Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, paranormal, Science Fiction, Spotlight on August 18, 2017

Synopsis

…Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all in this future… -Friedrich Nietzsche

Rose is dying. Her body is wasted and skeletal. She is too sick and weak to move. Every day is an agony and her only hope is that death will find her swiftly before the pain grows too great to bear.
She is sixteen years old.

Rose has made peace with her fate, but her younger sister, Koren, certainly has not. Though all hope appears lost Koren convinces Rose to make one final attempt at saving her life after a mysterious man in a white lab coat approaches their family about an unorthodox and experimental procedure. A copy of Rose’s radiant mind is uploaded to a massive super computer called Aaru – a virtual paradise where the great and the righteous might live forever in an arcadian world free from pain, illness, and death. Elysian Industries is set to begin offering the service to those who can afford it and hires Koren to be their spokes-model.
Within a matter of weeks, the sisters’ faces are nationally ubiquitous, but they soon discover that neither celebrity nor immortality is as utopian as they think. Not everyone is pleased with the idea of life everlasting for sale.

What unfolds is a whirlwind of controversy, sabotage, obsession, and danger. Rose and Koren must struggle to find meaning in their chaotic new lives and at the same time hold true to each other as Aaru challenges all they ever knew about life, love, and death and everything they thought they really believed.

Excerpt

It was an unsettling feeling to say the least. One second she was lying in the hospital bed surrounded by frantic medical professionals, and then suddenly she wasn’t. In fact, Rose was not at all sure what she experienced.

Rose had understandably developed an interest in near-death experiences over the past year or so. She had watched a ton of documentaries on the subject before she got too weak to work the TV remote. Her mother had encouraged it, along with far too many hours of what Rose scornfully referred to as “Jesus TV”. Gypsie Johnson had hoped this would reassure Rose, help her cope with what was happening to her, but it did not.

Usually, the shows just made her angry that she had to worry about such things at all. Still, she was well versed in the usual particulars of transitioning to the afterlife – the out of body experience, the long tunnel, the bright light, the dearly departed relatives to greet you in Heaven… That was not at all what she experienced now.

Is this it? She thought in confusion. Am I dead?

She waited. Then she waited some more for something to occur that felt… she wasn’t sure… death-like? Nothing really appeared to happen, but Rose could not be positive, not at all certain what ‘dead’ was supposed to feel like.

“How long are you going to lie there?” a bemused female voice asked. “You’ve arrived, you know… Wouldn’t you like get up and look around? I’ve been waiting for you.”

Slowly, Rose cracked open her eyes. She saw earth and grass beneath her tightly clenched fingers. Hesitantly she lifted her head and caught her breath at what she beheld. Rose stood and slowly turned a wide circle in amazement.

A flaxen field of tall grass stretched away from her in every direction to disappear into the distant horizon. Birds chirped, insects buzzed, and she felt warm sunlight, golden on her face. The smell of fragrant flowers and greenery, heavy in the honeyed air, assailed her nostrils and permeated her deepest self to saturate her very essence with an abstruse sense of felicity and well-being. Then she caught sight of a figure, standing just a few feet away.

She was a very beautiful woman. Her dark-brown, luminous eyes were large, almond shaped, and sparkling. They glinted with amusement. Her hair was long, black, and silky, flowing nearly all the way to the red, wooden sandals on her tiny feet. It gracefully framed her pretty face. She was dressed in a gorgeous, bright pink kimono liberally embroidered with a swirling floral pattern of gold.

“Welcome,” the woman greeted amiably with a low bow as she twirled a red, paper parasol slung casually over her left shoulder. Her genial voice floated across the bucolic plain. There was a quality about it that sparkled as brightly as the effulgent sun. “You are among the first to arrive.”

Rose simply stared.  A gentle breeze tousled her long brown hair, and she casually wiped a strand from her eyes. Then she froze. Her hair… She gave the errant strand a tug then gaped at the smiling woman in astonishment.

“Where am I?” she breathed. “Is this Heaven?”

The kimono wrapped woman laughed.

“Well,” she began. “Perhaps it could be. I like it, certainly. I hope that you will too! I’m glad that you’ve chosen my kingdom. You’re actually my first.”

“Kingdom? Chose? I don’t…” Rose stuttered. Then she shook her head and took a deep breath before asking, “Who are you? Are you a… a queen or a… a… an angel or something?” Her voice softened to a murmur. “You’re beautiful…”

The woman giggled girlishly, and her cheeks flushed pleasantly pink. The parasol flashed out of existence.

“Thank you,” she murmured, fanning herself with a pink, silk folding fan that suddenly materialized in her right hand. “I do try. In any case, to answer your second question first, you may call me Hana. If I have to choose, I think I prefer to think of myself as a princess, but some of the others choose differently. And your name is… Rose?” A broad smile spread across Hana’s face.

Rose nodded wordlessly.

“Rose!” Hana repeated with a musical giggle. Her eyes glittered, and her grin pleasantly dimpled her porcelain cheeks. She clapped her dainty hands together in delight. “Rose and Hana! What an apt pair! Well, I am quite delighted to meet you, Rose. I’m glad you are my Veda. I hope you will be happy here.”

There was too much of the woman’s speech that Rose did not understand – far too many questions to be asked. They seemed to flood her brain to bursting so that she could not fully articulate any of them. At last she picked the one that seemed simplest.

“Please, Princess” Rose entreated. “Where is here exactly?”

“Oh!” Princess Hana exclaimed. “I apologize! This place is called Aaru, and you now find yourself in my kingdom of Tenkoku. Aaru is a new place… Another place… Maybe, I could say… the next place?”

Her brow furrowed as she noted Rose’s confused expression.

“I’m sorry,” Hana apologized. “I don’t really know how else to express it. If I told you simply that Aaru is a good place, could you accept that?”

Rose nodded uncertainly.

About the Author

David Meredith is a writer and educator originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. He received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee. He received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. On and off, he spent nearly a decade, from 1999-2010 teaching English in Northern Japan, but currently lives with his wife and three children in the Nashville Area where he continues to write and teach English.

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Posted in Fantasy, Historical, romance, Spotlight, Trailer on July 28, 2017

Synopsis

A Twist of Fate… A Battle of Wills…

Aestrid Karisson, a Viking princess who lives by her own rules; fiercely free and independent – that is, whenever she can elude the watchful eyes of her overbearing father. When she escapes for an afternoon of adventure, she never suspected to forever alter her destiny.

Captured by a band of raiding Picts, Aestrid is adorned and bound for sacrifice. In the midst of their ritual of blood and fire, the Picts are ransacked by Veleif Kollsvein and his fearsome warriors. Reputed as the most brutal barbarian across all of the North Seas, Aestrid unwittingly trades one abductor for another. Journeying farther from her home across this unforgiving landscape; it isn’t until they reach Veleif’s stronghold that her true identity is discovered.

The oceans are cracking with ice, the mountains impassable, and Veleif refuses Aestrid’s pleas to be returned home. Determined to torment him until he complies, this vixen wages a personal war with the dark and dangerous Viking prince. But when Veleif’s high council decides the two must marry, and quickly, to unite their kingdoms – Veleif combats her with a campaign of his own. Seduction.

