Posted in Blog tour, contest, excerpt, Giveaway, Young Adult on February 7, 2013
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Talisman of El by Alecia Stone

WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS A LIE?

One Planet.

Two Worlds.

Population: Human … 7 billion.

Others … unknown.

When 14-year-old Char­lie Blake wakes up sweat­ing and gasp­ing for air in the mid­dle of the night, he knows it is hap­pen­ing again. This time he wit­nesses a bru­tal mur­der. He’s afraid to tell any­one. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago – the day before his dad died.

Char­lie doesn’t know why this is hap­pen­ing. He would give any­thing to have an ordi­nary life. The prob­lem: he doesn’t belong in the world he knows as home.

He belongs with the others.

 

Excerpt:

He heard a sound like a crushing can and looked up. Huge cracks appeared and widened across the hallway wall, tearing through the floral charcoal wallpaper. He dug his fingers into his dad, grabbing hold of his clothes. Within seconds, the roof and the front walls of the house ripped off. Dust and debris permeated the air as a huge tornado funnel hovered outside the house.

‘Dad,’ Charlie cried.

‘It’s all right, son,’ his dad said. ‘Everything is going to be okay.’

His dad started to drift away.

‘Dad!’ Charlie grabbed his hands, holding onto him so tight his fingers started to go numb.

‘I love you, Hoot!’ his dad yelled. The wind gusts picked up, and he started to slip out of Charlie’s grip. ‘You’re not alone. Don’t give up.’

‘Dad, don’t let go.’ The tighter Charlie held on, the sweatier his hands grew, the looser his grip became. Then his dad slipped away.

‘Dad!’ Charlie watched as he vanished into the vortex of the tornado –

A loud racket shocked Charlie out of his dream, and he jerked upright. He threw the quilt off himself and swung his legs out of bed. Wrapping his arms around his trembling body, he felt his pyjamas damp with sweat. He took his pyjama top off and began wiping his face in it when a cold breeze brushed against his bare torso. It wasn’t until he heard a flapping sound that he looked at the window and saw the curtains fluttering like wings.

A chill that had nothing to do with the cold ran down his spine. He was almost certain he hadn’t opened the window. He got up and was about to close the window when a movement outside caught his eye.

It had always amazed him how well his eyes could adjust to the dark. It was his night vision that had earned him the nickname “Hoot”. ‘My own private owl,’ his dad used to say.

Inching forward, he peered out into the dark, and his heart stopped.

A tall figure was standing on top of the garden shed.

Charlie stumbled backwards, falling onto the floor. Staggering to his feet, he rushed out of the room and dashed across the landing to Jacob’s bedroom. When he opened the door and turned the light on, he froze.

The bed was empty.

 

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Author Alecia Stone

Alecia Stone is the author of Talisman Of El (Centrinian, 2012), the first book in the Talisman Of El trilogy. She graduated with a BA in Film & TV and has worked in television for a short period of time before branching out into storytelling. Alecia loves anything and everything paranormal. Her fascination with all things supernatural sparked her obsession with books, particularly young adult fantasy fiction, which she has never grown out of. She was inspired to become an author after reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen at the age of fourteen.

In 2008, Alecia started working on Talisman Of El, a contemporary young adult fantasy fiction inspired by people who disappeared mysteriously, including, but not limited to, Amelia Earhart and Percy Harrison Fawcett, who went on an expedition in search of an ancient lost city. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys going to the movies, listening to music, and travelling.

Talisman Of El is her first novel. At present, Alecia lives in England, United Kingdom with her family.

 

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Posted in Blog tour, contest, e-books, excerpt, Giveaway, romance on January 31, 2013

Beauty From Pain

Title: Beauty From Pain

Author: Georgia Cates

Release date: January 31, 2013

Genre: Contemporary romance

Age Group: Adult

Event organized by: AToMR Tours

Buy: Amazon

Book Description:

They agreed on three months…but their love knew no boundaries.

Jack McLachlan is a winemaking magnate and easily one of Australia’s most eligible bachelors. His success and wealth makes him no stranger to the complications of romantic relationships and that’s why he goes to extreme measures to avoid the hassle. He prefers simplicity in the form of a beautiful female companion with no strings attached. He arranges relationships like business deals and they’re always the same. No long term relationships. No real names.

It’s his game and his rules. He’s content to play as usual, but when Laurelyn Prescott enters his life, his strategy must change because this player is like none he’s ever encountered. His world is turned on its head after he begins a three month affair with the beautiful American musician. Nothing goes according to plan and as he breaks more and more of his own rules for her, she’s exceptionally close to becoming something he never thought possible. His ultimate game changer.

 

About the Author:

Georgia Cates

Georgia resides in rural Mississippi with her wonderful husband, Jeff, and their two beautiful daughters. She spent fourteen years as a labor and delivery nurse before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an author and hasn’t looked back yet.

