ground his teeth and cried out to his inert mother. “How could you leave? You never told me about my father as you promised. I’m not ready to be in this world without you.”

He drew in a powerful breath. It burst from him in a torrent of words. “Who was he? This father who was never father to me?” A single tear slipped to nestle at the edge of his mouth. He flicked the wetness with the tip of his tongue. He tried to halt the emotions raging through him, but her death had abandoned him. Her silence about his father had betrayed him. How could she leave him without a father, or even the name of one? He forced himself to breathe slowly. Somehow he’d get through this day, and the next. But never would he allow another woman to deceive him. His lanky body shook with despair. Trust a woman? Never!

Taps by a booted foot against the door scattered his thoughts. Dubh uttered a low growl. Gerek wiped his nose on the sleeve of his only clean shirt. “Enter.”

A serving girl whom he didn’t know slunk into the room without looking at him. With fitful movements, she put a cloth-covered tray on the table near the door and bobbed a curtsy.

“There’s nourishment for ye. To break yer fast.”

She skittered out the door and slammed it shut.

The smell of food turned his stomach. He went to the table where he removed the cloth, set the tray on the floor and gestured to the dog. “This shouldn’t go to waste. Go ahead, Dubh. You eat,” he said, moving to the tall windows of the cavernous room.

Dubh dashed to the tray and devoured the food. Just as the great dog finished and was licking his lips, he sank to the floor, thrashing in silent spasms of agony. Within seconds, the hound convulsed and lay still.

Gerek raced across the room. He stopped in mid-step. “Dubh. Dubh. Get up. No silly tricks today.” When the animal did not move, Gerek knelt and whispered, “Dubh, please. Get up.”

Nothing moved on the great dog. Gerek touched the deerhound’s neck. His friend was dead. He clasped the head and thick shoulders in his arms and dragged the body over his knees. Cradling the animal, Gerek rocked back and forth, consumed by sobs.

* * *

A day later, Harald Gunn, chief of Clan Gunn, summoned his grandson to the library. When the boy entered, Harald watched as Gerek’s eyes searched the room as if looking for his dog. The lad’s dark features and sturdy physique, the pure Norse stature, gave proof his grandson would surpass his own six feet. He smiled in welcome and motioned the lad toward a carved chair close to the fire.

Gerek slumped into the seat, asking, “Grandda, do you know who my father was?”

Harald hid his surprise. His self-restrained grandson suffered few trappings of polite society. “I’ll answer ye true, child. I have suspicions but dinna’ know for sure. Because of clan business, I never knew yer mother as well as I might have. After yer grandmother died, I could not deal with either of me daughters. Yer mother was wild, willful, with many secret yearnings.”

What happened to his eldest daughter? She spent nights away even when the lad was in his cradle, forcing Harald to send a deerhound pup for protection. The lad remained quiet, composed, too controlled for twelve. Had he understood the answer? Harald shook his head. It was too late to sorrow over things.

The cracking voice of a twelve-year-old intruded on his thoughts. “How could my mother leave me not knowing the name of my father?”

“She did, laddie. There’s naught to be done for it now.” He hoped the brusque comment would end the conversation. “What’s important now is the danger for ye here with none but meself to protect ye. Ye have enemies who might wish ye dead.”

“Why? Why would anyone want me thus?” Gerek asked. “I’ve done nothing bad to anyone in the clan.”

“Aye, but what if yer father were someone of note? Would he somehow cause trouble for the Gunns? Our clansmen fear things they do not know.”

A wary expression furrowed Gerek’s brow. He slouched in his chair. “But Grandda….”

“I must speak with ye as if ye were full-grown. Yer uncles are dead. Only last week, we lost me youngest in a battle with the Keiths. Yer cousin Baen and ye are the last of the male line. One of ye must become Gunn or our line will die.”

Gerek’s mouth opened but he closed it. His gray eyes widened and he tilted his head toward Harald.

“Laddie, I canna’ keep constant watch over ye. Ye must leave here.”

Gerek flattened himself against the back of the chair. “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” His stomach muscles tightened. Sweat dampened his palms.

“Foster with a man who has recently gained his title. I’ve sent someone to make the arrangements.”

Gerek’s hands, slippery with sweat, were planted on the chair seat. He pushed himself upright and stared at his grandfather. Grandda didn’t look very well. His face was gray, and white hair mixed with black. His eyes were rimmed with sorrow. Why hadn’t he seen all this before? Grandda meant more to him than any other person.

“It pains me, laddie, but I will speak harsh words to ye. Ye came into this world a bastard. Ye’ll need to make yer way in this world. But ye’re brave and determined, a strong, towering lad for yer years. ‘Tis best ye become a warrior. Forge a reputation.”

Gerek scrutinized his grandda whose eyes were shiny from unshed tears, his shoulders bowed from worry. “A warrior?”

“’Tis not what I had in mind fer ye.” His grandda paused. “But if ye make yer name on the battlefield, bastard though ye be, ye’ll be welcomed everywhere in Scotland.” He placed a large hand on Gerek’s head and said softly, “’Tis time to leave, son, to find a place of yer own making. There’s none here can do it fer ye.”

Gerek cocked his head. “A warrior? Well, if you want me to be a warrior, then a warrior I’ll be. A brave one. Then I will be The Gunn.”

His grandfather nodded. “Also, ye are to marry before the end of yer thirtieth year. I’ve pledged with Angus MacFarr, the Earl of Crannog, whose wife we rescued from the Keiths.” He stood, stretched and walked to the windows.

“Marry?” Marrying meant nothing to Gerek. “I don’t understand.”

Glow from the departing sun streamed through the glass onto his grandda’s skin. “Ye dinna’ have to marry tomorrow, son. The child is newly born.” His grandfather smiled as he approached and grasped the back of a chair. “’Tis a promise I made with MacFarr when we rescued his wife this past week, the wee bairn in her arms. Gerek, ye know how I feel about promises. A man must honor them always.” His grandda’s gaze penetrated his own.

Gerek didn’t care about marrying. If he was to be a warrior, he might not live to marry anyone, or be Gunn either. Head down, he vowed, If I live, I will be chief of all the Gunns. Decision made, he laughed for the first time in weeks.

Grandda laughed with him. “Ye need not concern yerself with the pledge now, son. Make yer name and all will be well, I promise ye.”
$16.95
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Format: 
Dark Paradise-e
by Carolyn LeComte

Sara Chandler has come to the big island of Hawaii to escape her troubled past and find peace in this place all the guidebooks call "Paradise." Lucas Henshaw is the first obstacle in her path to happiness. But he's not the last…

ISBN 1-59431-643-0 Romance, Mystery, Suspense

Cover art by Shelley Rodgerson

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.



Chapter 1

January

Lucas Henshaw was bullheadedness personified. Sara wondered if she could get away with tripping him, sending him face down into the dust cloud he was kicking up with his angry pacing.

But to do something so aggressive she'd need some of the spunk that had deserted her these last seven years, ever since her horror of a marriage to a controlling monster. The divorce had been final for four years; she hadn't come far in developing a spine. Her rational mind and emotional self were constantly engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

"You could lose your real estate license for this!" Lucas raged at Wade Mele. With his arms gesticulating wildly, he was creating the only breeze present on this hundred-degree day. Sara felt her own temperature rise in response to his ire. But it was fear that made her heart shudder.

A wave of frustration overwhelmed her. Was she to go through life giving into any man who intimidated her? She was so easily intimidated, too. A cross look, a harsh remark could send her scurrying, for she knew what could follow. She had learned from the best.

She couldn't take her eyes off Lucas. Every step tightened a wire around her heart, cutting into her, releasing the fear that would seep from her pores. He'd be able to smell it. He'd take advantage of it like a wild animal hunting its prey.

Lucas slammed a fist into his palm, and she flinched. Her dread fluttered inside her head like a frightened bird while familiar words thickened in her throat, choking her. Please. Stop. She fought her automatic response to run or hide. It depleted her mind's energy.

She met Wade's gaze in hopes of eliciting a helpful response. She screwed her face into a frown, but Wade looked as though he had just run from a classroom of screaming five-year-olds. His eyes shifted back and forth as though he were looking for a way out. She shook her head. It seemed like she was not the only one feeling the fiery discomfort of Lucas' behavior. She stepped back, but kept her eyes on the two men standing like fighters in their own corners, waiting for the bell to start the next round. Sara exhaled a low growl of frustration.

Wade whipped his handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration on his brow, suddenly appearing older than his confessed forty-two years. He seemed to wilt inside his short-sleeved white shirt as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

She could not remember the Hawaiian man ever appearing distressed before, not in the last four months of their search to find the perfect parcel of land for her home. But Lucas was like a wristwatch wound too tightly. One more twist and the mainspring would snap, damaging everything near it. Her insides tangled with the cold dread of déjà vu.

Her heart dipped, searching for a safe place to ride out this confrontation, since it seemed Wade may feel as intimidated as she, worried about things spiraling out of control. Sara took a step further away from Lucas. He has no control over me. I'm not married to him. He has no rights more important than mine. He's just a man, and Lucas isn't David. He couldn't be worse than David.

Lucas clenched his fists. "I thought you were a man of your word, Mele, but it seems you conveniently forget your promises when the price is right." He shot a searing glance at Sara.

She wished her eardrums would stop reverberating with his indignation. "You are the most--I don't go around throwing cash at people just to get what I want, mister!"

Lucas raised his eyebrows but did not respond to her outburst. He turned back to Wade. "This is one hell of a treacherous thing you've done. It's underhanded."

His rumbling voice was an earthquake in her head, separating her brain from the rational world. Lucas Henshaw's angry words tore at her sensibilities as effectively as the San Andreas fault tore at California.

"Nobody's gonna take this land away from me--especially not some woman." Lucas' lip curled as though the word was distasteful.

She swallowed the gasp rising in her throat. "Mr. Henshaw, how dare you insinuate my gender is somehow a detriment to my business dealings." Her voice was steady, building her confidence. "And I'll thank you to remember I'm not 'some woman'. I am the legal owner of this land." She almost smiled her satisfaction with her level-headed response.

Lucas growled, but stopped speaking. He raised his eyebrows at her.

She felt a small surge of confidence. The mind-quake eased off. Clearer paths of thought were opening up. Maybe rationality wasn't a complete loss.

"I am in the right here. I have signed all the papers and followed all the rules. Isn't that so, Wade?" Sara knit her brow, puzzled why this argument was occurring at all. She was in the right here. Why couldn't Lucas understand that? And why wasn't Wade more adamant?

"We've done everything by the book. Nice and legal." Wade shrugged.

Lucas' voice thundered with renewed fervor. "I shoulda made you sign some kind of paper, an agreement, but I trusted you to stand by your word."

Wade put his hands on his hips and shook his head.

"I've known you a long time, Wade. You knew I'd give you a down payment, soon as I could raise it."

"Have you come up with it yet?" Wade stared squarely at Lucas' face. He rubbed his palms on the sides of his spotless khaki Bermuda shorts.

"I'm working on it. I'll have it soon." He lifted his cap and ran his wrist across his forehead. He replaced his hat with an extra pull on the brim.

"Lucas, we had no deal, not even a handshake--which wouldn't hold up in court, anyway." Sara felt encouraged by that statement. No deal. Not ever.

"Miss Chandler has every right to purchase this property. I know you're disappointed, but she has given me a substantial deposit and signed--"

"I don't care if she left her first-born with you, she can't have this land. End of discussion."

"Mr. Henshaw." Both faces turned in her direction. She squared her shoulders, trying to shore up her nerve, but didn't want to further agitate the man. She rued the fact she was born with mushy insides. "I'm sorry you're disappointed but you have shown me nothing that proves you are entitled to this land."

Lucas folded his arms tightly across his chest and looked up to the sky.

She shifted her gaze to Wade who continued to blot at his face; she wasn't sure all his perspiration was due to the intense heat of the day. She wished he'd defend her with the same level of enthusiasm he had when he described the property to her the first time.

She'd fallen in love with it; the place had already taken over her artist's soul. She had worked with an architect and developed plans for an estate that would make the most of the natural beauty here. Her studio would open to a view of the hills on one side, and the Pacific on another. There would be a lot of glass, natural light. The scent of the wild orchids would drift into her dreams at night.

Like Georgia O'Keefe, the flora would become the essence of her work, her self. The volcano, Kiluea, on the south side of the island had already imparted a soul to her brush. Peace and change. Two life forces. She knew there was no limit to the inspiration she'd find here, and no doubt she belonged here.

This was the first time she had ever owned land in her own name. The deed was her declaration of independence.

Her gaze shot over to Lucas when he tossed a rock over the edge of the hill. He seemed to be venting some ire, but at least he wasn't throwing rocks at her. She looked at him with her artist's eye for detail. He reminded her of Clint Eastwood in his early days. In his cut-offs, tee shirt, and work boots, he looked carved from a redwood. The sun-drenched streaks in his brown hair made it obvious he spent a lot of time outdoors. Under other circumstances she may have wanted him to pose for one of her "Americana" portraits. She could picture him in Stetson and gun belt. Rugged, weather beaten, a throwback to the American West, though she was glad he wasn't currently carrying any firearms.

He turned a stony face in her direction. "You know, I may not have the papers, or the written legal right to this land, but there's still a thing called "ethics" that I believe in." His voice was calm, but his words held a cold edge. The honey-brown eyes tossed a glare her way that was anything but sweet.

"There's another lot, down the road. Spectacular view, same acreage…"

Lucas' cold stare, a golden glint from a stalking tiger's eyes, froze the words in her throat.

"Lady, why don't you buy that other lot, the one just down the road with the spectacular view and the same amount of acreage? What business have you got, grabbing land out from under native Hawaiians?"

REVIEWS

Dark Paradise captivated me. The plot is made of first rate romance and suspense. The tension slowly builds to a crescendo ending. Carolyn LeComte is a talented author. She developed characters with depth. I felt as though I knew Lucas and Sara. Grace and Caleb added extra dimension to the plot. I will be watching for more books by Carolyn LeComte.

Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com

My Review: This is a good, solid, very entertaining romantic suspense story. There is a lot to recommend it with shades of Jane Eyre and Sleeping with the Enemy tossed in the mix of a convincing character study of a woman coming back from the edge of insanity following an abusive three-year marriage. Sara is an artist torn between her desire for a new life and constant threats to her safety in a series of escalating attacks, first on her home, and then a horrifying physical one from an unknown assailant.

Lucas, who badly wants her property, is also a credible hero with his dark mood swings and secretive machinations. This is nicely shaded by his love for his damaged daughter, Emmy. Sara's bonding with Emmy comes across as natural and I enjoyed all the details of their art classes and the other characters her work brings into Sara's new life.

My only quibbles are that I never felt I was in Hawaii. The author references the dazzling Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, which Sara is apparently able to see from her newly purchased property. Yet, there are no descriptions of it or anything else on the Big Island at all. I felt as an artist, Sara would surely have a rich eye for such detail.

None of the locals spoke like Hawaiians. The colloquialisms do not ring true of the islands. I felt many times we were in the oft-mentioned Texas. Some research and some good editing would have helped this tale, which is otherwise well told and does lure the reader to keep reading…

Rated four delightful divas by A.J. Llewellyn!
$6.50
643-e
Format: 
What the World Needs Now
By Nancy Madison

In this romantic comedy, the rocky road to love just got rougher. Jake Malone's dead sure he doesn't need anyone to complete or complicate his life.

Meeting the self-assured loner, Carly Anderson disagrees and vows to pursue Jake until he catches her. In her quest, Carly's helped or hindered by a wanna-be Stallone, a larcenous film producer who preys on lonely women and a granny with a black Labrador and a Harley.

ISBN 1-59431-055-6 Romance

Cover Art Maggie Dix



CHAPTER ONE



?Damn it, woman. No self-respecting male pays for his ex-wife?s honeymoon with another man.? Jake Malone?s temper soared, pushed to the limits of his endurance by Rhonda?s call.

Glancing at the heaps of projects stacked around his office that June morning, a wave of resentment hit him. His ex-wife might have nothing better to do than talk on the phone, but he did.

?You expect too much. Don?t I already cover all of your expenses?? Without waiting for her answer, he continued. ?I even pay for your sculptured fingernails.?

Now Rhonda wanted Jake to subsidize her elopement with a man who?d picked her up at the grocery store. Freddy Benton wore designer jeans and was twenty-five years old, ten years younger than Rhonda. This Freddy also claimed to be a film producer. Some producer, with one lousy cat food commercial to his credit.

?If I?d known you?d be so hostile, I wouldn?t have called you in the first place.? Rhonda sniffed into the phone. ?I should just hang up.?

Didn?t he wish. From his desk Jake picked up a picture of a little girl, their 12-year-old daughter Deb. He took a deep breath. ?It?s too bad Freddy?s short of funds. He shouldn?t promise you a honeymoon in Spain if he can?t afford the trip.?

In a way it was partly his fault. If their marriage hadn?t failed, Rhonda wouldn?t be trying to find happiness with another man. With that in mind Jake softened his tone and offered a compromise. ?There?s one way I can help. If you haven?t already made other arrangements for Deb, I?ll keep her while you?re in Spain.?

No sooner did the words leave his lips than he had second thoughts. How could he keep their daughter? With two new client companies and two more pending, he was already working sixty to seventy hours a week. Maybe if he stopped taking time for meals and didn?t sleep, he?d have enough time to do everything?

?If Freddy?s income isn?t enough to support you once you?re married, you might be able to get a job with the school system.? Rhonda hadn?t worked since Deb was born. She had a college degree but education was no good without motivation.

During their marriage if he even hinted that she might find another teaching position, Rhonda became ill and had to go to bed.

?I?m not like you, Jake,? she said tersely. ?Just because you?re a work horse doesn?t mean I have to be one.?

All at once the light dimmed in his office, the piles of paper on his desk and credenza seemed to grow taller until they loomed around him. He felt hemmed in on all sides.

How he longed for the days before their marriage. At that moment Jake remembered the old wooden carousel horse Deb used to ride at the State Fair. A woebegone creature with chipped paint, it was doomed to repeat the same monotonous circle until beyond repair and junked.

?How about Napoleon? Can you keep him, too?? Rhonda referred to the family Pekinese.

?I suppose. Unless you want to drop him off at the kennel.?

?Well, if you must know?they said not to bring him back.?

?Why, for Pete?s sake?? Rhonda had a knack of creating a problem where none existed. And her problems soon became his since she always expected Jake to provide the perfect solution. What was it this time? Did she forget to pay the vet?s bills?

?Napoleon?s been acting so peculiar I took him to see a pet psychiatrist,? she said.

?You?re kidding.? Some shrinks specialized in treating the neurotic pets of the rich. He had a good job but was far from being a millionaire.

?No, he?s been quite nervous since you left.? Though she didn?t come right out and blame him, her tone implied the dog?s condition was all Jake?s fault. He had filed for divorce though it was by mutual agreement.

They?d married when Rhonda found she was expecting Deb, and they?d stayed together for twelve years because of Deb. They didn?t love each other but both adored their child.

?Nervous? In what way?? Though he?d learned long ago that it was wiser to ignore her unspoken accusations, a sense of dread seeped into Jake?s heart. What could a Pekinese do to warrant visits to a shrink?

?He?s started biting everybody,? Rhonda explained. Her voice broke and she sobbed into the phone. ?Jake, Napoleon even bit my Freddy.?

?Maybe he doesn?t like Freddy?s designer jeans.? Jake chuckled as he imagined a pint-size dog biting the gaunt redhead.

?It isn?t funny,? she said. ?Doctor Gandhi thinks the problem goes back to Napoleon?s childhood, I mean puppyhood. I don?t know about that, but the post office has stopped delivering mail to our house.?

?Don?t tell me, let me guess. Napoleon bit the mailman??

?Just a nip.?

?Okay.? He sighed. ?I?ll stop by for Deb and Napoleon this Friday and keep them until you get back. How long will you be in Spain??

?Oh, just two weeks.? Now that he?d taken charge of her problems, Rhonda sounded almost carefree. ?We?re staying at a resort on the beach. And while we?re there, Freddy plans to see a man about doing a film.?

Following the call, Jake tried to concentrate on a problem troubling the owner of a chain of nursing homes. The conversation with Rhonda had broken his line of thought.

After several attempts to focus on his work, he eased back in his desk chair, rubbing his tired eyes. The corners of his mouth turned up in a grin at the image of Freddy being pursued by Napoleon, a five pound monster.

* * *

That week Friday rolled around sooner than Jake would?ve liked. Somebody ought to invent a week with more days.

Leaving work Friday evening he joined the commuter traffic headed west on I-30, exiting thirty minutes later onto an Arlington thoroughfare. A few blocks later he turned into an attractive neighborhood of older homes.

The family home he?d bought five years ago was now occupied by Rhonda, Deb and Napoleon, and sometimes if Jake?s suspicions were correct, Freddy, though Rhonda would never admit it.

Parking his Volvo in the driveway, Jake crossed the well-manicured lawn then entered the two-story brick-and-frame Colonial.

Deb, their pigtailed, bespectacled daughter waited inside, suitcases stacked behind her in the hall.

?Hi Hon.? Eyeing the luggage, Jake gave Deb a quick hug. ?Whoa. You?re just staying at the condo for a couple of weeks. Don?t tell me you need all of that stuff.? At the sight of her trombone, Jake shuddered. Like her mother, Deb was tone deaf.

?Mom thinks I should practice every day.? Deb?s voice drooped. Bringing the musical instrument wasn?t her idea.

?Tell you what,? he whispered so Rhonda wouldn?t hear from the next room, ?Why don?t we just forget and leave it here??

?That?s fine with me, Dad.? Her face brightening, Deb gave him a look of gratitude.

Rhonda walked into the room so Jake reassured her that Deb would be fine. ?You know I wish you the best, Rhonda,? he said. ?You?re sure about this guy?? He wasn?t.

?I love him, Jake.? She radiated happiness. ?You?ll like Freddy once you know him better.?

He nodded, not wanting to cast a damper on her joy.

* * *

While Jake drove Deb and Napoleon to the condo, the family pet perched on Jake?s lap. The Pekinese remained quiet until other cars passed them, then he raised up on his hind legs, pawed the window and barked.

Easing the little dog back onto his lap, Jake spoke to Deb. ?What?s this I hear about Napoleon? He?s biting people??

?Yeah. I think he misses you,? his daughter said. She took Napoleon from her father, held him in her arms.

?I?ve missed you, Deb.? Jake glanced over at his daughter. ?Sorry we don?t get to see each other much. With all of our group?s new clients, I?m swamped.?

?It?s all right, Dad.? She placed her hand over his for a moment before removing it to pat Napoleon.

What he told his daughter was no exaggeration. At the present all Jake did was work and he did his job so well, his boss, the Healthcare Audit Partner for the Dallas office, kept loading him down with new clients.

It?d been a long time since he?d taken Deb on an outing. Before his promotion, they used to go to a movie or roller- skating weekends.

?Now that school?s out for the summer, I guess you and your mother are spending a lot of time together.?

?When she?s free. Mommy?s clubs keep her busy.? Deb frowned. ?Do you know a good groomer we can call for Napoleon??

?What happened to the one we?ve always used??

?He nipped the lady?s finger so we can?t go back there.?

?That doesn?t sound like Napoleon.? He didn?t want their pet hurting anyone. And he sure didn?t want to get sued. ?Someone at my office was talking about a mobile service for pets the other day. They groom people?s pets in their vans right in the customers? driveways. I?ll call them and get Napoleon an appointment.?

Jake reached over and ran his fingers through the Pekinese?s shaggy fur. ?We better do it soon while we can still find the dog. Right now Napoleon resembles a mound of fur that barks.?
$16.95
55-p
Format: 
Clues to Love: Lake District Stories, Vol. 1
Lake District Stories, Vol. 1

By Nancy Madison

Failing to sense the danger that lurks about her, expatriate Kate Stanhope converts her deceased husband's Lake District mansion into an upscale hotel. The first weekend the hotel's open, a Cornish guest is found dead in his room, poisoned by Kate's special recipe*. Investigating the death, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Connor soon concludes Kate was the intended victim, not the Cornishman. But who'd want to kill Kate? While Nick struggles to find the elusive killer, he falls in love with Kate, in spite of his vow to never love again. Can Nick catch the killer before he finds Kate? And will Nick's Clues to Love lead him to Kate's heart?

ISBN 1059431-461-6 Mystery / Suspense / Romance

Cover Art Fanny Glass

*Kate's recipe for her tea (without poison) is listed in the e-book WHAT'S COOKING?* A collection of recipes from authors and characters featured on www.ebooksonthe.net.

*You get the e-book Free with every copy of CLUES TO LOVE.

Clues to Love By Nancy Madison

"Mrs. Stanhope! Anybody! Help! Help!" The shrill cry cut through the quiet May morning, startling everyone in the King's Grant Hotel dining room.

"What in the world!" Kate Stanhope, the owner, jerked and set the coffee pot down with a bang on the table.

Recognizing Mrs. Penmar's agitated voice, Kate's stomach muscles clinched as she fought down panic. Just when things were going so well. They'd just opened Kate's home as an upscale hotel that weekend. The gracious old mansion perched on a ridge over Lake Windermere in Cumbria, northern England. She'd expected a few minor glitches, every new business had some. But hysterical guests? That she wasn't prepared for.

"Please excuse me," she said to the six guests enjoying their meal then darted from the room. A few minutes earlier, Mrs. Penmar, another guest, had left the table to go upstairs and locate her husband, the last straggler to breakfast.

Once out of the dining room, Kate dashed into the front hall. Glancing upward, she saw Mrs. Penmar draped like a rag doll over the railing of the next floor. Why was she so upset?

Holding up her long denim skirt, Kate ascended the broad, oak_panelled staircase. Before she reached Mrs. Penmar, the old woman slumped to the floor.

"Chris." Kate leaned over the railing and summoned a member of her small staff from the dining room where he'd just served breakfast. "Would you come up here for a moment?"

Kate knelt and rubbed Mrs. Penmar's icy hands. Seconds later, the old lady's eyelids fluttered, and she moaned. Chris and Kate eased her guest into a chair.

Mrs. Penmar immediately burst into tears.

"What's wrong?" Kate leaned over her guest.

The woman babbled, her words incoherent. She sobbed and waved her arms around like a windmill out of kilter.

"Let's help her to her room," Kate suggested to Chris. She glanced downstairs, hoping the other guests hadn't heard them.

"No, I can't go in there." Mrs. Penmar reared back and clung to the chair's arms with unexpected strength.

Bewildered, Kate stared at Chris.

"All right, we'll go downstairs to the living room," she said, trying to pacify the older woman. Kate and Chris tried to help Mrs. Penmar walk but her legs buckled under her.

"Let me carry you downstairs, ma'am," Chris offered. With no apparent effort, the husky young man picked up Mrs. Penmar and carried her to the lower floor.

Kate followed, praying her other guests' patience would hold just a bit longer.

"Thanks, Chris," she murmured. Her heart raced. "If you'll put her in that armchair, she'll be comfortable." She indicated a large upholstered chair in one corner of the living room.

"Go see to breakfast," she whispered after he set the older woman in the chair. "I'll handle Mrs. Penmar."

Kate knelt by her guest and asked, "What's wrong?"

"It's Giles." Mentioning his name produced another torrent of tears.

Miss Alden, a retired school teacher, walked into the room. Kate hoped the other guests didn't follow. She watched the teacher take off her heavy shawl and place it over Mrs. Penmar, then Miss Alden hugged the distressed old lady.

"There, there." Kate sympathetically patted her guest's shoulder. "Maybe it's not so bad. He can't have gone far. Why, I imagine he'll turn up any minute now."

Tears formed in Kate's eyes, distress for the other woman and also worry about the hotel's success. She'd used almost all of her capital to get it started. If it failed, she'd have to go back to the States. No one waited for her there.

Kate turned to Miss Alden. "Let's find Mr. Penmar. Will you stay with Mrs. Penmar while I go and see if her husband's still upstairs?"

Her heart beating furiously, Kate raced up the stairs, not sure what she'd find. At the Penmars' room, she knocked. No answer so she turned the door knob slowly, and stepped inside. Mr. Penmar was there, not missing after all. He lay on his back, asleep on one of the twin beds. Kate let out her breath. She hated to wake him, but his wife needed to know he was all right.

"Mr. Penmar?" He didn't speak or move. Kate edged closer to the bed. "Mr. Penmar?" Thoughts swam around in her head when he remained still. Why didn't he respond? His chest wasn't moving up and down, as it should. No movement. Was he dead? What should she do? Find out if he's alive or dead. Right. Kate gingerly took his thin wrist between her fingers. Touching his cold skin, she shivered, then she felt for a pulse. There was none. She placed her ear to his chest, no heart beat. Keeping her gaze on the still, quiet body, she reached for the telephone, perched on a night stand crowded with prescription bottles, large and small.

Kate fingered one, then another and another. They were all labeled "for Giles Penmar."

The names of two of the prescriptions looked familiar. Her mother had suffered from heart disease and took those medicines for years. Had Mr. Penmar died of a heart attack during the night?

Kate dialed "0".

"Operator. How may I direct your call?" A woman's voice echoed on the other end.

"Hello, this is Kate Stanhope at King's Grant Hotel and we need help. I believe one of our guests has died." At the sound of her own voice, harsh reality struck and Kate began to shake. A mental image of Mr. Penmar's round, sunburned face, telling jokes and laughing with the other guests the previous night, flashed before her. It brought tears to her eyes. In seconds, she reached the local police headquarters.

"Windermere Constabulary." A male voice answered.

The voice on the other end of the line made her feel she wasn't totally alone with the corpse on the bed. Kate repeated what she'd said to the operator and gave directions to the hotel. Hanging up the telephone, she wiped her eyes and left the room.

As she walked down the corridor toward the stairs, a door clicked shut behind her. Nerves taut, she whirled around and found nothing except the empty corridor. It must have been the wind.

The two women waited for her in the living room.

"I'm afraid Mr. Penmar is . . ." Seeing Mrs. Penmar's and Miss Alden's anxious faces, Kate stopped. "They'll send an officer right over."

Crossing the room to Mrs. Penmar, Kate knelt by her chair. "I'm so sorry. Please tell me what we can do to make you more comfortable." She spoke in a low voice, wishing there were something she could do to lessen Mrs. Penmar's grief.

The older lady shook her head as tears ran in rivulets down her wrinkled face. She slumped in her chair, her plump hands lay limp in her lap.

Two uniformed officers walked into the room. One of the policemen checked his notebook then addressed them in a brisk voice. "A Kate Stanhope called the Constabulatory, reporting a death."

"I called." Kate told them what had happened.

The next arrival was a stocky, middle_aged man who entered the living room and tossed his rumpled trench coat on a chair.

"I'm Dr. Walton from Windermere Constabulary. Would one of you be Mrs. Stanhope?"

Kate stepped forward and introduced herself. "Mr. Penmar, a guest, appears to have . . . ." She hesitated.

"If you'll take me to him." Dr. Walton picked up his bag.

"Please follow me." Kate again climbed the stairs, this time with the doctor at her heels. Reaching the next floor, she led him to the Penmars' room, then moved aside to let him enter.

The doctor searched for signs of life in Mr. Penmar, then "I'm sorry, but he's gone."

She inhaled sharply at the finality of his words. "The poor man. What in the world happened to him?" Kate stood, riveted to the floor for a moment until she remembered her responsibilities downstairs. Shaking her head, she became more alert. "Excuse me, please, while I check on my other guests. Let me know if I can help in any way."

Bewildered and shaken by the morning's events, Kate descended to the ground floor, hoping for a moment alone to regain her composure. Instead, she found Miss Alden waiting for her. The retired school teacher clutched at Kate in the hall. "What happened to Mr. Penmar?"

"I'm sorry, but I have no idea." Kate tried to keep her voice calm though inside her stomach churned. "The doctor should be able to tell us something once he's completed his examination."

After she informed the other guests of the tragedy, they filed into the living room and huddled together, speaking in whispers in respect for the dead.

Kate stood by Mrs. Penmar, her arm spread protectively along the back of the chair, while they waited for the doctor. Hearing Dr. Walton on the stairs, Kate caught him right before he entered the living room.

"Was the gentleman alone?" The doctor inquired.

"No, his wife is here. I'll introduce you to her." She led him to the corner where the older lady sat.

