Posted in Book Release, excerpt, suspense on May 19, 2017

Synopsis

On the day the villagers were forced to flee Hensu, not everyone got out alive.

Jackson Stone is touring the abandoned Chinese city when he slips away from the group to spend the night, determined to publish an account of his ghostly experiences there.

Then he meets Yuèhai, a strange, soft-spoken woman who can tell him the city’s secrets—secrets the Chinese government would kill to keep hidden.

As Jackson uncovers the truth about Yuèhai and the ghost city, he’s drawn into a web of conspiracy, betrayal, and murder. He must risk everything to save himself and bring honor back to Yuèhai and her family.

Excerpt

It was easier than I thought.

All I had to do was bide my time in one of the less popular temples, crouching behind a weird-ass statue while the guides checked for stragglers. Thankfully, they didn’t do a thorough search, just popped their bobbed heads in and glanced around before returning to their cozy cruise ships.

Guess I couldn’t blame them. It seemed like it was always pissing down rain in this part of the country—at least, it had been since we’d been here—and even though it was mid-September, it was freaking cold.

As I stepped over the temple’s sacred threshold and hurried to the place I’d chosen to camp for the night, I grinned, unable to resist pumping my fist in the air. I’d done it. What would the group say when they realized I wasn’t on the ship?

Only the terminally stupid got left behind on a tour, so they’d probably figure I was hung over again, and in that, they’d be partially right. It takes skill to get a decent buzz on the watery crap they call beer in China, which is why I switched to the rice wine. Doesn’t take much to feel it, but you pay for it the following day.

It was only six o’clock, but the sun was already setting. Flipping up the hood of my jacket against the drizzling rain, I whistled to keep myself company, careful not to slip on the wet path. The place where I’d decided to spend the night was perfect. Even though it had fallen into ruin, this particular temple still had a bit of roof left, so I’d be able to get dry. Since it was open to the air, I wouldn’t have to worry about my campfire burning it down. There was enough junk in there to keep a decent fire going—not that I was worried.

It wasn’t like I believed in ghosts.

China has plenty of ghost cities, but I’d gone for the most infamous. The locals believe spirits actually live here. Now that Hensu was empty of tourists, with their incessant questions and stupid umbrellas hitting me in the head every time I turned around, it had an abandoned feel that was more than a little creepy.

A figure loomed out of the darkness, brandishing a sword at my skull, and I jumped before realizing it was another statue. In the daylight, with its pig-like face and coating of moss, it had been comical.  I wasn’t laughing now. Why the Chinese decided to fill their ghost city with fake ghosts was beyond me. If they really believed spirits lived here, the statues were overkill.

I dug a flashlight out of my daypack and clicked it on, but that just made things worse. It cast an eerie blue glow that danced in the statues’ eyes, turning their grins into leers.

“Chill, Jacks,” I muttered to myself. “They’re rocks, and you don’t believe in this supernatural shit, remember?”

There was no way I was gonna drain my phone battery to see where I was going, no matter how much the blue light spooked me. What the hell was wrong with me? Why had I regressed to the age of ten? Gotta be the hangover. I had to lay off the booze. Who knew what was in that Chinese stuff? I’d probably pickled my brain.

It took me about ten minutes to scrounge enough wood for a decent fire. By then my fingers were numb with cold and my stomach was growling. There hadn’t been time to grab breakfast on the ship, and I’d forfeited lunch when I’d ditched the tour. The sooner I could get a hot meal in me, the better. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so damn jumpy.

A flicker of movement outside the shelter made me look up. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled.

Wait…was that statue closer than before?

It had been a lot farther away when I’d set up camp. I was sure of it.

That’s ridiculous. Statues don’t move.

Still, the way the light danced in the sculpture’s eyes was unnerving. A log cracked in the fire, startling me so much I laughed out loud.

Rustle rustle.

There was definitely something out there, and it was getting closer.

Probably just a dog.

That didn’t make me feel much better. Any dog out here would be hungry. Not to mention ill tempered. Of course the one thing I hadn’t brought was a weapon. Against a ravenous animal, my Swiss Army knife would be useless.

Rustle rustle.

The sound was louder now, and worse, it felt intentional. Peering into the darkness beyond the fire, I couldn’t see a thing. My legs began to tremble, and I really had to piss.

Get a grip, Jackson. It’s probably a frog. Or a mouse. Just a wee rodent, not some gargoyle from the Chinese underworld coming to get you.

I didn’t believe it. Not for a second. For one thing, that sound was too deliberate, too sneaky. I’d lived in a dorm for four years, for Christ’s sake. I knew what it sounded like when someone tried to sneak up on me.

That’s it.

My tour group had returned, spotted my campsite, and now a few of the guys were having some fun at my expense. No doubt they hoped I’d scream like an idiot so they could record it for posterity on their phones and broadcast my humiliation all over social media.

I leapt to my feet. “Stop fooling around, guys. I know you’re out there. Show yourselves, or I’ll come out there and get you.”

The rustling stopped.

Clutching a plank of wood, I tried to seem somewhat intimidating.

Water dripped from the ravaged roof in a slow and monotonous trickle. It was enough to drive me insane, but at least the rain had stopped.

Then I heard another sound—one that wasn’t as easy to dismiss.

The crunch of footsteps on the path, gradually getting louder.

Maybe it was a dog.

A rabid dog.

Something out of Stephen King’s nightmares.

I shone the flashlight down the path, squinting into the dark.

Nothing there.

Still the footsteps moved closer.

“Who’s there?” I yelled, grateful my voice remained steady. My hands were another matter, causing the light to waver. “Hello?”

The path was empty—until it wasn’t.

There was a glimmer of white, and a pale face emerged from the darkness. I stumbled backward, nearly impaling myself on what was left of the firewood. Retreating until I hit one of the posts that held the shelter upright, I willed whoever it was to go away. I hadn’t signed up for this.

It was a prank, just a stupid prank to make some cash.

The air in the shelter changed, becoming heavier and heavier, weighing on my lungs and pulling them down, down, down.

My breath escaped with a tiny squeak.

A young woman stood outside the remains of the temple, staring at me with huge, dark eyes. She wore a coat that was three sizes too big for her and her feet were bare.

Sagging with relief, I pressed my hand against my chest as if I could will my heart to slow down. “You scared the crap out of me, girl. Where did you come from?”

The girl continued to stare at me without speaking. I was getting that prickling feeling on the back of my neck again, and I didn’t like it.

“Were you with a group?”

What happened to her shoes? If she’d planned to spend the night, she certainly hadn’t put much thought into it.

There was no hint of recognition at my words, no indication she intended to reply. Her expression was as blank as it had been before I spoke. And then it dawned on me.

She doesn’t understand a word I’ve said.

Traveling would be so much easier if everyone spoke the same language. Squirming, I was wondering how I was going to get rid of her when she responded.

“I live here.”

“You speak English?”

There was an unbearable pause while she studied me in silence. Finally, I couldn’t take the awkwardness any longer.

“What do you mean, you live here? I thought this place was abandoned.” Then it occurred to me she might be homeless. Hensu would make an ideal hideaway for the down and out.  No one came around at night, and during the day, she could blend in with the hordes of tourists. She’d need some shoes, though.

I do.”

“Yeah, right. Where, in the pagoda?”

In the middle of the town square was a pagoda thousands of years old. The ground underneath was so saturated with moisture that the pagoda could disappear into a hole in the earth at any moment. I knew I was being a jerk, but I was tired of playing games. Being alone in the ghost city had been creepy, but stumbling through this clumsy small talk was much worse.

“My house is down there.” She indicated the hill our group had climbed to reach the ruins of the abandoned city. At the bottom, there was a dock where small boats deposited their cargo of wide-eyed tourists and their cameras.

Sure. Sure it is.

Then it dawned on me.

“Let me guess—you’re one of the actors, right?”

Dozens of costumed performers wandered the site during visiting hours, posing as judges of the underworld. No doubt there had been a few ghosts flitting around as well. This girl, with her pale face and bare feet, would be a natural.

“I’m not an actor. I’m a musician.”

“What do you play?” I asked, though I couldn’t have cared less what this strange girl did for kicks. I wanted to get back to my project, and there was no way a ghost was gonna drop in with all this chitchatting going on.

“I’m a violinist.”

Figures.

“Do you have it here? Your violin, I mean?”

I liked the idea of hearing some strings. From the look of her hands, I was willing to bet she could play something beautiful. Maybe even Vivaldi.

Best of all, we wouldn’t have to talk.

She lowered her head, dark hair closing over her face like shutters. “It was destroyed. In the flood. Along with everything else.”

Then I got what she’d been trying to say. Her tense was off—understandable, considering English wasn’t her first language. What she’d meant was, she’d lived here. Before the flood waters came and her village was evacuated.

“Why don’t you sit down and warm your feet? They must be freezing.” Realizing I was still gripping my pathetic weapon, I tossed the plank of wood on the fire, which sent up a torrent of protesting sparks. She didn’t move, only continued to stand at the entrance of the temple, watching me.

“I wasn’t invited.”

“Well, you’re invited now. Come on in.” I hunkered down next to the fire and stretched my chilled hands toward its warmth. As she hesitated, I waved her in. “C’mon, sit. I don’t bite. Seriously, get closer to the fire. You look cold.”

“I’m always cold.” She finally took a seat on an old floor beam across from me, watching me as if I might, in fact, bite.

“Said every woman ever.” Now that she was talking instead of dissecting me with her eyes, I appreciated the company. One thing our tour lacked was any opportunity for meaningful interaction with the locals. Hopefully having someone to shoot the shit with would make the night go faster, because it was obvious nothing supernatural was going to happen. In order for my book to be a best seller, I’d have to make shit up, but that was okay. Writers did it all the time. I’d call it…I know, narrative non-fiction. “Would you like a Coke? It’s lukewarm, but at least it’s something.”