Can the wicked heat in Veleif’s game of delicious temptation melt Aestrid’s combative heart? Will the Viking prince tame this warrior princess and claim her as his willing bride? Or will she forever see him as nothing more than her heartless enemy?

His Viking Bride is a love story filled with folly and challenge, wit and passion… by two iron-willed characters who share more than their explosive traits… the ecstasy of all-consuming love.

Trailer

About the Author

Since Olivia Norem was old enough to remember, she devoured books and became enchanted with the worlds the authors created. Imagination, unforgettable characters, and the swoon-worthy, alpha males have made a huge impact on her writing style.

Olivia is known for strong, sassy characters who are always ready with a quip of humor, despite their situations. Born in the Chicago area, Olivia moved to the sunny shores of the Tampa Bay more years ago then she cares to admit. This “semi-native” writes full-time, and enjoys her “C” hobbies: cats, cigars and classic cars.

…and now, for a brief video interlude… Enjoy these Book Trailers

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Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, Spotlight on July 28, 2017

Synopsis

Rhianwyn of the Caderyn is conflicted about giving up a warrior’s life to become a wife and mother, but her love for her new husband is enough to at least make her consider it. However, with the conquering Gaians moving ever closer to her homeland a peaceful life may no longer be an option, for Rhia or for any of her people. With rival tribes, old suitors, and the dangerous General Lepidus to contend with, Rhia soon finds her new family in unprecedented danger, and her choices now must be about more than just herself…

Wildcat is set in a fantasy world inspired by Iron Age Wales and Imperial Rome. The story is that of a young tribeswoman facing a war that sees her people humbled by the expanding Gaian Empire. Forcibly married into a Gaian family, she has to cope with multiple personal tragedies, learn to adapt to an alien society, and save her people from further subjugation by the ambitious Gaian generals.

Excerpt

‘Taran!’

Rhia screamed the War God’s name with joyful rage as hot blood spattered on her face. Rhia was small and the Gorvic was big, but already he was doubled over and on his knees thanks to the axe she’d left imbedded his stomach. At first his hands had clutched at the haft, trying to drag the weapon from her grip or else pull it from his wound, and for a moment Rhia had lost her balance. But then she’d simply abandoned her axe and grabbed a fistful of blonde hair, yanking his head back hard before her knife opened his throat. Bright red now sprayed both on Rhia and on the grass below, and the young woman felt the thrill of battle rise up in her like a flood, erupting from her mouth in another bellowed warcry;

‘Taran!’

The Gorvic’s body jerked and twisted in her grip and she let go the hank of hair, leaving the dying man to collapse to the muddy ground. When they’d arrived at Broken Stream the fields had been nothing but a vibrant green on both sides of the water. Belenos had been shining overhead when the two warbands first faced each other across the little ford, and the stream had been clear and bright and gurgling merrily along its way.

Now the sky was overcast and warriors from both sides lay dead or dying all around. The ground had been churned up into a treacherous mire of mud and the stream was now tainted by the blood of wounded fighters. The scene might have been another world entirely, somewhere far away from the tranquil valley it had been this morning. Though the change in the image was as nothing to the change in the sound of this place.

This morning Broken Stream had known little noise but the trickling of the waters and the singing of the birds. Then the Gorvicae had come and they and the Caderyn had traded insults and boasts, jeers and challenges, and the air had been alive with the voices of warriors, all daring each other to attack first. Then the two sides had charged, and the insults and challenges had changed to warcries and screams, and the sound of iron meeting iron and of iron meeting flesh had combined to fill the valley with the dreadful song of battle.

And Rhia loved it.

She cast her eyes around to find another Gorvic to fight, her eyes wide and almost feverish, her hands shaking in anticipation. This was her first battle, the first time she had fought for her people, and the fear she’d felt before it had melted away into something like lust as she sought out another victim for her long knife and narrow axe. Remembering that the latter weapon was still lodged in a Gorvic’s stomach, she crouched down and began working it free of its fleshy prison, all the while looking around her at the carnage.

Even with her limited experience Rhia could tell the Caderyn had all but won, and she screamed out in wordless triumph as her axe came free of her enemy. She held the weapon high above her head as she looked around the bloody field. Nearly all the Gorvicae were fleeing back across the stream, only a few dozen still fighting of the two hundred who’d come here this morning. Rhia saw Caderyn fighters encircling the few who were still refusing to run away, and her breath caught in her throat as she took in the long iron swords and rigid white hair of their warrior elite. They were the Gadarim: The Mighty.

The finest of the Gorvicae fought with their hair twisted into spikes and bleached blindingly white with lime and Rhia knew that, like the Gadarim of her own people, the patterns on their skin were made of more than simple woad. Rhia, like every warrior on that field, had painted her body with swirling shapes of bright blue, to attract the favour of the gods and inspire terror in her enemies. Twin snakes writhed up her arms from wrist to shoulder, one of them continuing up her neck and around the ear to cover her cheek. She was liberally sprinkled with blood and grime by now and sweat and struggle had caused much of the warpaint to smudge or fade, risking the chance of the gods losing sight of her in all the chaos. The men of the Gadarim had no such concern.

Though they had painted over them before the battle to make them brighter, the spirals and whorls on their bodies had been tattooed there to shine forever, ensuring that Taran and Mabonac would never lose sight of their most favoured warriors. For the most part only their faces had mere woad to decorate them today, the honour of permanency there being reserved for the greatest of fighters. Rhia wondered for a wistful moment if she might know that honour someday but she shook her head at the foolish notion. Female Gadarim were a rare thing. Instead she settled for looking around for some more Gorvicae to kill. She spotted one, a lad of about her own years, who seemed torn between running back across the stream and running forwards to where the Gadarim fought. She decided to make his mind up for him.

What member of the Caledon tribe are you?

Click on this link to find out!

About the Author

JP Harker is the pen-name of James Thomas, an obsessive martial artist and a committed geek of various types, who apparently didn’t drive his fiancée mad enough with those things and so took up writing fantasy books as well. A proud Welshman with just enough Saxon in him to make things interesting, James hails from glamorous Glamorgan where he currently works in the exciting world of hospital admin.

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Posted in Fantasy, Guest Post, Science Fiction on July 22, 2017

Synopsis

JANEY SINCLAIR never knew how or why she gained her ability to teleport. She never wanted it, and for years tried her best to ignore it. But when horrible violence shattered her world, she vowed to use her mysterious talent to protect the citizens of Atlanta, in an effort to prevent anyone else from suffering the kind of agony she had. Wearing a suit of stolen military body armor, Janey became known to the public as the GRAY WIDOW.

But now the extraterrestrial source of her “Augmentation” is about to reveal itself, in an event that will profoundly impact Janey’s life and the lives of those closest to her—

TIM KAPOOR, who barely survived the assault of twisted, bloodthirsty shapeshifter Simon Grove and still struggles to pull himself together, both physically and mentally.

NATHAN PITTMAN, the teenager who got shot trying to imitate Janey’s vigilante tactics, and has since become obsessed with the Gray Widow.