"Mrs. Penmar, I'm so sorry." Doctor Walton leaned over to pat the widow's hand. "Was your husband a heart patient? I saw several medicines in your room that are prescribed for high blood pressure."

"Yes," Mrs. Penmar replied in a weak, tired voice. "Since Giles had a heart attack six months ago, our doctor has controlled his blood pressure with medications."

"Did Mr. Penmar complain, recently, of chest pains or have an adverse reaction to his medications?"

"No, I would have noticed. Giles felt so much better, he went back to work recently. We came up here by train from London yesterday so he could review King's Grant Hotel for his travel magazine. He is a freelance journalist."

"He didn't complain of indigestion or an upset stomach last night?"

"No, I sleep soundly, but I would've heard him if he got up during the night. I didn't hear anything. This morning he appeared to be asleep when I dressed and went outside. I'm a birder and I've found early morning is the best time to watch the birds." Mrs. Penmar rested her head on the back of the chair.

"I understand." Doctor Walton reached over, took her wrist and felt for her pulse. "Let's check your blood pressure and see how you're doing." He knelt by her and put a monitor on her arm. "This won't take long."

Straightening up a few moments later, the doctor announced, "Your blood pressure is a bit elevated. That's not unusual, under the circumstances." He touched Mrs. Penmar's shoulder. "I have a mild sedative here I'd like you to take." He drew an envelope out of his bag. "It's not strong and will help you relax."

Kate took the envelope and gave it to Mrs. Penmar, then she left the room and returned with a glass. The old lady washed down the tablet with water. A few minutes later, she appeared calmer. Resting her head against the back of the chair, she closed her eyes.

Watching Mrs. Penmar sitting, quietly, in her chair, Kate worried about the older woman. She also worried about her other guests' reaction. And she worried about the future.
$16.95
461-c
Format: 
Colors of Death
by Carlene Rae Dater

No good deed goes unpunished. Cally Sue agrees to help her uncle while he is ill. But when a human arm turns up in his trash, Cally’s uncle is suspect #1. The print shop employees act suspicious and Cally, who has a reputation to maintain as a snoop, finds herself getting deeper into trouble all the time. The only plus is that one of the police detectives is a charmer.

ISBN: 1-59431-266-4 Romantic Suspense/ Mystery

Cover Art: Maggie Dix



Chapter One

Rain drizzled down the side of the cement building like tears from an aging elephant, the windows in front of me were dark, empty and lifeless. Tension sizzled though my body like lightning in a summer storm and the shop keys almost slid out of my sweaty fingers. It took me three tries before I managed to get the lock to turn. I pushed open the heavy door and immediately regretted it.

The smell oozing out reminded me of the time I’d gone on vacation and forgotten to refrigerate some eggs. Before I could turn and escape back outside, a phone rang somewhere in the dark recesses of the shop. I followed the sound into a small office off the lobby.

The jingling rotary phone squatted on the battered desk like a fat, black toad. I’ve always been intrigued by a ringing telephone. Who will be on the other end? Friend or foe? Good news or bad? Life…or death? There was only one way to find out, so I answered it.

“Good morning, the Print Shack. May I help you?” “Let me talk to Oly,” a male voice demanded. “I’m sorry. Mr. Torgelson isn’t here. He’s indisposed.” Silence, then, “What’s that mean?”

“He’s sick.”

“Oh. Listen, when he gets his ass back to work, tell him to call Joe. Tell him I done tole him and I done tole him. Only white paper in the bins. Can’t have nothing but white paper to recycle.” A deep, phlegmy cough rumbled through the receiver temporarily deafening me. “Can’t have no more weird shit in the barrel. You got that?”

“Yes, Joe. Only white paper, no weird stuff.” With the phone captured between my ear and shoulder, I pawed around attempting to locate a pencil stub under a pile of newspapers. The only blank space I could find was the edge of the desk calendar, so I scribbled a note there. In the middle of a print shop full of paper, there should be at least one notepad. I tried hard to keep the amusement out of my voice, but I had to ask.

“Exactly what type of funny stuff did you find in the bin, Joe?”

“An arm, dammit. I found some poor fella’s arm in the bottom of the barrel and it ain’t a bit funny. Now I got a big drum full of white paper soaked in blood. What the hell am I gonna do with it? You tell Oly, next time I find body parts in one of the bins, I stop picking up.
$16.95
266-0c
Format: 
Failed Slave-p
by Dolly Lamar

Meg Chapman finds herself in a world of Masters and Slaves, Domination and Submission—a world of Internet sex she never dreamed existed. Between her abusive childhood and her job as a nurse Meg thought she'd seen it all, and that nothing could surprise her. She was wrong. When her vulnerable sister Kyla goes looking for love in the wrongest of places and disappears after becoming involved in a sex-slave cult that trolls the Internet, then meets for real. Meg goes undercover in the cult in a desperate attempt to find her. Also on the hunt for a woman he believes kidnapped by the cult is FBI agent Eric Fuller. Although jaded from years of undercover work, Fuller is still stunned by what he sees of the cult. On their quest to find the missing women Meg and Fuller encounter a dangerous world where your darkest fantasies can become all too real.

ISBN 1-59431-413-6 Thriller / Suspense / Mystery Formats: Cover Art by Shelley Rodgerson



Failed Slave by Dolly Lamar

Strong sexual content.

Chapter One

Meg sat hunched in front of her computer, her hands pressed tight over her ears. So deep in anguish from an emotional cocktail composed mostly of dread and helplessness that the ridiculous futility of the gesture didn’t even register. The words she wanted to block out took shape on the computer screen, and it would have served better to cover her eyes, but at the moment she could no more look away than could have a wide-eyed corpse frozen rigid on an Arctic ice field. In the short month she’d visited these so-called chat rooms she’d seen this several times before, but this differed from the others, this time she knew the girl.

WHACK

OWWWW

Please Master please please

Count

please please

Count you stupid slut.

whimpers- three

WHACK

OWWWWWWWWWWWW Oh please oh please sotp Master.

WHACK WHACK WHACK

You’re totally worthless. I don’t know why I bother with such a worthless slut. I beat you for your stupid typing mistakes and you do it again. Worthless cunt

sobs- bebe is sorry Master. bebe will do better. bebe is sorry

Meg’s eyes welled up with scalding tears that blurred, but unfortunately didn’t totally obscure, the words. Meg knew this girl, or more correctly, young woman. If what Bebe had confided to Meg could be believed, and she thought it could, then Bebe’s twentieth birthday was today. This sure as hell wasn’t a playful birthday spanking though. This was calculated to hurt and humiliate. Bebe was a submissive in every sense of the word, just as her uncapitalized name online advertised for all to see. The bondage practitioners label of “submissive” seemed more accurate than the Armstronger cults preferred label of “slave.” Submissive described her perfectly. Despite all logic and instinct that kept us from physically hurting ourselves, Meg knew that at this instant Bebe knelt at her computer desk and obediently lashed herself across her bare back with a whip thoughtfully sent to her for that purpose. Only a short time ago Meg would have thought the idea of an online beating ludicrous. Who would willing participate in such a thing? Now she knew. She thought she’d understood the power of words. She’d been wrong. Although even as a child Meg had known the lie of the sing song chant, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” and knew words could indeed hurt, she’d never understood they could cause real physical damage. Now as Bebe lashed her own back, she realized words could make blood flow, and the knowledge sickened and frightened her. She could only hope that the balance she’d observed in the world applied here too, and that if words could cut, they could also heal. She had to believe it was true. She wouldn’t contemplate otherwise.

GO. Get out of my sight and don’t come back online until Tuesday, and then only to check for messages from me. I might decide to sell you if anyone will have you. There are plenty of sluts more deserving of my {H} collar than you.

In the slight pause that followed Meg had the fleet, yet fervent hope, that Bebe would tell the sadistic bastard to fuck off and die, but then Bebe said what Meg had known she would, what they both knew was the only thing she could say and not risk being shunned as a “failed” slave.

Yes Master

With that her name disappeared from the list of chat room occupants.

“Son of a bitch,” Meg hissed as her anger rose sharply. Her muscles thawed as abruptly as they’d frozen and she brought her hands from her ears back down to the key board, she closed her eyes for a moment as she savored the warmth that infused her and that banished the cold knot from her stomach. The rush of anger felt powerful and hot, even the primal emotion of fear was no match for it, and she used it now to rid herself of that damning emotion. She had every reason to be afraid for Bebe. She knew the girl was unstable after suffering through a wretched childhood and a string of abusive relationships. Meg had never seen anyone so desperate to be wanted, unless it would be her own sister Kyla. Meg’s and her sister’s childhoods had been nothing to brag about either. An alcoholic mother and her endless parade of usually alcoholic, and often violent, boyfriends had seen to that, but whereas the constant attacks on her self-esteem had left Kyla a timid wreck with no sense of self-worth, they had the opposite effect on Meg. From an early age she’d noted her mother and “friends” weren’t to be believed or trusted, and their insults had pretty much rolled off her and made her determined to have a better life. Meg had noted that lack of a sense of self-worth in many of the women who came online as slaves, and Bebe was no exception. She feared the girl had no one to turn to if not allowed online. Who could she have that would possibly understand this? She’d landed here because of her loneliness and having no one else. Meg had heard rumors of attempted suicides among the women—and hints at one all too successful attempt that no one would talk about—and God help her, she believed them true.

Meg took several steadying breaths. She’d always been level headed, and one of those kids who was 12 going on 35, she even had a profession, that of a nurse, that required a certain detached coolness. That these people could reduce her to a quivering mass of emotion didn’t bode well. She knew she couldn’t allow even a hint of her anger to show to those online. This was Thursday and the Meet would take place the weekend after next, she couldn’t blow it now. Kyla, she had to think of Kyla. She felt the familiar pang of guilt as she thought of her sister lost to this—this cult.

Meg wanted to exit this foul place that the wonders of the technological age had let into her living room and began to type out a “beg” in hopes of being allowed to do so, but before she finished typing it the name Beowulf popped onto the bottom of her screen with a light flashing next to it.

“Oh damn,” she whispered, “What does Beoweasel want?”

She pretty well knew what he wanted, but still managed a slight smile at the use of the nick she’d given him. Most Armstrongers gave themselves ludicrously pompous names of mythical warriors, powerful beasts, philosophers, and Kings, which she found funny in itself. Her psych classes in nurses’ training had taught her humor was an excellent coping mechanism, and though her humor had proved lost on this bunch, it certainly helped her to manage in this bizarre world with it’s topsy turvy morals. She took another of her steadying breaths and clicked on Beowulf’s name. Another window appeared on her screen that she knew could only be seen by the two of them.



Please me

With a sigh Meg, aka lil‘meg{BW}, typed the all to familiar phrase:

Yes Master.
$16.95
447-p
Format:: 
Dark Paradise-p
by Carolyn LeComte

Sara Chandler has come to the big island of Hawaii to escape her troubled past and find peace in this place all the guidebooks call "Paradise." Lucas Henshaw is the first obstacle in her path to happiness. But he's not the last…

ISBN 1-59431-737-2 Romance, Mystery, Suspense



Chapter 1

January

Lucas Henshaw was bullheadedness personified. Sara wondered if she could get away with tripping him, sending him face down into the dust cloud he was kicking up with his angry pacing.

But to do something so aggressive she'd need some of the spunk that had deserted her these last seven years, ever since her horror of a marriage to a controlling monster. The divorce had been final for four years; she hadn't come far in developing a spine. Her rational mind and emotional self were constantly engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

"You could lose your real estate license for this!" Lucas raged at Wade Mele. With his arms gesticulating wildly, he was creating the only breeze present on this hundred-degree day. Sara felt her own temperature rise in response to his ire. But it was fear that made her heart shudder.

A wave of frustration overwhelmed her. Was she to go through life giving into any man who intimidated her? She was so easily intimidated, too. A cross look, a harsh remark could send her scurrying, for she knew what could follow. She had learned from the best.

She couldn't take her eyes off Lucas. Every step tightened a wire around her heart, cutting into her, releasing the fear that would seep from her pores. He'd be able to smell it. He'd take advantage of it like a wild animal hunting its prey.

Lucas slammed a fist into his palm, and she flinched. Her dread fluttered inside her head like a frightened bird while familiar words thickened in her throat, choking her. Please. Stop. She fought her automatic response to run or hide. It depleted her mind's energy.

She met Wade's gaze in hopes of eliciting a helpful response. She screwed her face into a frown, but Wade looked as though he had just run from a classroom of screaming five-year-olds. His eyes shifted back and forth as though he were looking for a way out. She shook her head. It seemed like she was not the only one feeling the fiery discomfort of Lucas' behavior. She stepped back, but kept her eyes on the two men standing like fighters in their own corners, waiting for the bell to start the next round. Sara exhaled a low growl of frustration.

Wade whipped his handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at the perspiration on his brow, suddenly appearing older than his confessed forty-two years. He seemed to wilt inside his short-sleeved white shirt as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

She could not remember the Hawaiian man ever appearing distressed before, not in the last four months of their search to find the perfect parcel of land for her home. But Lucas was like a wristwatch wound too tightly. One more twist and the mainspring would snap, damaging everything near it. Her insides tangled with the cold dread of déjà vu.

Her heart dipped, searching for a safe place to ride out this confrontation, since it seemed Wade may feel as intimidated as she, worried about things spiraling out of control. Sara took a step further away from Lucas. He has no control over me. I'm not married to him. He has no rights more important than mine. He's just a man, and Lucas isn't David. He couldn't be worse than David.

Lucas clenched his fists. "I thought you were a man of your word, Mele, but it seems you conveniently forget your promises when the price is right." He shot a searing glance at Sara.

She wished her eardrums would stop reverberating with his indignation. "You are the most--I don't go around throwing cash at people just to get what I want, mister!"

Lucas raised his eyebrows but did not respond to her outburst. He turned back to Wade. "This is one hell of a treacherous thing you've done. It's underhanded."

His rumbling voice was an earthquake in her head, separating her brain from the rational world. Lucas Henshaw's angry words tore at her sensibilities as effectively as the San Andreas fault tore at California.

"Nobody's gonna take this land away from me--especially not some woman." Lucas' lip curled as though the word was distasteful.

She swallowed the gasp rising in her throat. "Mr. Henshaw, how dare you insinuate my gender is somehow a detriment to my business dealings." Her voice was steady, building her confidence. "And I'll thank you to remember I'm not 'some woman'. I am the legal owner of this land." She almost smiled her satisfaction with her level-headed response.

Lucas growled, but stopped speaking. He raised his eyebrows at her.

She felt a small surge of confidence. The mind-quake eased off. Clearer paths of thought were opening up. Maybe rationality wasn't a complete loss.

"I am in the right here. I have signed all the papers and followed all the rules. Isn't that so, Wade?" Sara knit her brow, puzzled why this argument was occurring at all. She was in the right here. Why couldn't Lucas understand that? And why wasn't Wade more adamant?

"We've done everything by the book. Nice and legal." Wade shrugged.

Lucas' voice thundered with renewed fervor. "I shoulda made you sign some kind of paper, an agreement, but I trusted you to stand by your word."

Wade put his hands on his hips and shook his head.

"I've known you a long time, Wade. You knew I'd give you a down payment, soon as I could raise it."

"Have you come up with it yet?" Wade stared squarely at Lucas' face. He rubbed his palms on the sides of his spotless khaki Bermuda shorts.

"I'm working on it. I'll have it soon." He lifted his cap and ran his wrist across his forehead. He replaced his hat with an extra pull on the brim.

"Lucas, we had no deal, not even a handshake--which wouldn't hold up in court, anyway." Sara felt encouraged by that statement. No deal. Not ever.

"Miss Chandler has every right to purchase this property. I know you're disappointed, but she has given me a substantial deposit and signed--"

"I don't care if she left her first-born with you, she can't have this land. End of discussion."

"Mr. Henshaw." Both faces turned in her direction. She squared her shoulders, trying to shore up her nerve, but didn't want to further agitate the man. She rued the fact she was born with mushy insides. "I'm sorry you're disappointed but you have shown me nothing that proves you are entitled to this land."

Lucas folded his arms tightly across his chest and looked up to the sky.

She shifted her gaze to Wade who continued to blot at his face; she wasn't sure all his perspiration was due to the intense heat of the day. She wished he'd defend her with the same level of enthusiasm he had when he described the property to her the first time.

She'd fallen in love with it; the place had already taken over her artist's soul. She had worked with an architect and developed plans for an estate that would make the most of the natural beauty here. Her studio would open to a view of the hills on one side, and the Pacific on another. There would be a lot of glass, natural light. The scent of the wild orchids would drift into her dreams at night.

Like Georgia O'Keefe, the flora would become the essence of her work, her self. The volcano, Kiluea, on the south side of the island had already imparted a soul to her brush. Peace and change. Two life forces. She knew there was no limit to the inspiration she'd find here, and no doubt she belonged here.

This was the first time she had ever owned land in her own name. The deed was her declaration of independence.

Her gaze shot over to Lucas when he tossed a rock over the edge of the hill. He seemed to be venting some ire, but at least he wasn't throwing rocks at her. She looked at him with her artist's eye for detail. He reminded her of Clint Eastwood in his early days. In his cut-offs, tee shirt, and work boots, he looked carved from a redwood. The sun-drenched streaks in his brown hair made it obvious he spent a lot of time outdoors. Under other circumstances she may have wanted him to pose for one of her "Americana" portraits. She could picture him in Stetson and gun belt. Rugged, weather beaten, a throwback to the American West, though she was glad he wasn't currently carrying any firearms.

He turned a stony face in her direction. "You know, I may not have the papers, or the written legal right to this land, but there's still a thing called "ethics" that I believe in." His voice was calm, but his words held a cold edge. The honey-brown eyes tossed a glare her way that was anything but sweet.

"There's another lot, down the road. Spectacular view, same acreage…"

Lucas' cold stare, a golden glint from a stalking tiger's eyes, froze the words in her throat.

"Lady, why don't you buy that other lot, the one just down the road with the spectacular view and the same amount of acreage? What business have you got, grabbing land out from under native Hawaiians?"

REVIEWS

Dark Paradise captivated me. The plot is made of first rate romance and suspense. The tension slowly builds to a crescendo ending. Carolyn LeComte is a talented author. She developed characters with depth. I felt as though I knew Lucas and Sara. Grace and Caleb added extra dimension to the plot. I will be watching for more books by Carolyn LeComte.

Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com

My Review: This is a good, solid, very entertaining romantic suspense story. There is a lot to recommend it with shades of Jane Eyre and Sleeping with the Enemy tossed in the mix of a convincing character study of a woman coming back from the edge of insanity following an abusive three-year marriage. Sara is an artist torn between her desire for a new life and constant threats to her safety in a series of escalating attacks, first on her home, and then a horrifying physical one from an unknown assailant.

Lucas, who badly wants her property, is also a credible hero with his dark mood swings and secretive machinations. This is nicely shaded by his love for his damaged daughter, Emmy. Sara's bonding with Emmy comes across as natural and I enjoyed all the details of their art classes and the other characters her work brings into Sara's new life.

My only quibbles are that I never felt I was in Hawaii. The author references the dazzling Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, which Sara is apparently able to see from her newly purchased property. Yet, there are no descriptions of it or anything else on the Big Island at all. I felt as an artist, Sara would surely have a rich eye for such detail.

None of the locals spoke like Hawaiians. The colloquialisms do not ring true of the islands. I felt many times we were in the oft-mentioned Texas. Some research and some good editing would have helped this tale, which is otherwise well told and does lure the reader to keep reading…

Rated four delightful divas by A.J. Llewellyn!
$19.95
737-p
Format: 
Chesapeake Destiny
In book three of Terry L. White's Chesapeake Heritage series,

CHESAPEAKE DESTINY;

we meet Jane Fitzjohn, a woman who rebels against social custom and a brutal husband to find her true destiny on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Jane's life is decorated with hope and illustrated by the work of a handsome itinerant artist who teaches her the true meaning of love.

ISBN 1-59431-733-1 Historical / Romance/ Adventure

Chapter One

My name is Jane Elliot and I am to be married to my true love tomorrow.

Mother said she will be glad to see the end of me for I was always too active and adventurous for her taste. Papa wept when I told him I would have Thomas Fitzjohn and no other man of his acquaintance. Thomas was the grown-up idol of my girlhood, and I was sure he was the love of my life by the time I reached a marriageable age.

Tom’s father, Thomas Fitzjohn the elder, was my father’s overseer, a man Father had known and respected for years. Old Thomas kept the plantation going, for my father was a physician and always busy with those who needed his help rather than the state of his plantation.

There are those who would call me ‘Daddy’s girl,’ for his living children were the fruit of father’s old age, but I was his oldest girl and I think he favored me above all the others. I have an idea he did not like my match with Thomas Fitzjohn the junior at all, but I was besotted by the kisses and the attention Tom gave me when no chaperone was near. What do young women know, after all?

Father said Tom was too old for me, and he was a dozen years my senior, but I had known him all my life and could see no other – no matter how many marriageable young men my mother placed in my path.

My sister Katie was always jealous of my place as eldest child so I suppose she was glad I declared I was set to marry and leave the house. My sister Katie hated me from the time she realized I was her sister and the greatest rival for our parent’s attention. I think such a competition is natural, but there were times I would have liked her friendship rather than the rivalry that truly existed between us.

My brothers, Ted and Lawrence, were not as interested in which child was more important to our parents – they had their own places in Father’s heart. Naturally the boys received more of his attention as they went about the business of being males. In the end, I think Father raised them to be too independent, for they both left the farm in their youth and never did come home. Ted died and Lawrence simply disappeared into the west.

I might mention here that Father raised all of his offspring to be independent and to speak our minds. This openness was not considered a pretty trait for a gentle-raised young woman, but there it was. I suppose I was outspoken as they come, and sometimes I suffered for it.

Father called me to his study the night before I was to wed, saying he wanted one last private moment before he lost me to Thomas Fitzjohn. The room smelled of the medicines he compounded, of the lavender Mother folded between his linens, and decay from the skeletons of large and small animals that crowded every shelf and hung on wires from every beam in the high ceiling. The room was entirely out of place compared to the elegant grace of the rest of our home and Mother often complained about it. She said if she had her way, she would discard the whole collection, but Father simply chuckled and let her rant.

A scientist from his earliest days, Father spent his life looking for ways to help others. He took his duty to his children seriously, and did his best to see that we were raised to be serious about the choices we made for our lives. When we did choose a course of action, Father was there to cheer our victories and bind the wounds of defeat. I loved him more than any other soul I knew, and in my innocence – and total ignorance – I believed I was about to marry a man who would be exactly like him.

“Ah! Janie.” My father called from his desk when he saw me in the doorway of his study the night before the wedding. “There’s my pet. Are you ready for tomorrow? Are you happy?” He was a short, muscular man with sensitive hands and piercing blue eyes. Those eyes met mine, and it seemed as if he searched for the truth in the very depths of my soul. “Are you sure about what you are about to do?”

I knew my father loved me, for he always had time to discuss the events of my life, no matter how small. Father fostered my interest in science and healing, and never pushed me away when he was busy with his books. He looked at me with love, and I loved him right back. In that instant, I wondered if I was completely ready to leave the shelter of his love, but I had made my troth to Tomas Fitzjohn and so I pushed the thought away and put on my brightest smile for his sake.

“I’m ready, Father,” I said quickly, before he could see I had the smallest doubt, which I did not. I wanted everyone to be as happy as I was that evening. “And I am so happy.” With that, I ran and scrambled into his lap and wondered if it was to be for the last time.

A properly married woman would surely never sit upon her father’s lap after all! For all of that, I knew time was growing short. Tomorrow I would marry and then I would go away from all I held dear to live in a strange new house with a husband who suddenly seemed a stranger. I, still a child in more ways than I could admit, believed the wedding would remove me from my childhood home and thrust me into a new world of adult wonders.

“Do you love him, Pet, really love him?” Father asked for the hundredth time. “There is still time to change your mind. Thomas is not of the gentry, for all of his learning. You may find you will regret this choice in the fullness of time . . .”

I knew Father was telling the truth for I was a little afraid of this great change in my life, but I could just imagine the expression on my mother’s face if I should suddenly decide to leave Thomas at the altar. Mother would cause a commotion, to put it mildly. I was nearly as afraid of her anger as I was of the disappointment I would cause Tom if I changed my mind.
$16.95
733-p
Format: 
Fighting for a Dream-p
Stockland Fire Department Series, Vol. 2

By Tonya Ramagos

Jordan Dias is the fire chief’s daughter. He sternly forbade her to follow in his footsteps as he believes women have no business working in a “man’s job.” But Jordan has a dream.... In Book II of the Stockland Fire Department Series, Jordan's in for some fiery excitement. When her father retires, Jordan applies to the new chief, Bryce Tracy, for a job. If he hires her, he is sure to allienate his predecessor, who is still around acting as a volunteer. If he doesn’t, Bryce will break her heart. Or maybe his own....

ISBN 1-59431- 152pages Romance/Firefighting,

Cover Art/Maggie Dix

CHAPTER ONE

Bryce Tracy drummed his fingertips on the desk. A rid-a-tat-tat from his nails hitting the hard wooden surface ricocheted through the unnerving silence of the office. His gaze was fixed and locked with a pair of gray, cat-shaped eyes that stared back at him. Pleading yet determined eyes. Eyes that could make a man slither into a puddle of mush and, at the same time, put every nerve ending on alert. How could he say no to those eyes, to that beautiful face? How could he say no when her request had rolled from such alluring, shapely lips?

His attention focused on those lips, carnation pink, glistening from moisture and parted ever so slightly. They were set in the perfect formation for another pair of lips, his lips, to capture them in a heated kiss of passion. And if he were to ever kiss her that's exactly what it would be, passion--years of deep unrevealed passion battling for an escape. It made no difference that the striking woman in front of him was practically his sister. He wanted her and every time he looked at her he wanted her more and more.

It hadn't always been that way. Then again, she hadn't always been so beautiful. Growing up, she'd been a scrawny thing, tall with virtually no meat on her bones and a head far too large for her body. She had been easy to resist then. Oh, why couldn't she have remained that way? Saying no to that girl would have been much easier than saying no to the woman she had become. But how could he say yes and face the wrath of Cleveland Diaz? What she was asking was too much. For so many reasons, most of which Bryce knew he had to keep locked away inside.

Bringing his drumming fingers to a halt, he laid his hands flat on the desk and pushed a hard breath from his lungs. "Jordan, you realize you're putting me in a helluva spot here?" He pursed his lips together as he forced himself to gaze, once again, into her eyes and concentrate on the subject at hand rather than how badly he wanted her. "You know how I feel about your father. I have the greatest of admiration for him. I owe him so much. Hell, I practically owe him my life!"

Jordan returned his fixed and potent stare, seemingly attempting to keep her expression blank and emotionless. Still, the scowl that briefly overtook her luscious lips was hard to miss.

"You, of all people, should know I'm not making excuses." Bryce pushed himself to a standing position behind the desk. "It's the truth. Your father pulled me under his wing when I had nowhere else to go. He taught me everything I know. He's the reason I'm Chief of this department now." He indicated his surroundings with a flourish of his arm.

The office was small, not much larger than a walk-in closet found in a master bedroom. The walls were panted a soft shade of ivory trimmed in red tying in the décor with the walls of the station outside the office. The furnishings were spare; an executive style desk sat before the only window in the room, a five drawer metal filing cabinet occupied one corner while an American flag hung from a tall base in another. In front of the desk were two brown leather visitor chairs. Despite the usual cozy atmosphere of the office, Bryce felt as though the room was closing in around him as his attention remained planted on the occupant of one of those brown leather chairs.

Jordan remained seated. Although her perfect posture visibly stiffened, her glare on him didn't give an inch. "I know you feel you owe my father a lot--"

"Then you understand that undermining his decision isn't exactly how I planned to repay him for all of the years of kindness he's shown me," Bryce interrupted her a bit too coldly.

Undermining his decision? Hell, it would be more like spitting in the old man's face! Bryce had promised to continue running the Stockland Fire Department the way Cleveland and his predecessors had done for nearly a century. Bryce was the first Chief in the history of the department that was not of Diaz blood. Had Cleveland been blessed with a son, Bryce was certain he would have never seen the rank of Chief. But Cleveland didn't have a biological son. Therefore, he had entrusted the department to Bryce. Bryce knew if he gave into Jordan's request he wouldn't merely be changing what had become a department policy, he would be asking to become the worst enemy of Cleveland Diaz--something no man in their right mind would ever intentionally ask for.

"So you're saying you won't help me." Jordan folded her arms across her chest. The muscle in her jaw worked as she clenched her teeth together. Those tantalizing gray eyes smoldered with anger.

"I didn't say that."

"So you're saying you will?" The anger instantly swept away, her eyes lit up like a pair of stars in the blackest of night skies. They were eyes a man could drown in and damned if he didn't feel himself going down. No amount of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation would be able to save him.

"I didn't say that either."

What had he said? Nothing. How could he when he had no idea what to say? The situation was precarious, his choices very slim. He could say yes, watch the happiness consume the woman he secretly loved and know that he was the one who brought her that happiness. Or he could say no, salvage his father/son relationship with her father and most likely lose Jordan forever.

Words Cleveland Diaz had spoken so many times echoed through his mind. Women have no place in the fire service. They're too dainty, too weak. There isn't a woman alive that can cut it in a man's world. The only thing they're good for is handing out water bottles on fire scenes.

The problem was, deep down Bryce didn't agree with Cleveland's words, especially when the woman in question was Jordan Diaz. She may be female but dainty and weak were definitely not words that could be used to describe her. The sudden interest in physical fitness she had developed at the age of fourteen had eliminated any of that. By the age of sixteen, the once scrawny disproportioned girl had transformed into a strong tough woman with a body and mind that proved it. If given a chance, Bryce predicted she could give nearly any man on the department a run for his money.
$16.95
152x-p
Format:: 
Full  House
Full Circle Series, Vol. 2

by Anna Dynowski

Officer Matt Paladini presents a cool, calm, and in control, face to the small community he’s sworn to serve and protect. But when Petra Lojek, the new teacher, blazes into town, he tries valiantly to dodge the bullets of love she shoots at him. The trouble is, she's an excellent markswoman and Matt finds himself anything but cool, calm and in control.

ISBN 1-59431-809-6 Romance / Romantic Suspense

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.

Cover Art: Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

Detective Constable Matthew Paladini looked into her eyes--an extraordinary shade hovering somewhere between gray and green--and fringed with long lashes.

Beautiful eyes. The kind of eyes, he thought, that looked up at him from an ad in his daughter's many thirteen-going-on-thirty-cosmetics-and-fashion-oriented magazines. Not at all from a real woman.

The quick and helpless flutter around his heart surprised him, and clearing his throat, he asked, "Ma'am, do you know how fast you were traveling?"

The attractive eyes blinked rapidly behind the round, silver-framed glasses. Glasses, he noted, which did little to detract from this woman's good looks, but in an odd way, enhanced her makeup-less face. As did the gray streaking her brown hair.

"Um…no, Sir." She pushed her eyeglasses up higher on the bridge of her nose. "Um…seventy…seventy-five?" The corners of those eyes crinkled.

"No, Ma'am." His stomach gave a little bounce. What was the matter with him? First his heart and now his stomach?

He stood where he was, elbow pressed against his weapon and tapping his fingers on the side of his leg, knowing, inspite of his appearance, he was anything but cool, calm, and in control. And all because of this stranger. And her eyes.

What happened to the command presence he was taught from day one at the Police Academy and which he had no problem practicing these last nineteen years?

Shot to smithereens.

He almost grimaced but pulled the brim of his hat down lower on his forehead instead.

He could still hear Commissioner Chapman's imposing voice. Hold your head high. Keep your back straight. Feet wide. You must look people in the eye. Speak to them in a strong voice. And walk with a purposeful stride. Command presence is the first step, an important step, in keeping an officer--you--alive.

Command presence.

Imagine at forty-four, widowed, and the father of a twelve-year-old, he should need to remind himself to display command presence with a civilian. He shook his head.

Okay. Right.

Legs wide, with one foot back, Matt assumed the quarter to quarter stance, with his left shoulder facing her left shoulder, arms out, hands free, and leaned slightly toward the open window. "I would not have pulled you over, Ma'am, if you were doing seventy-five in a sixty-five kilometer zone."