“No, thank you.”

My mouth was dry—probably from the many times I’d rammed both feet into it—so I drank what was left in my can. As I slurped the flat, syrupy sweetness, I could feel her staring at me again. It took everything I had not to squirm.

“That sucks about your violin. Wasn’t there enough warning to pack your stuff?”

With my excitement over the tour and seeing an abandoned city for the first time, I hadn’t given a thought to the people, the ones who used to call this village home. What they had gone through; what they had suffered? Some of those families had probably lived here for generations, and having to leave everything behind must have been painful.

She stared at me like I was the stupidest guy who’d ever crossed her path, and I was definitely feeling like it. “Pack my stuff?” she repeated with excruciating slowness, as if she were speaking to a mentally challenged child.

“Sorry…gather your belongings? Were you able to gather your belongings?”

“No.”

“You weren’t given any warning?” Her story was giving me chills. Of course I’d heard of people losing everything in a flood, but this particular flood was manmade, the result of rerouting the Yangtze River through a new dam.

Her brow furrowed in confusion. When she wasn’t wearing that you’re-an-idiot expression, she was quite pretty. Not exactly babe material, but she had potential. Too young for me, though. I guessed she was in her early twenties. “Warning? For what would I need warning?”

“To gather your belongings. Your violin and everything. So you could take it with you when you left.”

She sighed. It was the longest, most exasperated sigh I’d ever heard. It seemed to come from her toes and work its way upward, deflating her. “I don’t understand your questions. I never moved. I’ve never gone anywhere.”

Either she didn’t comprehend English, in spite of her ability to speak it, or she was disturbed. Neither scenario was ideal. Time to change the subject.

“So… have you seen any ghosts around here? I’m writing an article about the Hensu hauntings.” With all the stealth I could manage, I nudged my recorder closer to her. If she had a good story, I wanted to capture every word.

“Ghosts?” She raised an eyebrow at me, and fluttered her hands at the nearest statue, the one that gave me the creeps. “Ghosts are everywhere.”

Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this writing stuff, especially if I had to interview the locals. Getting paid to travel was cool, but I could always harvest rice crops or haul garbage out of the ocean. At this point, that seemed preferable.

“Yeah, I saw those, but I’m not talking about statues. I’m talking about the real thing.” When she continued to stare at me without speaking, I exhaled a sigh of my own. Turning on my phone, I checked the time. It was just ten thirty—how was that possible? Ordinarily you wouldn’t catch me going to bed before two in the morning, but it had been an exhausting day, and the after-effects of the previous evening’s rice wine were haunting me. Behind my right eye, my brain throbbed.

Piling the fire high with the last logs and bits of kindling, I glanced over at her. She was still watching me, her face as expressionless as a mask. I wanted to ask her to stop, to look somewhere else, but how do you say that without being offensive?

I regretted asking her to stay. Having her around was beginning to feel worse than being alone.

She cocked her head to one side, as if she were an entomologist and I were some freakish species of bug that had crawled onto her microscope. “You are reporter?”

It took me a minute to get her meaning. “Not really. I’m more of a…creative writer, I guess you’d say.”

My aptitude for bullshit knows no bounds. That counts as creative, right?

“But you write. You tell stories.” An insistent tone crept into her voice, like she was accusing me of lying.

I was getting that hinky feeling again. Even though every pitiful instinct I had was screaming at me to deny it, I chalked up the paranoia to exhaustion and the last of yesterday’s rice wine torturing my beleaguered liver.

“Sure, I guess.” Leaning forward, I stirred the embers with a stick, feeling her eyes burning into me.

“I look for someone to tell my story. You—you could tell my story.”

Oh shit, here it comes. “Maybe. It depends. What’s your story?” At least it’ll help kill a few minutes.

I expected her to launch into an autobiographical tale, or perhaps start talking about her music. Instead, she appraised me through the firelight, her eyes large enough to swallow her face.

Her scrutiny was unnerving.

“The world must know my story, but I am not sure you are the right person to tell it.”

Wow. Keep your old story, then. “Okay.” I shrugged, wondering why she’d brought it up in the first place. “Fair enough. But my tour group is only here until tomorrow. Then our Yangtze cruise ends and we’ll be traveling by bus again.”

Her lips curved in a smirk that seemed to mock me. “Do not worry. I will find you.”

 

About the Author

J.H. Moncrieff’s work has been described as early Gillian Flynn with a little Ray Bradbury and Stephen King thrown in for good measure.

She won Harlequin’s search for the next Gillian Flynn in 2016.

Her first published novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, was featured in Samhain’s Childhood Fears collection and stayed on its horror bestsellers list for over a year.

When not writing, she loves exploring the world’s most haunted places, advocating for animal rights, and summoning her inner ninja in muay thai class.

Get free eBooks and a new spooky story every week here.

Posted in Cover Reveal, excerpt, Science Fiction on May 14, 2017

 

Synopsis

Lacy Dawn is a little girl who lives in a magical forest where all the trees love her and she has a space alien friend who adores her and wants to make her queen of the universe. What’s more, all the boys admire her for her beauty and brains. Mommy is very beautiful and Daddy is very smart, and Daddy’s boss loves them all.

Except.

Lacy Dawn, the eleven year old protagonist, perches precariously between the psychosis of childhood and the multiple neuroses of adolescence, buffeted by powerful gusts of budding sexuality and infused with a yearning to escape the grim and brutal life of a rural Appalachian existence. In this world, Daddy is a drunk with severe PTSD, and Mommy is an insecure wraith. The boss is a dodgy lecher, not above leering at the flat chest of an eleven-year-old girl.

Yes, all in one book.

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Praise for Rarity from the Hollow

As you know, the novel was found by the editor of Atomjack Science Fiction Magazine to be laugh-out-loud funny in some scenes. Long-time science fiction book critic, Barry Hunter, closed his review, “…good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” — http://thebaryonreview.blogspot.com/

A former Editor of Reader’s Digest found that, “Rarity from the Hollow is the most enjoyable science fiction that I’ve read in several years.” — http://warriorpatient.com/

Rarity from the Hollow was referred to as a hillbilly version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and awarded a Gold Medal by Awesome Indies: “…Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most fans of sci-fi will thoroughly enjoy.” http://awesomeindies.net/

With respect to the story’s treatment of tough social issues, this reviewer said: “If I could, I would give it all the stars in the universe…I was hesitant to accept. I usually do not read or review books that discuss child abuse or domestic violence; however, I was intrigued by the excerpt and decided to give it a shot. I am glad that I took a risk; otherwise, I would have missed out on a fantastic story with a bright, resourceful, and strong protagonist that grabbed my heart and did not let go.” — http://www.onmykindle.net/

Excerpt

Cozy in Cardboard

Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school.  She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.

Nothing’s more important than an education.

The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother’s new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before.  Her father brought it home for her to play in.

The nicest thing he’s ever done.

Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off.  She lived in the next house up the hollow.  Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities.  Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.

All she needs is a little motivation. 

Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, “The place of all things possible — especially you passing the fifth grade so we’ll be together in the sixth.”

Please concentrate, Faith.  Try this one.

“Armadillo.”

“A, R, M, … A … D, I, L, D, O,” Faith demonstrated her intellect.

“That’s weak.  This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points.  Come on.”

Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.

I’ll trick her by going out of order – a word she can’t turn into another punch line. 

“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away.  Let’s get back to studying,” Lacy Dawn said.

My mommy don’t like sex.  It’s just her job and she told me so.

Faith turned her open spelling book over, which saved its page, and rolled onto her side.  Lacy Dawn did the same and snuggled her back against the paper wall.  Face to face — a foot of smoothness between — they took a break.  The outside was outside.

At their parents’ insistence, each wore play clothing — unisex hand-me-downs that didn’t fit as well as school clothing.  They’d been careful not to get muddy before crawling into the box.  They’d not played in the creek and both were cleaner than the usual evening.  The clubhouse floor remained an open invitation to anybody who had the opportunity to consider relief from daily stressors.

“How’d you get so smart, Lacy Dawn?  Your parents are dumb asses just like mine.”

“You ain’t no dumb ass and you’re going to pass the fifth grade.”

“Big deal — I’m still fat and ugly,” Faith said.

“I’m doing the best I can.  I figure by the time I turn eleven I can fix that too.  For now, just concentrate on passing and don’t become special education.  I need you.  You’re my best friend.”

“Ain’t no other girls our age close in the hollow.  That’s the only reason you like me.  Watch out.  There’s a pincher bug crawling in.”

Lacy Dawn sat almost upright because there was not quite enough headroom in the refrigerator box.  She scooted the bug out the opening.  Faith watched the bug attempt re-entry, picked it up, and threw it a yard away into the grass.  It didn’t get hurt.  Lacy Dawn smiled her approval.  The new clubhouse was a sacred place where nothing was supposed to hurt.

“Daddy said I can use the tarp whenever he finishes the overhaul on the car in the driveway.  That way, our clubhouse will last a long time,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Chewy, chewy tootsie roll.  Everything in this hollow rots, especially the people. You know that.”

“We ain’t rotten,” Lacy Dawn gestured with open palms. “There are a lot of good things here — like all the beautiful flowers.  Just focus on your spelling and I’ll fix everything else.  This time I want a 100% and a good letter to your mommy.”

“She won’t read it,” Faith said.

“Yes she will.  She loves you and it’ll make her feel good.  Besides, she has to or the teacher will call Welfare.  Your daddy would be investigated — unless you do decide to become special education.  That’s how parents get out of it.  The kid lets them off the hook by deciding to become a SPED.  Then there ain’t nothing Welfare can do about it because the kid is the problem and not the parents.”