When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. When she’s being domestic, she’s listening to her iPod and visualizing scenes for her current work in progress. Every story coming from her always has a song to inspire it.

Author social media links:

Georgia Cates Blog

Georgia Cates on Facebook

Georgia Cates on Twitter

 

 Inspiration for BEAUTY FROM PAIN

By Georgia Cates

 

Where did the inspiration for Beauty from Pain come from?   My readers.   My last published work was classified as new adult and it received a warm welcome from readers. They liked my racier story. I felt more open to write scenes I couldn’t for the “normal” young adult genre. But I still wasn’t satisfied and wanted to take it up another degree.

What can I say? I’ve fallen in love with adult contemporary romance.

What is Beauty from Pain about?   I’ll tell you what it’s not about … Not the perfect man and the perfect woman having the prefect love affair. Beauty from Pain is unconventional to say the least. Laurelyn’s scruples could be questionable. Jack’s maybe even a little frightening, all while being hot as the devil’s ass. Their relationship will be considered bizarre by some. (Most.) And I’m okay with that. It’s different. And interesting. That’s always all right in my book.

 

 

Beauty from Pain Excerpt

Jack McLachlan’s POV

I sit in the dark corner and scan the room like a starved predator searching for prey. I haven’t chosen her yet, but the woman who will share my bed for the next few months is in this room right now.

I watch a lovely blond approach my table. “What can I bring you?” Hmm. A waitress—not at all my usual taste.

I have a type. Attractive. Mature. Refined. This barmaid meets the attractive requirement well enough, but she’s void of refinement or maturity as displayed by her choice of apparel—a white, barely there tank top and frazzled cutoff denim shorts. She doesn’t do it for me. Plus, my last two companions were blond. I want a different flavor this time, but no redheads. I want a brunette. A beautiful one.

I remind myself I’m not in Sydney where I have an endless variety of sophisticated women from which to choose. My choices are more limited in the small town of Wagga Wagga, but that doesn’t mean I have to settle for the first attractive woman I see.

“I’ll have a Shiraz.”

I’m prepared for a more prolonged relationship this time—three whole months instead of the usual three or four weeks. I’m looking forward to keeping this one around a little longer, and that’s all the more reason to be certain I make a wise choice.

I begin my search of the club with the first table toward the front of the room. A brunette beauty sits with a group of women. I watch her for a while, but decide she’s too friendly with the woman sitting next to her. Lesbians aren’t in my repertoire.

I spend the next hour scanning the club and come up empty-handed. I’m discouraged. No one stands out as the one and this club is by far my best bet for meeting single women in this town. Maybe I should consider coming back another time when it’s not open mic night. Tonight, the place is crawling with boozed college students.

Tonight’s search has been a failure, but at least the karaoke was entertaining.

I’m finishing off the last of my wine before I leave when an announcer from the club takes the stage and asks for the next singer to step forward. A small group of people across the room nominates one of its own. My view of the poor bastard is blocked by the crowd of intoxicated kids standing between us, but I’m certain this is going to be another delightful train wreck.

The club erupts into cheer and chants. “Do. It. Do. It. Do. It.” A young woman walks onto the stage and stands with her back to the crowd as she lifts a guitar from its stand. She lifts its strap over her head and then tosses her long brown hair over one shoulder. When she’s finished settling the guitar into place, she circles around and sits on the stool in the middle of the stage.

She’s beautiful. And somehow overlooked during my search.

She’s wearing a short ivory dress and a denim jacket with brown cowgirl boots. She bares her thighs as she lifts her feet to rest on the bottom rail, but she’s careful to push her dress between her legs so she doesn’t provide a peep show to the crowd.

She strums the borrowed guitar a few times and then leans into the microphone. “Is everyone having a good time tonight?”

She’s American. I think. Her accent sounds different—not like what I’ve heard in the past.

The crowd erupts into a drunken cheer and I hear a man’s voice yell over the crowd, “It’s better now, sweet thing!”

She smiles and adjusts the mic. “I’m not from around here. It’s my first night in Australia.”

“Leave with me and I’ll make you feel right at home!” a man shouts from the back of the room.

She ignores the fat, ugly bastard yelling at her. “I don’t know what kind of music Australians like, but this has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember.” She strums a few more chords. “This is ‘Crash Into Me’ by the Dave Matthews Band.”

She sings it slower than the original, putting her own twist on it. Her voice is raspy and sexy, her eyes closed. She oozes eroticism. She tilts her head and opens her eyes when she begins to sing the chorus. I swear it feels like she’s looking right in my direction, singing to me. “Oh, and you come craasshh … into me. And I come into … you … And I come into you … in a boy’s dream … in a boy’s dream.”

The stage lights shine in her face and common sense tells me she can’t see me sitting in the dark corner at the back of the club, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping.

She finishes the chorus and shuts her eyes again. Her long legs bounce against the rail of the stool to keep rhythm and I fall victim to her siren’s song. She has bewitched me. And I want her. She’s the one.