Look people in the eye.

He let out a whistle of a breath when he trained his gaze on hers and realized, too late, it was a mistake. He had seen the quick flare of interest in her eyes before a shutter dropped down on them, effectively barring him from further scrutiny, but not before sending shock waves of awareness through the pit of his stomach. Dizzy, dazed, and desperate, he felt the impact all the way to the bottom of his feet, and for what seemed like a small eternity, it paralyzed his senses.

"How…how fast was I going, Officer?" she asked, with a slanted look at his face.

The air suddenly stopped moving around them, every sound was hushed, as an unwelcome tension settled over him and his mind turned to mush. Although weaving under some strange spell she cast, he made an effort, a frantic effort, to reclaim his composure. He had to. He could not allow himself to be distracted. Not now. Not ever.

Relief flooded through him as he felt the adrenalin pump through his veins, much like it did when he responded to a domestic violence or an armed robbery he'd been dispatched to. He approached with caution, always focused on what could hurt or kill him. Always alert about who was lying in wait. And what firearm they could be brandishing. Eyes couldn't pull a trigger, but hands could. And did. All the time.

Matt made his second mistake.

He took his eyes off her face and settled them on her hands, still clasping the steering wheel. It was only for a second. But long enough for him to ascertain a ringless left hand.

He noted a sense of satisfaction zing through him, as well, and became perplexed.

Now, why should he care if she was married or not? It was none of his business. He wasn't interested in engaging in any relationship with any woman. Relationships and him--a cop--didn't mix. It was like oil and water. Like fire and ice.

More like life and death, as he learned. The hard way.

A dark cloud of melancholy swirled around him. Deep from its filthy bowels, bolts of grief and shame, vying with one another, shot indiscriminately at him, prodding for points of entry. Irritation boiled to the surface and shaking them off with controlled vehemence, he returned his attention to the woman.

Speak in a strong voice.

"Ma'am, you were doing eighty-five kilometers an hour."

"Oh." It came out in three long syllables. Reaching for her purse, she dug out her wallet and handed him her driver's license, proof of insurance, and vehicle permit.

"Are you going to arrest Mommy?"

For the first time since he pulled the vehicle over for speeding, he became conscious of the parties--juveniles--in the backseat, tugging against the restraint of their seatbelts in an attempt to get a closer look.
$16.95
806-p
A Matter of Faith: Harmony Village Series, Vol. 2 -e
by Anna Dynowski

Harmony Village Series, Vol. 2

It’s…A Matter of Faith.

Harmony Village, Ontario, isn’t your average town. It definitely isn’t Toronto. No glittering lights. No classy concert halls. No high-end boutique shops. Nothing. Yet, with ticket sales for performances and CD sales declining, ultra-modern pop singer, Arabella Bianchi, ends up there—thanks to her agent, who sends her to Harmony to “grow new fans in a different part of the country.” What this provincial town does have is a handsome, single, and very conservative pastor, Krystian Jasicki, who is unimpressed with the arrival of his “Christmas present” with the rock-star haircut, funky clothes, and a stud in her nose. He is even less enthusiastic with being volunteered to help the lady grow her fan base. Sparks fly. Personalities clash. And love is severely hampered.  Time is running out.

It looks like a job for…Cupid Cat, the rural community’s indomitable matchmaker. Will Krystian and Arabella fall in with his plans to secure a happily-ever-after in time for Christmas or will he have to bare his fangs to achieve the desired results?

978-1-59431-780-4 Christian Romance / Inspirational / Christmas

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.

Prologue

20 years earlier

He could say he was young, only fifteen, a vulnerable age, but that really was no excuse.

He could say he was in the middle of giving slumber to his eyelids, but that really was no excuse.

He could say he was not yet instructed in the phenomena of prophecy, and therefore did not understand these things, but that really was no excuse.

No.

All Krystian Jasicki could say, with any real certainty, was one minute he was entrenched deep in the land of forty winks, and the next…

"Wake up, sleepy head."

Krystian groaned, first hearing the curtains being pulled back and then sensing sunlight flood into the previously darkened bedroom. "What time is it?" he moaned, his eyelids squinting open and a wide yawn splitting his mouth apart. It felt like he'd only just gone to bed. How could it be morning already?

"It's time for my best man to get his butt out of bed. We have a wedding to go to, remember?" his older brother, Kasper, cheerfully informed him as he padded around the queen size bed in bare feet and a satin bathrobe belted at his waist.

How could Krystian possibly forget? What with tuxedo fittings and church practices and playing host to relatives as numerous as the sand on the shores of Lake Ontario, some coming as far away as Poland, and a zillion other urgent tasks requiring running from one end of Toronto to the other, not to mention trying to keep the usually calm and composed Kasper Jasicki, musical agent extraordinaire, from going off the deep end from the stress of his impending nuptials, how could he forget today was the day his brother, the oldest of his five siblings, would be marrying the woman who "stole his heart," as Kasper would say.

"Come on." Kasper's forehead wrinkled with a fresh wave of concern. Krystian could well imagine his brother's brain flipping all over the place in that head of his, trying to come up with an effective way to persuade him out of bed. Pronto. "We don't want to be late."

Yawning, Krystian rolled over onto his side and leaning on his elbow, he strained to look at the clock on the bedside table. His eyelids popped wide open. "It's not even six o'clock!" With another groan, he fell back among the pillows and drew the sheets up to his neck.

"Like I said, little brother, we don't want to be late." Grinning, Kasper leaned down and grabbing a fistful of the bed sheets, he yanked them off. "Up."

Krystian let out an exasperated sigh, then levered himself up on his elbow and stared up at his brother. "Tell me something, big bro. How could we possibly be late when the ceremony is scheduled for one o'clock?"

"We don't want to take any chances." Kasper coiled his fingers around Krystian's upper arm. "Now, get up, little bro," he commanded with brotherly gruffness, tugging him out of the warm, comfortable bed. "I've got coffee on. Strong and black," he added, his grin broadening as Krystian groaned again and struggled to his feet.

"How long have you been up? And why are you so annoyingly cheerful so early in the morning?" Krystian grumbled, reaching down to pick up the t-shirt he'd dropped on the floor last night. Or was it this morning? he wondered, yawning and pulling the white t-shirt with Beam me up, Jesus emblazoned in navy over his head. Sticking his hands through the arms of the t-shirt, he grouched under his breath, "There should be a law against such cruelty."

"Only since four." Kasper began to whistle an off-key rendition of Happy Days Are Hear Again.

"Four?" Krystian didn't mean for his voice to come out sounding like a high-pitched squeak, but, gosh, he thought, plowing his hands through his hair, what'd you expect when you're sleep-deprived? "What on earth have you been doing?"

Kasper shrugged and gave him a sheepish smile. "I ironed my shirt. Polished my shoes." He lifted his satin-covered shoulders in another shrug.

"Both of which you did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that," Krystian muttered, rolling his eyes. Then he studied his brother with a considering expression. "You had a senior's moment. Is that it? Is this what happens when you get old? You forget you've already done something and you redo it ten thousand times?" And you also forget to let me sleep and get me up at this crazy hour.

"I'm only twenty-eight." Kasper narrowed his eyes in mock irritation and lunging for him, he maneuvered Krystian in a head-lock hold. "I'm not over the hill yet," he growled, rubbing his knuckles over Krystian's head before releasing him. Then his sappy puppy dog smile was in place again. "It's what happens when you're in love." A knowing look came into his eyes. "One day, little brother, you'll meet the woman and you'll be falling all over your feet, too." He turned, and leaving the bedroom, he whistled tunelessly.

"God forbid." Krystian shuddered and trailed after his brother as he walked slowly down the hall. Unlike Kasper, he had both his feet cemented to the ground. No woman was going to make him bounce around like a fool. No way. He couldn't afford his reputation tarnished in even the mildest of ways. His calling, his God-appointed calling, required, no, demanded a level head, a quiet heart, a serene self-control.

Unlike his brother, he couldn't act like an idiot.

In Kasper's business, wacky was good. In fact, the wackier the behavior, Krystian thought as he followed Kasper into the living room and sat on the couch, the better. Wacky equaled attention. Attention drew crowds. And crowds translated into mega sales. And money.

In Krystian's world, now as he trained for his vocation, and later when he'd step out to lead when the training was complete, wacky would be counterproductive. Detrimental. Embarrassing. And definitely, not trust-inspiring.

"So..." Kasper handed a white porcelain mug to Krystian and sitting down on the small sofa across from him, he crossed his legs. "I thought we'd talk," he said equably. Holding the mug in his hand, he struck a relaxed pose as he studied the steam rising from his coffee.

"About?" Krystian managed to ask around a loud yawn and raised the dark steaming brew to his lips. "Mmm." He closed his eyes in appreciation, letting the aroma of freshly percolated coffee tease his nostrils, and because he couldn't deny himself, he took another swallow. "This almost makes up for your brutality this morning."

Kasper looked up from his coffee and gave him an indulgent you'll-live smile.

I just might, he thought, after I've had a second cup. After another slow, satisfying sip, he lowered the mug to the coffee table. "So." Leaning his head against the back of the couch, he clasped his hands across his stomach, and watched his brother through half-closed eyelids. "What's on your mind, bro?" If he didn't know better, he'd think Kasper was actually...nervous!

Kasper? Nervous? He almost snickered. That would be a first. For as long as Krystian could remember, his brother exuded confidence in high doses. In fact, he fairly oozed with a strong self-confidence that he almost--almost!--bordered on acting with maddening overconfidence. Krystian had wanted to divest him of this irritating style once or twice over the years, except he knew his brother had a heart of gold.

So, this lack of calmness must be compliments of the woman who "stole his heart," the very pretty, very petite, Becky Armstrong. And that just goes to show, he mused, picking up his coffee and settling back on the couch, beware of small packages!

Krystian stretched out his legs, and hiding his grin behind the mug, he observed his brother over the rim. Yep. Our little Miss Becky has him slightly out of sorts. Poor guy. One could almost feel sorry for him. Almost. But not quite.

I'll probably have to repent of this later, Lord, but right now…

Straight-faced, Krystian carefully set his mug down.

Right now, he was going to have some fun. At his brother's expense. Even the score a bit, he thought, yawning.

Do not take revenge, my friend…for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.

Krystian squashed the still small voice with little effort. Sometimes, one just had to be a little rebellious, especially when dealing with an older brother who jerked you out of bed at a crazy hour.

"Oh, I know." Krystian snapped his fingers and sliced his gaze to his brother. "This little talk…" He waved a hand through the air, pretty sure a wicked gleam in his eyes replaced his deadpan expression. "You want me, a soon-to-be minister, to counsel you."

It was an unfortunate moment of bad timing. For Kasper, anyway. Sipping and spluttering clashed and the swallow of scalding coffee went down the wrong way.

Ignoring his brother's coughing and stammering and watering eyes, Krystian scratched his chin, pretending to think. "Yes," he considered, nodding sagely. "Now would be a good time for me to talk to you about the…ahem…wedding night. Not that I have tangible experience in this area, but-- Are you all right over there?"

"No." Kasper's voice was barely a croak and he tried to clear his throat.

"You're not all right?" Krystian infused concern into his tone even as his lips twitched. "Should I call nine-one-one?" He started to rise. "Becky is not going to like this."

"No." Kasper's voice was terse now that his coughing fit had subsided, his neck was like an iron sinew, and his eyes were like a flame of fire.

"No, I shouldn't call nine-one-one, or no, Becky isn't going to like this?" Okay. Okay. He knew his brother barely hung back from the edge of the precipice, emotionally speaking, and it wouldn't really take much to…kinda goad him over…but, hey! What were brothers for? Especially when they've been short-changed in the sleep department.

"No, you're not going to instruct me on--" A tide of heat, an uncomfortable one, no doubt, rose in his face. "Never mind," he muttered, glaring at him. "My sex life is off limits to you."

"Oh." Krystian assumed a downcast expression. Maybe he got his calling mixed up. Maybe he should be an actor. "But, how can I help you if you don't confide in me?" He raised expectant eyebrows and sank back into the couch.

"I don't need help." Kasper's eyes blazed as blue as a flame in a roaring fire.

His brother so seldom overreacted that Krystian was entertained with the ease with which he now rose to the bait. However, with a tingle of remorse beginning to beat in his heart at seeing his brother so agitated, not to mention Krystian would not want to face an irate Becky should she discover--and she would--that he was responsible for a flustered husband-to-be arriving at the altar, he decided to call a truce. After all, today was Kasper's big day and it really was Krystian's responsibility, as the best man, to deliver him to church, on time, and in one piece, preferably with his mental state in tact.

"Okay." Krystian shrugged. "Now that we've established you have every thing under control in the bedroom department…" He flashed a wicked grin. Okay, so he was having a little bit of trouble relinquishing his desire for fun at Kasper's expense. Clearing his throat, he continued in a quiet voice, "What do you want to talk about?"

"You."

"Me?" Surprise arched his brows.

Answering amusement warmed Kasper's eyes but the firm line of his mouth remained. "Yes. You."

Krystian's nerves snapped awake at his tone. He had a sneaky suspicion his brother was about to return the favor and make him feel uncomfortable. "O-o-o-kay," he said after a few moments of tensed silence, recalling the still small voice that earlier had reminded him vengeance was the Lord's. Now he wished he'd listened. "I'm all ears. What exactly did you want to discuss?"

"Your love life."

"My--" Heat washed through him. He knew he was turning red. "I don't have a love life. I'm fifteen, remember?" He could also have added having pre-marital sex would not look good on the resume of a future minister. Besides, Krystian Jasicki was a big proponent to abstinence until married. And he was not in the market for a marital partner. Not yet. He had other more pressing priorities, like higher education and ecclesiastical training, demanding his time and energy. A relationship with a girl would complicate his life.

And Krystian Jasicki hated complications.

"But, you will," Kasper said softly.

"Well." Krystian exhaled, staring at the carpeted floor as he wondered what made his brother bring up this topic, and then deciding Kasper must be suffering from an I'm-about-to-scribble-my-name-on-the-dotted-line-and-sign-away-my-bachelorhood-forever anxiety attack, he looked up at his brother. "I suppose one day. Yes. But that's not part of my game plan right now."

"Not right now, I know," Kasper spoke, slowly and quietly, his blue eyes shadowed to purple. "But one day, you will." He sat on the sofa, leaning forward slightly, legs apart, elbows resting on his thighs, fingers linked between his spread knees. "Have you given any thought to what kind of a woman you want to marry?"

Reaching for his mug of now tepid coffee, Krystian willed his strewn thoughts into some semblance of order. "Well..." He stared into the depths of the mocha liquid as if it was a crystal ball holding a vision of his future bride. But the contents in the mug reflected back no prophetic picture of a prospective mate. A slight shake of his head, he looked up and found Kasper staring at him with a steady gaze, waiting.

"We-e-ell," Krystian began again, lining up the list of prerequisites in his mind as he stared down into his coffee. "I guess, first off, she'd have to be a believer, a practicing Christian. Not necessarily a student of theology or able to quote scriptures off by heart, but she'd have to be a Bible-reading, God-fearing, Jesus-believing, Holy Ghost-filled woman of principles, morals, and convictions."

When he glanced up, Kasper was nodding his head. Lowering his eyes to the coffee, he ran a finger around and around the rim of the mug. "She'd have to be family-oriented. And willing to be a preacher's wife." His voice fairly flew now as he warmed up to the theme. "And as a preacher's wife, she'd have to dress modestly, simply. She'd have to be meek and humble and unpretentious. She'd have to have a servant's heart. And, she'd have to be above reproach. No skeletons in her closet. No scandals. No stirring up gossip," he finished with a smug curve of his lips.

"She sounds...perfect." Kasper leaned back, crossing his legs.

"Yeah, she does, doesn't she?" Krystian sat back, clasping his hands behind his head. What else could a minister's wife be but a perfect help mate? He would need a conservative, down-to-earth, unassuming wife. His reputation as a pastor, a trust-worthy, respected pastor, would be on the line.

Kasper went on with a look of determination. "What about some human qualities?"

"Excuse me?" Krystian's brows pleated as his hands fell to his lap and he sat up straight.

"Krystian, I think I should tell you, Miss Perfect doesn't exist."

"Well, I'm not loo--"

"Miss Right does, however."

Krystian drove impatient fingers through his hair. "Well, I know--"

"You're too stiff. A tree that doesn't bend in the wind snaps." A shrug was added for extra emphasis.

Tree? Wind? Snaps? What was Kasper going on about?

"God is a creative God," his brother continued, a reluctant smile tugging at the edge of his mouth as if he was aware of Krystian's increasing discomfiture, of the battle within him--his ideals of a suitable mate versus God's unexpected but very possible surprise.

Krystian hated surprises.

"Don't box Him in." Kasper wagged a finger at him.

Krystian snatched in a hunted breath and folded defensive arms. "I'm not box--"

"Yes, you are." Kasper climbed out of the sofa and rifled the bookshelf along the wall. He pulled out a black leather-bound Bible, flipped through the pages, then stopped. "'But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.'" Snapping the Book closed, he replaced it on the shelf, and sat down.

Color unfurled like flags in Krystian's cheeks and his heart banged like a drum inside his rib cage. He wasn't enjoying his brother's idea of a little talk, yet he didn't say a word. Oh, he had plenty of them lining up in his head, though, but his brother wasn't giving him a chance to voice them.

Kasper's white teeth flashed in the now-relaxed planes of his face. He stood up and stretched in the warm sunshine streaming through the living room window. "Man looks on the outside. God looks on the inside. Don't set up road blocks or be a prude or you might miss out on God's blessings," he said, his voice controlled and even--a complete contrast to his own raging inner turbulence.

Krystian sealed his lips on a fiery flood of disagreement. He had no choice. There was a brick in his throat preventing him from drawing breath and keeping him from articulating a retort. Besides, he groaned silently, his brother hadn't finished with him yet.

"God has your wife all picked out," Kasper said, pacing to the front door. "And she's going to blow you right out of the calm, shallow water you feel safe treading in." He threw Krystian a cool smile over his shoulder as he stepped into his black loafers at the front door. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Think about what I've said. Better yet, pray about it."

The front door closed behind Kasper, leaving Krystian staring wide-eyed after him, his breathing irregular. Think? Pray? How could he when his reasoning processes were either not functioning anymore or they were operating but on a different frequency?

Then he heard a voice coming from the spot on the sofa where Kasper had sat. Not Kasper's voice. Not an audible voice. But…an impression. Strong. Loud. Very real. A thundering voice. A voice sounding like rushing waters. It reached way down deep into his heart and spirit.

And he sat frozen on the couch.

I have chosen a help mate for you. Prayerful is her name. At the appointed time, she will come. Wait on the Lord, for slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for she will surely come to pass. Just be patient. Be vigilant. Keep your eyes and your heart open so that you will recognize her. She will bless you and you will bless her.



$6.50
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Jenny's Legacy
Jenny's Legacy by Cassandra Barnes

Gaelynn Graham has psychic powers, but they haven’t helped her cope with elderly parents who depend on her, a business partner who wants to dissolve their consulting service, and her attraction to sexy Kyle Cordell.

Kyle’s sister was led to her death years ago by a fraudulent psychic, a trauma from which his family has never recovered. He fights his developing feelings for Gaelynn, until potential danger forces him to choose between her and his father’s belief system.

ISBN 1-59431-747-X Romance / Suspense / Women's Contemporary

Also available in RTF and HTML formats.

Chapter 1

"A volley of gunfire at Mesa Verde High in Phoenix killed one student and wounded a teacher and three other students." The newscaster's voice droned on, against a background of huddled students and adults.

Kyle Cordell turned away from the TV and glanced around the crowded room. Few people paid attention to the evening news blaring from the monitor mounted above their heads. Like him, they were more concerned with the reason they were in the Emergency Room at Millwood General Hospital. Sour smells from sick and anxious people and the antiseptic aroma of alcohol assailed his nostrils.

He stood up and stretched. Evidently the decorator who had chosen the hard plastic chairs wanted to win an award for most uncomfortable seating. He smiled at a woman passing the time knitting, but she was too busy counting stitches to smile back. A couple of men, field workers judging from their clothes, slouched against a wall, hands jammed in their pockets, stoic looks on their faces. Probably a co-worker had lost a limb in equipment, Kyle guessed, noticing blood splatters on their jeans. He shuddered, thinking of his son and how much worse he could have been hurt.

Kyle paced the circumference of the room, wondering if he should call his ex-wife again. It had been over two hours since the ambulance had brought Jared, their youngest son, to the hospital with a broken arm from a wild bicycle ride. No, the last time he had called, she said she'd be over as soon as she picked up Jason, their older son, from school. Kyle alternated slamming fists into his open palms as he walked. An officious nurse had made him leave Jared's bedside when the doctor came to set the arm, citing the crowded space.

Despite their differences in the past, he had a good relationship with the boys' mother. Another phone call would only worry her unnecessarily.

Kyle resumed sitting. Jared's break wasn't bad--only a hairline fracture, and the doctor should be through setting it soon.

"Those killings have been on the news all day. I'm worried about my daughter." A querulous voice rose above the cacophony of jangling telephones, urgent pages over the intercom, and fretful children. It drew his attention to an elderly woman clutching the arm of a younger woman. He'd noticed them earlier and guessed they were mother and daughter. The daughter evidently had come to the emergency room from work, because she wore a business suit. His gaze remained on her, noting that the suit ended at her knees, revealing shapely legs.

"Mom, it's all right," the daughter said, as she freed her arm from the grasp of the older woman. "I'm working here in Millwood, not Phoenix. And I'm a counselor, not a teacher. I'm never in the classroom."

Kyle heard reassurance and compassion in her voice. He looked closer and watched the young woman draw in a deep breath and straighten her shoulders. She and her mother had arrived more than an hour ago. She'd spoken with the nurse behind the counter and produced what were probably insurance papers. Like she did with everyone else, the nurse checked off something on her clipboard and told the women to find a seat and wait to be called.

Kyle studied the young woman's soft and loving expression as she gently spoke to her mother. He heard her mention Dad, and assumed that's whom they were waiting for.

She's the most patient person I've ever seen, he thought. That's at least the tenth time she's had to console her mother. She doesn't seem to mind the repetition.

"I know, dear." The elderly woman twisted her shapeless green cardigan with nervous fingers. "But I worry anyway. The world's a dangerous place now."

"There's nothing to worry about, Mom." As she leaned forward to take her mother's hands in hers, the daughter's long blond hair swung forward, light glinting off in golden shimmers. Even under sickly fluorescent glare, it looked like a curtain of sunshine.

Momentarily calmed, the mother looked around the room, like a bird that's heard someone refill the feeder. When her inquisitive eyes caught Kyle, he smiled and nodded at her. Her gaze moved on, finally settling again on the TV. She kept up a constant stream of chatter to her daughter, most of it meaningless to Kyle.

The talkative woman was so unlike his mother, Kyle reflected. His mother didn't sit or stand erect--her shoulders were perpetually slumped in defeat. She never caught anyone's eye, and had nothing more to say than what was absolutely necessary. His sister's death eleven years ago had destroyed her. Destroyed our whole family, Kyle thought bitterly in an unguarded moment before he pushed his own grief and hurt back down into the internal pit he kept open for it. He would not permit himself to remember Jenny now, and the continuing legacy of pain her death had created.

He glanced again at the young woman, taking in the smooth curves of her face, his gaze lingering on her skin. Its luminosity reminded him of the antique china his mother used for the formal dinners she used to serve--the translucent plates the color of spring roses. Somehow, Kyle had the feeling that this woman wasn't nearly as fragile as those old dishes.

He shook his head. Where did she get the immense patience she exhibited with her mother, patting the older woman's hand or smoothing her hair when she got too excited or disturbed?
$16.95
747-P
Format: 
Not His  Fair Lady
by Kaarina Brooks

Shaylee Palmer, a gifted but insecure ingenue, joins an art class for rather disingenuous reasons, and soon finds herself fighting against the persuasive tactics and seemingly self-serving motives of her handsome art teacher. But the biggest battle she faces is her growing attraction for the man who has sworn off serious relationships.

Michael Merrick carries a secret of his own, which he tries to disguise behind casual affairs. When Shaylee Palmer enters his art class, he has to guard against losing not only his heart, but also his independence to this saucy, but talented student.

ISBN 978-1-59431-834-4 Romance

Chapter 1

"Wow! This I like!"

Shaylee Palmer did a 360 and took a quick survey of the work on display in the foyer of the "The Four Winds Gallery".

This was her kind of art! Much preferable to abstract stuff.

"Thanks, Grandpa," she whispered, "for making all this possible!"

She walked towards a painting set up on an easel in the middle of the floor, but came to an abrupt halt when a tight male voice asked, "Can I help you?" Sounding the way one would address an unwelcome intruder, while trying to remain polite.

Shaylee turned to see a short, balding man at the door of an office on the left. She gave a quick, nervous laugh. "No, thank you, I'm just looking."

She knew her unfashionable winter jacket and boots made it very clear that she wouldn't be in the market for an expensive painting. He probably thought she'd just come in to get warm.

Still, he honored her with a pinched smile. "I'm Max Storm, the proprietor. If you have any questions, please ask." Sounding like he fully expected her not to have any, and to meekly leave before she tracked mud on his carpets.

"Thanks, I will," Shaylee muttered. She didn't care for the way he looked down his nose at her, and felt like stringing him along for a while, asking about prices. But he looked like someone who wouldn't appreciate such nonsense. He'd already dismissed her as a potential client by turning his back on her and returning to his office.

Someday, Mr. High and Mighty, she just might come and buy something. Or, better yet, her own art might hang on these very walls!

Shaylee shrugged and turned to enter the first door to her right. Slowly she negotiated her way through the small, tastefully laid-out inner galleries, the clomp of her heavy winter boots muffled by the carpet. Some of the rooms had photographs, others had oils, and in one gallery were sculptures of--she nodded approvingly--totally recognizable humans, or parts thereof.

Shaylee entered another small gallery. At the door she halted and her hand flew to her mouth. How beautiful! What wonderful paintings! Whose work was this? A promo on the wall told her the name of the artist, his birth date, as well as the particulars of his very prestigious artistic career.

Michael Merrick. Such a young man to be already this well recognized in the art world! She circled the room, devoted entirely to this artist's work, and inspected each picture in turn. It was as if she'd entered an enchanted world. Back and forth she wandered, taking in the paintings from close and afar, then returning to each, again and again. One winter scene particularly engrossed her, and she lost track of time as she stood admiring it.

A deep male voice startled her from her reverie. "Do you like it?"

Shaylee whirled around to face a broad chest. The mouth that had asked the question was considerably higher and, as she looked up, she saw golden lights dancing in a pair of brown eyes.

Golden lights? Dancing? Was that possible?

"I love it. It's my favorite of all these wonderful paintings here." Shaylee swung her arms to encompass the whole room. "These are absolutely the best I've seen. I've been here for probably half an hour," she glanced down at her watch to verify the statement, "just drinking them in."

She thought she saw a glint of laughter in the man's eyes and she squirmed inside. He probably thought she was way over the top in her praise. One of her unfortunate tendencies. But she really meant it.

The man rubbed his strong, clean-shaven chin. "Why do you like that one in particular?"

Shaylee gazed again at the wintry forest scene that had so absorbed her. "I find it absolutely incredible the way the luminous sunlight filters through the branches onto that pristine, sapphire snow. I wish I knew how the artist did it. Beautiful, don't you agree?"

The man only nodded.

"Funny thing is, the artist…" she pointed to the signature scrawled on the painting, "Michael Merrick's his name …probably doesn't even know himself how he got that glowing effect."

The man quirked a questioning eyebrow. "Oh? How's that?" Deep dimples on his cheeks signaled his amusement at her comment.

And as Shaylee watched, the smile crept up from his mouth, and when it reached his eyes the golden lights were there again…dancing! Fascinating! So it hadn't just been her imagination.

She smiled back, hoping to keep those dimples from disappearing. In her twenty-four years of life she'd come to acknowledge her fondness for men with dimples.

"Well," she mused. "I read somewhere that a great painter may know a lot about painting, but then he'll do something and wonder how he got that effect. You know, that there could have been just a happy mistake."

Now the man laughed. A full, deep sound from deep inside his chest that made Shaylee smile back.

"So you think that light on the snow is just a happy mistake, do you?"

"Well, maybe not," she conceded. "But however he did it, it's absolutely fantastic. The hues are so clear and so vivid. The snow is…it's scintillating!"

The man looked down at her, surprise registered on his face.

"Don't you agree?" Shaylee frowned. Probably she was too effusive again. "Foot-in-the mouth disease" her farmer brothers called it.

"I guess that's the magic of water colors," he said, not answering her directly.

But, having got started, Shaylee, as usual, couldn't contain her eagerness. "It's as though this painter looks at the world through eyes that see everything in a vibrant, optimistic light. He must be a wonderful person."

"I assume you paint?" He failed to join in her effluent praises of the artist.

Shaylee sighed. "Yes, but I've only dabbled on my own. I'm just getting settled here in Toronto and I'd love to find an art class somewhere." And find out if what she'd been doing was any good. Had Grandpa been right about her artistic talent, or had he just been kind to his only granddaughter?

"Did you happen to see the brochures over there?" With his head the man indicated a low table on which some papers were scattered.

Shaylee walked over, picked one up and quickly perused it. Art classes. A business card was attached to each application form.

Michael Merrick

Cordova, Laine and Merrick,

Graphic Design and Production.

"Michael Merrick!" she cried, delighted. "Hey, that's my artist!"

The man's face once again broke into a smile. Ah, those dimples!

"Yeah," he said. "And looks like your artist has a day job, too. Busy fellow."

She nodded in agreement. "Yes, I guess that's an artist's life for you. Even though his paintings are so wonderful, he has to work at other things, too." She slipped the brochure into the large tote bag she carried over one shoulder. "So, do you take lessons?"

"Lessons?" He hesitated. "No, I don't."

Shaylee thought she could hear a tinge of bitterness in his voice as he added, "But I probably should."

Shaylee tipped her head towards the brochures on the table. "There's your chance. Judging by his work, I'd say this Michael Merrick knows what he's doing. I'm sure he could help you." She smiled encouragingly.

"Actually, I…"

Just then the proprietor popped his bald head into the room. "Mike, can I…Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"That's all right. I was just leaving, anyway." Shaylee hitched her tote bag higher onto her shoulder and with a wave she turned to go. Good-bye, Mike! Too bad her chances of ever seeing this good-looking guy again were about nil. Or less.

Shaylee stepped through the open glass doors and set off briskly down the sidewalk. The March afternoon was sunny, and spring was making valiant inroads into the stubborn winter. In this old part of Toronto the streets were lined with huge, skeletal trees that now, without their lush summer foliage, allowed an intimate peek at the red brick century homes. Over time many of these grand old houses, with their white, ornate scrollwork, had been transformed into unique galleries and chic boutiques. Strolling in downtown Toronto, Shaylee always felt as though she were on a different planet from her home on a farm near Kitchener.

A sudden sparkle of sunlight dancing on the melting snow reminded her of the man in the gallery. Impulsively she turned to look back, hoping to see a glimpse of him, but he was nowhere in sight. Mike. The fact that she knew his name was like a thin thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, they could meet again.

After all, how many Mikes could there be in a city of five million?

Shaylee stopped to wait for a light. Would her paintings ever hang at that gallery? And if so, would they evoke the same "Wow-factor" as Michael Merrick's had done?

She knew she was good. After all, everyone back home always praised her paintings to the skies. And dear Grandfather had practically crowned her the Canadian Michelangelo. But did these people know what real art was like? Any more than she did herself. She only painted what she saw around her home--the picturesque countryside and the lake nearby. Nothing resembling the strange lines and splashes of color she saw at the galleries she'd visited. If that was real art, she was missing it by a mile. She could only hope that all art connoisseurs wouldn't judge her realistic work as just the nice efforts of some dilettante.

The problem was, she'd never had the nerve to get a professional opinion of her paintings. What if they said it wasn't any good? It seemed preferable to keep hoping and dreaming than face a possible disappointment. But maybe, if she went to these classes and really worked hard to show Michael Merrick what she was capable of doing, he might simply fall all over himself praising her, and tell her she was incredibly talented. Hah! Dream on, girl! Didn't pride goeth before the fall, or something like that?