“I ain’t got no problems,” Faith said.

“Then pass this spelling test.”

“I thought if I messed up long enough, eventually somebody would help me out.  I just need a place to live where people don’t argue all the time.  That ain’t much.”

“Maybe you are a SPED.  There’s always an argument in a family.  Pass the test you retard,” Lacy Dawn opened her spelling book.

Faith flipped her book over too, rolled onto her stomach and looked at the spelling words.  Lacy Dawn handed her the flashlight because it was getting dark and grinned when Faith’s lips started moving as she memorized.  Faith noticed and clamped her lips shut between thumb and index finger.

This is boring.  I learned all these words last year.

“Don’t use up the batteries or Daddy will know I took it,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Alright — I’ll pass the quiz, but just ’cause you told me to.  This is a gamble and you’d better come through if it backfires.  Ain’t nothing wrong with being a SPED.  The work is easier and the teacher lets you do puzzles.”

“You’re my best friend,” Lacy Dawn closed the book.

They rolled back on their sides to enjoy the smoothness.  The cricket chorus echoed throughout the hollow and the frogs peeped.  An ant attempted entry but changed its direction before either rescued it.  Unnoticed, Lacy Dawn’s father threw the tarp over the box and slid in the trouble light.  It was still on and hot.  The bulb burned Lacy Dawn’s calf.

He didn’t mean to hurt me — the second nicest thing he’s ever done.

“Test?” Lacy Dawn announced with the better light, and called off, “Poverty.”

“I love you,” Faith responded.

“Me too, but spell the word.”

“P is for poor.  O is for oranges from the Salvation Army Christmas basket. V is for varicose veins that Mommy has from getting pregnant every year. E is for everybody messes up sometimes — sorry.  R is for I’m always right about everything except when you tell me I’m wrong — like now.  T is for it’s too late for me to pass no matter what we do and Y is for you know it too.”

“Faith, it’s almost dark!  Go home before your mommy worries,” Lacy Dawn’s mother yelled from the front porch and stepped back into the house to finish supper.  The engine of the VW in the driveway cranked but wouldn’t start.  It turned slower as its battery died, too.

Faith slid out of the box with her spelling book in-hand.  She farted from the effort.  A clean breeze away, she squished a mosquito that had landed on her elbow and watched Lacy Dawn hold her breath as she scooted out of the clubhouse, pinching her nose with fingers of one hand, holding the trouble light with the other, and pushing her spelling book forward with her knees.  The moon was almost full.  There would be plenty of light to watch Faith walk up the gravel road.  Outside the clubhouse, they stood face to face and ready to hug.  It lasted a lightning bug statement until adult intrusion.

“Give it back.  This thing won’t start,” Lacy Dawn’s father grabbed the trouble light out of her hand and walked away.

“All we ever have is beans for supper.  Sorry about the fart.”

“Don’t complain. Complaining is like sitting in a rocking chair.  You can get lots of motion but you ain’t going anywhere,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Why didn’t you tell me that last year?”  Faith asked.  “I’ve wasted a lot of time.”

“I just now figured it out.  Sorry.”

“Some savior you are.  I put my whole life in your hands.   I’ll pass tomorrow’s spelling quiz and everything.  But you, my best friend who’s supposed to fix the world just now tell me that complaining won’t work and will probably get me switched.”

“You’re complaining again.”

“Oh yeah,” Faith said.

“Before you go home, I need to tell you something.”

To avoid Lacy Dawn’s father working in the driveway, Faith slid down the bank to the dirt road.  Her butt became too muddy to reenter the clubhouse regardless of need.  Lacy Dawn stayed in the yard, pulled the tarp taut over the cardboard, and waited for Faith to respond.

“I don’t need no more encouragement.  I’ll pass the spelling quiz tomorrow just for you, but I may miss armadillo for fun.  Our teacher deserves it,” Faith said.

“That joke’s too childish.  She won’t laugh.  Besides, dildos are serious business since she ain’t got no husband no more.  Make 100%.  That’s what I want.”

“Okay.  See you tomorrow.”  Faith took a step up the road.

“Wait.  I want to tell you something.  I’ve got another best friend.  That’s how I got so smart.  He teaches me stuff.”

“A boy?  You’ve got a boyfriend?”

“Not exactly,”

Lacy Dawn put a finger over her lips to silence Faith.  Her father was hooking up a battery charger.  She slid down the bank, too.

He probably couldn’t hear us, but why take the chance.

A minute later, hand in hand, they walked the road toward Faith’s house.

“Did you let him see your panties?” Faith asked.

“No.  I ain’t got no good pair.  Besides, he don’t like me that way.  He’s like a friend who’s a teacher — not a boyfriend.  I just wanted you to know that I get extra help learning stuff.”

“Where’s he live?”

Lacy Dawn pointed to the sky with her free hand.

“Jesus is everybody’s friend,” Faith said.

“It ain’t Jesus, you moron,” Lacy Dawn turned around to walk home.  “His name’s DotCom and….”

Her mother watched from the middle of the road until both children were safe.

About the Author

roberteggletonRobert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a recently retired psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.

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Posted in Book Release, excerpt, Giveaway, romance, women on May 12, 2017

Synopsis

She’s never had a home
Growing up in a troubled foster home, Mercy Dane knew she could never rely on anyone but herself. She’s used to giving her all to people who don’t give her a second glance, so when she races to Blessings, Georgia, to save the life of an accident victim, she’s flabbergasted when the grateful town opens its arms to her. She never dreamed she’d ever find family or friends—or a man who looks at her as if she hung the stars.

Until she finds peace in his arms
Police Chief Lon Pittman is getting restless living in sleepy little Blessings. But the day Mercy Dane roars into his life on the back of a motorcycle, practically daring him to pull her over, he’s lost. There’s something about Mercy’s tough-yet-vulnerable spirit that calls to Lon, and he will do anything in his power to make her realize that home isn’t just where the heart is—home is where their heart is.

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Excerpt

From Chapter One

From childhood, Mercy Dane viewed Christmas Eve in Savannah, Georgia, like something out of a fairy tale. The old, elegant mansions were always lit from within and decorated with great swags of greenery hanging above the doorways and porch railings like thick green icing on snowy white cakes.

The shops decked out in similar holiday style were as charming as the sweet southern women who worked within. Each shop boasted fragrant evergreens, plush red velvet bows, and flickering lights mimicking the stars in the night sky above the city.

And even though Mercy had grown up on the hard side of town with lights far less grand, the lights in her world burned with true southern perseverance. Now that she was no longer a child, the beauty of the holiday was something other people celebrated, and on this cold Christmas Eve, she no longer believed in fairy tales. So far, the chapters of her life consisted of a series of foster families until she aged out of the system, and one magic Christmas Eve with a man she never saw again. The only lights in her world now were the lights where she worked at the Road Warrior Bar.

The yellow neon sign over the bar was partially broken. The R in Road was missing its leg, making the word look like Toad. But the patrons who frequented this bar didn’t care about the name. They came for the company and a drink or two to dull the disappointment of a lifetime of regrets.

Carson Beal, who went by the name of Moose, owned the bar. He’d been meaning to get the R fixed for years, but intention was worth nothing without the action, and Moose had yet to act upon the thought.

Outside, the blinking neon light beckoned, calling the lonely and the thirsty into the bar where the beer was cold and the gumbo and rice Moose served was hot with spice and fire.

Moose often took advantage of Mercy’s talent for baking after she’d once brought cupcakes for Moose and the employees to snack on. After that, she’d bring in some of whatever she’d made at home. On occasion Moose would ask her to bake him something special. It was always good to have a little extra money, so she willingly obliged.

This Christmas Eve, Moose had ordered an assortment of Christmas cookies for the bar. When Mercy came in to work carrying the box of baked goods, he was delighted. Now a large platter of cookies graced the north end of the bar.

The incongruity of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” playing in the background was only slightly less bizarre than the old tinsel Christmas tree hanging above the pool table like a molting chandelier.

Because of the holiday, only two of his four waitresses were on duty, Barb Hanson, a thirtysomething widow with purple hair, and Mercy Dane, the baker with a curvy body.

Mercy’s long, black hair was a stunning contrast to the red Christmas sweater she was wearing, and her willowy body and long, shapely legs looked even longer in her black jeans and boots. Her olive skin and dark hair gave her an exotic look, but being abandoned as a baby, and growing up in foster care, she had no knowledge of her heritage.

Barb of the purple hair wore red and green, a rather startling assortment of colors for a lady her age, and both women were wearing reindeer antler headbands with little bells. Between the bells and antlers, the music and cookies, and the Christmas tree hanging above the pool table, Moose had set a holiday mood.

Mercy had been working at the bar for over five years. Although she’d turned twenty-six just last week, her life, like this job, was going nowhere.

It was nearing midnight when a quick blast of cold air suddenly moved through the bar and made Mercy shiver. She didn’t have to look to know the ugly part of this job had just arrived.

“Damn, Moose, play some real music, why don’t ya?” Big Boy yelled as the door slammed shut behind him.

Moose glared at the big biker who’d entered his bar. “This is real music, Big Boy. Sit down somewhere and keep your opinions to yourself.”

The biker flipped Moose off, spat on the floor, and stomped through the room toward an empty table near the back, making sure to feel up Mercy’s backside in passing.

When Big Boy suddenly shoved his hand between her legs, she nearly dropped the tray of drinks she was carrying. She knew from experience that he was waiting for a reaction, so she chose to bear the insult without calling attention to it.

As soon as he was seated, Big Boy slapped the table and yelled at the barmaids. “One of you bitches bring me a beer!”

Moose glanced nervously at Mercy, aware that she’d become the target for most of Big Boy’s harassment.