SHA’DAE WILKERSON, Janey’s neighbor and newfound best friend, whose instant chemistry with Janey may have roots that neither of them fully understand.

And Janey’s going to need all the help she can get, because one of the other Augments has her sights set on the Gray Widow. The terrifying abomination known as APHRODITE LUPO is more powerful and lethal than anyone or anything Janey has ever faced. And Aphrodite is determined to recruit Janey to her twisted cause…or take her off the field for good.

Unrelenting ghosts of the past clash with the vicious threats of the future. Janey’s destiny bursts from the shadows into the light in GRAY WIDOW’S WEB, leaving the course of humanity itself forever changed.

Guest Post

I guess one of the strangest thing that’s happened to me in my writing career—or at least one of the most perplexing—is something I’ve come to think of as…

THE GREAT NADIA MYSTERY

or

WEIRDNESS AT THE BEERFEST

In 2014, I got hired to do some writing on a video game called Dying Light. Most of the game work I had done up to that point had involved a little bit of traveling, usually to Canada, and usually for maybe a week at a time every few months. Dying Light was being developed by a Polish company called Techland, and in the course of getting the job, I found out that there would be a good bit of on-site work. Like, several months’ worth. In Poland.

But hey, I needed the job, and as my wife Tracy put it, “When else are you going to get to visit a country you’ve never been to before, and on someone else’s dime?” So I packed my bags and headed out for Wrocław, Poland’s southernmost major city.

A little background: those trips to Canada were the only trips out of the United States I had ever taken. This job in Poland also involved my first-ever trans-oceanic flight and my first-ever trip to Europe—where I bypassed all the English-speaking countries entirely and landed firmly in Central Europe.

I made some really good friends while I was there, several of whom I still keep in touch with. (Hi Magda! Hi Maciek! Hi Michał!) (Not all Polish names start with M, despite how this makes it sound.) But I was a foreigner in a country where I spoke only a few words of the native language, those few being the ones I had learned in the weeks leading up to my trip. What I’m getting at is that it was very easy for me to feel isolated.

Well, my older brother Clint worked with a Pole who turned out to be from Wrocław. My brother’s colleague, when he found out where I was going, immediately said to Clint, “Get him to look up my brother! He can show your brother around the city! It’ll be great!” I’m certainly not averse to making new friends, so I happily took down Clint’s colleague’s brother’s number there in Wrocław, and around the third week I was there, I called the guy up.

He was very friendly, but he didn’t speak much English, as he was quick to point out. He said, “What we can do is take you to the beer festival going on at the stadium this Saturday. Would you like to go?” I was immediately very interested in a Polish beer festival—the Poles take their beer pretty seriously—so I said that I would indeed like to go. He said, “Great. My daughter speaks much better English than I do. She’ll come along and translate.”

So the work week went by, and when Friday afternoon rolled around, I got contacted by the guy’s daughter, whom I’ll call Nadia. (Not her real name, in case that wasn’t obvious.) Well, Nadia’s English wasn’t really that much better than her father’s, but she did make it clear that her father wasn’t going to be able to make it to the beer fest, and did I want to just go with her?

This struck me as a little odd, but I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I said, “Sure, I’ll meet you there.” In the interest of actually communicating effectively, though, I asked my friend Maciek and his wife Monika if they’d like to come along as well, since they’re both Poles who speak very-nearly-perfect English. They agreed, with the caveat that Monika would have to join Maciek and me a bit later, so Maciek and I went to meet Nadia at the Wrocław stadium (which is really a sight to behold once it gets dark, as the entire outside walls of the place light up and constantly shift colors).

It took a few minutes for Nadia to find us. When she finally rendezvoused with Maciek and me, my first thought was, “Wow, she looks like what would happen if Evangeline Lilly worked out a lot more, and maybe spent most weekends playing soccer.” Nadia was clearly kind of uneasy at meeting these people she didn’t know, and truth be told, the situation still felt pretty weird to me. But again, new friends = good, so I introduced Maciek and myself, and once Nadia realized we weren’t a couple of maniacs, she relaxed a bit and we all just stood around and drank (amazing) beers and got to know each other.

It turned out that Nadia was twenty-seven years old, had lived in Wrocław all her life, had a steady job that she didn’t care for all that much, and was just in general a very nice person. She also seemed very interested in how Maciek and I both worked in video games, and even more interested in what life was like in America. I learned at least half of this information thanks to Maciek translating, because Nadia’s English, as I said before, was pretty limited.

Now, during all of this, there was a thought in the back of my mind. I didn’t think it was a very realistic thought, but it hung there, poking at me: did Clint’s colleague think he was setting his niece up with a nice American man?

Surely not, I thought. Surely my brother mentioned that I was married. And it wasn’t as if Nadia was coming on to me. She was just talking with us. Still, to make sure there weren’t any crossed wires, I mentioned my wife several times, along with how I was fifteen years older than Nadia was.

Anyway. Monika arrived, and the four of us spent another couple of hours hanging out and drinking more (amazing isn’t even the right word for it, there was this strawberry ale that made my toes curl, holy cow) beer. By the end of the evening, we decided that we all had indeed made some new friends, and Nadia said that next time we saw each other, maybe I could help her a bit with her English. I said I’d be happy to, and she said she’d contact me the following week.

She never called.

We had exchanged numbers, and at one point I sent her a text, just in case she had misplaced my number. She sent back an oddly-worded reply about how she was hiking in the mountains. That was the last bit of communication I got, and I didn’t press it.

So from then on, I was left wondering. Was the whole thing supposed to be a set-up, but then she went home and looked me up on Facebook and saw that I was married? Or is that just my writer’s over-active imagination at work? Maybe she was just being polite the whole evening, and was happy never to see the weird American guy again? Like, had I offended her in some way and not realized? I don’t know. The one thing I did find out later, that might have some bearing on it or might not, is that in Poland, you wear your wedding ring on your right hand.

Anyway. I have no answers for the whole deal. It remains The Great Nadia Mystery.

About the  Author

Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he soon branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-six-year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and is the author of the Middle Grade Urban Fantasy novel series Five Elements. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats.

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7/19/17 I Smell Sheep  Top Ten’s List

7/20/17 SpecMusicMuse Author’s Interview

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7/22/17 Bookishly Me  Review

7/22/17 The Seventh Star Blog   Author’s Interview

7/22/17 StoreyBook Reviews   Guest Post

7/23/17 Sheila’s Guests and Reviews  Guest Post

7/24/17 Infamous Scribbler   Author’s Interview

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7/26/17  Jeni’s Bookshelf, Reviews, Swag, and More!  Review

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Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, Science Fiction on July 16, 2017

Synopsis

An amnesiac named Carter, must come to terms with the world as it is. A world where with a simple injection of the Virtus formula an ordinary individual can become extraordinary. With the Virtus formula super strength, flight, even teleportation is possible.

Now Carter has been tasked with hunting down the man who has stolen this secret formula. Carter puts himself in harm’s way to retrieve the Virtus formula and learn more about himself. As he starts to learn more about himself, Carter begins to question the world around him and those closest to him.