Because, instead of praising her, he just might pat her on the head, like her loving big brothers always did, and tell her that her paintings were very nice and her family would surely enjoy receiving them for Christmas.

Yeah. Shaylee's heart sank and her shoulders sagged. That would absolutely kill her dream. She would never become a recognized artist. And then what would she do? Go back home and work at the florist shop?

No way! She hadn't come this far in order to let self-doubts stop her now.

Standing at the curb, she rummaged through her bag and brought out the brochure. A set of ten art classes would start in a couple of weeks and--happy surprise! --they would be held an easy bus ride from where she lived in the north end of the city.

She threw back her shoulders and stared defiantly at the red light. Turn green already! She'd come to Toronto to succeed, not fail!
$16.95
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Looking for Love: Harmony Village Series, Vol.1
A Christian Romance

by Anna Dynowski

Runaway bride Maggie Egan leaves town for the big city with only a knapsack on her back and a secret in her heart. Now, older, wiser, and broke, she returns, with all her worldly possessions stacked in the backseat of a beat-up old car and her twelve-year-old secret, a daughter, seated in the front. Managing the cafe is just what she needs to rebuild her life. What she does not need is the owner of the cafe snooping around. He’s handsome, charming, and...her daughter’s father.

Stefan Chapeski is surprised he still feels hurt, resentment, and...attraction toward Maggie. Stay away, he vows as old feelings resurface and his heart does a tailspin in his chest, except...he can’t quite put his finger on it, but there is something oddly familiar about the girl and he does employ her mother. And, oh well, Stefan is in need of a coffee, one brewed by Maggie.

But, when the plan to rekindle the romance is kidnapped and held at gunpoint, the services of the town’s indomitable matchmaker are required. Reporting for duty...Cupid Cat. He’s not above baring his fangs to make sure his clients are Looking For Love in the right place.

ISBN 978-1-59431-842-9 Romance / Christian / Contemporary





Chapter 1

Stefan Chapeski decided he had a wax build-up in both his ears. A thick, syrupy twelve-year build-up, to be exact. How else could he explain misunderstanding his best friend's words, he wondered, concentrating his sight on the white speed boat chugging past them along the canal on its way to the open waters of Harmony Lake. He lifted a hand in acknowledgment to the driver sounding the horn, the slow, casual movement at odds with the clamorous beating of his heart.

The man sitting on the bench beside him, legs apart, elbows resting on his thighs, hands clasped together, couldn't possibly have said what Stefan thought he did. Could he?

She wouldn't dare show her face here, not after all this time. Not after dealing him such a cruel and cutting humiliation. A very public humiliation. He felt his hands curl into fists. She wouldn't have the guts to return and face the music. His music.

Shaking his head, he relaxed his fingers, and gave a soft, derisory laugh before sliding his gaze on his friend. "For a minute, I actually thought you said she was coming back." He searched the other man's eyes, looking, desperately, for a negation, finding a wary compassion instead, and his heart stopped beating altogether. "Kane?"

Best friends since the first grade, he and Kane Crogan had been through a lot together. Measles and mumps. Heated arguments and hard punches. Testosterone flare-ups and temptation put-downs. Studying for exams and sneaking off to ball games. Tempers and triumphs. And throughout the almost three decades their friendship spanned, it never waned or weakened. It weathered life, in all its ups and downs, start-ups and sudden stops, proud successes and cruel jokes.

Cruel jokes.

Dark fire burned in his veins with the same intensity now as the stunned shock iced his mind and heart then.

When at the lowest ebb of his life, staggering under the crushing weight of the cruelest of jokes--his intended bride failed to show up at church or leave a note of explanation--Kane Crogan stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him, offering Stefan his compassion and loyalty, and shielding him, as best he could, from the whispers and gasps of the assembled wedding guests.

Twelve years after that mortifying incident--an incident that never quite receded into oblivion--he once again found Kane beside him, shoulder-to-shoulder. And, once again, it was because of her.

How dare you reach back into my life.

He had to swallow on the hard knot in his chest to regain his composure, but realized when he spoke, he'd failed to bring the churning emotions under control. "You're kidding, right?"

Kane straightened, held his gaze for a few humming seconds, then gave his head a quick, curt shake. "'Fraid not."

"She's coming back?" he rasped. "Here? To Harmony?"

Kane answered with a brief nod of his head.

Unable to stay seated any longer or look at the quiet concern reflected in his friend's eyes, Stefan rose, shoved his hands into his pockets, and walked to the edge of the sidewalk. He stared down into the canal in total silence, his back to his friend. "Are you sure?" he asked at last, in a pained voice.

"Yes."

A powerful anger stirring, he whirled around. "How?" The one word burst from him. Anger filled him. Anger at Maggie for ripping open his deep wounds again. Anger at himself, that after all this time, in spite of the pain, the loneliness, the disillusionment she had caused him, he still found himself bound to her. Heart and soul.

In spite of knowing the depth of his suffering, he still felt the old familiar attraction stirring within, an awakening of old feelings he thought were dead and buried. He was surprised at the gentle lift of his heart at the mere mention of her name, at the thought of seeing her again. Fool that he was.

Anger swept over him again and he was surprised at its intensity this time. He was surprised he had any emotion to spare her. But anger worked very well.

How dare you, Maggie. How dare you reach back into my life and resurrect all the pain. All the consuming need.

"How do you know for sure?" he asked with barely suppressed fury.

Kane stood, came to stand beside him, but kept his gaze focused on the canal. In a quiet voice, he said, "Alannah Denton mentioned it to my brother this morning when she went to see him for an emergency tooth extraction."

Stefan drew in a breath of resignation. "When?" How were they going to coexist in this little town? If she could turn him into a mass of quivering nerves now, what would she do to him when she actually got here?

His friend turned to face him. "Not till the middle of next month."

He took a long, slow breath, determined to gather all his bitterness, anger, infuriated bewilderment into one neat little box and bury it, somewhere, anywhere, so long as he could be set free from its shackles. "Why?" he asked, more harshly than he intended.

He whipped his gaze away from his friend's probing stare, to the canal, beyond to the other side, and watched Kasia Jakubek, owner of the Eagle and the Harp Restaurant, lead her patrons to an outdoor table. "Why is she coming back? Now?"

"Dunno." Kane stooped to pick up a rock, and with a flick of the wrist, sent it skidding over the glassy surface of the water. "Blaine never said."

Stefan flashed a glance at him, and cocking an eyebrow, he lifted his lips in a sardonic smile.

"Honest." Kane shrugged. "If Alannah told him, he never mentioned it."

"And you never thought to ask your brother?" he mocked, keeping his wry expression in place while all the time his senses burned.

"At first, I was too flabbergasted. Then..." Concern shadowed his troubled face.

"Then you worried about my reaction." Stefan hooked his thumbs in his back pockets. "I'm surprised Maggie could tear herself away from Toronto," he said, his tone dry, "and turn her back on the excitement of big city living."

It only took her twelve years to do that, he thought bitterly, less than two months to turn her back on him.

"Maybe city life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe Maggie realized home is where the heart is and hers has always been right here. In Harmony. With you."

The innuendo in his tone was clear. Stefan should dispel Kane's crazy idea that just because Maggie was returning, they'd pick up where they'd left off. No way. Impossible. They could never go back. He'd changed. She'd changed. They were both different people now. He'd experienced the reality of life and no longer saw it through rose-tinted glasses. He closed his eyes at the sudden surge of pain and sorrow and regret. It could never be just like old times. Together again. It was never going to happen and he didn't want to think about. He didn't want to begin to yearn...

Feeling his friend's penetrating eyes pierce him through to the bone marrow, Stefan turned, hands on hips, head back as he stared up at the cobalt-blue sky.

No bearers of bad news, no messages of doom, no ill-omens escorted the breaking of dawn. In fact, the morning had started off well, he reflected, following the wide sweep of white cloud race across the sky.

Why, Lord? Why did You have to let her come back?

A heavy weight, replacing all the earlier anger and bitterness, settled on his shoulders, tightened the muscles in his neck, and gripped his chest.

Don't I wear enough scars?

He closed his eyes.

He'd never loved any other woman, before or since, like he did Maggie. With all this consuming need. They'd connected on so many different levels. Were inseparable.

She was the only one he'd wanted to marry. Oh, not just because of that one time, one time, they came together in an unguarded moment of passion, but because she was, is, the only one who holds his heart in her hands.

Maybe, if they'd married that day, it'd have been sooner than either had expected, anticipated, planned, but they would have married, eventually, even if that night in the storm hadn't happened. They'd been soul mates, destined to love each other forever.

Or so he'd believed. Until his rude awakening.

"Stefan?"

His voice hardened. "Do you know how long it's been?" The hard mockery of his tone was chillingly new to him, but then again, he'd never spoken to anyone about her, not even to Kane. So maybe, all these discordant feelings had been locked up too long. "Twelve years, one month, five days, eleven hours." His laugh was soft, humorless. "She's like some merciless obsession. You'd think by now, I'd be able to close the book on her and get on with my life." He snorted in disgust. "It's too bad Father McNally retired. We could have had ourselves a good old-fashioned exorcism."

"Stefan, don't."

Hearing the unease in Kane's voice, he pulled himself back to the dilemma at hand. Somehow, he'd get through this. It was a matter of grit. And saving face. Raising a weary hand to rub at the kinks in his neck, he blew out a noisy breath, then trained his vision on his friend. At the fleeting look of regret hovering in the other man's eyes, Stefan patted a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, Kane," he said in a thick voice of surrender. "I'll handle it when the time comes."

It was a declaration of intent he was to remember. All too soon.
$16.95
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Format: 
Full Time Wife:Full Circle Series, Vol 3
by Anna Dynowski

Wanted: A full-time wife for one of Prince George County's finest-and most eligible men in blue. If bachelor Luke Boniface isn't on police duty, he's enjoying the company of women. Life is great, until two meddling and matchmaking old men in his small town decide he needs their help in the walk down the aisle. When they place a personal ad for a wife in the newspaper, without his knowledge, the small town swell with eager respondents. And heading the list of enthusiastic applicants: his ex-wife, Tara Rivers.

ISBN 978-1-59431-852-8 Romance / Romantic Suspense/ Inspiration/ romance

Cover Art: Shelley Rodgerson



Chapter 1

“They did what?”

Luke Boniface spluttered, staring open-mouthed at his partner and feeling the air swoosh out of his lungs much like it spurted out of an open-ended balloon. He’d always prided himself on having a good sense of humor, but right now, it was nowhere to be found. AWOL. It went AWOL.

Closing his eyes, he wished with every fibre of his being, he could have accompanied it. He wanted to be anywhere but here, in the squad room of the Prince George County Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, in the midst of his fellow policemen—his laughing fellow policemen.

Too bad he was an officer of the court. Too bad he had pledged to uphold and enforce the laws of the land. Too bad he couldn’t use his weapon in anything other than official police business. Because right now, he entertained homicidal thoughts and not just toward his collegues. Two scheming, conniving, meddling old men—

His temper building, he gave his head a vigorous shake as if in so doing, he could dispel the murderous ideas shooting off in his mind. “Right, Paladini.” His voice vibrated across the room with suppressed anger.

The clickety-clack of keyboards click-clacked to a stop, the boisterous laughter died a sudden death, and every wary eye slammed on him. Everyone got the picture. Finally.

He was furious.

There could be no other reaction to finding out he had acquired himself, without his knowledge or consent, a couple of matchmakers intent on making his life miserable.

Through clenched teeth, he ordered his partner, “Tell me.”

Matt Paladini’s eyes still danced with amusement but he managed to make his voice solemn. “First, calm down, Boniface.”

“Calm down?” Calm down? Luke was sure he was about to burst a blood vessel. How would Matt feel if he was the recipient of the Machiavellian plot of Paradiso’s devious duo, Carmen Paladini and Giuseppe Fusilli?

“Yes, calm down.”

Amid the roaring of blood in his head, Luke recognized the steely-calm voice of a policeman. He should. He’d used the same voice himself on many occasions to calm down the rattled emotions of victims of crime.

He let out a long breath and said, slowly and quietly, “Okay, I’m calm. Now, tell me everything you know.”

Matt lifted a questioning brow, studying him, assessing him.

Luke obliged him by offering back the trained blank look of a police officer. With every bit of willpower he possessed, he willed his arms to hang limp at his sides, his hands relaxed. His hands, yes, but not his mind. It jolted, leaped, and boxer-danced all over the place.

When the tension-filled seconds crawled by, Luke began to wonder if Matt had such a bomb to drop that he chose his words with extreme caution. “Just spit it out.” He already knew he wasn’t going to like what he’d hear.

With a brisk nod, Matt suggested, “Maybe you ought to sit down. Get him a chair,” he commanded to no one in particular.

Luke never took his eyes off his partner but heard the legs of a chair scrape the floor behind him, felt the seat slide against the back of his thighs. “I prefer to stand.” He blew out a frustrated breath, surprised he still possessed some air in his lungs. “Come on, Paladini. Stop hedging. Give it to me straight.”

“Okay. Straight. Fine.” After firing a warning glance to everyone in the room, he asked, “You do promise not to do anything rash?”

Luke felt his lips tip up in a mocking smile. Maybe his sense of humor was trying to make a come back? “If by rash, you mean, am I going to shoot two of Paradiso’s elderly citizens, namely your father and his accomplice, then the answer is ‘no.’”

If he was going to do them in, he intended their demise to be suitable for the crime committed. It had to be…slow and painful. And enjoyable. For him.

“It’s like this.” Matt cleared his throat. “My dad and Giuseppe, they’re from the old country, y’know?”

Tell me something I don’t already know. Like, why have they singled me out to be the “lucky” participant in their mad plot to get me married? And how do I get out of the mess my gut tells me I’m in?

“Go on.” Luke felt what he could only describe as a chill wash over him and settle at the base of his spine.

“Right.”

He watched Matt throw a glance over his shoulders toward the Detachment Commander’s office. He probably wished—no, prayed fervently—for Roll Call to be announced so he could be let off the hook here, but unfortunately for his partner, Staff Sergeant Palozzi was still holed up in his office.

“Go on,” he repeated.

Matt sucked in a deep breath and continued. “Dad and Giuseppe, being the patriarchs that they are, like to see their children settled down—”

“Neither of them is my father.” Luke crossed his arms at his chest. He had one of his own. And he never missed a beat in reminding his son, his very single son it was time to join the ranks of his siblings and find himself a suitable spouse. Luke almost shuddered.

Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll pass, thank you very much.

“Luke,” Matt implored for understanding with his eyes, “they’re two old men who believe the earth isn’t spinning correctly on its axis unless everyone—that is, everyone in Paradiso—is married.” He gave a lopsided smile. “That includes you.”

The chill at the base of his spine began a slow ascent up his back.

Matt’s grin broadened. “You see, Giuseppe takes credit for getting Nick and Allie together and dad for me and Petra. So to their way of thinking, you needed their combined and highly specialized assistance in the matrimony department.”

Luke felt his eyes widen to the point he thought they’d never close again. “Assis—” The chill must have reached his throat and sliced off his voice. Swallowing, he tried again. “I don’t need any assistance.” Yeah, the chill had definitely reached his throat and cooled his voice to sub-zero temps. He was fairly certain his eyelids had been released and now lowered to menacing slits.

Matt raised a hand and rubbed his chin. “Not from how they saw it.”

“How they saw it?” Slow, methodically, he massaged the bridge of his nose. He was beginning to sound like a parrot, he thought and grimaced. “What. Exactly. Did. They. Do?” The chill seemed to have frozen his jaw in place and he had difficulty pushing the words out of his mouth. It was either that or he was experiencing extreme fear. Not a good sign for a cop.

“They, um, placed…a personal ad for a wife in the paper. For you,” Matt finished on a quick intake of air.

Luke would have responded with a quick-witted retort had he not developed a sudden case of laryngitis and discovered, to his dismay, his brain, right at this precise moment, opted to go south on vacation and leave him stranded here. Alone.

Great. No sense of humor or brains to save him.

He lowered himself onto the chair behind him as carefully as an old man—a century older than those two calculating, interfering, manipulative busybuddies.

An ad. For a wife. Oh, God.

“Quick. Someone get him a coffee. Black. Strong.” Crouching before him, Matt barked out the order. “Easy, buddy. Take it easy. Breathe.”

Someone—he didn’t see who—handed him a styrofoam cup. He took a deep breath and inhaled standard, regulation bitter coffee. He took a long gulp of scalding liquid, not caring pain burned his throat. At least, this physical pain would give him something else to think about instead of the one eating slowly through his gut.

Oh, God.

“Listen, buddy, they didn’t mean any harm by it.” Matt straightened, patting Luke on the shoulder.

The sound he made through his clenched mouth was neither an agreement nor a dispute. It was, more or less, a snarl. “No harm? No harm?” His voice upped a notch. “They place an ad, a personal ad, in the paper without my knowledge or consent…” He let his voice trail off as he washed his face with his hands. One minute, his life was going along just fine and the next…

“Listen, Boniface, Carmen and Giuseppe just thought you needed a little help in the romance department. That’s all.”

Luke dropped his hands, and turning his face, he clamped his eyes on the speaker, Detective Carl Spencer. “I do not require any assistance in the romance department,” he said, his tone clipped. “I have never, repeat, never had any problem in getting a date. In fact, I’m seldom without female companionship.”

“That’s just it, Boniface.” Constable Frank Quintiliani piped up, with a smile. It played about his mouth and danced in his eyes.

And Luke wanted to bop him one. Just one punch, carefully aimed at that smirk. Instead, he pressed two fingers over his right temple where a headache began to beat. “What’s it?”

“Boniface, no one is questioning your ability to charm the ladies.” Matt’s grin widened. “Just your ability to charm one of them to the altar.”

Luke’s laryngitis returned. Although he opened his mouth, no sound emerged, and he snapped his lips shut, swallowing a couple of times to dislodge the ball of emotion stuck in his throat. He wasn’t quite sure what that emotion was exactly.

Was it fear that roped his stomach? Or anticipation? And why had his sense of humor hit the road now when he could have used a healthy dose of it to get through this disaster?

When he managed to work his mouth, he said, “I don’t do marriage.”

His chin came up, his eyes level on his partner. Been there. Done that. Doesn’t work. The silent words whipped through his mind with the vulnerability of hurt.

Some people were born to be married. Some people thrived at it. Some excelled. He was none of these as his one—and only—attempt at the walk down the aisle fizzled into a hard and grim walk into the divorce court. And this after only two years.

With a bleak smile, he crushed his cup—lucky for him it was made of styrofoam and not glass—and tossed it into the garbage can. “Some people are better off not married.” He straightened his shoulders. “I’m one of them.”

“Maybe one of the lovely ladies who’ll respond to your ad will be able to change your mind about that.” Quintiliani slapped him on the back and wiggled his brows.

“It’s not my ad,” he said with something close to a sigh. These guys were enjoying his discomfort and dilimma a little too much. Clasping his hands together to keep them from throttling his collegues, he let his mind wander, only for a second, to Tara.

I’ve been cured, for good, from the notion of a happily-ever-after. A forever soulmate. A love eternal.

His voice remained colorless, his hands remained folded. “I prefer playing the field.”

There’s safety in numbers, he thought. Safety for his heart. No committment. No strings attached. No expectations.

“And I prefer to be the hunter. Not the hunted. Thank you very much,” he added dryly.
$16.95
852
Format: 
Call Sign Love-p
by Carlene Rae Dater

Like a heat-seeking missile, his gaze burns her from across the room. Tall, blond and muscular, he's perfect. They meet and start to fall in love when Cyndia Simmons discovers the awful truth. Todd Whitlow is a Sheriff's Deputy and she doesn't date men in law enforcement, ever.

ISBN: 978-1-59431-837-5 Romance / Suspense /Crime Also available in RTF and HTML



Chapter 1

Todd Whitlow entered the dark apartment, his right palm resting on the butt of his gun. He slid his left hand along the wall until his fingers encountered the light switch. With a flick, light flooded the room.

"Damn. Looks like the moving fairies haven't unpacked yet," he said to himself.

A profusion of cardboard boxes squatted all over the partially furnished living room. Todd closed the door and walked to the bedroom, unbuckling his leather utility belt. Of all the places he'd lived in his 28 years, this was one of most pleasant--or would be once he was unpacked and organized. It would do nicely as an interim residence until he could afford to buy his own home. That would take time and a few steps up the ladder, but he was determined to have a plot of his own land…with a garden.

He removed his Glock 40-caliber pistol from its holster and locked it in his nightstand. One of the few things he disliked about being a Sheriff's Deputy was this equipment-laden belt. The rig was heavy, and, by the end of his shift, his hips hurt. With a clunk, he dropped the whole contraption on the floor at the end of his dresser. Once he started up through the ranks and became a captain, he wouldn't be burdened with the belt anymore.

Todd stood in an equally messy bedroom, hands on his sore hips, trying to decide what to do. He had several choices: he could strip down, hit the sack and get a good night's sleep; start unpacking; crack the books for his sergeants exam or change clothes and check out the late night action in Oakdale. He only had two months to cram for the test. He was tired, but wired, so decided to go out. Tomorrow, for sure, he'd hit the books.

He chuckled while he unbuttoned his uniform shirt. There was another option. While moving in over the weekend, he'd met one of his new neighbors, Monica. She made it quite clear she loved men in uniform wearing guns and wouldn't mind getting to know him better. A giant yawn made Todd's eyes water. Nope, he'd grab a quick beer at the Dew Drop Inn, then home to bed.

***

"Come on, Cyn, it will be fun!"

"No thanks." Cyndia Simmons fluffed her coppery curls and squinted into the restroom mirror. She definitely needed glasses and soon. She could barely see her own reflection from two feet away. Staring into three computer screens during her eight-hour afternoon shift at the Sheriff's Department Communications Center was taking a toll on her eyes. The majority of dispatchers needed glasses by their thirtieth birthday. At 25, Cyndia was rapidly heading in that direction.

"Why not? Everyone will be at the Dew Drop Inn for Barb's birthday party." Alice Brossard ran a comb through her almond-colored hair. The two women had finished their afternoon shift and stopped to freshen up before leaving the building.

"I've told you why not." Cyndia bent over and cupped her hands, splashing cool water on her weary eyes. "I don't date deputies. The only people who hang out at the Dew are deputies, so I never go there. Why bother?"

"I thought you wanted to get married then work part time and have babies?"

"I do. I'd just rather reproduce with a man who doesn't wear a gun all day long. I'll never date a man in law enforcement again, and you know why."

"Yes, but if you don't marry a cop, who will you marry?"

Good question. Why did it have to be so hard? All she wanted was some romance in her life, a strong handsome man to sweep her off her feet. Cyndia bit her tongue to keep from grinning. It wouldn't hurt if he was super rich and terrific in bed either. She still wanted a career that would make her enough money to be independent, but had abandoned the idea of vet school when her father had been killed in the line of duty. She found out she'd have to move away to go to college and leave her mother alone. The nearest school was over two hours away in Los Angeles. And, she knew how difficult was to get into vet school.

She'd been searching for other career opportunities, but so far nothing had surfaced. Now that her mother had decided to put the house on the market in the fall, she'd have to step up her research. One look at the apartments-for-rent section in the newspaper had made her break out in a cold sweat. She needed a new job and soon.

Alice took off her glasses and replaced them with blue-tinted contact lenses. She blinked a few times, stepped back and whirled around.

"How do I look?"

Cyndia smiled. Alice was as fresh and sweet as a puppy. The blue tinted contact lenses accentuated her eyes. Her blond hair hung straight and perfect, the way Cyndia wished her own curly hair would, and Alice's skin was as pale and fragile as a gardenia.

"You look terrific," Cyndia said. "Come on, I'll walk down to the parking lot with you. Even with the fence around it, I hate being there alone at night."

The two women shoved combs, lip-gloss and the rest of their female gear into purses.

"Did you hear the call Carol took about an hour ago?" Alice scanned the ladies' room even though both women knew they were alone. "Someone spotted a pervert running right down the middle of the street," she whispered.

"No, I must have been on a break. What kind of pervert?" Cyndia held back the smile that threatened to wiggle onto her face. Alice was a shy, naive twenty-year-old.

"The naked kind." Alice blushed and giggled. "The woman who called 911 said she saw a guy jogging along with a brown bag on his head, and that was all."

"Where, in Lakeville?" Cyndia asked. A lot of the calls taken at the Communications center were for crime in Lakeville: drugs, domestic abuse, robbery and even an occasional murder.

"No, Oakdale," Alice said.

They both lived in the small suburb of San Diego out near the desert. It was a safe bedroom community, and Cyndia was surprised to hear of a weenie-wager in her town.

"Don't be too concerned. They should be able to spot him pretty easily. There can't be that many brown paper bags around." The two women walked out of the ladies' room, their female giggles rebounding along the empty hallways. Alice took a breath and started running toward the stairwell.

"Hey, slow down! What's your rush?" Cyndia hurried to catch up.

"Didn't I tell you? It's my new weight-loss plan. I run everywhere." Alice's cheeks flushed pink and her eyes sparkled. "I'm down two pounds already this week." She opened the door to the stairs. Cyndia didn't think Alice was fat, just a bit…fluffy.

"I suppose skipping the elevator is part of the plan too?" Cyndia didn't need to lose weight, but exercise never hurt. She wasn't getting any younger.

"Yup, come on." Alice skipped down the steps. "Is Greg working tonight?" Her voice bounced up and down the empty cement stairwell.

Cyndia paused for a breath on the landing and then kept going. Alice had a major crush on Cyndia's handsome younger brother, but she knew that sweet Alice wasn't Greg's type. He liked them fast, loose and slightly dim.

"No, he's off tonight and tomorrow then he goes on day shift. Did I tell you he applied to be on the motorcycle unit?" The minute the words were out of her mouth, Cyndia regretted them. What could be more dashing than a man in uniform on a motorcycle? Not to her, of course, but Alice was young.

"I love riding motorcycles. Did I ever tell you?" Alice's mouth dropped into a perfect pink O, and her eyes grew large and misty.

"Yeah, he'd be perfect. You know what they say about motorcycle deputies. They all have really big…" Cyndia cupped her hand at her waist and grinned,"…badges."

The women exited the Communications center into the quiet night. Soft vapor-laden air swirled around the cars and trucks parked in neat rows. Fog had rolled in from the ocean, and the all lights in the lot had misty halos around them. Cyndia shivered, and shoved her arms into her hunter green cardigan.

"I'm two rows over. See you tomorrow, Alice." Cyndia wove between the parked cars, heading for her own beat-up ten-year-old Toyota.

"Oh no!" At the sound of her friend's voice, Cyndia turned back and hurried to her friend's side.

Alice stood by her bright red Volkswagen bug, stomped her foot and crossed her arms. "I have a flat tire. I'll never get to the party before everyone leaves."

"Call AAA. I'll wait with you until they arrive. That shouldn't take too long." Cyndia shivered and wished she'd brought her jacket.

"Are you kidding? The last time I had trouble this time of night I waited for over an hour." Big tears flooded Alice's eyes and threatened to spill out onto her silky cheeks. "I'd call my dad, but he has to get up early in the morning and go to work."

Fatigue pulled at Cyndia, and she bit her tongue. Why did she always have to be the strong one, the problem solver? All she wanted to do was go home, snuggle in bed, and finish reading her romance novel. She had to find out how Lady Silvia managed to entice Lord Northfield into marrying her.

"Tell you what. I'll drive you to the party and stay for a few minutes to make sure Betty or someone else can take you home." Cyndia was tired but hated for her friend to miss the action. She was sure to see a lot of guys from the department, and the idea of marrying a police officer was glamorous to Alice. This might be her chance to meet the right guy. "Then tomorrow I'll pick you up an hour early. You can call AAA and have the flat fixed before shift, okay?"

Alice hugged Cyndia. "Great. That way you can join the fun."

The party was in full swing by the time the women arrived at the bar. The Dew Drop Inn had been in Oakdale for as long as Cyndia could remember. Her mom and dad had gone there when they were courting. A long bar sat against the wall, blemished by a thousand cigarette butts and wet glass bottoms. Large men, drinking beer and cheering one another on, surrounded four pool tables in the back of the room. The ancient jukebox wailed with a country song full of anger and loss. A few couples bumped together on the postage-stamp sized dance floor as they swayed and rubbed up against one another. Cyndia thought the whole place was depressing and could never figure out its charm.

"There they are." Alice walked slowly toward the gang of people. She hesitated at the edge of the group until someone grabbed her hand, pulled her into the middle of the action where she shyly greeted her fellow dispatchers, deputies and a few assorted "civilians."

The noise echoing off the walls gave Cyndia an instant headache and the smell of spilled beer and old cigarette smoke made it worse. Smoking had been outlawed in bars a few years ago, but the carpet, walls and everything else still reeked.

She headed for a relatively quiet corner and ordered a coke. The bartender had just set the glass in front of her when a deep voice rumbled in her ear.

"Is this stool taken?"

Cyndia whirled and looked up, up, up. Her heart flipped over in her chest. The eyes that went with the fantastic voice swept over her. Hair the color of summer wheat framed his tanned face. His Paul Newman blue eyes stared into her soul. A low heat began to simmer inside her body. Even in this crowd his presence was compelling. His smile rendered her mute. Standing in front of her was the man of her dreams.
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Never a Cougar
By Ludima Gus Burton

Love knows no age limits Kay Holland, a fifty year-old widow, doesn't want to be called a cougar. Although fifteen years separate them, thirty-five year old, Drew Lawrence, isn't her cub! She must, however, overcome her own doubts of the age difference, his son and her daughter's opposition and social prejudice to reach her happy ending.

978-1-59431-866-5 Romance/fiction

Prologue

The sun came through the green leaves of an oak tree. A gentle, warm breeze rustled the high grass on the shore of the swirling brook. A little black-haired boy leaned over the bank to drop a plastic boat into the stream. He slipped in the mud. Before he fell into the rushing water, a young woman grabbed his arm and pulled him back to safety.

"You have to be more careful," she said.

He turned to her. His dark brown eyes gazed into hers. He smiled. A deep dimple appeared in his left cheek. The smile's brilliance made her grin back. How she wanted to hug him.

"Thank you," he said, laughed and ran away.

Later the young woman asked her cousin who had come with her to the family reunion, "Who is he?"

"I don't know. I think his name is Darin, Drew or something like that. Why?"

"I wish I could take him home."

"You always were a sucker for dark eyes and a dimpled smile." She laughed, "Besides, I doubt your new husband would want the competition."









Chapter 1

When I came home my answering machine had a message on it. I clicked it on.

Kay, this is Alan. Do me a favor. Have dinner at the Jefferson Inn at seven with my new partner, Drew Lawrence. I've reserved a table. I told him you'd wear one of your fancy pins. I'll owe you.

I switched off the machine and sighed. Trust Alan to ask me to do this. But he also knew I wouldn't disappoint him.

As I fastened the straps of my sandals, I thought about his thirty-five year old law partner I didn't care to meet. I don't relate well to younger men. Teacher that I am, I usually want to correct them. And Alan wouldn't accept the fact that I'm a contented fifty-year old widow with little desire to socialize.

I laughed and thought of the men Alan had paraded through my life. At least Drew Lawrence would know my age. Alan had promised to reveal my age, to all and sundry, so there would be no awkwardness or misunderstanding.

I took a quick look in the full-length mirror at my slim figure in a black sheath dress, sheer black hose and high-heeled sandals. Not bad for a woman my age. I pinned my late Aunt Agatha's brooch to my left shoulder area.

***

The weathered shingles, flower boxes and the wide porch of the Jefferson Inn always gave those who entered a country welcome. I opened the tall oak door with etched glass panels and ornate brass doorknob and stepped into the lobby with its high columns, black and white marble floor and large pots of palm plants.

I moved through the lobby and sat in a red-velvet winged chair. I dropped the lace shawl from my left shoulder to flag my blind date. The rhinestone pin caught the light from the crystal chandelier. It glittered, to send forth a signal. I couldn't help but give a low laugh. Could there be a more absurd sign?

"Mrs. Holland?"

I looked up at the man who stood before me.

He wasn't at all like I had imagined he would be. He was tall, with the broad shoulders of an athlete, black hair, square jaw and a nose with a slight bump as though he had been in a fight in the past. His dark brown eyes glowed with warmth. When he smiled at me the grooves around his full and sensuous mouth deepened. A dimple appeared in his left cheek.