AToMR 2

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Comments Off on Book Blast: Beauty from Pain by Georgia Cates
Posted in Cozy, excerpt, Monday, mystery on January 28, 2013

Murder is a Piece of Cake is the 8th book in the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series by author Elaine Viets.

murderisapieceofcake

Synopsis:

Mystery shopper Josie Marcus is thrilled to be getting married. But when a deranged bride meets a grim end, Josie will have to catch a murderer before she tosses the bouquet…

As a bride-to-be, Josie’s latest assignment is absolutely fitting—investigating wedding flowers and wedding cakes. Josie can’t wait to pick out the details to make her own wedding perfect, even as her fiancé Ted’s outrageous mother has plans to turn the celebration into an over-the-top extravaganza. Still, the pistol-packing Lenore does come in handy when she draws her gun on Molly—a homicidal bridezilla who threatens to kill Ted unless he agrees to marry her—and saves the day.

Josie thinks the worst pre-wedding disaster is behind her—until Molly is shot and Lenore becomes the prime suspect. With her mother-in-law behind bars and her wedding on hold, Josie’s about to become fully engaged in finding the bridezilla killer and getting her own wedding back on track…

 

Excerpt (from the author’s website):

Chapter 1

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

“Joshcy.” The man’s voice was followed by a crunch like a roof caving in. “Hwcjsh wejing ghocinng?”

Josie Marcus was pretty sure she wasn’t getting an obscene phone call at nine in the morning. Then the man added a wet slurp, followed by another massive crunch. What was he doing with that phone?

“Excuse me?” Josie asked. “Who is this?”

The gulp sounded like a boa constrictor swallowing a whole pig, followed by juicy smacking. “That was good,” he said.

Now Josie recognized the caller – Harry the Horrible, her boss at Suttin Services. Josie mystery-shopped for the company’s St. Louis office.
Harry repeated his question. “I asked how’s the wedding going? You and Dr. Ted ready to tie the knot?”

“Almost. It’s five weeks away,” Josie said. “What are you eating?”

“A deep-fried cheeseburger.” Satisfaction oozed from Harry’s voice. Even Josie’s phone seemed greasy. She wanted to wipe it down. She wanted to wipe out the picture of Harry forming in her mind: Her boss had a thick brown pelt all over his body – at least the parts Josie had had the misfortune to see. Harry had hair on his flabby arms, fish-belly ankles and stubby hands. Hair peeked through his straining shirt buttons, but so far Josie had been spared the full view of his chest.

Only Harry’s dome was follicle free. Mother Nature had compensated by giving him a luxuriant unibrow.

“Thanks for your wedding invitation,” Harry said. “I can’t come, but I got you a present. Wait till you hear what it is.”

“You’re going to tell me before I unwrap it?” Josie asked.

“You don’t have to unwrap this gift,” Harry said. “It’s your latest mystery-shopping assignment. I want you to shop wedding flowers and wedding cakes for a St. Louis wedding Web site. You can go as yourself – a bride shopping for her wedding.”

He paused dramatically, like a game show host announcing a gigantic prize.

Harry’s serious, Josie thought. He really is giving me a good assignment as a present. Well, it is a gift. Working for Harry has been awkward since I reported that surly sales assistant. I didn’t realize Saber was his niece. She deserved to get fired.

Since then, Harry had given Josie nothing but bad assignments. She even had to mystery-shop pig ear sandwiches – and eat one.

Niece or no niece, Josie lived by her code. Her mission was to protect Mrs. Minivan, her name for the backbone of America’s shoppers. Mrs. Minivan was overlooked, ignored and disrespected. Josie fought to right those wrongs against the average shopper.

“You want me to mystery-shop wedding flowers,” Josie said. “Do you mean all the flowers – the bouquets and boutonnieres, church flowers and reception centerpieces?”

“Naw, just the whatchamacallits for the reception,” he said. “The centerpieces. That’s why this assignment is a gift. It’s easy.”
It would be easy, Josie thought. She’d spent hours deciding whether her bridesmaids should carry bouquets or wear wrist corsages. International trade treaties were signed after less debate.

She’d take this gift – and hope Harry’s anger had finally cooled.

“I’ll do it,” Josie said.

“Good,” Harry said. “I’ll fax you the details. I need you to start today with a flower shop called Denise’s Dreams. They sell other stuff, but our client only cares about the flowers.”

“That’s near my house,” Josie said.

“See, I told you it was a present,” Harry said.

Josie heard a rustling noise and guessed Harry was stuffing his take-out box into his office trash.

“Did you really eat a deep-fried cheeseburger for breakfast?” she asked.

“You need protein for the first meal of the day,” Harry said. “I need man food. The Carnival Diner makes deep-fried cheeseburgers. The chef used to work at the state fair. You should try his chicken-fried bacon.”

“Does he deep-fry the patties?” Josie asked. “How does he keep the cheese from melting away?”