Barb sailed past Mercy with a jingle in every step. “I’ve got his table,” she said.

“Thanks,” Mercy said, and delivered the drinks she was carrying. “Here you go, guys! Christmas Eve cheer and cookies from Moose!”

One trucker, a man named Pete, took a big bite out of the iced sugar cookie. “Mmm, this is good,” he said.

“Mercy made them,” Moose yelled.

Pete shook his head and took another bite. “You have a fine hand with baking. I’d ask you to marry me, darlin’, but my old lady would object.”

Mercy took the teasing with a grin. The men at this table were good men who always left nice tips. In fact, most of the patrons in the bar were men with no family or truckers who couldn’t get home for Christmas. Every now and then, a random woman would wander in to have a drink, but rarely lingered, except for Lorena Haysworth, the older woman sitting at the south end of the bar.

She’d been coming here since before Mercy was born, and in her younger days she and Moose had been lovers before slowly drifting apart. She’d come back into his life a few months ago and nightly claimed the seat at the end of the bar.

Barb took the first of what would be multiple beers to Big Boy’s table, along with a Christmas cookie and a bowl of stale pretzels, making sure to keep the table between them.

Big Boy lunged at her as if he was going to grab her, and when she turned around and ran, he leaned back and laughed.

Mercy returned to the bar with a new order and waited for Moose to fill it.

“Sorry about that,” Moose said, as he glanced toward the table where Big Boy was sitting.

Her eyes narrowed angrily. “How sorry are you? Sorry enough to kick him out? Or just sorry his money is more important to you than me and Barb?”

Moose’s face turned as red as his shirt. “Damn it, Mercy. You know how it goes,” he said, and pushed the new order across the bar.

She did know. The customer was always right. Trying not to buy into the turmoil, she picked up the tray and delivered the order with a smile.

The night wore on with Big Boy getting drunker and more belligerent, while Barb and Mercy dodged his constant attempts to maul them, until finally, it was time to close.

It was a few minutes before 2:00 a.m. when Moose shut down the bar. There were only three customers left. Big Boy, who was so close to passed out he couldn’t walk, Lorena, who was waiting to go home with Moose, and a trucker who’d fallen asleep at his table.

Mercy headed for the trucker, leaving Moose to wrestle Big Boy up and out.

The trucker was a small, wiry man named Frank Bigalow who fancied himself a ringer for country music star Willie Nelson. He was dreaming of hit songs and gold records when Mercy woke him.

“Frank. Frank. You need to wake up now. We’re closing.”

Bigalow straightened abruptly, momentarily confused as to where he was, then saw Mercy and smiled.

“Oh. Right. Sure thing, honey. What do I owe you?” he mumbled.

“Twelve dollars,” she said.

Bigalow stood up to get his wallet out of his pants then pulled out a twenty. “Keep the change and Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said, and began bussing his table as he walked out of the bar.

Moose had Big Boy on his way out the door, and it was none too soon for Mercy.

She handed Moose the twenty when he returned. “Take twelve out. The rest is mine,” she said, and pocketed the change Moose gave her.

Within fifteen minutes, the bar was clear and swept, the money was in the safe, and Barb and Mercy were heading for the door.

“Hey! Girls! Wait up!” Moose said, then handed them each an envelope, along with little bags with some of Mercy’s cookies. “Merry Christmas. We’re not open tomorrow so sleep in.”

“Thank you,” Barb said, as she slid the envelope inside her purse.

“Much appreciated,” Mercy added, as she put her envelope in one of the inner pockets of her black leather bomber jacket. It was old and worn, but it was warm.

Then she grabbed her helmet and the cookies and headed out the door behind Barb and just ahead of Moose and Lorena. Once outside, she paused to judge the near-empty parking lot, making sure Big Boy and his Harley were at the motel across the street.

The air was cold and the sky was clear as she stashed the cookies, then put on her helmet and mounted her own Harley. Seconds later the quiet was broken by the rolling rumble of the engine as she toed up the kickstand, put the bike in gear, and rode off into the night.

The empty streets on the way to her apartment were a little eerie, but she was so tired she couldn’t work up the emotion to be scared. The streetlights were draped with Christmas garlands and red bows, but they were all one blur as Mercy sped toward home.

A city cop on neighborhood patrol saw her, recognized the lone bike and biker, and blinked his lights as she passed him.

She waved back and kept going.

When she stopped for a red light and realized she was the only person on this stretch of street, she didn’t breathe easy until the light turned green, and she moved on.

Finally, she was home. She eased up on the accelerator as she rolled through the gates of her apartment complex and parked the motorcycle beneath a light in plain view of the security cameras. She ran up the outer stairs to the second level and down the walkway to her apartment carrying her helmet and the cookies. No matter how many times she’d done this or how many times she’d moved since it happened, the fact that she’d once come home late at night to find out she’d been robbed, she never felt safe until she was in the apartment with the door locked behind her.

She tossed the helmet onto the sofa and took the cookies into the kitchen. Curious as to how much of a bonus Moose was giving this year, she was pleased to see a hundred-dollar bill.

“Nice,” she said, and took it and her night’s worth of tips to the refrigerator, opened up the freezer, and put the money inside an empty box that had once held a biscuit mix.

She wasn’t sure how much money she had saved up, but last time she’d counted it had been over two thousand dollars. It should have been in a bank, but these days, banks cost money to use, and she didn’t have any to spare, so she froze her assets.

The place smelled of stale coffee and something her neighbor across the hall had burned for dinner. She was tired and cold, but too wired to sleep, so she went to her bedroom, stripped out of her clothes, and took a long hot shower.

She returned to the kitchen later to find something to eat. One quick glance in the refrigerator was all the reminder she needed that she still hadn’t grocery shopped. She emptied what was left of the milk into a bowl of cereal and ate it standing by the sink, remembering another Christmas in Savannah, her first all on her own.

About the Author

SHARON SALA has over ninety-five books in print and has published in five different genres. She is a seventime RITA finalist, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Book Reviews, and five-time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Website * Goodreads * Twitter * Facebook

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Posted in Book Release, excerpt, Historical, Spotlight on May 11, 2017

Title:  The Pacifist

Author:  Mehreen Ahmed

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Synopsis

In 1866, Peter Baxter’s misfortune ends the day he leaves Badgerys Creek orphanage. Unsure of what to do next, Peter finds himself on a farm run by Mr. Brown. An aging man, Brown needs help and is happy to give Peter a place to live in exchange for his labor. Unbeknownst to Peter, Brown’s past is riddled with dark secrets tied to the same orphanage, which he has documented in a red folder.

During a chance encounter, Peter meets Rose. Peter cannot help but fall in love with her beauty, grace, and wit; however, he fears that his affection will go unrequited as a result of his crippling poverty. But fate changes when Peter joins the search for gold in Hill End, New South Wales. Striking it rich, he returns to Rose a wealthy man. Peter is changed by his new found affluence, heading towards the mire of greed. Will Rose regret her relationship with Peter?

Meanwhile, Rose has her own troubled history. One that is deeply entwined with Brown’s past and Peter’s future.

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Excerpt

At first, Rose was disoriented. She looked around. Her silent whisperers had stopped talking. Sitting up on the bed, she realized that she was in a room with a closed door.  Fear crept into her mind. She looked around, realizing that she sat on a bed covered with frayed sheets and a torn, stained pillow. A lump rose up to her throat.

“Mummy, mummy,” Rose broke down into uncontrollable tears. Before more than a few minutes passed, the door opened. A shadow appeared on its dark threshold. It began to walk towards her. She gawked at the figure through tear-stained eyes. Her lips parted. She gripped the bed cloths until her little fingers ached.

“Come with me, child,” commanded a male voice.

“I … I want my mummy,” she hiccupped.

“There is no mummy here. Mummies aren’t allowed.”

“Where is my mummy?”

“She’s dead, I’m afraid.”

“Dead? What’re you saying?”

“I say the truth. The faster you settle down here, the better. You’ll make it easier for everyone. Now come along.”

The male figure extended an arm towards Rose, asking her to hold it. In the dark, Rose slipped her tiny palm, losing it, into his large one. She wanted to trust him but could not stop sobbing. This sudden news of her mother’s death broke her heart, irreparably. She wanted to break loose, to run as fast as she could. But her hand, now in the clutches of this man, no matter how much she squirmed, could not get out. Nor would her tears stop.

“Did … I … kill … her?” she hiccupped.

“What on earth are you saying?”

“Those voices never gave me any peace.”

“Voices?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s talk about them in my office tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, dear. Make a note of that, okay?”

“Okay.

Her tears abated. She picked up a corner of her dress and wiped her nose with it, the fluids slowly drenched in the seam. They continued to walk through the hall. In the dim light, imparted by lanterns set along the corridor, she could only see their shadows. They walked until they appeared in front of an ornate antique door. It had a big ring hanging outside. The man took out a key. He turned it into the keyhole then pushed the thick door. It creaked around the hinges as it opened. Rose peeked inside, standing in the shadow of the man, looking around in awe. It was a long dormitory with at least five single beds hemmed together. Each bed was covered with a thin blanket and a lumpy pillow. There were small girls, about her age, sitting or lying on their beds. When they saw her, they straightened up, sitting erect on the edge of each bed.

“This is where you’ll sleep every night,” he said.

About the Author

Queensland writer, Mehreen Ahmed has been publishing since 1987. Her writing career began with journalism, academic reviews and articles. Her journalistic articles appeared in The Sheaf, a campus newspaper for the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, between 1987 and 1999.