Because when you don’t know who you are, you don’t know who to trust.

Excerpt

There were people doing exercises and there were some that were fighting each other. Each and every one of the men and women in the room looked physically fit and disciplined. I looked around until my eyes settled ahead of me on a large tan tank. A muscular African American man stood in front of it. He had a very short hair cut almost having no hair. He wore a casual silver combat vest and dark blue track pants. He was taller than me by at least four or five inches standing around 6’3 or 6’4. The Doctor stopped suddenly then turned toward me indicating that I should look in front of him. He pointed at the tank once and it moved a few inches forward while lowering its gun to the man’s chest. It was a couple feet away yet he stood there calm and completely still.

“What’s going on Doctor, that man…he’s not going to get shot is he?”

The Doctor glanced at me with a seemingly uncaring look which didn’t match up with his earlier smiles but was much closer to that look of disdain in the room earlier.

“Don’t worry about that, he can handle himself much better than most men can, watch and you’ll understand completely.”

I took my eyes away from the Doctor and focused them on the man. I was scared for him. I wasn’t sure what atrocity I was about to witness, but it didn’t look like it was shaping up to be anything, I’d just walk away from or he would either for that matter. The tank set itself while the man exhaled deeply before taking a deep breath.

“Now!” He yelled in a deep commanding voice.

He didn’t have to ask twice because the tank cannon fired. The front of the cannon exploded with smoke as the round launched toward the man in a matter of seconds. It hit him and exploded with smoke and fire.

Chapter 2

I stared wide eyed at the scene while my body trembled for a moment, but I quickly regained my composure, how, I am not sure. The smoke began to clear slowly, there was a figure standing exactly where the man had been standing. It looked like a person except it was coated in a silver metal, the entirety of its body covered in some type of casing. The silver slid away from its hands and feet turning into a silver colored liquid before vanishing and revealing the man that stood there before. The man exhaled again but slower. This was just before turning his head to look at me.

He had a confident look in his eyes which I felt the need to return with a look of my own. Which either did the trick or made me look scared because he reacted by smirking slightly before turning his attention forward and heading toward the tank. The Doctor was staring at me which unnerved me slightly but I didn’t show it on my face, at least I didn’t think I did.

“So Carter are you impressed.”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. He grinned slightly which irritated me a little. I closed my mouth, cleared my throat and tried again.

“What the hell…WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?” I yelled.

The Doctor’s look turned into a grin which caused me to unconsciously take a step back, almost like prey reacting to a predator.

“What you just witnessed is how the world works. Men and women who are at the peak of what we call humanity. Through scientific methods we’ve unlocked abilities far beyond normal human beings that allows this organization to exists and thrive. Humans beings that are no longer just human but something much, much more they are…Super Human.”

About the Author

My name is Adeleke Kayode.  Writing is my passion. Something I wouldn’t have discovered if it wasn’t for my brother. He told me I couldn’t write a story so I took out a notebook and pencil that day and began writing.
And now I’m here. By taking that notebook that day I started something and learned something about myself. As I wrote and brainstormed. And changed things within the story I noticed that I was really enjoying it.
I loved the idea of creating my own story, characters, worlds. And now I want to be able to share some of those characters, stories and worlds.

 

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Posted in Cover Reveal, Fantasy, Science Fiction on July 11, 2017

Synopsis

Love science fiction stories that all include elements ofLove, Murder & Mayhem?

Then welcome to the latest anthology from Crazy 8 Press! This amazing collection from 15 all-star authors will delight you with superheros and supervillains. AIs, off-worlders, and space cruisers. We’ve also got private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travelers, aliens and monsters—and one DuckBob!

With tales ranging from wild and wacky to dark and gritty to heartbreaking and fun, take the deadly leap with authors Meriah Crawford, Paige Daniels, Peter David, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman Paul Kupperberg, Karissa Laurel, Kelly Meding, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Lois Spangler, Patrick Thomas, and editor Russ Colchamiro.

You’ll never look at Love, Murder & Mayhem the same way again—and that’s just the way we like it.

About the Author

Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the hilarious sci-fi backpacking comedy series, Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the new anthology, Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.

Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and crazy dog, Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson Keep, Pangaea, and Altered States of the Union, and TV Gods 2. He is now at work on a top-secret project, and a Finders Keepers spin-off.

As a matter of full disclosure, readers should not be surprised if Russ spontaneously teleports in a blast of white light followed by screaming fluorescent color and the feeling of being sucked through a tornado. It’s just how he gets around — windier than the bus, for sure, but much quicker.

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Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, Historical on July 4, 2017

Synopsis

Visions of a Dream, published by Turtle Shell Publishing, is a story about Alexander the Great from a spiritual perspective.

The backdrop is Alexander’s world conquests, though Visions of a Dream focuses on the spiritual fire that ignites his actions as he learns from the other cultures he comes into contact with, for rather than attempting to assimilate them, he was inclusive of all people, all cultures, and all religions and he lived that belief…a timely message for the divisiveness in the world today. His closest relationships vie for his love but they also provide the steel he needs to be sharpened spiritually and emotionally. Before he conquers the world, he must first conquer his own mind. The first three parts of Visions of a Dream are in Alexander’s point of view to highlight his character, his resilience, his emotional depth, and his PTSD (The ancient Greek historian Herodotus first wrote about the emotional strain of war in his account of the Battle of Marathon over a century before Alexander’s time). The fourth and final part of the book is written in the point of view of one of Alexander’s closest companions, Baphomet (who is fictional and whose name means the absorption of knowledge in ancient times) – she contrasts his detachment even when he doesn’t realize he is emotionally detached and helps him to realize his destiny.

Excerpt

Alexander awoke to Hephaestion, seated on the bed beside him. Slowly and without words, he felt his plush bedding with his hands. His eyebrows twisted with confusion, he looked toward the sheer tent material behind Hephaestion. Panels of dark scarlet and gold complimented the purple.

He pushed off the bed and tried to stand, his sore leg barely tolerable. Staggering nearer to the lavish material, he reached out, running his fingers along a silky gold cord that streamed down beside. “What is all of this?” he asked.

“The lap of Persian luxury,” Hephaestion answered, walking across the carpet to stand beside Alexander.

“This is Darius’ tent?”

“No, this is only an officer’s tent.”

Alexander chuckled. He stepped forth, sliding his bare feet over the lush rug. “Is the dirt of God’s earth not good enough for them?”

“Apparently not.”

He continued to stroke the golden cord, for it was so tender to his skin and his hands were rough from constant work. Then he brushed his fingers over the sheer tent material again. “What is that smell?” he asked. “It is sweet.”

“Cinnamon,” Hephaestion informed, “you smell cinnamon.”

“And there is more…but what?” More so than asking Hephaestion a direct question, Alexander was contemplating to himself. He felt as though he had been thrown into the midst of a dream and only peace of spirit was missing. Alas, peace was everything, but so was investigation. After another silent moment, he noticed the candles burning throughout and inhaled deeply.

“Alexander,” Hephaestion called, beckoning Alexander’s thoughts out of the sublime and into the present. “Leonnatus requests an audience.”