That look and the charm of his smile made me unexpectedly breathless. The déjà vu feeling puzzled me.

"I'm Drew Lawrence. Alan said you'd take pity on me. I hate to eat alone."

His gaze swept over me from head to toe. My heartbeat quickened at his undisguised admiration. My breath caught in my throat. I quickly smiled at him.

Minutes later, we were seated at a table that overlooked a fountain surrounded by a riot of flowers. On this September night an unseasonable warm breeze ruffled the colored leaves of maple trees.

I looked around the restaurant. Some of my neighbors were at a nearby table. Across the room my principal and his wife watched me. I felt rather self-conscious. I pushed aside any negative thoughts, determined to enjoy the dinner.

Drew nodded to the waiter to give us a menu.

"The prime-rib is the Inn's specialty," I said.

"Shall we have it then?" Drew asked with a smile. I nodded.

He then said to the waiter, "A side order of horse radish, please."

"For me, too," I said and saw his grin. "My Dad introduced me to it when I was little and laughed hilariously at my reaction."

"But you got over it?"

"Yes," I said and felt a kinship that disturbed me. I felt more at ease when he asked, "Have you a preference in wine?"

"No, please order for me." I was pleased that he didn't order for both of us without asking.

While we waited for our dinners, I sipped the wine. "Just right," I said.

"Good," he said and raised his glass to me, his eyes full on me.

As the evening progressed, our animated conversation seldom touched on personal topics, but attraction simmered beneath our words--his eyes looked into mine, a smile passed between us… We ordered a last cup of coffee. I looked up as my principal and his wife stopped at my chair on their way out of the restaurant.

Nice to see you, Mrs. Holland," he said. "Hope your dinner pleased you."

"Thank you, and how are you, Mrs. Alberts?" She smiled and said to her husband, "We should leave."

"Yes, yes," he said with a frown. "Good night, Mrs. Holland." He looked at Drew. I knew I had to introduce him. After the exchange, Mr. Alberts left us.

Drew gave a short laugh. "Not one of your favorite people?"

"Hardly. My principal and I have our issues."

"Never mind. You can hold your own, I'm sure." Drew then said, "Because of Alan's past ties with Jefferson, we may open a branch office here. I'm glad I made this impromptu visit today to see for myself."

"A good idea," I said. "People remember his father. When my husband died ten years ago, I appreciated his compassion and help."

Having finished my coffee, I stood up. "Shall we leave?"

Drew smiled and settled the bill. We walked out of the dining room and went to the parking lot.

"My car's the white Mercury." After we reached it I said,

"I'm glad I had this chance to meet Alan's new partner. I wish you a safe trip back."

"I have a feeling this won't be my only trip here," he said. I didn't answer him or give him any encouragement.

When Drew walked me to my car, the touch of his hand on my elbow made me feel good. To have the protection of a man in a deserted parking lot made me realize how much I missed it.

After I got into the car and snapped on the seat belt, I rolled down my window.

"Thank you for a lovely dinner," I said. "Give my regards to Alan and Phyllis. Take care, and good night."

"Good night," he said with a smile that made butterflies flutter inside me. "I look forward to our next meeting."

Through the rear view mirror I saw he watched until I turned the corner.
$16.95
866-p
Format: 
A Matter of Faith: Harmony Village Series, Vol. 2 -p
by Anna Dynowski

Harmony Village Series, Vol. 2

It’s…A Matter of Faith.

Harmony Village, Ontario, isn’t your average town. It definitely isn’t Toronto. No glittering lights. No classy concert halls. No high-end boutique shops. Nothing. Yet, with ticket sales for performances and CD sales declining, ultra-modern pop singer, Arabella Bianchi, ends up there—thanks to her agent, who sends her to Harmony to “grow new fans in a different part of the country.” What this provincial town does have is a handsome, single, and very conservative pastor, Krystian Jasicki, who is unimpressed with the arrival of his “Christmas present” with the rock-star haircut, funky clothes, and a stud in her nose. He is even less enthusiastic with being volunteered to help the lady grow her fan base. Sparks fly. Personalities clash. And love is severely hampered. Time is running out.

It looks like a job for…Cupid Cat, the rural community’s indomitable matchmaker. Will Krystian and Arabella fall in with his plans to secure a happily-ever-after in time for Christmas or will he have to bare his fangs to achieve the desired results?

ISBN 978-1594318733 Christian Romance / Inspiration

Prologue

20 years earlier

He could say he was young, only fifteen, a vulnerable age, but that really was no excuse.

He could say he was in the middle of giving slumber to his eyelids, but that really was no excuse.

He could say he was not yet instructed in the phenomena of prophecy, and therefore did not understand these things, but that really was no excuse.

No.

All Krystian Jasicki could say, with any real certainty, was one minute he was entrenched deep in the land of forty winks, and the next…

"Wake up, sleepy head."

Krystian groaned, first hearing the curtains being pulled back and then sensing sunlight flood into the previously darkened bedroom. "What time is it?" he moaned, his eyelids squinting open and a wide yawn splitting his mouth apart. It felt like he'd only just gone to bed. How could it be morning already?

"It's time for my best man to get his butt out of bed. We have a wedding to go to, remember?" his older brother, Kasper, cheerfully informed him as he padded around the queen size bed in bare feet and a satin bathrobe belted at his waist.

How could Krystian possibly forget? What with tuxedo fittings and church practices and playing host to relatives as numerous as the sand on the shores of Lake Ontario, some coming as far away as Poland, and a zillion other urgent tasks requiring running from one end of Toronto to the other, not to mention trying to keep the usually calm and composed Kasper Jasicki, musical agent extraordinaire, from going off the deep end from the stress of his impending nuptials, how could he forget today was the day his brother, the oldest of his five siblings, would be marrying the woman who "stole his heart," as Kasper would say.

"Come on." Kasper's forehead wrinkled with a fresh wave of concern. Krystian could well imagine his brother's brain flipping all over the place in that head of his, trying to come up with an effective way to persuade him out of bed. Pronto. "We don't want to be late."

Yawning, Krystian rolled over onto his side and leaning on his elbow, he strained to look at the clock on the bedside table. His eyelids popped wide open. "It's not even six o'clock!" With another groan, he fell back among the pillows and drew the sheets up to his neck.

"Like I said, little brother, we don't want to be late." Grinning, Kasper leaned down and grabbing a fistful of the bed sheets, he yanked them off. "Up."

Krystian let out an exasperated sigh, then levered himself up on his elbow and stared up at his brother. "Tell me something, big bro. How could we possibly be late when the ceremony is scheduled for one o'clock?"

"We don't want to take any chances." Kasper coiled his fingers around Krystian's upper arm. "Now, get up, little bro," he commanded with brotherly gruffness, tugging him out of the warm, comfortable bed. "I've got coffee on. Strong and black," he added, his grin broadening as Krystian groaned again and struggled to his feet.

"How long have you been up? And why are you so annoyingly cheerful so early in the morning?" Krystian grumbled, reaching down to pick up the t-shirt he'd dropped on the floor last night. Or was it this morning? he wondered, yawning and pulling the white t-shirt with Beam me up, Jesus emblazoned in navy over his head. Sticking his hands through the arms of the t-shirt, he grouched under his breath, "There should be a law against such cruelty."

"Only since four." Kasper began to whistle an off-key rendition of Happy Days Are Hear Again.

"Four?" Krystian didn't mean for his voice to come out sounding like a high-pitched squeak, but, gosh, he thought, plowing his hands through his hair, what'd you expect when you're sleep-deprived? "What on earth have you been doing?"

Kasper shrugged and gave him a sheepish smile. "I ironed my shirt. Polished my shoes." He lifted his satin-covered shoulders in another shrug.

"Both of which you did yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that," Krystian muttered, rolling his eyes. Then he studied his brother with a considering expression. "You had a senior's moment. Is that it? Is this what happens when you get old? You forget you've already done something and you redo it ten thousand times?" And you also forget to let me sleep and get me up at this crazy hour.

"I'm only twenty-eight." Kasper narrowed his eyes in mock irritation and lunging for him, he maneuvered Krystian in a head-lock hold. "I'm not over the hill yet," he growled, rubbing his knuckles over Krystian's head before releasing him. Then his sappy puppy dog smile was in place again. "It's what happens when you're in love." A knowing look came into his eyes. "One day, little brother, you'll meet the woman and you'll be falling all over your feet, too." He turned, and leaving the bedroom, he whistled tunelessly.

"God forbid." Krystian shuddered and trailed after his brother as he walked slowly down the hall. Unlike Kasper, he had both his feet cemented to the ground. No woman was going to make him bounce around like a fool. No way. He couldn't afford his reputation tarnished in even the mildest of ways. His calling, his God-appointed calling, required, no, demanded a level head, a quiet heart, a serene self-control.

Unlike his brother, he couldn't act like an idiot.

In Kasper's business, wacky was good. In fact, the wackier the behavior, Krystian thought as he followed Kasper into the living room and sat on the couch, the better. Wacky equaled attention. Attention drew crowds. And crowds translated into mega sales. And money.

In Krystian's world, now as he trained for his vocation, and later when he'd step out to lead when the training was complete, wacky would be counterproductive. Detrimental. Embarrassing. And definitely, not trust-inspiring.

"So..." Kasper handed a white porcelain mug to Krystian and sitting down on the small sofa across from him, he crossed his legs. "I thought we'd talk," he said equably. Holding the mug in his hand, he struck a relaxed pose as he studied the steam rising from his coffee.

"About?" Krystian managed to ask around a loud yawn and raised the dark steaming brew to his lips. "Mmm." He closed his eyes in appreciation, letting the aroma of freshly percolated coffee tease his nostrils, and because he couldn't deny himself, he took another swallow. "This almost makes up for your brutality this morning."

Kasper looked up from his coffee and gave him an indulgent you'll-live smile.

I just might, he thought, after I've had a second cup. After another slow, satisfying sip, he lowered the mug to the coffee table. "So." Leaning his head against the back of the couch, he clasped his hands across his stomach, and watched his brother through half-closed eyelids. "What's on your mind, bro?" If he didn't know better, he'd think Kasper was actually...nervous!

Kasper? Nervous? He almost snickered. That would be a first. For as long as Krystian could remember, his brother exuded confidence in high doses. In fact, he fairly oozed with a strong self-confidence that he almost--almost!--bordered on acting with maddening overconfidence. Krystian had wanted to divest him of this irritating style once or twice over the years, except he knew his brother had a heart of gold.

So, this lack of calmness must be compliments of the woman who "stole his heart," the very pretty, very petite, Becky Armstrong. And that just goes to show, he mused, picking up his coffee and settling back on the couch, beware of small packages!

Krystian stretched out his legs, and hiding his grin behind the mug, he observed his brother over the rim. Yep. Our little Miss Becky has him slightly out of sorts. Poor guy. One could almost feel sorry for him. Almost. But not quite.

I'll probably have to repent of this later, Lord, but right now…

Straight-faced, Krystian carefully set his mug down.

Right now, he was going to have some fun. At his brother's expense. Even the score a bit, he thought, yawning.

Do not take revenge, my friend…for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord.

Krystian squashed the still small voice with little effort. Sometimes, one just had to be a little rebellious, especially when dealing with an older brother who jerked you out of bed at a crazy hour.

"Oh, I know." Krystian snapped his fingers and sliced his gaze to his brother. "This little talk…" He waved a hand through the air, pretty sure a wicked gleam in his eyes replaced his deadpan expression. "You want me, a soon-to-be minister, to counsel you."

It was an unfortunate moment of bad timing. For Kasper, anyway. Sipping and spluttering clashed and the swallow of scalding coffee went down the wrong way.

Ignoring his brother's coughing and stammering and watering eyes, Krystian scratched his chin, pretending to think. "Yes," he considered, nodding sagely. "Now would be a good time for me to talk to you about the…ahem…wedding night. Not that I have tangible experience in this area, but-- Are you all right over there?"

"No." Kasper's voice was barely a croak and he tried to clear his throat.

"You're not all right?" Krystian infused concern into his tone even as his lips twitched. "Should I call nine-one-one?" He started to rise. "Becky is not going to like this."

"No." Kasper's voice was terse now that his coughing fit had subsided, his neck was like an iron sinew, and his eyes were like a flame of fire.

"No, I shouldn't call nine-one-one, or no, Becky isn't going to like this?" Okay. Okay. He knew his brother barely hung back from the edge of the precipice, emotionally speaking, and it wouldn't really take much to…kinda goad him over…but, hey! What were brothers for? Especially when they've been short-changed in the sleep department.

"No, you're not going to instruct me on--" A tide of heat, an uncomfortable one, no doubt, rose in his face. "Never mind," he muttered, glaring at him. "My sex life is off limits to you."

"Oh." Krystian assumed a downcast expression. Maybe he got his calling mixed up. Maybe he should be an actor. "But, how can I help you if you don't confide in me?" He raised expectant eyebrows and sank back into the couch.

"I don't need help." Kasper's eyes blazed as blue as a flame in a roaring fire.

His brother so seldom overreacted that Krystian was entertained with the ease with which he now rose to the bait. However, with a tingle of remorse beginning to beat in his heart at seeing his brother so agitated, not to mention Krystian would not want to face an irate Becky should she discover--and she would--that he was responsible for a flustered husband-to-be arriving at the altar, he decided to call a truce. After all, today was Kasper's big day and it really was Krystian's responsibility, as the best man, to deliver him to church, on time, and in one piece, preferably with his mental state in tact.

"Okay." Krystian shrugged. "Now that we've established you have every thing under control in the bedroom department…" He flashed a wicked grin. Okay, so he was having a little bit of trouble relinquishing his desire for fun at Kasper's expense. Clearing his throat, he continued in a quiet voice, "What do you want to talk about?"

"You."

"Me?" Surprise arched his brows.

Answering amusement warmed Kasper's eyes but the firm line of his mouth remained. "Yes. You."

Krystian's nerves snapped awake at his tone. He had a sneaky suspicion his brother was about to return the favor and make him feel uncomfortable. "O-o-o-kay," he said after a few moments of tensed silence, recalling the still small voice that earlier had reminded him vengeance was the Lord's. Now he wished he'd listened. "I'm all ears. What exactly did you want to discuss?"

"Your love life."

"My--" Heat washed through him. He knew he was turning red. "I don't have a love life. I'm fifteen, remember?" He could also have added having pre-marital sex would not look good on the resume of a future minister. Besides, Krystian Jasicki was a big proponent to abstinence until married. And he was not in the market for a marital partner. Not yet. He had other more pressing priorities, like higher education and ecclesiastical training, demanding his time and energy. A relationship with a girl would complicate his life.

And Krystian Jasicki hated complications.

"But, you will," Kasper said softly.

"Well." Krystian exhaled, staring at the carpeted floor as he wondered what made his brother bring up this topic, and then deciding Kasper must be suffering from an I'm-about-to-scribble-my-name-on-the-dotted-line-and-sign-away-my-bachelorhood-forever anxiety attack, he looked up at his brother. "I suppose one day. Yes. But that's not part of my game plan right now."

"Not right now, I know," Kasper spoke, slowly and quietly, his blue eyes shadowed to purple. "But one day, you will." He sat on the sofa, leaning forward slightly, legs apart, elbows resting on his thighs, fingers linked between his spread knees. "Have you given any thought to what kind of a woman you want to marry?"

Reaching for his mug of now tepid coffee, Krystian willed his strewn thoughts into some semblance of order. "Well..." He stared into the depths of the mocha liquid as if it was a crystal ball holding a vision of his future bride. But the contents in the mug reflected back no prophetic picture of a prospective mate. A slight shake of his head, he looked up and found Kasper staring at him with a steady gaze, waiting.

"We-e-ell," Krystian began again, lining up the list of prerequisites in his mind as he stared down into his coffee. "I guess, first off, she'd have to be a believer, a practicing Christian. Not necessarily a student of theology or able to quote scriptures off by heart, but she'd have to be a Bible-reading, God-fearing, Jesus-believing, Holy Ghost-filled woman of principles, morals, and convictions."

When he glanced up, Kasper was nodding his head. Lowering his eyes to the coffee, he ran a finger around and around the rim of the mug. "She'd have to be family-oriented. And willing to be a preacher's wife." His voice fairly flew now as he warmed up to the theme. "And as a preacher's wife, she'd have to dress modestly, simply. She'd have to be meek and humble and unpretentious. She'd have to have a servant's heart. And, she'd have to be above reproach. No skeletons in her closet. No scandals. No stirring up gossip," he finished with a smug curve of his lips.

"She sounds...perfect." Kasper leaned back, crossing his legs.

"Yeah, she does, doesn't she?" Krystian sat back, clasping his hands behind his head. What else could a minister's wife be but a perfect help mate? He would need a conservative, down-to-earth, unassuming wife. His reputation as a pastor, a trust-worthy, respected pastor, would be on the line.

Kasper went on with a look of determination. "What about some human qualities?"

"Excuse me?" Krystian's brows pleated as his hands fell to his lap and he sat up straight.

"Krystian, I think I should tell you, Miss Perfect doesn't exist."

"Well, I'm not loo--"

"Miss Right does, however."

Krystian drove impatient fingers through his hair. "Well, I know--"

"You're too stiff. A tree that doesn't bend in the wind snaps." A shrug was added for extra emphasis.

Tree? Wind? Snaps? What was Kasper going on about?

"God is a creative God," his brother continued, a reluctant smile tugging at the edge of his mouth as if he was aware of Krystian's increasing discomfiture, of the battle within him--his ideals of a suitable mate versus God's unexpected but very possible surprise.

Krystian hated surprises.

"Don't box Him in." Kasper wagged a finger at him.

Krystian snatched in a hunted breath and folded defensive arms. "I'm not box--"

"Yes, you are." Kasper climbed out of the sofa and rifled the bookshelf along the wall. He pulled out a black leather-bound Bible, flipped through the pages, then stopped. "'But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.'" Snapping the Book closed, he replaced it on the shelf, and sat down.

Color unfurled like flags in Krystian's cheeks and his heart banged like a drum inside his rib cage. He wasn't enjoying his brother's idea of a little talk, yet he didn't say a word. Oh, he had plenty of them lining up in his head, though, but his brother wasn't giving him a chance to voice them.

Kasper's white teeth flashed in the now-relaxed planes of his face. He stood up and stretched in the warm sunshine streaming through the living room window. "Man looks on the outside. God looks on the inside. Don't set up road blocks or be a prude or you might miss out on God's blessings," he said, his voice controlled and even--a complete contrast to his own raging inner turbulence.

Krystian sealed his lips on a fiery flood of disagreement. He had no choice. There was a brick in his throat preventing him from drawing breath and keeping him from articulating a retort. Besides, he groaned silently, his brother hadn't finished with him yet.

"God has your wife all picked out," Kasper said, pacing to the front door. "And she's going to blow you right out of the calm, shallow water you feel safe treading in." He threw Krystian a cool smile over his shoulder as he stepped into his black loafers at the front door. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Think about what I've said. Better yet, pray about it."

The front door closed behind Kasper, leaving Krystian staring wide-eyed after him, his breathing irregular. Think? Pray? How could he when his reasoning processes were either not functioning anymore or they were operating but on a different frequency?

Then he heard a voice coming from the spot on the sofa where Kasper had sat. Not Kasper's voice. Not an audible voice. But…an impression. Strong. Loud. Very real. A thundering voice. A voice sounding like rushing waters. It reached way down deep into his heart and spirit.

And he sat frozen on the couch.

I have chosen a help mate for you. Prayerful is her name. At the appointed time, she will come. Wait on the Lord, for slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for she will surely come to pass. Just be patient. Be vigilant. Keep your eyes and your heart open so that you will recognize her. She will bless you and you will bless her.
$16.95
873-p
Format:: 
Your Place or Mine
by Lynette Hall Hampton

Teresa Copperfield wills Kit Hauser an ocean front condo on the tenth floor in a high rise condo at Myrtle Beach, SC. The will stipulates Kit must live there for three months Kit is thrilled. She quits her job and heads to Myrtle Beach to claim her property.

Brent Leighton, Miss Copperfield’s nephew arrives the same day claiming the property as his.

When they call the attorney, hoping to clear up the mistake, he explains the property is willed to both parties and if either leaves before the last day of August they’ll forfeit their half. When they realize the will can’t be broken, each in their own mind plan how they will get rid of the other party before the expiration date of the settlement.

ISBN 978-1-61386-011-3 Mystery / Romance

Chapter 1

"I'm glad the luncheon is over." Kit Hauser shook her short red hair and plunked her purse down on the desk she'd cleaned out an hour earlier. "You girls shouldn't have done it. I get embarrassed when I'm the center of attention."

"We wanted to give you a good send off. Besides," Lavern said as she bent to put her purse in the bottom drawer of her own desk. "It gave us a good excuse to have everyone bring in their favorite dish. We'll use anything to break the monotony of a boring old work day here in the bank and those blah lunches in the cafeteria."

"Oh, I didn't know it was an excuse for a party. I thought it was because you all like me so much."

"We did," Lavern teased. "But that was when you were one of us. Now that you're going to homestead at Myrtle Beach and become a rich and famous writer, we're all just plain jealous."

"Don't get jealous yet. I'm a little nervous about all of this. I may get there tonight and head right back tomorrow. The place may be a dump."

"Are you kidding? No two-bedroom condo in an ocean front high rise at Myrtle Beach can be a dump. And to think, in three months it'll all be yours."

"It's still hard for me to believe Mrs. Copperfield left it to me." The mop of red curls bounced as Kit shook her head. "That lady was such a mystery. I don't know if I'll ever understand why she put those stipulations in the will. They really don't make sense."

"You mean about living there three months beginning June first?"

"Yes and the one which says any guests I have must leave by nine-thirty in the evening and can't stay overnight during the three month period."

"It's weird, but who cares. I can wait three months before I come down to visit you." Lavern smiled at her friend. "Going into Mrs. Copperfield's room to see her while you were visiting your aunt at the rest home was one of the smartest things you ever did, though you didn't realize it at the time."

"I enjoyed the time I spent with her and since I no longer have living relatives she became dear to me. That's why I continued to visit her even after Aunt Geneva died. I certainly didn't expect her to remember me in her will. It was a total surprise when her lawyer called me."

"I know. Don't misunderstand. We were all sorry to hear of Mrs. Copperfield's death because we enjoyed the stories about her being a pioneer in the aviation field."

"To be in her nineties, her mind was still clear. I'm sorry Aunt Geneva didn't have a mind as sharp. I'm also sorry my aunt's last days on earth were spent in such a fog."

"I know you loved your aunt, Kit. But as you've said before, the aunt you knew left you a long time before her body actually gave up"

"That's true." Kit sighed. "Anyway, thanks to Mrs. Copperfield, here I am ready to set out on a new adventure and I thought I'd be working in this bank forever."

"Now you have three months to write the book you've always wanted to write. So do you have everything you need to get started on your new career?"

"I do. You girls have seen to that. I guess this is the last thing that belongs to me." Kit put her name plate in the box which was already almost filled with office supplies her coworkers had given her. "Of course, the sexy blue nightgown and robe set you gave me was a bonus. Too bad nobody will ever see it but me."

"You never know, besides it doesn't matter. Famous writers don't sleep in t-shirts and frumpy gowns."

"I bet they sleep in a lot of crazy outfits."

"Well, promise me you'll wear this one. I'll then know I didn't waste the money the girls pitched in."

"I promise." Kit laughed. "Well, this is it, my friend. I'm on my way."

"I'm not going to wish you luck." Lavern wiped the corner of her eye. "If you love the beach place, I've lost the best person I ever shared an office with. If you hate it then you'll come back and be an old grump. Either way I can't win."

"That's not so." Kit smiled to hide the fact she was feeling teary too. "If I love the place and it inspires me to become a rich and famous writer then you'll have to move down."

"Sounds good to me. I have nothing against living at the beach."

Kit gave her friend a quick hug. "I'll be in touch soon."

"You'd better." Lavern returned the hug. "Call me tomorrow after you look the place over. I want a full report."

"I will. In case you need me before I call, you have the number, don't you?"

"Yep. If I haven't heard from you by noon, I may call you."

"I'll see you later my friend." Kit picked up the box and walked quickly out of the office. She was at the elevator when she heard Lavern call, "Good luck partner. I expect you to dedicate that book to me."

As she headed out on the four hour drive from Charlotte, North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Kit pondered her situation. She wondered if she was being foolish giving up her apartment, quitting her job and running off like this. She also wondered if she had the discipline and stamina to write a book, a goal she'd had since graduating from college three years earlier. And was there enough time to write a book? Three months wasn't a long time, but she'd often said if she had three uninterrupted months she'd write one. Now she had to be as good as her word. She wasn't worried about coming up with a plot. She had more story ideas whirling around in her head than she'd ever be able to write.

After several miles, she began to think about Mrs. Copperfield. The woman had been a wonderful addition to Kit's life. With no family left after Aunt Geneva's death, she'd grown close to the charming old lady. So close in fact that Mrs. Copperfield had confessed to her she was ninety-eight years old, a secret she kept from almost everyone. Even at that advanced age the lady was quite vain.

Another fact Mrs. Copperfield confided to her was that the only family she had was a nephew. "A nice enough young fellow, but one who needs to settle down and quit traipsing around the world," she said. "I just wish he'd find the right kind of woman and quit messing around with those glamor queens."

During the conversations Kit learned the nephew, a wildlife journalist, made his living taking photographs and writing stories about the exotic places he traveled throughout the world. She thought that would've been a perfect life and she understood why the nephew was reluctant to give it up. She'd even seen some of the photographs because the young man was diligent in writing to his aunt and enclosing pictures. Mrs. Copperfield had also shown her some of the magazine articles. This fact gave her more reason to wonder why Mrs. Copperfield left the beach place to her instead of her beloved nephew. She decided the older woman must have had other assets she left to him.

At Rockingham, the half way point to the beach, Kit decided to stop for a snack. Though there had been food at her going away party, she'd eaten very little. At the time, she'd been too nervous and now she was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger. From the fast food restaurants on Highway 74, she chose Burger King.

Twenty minutes later she was back in the car and headed south. The rest of the trip was uneventful with the exception of a short rain storm near the small town of Roland. It was dark when she rolled into Myrtle Beach and began searching for the high rise in which her condo and her future were located.

It took longer than expected, but eventually she pulled into the parking lot under the tall structure. The building and the grounds were beautiful and she caught her breath, wondering if she'd written the address down wrong. This place looked as if it would be on the high dollar side in the real estate market. Hoping she hadn't made a mistake, she parked in an unmarked space, went inside, entered the elevator and pushed ten.

As she exited the elevator and found 10-A, she fished the key the attorney had given her from her straw purse. She unlocked the door and stepped inside. Fumbling until she found the switch, she snapped on the hallway light and saw the entrance floor done in beige ceramic tile. Catching her breath she couldn't resist opening the double doors on the right. Behind them she found the hiding place of the washer and dryer. She smiled because for the four years she'd lived in her Charlotte apartment she'd had to use the community laundry facilities. It would be a relief to be able to wash and dry her clothes without having to carry them back and forth across the courtyard.

Down the hall on the left was a bedroom. She couldn't resist stepping inside and looking around. The room was big and had glass doors on the side leading to a small private balcony with a side view of the ocean. It was decorated in soft tones of blue and green with a touch of yellow. Across the hall was a bathroom with a jetted tub and a marble sink. Plush blue and yellow towels hung from the racks and a picture of a blue sky filled with sea gulls hung on the wall over the clothes hamper.

By the time Kit got to the large kitchen she had to sit down at the dinning table and catch her breath. The place was almost overwhelming and her heart was pounding from the excitement of trying to grasp that it all belonged to her.

After a few deep breaths she left the few items she'd brought in with her on the table and stood to explore the rest of the condo.

On one side of the table was a tall breakfast bar which separated the dining area from the well equipped kitchen. On the other was a spacious living room with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony. This room was also done in shades of green, blue and yellow. The sofa and pull up chairs were coordinated in prints and solids. The coffee and end tables were of a light colored wood and matched the dining table. A flat screen television was on a shelf in the corner.

Kit almost felt as if she had to sit down again, but instead she opened the door on the right. It led to the master bedroom. The front side of the room was a row of sliding glass doors leading to an extension of the balcony off the living room. The adjoining master bath had a Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. There was also a walk-in closet.

Kit dropped to the side of the bed. "It's gorgeous," she whispered. She then repeated the word gorgeous several times before adding, "I can't believe this. Why would Mrs. Copperfield leave me such a wonderful place?"

She stood and walked around the condo again looking at the decor. The kitchen had gleaming white appliances. For several minutes she wandered from room to room; from balcony to balcony; up and down the hall, taking in the beauty of the place.

After a while Kit settled down enough to realize she needed to bring in her belongings. She found a luggage rack on the entrance balcony beside the elevators and returned with it to her car to get the rest of the items she brought from Charlotte. Back inside, she put her clothes in the closet of the master bedroom and went to the kitchen to stash the few groceries she'd salvaged from her apartment refrigerator. There was a chunk of cheddar cheese, two apples, three stalks of celery and two unopened bottles of water. From her former cabinet she'd taken the last of her non perishables, a can of light tuna, a box of crackers, two cans of tomato soup and a jar of peanut butter.

She laughed as she put the things on shelves. "Looks like I'll have to find a grocery store soon," she said aloud. "But not now. I can't leave here tonight. I might wake up and find out all of this is a dream."

For dinner she settled for a can of tomato soup with cheese and crackers. She drank a bottles of water and decided it wasn't a half bad supper.

Kit wasn't sure if it was the excitement, but by nine-thirty she was exhausted. She took a quick shower, got into one of her oversized long t-shirts with a picture of Garfield on the front and went to bed. By ten-thirty she was sound asleep.

It wasn't yet midnight when she was awakened by doors slamming and dishes rattling.

She eased out of bed and tiptoed to her closed bedroom door where a small beam of light showed underneath. She knew she'd turned off the lights in the living area and kitchen before she went to bed.

She pressed her ear against the door and listened. For a minute there was only silence then she heard the refrigerator door open, slam shut then open again. This time it didn't close.

Her heart pounded. There was someone else in the condo. Someone who shouldn't be.
$18.95
6-011p
My Dearest Friend
by Hazel Statham

Robert Blake, Duke of Lear, is a man of intense emotions who loves deeply and protects fiercely. Devastated and wracked with guilt by the death of his younger brother, Stefan, in the Peninsular War, he readily agrees to aid Jane Chandler to bring her seriously wounded brother back from Portugal.

Much against Jane’s wishes, he decides to accompany her and together they embark on the hazardous mission to retrieve the young soldier. However, the journey holds many revelations, not least of all the abiding friendship and growing love between the two travelers.

That special love is put severely to the test by the treachery that awaits them upon their return to England, when a tenant of Jane’s former home invades their lives, maliciously creating jealousy and misunderstandings for his own nefarious reasons. Can their friendship and love conquer the emotions that threaten to tear them asunder?

ISBN 978-1-61386-010-4

Historical Romance/Suspense/Mystery

Chapter 1

London, January 1812

The candles burned brightly in the sconces set about the smoke-filled gaming room of Regan's, the latest and most fashionable gaming hell to open its doors to the cream of London society. The clock in the main entrance hall had struck the hour of four some while since and still a small crowd stood transfixed about the table occupied by the two gamesters. All other play had been suspended and an air of hushed expectancy filled the room.

"Is it Lear's intention to break the boy?" whispered a small dandy to his companion. "I swear I've never seen him play so deep. It's a devilishly one-sided game, and still his luck holds."

A fellow spectator, who craned his neck the better to view the game in progress, turned sharply and admonished him to "Hush!"

Placing his cards on the table, Robert Blake, Duke of Lear, drew the pile of notes and gold coins toward him, adding them to the already considerable amount that lay on the green baize. His countenance remained impassive, his mood unreadable.

Lord Julian Harwood, the young man who sat opposite him, ran his finger nervously around his neck cloth, his a handsome young visage appearing flushed in the bright candlelight. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he mopped his perspiring brow, eyeing his opponent with a great deal of resentment.

"Enough?" queried the duke indifferently. "Do you find yourself out of funds?"

"You need not concern yourself, I have funds enough," replied Harwood, straightening in his chair and feigning nonchalance.