“The chef takes the whole cheeseburger,” Harry said. “Meat, cheese, pickles, bun and all – batters and deep-fries it. The cheese turns into a warm pocket of melted goodness. His french fries are sensational.”

“They’re battered, too?” Josie asked.

“Of course not,” Harry said. “That would be stupid. You gonna go to work? That shop opens at nine thirty. You’re supposed to be a bride on a budget at Denise’s Dreams. At the other two, you have to say money is no problem.”

“I’ve had plenty of experience with wedding budgets,” Josie said. She and her veterinarian fiancé, Ted Scottsmeyer, had agreed to follow a budget. But their plan kept encountering unexpected expenses. Josie knew their wedding cake would cost about seven hundred dollars, but she hadn’t factored in the fifty-dollar delivery fee. This job would help pay for the cake and the delivery.

She dressed quickly, pulled the still-warm mystery-shopping paperwork out of her fax machine, read it, and tucked the pages into her purse.
On the way to Denise’s Dreams, she passed Ted’s veterinary clinic and checked the parking lot. It was crowded with cars, but the big blue St. Louis Mobo-Pet van was gone. Ted was making house calls today while his partner, Christine, handled the clinic patients.

She turned the corner and saw Denise’s Dreams. The shop looked like a midcentury bride’s dream: a one-story white rambler with ruffled tie-back curtains and a picket fence.

Inside, the front room was devoted to flowers. The hothouse flower smell was sweetly overpowering. A big cooler along one wall was crammed with cold, colorful blossoms. Pink roses and blue hydrangeas were massed around the counter. On closer inspection, Josie saw those flowers were silk.
A young blonde in a ruffled dress with blue ribbons in her hair was behind counter, arranging pink gladioli in a glass vase.
Behind her, Josie could see a room with snow drifts of bridal veils. In a third room labeled “Hair Jewelry,” Josie glimpsed a blue velvet Victorian sofa and a showcase sparkling with tiaras and jeweled combs.

The beribboned and ruffled blonde smiled and said, “May I help you? My name is Molly.”

At first Josie thought the slender saleswoman was a girl. But the harsh morning light showed tiny lines around her eyes and mouth. Molly was at least thirty, but she dressed like a little girl going to a birthday party.

“I’d like some information about flowers for my wedding reception,” Josie said. “I’m getting married in five weeks. I’ve chosen everything but the reception flowers.”
“Are you on a budget?” Molly asked.

“Definitely,” Josie said. Two points in Molly’s favor, she thought. She’d greeted me promptly and asked if I was interested in budget offerings.

“May I suggest silk flowers for your reception?” Molly said. “These look real and after the wedding, you’ll have a lasting memento.”

“I like live plants,” Josie said.

“We have a fine selection of tropical plants you can rent,” Molly said. “You can also rent the vases for your centerpieces. That will save money, too. Let me show you.”

She plunked a heavy binder with sample photos on the counter and they paged through it. Josie was impressed with Molly’s sales pitch. She didn’t pressure, but she gave several useful options. Josie selected one and Molly prepared a contract.

“I can’t sign it until I show it to my fiancé,” Josie said.

“That’s fine. Denise, the owner, or Rita, the other sales associate, will be happy to help you when you come back,” Molly said. “I’m getting married next week. This is my last day at work. I’m going to be a full-time homemaker, the career I’ve always wanted.”

“Who’s your fiancé?” Josie asked.

“Ted,” Molly said, her eyes turning dreamy soft. “He’s so kind and handsome. He loves animals.”

“I’m engaged to a Ted, too,” Josie said. “He’s a veterinarian. Next week Channel Seven is coming to his clinic to tape a pilot for his new show, Dr. Ted’s Pet Vet Tips. Each week, Ted will talk about how to care for pets. His first show is how to clip a cat’s toenails.”

“I don’t like Channel Seven – or cats,” Molly said, and made a face. “I’m sure my Ted would have nothing to do with that awful TV station. And cats are sneaky.”

Josie didn’t like this double insult, but she was on the job. She searched for a polite answer. “Channel Seven does sensationalize the news,” she said. “But Ted’s show will be part of their community service programming. Once his show gets going he can move to a better station. I wasn’t a big fan of cats, either, until we got our cat, Harry. Now my daughter and I love him. He’s funny.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Molly asked. “I’m a dog lover. I have a little white Maltese, Bella. When is your Ted’s TV show taping?”

“Next Tuesday at eleven,” Josie said.

“That’s my wedding day,” Molly said.

Josie could see she was lost again in bridal dreams.

“Congratulations,” she said. “I think you were such a big help because we have so much in common.”

Next Tuesday, Josie would find out exactly how much they had in common.

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Posted in Blog tour, excerpt, Fantasy on January 25, 2013

 

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Author Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and studies piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of HEARTLESS, VEILED ROSE, MOONBLOOD, and STARFLOWER, with DRAGONWITCH due to release in 2013. HEARTLESS and VEILED ROSE have each been honored with a Christy Award.