She has written academic book reviews and articles and has published them in notable peer-reviewed journals in her area of study. Mostly introspective, Mehreen also writes fiction. Set in Brisbane Queensland, Jacaranda Blues is her debut novella, written in a stream of consciousness style. A featured author for Story Institute, she has published The Blotted Line, a collection of short stories. More recently, Snapshots and Moirae were first published by PostScript Editions, UK in 2010 and a second edition by Cosmic Teapot Publishing, Canada in 2016. Her flash fiction, The Portrait has been published by Straylight Literary Magazine, a biannual magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Parkland, English Department.

She has earned two MA degrees. One in English and the other in Computer Assisted Language Learning (Applied Linguistics) from Dhaka University and the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia.

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Posted in excerpt, Giveaway, paranormal, romance on May 10, 2017

Title: Dating the Undead

Author: Juliet Lyons

Series: Undead Dating Service, #1

ISBN: 9781492645306

Pub date: May 2, 2017

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Synopsis 

WOMAN SEEKING VAMPIRE:

Likes to keep things casual

Absolutely no poetry

Zero romance required.

Silver Harris is over clingy men—maybe men altogether. But when she shares a toe-curling kiss with a sexy Irish vampire on New Year’s Eve, she wonders if maybe it’s human men she’s fed up with. Silver turns to the popular vampire dating site, V-Date, only to discover that vampire men are just as unimpressive as their mortal counterparts. And her mysterious hottie? He’s nowhere to be found.

Can’t a girl catch a break?

Logan Byrne can’t get that sassy redhead—or that kiss!—out of his head. When his boss assigns him to spy on V-Date, he meets Silver again. Turns out, the police are recruiting humans to snitch on vampires through the dating site. As the snark and sparks fly, feelings between Silver and Logan deepen. But, when old demons resurface—literally—Logan isn’t sure he can shield either of them from the dangers that have been lying in wait for centuries.

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10 ways to tell if your date is actually a vampire

1. They only want to meet at night, using the excuse that they’re not ‘a morning person’.
2. On a date to the beach, you catch them harassing the lady in the mini mart to check the stock room for Hawaiian Tropics factor 500.
3. When you get a papercut, they’re oddly excited.
4. They’re still not over their ex. Even though the latter has been dead for two hundred years.
5. Every time you mention a church wedding they recoil in horror*.
6. They often refer to Eric from True Blood as someone who ‘has their shit together.’
7. They drink a lot of red wine, but never seem drunk. Wait—is that actually wine?
8. They have pale, flawless skin despite the fact you’ve never once seen them cleanse and/or moisturise.
9. When watching any kind of sporting event, they constantly scoff and sneer at the athletes. ‘Please! Is that the best they can do?’
10. They are particularly keen to remind you that the neck is a top five erogenous zone…

*Does not necessarily mean they are a vampire. Mortals—particularly males—are also prone to behaving in this way.

Excerpt

I freeze in terror. What a waste of Dad’s money those self-defense classes turned out to be.

“Silver, it’s just me,” a lilting Irish voice says at my ear, the hand dropping from my shoulder.

I turn around to find myself nose to nose with my vampire from New Year’s Eve, his bright green eyes piercing mine.

I’m struck by several conflicting emotions all at once—anger, relief, and in a tiny measure—happiness. Anger wins out. On impulse, I slap him hard across the face, pointing with a white, clenched hand to the garden I’ve just sprinted across.

“I thought I was about to be murdered, asshole,” I hiss through my teeth. “I ripped my coat. My heels are ruined. All because you thought it might be fun to follow me home.”

He smirks, nonplussed, sliding his hands into the deep pockets of his navy pea coat. “I wasn’t following you,” he says, eyes twinkling.

“Oh, that’s right,” I say, voice dripping with sarcasm. “You were just walking me home again. Except this time from fifty yards behind and without me knowing.”

Before he has a chance to reply, the front door flies open and my landlady Vera emerges in a long, silky, oriental dressing gown. She is wigless for once, a Pucci scarf twisted into a makeshift turban covering her head. In her right hand, she holds a meat cleaver.

“Step away, you rapist bastard!” she yells, holding the large knife shakily aloft.

I glare at the vampire, expecting him to either throw his hands in the air or take a step backwards. Instead his brows knit together and his mouth drops open. “Etta Marlow?” he asks, staring at her as if she just walked on water.

The meat cleaver lowers a fraction. “What’s it to you?” Vera demands, her voice losing some of its previous menace.

I roll my eyes. Of course he remembers her. He’s probably seen all her films.

“It is you!” he erupts, wagging a finger in her direction. “You’re Etta Marlow! You played Susie De Sousa in Girl Uptown with Gregor Lane. I love that movie.”

The meat cleaver drops, forgotten, to her side as she pats her turban, eyelashes fluttering. “Fancy you recognizing me,” she mutters happily.

“Excuse me, Vera,” I interject, “but there’s still a potential rapist on your doorstep here.”

Vera looks back to the vampire, who shakes his head, smiling. “A misunderstanding, Etta. I was making sure Silver here made it home safely. She got the wrong end of the stick.”

Vera, or Etta as she was once known, glances over at me. “Do you know this charming fellow, dear?”

I scowl at them both. “Well, yes, but— “

“Well then, you must come in, dear boy. I could show you my Oscar, if you like?”

The Vampire looks as if he’s about to pee himself with excitement. “You mean the one you got for Days Like These with Vic Stevens?”

She holds out a thin hand towards him, gold bangles jangling on her wrist. “The very one, dear. Come, come in.”

I watch, stunned, as he takes her hand, green eyes lit up in excitement.

Before stepping through the door, he hangs back. “Ms. Marlow, I’m afraid it’s only courteous to let you know before I enter that I’m not human. I’m a vampire.”

Vera’s tinkly laugh echoes around the street like a bicycle bell. “Oh, you’re so sweet. Didn’t you know I’ve met dozens of vampires? They’re two a penny in Hollywood, darling.”

Following her across the threshold, he flashes the cockiest of grins. “Coming, Silver?”

My jaw drops in disgust. I’m tempted to sulk off to my basement flat, but instead, I trail after them and slam the door.

We follow Vera along an elegant gold and cream hallway into her immaculate, monochrome front room. Even though I’ve been here on numerous occasions, I’m always mesmerized by the sheer extravagance of the place—buttery white leather sofas, cream fur rugs, one wall is painted black and white to resemble piano keys. It should look tacky, but somehow, it works.

“You two make yourselves at home whilst I go and make myself presentable.” Vera says. “Then I’ll dig out that old Oscar of mine.”

I know, of course, the Oscar will not have to be ‘dug’ out of anywhere. It’s always on display in the den, alongside her film stills and other memorabilia.

“I didn’t catch your name,” she croons to the vampire before she leaves.

He puts a hand on his chest. “Forgive me, I should have introduced myself. Between the meat cleaver threat and getting slapped by Silver here, I seem to have forgotten my manners. I’m Logan. Logan Byrne.”

For strange and unfathomable reasons, my stomach flips. Logan. It suits him.

“Charming,” Vera says. “Don’t you go anywhere, Mr. Byrne.”

As soon as Vera disappears from the room, Logan collapses into one of the white leather arm chairs and puts his crossed feet onto the cut glass coffee table.

I’m still standing, one brow arched, arms folded across my chest. “So, Logan,” I hiss. “What the hell is this?”

He grins, dimples putting in their first appearance of the night as he gazes up at me. “Did anyone ever tell you, you’re particularly beautiful when you’re angry?”

“Oh, cut the crap,” I say,  ignoring the hot flush climbing my neck. “Why did you follow me?”

“Like I told Etta, I wanted to make sure you got home safely, that’s all. Though I’m a little confused as to why you have three houses.” He holds up fingers to count. “The one I left you at on New Year’s, the one Nathaniel dropped you at, and now this—cohabiting with an aged 1940’s screen siren.”

“It’s none of your business,” I say, chin in the air. “And anyway, how do you know Nathaniel?”

He shrugs. “I know most of the vampires in London.”

I humpth. “I bet you do.”

In the blink of an eye, he is towering over me, face inches from mine. I inhale his clean, masculine scent like a drowning person coming up for air, and as he leans closer, I find myself gravitating towards him—a flower reaching for sunlight.

He pulls the collar of my coat aside and peers into the gap. As his fingers brush my jaw, an uncontrollable shiver zings through me. I disguise it by stepping out of reach and batting his hand away.

“He did a messy job on your neck,” he says, in a low voice.

“What’s it to you?” I snap.

Before I realize what’s happening, he closes the gap between us. One hand cupping my cheek, he bends over, lips brushing the place Nathaniel bit me, tongue gently swiping the puncture holes.

“That should stop the bleeding,” he says, pulling away. “But you’ll still have a bruise in the morning.”

I rub my neck and look at my fingers. No blood. “So, you can heal wounds? Just another of your unique skills along with beating up drunk men and following young women home for kicks?”

He sinks back into the armchair. “You’re a sexy girl, Silver. I’m glad we’ve met again.”

I snort incredulously, trying, without success, to forget the warmth of his hand on my face. “Well, you certainly made sure we did.”

“And of course,” he continues, pretending to examine a photo on the coffee table. “I’m hugely flattered I’ve managed to turn your head towards my kind.”

“You didn’t turn anything,” I say tartly.

He cocks a brow, gaze burning through my clothes like a laser. I feel a sharp twitch between my legs, as though he’s controlling my private areas by some invisible string. “Are you sure about that?”

About the Author

JULIET LYONS is a paranormal romance author from the UK. She holds a degree in Spanish and Latin American studies and works part-time in a local primary school where she spends far too much time discussing Harry Potter. Since joining global storytelling site Wattpad in 2014, her work has received millions of hits online and gained a legion of fans from all over the world. When she is not writing, Juliet enjoys reading and spending time with her family.

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Posted in excerpt, Giveaway, Historical, romance, Spotlight on May 9, 2017

Title: Nothing Like a Duke

Author: Jane Ashford

Series: The Duke’s Sons, #4

ISBN: 9781492621652

Pub date: May 2, 2017

Genre: Historical Romance

Synopsis

He wants her.

She has no intention of wanting him.

But even Flora has to admit…

There’s nothing like a Duke.

Lord Robert Gresham has given up all hope that the beautiful and independent Flora Jennings will ever take him seriously. He heads to an exclusive country house party to forget about the beauty haunting his thoughts.

Too bad the lady in question has no intention of being forgotten.

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Excerpt

A protruding bit of bramble caught the side of Flora’s pelisse. She twisted to reach for it, and a whole raft of briars shifted with her, entangling the other side of her skirts, her right arm, and the brim of her bonnet. If she pulled away, it would rip the cloth. She struggled a little; more thorns dug in. “Blast it, I suppose you were right, you wretched dog,” she exclaimed, and discovered that Plato was gone.

Flora lifted a hand to free her hat. The movement tipped another part of the bush, which swayed and seemed to grab at her. A second branch lodged in her bonnet. She felt several claw at her back. A stem lashed across her neck. That one drew blood. She tried to step back, and was pricked by more thorns, through her clothes, from all directions.

Flora went very still. She saw that the path petered out just ahead. Or perhaps this hadn’t been a path at all, but merely a deceptive opening in the vegetation. She hadn’t been paying attention. She tried again to move. She was trapped in a sea of briars. The thorns were long and wickedly barbed. They pricked the skin of her neck, her arm, her back, her side.

She became aware of a rustling in the leaves near her feet. What next? The badgers? Snakes? No, of course not snakes. It was far too cold.

A small black-furred head poked through an opening at the base of the briars. Evading the thorns with no visible effort, Plato emerged and stared up at her. “Oh, you’re back, are you?” said Flora. He sat down at her feet. “Come to gloat? Point out that if I’d followed you, I wouldn’t be in this predicament?”

Plato looked at her. Not judgmentally, because that was impossible.

“Go fetch help,” commanded Flora. The dog didn’t move. “Some clever gardeners. A footman from the house. Anyone. Go!”

“Plato? Where are you, you dratted animal?” called a voice nearby.

“Lord Robert?” she called.

There was a short silence. “Flora?”

“Yes. I’ve, ah, become entangled in some brambles. Plato doesn’t appear to care in the least. Or, actually, he’s staring at me as if it was all my fault.” She frowned down at the dog.

“Does he ever blink? He’s really a bit uncanny, don’t you—”

Robert appeared on the path. “Good God!” He started forward.

“Be careful! It’s very easy to get caught. If you touch one branch, the whole mass moves.”

“I see.” He examined the arching stems. “You really are caught, aren’t you?” His lips twitched.

“If you laugh, I’ll…make you sorry,” Flora promised. Plato made one of his odd grumpy gargling sounds. “And you! I’ll find a badger and hand you over to him.”

Robert choked. “So, would you say you’re in need of rescue?”

“Just get me out!”

Robert moved a few steps closer. He could see that the thorns had barbs like fishhooks, ready to rip and tear if not removed very carefully. There was a trickle of blood on Flora’s neck. After a moment of calculation, he eeled between two branches. He had to stop once and detach thorns from his sleeve before he reached her side.

“These things are diabolical,” she said. “When I turned to pull loose, they seemed to…sort of lunge at me.”

“Stay very still.”

“I know!” She let out a huff of breath. “I beg your pardon. This is…rather irritating.” She smiled an apology.

Robert felt a catch in his chest, as if his heart had stumbled briefly. “Right then. Move back, Plato,” he said. For once, the little dog obeyed him, slipping easily out to a more open spot.

He began on the closest branch, embedded in the skirts of Flora’s pelisse. He had to kneel to reach it properly. His knife was small for the tough fibers. The bush swayed as he sawed at the branch. A spray of thorns rasped across his hair, but didn’t catch hold.

Robert soon pricked his skin. There was no way to hold the branch still without being stuck, and he’d left his gloves indoors when he’d seen Plato shoot wildly out of the bushes and then go haring off again.

Blood made the blasted thing slippery. Robert got out his handkerchief, used it to wrap the branch, and went back to work. At last, he was through. The severed stem sprang back a little, he was glad to see, giving him a few inches of working room. He looked up. “One down,” he said with a smile.

The heated gaze he encountered went through him like a thunderbolt. He was suddenly acutely aware of his position, right in among her skirts. His shoulder rested against her thigh. The scent of her—flowery perfume and sheer female—enveloped him.

“You’ve hurt yourself,” she said.

“It’s nothing.” Intensely aroused, Robert eased to his feet. Flora smiled at him again. Her fierce blue eyes raked him. He knew, absolutely, that she was remembering their kisses.
The next branch was wrapped around her far sleeve. He had to press close to her to avoid the briars at his back as he reached for it. And stay there while he cut through the stringy fiber of the bramble. The feel of her—curve of breast and hip, her cheek resting on his chest—made him clumsier. At one point a thorn drove deep into the pad of his index finger, and he stifled an oath.

Flora was having trouble breathing. She could feel his heartbeat, so near her ear, accelerating in tandem with her own. She could feel his muscles shift against her as he cut at the brambles. If she looked up, carefully, she could see his face—handsome, intent. The lips that had thrilled her were only inches away. But she couldn’t move enough to offer her own again. She had to remain very still, plastered against him.

About the Author

Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Her historical and contemporary romances have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, Slovenia, and Spain, as well as the U.S. Twenty-six of her new and backlist Regency romances are being published by Sourcebooks. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She is currently rather nomadic.

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Posted in excerpt, Inspirational, memoir on May 7, 2017

BENDING ANGELS

Living Messengers of God’s Love

By Jack H. Emmott

 

  Genre: Memoir / Inspirational / Faith

Publisher: Carpenter’s Son Publishing

Date of Publication: January 1, 2017

Number of Pages: 176

Struck by polio at age six, Jack H. Emmott began learning the difficult spiritual lessons embodied in paralysis, shivering loneliness, and dark despair. Fortunately, Jack had help― people of all ages he calls his “Bending Angels,” those who have spread their wings of love and inspiration to walk the journey of faith as the devastated little boy became one of Houston’s celebrated attorneys, a loyal husband, and a devoted dad. Each chapter of this book will relate the story of a Bending Angel―from Brownie, the pup, to Mr. Ochoa, the baseball coach who understood how much of a heart it takes to win and how much of a soul it takes to lose your most precious dream. This book will inspire and uplift you as Jack H. Emmott, a life-long Christian, shares his spiritual wisdom and lessons learned.

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PRAISE FOR BENDING ANGELS

“The power of ‘Let go and let God’ is personified in this inspiring story. Also, that we are given guidance in the most unsuspected forms when we but look, and that a flood of grace is behind every surrender. What a joy.”  — Lindsay Wagneractress, author

“With gentle humor and no small amount of faith, Bending Angels: Living Messengers of God’s Love tells the story of Jack Emmott’s life and of the angels who have appeared in his life, just when he needed them the most.  Do I believe in angels? Absolutely.  Was Jack himself an angel to me during the darkest period of my life?  Absolutely.”  — Debbie AdamsPast President, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Houston/Galveston; Chair, Advisory Council UTHealth School of NursingTrustee, St. Edward’s University

Bending Angel is a beautiful inspiring book about faith and prayer and the angels that surround us. Jack shared his life journey of trusting in God and drawing strength that was needed to help him. I learned a great deal from this book and have thought about it over and over again since I read it.” — Amazon reviewer

“If only I could get through a chapter without crying…very moving and touching stories.” — Amazon reviewer

 

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When You Need One the Most, God Always Sends You an Angel

Excerpt from Chapter 7 of Bending Angels

It was the first Tuesday after Labor Day, 1960. I was a boy of twelve. My first fearful day of sixth grade had arrived.

This first school day had started at seven o’clock in the morning in my childhood home in Emmottville. The whole house smelled of my mother’s breakfast cooking–eggs sunny-side up, honey-cured fried bacon, buttered toast–which my brother Charlie and I rapidly ate.

Charles and I quickly walked out the front door to Emmott Road. I had no time to waste—my short, struggling gait from polio took extra time and effort as we went down the oil-soaked shell road to the bus stop. I had to hurry to catch the yellow bus driven by Mr. Bubba Willbern.

To anyone on the outside of my life and struggles with polio, the destination of my daily school bus ride would be Post Elementary School. But as I learned that year, my daily bus ride was always and forever to be inexplicably headed somewhere else deeper in my heart and soul.

As Charles and I walked across the cattle guard, I saw the bus coming to a stop at the end of our road. I made it just in time. The bus door opened. I lifted my left leg up to the lower step of the bus. I stiffened my left leg and body so Charlie could push me up into the air to the left until my weakened right leg could swing under me by gravity alone. A pendulum amidst paralysis. An embarrassment of awkwardness viewed by a long line of onlookers at the windows on the bus. I felt like an ugly fish in a fish bowl. Then the leg-lifting process repeated itself up to the second and third steps until my two feet found the floor of the bus next to Mr. Willbern. There I stood, tired and very embarrassed. I felt unlike any other student on the bus. I was certain everyone on the bus saw that my left shoe was built up two inches higher than my right shoe. My legs were of different lengths. A bulky Milwaukee brace made of steel and leather was around my torso. The brace held me straight as my spine continued to curve with scoliosis. A white football helmet was worn on my head to protect the brain God had given me in the event my knees collapsed and my head crashed to the floor.

As I looked down the center aisle for an open seat, all the seats on the left were taken. Where would I sit? Fearing rejection and indifference, I asked myself, “Who would want to sit next to me, a crippled boy?” I looked with anguish to the other side of the bus for a place to sit.

Then, something unexpected occurred.  On the right on the sixth row of seats, I saw a sweet little girl smiling at me. She did not look away from me like the others did. She moved closer to the window. With her right hand, she patted the seat next to her inviting me to sit beside her. She looked about seven years old with wavy brown shoulder-length hair illumined with highlights from the summer sun. Her skin was tanned from playing outdoors; her eyes were as blue as the waters of the Cayman Islands. Her spirit was as peaceful, poised, gentle and cooling as a soft summer breeze on a warm afternoon. She wore a brown skirt with a plaid cotton short-sleeve blouse with a Peter Pan collar, brown leather shoes, and white cotton socks.

I sat right next to her. “Hi. I’m Cheryl.”

“I’m Jack,” I replied.

“I know you. You are the boy who has polio like my Aunt Margaret did,” she said.

I looked into Cheryl’s face again. I saw much more than a pretty, younger girl on her way to class. I unexpectedly felt whole again, like before I had polio. I somehow knew she saw me as a whole person, a child of God, and not as a crippled boy. That is the way I believed that God saw all children. “Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Cheryl seemed to have that way of seeing me just as I saw her.

Author Jack H. Emmott contracted polio at the age of six.  Before polio, he knelt at his bedside with his mother Lucile and said evening prayers.  With paralysis, Jack could no longer kneel.  But he could still pray to God for guidance, comfort and healing.  The grace and love of God transformed all the bad from polio and paralysis into good.  Jack is a life-long Christian and successful family lawyer in Houston, Texas.  He is married to his wife of over forty years, Dorothy, who works alongside him in his calling.  Jack is father to two children and grandfather to three grandchildren.

Jack is the author of Bending Angels: Living Messengers of God’s Love by (Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2016) a memoir of the living angels that touched his life.  He wrote Prayerful Passages:  Asking God’s Help in Reconciliation, Separation and Divorce (Outskirts Press, 2016) to help couples in struggling marriages ask God’s help through prayer for the same guidance, comfort and healing he has received from our Almighty Father for over sixty years following polio.

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Posted in excerpt, Military, nonfiction on May 4, 2017

Synopsis

Compassionate Soldier illuminates some of the most fascinating and yet largely unknown stories of men and women whose humanity led them to perform courageous acts of mercy and compassion amid the chaos and carnage of war. Arranged by war from the American Revolution to the Iraq War and global in perspective, it features extraordinary stories of grace under fire from valiant soldiers and noncombatants who rose above the inhumanity of lethal conflict and chose compassion, even knowing their actions could put their lives and liberty at risk.

Included in this collection are the stories of Richard Kirkland, a Confederate soldier during the Civil War who disobeyed orders and brought blankets and water to the wounded from both North and South during the Battle of Fredericksburg; Patrick Ferguson, a British soldier during the American Revolution who had the chance to kill George Washington, but refused to shoot a man in the back; and Oswald Boelcke, a German WWI flying ace who was one of the most influential tacticians of early air combat, but was known for making sure the airmen he shot down made it to the ground alive.

These inspirational stories illustrate that even in the midst of unspeakable horrors of war, acts of kindness, mercy, compassion, and humanity can prevail and, in doing so, expand our conventional thinking of honor and battlefield glory.

Excerpt

Introduction

Imagine you are on the battlefield and in the throes of fighting a war. Your chance of survival is uncertain. Suddenly, you find yourself with a crucial decision to make – you have the opportunity to save someone’s life, but trying to do so may put you in harm’s way. Do you risk your life to help save another’s?

How often do we think about eh welfare of others before our own?  The dictionary defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

In war, compassion also requires courage.  That is why, in a situation where cruelty is the norm, compassion is so unexpected.  Soldiers are taught to disregard the humanity of the enemy so they can act against them.  When individuals act generously for someone who is in danger, even at the risk of their own life, such actions are noteworthy and inspiring.

The following remarkable true stories show that a real hero is a compassionate one.  We may never be a soldier on a battlefield, but every day we are offered choices: to be kind or unkind, to show love or ignore someone who needs our help,to forget ourselves or live selfishly.

Compassionate Soldier honors brave men and women who showed compassion when it was not expected or required. In most cases, this compassion created peril for the ones who offered it, but they proceeded in spite of the risk. In all these situation, it is humbling to witness their actions, even from a distance, because the question inevitably arise, “Would I have behaved as well as they did?” Perhaps that is the most important trait of real heroes – their ability to inspire the rest of us to do a little better.

About the Author

Jerry Borrowman is a best-selling author of fourteen published books, most military fiction and co-authored biography. He and Rudi Wobbe, co-authors of Three Against Hitler, are recipients of the prestigious George Washington National Medal of the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge,”for their contribution to the cause of freedom.”

Jerry is known for his meticulous attention to historical detail, including the technology that is unique to each story.

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Posted in excerpt, Giveaway, romance, Spotlight on April 26, 2017

Synopsis

Undercover cop Clay Navarro left the Sultans biker gang a changed man. Its ringleaders may be awaiting trial, but he wears the memory of every brutal act he was forced to commit tattooed across his skin. He doesn’t have space in his messed-up life for anything gentle—not now, maybe not ever.

Dr. Georgette Hadley is drawn to the damaged stranger’s pain, intimidated but intrigued by the warmth that lies beneath Clay’s frightening exterior. But when the Sultans return looking for revenge, she finds herself drawn into the dirty underbelly of a life forged in violence…that not even her touch may be able to heal.

Excerpt

He’d fallen asleep. Either that or he’d gone to that place, wherever it was, that he seemed to go on her table. Only this time, George’s hands were on him. She felt heavy and warm, and his back was big and strong and supple, but so sweet, laid out for her, waiting, needing…

Dear God, what’s wrong with me?

He was numb by now. He had to be—as numb as the cream would make him, which wasn’t very. Another dip, another swipe, and his flesh rippled beneath her touch. Maybe not asleep?

She wanted to put her hand on his head again and push him down, but there was nowhere to go. She wanted to lean into him and over him and maybe just stretch herself across all that muscle and bone. Desire settled into her pelvis as she stroked his shoulders, ran a hand a little too far down an arm that had absolutely no need of numbing cream. None.

What the hell is wrong with me?

But still, she couldn’t quite convince her body to stop. Slowly, she kneaded her thumbs around those beautiful scapulas, felt him shudder slightly, and pulled away, hyperaware of how strange her actions were—how unethical and wrong, but maybe…maybe just…

“Don’t stop,” he mumbled, and honestly, that was all she needed.

His back—this solid, robust plane—was like the culmination of all of the backs she hadn’t had the pleasure of touching over the years, and goodness, she wanted it. She wanted his back.

Wanted his back?

Was this how it felt to go crazy?

George stepped away, embarrassed and more than a little worried for her sanity. Was she really, truly, going to cave in and do things she might very well—no, would definitely—regret over some stranger’s back?

He grunted—or maybe it was more of a groan—and twisted his neck so one shadowed eye peeked out at her.

“’S the best thing that’s happened to me in fu…frickin’ years.” His voice came out low, almost on a whisper.

“This is…” George couldn’t get the words out, she was breathing so fast. “This is weird. I can’t… I don’t—”

“No. Feels good. So damn good.”

“Just…me touching you?”

“Yeah.”

There was hardly any hesitation at all, and then the succubus wearing her skin stepped forward. Closer, until her belly was level with his hand. “Are you numb?”

She reached out and stroked him, right on that horribly defacing burn, wondering if he could feel her.

Wanting him to.

“No,” he said, even breathier now. “No, the opposite. Numb when I walked in. Now. Shit. Now, it’s all nerves.”

The weight in George’s belly turned liquid, spread out on a wave of shivery sensation that she hadn’t felt since she’d been just a kid, squished in the backseat of Dylan Dean’s bright-red Mustang with nothing between her legs but his hand, and nothing in her head but blind teenage lust.

“Here?” Her fingers caressed him where his skin had melted into unsightly whorls, tracing the jagged surface and wishing he’d let her do more. Although, even as she thought that, she wasn’t sure if she meant more as in treatment for the burn, or more right now, to his body.

To him.

“Yeah. There. Just…” He groaned, then begged, “Please.”

Possessed, she caressed him, up his side, almost to his armpit and its tuft of dark hair. It looked sexual, that hair, like something she wasn’t supposed to see. Then tracing along the top of his shoulder to the back of his neck and down, down, down his spine, the bumps adding texture along the way, the rocky road of his body the most enticing thing George had ever seen.

More sounds escaped him, little grunts that said he liked what she did, and those fueled her even more.

Lord, she wanted to flatten herself on top of the man, to cover him, and… What? Hump him? No. Not really.

Make him feel good? Touch every little bit of him? Heal him? Protect him from whatever hell he’d been through?

With a snap that surprised even her, she removed the glove that separated his skin from hers and lightly—oh so lightly—felt the reality of his flesh without the barrier of Nitrile in between. The noises were hers this time, and the contact was kinetic, burned the air, turned the heat up, ate out her brain.

His hand, right there on the edge of the table, somehow turned until his palm rested flat against her belly—not pushing, just…absorbing, fingers taking in her softness, exploring her the way she was him.

Before she knew it, she’d curled her palm around that hunk of a shoulder, leaned in until more than her lab coat pressed against the man, her breathing shaky and short. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she whispered, in a dream. The bridge of her nose skimmed his hairline, and she took him in, smelled him, got a bigger dose of what she’d only guessed at until now. And it was good, elementally good, unexplainably, animalistically perfect. A smell she could dive into and live off of.

She pulled back. “Got to stop. I’ve got to stop.”