His grace collected the cards and shuffled them with an experienced hand. "You appear surprisingly eager to squander your inheritance my young friend."

The scowl on the young lord's brow deepened perceptively. "Damn you, Lear. Just deal the cards and save your concerns for those who would value them. I do not!"

There was an almost tangible tension in the room and a murmur ran amongst the spectators. Sir Richard Austin, a tall, fair-haired man of fashion with pleasing features, placed his hand on the duke's shoulder and bent to whisper into his friend's ear. "Have done, Robert. It does no good to fleece the boy."

The duke gave him no answer, but returned to the game in hand. A waiter shouldered his way to the duke's side and prepared to replace the bottle of brandy at his elbow, but his grace, wishing for no diversion from the cards, waved him aside with an impatient hand.

Lord Harwood finally won a hand and an appreciative murmur ran through the spectators. Throwing his cards onto the table, he turned triumphantly toward the duke. "As you see, Lear, I come about. My luck has finally changed. Look to yourself now, sir."

His grace bowed slightly in return and replied in his cool way, "May I suggest that we call a halt to the play for this evening? It will give you the chance to recoup your resources. However, should you desire a rematch, I will place myself at your disposal at any given time or place."

"I desire no rematch, sir," his lordship responded hotly, his face turning an unhealthy shade of puce. "We will have this matter over with now. You must and will give me the opportunity to come about. You owe me that at least." In a show of bravado, he leaned back in his chair, straightening his shoulders. "I suggest that we stake all on one final hand. Or is it that now you see that the luck runs in my direction, you have no nerve for the game?"

Murmured comments were heard amongst the spectators, exclaiming at the scarcely veiled insult, but his grace appeared without interest. "Whatever you wish. It matters not to me. Either way I am willing to oblige."

Sir Richard, standing behind his friend, uttered an admonitory comment and the duke turned sharply in his chair to face him. "Have done, Rick. I know what I'm at. If my play is not to your liking, then you are not compelled to stay to witness it."

"Well I don't like it, I don't like it above half," replied Sir Richard in reproving undertones.

The duke's attention was recalled to the table as Harwood dealt the cards and a hush once more fell over the hardy few onlookers who remained. The cards were played and when the duke finally placed his hand face-upwards upon the table, Harwood sat back, his once flushed countenance now deathly pale.

An excited hum of comments erupted amongst the spectators as the young lord reached for a scrap of paper and wrote out his final note of hand.

Pushing away his chair, he rose unsteadily to his feet and, thrusting out his arm, let the note drop to the table. "I wish you good night, sir," he said, bowing stiffly and, turning on his heel, he made his departure. Those spectators who witnessed his leaving did so with mixed emotions, not least of all Sir Richard.

***

The cold grey light of dawn was breaking over the skyline when the two friends left Regan's portals. Sir Richard shivered and drew his satin-lined cloak closer about his slim figure as he entered the waiting coach, but the Duke of Lear seemed impervious to the sharp frost in the air. The indifferent street lighting revealed him to be a tall, athletic man in his early thirties, with dark hair cut fashionably short, almost aquiline nose and a wide, well shaped mouth. However, it was the eyes, set beneath slightly winged brows, which took the face out of the ordinary. They were of a particular shade of green that often mirrored his emotions and when lit by a rare smile, completely transformed his austere visage. Few however, ever having had the privilege of viewing this transformation.

Entering the carriage, he cast aside his cloak and cane and lounged back against the velvet squabs, rocking only slightly as his coachman sprung the horses in the deserted streets.

The duke made himself more comfortable, easing his position slightly so that his powerful shoulders rested against the corner of the coach. He stretched his long legs before him, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.

Although the interior was deep in shadow, in the fitful light of a passing lantern he became aware of his friend's frowning scrutiny, sensing rather than seeing that Sir Richard's eyes never left his face.

The Duke of Lear's dark countenance remained impassive. "It would seem that once more I incur your displeasure, Rick," he drawled. "Of late I can do naught else. Tell me, what despicable deed have I performed now?"

"Damn you, Robert, you're a cold fish, make no mistake," Sir Richard expostulated. "I suppose you will tell me you didn't realize that you have taken young Harwood for every farthing he possesses?"

"As much as that?" the duke responded, raising his brow. "I hadn't thought to keep a strict tally. I'm obliged that you did. I take it then that my winnings are considerable, as the Harwood estates are extensive."

"Nom de Dieu! Surely you realized when you were taking his notes of hand how matters stood. How could you have allowed the play to become so deep?"

"My dear Rick, you talk as if it was I who forced the odds, but I can assure you, you wrong me. It was Harwood's suggestion that the bank should play so high."

"A young pup fresh on the town. You could give him ten years, Robert. Ten years of experience…"

"Experience that cost me dearly," purred the duke. He took a snuffbox from his pocket and traced the design with a long slender finger devoid of rings. "However, it is here that I must disillusion you, my dear friend. My motives are not as worthy of contempt as you believe them to be. Now I will explain..."

Sir Richard would have spoken, but Robert raised a hand to silence him. "Hear me out and then you will understand my actions," he ordered shortly. He paused slightly before recommencing in a more even tone. "When I was just such a callow youth of four and twenty, but recently come into my fortune and fresh on the town, I found myself in exactly the same straits. However, the hand that fleeced me belonged to a hardened gamester, a hawk, whose sole purpose was to relieve me of my inheritance. In Harwood, I saw history preparing to repeat itself and I determined that if he were of a mind to dispose so readily of his fortune it would be preferable that he relinquish it to me than to some less principled gamester. In fact, the type of hawk whom I fell prey to, whose main aim is to target the young and inexperienced. It is not my intention to keep my winnings. Indeed, once he has had time to reflect on his stupidity all will be returned to its rightful owner and he will be that much the wiser for the experience. I managed to come about, believe me, so read me no lectures on that head, my friend." He paused before adding in his deepest tones, "I would have hoped that you had more faith in me than to believe me capable of such infamous dealings. Obviously I was wrong."

"I cannot say that I approve of your methods, for fact is I don't," Sir Richard said with some force, appearing unrepentant of misreading his friend's actions. "You've changed, Robert. God how you've changed!" He watched the duke as he flicked open the lid of his snuffbox and, with an elegant turn of the wrist, partook of its contents, then he continued, "I wish I could say you were still the man I knew six months ago, but fact is I can't."

"You amaze me," replied the duke coldly, replacing the box and taking a handkerchief from his pocket to lightly dust his fingers. "I'm totally unaware of this great change of which I am accused. Behold, am I not the same man you have known these eight years or more?"

"Not the man I had grown to respect," Sir Richard replied, averting his gaze.

"And what pray have I done of a sudden to destroy this respect, my friend?"

"It is not of a sudden, Robert, it's ever since…"

The duke's faced hardened and he raised an enquiring brow. "Ever since...?" he prompted.

Sir Richard sat slightly forward in his seat the better to view his companion. "I must speak the truth and I will. You have not been the same man since news came of Stefan's death. I realize it was a terrible shock. You were so close, but..." seeing the stricken look upon the duke's face, he fell silent. Despite the fact that they were at odds, he had no wish to wound his friend by evoking memories of his brother's tragic death. "Forgive me, Robert," he stammered. "My outburst was unforgivable. I should not have spoken. Not at all the thing. Private grief. Quite understandable."

The duke sat as if turned to stone and an uneasy silence fell between them. The only sound being the horses' hooves as they echoed through the empty streets. Suddenly, sitting forward in his seat, Robert called to his coachman to halt, flinging wide the door before the horses were brought to a clattering halt. "My man will take you to your lodgings," he snapped over his shoulder as he sprang lightly into the deserted roadway and set out on foot.

His black evening coat was no proof against the sharp wind that whipped about him but he paid it no heed, his mind being otherwise engaged with thoughts of his brother. He strode on in the general direction of Blake House not caring that he should prove a strange sight in this less opulent part of the city as the tradesmen awoke and set about their duties.

Change? My God, what a change, he thought. Will this emptying grief never lessen? It was not only that Stefan was dead but the manner of his dying. Stefan, the younger brother, so gay and carefree, who had gone to defy Old Bony in the Peninsula. Who would have thought such a brilliant flame could have been so callously extinguished? He had been young and vital and enriched the lives of all whom he encountered. Was it any wonder that he could not reconcile himself to his young sibling's death?

A cannonball had inflicted such devastation on Stefan's vigorous frame, leaving no hope for recovery, but still, against all odds, he had lived. When the troops had been forced to move on, he had been placed in a lonely garret in the care of his aide and a local medic to await the inevitable end.

He waited, his senses dulled with laudanum to ease the pain and calm his ranting, knowing it was but a matter of time. In rare lucid moments, he had cried out against the futility of attempting to prolong the life of the tangled wreck that had once served him as a body, wishing only for a merciful release.

That release came one morning, when left alone during a bout of sanity. His thoughts at their clearest, Stefan had taken the opportunity afforded by a discarded pistol that had been left within his reach, to end his existence.

Robert would never know whether the weapon had been left at his brother's bedside by design or by a careless act, he only knew that its owner, whoever it might be, had earned his eternal gratitude. He could not bear to contemplate the agony Stefan had endured, wishing only that he had been at his side to ease those last few days of life.

The grim lines about the duke's mouth betrayed his thoughts as he strode homewards. He relived his years of oneness with Stefan, knowing they had been as close as two brothers could be. It was as if a part of him had died too in that country so far away, strewn with the horrors of war. A war in which his brother would have played no part if he had not succumbed to Stefan's pleading and bought him his commission in Kincaid's Brigade. Was it any wonder that he should now feel this void, his grief too deep for tears?

To the outside world, he presented a façade, retreating further into himself, protecting himself with a barrier of indifference, determined that none should witness his sorrow. He was a proud man and cared not to share his grief with others.

Arriving some short while later at Blake House, Robert surprised a sleepy porter who had looked for his master's return by coach. However, he cut short the man's profuse apologies with a curt order for his curricle to be brought to the front within the hour. His grace was intending a journey out of London.

Taking the stairs to the upper storey two at a time, he called for the attentions of his valet, demanding that no time should be lost in the preparations for his departure.

After issuing final orders to his butler, the duke, resplendent in a many caped drab driving coat over a coat of olive superfine, biscuit colored breeches and gleaming top boots, descended the steps from Blake House and mounted his curricle.

Seeing his master's darkened mood the groom, who had been standing at the horses' heads, hastened to take up his post at the rear of the vehicle. He leapt to his perch just as his grace released the lash from his whip and skillfully cracked it above the leaders' heads, deftly catching the thong as the horses moved forward at a brisk trot.

Once free of the confines of the dusty London streets, Robert sprang his horses and with the groom perched precariously behind, drove his curricle at a breakneck speed toward Stovely Hall, his country seat.

He paused only as often as was necessary to change horses, eager to reach his destination before the light should fail. It had been at Stovely that he had been informed of Stefan's death and this would be the first time he had traveled to his estate since. He knew not why he felt this sudden desire to visit it once more, only that he wished for its tranquility, hoping in some way to heal his tortured thoughts.

It mattered not that he had absented himself from the estate for almost six months. He paid his staff well and knowing the vagaries of his moods, the housekeeper, Mrs. James, kept the hall forever in readiness for his return. She never knew whether he would arrive alone or with company, therefore, the house was always well tended.

Stovely Hall was set in magnificent grounds a short distance from the coast, but the duke was impervious to its beauty when he halted his curricle, just as the light was beginning to fade, before the Palladian frontage. Hesitating slightly, he allowed his eyes to wander over the impressive house of varying antiquity, not daring to dwell on the memories the mere sight of it evoked.

The groom dismounted from his post and went immediately to the horses' heads.

"Take them to the stables," his grace ordered, alighting from the driving seat and handing the vehicle over to the groom's care.

As he mounted the stone steps to the large front door, it opened immediately as if his coming had been anticipated hourly, the footman in attendance showing no surprise at his master's arrival.

His grace, entering the hallway and drawing off his driving gloves, allowed this stalwart individual to divest him of his driving coat and issued instructions that Mrs. James should attend him in the library immediately.

The housekeeper, entering the room a short while later, found her employer standing before the fire she had ordered set earlier in the day. He stood with one arm resting on the mantle whilst extending the other to the flames and did not immediately look up as she entered. Mrs. James stood respectfully awaiting the duke's notice and it was a few moments before, as if suddenly made aware of her arrival, he turned toward her.

"Ah madam," he said, turning from the fire and taking the winged chair at its side. "Be so good as to arrange some refreshment and have it served here in the library. I intend to stay only a few days and I would be grateful if you would keep town hours. I will take my meals in the small parlor, not the dining room; there is no need for the formal as no one else will be here." He paused. "I trust that my brother's apartments have been kept in the manner I instructed?"

"But of course, your grace," Mrs. James replied, bobbing a slight curtsey. "The rooms have been aired and dusted but nothing has been altered. You will find no change there, I do assure you." She noted the pallor of the duke's countenance, and her heart went out to him, knowing she could do nothing to help him. What could anyone do in the face of such unrelenting grief? "Perhaps your grace would like a glass of wine or claret? The day is chill and you have had a long journey."

"A glass of brandy would serve better. The hour is late and once I have had some refreshment I will retire." The duke turned his gaze toward the fire, an indication that the interview was at an end.

"As your grace wishes," Mrs. James said, again dropping a slight curtsey, and retreating to the nether regions to supervise the preparation of supper. She sent a footman to the cellar to procure the brandy and ordered it to be presented for the duke's approval. However, later that evening, she confided to the cook that she had never seen the master look so drawn; adding that although she had served him supper, as he had instructed, he had hardly touched the meal.
$18.95
2-010p
Format: 
Pocketful of Hope: Harmony Village Series, v. 3
by Anna Dynowski

Beneath the outwardly quiet and gracious manner of Janek Koznaski lies a dark and painful past: abandonment at birth and abuse by the clergy. Two days out into the secular world, with insecurities plaguing her, ex-nun Kerry Heaton is flying solo without a compass. Interest ignites when the highway map for their lives lead their pathways to cross, but road blocks are hastily erected. Janek and Kerry need A Pocketful of Hope to gently merge their individual paths into one lane of love. That, and a little helpful nudge from Harmony Village’s indomitable matchmaker, Cupid Cat, to find love by Valentine’s Day.

ISBN: 978-1-61386-016-1 Paper

Romance/Inspirational/Christian

Prologue

Four Months Earlier

He felt it.

He hadn't felt it in years, but now, he felt it.

As he sat on the sofa, staring at the television screen, the hard-won world of semi-peace Janek Koznaski fought for years to rebuild, imploded in one horrifying instant and he felt the same, slow I-can't-do-anything-to-save-myself feeling explode like a detonated bomb all over him, shrouding him in the heavy, dirty dust of tortured remembrance.

It began as it had always begun, that feeling.

It began with the terrifying tingling scrape across his scalp and scratch down his spine. His hands shook and his legs trembled and his head spun. His breathing accelerated until his chest pulled taut and crushing his lungs, it snapped off his breath. His stomach went on a wild roller coaster ride, lurching to incredible heights, plunging to inconceivable depths. The acrid-tasting bile would soon follow. He tried to swallow, but his throat felt like it harbored some alien life-form, twisting and expanding and trying to choke him.

And the fear. Oh God, the fear. It kept growing and growing and growing, restraining him with bands of iron so he couldn't run. He couldn't run to safety. He couldn't run away from…

With his eyes glued on the somber face splashed across the TV, Janek felt the familiar terror fill every fiber of his being, gush from every pore of his skin, to rush over him in a suffocating wave of pain and betrayal and humiliation. He screwed his eyes shut, blocking out the vision of the gray-haired man clad in his Roman collar, but the memories, the hideous, heinous memories, hunted him down, bulldozed over him.

He was eight years old again.

No one could help him then.

No one could help him over the next five years.

No one could help him now.

He forced himself to draw in air. He ordered himself to relax. He reminded himself the old prune-faced, beetle-eyed, smooth-tongued viper could no longer hurt him.

Slowly, his breathing returned to quasi-normal. Slowly, his stomach settled. Slowly, he back-stepped from the edge of his dark and painful past.

Slowly, he lifted his eyelids.

"Bishop Peter Romero, the principal at Father Ambrose Catholic Elementary School, has been arrested and charged by Toronto Police with distributing and selling child pornography after the Canada Border Services Agency called them in to investigate the "images of concern" found on his laptop computer when he was pulled aside for a random check at the Lester B. Pearson Airport," the journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation intoned in a grave voice.

The television screen split into two, with the reporter on the left side, and the right showing a solemn Romero, dressed in civilian clothes, accompanied by a high profile lawyer, pushing their way through a crush of journalists and spectators, and ignoring their questions and taunts.

"A further search of Bishop Romero's home has unearthed pornographic videos, catalogues containing pictures of teen boys in varying stages of undress, and six, six albums filled with explicit photographs of boys who, police said, appeared to be from eight to thirteen years of age." The journalist shook her head as if she struggled with the sordid details of her report. The right side of the screen now showed the police investigators entering the house and exiting it, carrying boxes, presumably filled with the alleged videos, catalogues, and albums.

"Romero, who had been held in enormous esteem in the diocese for his work as a cleric and principal, has resigned his post with the school and with his diocese. A spokesperson for the diocese was not available for comment."

Janek aimed the remote at the TV, blackening the image of the perpetrator and silencing the voice of the reporter. He lowered his head, lowered his eyelids, raised his shield as the familiar prison of darkness skidded toward him.

Janek Koznaski wanted the images engraved in his mind to stop. He wanted the moans etched in his ears to stop. He wanted the feeling of filth branded in his soul to stop.

But most of all, Janek Koznaski wanted his life back.

He was one of the boys, years ago, the then Father Romero victimized.
$17.95
2-016p
Format:: 
On Wings of Trust: Harmony Village Series, vol. 4-p
By Anna Dynowski

Harmony Village Series, Vol. 4

Izabella Golec once stalked her art professor. She’s since channeled her energy into a thriving venture and into interring the man with the ebony hair and dark eyes into a remote chamber of her dead heart.

But when lucrative artist, Roman Ricci, shows up unexpectedly in town, books a room in her inn, and parks his easel and brushes there, her dead heart is revived…and so are the memories, both the shameful and the passionate. Will a beautiful painting of love emerge on his blank canvas, or will the services of Harmony Village’s indomitable matchmaker, Cupid Cat, be needed?

ISBN 978-1-61386-027-4 Christian, Romance, Inspiration, Cat Harmony Village Series.

Prologue

Three Years Earlier

Tears threatened, but she held them back with sheer force of will.

When as a young girl she’d thought of her wedding, she’d imagined herself wearing a soft, romantic white gown, with a rich lace appliqué adorning the organza, and with pearls trailing down the length of the a-line skirt and along the train flowing out behind her. She’d imagined herself standing at the altar beside her man—the clichéd tall, dark, and handsome man—but her man, nonetheless, a man devoted to her, a man excited about starting off on a romantic adventure with her. She’d imagined the sunlight spilling in through the church’s stained glass windows, casting a benevolent glow on their ceremony and a throng of family and friends and well-wishers surrounding them, cheering them, applauding them.

When as a young girl she’d thought of her wedding, she’d imagined her husband-to-be to be in love with her.

A sob tried to escape, but Izabella Golec pushed it back and began to wander the room, her hands vice-gripped in front of her. Not a room, she amended, touring it slowly, her spirit disconsolate. A room would conjure up images of love and joy and warmth. Her stinging eyes roamed the office, the compact, tidy, no-frills office of the art professor of Humber College, the groom’s boss and hastily appointed best man for this impromptu ceremony.

No sweet scent of orchids or roses or lilies drifted up to tease her nose, but the stale stench of old cigarette smoke or maybe marijuana. No gathering of loved ones to share in this special occasion, but the pony-tailed, fringe-vested professor and his Pocahontas headband-ed wife, the sole witnesses. No blessing of cheerful sunlight, she grieved, halting her agitated movement at the window and pulling her lower lip between her teeth. Outside, the night sky opened, the rain poured, and lightning flashed in sarcastic bolts. Her eyes dropped from the window to collide with her clothes. No romantic gown she wore, but a serviceable, sensible, straight-off-the-rack suit in the muted shade of light brown.

“Shall we get started?”

A light, cheerful feminine voice intruded on her morbid musings. Holding back a heartbreaking sigh and blinking away the threatening tears, Izabella pivoted around, her gaze slamming against her soon-to-be husband.

Roman Ricci stood a few feet away, hands balled into the pockets of his black pants, his gray silk shirt—the only concession to extravagant spending—suctioned over muscles that stretched around his tall frame. His face, colorless and strained, stood out against ebony hair spiked by restless, angry fingers.

But it was his eyes, dark and expressive and no longer tender and loving, but hard as flint that made her throat dry and her skin hot. He disliked her. Distrusted her.

Despised her.

And why not?

Her breath trembled out.

What else could a mature, thirty-year-old artist feel for her, a young, youthful, and naïve student at the college where he worked part time as a teaching assistant, a girl who wore short, unruly curls of mousy brown hair and gauche, oversized sweaters and track pants and a silly, sappy smile stretched on her mouth?

What else could he think of her, especially when she did what she did to him?
$18.95
2-027-P
Format: 
A Pocketful of  Hope: Harmony Village Series, Vol. 3-p
by Anna Dynowski

Beneath the outwardly quiet and gracious manner of Janek Koznaski lies a dark and painful past: abandonment at birth and abuse by the clergy. Two days out into the secular world, with insecurities plaguing her, ex-nun Kerry Heaton is flying solo without a compass. Interest ignites when the highway map for their lives lead their pathways to cross, but road blocks are hastily erected. Janek and Kerry need A Pocketful of Hope to gently merge their individual paths into one lane of love. That, and a little helpful nudge from Harmony Village’s indomitable matchmaker, Cupid Cat, to find love by Valentine’s Day.

ISBN 978-1-61386-015-1 Christian, Romance, Harmony Village Series, Inspiration, Cupid Cat

Romance/Inspirational

Prologue

Four Months Earlier

He felt it.

He hadn't felt it in years, but now, he felt it.

As he sat on the sofa, staring at the television screen, the hard-won world of semi-peace Janek Koznaski fought for years to rebuild, imploded in one horrifying instant and he felt the same, slow I-can't-do-anything-to-save-myself feeling explode like a detonated bomb all over him, shrouding him in the heavy, dirty dust of tortured remembrance.

It began as it had always begun, that feeling.

It began with the terrifying tingling scrape across his scalp and scratch down his spine. His hands shook and his legs trembled and his head spun. His breathing accelerated until his chest pulled taut and crushing his lungs, it snapped off his breath. His stomach went on a wild roller coaster ride, lurching to incredible heights, plunging to inconceivable depths. The acrid-tasting bile would soon follow. He tried to swallow, but his throat felt like it harbored some alien life-form, twisting and expanding and trying to choke him.

And the fear. Oh God, the fear. It kept growing and growing and growing, restraining him with bands of iron so he couldn't run. He couldn't run to safety. He couldn't run away from…

With his eyes glued on the somber face splashed across the TV, Janek felt the familiar terror fill every fiber of his being, gush from every pore of his skin, to rush over him in a suffocating wave of pain and betrayal and humiliation. He screwed his eyes shut, blocking out the vision of the gray-haired man clad in his Roman collar, but the memories, the hideous, heinous memories, hunted him down, bulldozed over him.

He was eight years old again.

No one could help him then.

No one could help him over the next five years.

No one could help him now.

He forced himself to draw in air. He ordered himself to relax. He reminded himself the old prune-faced, beetle-eyed, smooth-tongued viper could no longer hurt him.

Slowly, his breathing returned to quasi-normal. Slowly, his stomach settled. Slowly, he back-stepped from the edge of his dark and painful past.

Slowly, he lifted his eyelids.

"Bishop Peter Romero, the principal at Father Ambrose Catholic Elementary School, has been arrested and charged by Toronto Police with distributing and selling child pornography after the Canada Border Services Agency called them in to investigate the "images of concern" found on his laptop computer when he was pulled aside for a random check at the Lester B. Pearson Airport," the journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation intoned in a grave voice.

The television screen split into two, with the reporter on the left side, and the right showing a solemn Romero, dressed in civilian clothes, accompanied by a high profile lawyer, pushing their way through a crush of journalists and spectators, and ignoring their questions and taunts.

"A further search of Bishop Romero's home has unearthed pornographic videos, catalogues containing pictures of teen boys in varying stages of undress, and six, six albums filled with explicit photographs of boys who, police said, appeared to be from eight to thirteen years of age." The journalist shook her head as if she struggled with the sordid details of her report. The right side of the screen now showed the police investigators entering the house and exiting it, carrying boxes, presumably filled with the alleged videos, catalogues, and albums.

"Romero, who had been held in enormous esteem in the diocese for his work as a cleric and principal, has resigned his post with the school and with his diocese. A spokesperson for the diocese was not available for comment."

Janek aimed the remote at the TV, blackening the image of the perpetrator and silencing the voice of the reporter. He lowered his head, lowered his eyelids, raised his shield as the familiar prison of darkness skidded toward him.

Janek Koznaski wanted the images engraved in his mind to stop. He wanted the moans etched in his ears to stop. He wanted the feeling of filth branded in his soul to stop.

But most of all, Janek Koznaski wanted his life back.

He was one of the boys, years ago, the then Father Romero victimized.
$18.95
2-015-p
Format: 
The Write Honor: Harmony Village Series, Vol. 5-p
by Anna Dynowski

Harmony Village Series, Vol. 5

Though she’s a romance author, Krysia Barciniak has no illusions about love and romance and a happily-ever-after for herself. Or about every seeing her child again. One taste of love six years earlier is more than enough for her. She already has a scarred heart. Thank you very much! Then melancholic Connor Tiernay, the new museum curator, arrives in Harmony Village, with his fiveyear- old daughter in hand and a proposal of marriage on his lips. And Cupid Cat, with his indomitable reputation in the matchmaking projects, rubs his paws together. Will Cat’s predictable success and their inevitable surrender be validated?

978-1-61386-038-0 Christian Romance, Inspiration, Cupid Cat

PROLOGUE

Six Years Earlier

Surrounded by a storm of remorse and engulfed by anguish and distress, Krysia Barciniak stumbled into the deserted foyer of Bethany Home, the scent of death in her nostrils. Or was it in her head?

She let the tattered khaki-colored knapsack slip off her back to drop unheeded to the faded blue carpet, and slumped her weary body into the sagging armchair. Wrapping her aching arms around her middle, she pressed her quivering lips together and began to rock back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Tears had threatened earlier that morning and she’d managed to hold them off, but now, too tired to suppress them, too tired to care about pride, she let them fall. Sitting all alone, rocking back and forth, she let the tears fall.

What seemed like centuries later, she lifted her teary gaze to the wall clock and saw only a watery fixture. With the sapping strength of a hundred-year-old woman instead of the seventeen-year-old girl she was, Krysia raised her hands to her face to wipe the tears with her fingers. Once more, her vision focused on the clock.

One-thirty.

It was only one-thirty, she thought on a sad sigh. Another hour to wait before her parents would arrive to pick her up and take her home.

Home.

She rubbed the palms of her hands across her eyes to pick up any leftover moisture. How was she supposed to return home, go back to her “normal life” and act “like none of this happened?” How was she going to cope? Live without… Her gaze dropped to the floor and collided with the knapsack, the only possession she could call her own. That and the frayed hipster jeans and multi-machine-washed tshirt and scuffed running shoes she wore. The very same outfit she wore the first day she was thrust into the wonderful world of Bethany Home.

With a listless movement, she reached for the knapsack, hefted it onto her lap, and fumbling inside, she withdrew the only thing she could count on. Her journal. Her trustworthy journal. Without her trustworthy journal, she would have gone insane. With one final glance at the clock, she flipped her journal to the last entry, and did what she had been doing for the past year. Recorded her thoughts and feelings and prayers.

Her guilt-ridden thoughts, her beaten-to-the-pulp feelings, her from-the-heart prayers.

Dear Journal,

With two words—not words, really, but my first and last name—with the signing of my first and last name, I threw myself out of normality today and I find myself going nowhere in the dark new world that is now my own to inhabit, alone. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget this day. Its awfulness is forever ingrained in my mind. I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive myself for this day. Its awfulness is forever ingrained in my heart. The tears have begun to crowd my eyes anew, and even while I write these words, they stream down my cheeks, slip off my chin to splash on this page, and stain it as the guilt of my actions stains my heart and mind.

Oh, Lord, why did I ever come to Toronto last summer? Why did I ever join myself to that unruly bunch and hang out at Rocky’s Place that night? And why was I destined to succumb to…? Why I’d done those things no longer matter. It’s what I did today that will keep me company for the rest of my life. It’s my secret. I can tell no one. Except You. You will keep my secret and not judge me.

I knew I was late. I’d latched onto every excuse imaginable to delay the inevitable. But in the end, I had to do the honorable thing.

I owe Carly that much. Even if David could shrug her off with a callous indifference, I can’t. And so, almost an hour past my appointment, with my heart growing cold and heavy with pain, the kind of pain that’s scored deep canyons in my chest, I dragged myself to the Children’s Aid Society building where the social worker assigned to me has her office. When I arrived, alone and depressed, and her assistant showed me into the inner office, the battle-axe sat behind her massive oak desk, waiting for me. Laying her pen down with slow meticulous attention, she lifted her face in the same slow, meticulous way, letting her eyes sweep down the length of me and back up to my face.

“Ms. Skeels,” I began, wringing my hands and banking down hard on the urge to spin around and run out the door, fast. Her brow arched in her frostiest look. “You’re late.” Her tone was cold as January ice, and though it was a warm April morning, I shivered. “I will not tolerate tardiness. I’m a very busy woman and you have kept me waiting. Sit.” Battleaxe pointed an authoritative finger to the empty chair, and like she expected nothing less than immediate obedience from me, she turned her attention to the manila folder marked BARCINIAK. Of course, I obeyed. To do otherwise would incur the wrath of battleaxe. With the same slow, meticulous manner she always used to intimidate— and I felt intimidated, believe me—she flipped open the folder and drew out the…papers. Those wretched papers. “Now.” She sat up straight, her posture impervious. “Are you ready to sign?” she snapped, eyes sharpening.

My hands still fluttering, I sent her a helpless look. “This is so hard for me.”

Instead of softening her heart, if battleaxe had one, my pleading glance only served to irritate her. “What,” she asked, picking up her pen, running it through her fingers, then set it down again with an impatient thud, “is your problem?”

I pressed my hands to my cheeks, then closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to them. What was my problem she demanded to know?

“Carly’s my baby, that’s my problem,” I spoke slowly, afraid, so very afraid my voice would break. Along with my heart.

Battleaxe let out a breath, as impatient as the thud of her pen on the desk a moment earlier. “Have we not been through this already, countless times?” she asked, with an edge to her voice that made my head snap up. She reached for the pen again, this time holding it lengthwise between both hands. “We discussed the reality here.

You are young. You have no means to support this child. I thought you wanted what was best for your child?” Lips pursed, she studied me.

“Of course, I do,” I continued and had to clear my tightening throat. “But surely you, a woman, can understand what I’m feeling.” I waved my hands in a defenseless gesture. “It feels like I’m going to the electric chair. You can understand this, can’t you, Ms. Skeels? One minute I have my baby and in the next, she’s taken from me.”
$18.95
2-038-p
Format:: 
A Cup of Joy: Harmony Village Series, vol. 6
by Anna Dynowski

Harmony Village Series, Vol. 6

Life is great for Kasia Jacubek. She’s smart. She’s sassy. And she’s the sole owner of her restaurant. Well, sort of. She does have a silent partner. But the faceless man appears uninterested in taking a hands-on approach to their shared inheritance, content with accepting his share of the profits she mails to the lawyer.

Everything is going great, until…he shows up unexpectedly to take over the culinary reins. Why does he look familiar? And why does her heart take a leap of joy?

Take heed! Guard your heart!

Sharpening his matchmaking claws, Cupid Cat has his own ideas on the matter of the heart: he intends to make sure the restaurant’s silent partner isn’t so silent with her.

ISBN 978-1-61386-073-1 Christian romance

PROLOGUE

Five Years Earlier

Her hands wanted to tremble so she kept them neatly folded on her lap.