 

Starflower

When a cursed dragon-witch kidnaps the lovely Lady Gleamdren, Eanrin sets boldly forth on a rescue mission…and a race against his rival for Gleamdren’s favor. Intent upon his quest, the last thing the immortal Faerie needs is to become mixed up with the troubles of an insignificant mortal.

But when he stumbles upon a maiden trapped in an enchanted sleep, he cannot leave her alone in the dangerous Wood Between. One waking kiss later, Eanrin suddenly finds his story entangled with that of young Starflower. A strange link exists between this mortal girl and the dragon-witch. Will Starflower prove the key to Lady Gleamdren’s rescue? Or will the dark power from which she flees destroy both her and her rescuer?

Excerpt:

The River Calls to Starflower
     The trees drew back from the girl as she fled. They dared not interfere while she walked that Path, no matter how they might wish to. She took no notice of them. how long has she fled now? Had it been one night, or days and weeks of this nightmare? And always the howls pounded her memory.
     Suddenly, the howls vanished. A new voice spoke from the gloom.
Come to me, pretty maid.
     The girl stopped, swaying where she stood, on the verge of collapsing. Slowly, as though she dared not hope to find what she sought, she turned her head to the left. Between the trees a river sparkled like a ribbon of pure light and sweetness.
     Her thirst was overwhelming. Even the snarls faded from her mind, replaced by the river’s voice, babbling, gurgling, inviting. Come to me, pretty maid, it said, though she heard only the voice of water.
     Her feet left bloodstains on the moss and rocks as she hastened down to the river’s edge. A glint of gold shimmered in the tail of her eye, shining even in the Wood’s oppressive shadows. She ignored it. Falling to her knees on the bank of the water, she plunged both hands in. The water stung her wrists where the harsh cords had bitten into her skin.
     Drink deeply. Drink.
     The water flowed about her arms, fresh and alive, and the sounds of its flowing filled her ears. She cupped her hands and lifted the cooling liquid to her lips. She drank.
     One long, shuddering breath. Then she fell upon the bank, one arm extended into the water, the other upon the shore. Her black hair covered her face, and the River ran his fingers through the ends of it, pulling, pulling.
     Sleep deeply. Sleep, said the River.
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Posted in excerpt, suspense on January 23, 2013

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Excerpt:

Two days later, they were out of food again, and Carly was faced with the prospect of trying to make it out to the store.
Sam swatted his metal bowl with his paw, and then stared down at it with a hint of expectation, as if rattling it would make food appear. Perhaps, in his little doggy head it did, because Carly had always filled it whenever she heard the bowl clatter on the floor.
Carly went over to the window to peek out at Biker Guy. Still there.

Yesterday, she had gathered all of her courage and gone down to the lobby door again, but he had met her there with another Hello, and she’d panicked and darted back upstairs.He was looking up at her window. He waved and reached down beside his bucket to pick up something that looked like a large white sheet of poster board. He held it up, and she could see the words he’d painted on it in black: PLEASE DON’T BE AFRAID. I WON’T HURT YOU.

He dropped the top poster to reveal another beneath it: I JUST WANT TO TALK TO YOU.
Carly thought that was highly unlikely. Whatever this guy wants, it isn’t just a scintillating conversation. 
He held up another sign: I’M REALLY A NICE GUY. HONEST.
Yeah, like he’d tell me if he wasn’t.
He grinned as he held up the last board: SURRENDER, DOROTHY.
Carly had to giggle, but it faded as she realized it was the first time she’d laughed since the Crisis. She retreated and let the curtain drop. Indecision gnawed at her. She had to get food, and that meant confronting Biker Guy, whether she liked it or not

lbryanAuthor Bio:

Lissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete’s foot…. though only in her head. Real life isn’t so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.

Her first novel, Ghostwriter was released October 11, 2012, and her second, The End of All Things, will be released on January 24, 2013.

 

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Posted in Blog tour, excerpt on October 31, 2012

PART ONE   

ONE

            This is it.  Today is the day.  The first practice of the year after school in the boy’s gym.  Time to show the speed, do the deed, take the lead!  All these weeks and months Dale has been able to think of little else.  Since last spring. 

            Since forever.  Now it’s his turn to be the oldest, the biggest, the best.  Tryouts.  But he’s a returning starter and is sure as hell not trying out.  He’ll be leading the way, making them pay!  His excitement is such that for days on end he has been telling himself to be cool.  Time to be cool and not a fool.  For playing it cool is the only tool…if you’re out to win the entire goddamn city.

            Dale Wheeler is fourteen all the same, and whatever energy he may be bringing to his talking-the-talk temperature he doesn’t know how not to dream.  He’s grown an inch and a half since the season ended last year and is growing still.  In this instant he’s pushing up through five-nine.  Sitting at his desk in school he can look at a forearm and see it growing larger, stronger, longer.  Can pump up bicep-pears before the bathroom mirror at home.  One on the left, one on the right!  Pop, pop!  Pow, pow!  Hey, hey, get outta my way…my name is Dale Wheeler and I came to play!  Besides confidence Dale can call up conviction in his mind and heart.  Secret power leading the way, making his day!  Call me cocky and I’ll make your fat ass pay!