“Hang on.” His hand reached for hers, grasped it, skin to skin, and held on tight. “Don’t know what the hell you’re doing to me, but it’s making me crazy.”

“I don’t know; I don’t know. I’m not… This isn’t me,” George muttered, eyes clearing. She pulled hard at her hand, blinked hazily at the man laid out before her, and moved toward the door. “I’ll be…I’ll be right back.”

About the Author

Adriana Anders has acted and sung, slung cocktails and corrected copy. She’s worked for start-ups, multinationals and small nonprofits, but it wasn’t until she returned to her first love—writing romance—that she finally felt like she’d come home. Today, she resides with her tall French husband, two small children and fat French cat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she writes the dark, gritty, steamy love stories of her heart.

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Posted in excerpt, Giveaway, Guest Post, Thriller on April 25, 2017

Title: Chasing Hindy
Author: Darin Gibby
Publisher: Koehler Books
Pages: 284
Genre: Thriller

Synopsis

ADDY’S DREAM AS a patent attorney is to help bring a ground breaking energy technology to the world. Addy’s hopes soar when she is wooed by Quinn, an entrepreneur, to join his company that has purportedly invented a car that can run on water using an innovative catalyst. After resigning her partnership to join Quinn, Addy discovers things aren’t as they seem. The patent office suppresses the company’s patent applications and her life is threatened by unknown assailants if she doesn’t resign.

When she is arrested for stealing US technology from the patent office she realizes Quinn has used her. Now, Addy must find a way to clear her name while salvaging her dream of propelling this technology to the world, all while powerful forces attempt to stop her.

Guest Post

How I Come up With Book Ideas

(Or, How I Came up with the Idea that a Car Could Run on Water)

Ideas for books come in the strangest ways. For me, they often just seem to fall out of the sky, usually at the most unexpected times. I’ve written books or articles from ideas that woke me up in the middle of the night, from thoughts that came to me while running triathlons, and while taking hikes deep in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve even had some ideas come while sitting on a ski lift during a freezing blizzard.

The genesis behind Chasing Hindy came from a surprising source—a hypnotist. When I was in high school, we had an assembly where a hypnotist put a group of volunteers under hypnosis. One of the questions he asked them was what would be the fuel of the future. What fuel would people pump into their tank? Almost without exception they all said, “water!” The hypnotist then told the audience that every time he asked that question he received the same answer.

That was several decades ago, but I’ve always wondered whether that could possibly be true—and why all these people thought we’d all be driving cars that used water. In the following years, I realized that a car wouldn’t run on water per se, but from hydrogen that is extracted from water. The question, of course, is that if we know how to produce hydrogen, why aren’t there hydrogen cars? The answer is quite simple. As an engineer and patent attorney I know the science behind extracting hydrogen from water. The problem is that it takes more energy to do this than to just run a car on gasoline, or even electricity.

But what if somebody invented a way to make it happen? That’s the germ of an idea that led to Chasing Hindy.

Then, of course, is finding an idea for a main character. For me, a good character is far more difficult than finding a story idea. Not only does the character need to make the story line happen, but the readers need to relate to what the character is experiencing. I struggled with such a character for years, and, in fact, rewrote the book several times with other characters that just didn’t seem to work.

What made the story finally click was my discovery of Addy—a patent attorney with a dream to change the world. I decided on a female character (who was also a patent attorney) for several reasons. Perhaps the main reason was that female patent attorneys are in short supply and I wanted to encourage women to enter the profession. So I created Addy to hopefully show what a difference one person can make, and through her experience more women would want to become patent attorneys.

Excerpt

ADDY FELT LIKE jumping out of her car and doing a quick happy dance in the middle of stalled traffic. Her excitement at becoming  the  newest—and  youngest—partner  at  the intellectual property law firm of Wyckoff & Schechter was nearly overwhelming.

She grinned at the shadow on the hood of Hindy, her treasured retrofitted cherry red Shelby Mustang. The shadow was created by a barrel-sized, hydrogen-filled balloon that floated above the Mustang’s roof. Gawkers pointed and laughed as the Shelby eased down El Camino pulling the tethered balloon as if in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon—which on one side sported her law firm’s logo, and on the other Hindy in giant cursive script—was just an advertising gimmick to show her passion for alternative energies. It was only strapped to the roof on calm, sunny days when she was travelling at slow speeds using routes that avoided overpasses. The retrofitted Mustang was  really powered by four electric motors using electricity produced by solar panels and a conventional fuel cell.

At first, the Wyckoff partners questioned Addy’s prudence in strapping a floating balloon to the roof of any vehicle, but they’d come to admire the effectiveness of her marketing innovations. They even lifted their champagne glasses at the end of her mentor’s welcome speech acknowledging that her Shelby was responsible for bringing in increasing numbers of the “green” companies sprouting like weeds all over the Silicon Valley— inventive, entrepreneurial companies in need of legal advice and support for their patents.

While  the  traffic  inched  forward,  Addy  chuckled  with excitement. “Hindy, ol’ pal,” she said, patting the dashboard, “you and I are going places now! Next time some overzealous cops accuse you of being a traffic hazard, I’ll stare them down and inform them they’re messing with the partner of a highly prestigious law firm.”

Traffic  momentarily  loosened  and  Addy  eased  Hindy forward, careful not to snap the lines tethering the egg-shaped balloon. Addy sang along with Zissy Spaeth, pop rock’s newest and most flashy star, as Zissy belted out her latest hit, Light in Your Eyes, over the radio. In the corner of her eye she noticed a blaze of neon orange.

Her heart stopped. In the car next to her someone was pointing a bazooka-sized gizmo at her balloon. She blinked, trying to clear her vision.

A  flare shot  out,  aimed  straight  at  her  floating ball  of hydrogen.

Even in the late afternoon sunlight, it was impossible to miss the explosion. The dirigible burst into a giant fireball, then slowly deflated and floated down toward the Shelby’s crimson hood.

Addy  stomped  on  her  brakes,  hoping  the  balloon’s momentum would shoot the flaming mass forward. The fireball, safely secured by its fluorescent yellow nylon tethers, crashed down onto the windshield, blocking Addy’s view. She screeched to a halt, slammed her shoulder into the door, flung it open, and darted out, catching the heel of her pump on the doorjamb, which sent her sprawling headlong onto the pavement.

She heard tires squeal and at least a half dozen blaring horns. Stinging pain shot up from her elbow and knees. Thank goodness traffic had been just inching along.

Ignoring the pain, she bolted forward, arms raised, ready to yank the still-burning fabric off the windshield. Before she got close enough to grab it, the sweltering heat from the flames scorched her cheeks, and she shielded her eyes with her forearm. Just when she reached the hood, a breeze lifted the infernal blob and propelled it directly at her, the nylon cords now seared through.

She braced herself for the fireball when she felt arms wrap around her chest and yank her back, barely in time to avoid the searing molten mass of goo about to descend on her head, threatening to fry her face and melt her hair.

“Are you crazy? What are you thinking?” a deep voice bellowed in her ear, still holding her tight.

Together they watched what was left of the blimp float like a falling leaf onto the grassy shoulder, just like the Hindenburg did almost eighty years ago.

“Someone clearly doesn’t like you, short stuff,” her rescuer said, now standing next to her stroking his goatee, his face hidden behind dark sunglasses and a low-riding Dodgers cap. “More like out to get you. That was some kind of flare the driver shot at your blimp. I tried to spot his license plate, but it was covered up. Snapped a picture with my phone, though,” the man said fishing it from his pocket. “You can kind of see a tattoo on his forearm. The police will love this.”

Before she could thank him, someone cried out, “Call a fire truck! The grass!”

Brush fires in California were no joking matter. Addy could smell the smoldering grasses. A strong breeze fanned the flames, pushing the fire toward a row of redwood trees.

Then she heard a whiny voice coming from the milling crowd of stranded passengers who’d gathered to find out what was holding up their homeward commute. “I’ve seen that blimp before. I knew it was trouble,” the whiner complained.

“Yeah, but at least she’s part of the solution,” said someone else. “Her car doesn’t use gasoline. Look at what you’re driving,” he said, sneering at the whiny woman’s crossover SUV.

Addy’s knees buckled, her head spinning. She plopped down onto the pavement and hugged her bare legs. This couldn’t be happening.

Why would someone try to destroy her car?

About the Author

In addition to a thriving career as a novelist, author Darin Gibby is also one of the country’s premiere patent attorneys and a partner at the prestigious firm of Kilpatrick Townsend. With over twenty years of experience in obtaining patents on hundreds of inventions from the latest drug delivery systems to life-saving cardiac equipment, he has built IP portfolios for numerous Fortune 500 companies. In addition to securing patents, Gibby helps clients enforce and license their patents around the world, and he has monetized patents on a range of products.

Darin’s first book, Why Has America Stopped Inventing?, explored the critical issue of America’s broken patent system.  His second book, The Vintage Club, tells the story of a group of the world’s wealthiest men who are chasing a legend about a wine that can make you live forever. His third book, Gil, is about a high school coach who discovers that he can pitch with deadly speed and is given an offer to play with the Rockies during a player’s strike. Gil soon discovers, however, that his unexpected gift is the result of a rare disease, and continuing to pitch may hasten his own death.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration degree, he is highly regarded in Denver’s legal and business community as a patent strategist, business manager, and community leader. He is also a sought-after speaker on IP issues at businesses, colleges and technology forums, where he demonstrates the value of patents using simple lessons from working on products such as Crocs shoes, Izzo golf straps and Trek bicycles.

An avid traveler and accomplished triathlete, Darin also enjoys back country fly-fishing trips and skiing in the Rocky Mountains. He lives in Denver with his wife, Robin, and their four children.

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