What was she doing here? Kasia Jacubek asked herself for the umpteenth time, her gaze flashing around the room with the streamlined furnishings of glass-topped tables and bright yellow padded seats sitting on royal blue area rugs, her fingers gripping together until her knuckles turned white from the pressure.

What would the prestigious, Toronto-headquartered, Holloway, Copeland, McLellan Law Firm, with a prominent presence in major international centers including New York, London, and Rome, advising a full range of high-profile clients in a variety of high-profile transactions want with her, a twenty-five-year-old, out-of-work chef, living in an out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town?

The phone call last week from Richard Holloway’s secretary—Kasia interrupted her darting gaze and halted it on the smart, savvy, and sophisticated-dressed woman seated behind the glass-topped desk, studying the computer screen with studious attention, her red-tipped fingernails tap-tapping the desktop—had offered her no clue for the out-of-the-blue summons.

Jerking her eyes off the woman, Kasia let them wander to the sliding glass doors through which she’d entered half an hour earlier, now closed, blocking out sound from the open concept outer office and ensuring privacy in this inner office.

Her gaze shifted to the black metal credenza with several hard-covered books, probably law books, lining it, and noticeably free of personal touches, like framed photos or charming knickknacks, then skidded to the wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor windows beyond.

The bursts of color from within the office, the green, leafy plants dispersed throughout, and the muted sounds of classical music flowing out from hidden speakers were meant to not only give the office a smart and professional appearance, but also to make the client feel calm and confident. Calm in herself and confident in the attorney.

Kasia Jacubek felt neither.

She adjusted the strap of her purse, securing it to her shoulder, and picked up a magazine. MACLEANS. She leafed through it, put it down. She selected another magazine. TIME.

She leafed through it, put it down. Twisting her wrist, she glanced at her watch, and frowned. She’d been sitting here for forty-five minutes. On a frustrated breath, she crossed her legs, and reached for another periodical. CANADIAN LAWYER Magazine. She leafed through it, put it down, and mutilated her fingers.

What am I doing here?

“Ms. Jacobek?”

Kasia’s head shot up, her fingers disengaging to clutch the purse strap.

“Mr. Holloway will see you now.” The voice and the words sounded as proficient and polished as the woman appeared.

“You may go in now,” she said, her tone turning brisk, indicating she had no time and little patience for any dillydallying, and pointed her chin to the oak door for emphasis when Kasia continued to remain glued to her chair.

With a nod of acknowledgment, Kasia peeled herself from the seat and stood, pulled the purse strap further up her shoulder, and tugged at the hem of her blazer. Head up.

Shoulders back. Gait poised. Mr. Holloway didn’t have to know about the nerves kickboxing in her stomach. With her chin thrust up in a dignified angle, she moved toward the oak-paneled door, and felt swamped by a flood of panic.

Her hand on the knob, she paused, drawing in a steadying breath, then practicing a feigned equanimity, she pushed open the door. Mr. Holloway, a distinguished-looking man in his early forties, wrapped in a dark suit and red tie, sat behind his desk, holding the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he worked, his solid gold watch winking at her from beneath the cuff of his white silk sleeve. Uncertain if she should advance into the plush inner sanctuary or not, she hesitated in the doorway, clutching her hands together in front of her waist and reminding herself to breathe.

In a hurried glance, she took in the traditional wood motif of the room so at odds with the sleek, glossy lines of the outer office. Here, it was oak, oak, and more oak. Oak floor, oak desk, oak credenza. Even the two wall-lined bookcases jammed with thick leather-bound books were made of oak.

And in the V where the bookshelves met, sat a leather armchair and ottoman. The place, like the man, Kasia mused, smelled of money. Lots of money.

$18.95
2-073-p
Format: 
Ladyslippers for my Lady
by Lynette Hall Hampton

Coverton Mills Series, Vol. 1

Whether it is coincidence, fate or predestination, 53-year-old author, Heather Masterson’s life changes in Asheville, NC, when a man lays a book in front of her and says, “Please sign this to the real Alex Hargrove.” Alex, a 56-year-old pursued widower has avoided the women in the community who think they can be the next Mrs. Hargrove. None of these women have interested him, but for some reason he finds himself fascinated by Heather. Heather, divorced for twelve years, is not interested in getting serious with any man and is surprised to meet a man with the same name as the lawman in her novels. Finding herself attracted to this six-foot-four cattleman, makes her wonder if she could possibly find happiness this late in her life.. Unbeknownst to Heather, Rachelle Albright, an unstable alcoholic fancies herself in love with the fictional Alex in Heather’s books. She writes a book of her own with Alex marrying a woman named Rachelle, but when the publishing company rejects her book, she is livid. She decides she must kill Heather Masterson and the character of Alex will be hers

978-1-61386-078-6 Also Availabe in HTML and RTF formats

Suspense/Mystery/Romance

Chapter 1

Alex Hargrove shaved, trimmed his white mustache, then showered. He dressed in khaki slacks, a blue oxford long sleeved shirt, and slipped his feet into polished boots. He brushed his white hair and paused to glare at himself in the mirror.

Shaking his head, he muttered, "What the heck am I doing? I'm too old for this crap."

Alex hadn't planned for his life to come to this. He thought he and Anna would always be together. How was he to know when his wife of thirty-two years found the lump in her breast three years ago that it was the beginning of the end of their life together?

Though surgery, chemo, radiation, and several alternative treatments slowed the progress of the disease, in the end the cancer won. Anna slipped away on a Sunday morning almost eighteen months ago. He still missed her more than anyone could know.

Now here he was getting ready to go out to dinner with another woman. It didn't seem right. Oh, he knew the standard customs. Don't make any hasty decisions or start dating until your mate has been dead at least a year. And if you're an older man, don't make a fool of yourself and embarrass your family by running after women half your age.

While he hadn't seriously dated since Anna's death, it seemed every woman in three counties had shown up on his doorstep with a casserole or some type of dessert almost weekly. But Alex didn't want another woman in his life. Though he'd gone out with groups of friends and had attended a few of the single-again events at church all he could think about was how much he missed Anna.

As for the younger women, like any man, he enjoyed looking at the cheerleaders when he watched a football game, but as for one of these babes in real life, it hadn't entered his mind. Of course he'd been a little flattered when some of them came on to him, but Alex didn't fall in the category of men who thought these eager women really cared for him. He knew they were after his money.

His date tonight certainly wasn't one of these younger women. Kate Harris had been in his English class when he was in high school so he knew she was about fifty-six, the same age as he. Though she lived in the area, he hadn't seen her in years. He ran into her by accident at the local hardware store last Saturday. When they recognized each other, they chatted for several minutes. In this conversation he learned she'd lost her husband in a military conflict and had no children. She lived with her sister and her husband on a small farm in the valley.

At the time, he noticed Kate was somewhat wrinkled from age and probably the sun, but she had a nice figure and her red hair had very little gray. He enjoyed talking to her about the people they both knew and on impulse he asked her to go out to dinner the following week.

Now it was Wednesday and here he was, getting ready to pick her up.

He shook his head and headed to the 4-car garage. He made a quick decision to drive his gray Ford F-150 truck instead of the Cadillac Escalade. To him, it still didn't feel right to be going out like this and he didn't want Kate to think he was trying to impress her. Actually, he wanted to call the whole thing off, but Alex was a man of his word. He figured this would probably be the only time he'd take Kate out and since he was committed, he'd go through with it. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. He hoped she liked steak. He didn't want to drive all the way into Asheville, and Buck's Steak House was the nicest restaurant in the small town of Coverton Mills. By going there he could probably drop her off and get home in time to check on the horse that had been limping today, then catch the last of the Braves game. He hoped so. They were doing pretty good this year.

***

After the surprise divorce ten years earlier, Heather Masterson's life changed more than anyone could have imagined. Though Fred had been almost fair in the settlement, she knew there wasn't enough money to live on until retirement. She dived into her writing with a passion and it paid off. Her books began to sell and she was soon making enough money to supplement her income.

As she went about the southeast promoting her books, she built a loyal fan base which continued to grow with each novel. Three years ago a new series about a mountain lawman surprised everyone and hit the best seller list. She now had a contract to write four more books with this character. The advance she got was, in her estimation, phenomenal. She could stop worrying about her money running out before she did.

Her only problem was since she became a local celebrity, she'd been getting strange mail. Some of it filled with hateful ramblings and it had picked up in recent months. She was glad to be getting away for a while, though William Jenkins wasn't happy about her leaving.

She knew her relationship with William was headed nowhere. There were too many differences. She wasn't about to commit to anything more serious than an occasional dinner or concert. William, on the other hand, seemed ready to take their relationship to the next level, which she was sure, meant to the bedroom.

They'd even fought about it at dinner a few nights ago.

"If you must write your mountain stories, Heather," he'd said over his entrée at P.F Chang's, "can't you do it from your imagination? Why do you have to go traipsing up to the Blue Ridge Mountains again?"

Heather shook her head. "William, the publisher paid me a lot of money to write these books and if they're not up to par, I might have to give the money back."

"I'm not asking you to cut corners, my dear. I simply don't want you to spend so much time away." He set his jaw in the firm position he always did when he was in an argumentative mood. "You know I don't like the mountains."

"I can't wait to get back. I have a book talk in Asheville on Friday."

"Why do you like those hills so much?"

"The scenery is awesome. It's such a beautiful part of God's world and it's a wonderful place to write."

"I thought you said that about the beach."

"I feel the same about the beach."

"I don't like the mountains or the beach."

Heather shook her head. She couldn't help wondering why she bothered going out with William. Eating at nice restaurants and going to the symphony were the only things they had in common.

He went on. "When our courtship gets more serious I think I'll put my foot down about you gallivanting about so much. I get lonely at night when you're gone."

She eyed him. She knew he was implying they consummate the relationship. It wasn't the first time he'd referred to it. Heather ignored these innuendoes. She had no intention of giving in to his desires. Though it would be nice to eventually have a relationship with an understanding man, she knew William wasn't the one.

She responded to his implied suggestion, "You knew when we started dating, after my relationship with God, my son's family is my next priority and my writing follows that. Anything else in my life has to follow."

"You could change your mind with a lover in your life."

"There is no lover in my life."

"But you could have one." He lifted an eyebrow at her.

She changed the subject. "I'm leaving for Asheville in the morning."

"So it'll probably be Saturday before you get home?"

"I have an event in South Carolina on Tuesday and I'll leave from Asheville. It's closer than from here." She sighed. "I'll let you know when I get home."

He mumbled something about her ridiculous lifestyle.

She glanced at him. William was a handsome man who didn't look his age. Pairing his looks with her fair features and size-six figure caused several friends to tell her they made a striking pair.

As she watched him break open his fortune cookie, it hit Heather that at this point in her life, becoming one of a striking pair was not one of her goals. Nor would it ever be.

***

Standing in the living room of her apartment, Rachelle Albright poured herself another glass of whisky and reread the letter from the publisher.

Through gritted teeth she uttered several oaths, followed by, "Why can't they let me write a book about Alex Hargrove? Why is that Masterson bitch the only one who can write his stories? I know more about him than she does. I love him." She took a swallow of whisky. "Why couldn't they publish the book I wrote making him fall in love with a woman named Rachelle? I still had him fighting crime and making women swoon, but he loved Rachelle so much he left the other women alone and came back to her."

She downed the rest of the whiskey and poured another glass. "It's all your fault, Heather Masterson. If you weren't in the picture I bet they'd want somebody to write more Alex Hargrove books ..." Her voice trailed off and a thought began to form in her mind.

After two more glasses of whisky, a toothy grin spread across her face. Things would work out fine. She only had to rid the world of Heather Masterson
$18.95
2-078-p
Format: 
Micah's Jewel: The Moretti Men Series, Vol. 1
Jet-setter, Santino Moretti died and left the Triple-M property, worth nearly $25 million, to his three neglected sons: Micah, Marek, and Matteo, each born of a different marriage, and each unknown by the others. Before any one of them can inherit, he must take turns living on the farm for three months, then they must return and all three live together for a final three months. Half-brothers, city boys, and complete strangers—they face the biggest challenge of their lives: to put aside their distrust and bitterness and live together as a kind and caring family.

A fast climb up the political ladder, fast red sports cars, and fast sexy women make up Micah Moretti’s world. He has it all: money, power, politics. And the Prime Minister’s seat is within his grasp until a scandal pulls him down and pushes him to Willow Creek, Ontario and the Triple M Farm, a place where he can slow down, lie low, and plot his comeback. Plans don’t include working the “family” farm with his “brothers.” Or running straight into Sierra Rilstone, a constituent with deep ties to the community, and the hometown girl who stole his heart many years ago.

Good thing they have nothing in common now. Except their undeniable attraction—and her young daughter, Savannah.

ISBN 978-1-61386-135-6 Inspiration, Romance, Christian

CHAPTER 1

The silence buzzed in the room.

The air, the thick and heavy of an approaching thunderstorm, bore down hard, and to Micah Morretti, it seemed, electric with some kind of peculiar bitterness and distrust.

His brows wanted to pull together in confusion, in question, but with deliberate determination, he held on to a smooth forehead. With the same deliberate determination, he sat at the conference table, his pose relaxed, his sharp eyes focused behind the guise of affability, and his countenance the picture of pristine calmness. Leaning into the back of his chair, he crossed one leg over the opposite knee, laid one hand over his thigh, topped it with the palm of his other hand, and flashed his legendary grin on the two men seated across from him. No one would suspect sinking in his stomach he felt something, and the something resembled the uncanny sensation of dread.

Member of Parliament Micah Moretti did not fast-climb up the political ladder by being stupid. No. Though young in years, he subscribed to the harnessing of life. Not a put-on to garner votes, but the art of self-discipline, essential to his credibility, integrity. Success.

He kept his thoughts to himself, he kept his tongue under control, he kept his you-can-trust-me smile on his mouth. And always, always, he kept his ambitious eyes on the most powerful position in the country. But at no time, no time, did he allow himself to underestimate his opponents. He sized them up with his quickwitted, single-minded, all-seeing gaze. And right now, he let his quick-witted, single-minded, all-seeing gaze rest on the men sitting at the table with him and sized up the two strangers.

The one, scruffy of face and disheveled blond hair, slumped in his chair with an expression of peeved boredom staining his blue eyes and his long-fingered hands cupped over his belt buckle, wearing a plaid shirt that probably hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in decades, blue jeans frayed at the knees to the point of gaping holes, and work boots scuffed with a lifetime of vicious abuse. Micah knew the boredom was feigned. Just as he knew the slouching posture failed to camouflage the barely tethered animal strength lying just below the surface.

The other man, his face clean-shaven, his short brown hair neatly styled, his body toned by regular workouts in a gym and now clothed in a well-tailored navy suit, crisp white shirt, blue silk tie, and expensive, shiny shoes, sat thrumming his fingers on the tabletop or stabbing his gold watch with impatient blue eyes or checking his cellular phone for messages.

Micah knew the man believed time well-spent equaled money well-earned and resented sitting in this lawyer’s office, wasting both his precious time and even more precious money. Micah, too, resented sitting in this ritzy lawyer’s office with the gleaming, natural cherry wood conference table with the plush, black leather chairs, and the cream-colored walls backgrounding landscape paintings framed in the same polished cherry wood, and all of it offset by the luxurious, expensive, wall-to-wall carpeting in a dark taupe.

He, too, resented wasting time here, his precious time, when he could put it to a more worthy, more productive, more rewarding use. Namely, his political agenda. It was never too soon to meet with his campaign manager, he reasoned, flicking a glance to the blood-red carnation pinned to the lapel of his charcoal-gray power-suit complementing his red, silk tie, and begin making the preliminary plans for his run for election.

For his successful run for election.

His mouth curled in a satisfied grin. His hand gave the cuff of his white designer shirt a pleased tug. After all, the early political bird would get his coveted electoral worm.

But not, he mused darkly, resisting an unseemly but compelling urge to fidget in his chair, if he sat here sequestered with the neat freak Felix and the sloppy and casual Oscar, waiting for some swanky solicitor to slide in through one of the double doors and disclose the reason three men, who had never set eyes on each other until this morning, had been so inexplicably summoned.

Eyes narrowed, he rolled his gaze to the one still slumping in the chair, then to the other still studying his cell, and he gave a mental shake. Soon enough, he encouraged himself, they would all be apprised of the mystery.
$18.85
2-214
Format:: 
The Tiger's Cub p
Sequel to Night of the Tiger

By Debi Emmons

Chase Benton was born lucky. His father, Kyle Benton, was handsome and well to do, the half owner of Jack & Benny Trucking and an entrepreneur. His mother, Teresanna, was beautiful and smart, teaching her children that what a person looked like mattered less than who they were inside.

Aloriah Starbird swore she was the most unlucky person ever. Born an empath, she could feel things other people couldn’t. She was always getting herself into trouble by saying things or doing things that marked her as different and strange. Like when she took some photos down a dark alley during a ghost walk in New Orleans...

When lucky meets unlucky, whose luck wins out?

ISBN 978-1-61386-240-7 Romance, Tiger Series, Paranormal,

SAMPLE

CHAPTER 1

Louisiana - mid June 2017

Chase Benton sighed as the big, rusty mailbox with the name “Boudreaux” in faded green letters came into view, slowing the truck and looking into all his mirrors to insure there were no other vehicles on the narrow dirt road before he began the task of backing his eighteen wheeler into his friend’s driveway. It was a tricky business, but something he had done many times before, as his Uncle Jack always made sure that Chase had a couple of days to visit with the Boudreaux family whenever he was anywhere close to New Orleans. Although Cody, the youngest of the Boudreaux clan, was several years older than Chase, the two had become fast friends when Chase first started driving for Jack and Benny Trucking, and Chase had delivered liquor to the bar where Cody worked. Jack had noted the difference in Chase’s tone of voice whenever he got to visit with Cody, as there was something about the little Cajun that made his intense nephew relax for a bit, so Jack was more than willing to give Chase a minivacation in the south lands whenever he could.

Although Chase himself couldn’t explain what it was about Cody that made him feel more relaxed, it was a feeling that even permeated the air around the little shack in the bayou that Cody called home. As soon as the truck was parked under the huge oak tree that was liberally festooned with Spanish moss, Chase felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Blasting his air horn to chase away any snakes or spiders before he opened his door, Chase watched the shack’s door for a couple of minutes to see if Cody was at home, but when there was no response, he grabbed his duffle bag out of the sleeper and locked up the truck.

Watching his feet to make sure he didn’t disturb any fire ant nests as he crossed to the porch, he listened to the sounds of the bayou that Cody had insisted were like a natural symphony, meant to soothe a man’s soul. There were the soft songs of several species of birds, a chirping of crickets, the croak of a big bull frog somewhere close to the back of the garage, and even a bellow in the far distance that Cody had once told him was a big bayou alligator looking for either a mate or a fight. By the time he was reaching for the hidden key to Cody’s door, Chase was smiling.

After showering, putting on deodorant, brushing his teeth, and changing into a clean pair of jeans and a plain black T-shirt, he gave himself a very critical once-over in the mirror, trying to decide if he should shave before going into the bar in New Orleans, where Cody was no doubt doing what the Cajun called “holding court”.

After a couple of minutes of making faces at himself, he decided that the couple of days of beard growth, and the hair that badly needed a trim made him look a little older and, perhaps, a bit more dangerous, so he just sprayed on a little Axe cologne, and tossed all his belongings on the bed in the room Cody always let him use. He carefully made sure to lock the door and replace the hidden key, knowing how picky Cody could be about such things.

On his way out toward the garage, where Cody let him store a motorcycle to use when in town, he took a quick detour to his truck to retrieve his leather jacket, as he hated the sting of bugs hitting his exposed flesh more than he hated the overheating that wearing the jacket sometimes caused. A button on his key chain opened the automatic door on the garage, also turning on a bright light that sent a couple of snakes slithering out the door, and glistened off the polished motorcycle that waited for him. The smell of wax in the air and the brand new helmet on the seat told him that Cody had been expecting him, and was hinting that he thought his young friend needed to protect his head. Although tempted to leave the helmet in the garage just for spite, Chase decided it might be nice of him to humor the older man, so he strapped the helmet on before peeling rubber, leaving a long black stripe on the cement floor, which he was fairly sure he’d be required to clean off before he went back out on the road at the end of the weekend. Pausing at the end of the driveway, he pushed the button on his key chain, and watched to make sure the garage door closed all the way before speeding off toward town.

Parking his motorcycle next to Cody’s in a parking lot near the French Market, he tucked the new helmet under his arm and made his way to the bar a couple of blocks away, brushing his still-damp hair into some semblance of order with one hand. Several women tried to catch his eye as he walked by, and although he saw them, he totally ignored them, giving one exceptionally bold one who touched him a glare cold enough to freeze her to the spot before continuing on his way. He glanced back at her as he reached for the door and, although she watched him, she didn’t make another move his way. Like his father before him, he was starting to find the attention he received for his looks to be almost an annoyance, and wondered if it was wrong of him to wish for a disfiguring accident so that women would take notice of him for his personality instead of just his looks for a change…

He pulled open the door to the bar and stepped inside, pausing to give his eyes time to adjust to the dim interior. Despite it being only 4 p.m., the bar was already hopping with locals and tourists, enjoying the drink specials and complimentary snacks that came with Happy Hour, but it didn’t take Chase long to locate Cody. The wiry Cajun looked up from the bar and bellowed “Chase! Mon frere! Come on in and ’ave a seat!”

As Chase made his way over to a bar stool next to the waitress station, several of the patrons whom he’d met on earlier trips greeted him as well, and he did his best to remember all the names to greet them in return. Those whose names he couldn’t recall were greeted with a generic “Good to see you” as he passed, and he settled himself on the stool feeling like some sort of local celebrity. When he set the helmet on the bar, Cody removed it, then set a drink in front of him before he had time to order, and Chase made a show of sniffing suspiciously at the innocent looking soda before taking a sip, finding that it was a liberally mixed rum and coke.

Coughing as the rum burned all the way from his mouth to his stomach, he looked up at Cody, who was grinning from ear to ear.

“I t’oght you should ’ave one good strong drink, den da res’ are just coke. I ’ave five hours before I can go anywhere, so I want to make sure you don‘t get too drunk to drive ’ome.”

“Thanks!” Cody said in something between a hiss and a groan, making it sound as if the drink had burned a hole in his voice box, and all the patrons close by laughed. Cody just rolled his eyes, and hurried off to the other end of the bar to refill a drink for someone who was signaling for attention.

While Chase nursed his drink, the waitresses coming to the bar to order drinks and food for their assigned tables all spoke with him, and since many of them were related to Cody either by blood or marriage, they caught him up to all the news of the extended Boudreaux family while Cody was busy dashing back and forth behind the bar. It was Cody’s petite cousin, Josette, who drew the most of Chase’s attention, however, as she was working with a cast on one wrist, and kept glancing over her shoulder as if she was expecting some sort of trouble. She kept insisting that everything was fine, but her pale blue eyes had a haunted look, and even Cody was watching the patrons more intently than normal.

When the second bartender came on duty at 6, Cody was able to spend more time talking to his young friend, and insisted that Chase have some of the cook’s award winning jambalaya for dinner. The plate had just been cleared away, and Chase was downing his second after dinner glass of straight coke, laughing at Cody’s teasing that he wasn’t a real man if he couldn’t handle the spice from the jambalaya, when the bar door was yanked open with a bang and a large man came in, obviously already drunk, and announced his presence by bellowing for Josette. Although she went white as a sheet, she continued to take care of her customers as if nothing was happening, making her way back to the bar with a tray full of glasses to place the order for another round. The newcomer spotted her and stumbled his way over, but not in time to catch her at the bar. Undisturbed, he ordered a beer, and stood at the waitress station for her to return.

“Don’t you be makin’ any mischief tonight, Beau,y’hear?” Cody said as he handed the man his beer, but Beau didn’t respond. He just leaned against the bar next to Chase’s elbow as if he expected the youth to give up his stool. The look on Cody’s face was all Chase needed to see to know that he was required to act like Beau’s presence wasn’t disturbing him, and to stay where he was.

Josette returned to the waitress station with another tray of empty glasses just as Chase was nearing the punch line of a joke he was telling Cody. She loudly asked Beau to move out of the space so she could put down her tray, and he took one step back, but as she settled the tray on the bar, he leaned in, and asked her in a most impolite way if she was selling herself to any of the men she was serving drinks to. Cody, who was looking at Chase at the time, saw something happen then that he had never seen in his many years working as a bartender. He would later describe it to the rest of his family in these words: “One minute, Chase is smiling and telling me jokes, and de next minute, it’s like someone flip a switch. I ’aven’t seen a look that cold even in the eyes of a rattlesnake just before he make a try for you.”

Turning his head to look at the man who had just insulted his friend’s cousin, Chase spoke in a tone that was politely conversational even as his eyes turned to two chips of green ice.

“What did you just say to her?”

Never having seen such a cold look on Chase’s face in the entire time she’d known him, Josette wisely took several steps back away from him. Beau, not realizing the danger, stepped even closer, leaning in to impress upon the boy that he was much bigger and much tougher.

“I’m calling a spade a spade, as if it’s any of your business, punk!”

“Maybe it’s time you leave if you can’t be nice.” Chase’s voice never wavered from that calm, conversational tone, but Beau took offense anyway, and Chase carefully moved his drink out of harm’s way, pushing the bar stool back so he could stand as Beau gathered himself for the first swing. Just as Chase was expecting him to do, Beau threw a roundhouse punch that had always sent his opponents to the hospital.

As quick as that rattlesnake that Cody would later compare him to, Chase dodged the blow and, grabbing the back of Beau’s neck to use his own momentum against him, slammed the bigger man’s face down on the cleared space on the bar with a quick thrust. The force of the impact made glasses jump down the whole length of the bar, and when Chase let go, Beau slid silently to the floor without so much as a groan. Chase watched him for a moment or two, but when the big man made no move to get up to continue the fight, Chase calmly pulled his bar stool back into place and sat back down. He leaned over again for another look, then grimaced.

“Do you have a mop somewhere handy, Cody?” he asked calmly, and Cody, shaking off the shock of what he’d just witnessed, came over and tried to peer over the top of the bar at the unconscious man.

“Why you need a mop? He bleedin’?”

Chase looked disgusted.

“No, he spilled his beer.”

As if those words broke the spell that had fallen over the bar, people first laughed, then began talking loudly about what had just happened. Cody picked up the phone and called for an ambulance. Josette’s sister, Beth, who was one of the other waitresses, came over with the mop to clean up the spilled beer, and gave Beau a hearty kick to the ribs on her way past. Josette, in a most unladylike gesture, spat on Beau’s face and said loudly “That’s for breaking my arm, espece de con!”

When the ambulance arrived and the EMTs saw who was laid out on the floor, they excitedly asked Cody for details of what had happened, as they had often been called to take people to the hospital after Beau started a fight, but had never seen the man himself with much more than a bruise or two. Cody, without even a glance Chase’s way, calmly told them “He slip and bang his head on the bar. See here? I t’ink he even leave a dent!”

No one contradicted Cody, and when the EMTs had loaded the still unconscious man onto the stretcher and rolled him out to the ambulance, the bartender offered a round of shots on the house for their silence, which guaranteed that Chase wouldn‘t be in any trouble for sending the bullying son of one of the city‘s richest men to the hospital. Chase turned his shot glass over so that Cody couldn’t fill it without saying a word, but continued to laugh at the other patron’s teasing until it was time for Cody’s shift to end.

Only Chase and Cody knew how much it bothered the young man to send Beau to the hospital, despite the circumstances….
$18.95
2-240_p
Format: 
Wife: Lost and Found_p
By Ludima Gus Burton

Can it be we’re fated to love only once?

What if we have loved and lost?

Can we find love again?

Cassie Brown believes plastic surgery has restored her face with its original dimple in her cheek. Her amnesia is temporary. Then, as she begins to fall in love with her employer, Kyle Chambers, the memory of a former husband surfaces. The past love seems so real. But if it was, why hasn’t he come for her?

Kyle Chambers has given up looking for the wife who left him. Now, he is drawn to his employee, Cassie Brown. Yet he decides to make one last search for his lost wife. Will it be successful?

Will these two lovers have a future together?

SAMPLE

PROLOGUE

The plastic surgeon had performed a miracle.

Her fingers gripped the hand mirror. Each day she forced herself to look at her face.

Wide blue eyes, fringed with thick lashes, stared at her from under thin black eyebrows. Pink skin glowed over high cheekbones. A straight nose. A dimple appeared in her left cheek when she forced a smile. A square chin gave her a look of determination. Her short black hair, cropped straight across, covered small ears.

A beautiful face.

Yet, was it truly hers? Surely she had remembered what she looked like before the accident. Had even given directions—but, now, she wasn’t so certain. Well, it was done.

CHAPTER 1

“Hey, Cassie’s here!”

The message echoed to all parts of the Silver Spur Stable located a few miles outside of Hawthorne in Upstate New York. The slanting rays of the setting sun made patterns on the floor. A May breeze stirred the sawdust.

Kyle Chandler looked toward the barn door. When Cassandra Brown came through the wide doorway holding a large container filled with cookies, a low whistle crept past his lips.

The sight of her in faded, fitted blue jeans, clinging like skin to her slim hips and long thighs, took his breath away. Western boots tapped an uneven beat on the cement floor. The silver studs on her sky blue shirt glittered. He smiled at the large Stetson she wore at the back of her head.

Today she was a far cry from the project manager he summoned to a board meeting yesterday morning to be introduced to the new CEO of the Spencer headquarters of the Chandler Corporation. Then, a black, tailored suit made her blend in with all the others present.

Earlier, when familiarizing himself with his department heads, the name Brown had thrown him for a heartbeat. His ex-wife Colleen’s maiden name had been Brown. A quick perusal of Cassandra’s personnel file banished any connection. Just a common name.

That was all. Still, the coincidence had been unnerving. When she answered his questions about her department, Cassandra’s soft, husky voice lingered in his memory. As had the disturbing limp that marred her perfection when she walked out of the room.

The tall stable hands soon surrounded Cassie, hiding her from Kyle’s view.

“Hey’,” Gary Madison called to her. “Leave a couple for Kyle and me.” He turned to Kyle. “Cassie makes great cookies for us every Saturday. I hope it’s chocolate chip this week.”

Kyle lagged behind Gary. He and Gary had come in from a trail ride. In the last few weeks they had renewed an old college friendship. Kyle reached for his cookie, his gaze locked on Cassie’s startled blue eyes.

“This is a surprise, Miss Brown.”

Her slow smile grew into such a radiant one that his pulse leaped. The container in her hand shook. He reached out to steady it and closed his hand over hers. The shock of the contact jolted him. She quickly stepped away from him.

Her remembered voice was low. “Excuse me. I have to see Harry and give him his.”

Kyle watched her limp into the shadows of the barn, a sensual sway to her hips. He looked up to see Gary observing him, a quizzical look on his face.

“She’s lovely, isn’t she?” Kyle said, a sheepish smile curving his lips. “She works for my company.”

“I know. I’m the one who helped her apply there.”

Kyle said no more. He didn’t want Gary to think he had an interest in Cassie. Besides, it would go no further. He had moved his corporate office to Spencer to get away from his unhappy past.

A relationship with any woman wasn’t for him.

$18.95
newitem296261778
Format: 
Where the Jabiru Flies - p
by Romona Hilliger

Kate, the English heiress arrives in Australia hell-bent on making the outback her home. But when she runs into Brad, the reclusive, Australian naturalist; himself, hellbent on keeping society at bay, personalities clash.

The care of an injured jabiru, mixed in with budding emotions, send them on a dangerous course together; to uncover the perpetrator of poison-pen notes and Brad’s years of false imprisonment, only to find themselves faceto- face with their worst nightmare, its evil meticulously crafted and now, a reality.

Kate feels Brad’s tension and she knows, in the way a woman does, that he is fighting an inner battle.

Will Brad face the demons of his past, retrieve his honor and claim the woman of his dreams? Or will they go their separate ways, never to meet again?

ISBN 978-1-61386-261-2 Romance, Conservation, Wildlife, Australia,

SAMPLE

CHAPTER 1

Dry leaf litter crunched and Kate swung round. She stood glued to the veranda floor, staring anxiously toward the measured recurrent sound. A man astride a great chestnut stallion rode out from the surrounding bush, a dog keeping pace at his side. A hermit-like eccentric and the devil to deal with, the woman at the shop had said of the naturalist who operated the only animal shelter in the area. A man with a shady past. Rarely seen in town, he’d cause quite a stir whenever he did appear, setting tongues wagging. But nothing she’d heard had prepared her for this. “Stay right where you are!” The tone was brusque.