            Dale knows he’s good.  There’s no doubt he’s done the work.  Like a saver saving every penny, he’s given himself to little else.  At times it seems it’s all he’s done, all the time, is work-work, practice-practice.  And work some more.  And worked on anyway.  Worked into work.  Sweated into sweat all over again, before taking his shower, doing his homework, dreaming his dream.  For work, as every athlete knows, is the key.  The more you practice the luckier you get. Acquire the moves, absorb the steps…and when the time comes you’ll hit the groove no matter some hee-haw in the stands sputtering about luck and the bounce of the ball. 

            Dale has done it, is doing it, will do it.  For an athlete is what he is.  Maybe he’s only fourteen but he knows what he knows and he knows it’s his turn to take them all downtown to win the city!  “Here comes Wheeler,” cries the Sportscaster on high.  “He takes the shot! no–he fakes the shot!  He fakes the shot!!  He drives! shoots!  SCORES!  SCORES!! SCORES!!!”

            Even in his sleep at night Dale dreams of winning the city.  Moments and moves from outdoor pickup games under the lights (amazing things happen in outdoor pickup games) blend in his dreams into games indoors rocking with all the students and teachers he has ever known or passed in the hallways of Walt Whitman Junior High.  Waking from a dream with his mind full of rainbows he reminds himself not to go off the deep end.  To settle down. 

            Don’t be a fool, play it cool!  Playing it cool is the only tool!

            Everything is a game.  Life, Dale knows, is a game all the way and everything that happens depends on how you play.  It’s something else he knows he knows.  He has no notion of himself as a thinker, or as a smart ass ninth-grader either, but he knows what he knows and he knows that everything is a game.  That playing it cool is the only tool…when you’re out to rule. 

            (Okay, maybe he is a smart ass, but whoever won the city who wasn’t?)

TWO

Coming in late from working second shift at Chevy Plant Ten–a weaving silhouette filling his bedroom doorway–Dale’s father invites his sleepy-time son into the kitchen for a Coney Island dog.  Could anyone in the world more appreciate the taste of a Coney Island dog in the middle of the night than an ever-voracious fourteen-year-old playmaker, ball handler, first string guard?   

            As on every other night, Dale practiced at the park until the lights went out…before shooting a few in the dark.  Dribbling home, into and out of illumination under corner streetlights, driving one telephone pole after another, pulling it back at the last minute (all but the dream), he showers with the landlady’s hose, reviews his school notebook at the kitchen table, and hits the sack dreaming his dream…into which swamp there appears the purveyor of tender words and unconditional love in his life.  “Hey sleepy time pal…come have a Coney Island dog with your old dad.”

            Daylight is in Dale’s eyes and it’s time to rise and shine…despite a spur picking at his mind.  Clomping into the bathroom to wash and brush, he detects “I Fall to Pieces” circling his father’s phonograph in the living room and sinks within, as always, to the old cry of loss haunting their handful of rooms at an off-beat hour.  The message is familiar: His father is up yet and loaded, is emotional and sentimental, drunk and dangerous.  With no one else upon whom to visit his sad memory of Dale’s runaway mother visiting his pickled brain, his father is waiting for him to appear.  In Dale’s adolescent mind another lyric begins circling the breaking day: ‘You get loaded…and I fall to pieces.’

 He has no choice but to make his way into the kitchen that offers the only exit from their attic apartment…down the backside of the landlord’s house to driveway, sidewalk, refreshing air.  He enters without making a sound.  His father stands there.  Head hanging, he’s leaning to the wall, his chin on his chest.  How long has he been on his feet?  His neck looks rubbery as his head lolls to one side, a grin comes on like a dim light as he says: “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

            Dale opens the refrigerator, explores possibilities, ignores his father as he does at times like these.  Life with an alcoholic.  Life with Patsy Cline’s heartbreak lining the air they breathe: ‘You want me to forget…pretend we’ve never met.’

            “You’re the guy stood me up!” his father tells him.  “Thas who you are!  Bring home a treat for the only person in the world plays tunes on my weary old heart…get left standing at the counter.”  ‘You walk by…and I fall to pieces…’

            Dale remembers then and says: “I fell asleep!  That’s what I did!”

            “Musta been dreaming about something a hell of a lot better looking than a Coney Island dog,” his father tells him.

            “Basketball,” Dale confesses, deciding all at once to share his high hopes with his father.  “I was dreaming about basketball, winning the City…which is what we’re gonna do!”

            “Basketball?” his father asks.  “You say basketball?  Did I hear you say basketball?  Is that what I heard you say?”

            “It’s my big year at school!” Dale tells him.

            “First time I knew anything would keep you from your favorite middle-of-the-night snack.  Surprised it wasn’t something better looking than a fat old basketball.”

            “I’m the biggest at school this year!” Dale tells him.  “I’ve been working like a demon while everybody else has done practically nothing.  Been working all summer, all fall.  Gonna lead the way, make em pay!”  Dale did not add how proud he hoped to make his father, or how his dream included saving his father’s life, too, to a modest degree.  Turning things around.  Leading them to the promised land.

            ‘You tell me to find…someone else to love.

             Someone who’ll love me, too…the way you used to do.’

            Continuing to grin, his father squints.  “Son…gotta tell ya.  Hope you dream other things, too.  Don’t wanna put all your eggs in one basket.”

            Dale nods, indicates that he knows, is cool, isn’t a fool…know all about eggs and baskets.  Doesn’t he?

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Posted in Blog tour, excerpt, Political thriller on October 25, 2012

An Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Batista

When the guard left, the iron door resonated briefly as the magnetic lock engaged itself. Byron sat in a steel folding chair. Directly in front of him was a narrow ledge under a multi-layered, almost opaque plastic window, in the middle of which was a metal circle.

Ali Hussein seemed to just materialize in the small space behind the partition. Dressed in a yellow jumpsuit printed with the initials “FDC” for “Federal Detention Center,” Hussein, who had been described to Byron as an accountant trained at Seton Hall, in Newark, was a slender man who appeared far more mild-mannered than Byron expected. He wore cloth slippers with no shoelaces. The waistband of his jump suit was elasticized—not even a cloth belt. He had as little access to hard objects as possible.

He waited for Byron to speak first. Leaning toward the metal speaker in the partition and raising his voice, Byron said, “You are Mr. Hussein, aren’t you?”

The lawyers at the Civil Liberties Union who had first contacted Byron told him that, in their limited experience with accused terrorists, it sometimes wasn’t clear what their real names were. There were often no fingerprints or DNA samples that could confirm their identities. The name Ali Hussein was as common as a coin. It was as though genetic markers and their histories began only at the moment of their arrest.

“I am.” He spoke perfect, unaccented English. “I don’t know what your name is.”

The circular speaker in the window, although it created a tinny sound, worked well. Byron lowered his voice. “I’m Byron Johnson. I’m a lawyer from New York. I met your brother. Did he tell you to expect me?”

“I haven’t heard from my brother in years. He has no idea how to reach me, I can’t reach him.”

“Has anyone told you why you’re here?”

“Someone on the airplane—I don’t know who he was, I was blind-folded—said I was being brought here because I’d been charged with a crime. He said I could have a lawyer. Are you that lawyer?”

“I am. If you want me, and if I want to do this.”

All that Ali’s more abrasive, more aggressive brother had told Byron was that Ali was born in Syria, moved as a child with his family to Lebanon during the civil war in the 1980s, and then came to the United States. Ali never became a United States citizen. Five months after the invasion of Iraq, he traveled to Germany to do freelance accounting work for an American corporation for what was scheduled to be a ten-day visit. While Ali was in Germany, his brother said, he had simply disappeared, as if waved out of existence. His family had written repeatedly to the State Department, the CIA, and the local congressman. They were letters sent into a vacuum. Nobody ever answered.

Byron asked, “Do you know where you’ve come from?”

“How do I know who you are?”

Byron began to reach for his wallet, where he stored his business cards. He caught himself because of the absurdity of that: he could have any number of fake business cards. Engraved with gold lettering, his real business card had his name and the name of his law firm, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Ali Hussein was obviously too intelligent, too alert, and too suspicious to be convinced by a name on a business card or a license or a credit card.

“I don’t have any way of proving who I am. I can just tell you that I’m Byron Johnson, I’ve been a lawyer for years, I live in New York, and I was asked by your brother and others to represent you.”

Almost unblinking, Ali just stared at Byron, who tried to hold his gaze, but failed.

At last Ali asked, “And you want to know what’s happened to me?”

“We can start there. I’m only allowed thirty minutes to visit you this week. Tell me what you feel you want to tell me, or can tell me. And then we’ll see where we go. You don’t have to tell me everything about who you are, what you did before you were arrested, who you know in the outside world. Or you don’t have to tell me anything. I want nothing from you other than to help you.”

Ali leaned close to the metallic hole in the smoky window. The skin around his eyes was far darker than the rest of his face, almost as if he wore a Zorro-style mask. Byron took no notes, because to do so might make Ali Hussein even more mistrustful.

“Today don’t ask me any questions. People have asked me lots of questions over the years. I’m sick of questions.” It was like listening to a voice from a world other than the one in which Byron lived. There was nothing angry or abusive in his tone: just a matter-of-fact directness, as though he was describing to Byron a computation he had made on one of Byron’s tax returns. “One morning five Americans in suits stopped me at a red light. I was in Bonn. I drove a rented Toyota. I had a briefcase. They got out of their cars. They had earpieces. Guns, too. They told me to get out of the car. I did. They told me to show them my hands. I did. They lifted me into an SUV, tied my hands, and put a blindfold on me. I asked who they were and what was happening.”

He paused. Byron, who had been in the business of asking questions since he graduated from law school at Harvard, couldn’t resist the embedded instinct to ask, “What did they say?”

“They said shut up.”

“Has anyone given you any papers since you’ve come here?”

“I haven’t had anything in my hands to read in years. Not a newspaper, not a magazine, not a book. Not even the Koran.”

“Has anyone told you what crimes you’re charged with?”

“Don’t you know?”

“No. All that I’ve been told is that you were moved to Miami from a foreign jail so that you could be indicted and tried in an American court.”

There was another pause. “How exactly did you come to me?” Even though he kept returning to the same subject—who exactly was Byron Johnson?—there was still no hostility or anger in Ali Hussein’s tone. “Why are you here?”

In the stifling room, Byron began to sweat almost as profusely as he had on the walk from the security gate to the prison entrance. He recognized that he was very tense. And he was certain that the thirty-minute rule would be enforced, that time was running out. He didn’t want to lose his chance to gain the confidence of this ghostly man who had just emerged into a semblance of life after years in solitary limbo. “A lawyer for a civil rights group called me. I had let people know that I wanted to represent a person arrested for terrorism. I was told that you were one of four prisoners being transferred out of some detention center, maybe at Guantanamo, to a mainland prison, and that you’d be charged by an American grand jury rather than held overseas indefinitely. When I got the call I said I would help, but only if you and I met, and only if you wanted me to help, and only if I thought I could do that.”

“How do I know any of this is true?”

Byron Johnson prided himself on being a realist. Wealthy clients sought him out not to tell them what they wanted to hear but for advice about the facts, the law and the likely real-world outcomes of whatever problems they faced. But it hadn’t occurred to him that this man, imprisoned for years, would doubt him and would be direct enough to tell him that. Byron had become accustomed to deference, not to challenge. And this frail man was suggesting that Byron might be a stalking horse, a plant, a shill, a human recording device.

“I met your brother Khalid.”

“Where?”

“At a diner in Union City.”

“What diner?”

“He said it was his favorite, and that you used to eat there with him: the Plaza Diner on Kennedy Boulevard.”

Byron, who for years had practiced law in areas where a detailed memory was essential, was relieved that he remembered the name and location of the diner just across the Hudson River in New Jersey. He couldn’t assess whether the man behind the thick, scratched glass was now more persuaded to believe him. Byron asked, “How have you been treated?”

“I’ve been treated like an animal.”

“In what ways?”

As if briskly covering the topics on an agenda, Ali Hussein said, “Months in one room, no contact with other people. Shifted from place to place, never knowing what country or city I was in, never knowing what month of the year, day of the week. Punched. Kicked.”

“Do you have any marks on your body?”

“I’m not sure yet what your name really is, or who you really are, but you seem naive. Marks? Are you asking me if they’ve left bruises or scars on my body?”

Byron felt the rebuke. Over the years he’d learned that there was often value in saying nothing. Silence sometimes changed the direction of a conversation and revealed more. He waited.

Hussein asked, “How much more time do we have?”

“Only a few minutes.”

“A few minutes? I’ve been locked away for years, never in touch for a second with anyone who meant to do kind things to me, and now I have a total of thirty minutes with you. Mr. Bush created a beautiful world.”

“There’s another president.” Byron paused, and, with the silly thought of giving this man some hope, he said, “His name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

Ali Hussein almost smiled. “And I’m still here? How did that happen?”

Byron didn’t answer, feeling foolish that he’d thought the news that an American president’s middle name was Hussein would somehow brighten this man’s mind. Byron had pandered to him, and he hated pandering.

Ali Hussein then asked, “My wife and children?”

No one—not the ACLU lawyer, not the CIA agent with whom Byron had briefly talked to arrange this visit, not even Hussein’s heavy-faced, brooding brother—had said a single thing about Hussein other than that he had been brought into the United States after years away and that he was an accountant. Nothing about a wife and children.

“I don’t know. I didn’t know you had a wife and children. Nobody said anything about them. I should have asked.”

It was unsettling even to Byron, who had dealt under tense circumstances with thousands of people in courtrooms, that this man could stare at him for so long with no change of expression. Hussein finally asked, “Are you going to come back?”

“If you want me to.”

“I was an accountant, you know. I always liked numbers, and I believed in the American system that money moves everything, that he who pays the piper gets to call the tune. Who’s paying you?”

“No one, Mr. Hussein. Anything I do for you will be free. I won’t get paid by anybody.”

“Now I really wonder who you are.” There was just a trace of humor in his voice and his expression.

As swiftly as Ali Hussein had appeared in the interview room, he disappeared when two guards in Army uniforms reached in from the rear door and literally yanked him from his chair. It was like watching a magician make a man disappear.

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