Alexander turned toward the two men, both darkly-toned, though Hephaestion was by far the taller. “Sire,” Leonnatus spoke, “allow me to show you what I have discovered in King Darius’ tent.”

“You have already been through it?”

“No, Sire, but I did hear noise which demanded my attention.”

Alexander was now more confused than he had been since he had awoken. “Lead us on,” he said, ready to follow with Hephaestion by his side.

The morning sun was bright, for the clouds had all but entirely disappeared. Father, be with me, he pleaded in his mind…but why he could not be sure. For some reason, loneliness and vulnerability struck him. Even as countless soldiers cheered him as he passed. But he was not lonely, for he had Hephaestion beside him. He would always have Hephaestion. He could speak by spirit, he could be held by flesh, whenever he wished, with Hephaestion’s love.

As Leonnatus stopped, Alexander peered away from his beloved and turned his head – it was the grandest thing he had ever seen. A sheer purple tent stood before him, larger than any tent he had seen in his life, even his father’s. He touched the silks as he traveled further inside.

Tapestries of the deepest richest colors adorned every cushion, every blanket. Short tables beside the cushions were of the highest polish of wood and decorated with golden rims and designs. And he had not even seen the separate bedrooms yet.

Golden decanters and goblets were still situated upon the tables. Alexander wondered which one Darius himself had drunk from. As he breathed, the scents of roasted meat and spices filled his nostrils. He looked around in an effort to locate the food.

“Darius’ servants were preparing a celebration meal when we arrived last night. He was anticipating victory.”

“As well he would have,” Alexander reasoned. “He has never come to any other battle against us, therefore how could he know that he would never taste victory?”

Leonnatus pushed the curtain aside to enter another room, a room with a golden bath. Alexander smiled widely. “Take Darius’ servants and have them fill the bath with water. I am muddy, and blood is dried on my body and matted in my hair.”

“Hephaestion laughed. “So this,” he said, “is to be a king. Alexander, if only we had known sooner!”

“Shhh…” Alexander whispered. “Silence – I hear something.” He looked around to distinguish from wince the sobbing noises arose.

“That sounds like the cry of women,” Hephaestion said.

Alexander moved as though he were led by an unseen hand. “Over there,” he said, and pointed toward the far side of the tent.

Leonnatus broke in the appointed direction, but Hephaestion remained by Alexander’s side as the two followed at leisure, Alexander plucking a grape from the bath side table.

He passed through sheer curtain after sheer curtain before seeing Leonnatus again, in the room furthest to the back of the tent without any lit candles. It was the sun itself that illuminated the tent through the sheer curtain.

He took a breath upon seeing three grown women and several children. The women were veiled, though their eyes shone with tears – except the woman on the end, who covered her face in her hands as she sobbed.

“Uncover yourself,” Hephaestion told her in Persian. She lowered her hands, slowly, and rather reluctantly. Her dark, almond-shaped eyes gleamed. “Who are you women, and are those your children?”

The old woman, her eyes accentuated by deep brown creases, fell to Hephaestion’s feet and cried, “My King, may I have the body of my son so that I may bury him?” Alexander laughed; the woman raised her head, bewildered. Sheer terror seemed to besiege her face when she realized the mistake she had made.

“Do not be alarmed, woman,” Alexander said. “He is Alexander, too. What I want to know is – who is your son?”

“The Great King,” she answered.

Alexander’s eyebrows lifted in astonishment as his jaw fell. “You are his mother? He has left behind his mother?”

She lowered her head. “We are Persia’s sacrifice.”

“What makes you think that I have killed your son?”

“We heard that you returned with his bow and mantel. He would never have given those up while there was still breath in him.”

Alexander would have laughed at Darius’ impudence, if only this woman had not been so sorrowful. “Your son is not dead, Great Mother, only fled.”

The women sighed in relief. She bowed to Alexander. “My Lord,” she acknowledged. “Darius has abandoned us.”

“No, Great Mother, I am certain your son did as he thought he should, even when I do not understand it.”

But the woman’s tears became unmanageable. “No…”

“Come, Great Mother,” he said tenderly. “No harm will come to you here. I will see to your well-being, and the well-being of those with you.” He embraced her but glanced to the other two, younger women. “And who is this with you?”

“This is my son’s first wife and their servant.”

Alexander peered more intently toward the servant girl, for her dark eyes were stunningly familiar. “What is your servant‘s name?” he questioned.

“Baphomet,” the old woman said, “my grandchildren are also in her charge.”

“Baphomet,” he toyed, walking toward her. “That is a beautiful name…and so familiar.” He pulled her dark veil off…not angrily, but methodically, as though he had won the great prize he expected all along. “Baphomet…” he whispered.

“You told me once that you needed an interpreter, but you do well with the language,” she said with downcast eyes.

“I do need an interpreter,” he said, “an interpreter called Baphomet.”

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About the Author

Justine Johnston Hemmestad lives in Iowa with her husband and their seven kids (three of them are young adults now). She became interested in Alexander the Great’s story in the mid 1990’s after watching a documentary about him and admiring his persistence and perseverance. In 1990, when she was 19, her car was hit by a city bus in San Diego – she sustained a severe brain injury, was in a coma, paralyzed, and the doctors thought she wouldn’t recover (her story is in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries). Within a few months she was walking again and moved with her husband to Iowa where they started their family, and Justine began writing to cope with her recovery as well as severe PTSD. She began college part time in the mid-2000’s, as she continued to research and write Visions of a Dream. She has earned her BLS from The University of Iowa, and is now working on a Master’s Degree in Literature through Northern Arizona University. She will be participating in the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Book Fair on October 14th of 2017.

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Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, Spotlight on June 21, 2017

Synopsis

Truth Seeker Kuntza faces challenges above and below the sea’s surface, fighting deadly misinformation   as well as a bizarre and complicated plot to wipe out most of   the Sky Fairy Tribe.  Under his instruction, lightning   machines are constructed to overcome a terrible  snowstorm.   But what of the grave threat from the Water   Fairy Tribe—Kuntza’s tribe—to the surface tribes?

Admiral Constance Kimberlite and Prince Cambrian Bijou and the young Historian Rolf Warner accompany the Seeker beneath the waves to assist him in his efforts to overcome his tribe’s fears of an impending invasion.  Meanwhile Amber Bullierd, daughter and heir of the rebellious Count Bullierd, threatens to block their success through intrigue and a terrifying coup  attempt.  With the fate of Fairydom hanging in the balance, there is no room for error.

Excerpt

As Prince Oliver followed his father from Arnold Mosley’s elegant hotel suite, he saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of one eye.  The long hallway was lined with statues and ornate paintings, and dotted with recessed doorways that lead to other suites.  Curiousity getting the better of him, Oliver signaled for the marine behind him to continue flying forward no matter what.  When they reached the next doorway, Oliver slid into it.  Careful to stay hidden, Oliver turned back towards Mosley’s suite and sank soundlessly into the plush carpet between the beautifully carved planks that framed the doorway.  Dropping first to his knees, then down to lie flat, he stifled a chuckle at the idea of trying to explain himself to the hotel guest if the door beside him should abruptly open.  Carefully, he inched his face towards the edge of the doorframe.  The small party that had escorted him and his father to Mosley’s hotel faded away, the sharp click of a window—locking behind them—the last sound he heard.  One eye finally clear of the doorframe, Oliver held perfectly still.  And waited.  The hallway was so still that he thought he could hear the paint on the walls fading in the bright afternoon sunlight.

The motion he saw might have belonged to anyone—a chambermaid, another guest…  Oliver was beginning to give in to the feeling of foolishness when a slightly built man-fairy peeked out from behind one of the statues at the far end of the hall.  Mosley had dismissed his servants when the king first arrived, which meant the suite should still be empty, Mosley having also gone off to take care of personal business.  Oliver’s right eyebrow lifted fractionally when the man-fairy slipped over to Mosley’s door and glanced furtively around before he produced something from the inner folds of his scribe’s robe, and let himself in through the locked door.

More than curious now, Oliver came silently to his feet.  Decades of playing hide and seek with his younger siblings contributed to his swift, but soundless flight down the length of the hallway, where he arrived just in time to slip between Mosley’s door and its frame.  He quickly dropped to his knees in a shadow before it swung shut behind him.  From there, he was able to watch as the scribe began searching single-mindedly for something on Mosley’s desk.

It was all so absurd that Oliver nearly gave in to the urge to laugh at himself.  He had just assisted his father in interrogating Mosley—and unless Mosley was an even more masterful manipulator than the Wood Fairy Minister of the Interior, he had been telling the truth when he denied any involvement in the delay of the winter storms.  Now he, Oliver Bijou, Crown Prince of the Sky Fairy Tribe, was hiding in the shadows?  Sleuthing was the specialty of his younger brother, Prince Cambrian.  Still, Oliver could not shake the feeling that something was amiss here.  Mosley might have given a scribe a key to his suites, but…scribe!  Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, bringing Oliver to his feet precipitously.  Cambrian had recently brought evidence to them that a scribe was involved in the conspiracy.

Startled by Oliver’s movement, the scribe jerked to one side.  His elbow struck one of the taller stacks, knocking it over in an avalanche of blue, white, and yellow papers that fluttered to the floor.  Some fell quite a distance.  Others struck the hem of the frozen scribe’s robe and landed about his feet.

“Harold Scroggins,” Oliver casually scooped up a small volume of poetry from the entryway table beside him, “I arrest you in the name of the crown.”  As he had expected, Harold flew towards the nearest window.  Oliver’s arm came up and snapped forward, hurling the hard-bound book towards Harold’s back.  “Well, that is a first,” Oliver murmured to himself as he watched the scribe crumple to the floor, temporarily stunned.  “I do not recall ever seeing a book drop a scribe before.”

Tugging the window sashes free, Oliver bound his prisoner securely.  As he was about to begin searching the desk himself, Harold stirred.  Weak blue eyes stared up through his tousled blue bangs, full of unanswered questions for his assailant.

About the Author

I enjoy reading and writing, but not arithmetic.  Which is to say that I love math, but it hates me.  So I don’t usually count the days or hours spent reading, writing, or watching television, I just enjoy them.  I write because that’s the gift I’ve been given.  I read and watch to store up idea seedlings, which sometimes spring, fully-formed, to mind.  Sometimes that’s because I loved what I’ve been consuming and other times because I loathed it.  Experiencing both (as little as possible of the loathe, of course) helps me define myself as a writer and plays a huge (yet subconscious) role in my work.

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Posted in excerpt, Fantasy, Giveaway, Spotlight on June 20, 2017

Synopsis

To what end would an exiled princess go to regain her rightful throne?

Lady Dawn, Hoffnung’s princess, brutally learns what it’s like to have everything unexpectedly stripped from her after Lord Waxxon’s coup kills her half-elf mother, Queen Taube, and he assumes the throne. Before Dawn’s plight, her mother’s bloodcurdling screams are etched into Dawn’s memory, giving her the resolve to somehow build an army, kill Lord Waxxon, and reclaim the throne. However, the odds of such an undertaking are far greater than a princess can overcome alone.

Unable to find Lady Dawn after scouring the castle and the kingdom, Lord Waxxon places a bounty on her, sending his ruthless henchmen across Aetheaon to locate and kill her. But Lady Dawn has disguised herself as a lowly squire, chosen by one of her late father’s Dragon Skull Knights, who doesn’t know her true identity. Alongside her knight, they seek other Dragon Skull Knights to gather forces to bring Waxxon’s reign to a quick end. Yet, her identity must remain secret, even to the knight she serves, until they have accumulated the necessary masses to storm Hoffnung.

Dawn is not without hope, as warriors, a wizard, and rulers of all races seek to find her before Waxxon does. Unexpected aid comes in another astonishing way. Although dragons have long been thought extinct, three dragons sisters use this belief to their advantage, veiling themselves as human warrioresses through magic. Traveling through hamlets, townships, and cities, the sisters hire mercenaries and armies with the caches of gold, silver, and gems from their lairs while they diligently search for Lady Dawn. And once they find her, they will rally beside her as she fights to reclaim Hoffnung’s throne.

A Cinderella story? Hardly. Quite the opposite in many respects. No longer pampered as a princess, Dawn discovers she’s more than royalty. She assumes the role of a servant in order to gain the necessary skills to fulfill her vendetta. She’s a fighter, a survivor, and a woman with the heart of a warrioress. Enduring a squire’s training hardens her, the loss of her mother and the kingdom forces her to seek vengeance, and her biggest fear when she takes the throne is that she will become a calloused ruler and lose her compassion for mankind.

Excerpt

Prologue

When Boldair awakened, his stubby muscular arms were shackled above his head to a cold wet wall. He looked around the small dark prison cell. A torch flickered outside the tiny barred window on the thick iron-braced wooden door. Overhead at the highest reach of the ceiling, the bright yellow moon spilled through the grated hole. He guessed it was the dead of night, but it could be closer to dawn for all he knew.

His stomach growled from hunger. He didn’t know how long he had been locked in the cell or how he had even wound up there.

The last thing he recalled was drinking ale at the Bridgebarrow Tavern with other dwarves while swapping tales of adventure and treasures they had found. Strong drink tended to draw out his need to brag and exaggerate about his discoveries.

A half dozen muscled Legelarid knights dressed in chain armor had been seated across the room, but they had paid he and his Dwarven friends no mind. The knights focused their attention more on the dark-haired female warrior wearing her snug gilded breastplate that cut short of her midriff than anything else. Her metal belt, which had a decorative dragonhead across her navel, covered most of her abdominal region. Gold-plated leggings and boots protected her lower extremities. Her winged helm rested on the stool beside her, and her round shield, adorned with sharp dragon’s teeth, was propped against the side of the bar.

The female warrior sat at the bar, staring down at the silver flask before her. Although she sat in a near trancelike state, Boldair assumed her concentration was attuned to take in all of the conversations and interactions around her at the same time. At the angle from where he sat, he was unable to see her face clearly.

With a rigid coldness, she ignored the knight leader’s drunken lewd comments and suggestive offers of gold to hire her to join their company during their journey back to Legelarid. Something Boldair understood to have double meaning, and had the insulting remarks been to a woman less capable of holding her own, he would have stood and challenged the half drunken knight. Instead, he chose to continue spinning his tales while awaiting the woman’s reaction to the knights, which seemed inevitable.

She kept her right hand tightened on the jeweled hilt of her short sword. The black blade was different than any sword Boldair had ever seen before. It wasn’t made of any metal he’d ever crafted, and the blade was cylindrical shaped and sharply curved.

The armored female sat with her head slightly cocked to the left, and she seemed to be listening to what Boldair and the other dwarves at his table discussed, so they lowered their voices. A barmaid brought fresh tankards of Bridgebarrow Stout and placed them on the table. Boldair smiled, downed the strong ale, and wiped the froth from his black beard with the back of his hand before telling his next tale of treasure hunting. His Dwarven brethren had sat eagerly and wide-eyed to hear what else Boldair had collected from the deep dark caverns and added to his stashed riches.

Tugging against the prison chains, Boldair shook himself from the daze and fought hard to remember more.

Boldair winced and groaned; thinking of what had happened after the night settled when he and his brethren had left the tavern to travel north to Damdur. However, more than that, he couldn’t recall anything else. The base of his skull ached and burned. Pain radiated through his head and pulsed behind his eyes. Perhaps someone had welted him from behind with a blunt object and dragged him to this tiny prison. But why?

After his eyes slightly adjusted to the darkness of the cell, he glanced around. Less than four feet away was the shadowed outline of another shackled prisoner.

Boldair attempted to rouse his confined neighbor. “Hey! Been ‘ere long?” Boldair asked.

Other than the whistling dank breeze that smelled of ocean spray, dead fish, and burnt flesh flowing through the barred door window, the room remained silent. In the faint light, his cell companion didn’t move or reply.

“Sleeping, eh?” he asked, still hoping to stir the man awake. Nothing was worse than being imprisoned without someone else to talk to. Total isolation was the purest torture. Hell without the flames.

The man didn’t move, and from his overall silence, he was not breathing either.

“Damn,” Boldair said. “T’would be me luck. Come to Bridgebarrow and get locked inside a prison with a corpse. Bah!”

Wind flowed downward from the grated ceiling opening. The smell of charred flesh drifted from his dead cellmate, causing Boldair to gag. The tight chain restraints prevented him from covering his nose. The stench forced him to hold his breath until the air grew still once more.

“You’ve been here for some time, I suppose,” he said, coughing.

Boldair glanced at the small barred window on the door and wondered if a guard stood outside.

“Wonder why I’m stuck here, do ye?” he asked the dead man, hoping his continued conversation caught the attention of someone in the outer hall. “Aye, I’ll tell ya. No secret be wasted with ye anyways. This ol’ dwarf is the best treasure hunter in all of Aetheaon. Aye, but it be true.

“No, I’m not a thief. Never stolen one single solitary thing. I hunt treasures. I do. Since the demise of the dragons of Aetheaon, the treasures are much easier to take, providing you happen upon one of their long forgotten lairs. No fire-breathing lizards guarding the dark caverns makes it—”

“You boast too much.”

Boldair straightened his back against the cold wet wall. He squinted, trying to see where the cold stern voice had come from. It wasn’t in the direction of the dead prisoner closest to him, and it wasn’t directly outside the door, either. The voice crept from the darkest corner of the rock-walled cell.

“Who be there?” he asked in a hoarse whisper. His eyes widened as he awaited an answer.

“I’m one who wants her treasure back.”

 

About the Author

Leonard D. Hilley II grew up a quiet, shy kid with an inquisitive mind. Learning to read at an early age, he fell in love with books. He read every book he could get his hands on and stacks of dark comics about ghosts, monsters, and creepy things that stalk the night.

Like a lot of boys, he caught beetles, wooly bears, butterflies, and had an ant farm. When he was ten, his interests in science increased even more after seeing a professor’s insect collection. He started an insect collection and learned to rear butterflies and moths to obtain perfect specimens. After learning more about botany and gardening, he set his goal to become an entomologist.

At eleven, he saw Star Wars. His imagination soared and he started writing. Six months later he had written the first draft of a novel. A novel he later discarded, but the characters stuck with him. Years later, these characters came to life in Shawndirea, which Hilley had intended to be a novella for Devils Den. The characters, however, refused to be ignored and took the opportunity to unveil Aetheaon in their first epic fantasy. Lady Squire: Dawn’s Ascension was quick to follow.

Shawndirea was Hilley’s farewell to butterfly collecting, and those who have read the novel understand why. He has taken Ray Bradbury’s advice to heart: “Follow the characters.” He does. He follows, listens, and take notes—often never knowing where they’re going to take him, but he’s never been disappointed in the results.

Hilley earned a B.S. Biology and an MFA in Creative Writing to combine his love of science and writing.

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Posted in Book Release, excerpt, Fantasy, Giveaway, Urban, Young Adult on June 12, 2017

Title: Scythe of Darkness

Author: Dawn Husted

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Release Day: June 13, 2017

Synopsis

For Mia Hieskety, surviving high school meant focusing on exams and attending the occasional party. After breaking up with her boyfriend, who she didn’t even like, dating was off the agenda. That is, until Thanatos came along.

Mia finds herself lured by the mysterious new student with two-toned eyes. Determined to find out who Thanatos is, what he is, and why he seems so interested in her, she accompanies him to his home where a sinister world awaits.

Discovering the truth, a supernatural connection that intertwines with her past, Mia’s life is at risk—and she doesn’t know who to trust.

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Excerpt

The compulsion to find him made me slightly crazy.

My knees shook, vibrating my full-size bed; my headboard tapped the wall like Morse code. Restlessness overtook my feet. I wished my parents would leave already.

The same moment I tossed another knife, a knock jolted the door. “Mia, we’re going. Sure you don’t want to come? Fresh air,” my mom urged in her counselor voice, an unfortunate result from all the years as adviser at my little brother’s school.

I flung my third knife, whipping it next to the others. Knife throwing calmed my nerves, and mine were buzzing like phones during study hall. Adding to my angst, the anniversary of my kidnapping loomed around the corner.

I slid off the bed, and breathed in a steady breath before opening the door. She flashed a toothy grin, trying to hide the meaning behind her inquiry. I knew what she wasn’t saying: not accompanying them to the county fair was out of character. “Are you feeling okay? Is this about Trip?”

Trip and I broke up last week, but I wasn’t thinking about him in the slightest.

“Mom, really. I’ve a ton of homework … a chemistry test, never mind the essay.” Only eight months left of my junior year. I’d filled out Berkeley’s mandatory questionnaire last week, but the essay portion remained unfinished.

I avoided her eyes. She was good at telling when I was lying. I needed to move, not look her in the face. I stepped from view and plucked the scarlet handles out of the bullseye, one by one. I didn’t want her to think I was up to something. My unusual talent had left a few painted-over scars in the door.

Mom slipped her face further around the side, and squinted as if trying to read my thoughts. Thick dark-brown strands of hair slid over her bronze shoulder. My hair was cursed with no thickness whatsoever, but had instead acquired my dad’s double cowlick. “All right. Love you, Mia,” she replied, then gave me a kiss on the forehead, probably hoping I would change my mind, and left.

I heaved a sigh of relief.

If I went with my family to the fair and ran into him again, my mom would surely be watching over my shoulder, making the interaction doubly weird. She had this uncanny ability to wiggle herself into my measly social life whenever possible.

A little voice in the back of my head—not an actual voice, but something—like a mental itch I couldn’t scratch—compelled me to find Eye Guy. And what better place than at the fair, the same place I first ran into him two days ago? The day I’d smashed a basket of nachos all over his shirt by accident. Did I know him somehow?

Eye Guy wasn’t from my school; I would’ve seen him in the halls. Who was he? He had two different-colored eyes—heterochromia iridium—which was why I dubbed him, Eye Guy.

I snatched my backpack off the round chair in the corner of my room, stuffed my chem book inside, plus the binoculars and the camera Uncle Shawn had given me.

My eyes slid shut and I listened for the sound of the front door closing.

Wham.

Scurrying over to my window, I watched the three of them walk toward the street. My eight-year-old brother, Bennie, yanked back-and-forth on my parents’ hands toward a waiting car. They were catching a ride with neighbors.

With a lightness in my chest, my pulse raced. It was now or never.

I rushed down the stairs two at a time. The aroma of popcorn wafted past my nose, as I swung off the mahogany banister and darted into the kitchen for a little to-go snack, and then out into the garage to grab my bike.

Old boxes of memories lined the edges of the bay, allowing just enough space for our only vehicle. I inched in between the hood of the old van, squishing a box with my butt, me popping out the other end. The bike was important; I needed a faster mode of transportation so I could hustle home before my parents returned.

I glided down Ponderosa, the uneven pavement vibrating from my seat all the way up to my neck, and turned left onto Birmingham—a roundabout way to bypass my parents. Beneath an old bridge, homeless huddled in the dark corners; a few stragglers glared at the lights and sounds singing in the distance, blocks away.

The top of the water tower dotted the sky, beyond the overgrown trees and shingled roofs. The sun clung to life in the clouds, streams of lavender highlighting the horizon.

I peddled faster.

Ten minutes later, I arrived at the water tower. A white sign with red letters warned KEEP OUT along the fence. I looped my fingers through the chain-links and whipped my head side-to-side. People weren’t allowed on government property. But being that I was only seventeen, obtaining a mark on my record for breaking and entering wasn’t as big of a deal.

The weight of my bike became heavier the higher I lifted; the aluminum frame fumbled from my grasp, slamming the wheels to the ground on the other side.

Now it was my turn.

Plop.

I stood at the bottom, gazing up. A shoulder-width ladder looped from the concrete to a narrow balcony that rounded the center of the bulbous top. The water tower looked like an upside-down ear syringe. The red bold letters painted around the tank had begun to fade, but I could still make out the city name: Gaige, Texas.

I halted mid-step. The feeling of a hundred butterflies fluttering down my chest gathered in the pit of my stomach. I lurched forward, gripping the metal ladder for support. The butterflies metamorphosed into thundering dragonflies, their wings beating against my insides.

I squeezed the ladder, my nails digging into my palms. Why had the sudden pain erupted? I wanted it to stop!

The little voice in the back of my head told me to climb. Logically, it didn’t make sense, but somehow, I knew Eye Guy couldn’t be too far away. The right side of my brain advised me of the odds of spotting some random stranger in the chaotic mass of the fair. But I had to try.

I climbed through the pain, finding it hard to breathe.

At the top, I fell over onto the balcony.

The dragonflies in my stomach fluttered away. What was happening?

Breathing in, I shucked off my backpack and grabbed the binoculars. Immediately, I began searching the enormous, far-off crowd. Drums thundered from the streets filled with thousands, and voices clamored into the distance. Triangular tangelo flags waved. Flashes of blue lights glimmered sporadically above the sea of heads. A band’s music boomed from the stage, and the whine of guitars faded in the background.

I reached for the popcorn, remaining fixated on the hordes of people. I stuffed a handful in my mouth without looking away.

A magnetic-like pull, stronger than before, honed my focus to the outer edge of the fair.

Ten heartbeats later, I spotted him; for the first time luck was on my side.

Near the outside, behind the Pig Race tent and in front of the Mirror of Mazes, Eye Guy walked slowly through a group of girls sporting short shorts and spaghetti strap shirts. I watched him in reverence as he squeezed through. He wore a long-sleeve plaid shirt and black gloves, just like two days ago.

Why would he dress so warmly? It was September.

But, I had to admit, he pulled it off. My eyes locked on his back as he meandered through the mass. I tossed another handful of popcorn in my mouth then dropped the binoculars and snapped a few photos. My hands shook, making it hard for the camera to focus. Calm down Mia.

I grabbed the binoculars again and zeroed in. The range of vision was as if I was standing right next to him.

He halted mid-step to chat with a tall blond in a red leathery outfit, a girl as unique and pretty as him but with a body much curvier than mine. Her heels matched her flashy wardrobe, and the dark eyeliner that mapped the outside of her eyes resembled that of a rabid raccoon. My toes wiggled against my rubbery flip-flops.

It was apparent Eye Guy and she knew one another by the way they stood inches apart—he with his arms crossed. I narrowed my eyes. The girl’s hand remained poised on her hip as she scanned the crowd; her serious expression left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Then his eyes narrowed in midst of their conversation. He unfolded his arms as a group of scrawny kids my brother’s age bounced into a trashcan, toppling it over, spilling rotten contents out next to his boots.

His attention turned back to the girl. Her lips moved too fast for me to make a measly attempt at trying to read them—especially since I lacked skills in that department. But the manner in which his lips pressed together as his square chin jutted downward, one word stood out: Mia.

Unless he said ‘me’ and not ‘Mia.’

The binoculars thudded against my chest, and I froze. Had I seen that correctly? Did he really say my name?

“Of course not.” Many words could appear to look like my name: many, milli, mile, melon if the -lon was left off. Maybe they were simply discussing dinner plans, or whatever other hundred things that I hadn’t thought about. I bet he didn’t have a clue who I was. How would he?

I raised the binoculars back up slowly.

The second I found him again, his face snapped upward—up into the shadows where I was hiding; I jerked back, my hands lost grip and the binoculars slipped from my grasp, whacking the railing.

Was I seeing things?

I grabbed the binoculars and looked again, but he was gone. The girl too. I swam over every head, every face, but he was gone.

And just like that, the magnetic pull faded.

About the Author

Dawn Husted is the author of Scythe of Darkness, a YA urban fantasy novel. She graduated with a BS from Texas A&M University. When not writing, she’s either camping or dreaming about camping. She’s a member of SCBWI, and lives in southern Texas with her husband and two kids.

Her romanticism of the supernatural is well-crafted in Scythe of Darkness. This gripping YA weaves fate and destiny in a new unsuspecting way.

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