It was Kate’s first day in Australia’s Northern Territory, and by sheer instinct she knew, it was one she wasn’t ever going to forget.

She hung back in the shade-darkened area of the veranda and her breath locked in her throat as she watched the rider approach. His features were striking and strong. He wore nothing but a pair of khaki stubbies, was even barefooted, and the heavy fall of long raven hair hung to well past his shoulders. He looked stern and forbidding.

“Forcing a stranger’s back door can be dangerous. Don’t you know what I could do to you?” he said, assessing her with disapproval.

“It was already ajar, I called out—but there was no answer,” she faltered, as shock slowly slipped into fear.

He dismounted and stood by the stallion, his eyes riveted on her. A film of perspiration shimmered on his bronzed limbs and broad bare chest, all hard muscle beneath a light shadowing of hair. He reached to touch the dog’s head.

“Stay, Gus,” he asserted, bringing the animal to instant obedience.

She watched the man stalking toward her, slowly closing the distance between them. Six-foot-four undoubtedly. A commanding figure and at least ten years her senior. Early thirties? The lines on his face confirming his maturity.

“People come looking for me for only one reason, and they phone first, so why have you intruded on me? Didn’t you see the notice at the gate?”

She looked up, way up. Steel-grey eyes under dark eyebrows were coldly magnetic, and though the flat coldness she saw there chilled her, she met his gaze with equal resolve.

“Yes. I did see a notice at your gate, but expecting a friendlier welcome than this, I just came cycling in.

He kept her under hard scrutiny and despite the injured bird in her bicycle basket, Kate decided she wouldn’t hang about to find out what sort of ‘eccentric’ this man was likely to be. She’d already had enough and edging back a step on the verge of panicked flight, she stammered. “Well...I’ll...I’ll be off—”

In a lunge, he snared her wrist and pulled her to him. “Not so fast!”

Outraged at her ignominious and powerless position, Kate exploded. “How dare you—!”

“Oh, but I do,” he sneered. “I’ve had trouble with a bunch of young holiday campers who broke in and terrorized the wildlife, so, unless you can convince me otherwise, I’ll assume that you’re one of them. Why are you snooping around?”

“I’m not snooping around...” She tried to break free but found herself quite helpless. She shrilled in frustration. “Let-me-go!” The grip remained and realizing he was making no move to release her, Kate’s fear edged forward to dread.

“I am not one of your campers!” she lashed out. “I’m trying to find the man who runs the animal shelter, for god’s sake.”

A moment longer he held her captive, the intoxicating male scent of his chest sensuously teasing her nostrils and his face so close, she could feel the warmth of his breath on her mouth.

“Well...” he drawled. “There’s a ring of truth in your voice, and that clean fresh smell from your hair...” Calmly, as though duly satisfied, he released his grip and she swung away to face him. She was out in the sunlight now. Ring of Truth? Fresh smell of her hair? Indeed, the rebuke lay poised on her lips, but he got there first.

“I’m the one you’re looking for and I take it pretty personally when it comes to antagonizing wildlife.”
$18.95
2-261-3
Format: 
A Rose for a Forever Love e
by Lynette Hall Hampton

A Coverton Mills Romance, Vol. 2

Seth Armstrong felt obligated to marry his collage when she became pregnant. The marriage is never a happy one and they both want out, but when Eve learns he’s fallen in love with someone else, she threatens to run to her home in England and never let him see his children again. Julia Halsey loves Seth, but knows he could never abandon his children. She decides the best thing she can do for him is disappear. Seth tries to find her, but is unable to do so. To raise his children, he stays in his unhappy marriage until Eve’s death, not knowing that when Julia left she was pregnant with his child.

Twenty-three years later Seth attends a country music concert and realizes the singer, Andrew Singleton is his son. Though he finds Julia again, and their love is as strong as ever, circumstances stand in the way of their happiness.

Not only is someone stalking Julia and her son, but a dead body turns up on his horse farm and his family and the animals are being threatened.

ISBN 978-1-61386-256-8 Romance, mystery, suspense

EMAIL arline@mail.com if you need a different format

SAMPLE

Prologue

The second week after Christmas non-subscribers to The Coverton Mills Gazette rushed out to buy a copy so they could read the sensational story of the paper’s owners. Everyone in town was talking about the fact that Eve Armstrong had gone berserk and shot her husband and her son. Nobody knew why.

FATHER SAVES SON

On January 4, fifty-four year old Seth Armstrong, local businessman and co-owner of the Coverton Mills Gazette, jumped in front of his son and saved Hunter Armstrong’s life. Twenty-four year old, Hunter Armstrong is co-owner, editor and publisher of the Gazette. According to witnesses, Armstrong and his son were looking over the new equestrian facility at Armstrong Farm when Eve Armstrong, fifty-three, walked in and opened fire on her husband and son with a hand gun. The first bullet caught Hunter in the right shoulder. His father then jumped in front of him and was hit by the next three shots. One landed in his left side, one grazed his right temple and the third shattered his right hip. He is listed in critical condition at Memorial Hospital.

According to horse trainer, Theo Beeler, he and two other hands rushed into the barn to see what was happening. When Eve Armstrong saw them, she ran out, got into her Cadillac and sped away. No motive has been given for the assault.

The incident is under investigation.



January 7, a new headline appeared.

EVE ARMSTRONG FOUND DEAD

The body of Eve Armstrong, fifty-three was discovered last night in a secluded area near Rightway Lake. She died of an apparent self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. Her body was discovered in the late afternoon by Clete Atkins who was rabbit hunting in the nearby woods. Mrs. Armstrong was being sought for the attempted murders of her son, Hunter Armstrong and her husband, Seth Armstrong who remains in a coma at Memorial Hospital.

January 10, a short headline announced the interrment.

EVE ARMSTRONG INTERRED

In a private ceremony Eve Armstrong, fifty-three was laid to rest in Coverton Mills Memorial Gardens.

Surviving are her husband of thirty-four years, Seth Armstrong; Three children, Ashley Armstrong Bradshaw of Atlanta, Jessica Armstrong and Hunter Armstrong of Coverton Mills. Also surviving are 2 grandchildren.

The day after the internment Seth Armstrong began to awake from his coma.
$6.50
2-256_e
Format: 
A Rose for a Forever Love-p
by Lynette Hall Hampton

A Coverton Mills Romance, Vol. 2

Seth Armstrong felt obligated to marry his collage when she became pregnant. The marriage is never a happy one and they both want out, but when Eve learns he’s fallen in love with someone else, she threatens to run to her home in England and never let him see his children again. Julia Halsey loves Seth, but knows he could never abandon his children. She decides the best thing she can do for him is disappear. Seth tries to find her, but is unable to do so. To raise his children, he stays in his unhappy marriage until Eve’s death, not knowing that when Julia left she was pregnant with his child.

Twenty-three years later Seth attends a country music concert and realizes the singer, Andrew Singleton is his son. Though he finds Julia again, and their love is as strong as ever, circumstances stand in the way of their happiness.

Not only is someone stalking Julia and her son, but a dead body turns up on his horse farm and his family and the animals are being threatened.

ISBN 978-1-61387-255-1 Romance, mystery, suspense

SAMPLE

Prologue

The second week after Christmas non-subscribers to The Coverton Mills Gazette rushed out to buy a copy so they could read the sensational story of the paper’s owners. Everyone in town was talking about the fact that Eve Armstrong had gone berserk and shot her husband and her son. Nobody knew why.

FATHER SAVES SON

On January 4, fifty-four year old Seth Armstrong, local businessman and co-owner of the Coverton Mills Gazette, jumped in front of his son and saved Hunter Armstrong’s life. Twenty-four year old, Hunter Armstrong is co-owner, editor and publisher of the Gazette. According to witnesses, Armstrong and his son were looking over the new equestrian facility at Armstrong Farm when Eve Armstrong, fifty-three, walked in and opened fire on her husband and son with a hand gun. The first bullet caught Hunter in the right shoulder. His father then jumped in front of him and was hit by the next three shots. One landed in his left side, one grazed his right temple and the third shattered his right hip. He is listed in critical condition at Memorial Hospital.

According to horse trainer, Theo Beeler, he and two other hands rushed into the barn to see what was happening. When Eve Armstrong saw them, she ran out, got into her Cadillac and sped away. No motive has been given for the assault.

The incident is under investigation.



January 7, a new headline appeared.

EVE ARMSTRONG FOUND DEAD

The body of Eve Armstrong, fifty-three was discovered last night in a secluded area near Rightway Lake. She died of an apparent self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. Her body was discovered in the late afternoon by Clete Atkins who was rabbit hunting in the nearby woods. Mrs. Armstrong was being sought for the attempted murders of her son, Hunter Armstrong and her husband, Seth Armstrong who remains in a coma at Memorial Hospital.

January 10, a short headline announced the interrment.

EVE ARMSTRONG INTURRED

In a private ceremony Eve Armstrong, fifty-three was laid to rest in Coverton Mills Memorial Gardens.

Surviving are her husband of thirty-four years, Seth Armstrong; Three children, Ashley Armstrong Bradshaw of Atlanta, Jessica Armstrong and Hunter Armstrong of Coverton Mills. Also surviving are 2 grandchildren.

The day after the internment Seth Armstrong began to awake from his coma.
$18.95
2-255-1-p
Format: 
Tiger's Cub-p
by Debi Emmons

Sequel to Night of the Tiger

Chase Benton was born lucky. His father, Kyle Benton, was handsome and well to do, the half owner of Jack & Benny Trucking and an entrepreneur. His mother, Teresanna, was beautiful and smart, teaching her children that what a person looked like mattered less than who they were inside. Aloriah Starbird swore she was the most unlucky person ever. Born an empath, she could feel things other people couldn’t. She was always getting herself into trouble by saying things or doing things that marked her as different and strange. Like when she took some photos down a dark alley during a ghost walk in New Orleans...

When lucky meets unlucky, whose luck wins out?

ISBN 978-1-61386-240-7 Romance, truckers, New Orleans, paranormal.

CHAPTER 1

Louisiana - mid June 2017

Chase Benton sighed as the big, rusty mailbox with the name “Boudreaux” in faded green letters came into view, slowing the truck and looking into all his mirrors to insure there were no other vehicles on the narrow dirt road before he began the task of backing his eighteen wheeler into his friend’s driveway. It was a tricky business, but something he had done many times before, as his Uncle Jack always made sure that Chase had a couple of days to visit with the Boudreaux family whenever he was anywhere close to New Orleans.

Although Cody, the youngest of the Boudreaux clan, was several years older than Chase, the two had become fast friends when Chase first started driving for Jack and Benny Trucking, and Chase had delivered liquor to the bar where Cody worked. Jack had noted the difference in Chase’s tone of voice whenever he got to visit with Cody, as there was something about the little Cajun that made his intense nephew relax for a bit, so Jack was more than willing to give Chase a mini-vacation in the south lands whenever he could.

Although Chase himself couldn’t explain what it was about Cody that made him feel more relaxed, it was a feeling that even permeated the air around the little shack in the bayou that Cody called home. As soon as the truck was parked under the huge oak tree that was liberally festooned with Spanish moss, Chase felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Blasting his air horn to chase away any snakes or spiders before he opened his door, Chase watched the shack’s door for a couple of minutes to see if Cody was at home, but when there was no response, he grabbed his duffle bag out of the sleeper and locked up the truck.

Watching his feet to make sure he didn’t disturb any fire ant nests as he crossed to the porch, he listened to the sounds of the bayou that Cody had insisted were like a natural symphony, meant to soothe a man’s soul.

There were the soft songs of several species of birds, a chirping of crickets, the croak of a big bull frog somewhere close to the back of the garage, and even a bellow in the far distance that Cody had once told him was a big bayou alligator looking for either a mate or a fight.

By the time he was reaching for the hidden key to Cody’s door, Chase was smiling.

After showering, putting on deodorant, brushing his teeth, and changing into a clean pair of jeans and a plain black T-shirt, he gave himself a very critical once-over in the mirror, trying to decide if he should shave before going into the bar in New Orleans, where Cody was no doubt doing what the Cajun called “holding court.”

After a couple of minutes of making faces at himself, he decided that the couple of days of beard growth, and the hair that badly needed a trim made him look a little older and, perhaps, a bit more dangerous, so he just sprayed on a little Axe cologne, and tossed all his belongings on the bed in the room Cody always let him use. He carefully made sure to lock the door and replace the hidden key, knowing how picky Cody could be about such things.

On his way out toward the garage, where Cody let him store a motorcycle to use when in town, he took a quick detour to his truck to retrieve his leather jacket, as he hated the sting of bugs hitting his exposed flesh more than he hated the overheating that wearing the jacket sometimes caused. A button on his key chain opened the automatic door on the garage, also turning on a bright light that sent a couple of snakes slithering out the door, and glistened off the polished motorcycle that waited for him. The smell of wax in the air and the brand new helmet on the seat told him that Cody had been expecting him, and was hinting that he thought his young friend needed to protect his head.

Although tempted to leave the helmet in the garage just for spite, Chase decided it might be nice of him to humor the older man, so he strapped the helmet on before peeling rubber, leaving a long black stripe on the cement floor, which he was fairly sure he’d be required to clean off before he went back out on the road at the end of the weekend. Pausing at the end of the driveway, he pushed the button on his key chain, and watched to make sure the garage door closed all the way before speeding off toward town.

Parking his motorcycle next to Cody’s in a parking lot near the French Market, he tucked the new helmet under his arm and made his way to the bar a couple of blocks away, brushing his still-damp hair into some semblance of order with one hand. Several women tried to catch his eye as he walked by, and although he saw them, he totally ignored them, giving one exceptionally bold one who touched him a glare cold enough to freeze her to the spot before continuing on his way. He glanced back at her as he reached for the door and, although she watched him, she didn’t make another move his way.

Like his father before him, he was starting to find the attention he received for his looks to be almost an annoyance, and wondered if it was wrong of him to wish for a disfiguring accident so that women would take notice of him for his personality instead of just his looks for a change…

He pulled open the door to the bar and stepped inside, pausing to give his eyes time to adjust to the dim interior.

Despite it being only 4 p.m., the bar was already hopping with locals and tourists, enjoying the drink specials and complimentary snacks that came with Happy Hour, but it didn’t take Chase long to locate Cody. The wiry Cajun looked up from the bar and bellowed “Chase! Mon frere! Come on in and ’ave a seat!”

As Chase made his way over to a bar stool next to the waitress station, several of the patrons whom he’d met on earlier trips greeted him as well, and he did his best to remember all the names to greet them in return. Those whose names he couldn’t recall were greeted with a generic “Good to see you” as he passed, and he settled himself on the stool feeling like some sort of local celebrity. When he set the helmet on the bar, Cody removed it, then set a drink in front of him before he had time to order, and Chase made a show of sniffing suspiciously at the innocent looking soda before taking a sip, finding that it was a liberally mixed rum and coke.

Coughing as the rum burned all the way from his mouth to his stomach, he looked up at Cody, who was grinning from ear to ear.
$18.95
2-240-p
Paper: 
Marek's Gift: The Moretti Men Series, Vol. 2-p
By Anna Dynowski

The Moretti Men Series, Vol. 2

Jet-setter Santino Moretti died and left the Triple-M property, worth nearly $25 million, to his three neglected sons, Micah, Marek, and Matteo, each born of a different marriage, and each unknown by the others. Before any one of them can inherit, he must take turns living on the farm for three months, then they must return and all three live together for a final three months. Half-brothers, city boys, and complete strangers, they face the biggest challenge of their lives: to put aside their distrust and bitterness and live together like a kind and caring family.

The fast shifting lifestyle of undercover law enforcement agent Marek Moretti demands quick reflexes, quick thinking, and quick decision making skills. Unfortunately he gets bested by a covert operation gone sour.

His career of intrigue and excitement over, the lone maverick has nowhere to go to recuperate from his injuries when the hospital releases him. Except to Willow Creek and the Triple-M Farm. Maybe that’s what he wants. Some peace. Some quiet. Some time to brood as he heals. What he doesn’t want is working the “family” farm with his “brothers.”

Or Arielle Lebreque, the nurse hired to travel with him and nurture him back to health. She’s bossy. She’s brash. She’s beautiful. And she’s driving him crazy. No matter how many times he fires her, she remains a permanent fixture in his life, set to heal his body. And his heart.

ISBN 978-1-61386-271-1 Inspiration, Christian, Romance, Canada

Since he’d awakened that morning, throughout the entire day, and well into the night, Marek Moretti had the sensation, the unshakable sensation in every fiber of his being, something was about to go down—during his operation. Something life-altering. Something irrevocable. Something pivotal.

Sitting in the dust, dirt, and disarray of all kinds, constituting the cab of his decrepit, old truck, he rubbed his unshaven chin with one hand and reached for the disposable cup with the other. Taking a long sip of hot coffee to wet his nerve-parched throat, he squinted through the windshield at the grim sky, heavy-bellied with imminent rain. Somewhere in the distance, he heard the rumbling roll of thunder.

An omen? He mused with a sardonic lift of an eyebrow, then cursed aloud when some of the coffee squeezed past the lid and spilled when he jammed it into the cup holder, burning the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger.

Irritated, he gave his hand a couple of furious shakes and shifted his attention back to the building under surveillance.

The multimillion dollar mansion stood, proud and pleased and prominent, ablaze in a cavalcade of lights, inside and out, looking every inch stately and smug and sorely disgusted at the proximity of his dented and rusted truck across the street. Marek gave a snortlike chuckle at that, raising and lowering his shoulders, releasing tension.

The incongruity of his truck parked in a swanky district of downtown Ottawa constituted the least of his concerns. The only issue of interest for him was the stakeout, code-named Project Eagle-Eye.

Information obtained by RCMP investigators from a variety of informants—all players in the intelligence community, ranging from international spies to a convicted drug dealer to global financiers looking to arm rebel fighters, in particular Nicaragua’s Contra Commandoes—confirm within the walls of the imposing home, sit the key proponents of the biggest political scandal to make Canadian headlines.

Marek reached for his coffee, feeling on edge, hyperalert, as though…something skulked in the shadows, prepared for an ambush. A light drizzle began and another clap of thunder sounded, closer this time, and more ominous.

Stay focused, Moretti.

Taking a sip of the cooling coffee, he reviewed the facts of the case.

It was alleged, through trickery, fraud, and deceit, foreign agents stole a specialized computer software program, had their own high-tech virtuoso modify the software so their spies could peek into top-secret databases and download the sensitive information, then sold the pirated versions to intelligence agencies around the world.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of those intelligence agencies, proved to be unintelligent when they purchased the enhanced software and now found themselves with a breach of national security.

Foreign subversives eavesdropped on Canada and it became the mission of the undercover agents of the RCMP’s ultra-secret E Covert Operations team to apprehend the shadowy criminals who masterminded and executed the hacking into secret Canadian files, and bring them to justice.

Marek excelled at his job, he mused with dispassion, slipping the cup back in its holder. He was the best operative the RCMP had on the payroll. He’d fastclimbed the covert ladder because he’d proved to his superiors, over and over, he could be counted on to get the job done. Crisp and clean. No loose ends to throw the case out of court.

He thrived on the fast-shifting lifestyle of the undercover law enforcement agent. He thrived in delving into both the national and international intrigue.

He thrived on the excitement, the sheer pleasure of kicking the bad guy’s butt within the fuzzy parameters of the law.

He thrived on his assignments. They demanded quick reflexes, quick thinking, and quick decision-making skills. He’d sharpened all three over the last eleven years with his numerous covert operations.

What he did not thrive on was sitting in his truck, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the signal to move in.

Impatience shimmered in the air around him. He needed to act. He doubled up one fist and struck the steering wheel with the fleshy side, hard enough for emphasis. He grabbed the coffee, finishing it in one gulp, the only hint of strain the tic he felt over his cheekbones, then crushing the cup in his hand, he tossed it to the floor to join the remnants of his sandwich, soiled napkins, and other assorted refuse.

The something jabbed his gut, quivered in the hairs on the nape of his neck, snapped him erect in his seat, and he sliced his narrowed gaze back to the house. He knew he had to stay alert. Focused. Ready to react and act in a millisecond. He knew he wouldn’t be given more than one millisecond. He knew everything hung on his staying alert and focused. Everything. Including his own life.
$18.95
2-271p
Paper: 
His Son, Her Daughter p
by Ludima Gus Burton.

Destitute, single mother Nora Ames believes taking a job as nanny to a wealthy lawyer’s baby could be the answer to her financial problems. Her own daughter is hospitalized, but Nora can take the job temporarily. If her daughter’s health improves, then he can find someone else...

Jason Hilton isn’t the short, bald-headed lawyer she’s imagined. He’s over six feet tall with dark hair and dark eyes. But there’s no smile on his lips. He‘s looking for someone permanent to care for the son he never knew existed. When he agrees to let Nora bring her daughter along when or if she gets better, Nora signs a longterm agreement hoping Jason will not be as forbidding and difficult as he seems.

Nora has no idea of the many complications that will arise from their situation.

ISBN 978-1-61386-289-6 Romance, Family,

PROLOGUE

Dear Diary,

What are my thoughts for today?

If I decide to marry again, what kind of a man will be my choice? What should he look like?

Definitely he’d be as different as possible from Shawn. No blond hunk. Be reasonably handsome, have a killer smile and is tall! He has to be kind, thoughtful and strong. He won’t resent my desire to be independent. And accept me as I am. I’m no blonde beauty!

Most of all, he’ll have to dearly love and accept my darling, five-year old daughter, wheelchair and all.

I’m not asking for too much, am I?

CHAPTER 1

A nanny job. The solution to her money problem. Nora Ames rotated her shoulders and wiggled her toes in her shoes. Her nerves quivered under her skin. She waited with little patience for her interview with Mr. Hilton.

Few jobs were available in the small town of Emery in Upstate New York. A short term position as a live-in nanny would be perfect while her five-year old daughter had her last back operation and post-operation therapy.

The money would pay for the unexpected therapy ordered by the surgeon.

Her daughter had already been admitted and was having her first therapy session down the hall. Nora would see her after the interview. Nora unbuttoned and then re-buttoned her jacket.

Waiting was so hard.

When the door opened to admit Mr. Hilton she sat up straighter.

“Jason Hilton,” he said and extended his hand.

Nora’s hand felt small in his large one. A tiny tremor swept through her arm. She answered, “Nora Ames.”

Surprise filled her. Jason Hilton wasn’t the short, bald-headed lawyer she’d imagined. He was over six feet tall with black hair and dark eyes. She could tell his suit had been custom tailored by the way it fit smoothly over his broad shoulders and slim waist.

No smile softened his lips. When his intent gaze swept over her she controlled the shiver that threatened to shake her. What was he thinking?

She raised her chin higher and forced a small smile to hide her nervousness.
$18.95
2-286-p
Format: 
The Promise p
by Karen Rossi

Katharine Wilder is devastated when her 11-year-old daughter, Maggie, is arrested for shoplifting. Although the girl is only involved by association, Katharine is deeply shaken by the incident and wants to get Maggie involved in wholesome church activities.

Earlier, at a friend’s wedding, Katharine saw — and was immediately attracted to — a photo of Pastor Bradley Scott, the beloved and respected minister of the congregation.

She and Maggie join his church and Katharine is happy to see how well Brad and Maggie get along. Finding herself falling in love with Brad, Katharine is frustrated by his refusal to allow their relationship to evolve beyond friendship.

Brad harbors a terrible secret and has vowed never to form a relationship with another woman until he is forgiven. But that is neve likely to happen, because Brad believes he never can find forgiveness for his heinous crime.

Brad’s fight to keep himself from falling in love with Katharine is in direct conflict with her goal to win his love.

Who will win?

ISBN 978-1-61386-287-1 Romance, Christian, Inspiration

CHAPTER 1

“C’mon, Mom, let’s get going!”

But a photograph on the wall of the church narthex had caught Katharine’s attention and she pushed her way through the throng of wedding guests to have a closer look.

Mesmerized, she stared at the last face in a row of photos. Beside her Maggie clutched her bubble-blower and squirmed impatiently. “Linda and Ray’ll be gone before I get a chance to blow any bubbles at them.”

“Just a minute, Sweetie.” Katharine placed a placating hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

“Reverend Bradley Scott” she read on the plaque under the photo of the young minister. There was something about his intense, dark blue eyes that made it impossible for Katharine to turn away, even if the whole Redemption Church had come crashing down on her head.

The man was probably making a serious effort to appear benevolent and holy, with his fair hair combed back deliberately and soberly, but somehow he managed to look unpastorly, giving the appearance that, at any moment, a few unruly strands could tumble onto his forehead. She imagined how that hair would look, windblown and tousled. And her hand brushing it off his forehead.

The strong jaw was freshly-shaven, glistening smooth.

How would it feel to kiss him with a day’s growth of beard? Katharine refused to feel blasphemous. So what if he was a man of cloth? He was still human, after all.

And handsome as the devil.

“Mom!” Maggie squealed. “If we don’t get going, we’ll be locked up here for the night.”

Katharine shook her head and looked around. The narthex of the little church was empty save for the two of them. Enough daydreaming, already!

“Sorry, honey,” she said, patting her daughter’s shoulder. “I was just reading all the writing under this portrait, see?” Sure she was! But she could hardly tell Maggie she was drooling over the man.

Maggie studied the photo, temporarily forgetting her concern over being incarcerated in the church.

“Reverend Bradley Scott. Nice-looking man,” she mused.

“Amen.” Katharine sighed.

“But he wasn’t the one who married Linda and Ray.”

“No. He’s the minister of this church, but maybe he was away today and couldn’t perform the ceremony. Or something.”

“But look at that man. He sure looks old,” Maggie commented, pointing at another photo. “Is that the year he died?” She indicated the last date under the picture.

They had visited so many historical monuments and cemeteries on their holidays, it was natural for Maggie to think that any two dates under a picture stood for birth and death.

“No. Those dates only tell when he was at this church,” Katharine told her. “He may not even be dead.”

Maggie sighed impatiently. “I wish they wouldn’t keep changing their minds about these date things. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, they change the rules. It’s like in math. The minute I’ve got something memorized, the teacher throws a curve ball.”

Katharine smiled. “I think this is much simpler than school math.”

Again she looked up at the dark, fascinating eyes of Pastor Scott. Good thing he wasn’t an ordained priest, or a monk or something, because then he’d be totally out of her reach. Katharine smiled at her silly thoughts. Out of her reach? As though she was out to get him, for God’s sake!

“What’s so funny, Mom?”

Katharine grimaced. Maggie was always too quick to catch her moods.

“I was just smiling at some silly thoughts.” That was a mistake.

“What silly thoughts?”

“Oh, just something.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s nothing.”

“C’mon, tell me.”

Katharine had become good at thinking on her feet as a result of being a mother and a teacher. “I was just remembering the way Ray looked so nervous at the altar, waiting for Linda.”

“You were not!”

Drat the child’s clairvoyance! “Can’t a person have any private thoughts?” Katharine snapped, half irritated, half amused. The determined little terrier seemed to be taking after her mother.

“Not if they’re so funny you have to smile out loud. You always say people should share joyful stuff and spread happiness around the world,” Maggie recited smugly.

“Oh, shush already!” Katharine gave her daughter a playful backhanded slap on the shoulder. “What I said is that the media should sometimes report happy news, and not always the bad stuff.”

But seeing the obstinate look on Maggie’s face, she knew enough to give in. “I was just thinking it’s a good thing pastors aren’t priests or monks.”
$18.95
2-287-p
Format: 
Matteo's Treasure: Moretti Men Series, Vol. 3-p
by Anna Dynowski

Jet-setter Santino Moretti died and left the Triple-M property, worth nearly $25 million, to his three neglected sons, Micah, Marek, and Matteo, each born of a different marriage, and each unknown by the others.

Before any one of them can inherit, he must take turns living on the farm for three months, then they must return and all three live together for a final three months.

Half-brothers, city boys, and complete strangers, they face the biggest challenge of their lives: to put aside their distrust and bitterness and live together like a kind and caring family.

Suit-and-tie Matteo Moretti loves his fast-paced corporate environment of big demands, short deadlines, and nonstop sensory overload. Not to mention the many enjoyable perks of the job. What is there not to love about his role as Chief Executive Officer of one of the most prestigious multinational organizations headquartered in the nation’s capital? Except perhaps his out-of-the-blue notice of dismissal to make room for the boss’s heir apparent.

Battered and seething, he decides to head to Willow Creek and the Triple-M Farm to regroup. He’s got connections. He’ll get another job. A more lucrative job. But right now, he needs a vacation. What he doesn’t need is working the “family” farm with his “brothers.”

Or single mom Bianca Fielding, and her two children, Cheyenne and Logan, always underfoot. The trouble is, the more the housekeeper and her little minions invade his personal space and disrupt his vacation of sorts, the more his idea of a new job shoots in a new direction. A domesticated direction.

ISBN 978-1-61386-145-5 Romance, Inspiration, Christian

CHAPTER 1

An inheritance is nothing for a beneficiary to twist his face into a scowl. Especially one worth $25 million dollars. Matteo Moretti pressed his silk-draped spine into the back of his soft leather chair and twisted his face into a dark, ticked-off scowl.

Thanks to dear ol’ departed dad and the stipulations of the will, he found himself jacked.

He found himself facing an enforced leave of absence. He didn’t want a leave of absence. Temper crouching inside him sprung free. Fists curled at his sides, he paced off some of his anger. He couldn’t afford a leave of absence. As the Chief Executive Officer of the prestigious, multinational Channing Corporation, the award winning community developer and the fourth largest home builder headquartered in the nation’s capital of Ottawa, he couldn’t afford any leave of absence.

But the will was ironclad. No loop holes. Not even a crack for him to slip out.

He knew for certain he couldn’t extricate himself from the demands of the will. He’d had the will dissected by the firm’s solicitor. And he was jacked.

A roll of thunder forced his attention to the window. Twilight had faded into night.

He’d spent his existence, his education, his energy, styling himself in the likeness of a career executive, he ruminated, walking toward the ceiling-to-floor pane of glass, the plush carpeting absorbing the sound of his Armani footfalls.

Loosening the knot in his blue tie and unbuttoning the top two buttons of his white shirt, he stood at the window, staring down from his opulent office on the thirty-sixth story of Channing Tower.

He loved his fast-paced corporate environment of big demands, short deadlines, and nonstop sensory overload. What was there not to love about his job, he asked himself with a grin, especially the many enjoyable perks attached to the CEO title?

He dropped into his chair, and reaching for his navy suit blazer draped over the back of his chair, he extracted a small bottle from the right pocket. He shook out a couple of tablets onto his palm, and after dropping the bottle back into the jacket pocket, he popped the pills into his mouth, dryswallowing them, a neat, little trick he’d learned over the six years of employment with the firm.

Raising his arms so he could link his fingers behind his head, Matteo watched the inky night sky explode with sharp forks of yellow-white lightning.

It would only be a three month stint. A little blip in his life.

Three very long months, he corrected with a heavy sigh, stuck in Willow Creek, Ontario, playing cowboy with his brothers on the family farm. The Triple-M. Dear ol’ departed daddy’s property.

Part Texas Longhorn cattle outfit, part Guest Ranch hotel. All of it a $25 million dollar operation. With a tag. Or a snag, depending on one’s viewpoint.

Matteo dropped his arms to cross them at his chest and watched the lightning flash white jagged streaks against the blackness of the night.

Alive, Santino Moretti had been more interested in his fast jetting life than in putting down parental roots. In death, it seemed, he’d had a change of heart. He’d left the Triple-M to his three sons, each born of a different marriage, and each unknown by the others. Until the day all three sat in Roger Adams’ office for the reading of the will. Adams, his father’s lawyer, had drawn up the will in accordance with Santino Moretti’s desires and then closed all possible loopholes.

The uncontestable will stipulated before Matteo and his older brothers could inherit, they each had to take a three month turn on the farm, setting aside their bitterness and distrust and live like a kind and caring family.

A kind and caring family?

Matteo snorted and shook his head in disgust.
$18.95
2-145
Format: