Geneticist Lanaya Kim must do what authorities haven’t—tie together the “accidental” deaths of several prominent scientists around the country to show they were actually murdered. Over the past two years, geneticists have died in what appear to be accidents, but Lanaya knows otherwise. If she tells her secrets to the authorities, she risks becoming a suspect or revealing herself to the killer and becoming an open target. Hiring private investigator Hamilton DeShear may help her expose the truth, but time is running out. The murders are happening faster, and Lanaya’s name may be next on the killer’s list. But when Lanaya and DeShear start probing, what they discover is far more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined.
Ready to Cheer, Cry, Smile & Scream?
Coming Soon . . .
The interview with Best Selling Author Dan Alatorre!
My short walk to Jackson Square had a surreal, rapturous feel to it, heightened by a lone musician, sitting on a darkened stoop, playing an empyrean melody that transcended passersby into a higher realm of awareness. As my first full day here in New Orleans began to wind down, I was beginning to understand that this wonderfully overwhelming energy of always “going with the easy flow” was not only tangible but also never-ending.
So far, I had yet to look out onto the street and find it empty. People were constantly moving about. With the daylight long-faded, the artists and musicians had mostly packed up their belongings, instrument cases, and easels, leaving behind the empty spaces they had occupied by day open for evening tarot readers to set up folding card tables which they would cover in scraps of velvet and satin and glowing candles as they waited for curious tourists to inquire about their future.
I took a moment to gaze up at the brightly-lit stained glass windows of St. Louis Cathedral. The various colors sparkled brightly over the night, serving as a bright beacon of hope for the city. This magnificent display of Catholicism stood erect only twenty feet away from the myriad of card readers, and in some unexplainable way, they seemed to fit well beside each other.
Following a whim, I passed several nice restaurants and boutiques as I made my way to the crosswalk where I could safely cross Decatur Street and climb up the levee to Artillery Park. From the street, I could not see the river that I knew to be close, but I had a hunch that I would be able to see it once I’d climbed all the stairs to the top.
My hunch was dead on. The views from the park were nothing less than stunning. In fact, this was the perfect spot to see Jackson Square and the cathedral in all of its magnificent glory.
And when I turned in the opposite direction, I was instantly filled with delight. Before me was the Mississippi River. I turned in a semi-circle, not sure which view I should marvel at first, until I realized I could walk down the other side of the levee and actually go to the riverfront.
A British family standing near me taking pictures was about to do just that, and I overheard them call the walkway that ran beside the river “the Moonwalk”. Not wanting to intrude upon their space, I waited for them to walk down before I headed in the same direction.
For as long as I could remember, I have been drawn to water. It has a calming effect on my mind when my its workings feel electric, and it was here at the waterside where lights were found dancing off the water ripples that I finally sat down on an empty park bench and let go of the first-arrival urge to rush around New Orleans.
City lights cast prism rainbows upon the water while soft white lights from the bridge and a slowly passing riverboat cast an older, more orange tinge upon the tiny waves. The combined illuminations decorated the waters of the Mississippi.
Lost inside my head, in my own creative world, allowing only a polite nod or smile, I mostly ignored the few people that walked by while I daydreamed about what might happen next. So far, my spur-of-the-moment decision to uproot my life had been a fortuitous adventure. Smooth and exciting, I had high hopes for the future days ahead. That is…until I was approached by a pair of strangers.
“What is a pretty thing like you doing out here all alone? How about some company, sweet thing?”
I looked up from the haze of my lazy river dream to see a man and a woman dressed in the popular Victorian Steampunk fashion that I admired but had never really had the money to try.
“I am enjoying some peace by the river.” This was my reply, for I did not wish for company. I hated to seem rude, so I didn’t say whether the two could join me or not.
As if in a choreographed dance, the two of them moved fluidly around opposite sides of me, taking up the remaining room on both ends of the bench. They were uncomfortably too close for strangers, and I felt trapped.
While I tried to figure out what sort of situation I was in, I took in their appearance much closer. The man and the woman were unnaturally good-looking and flawless, in a creepy way that seemed inhuman. Both were shorter than me. The female had brown doe-like eyes and doll-like ringlet hair that should, but didn’t, make her seem innocent rather than sinister. The accompanying gentleman had a lighter chestnut colored hair that he wore at shoulder length, and his eyes were light in color, possibly green. Their angular appearance was so model-perfect, so similar to one another that they could have been either siblings or perhaps, twin flame lovers.
Not enjoying their sudden invasion to my space, I moved, in an attempt to rise from the bench.
“Where are you going, pretty thing? We were just about to get to know one another.” The woman declared possessively.
“Zyl, this one smells like…” The man’s voice sounded slightly worried, but his concern bothered the woman little.
Cutting him off, she focused on me, “Now, what brings you to our city?”
As she spoke, she brushed her fingers through my hair, and I had to keep myself from shivering. These were the type of night walkers that Aloysius had warned me to avoid while out in the ancient streets. I was not frightened as I perhaps should have been at being cornered by two freakish strangers, but I instinctively knew I should get away from them as fast as possible.
Both of the creeps leaned in closer to me, the woman moving to re-position my hair. My hand knocked hers out of the way as I tried to stand up again. This time, they both grabbed an arm, holding me down as the female draped her arm around my shoulders. This was not good. I needed to get away from these nuts.
“Zylphia Lynum and Ambrose Northgood, I believe you are needed elsewhere.” A strong voice, filled with distaste, emanated from the shadows behind the bench where we sat, and I recognized it immediately.
Again my body betrayed me. The two moved away from me instantly, disappearing into the night without a word, and I should have left too. Yet, I remained sitting there, frozen, not by fear, but by the same deep yearning that had brought me blindly to New Orleans.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said as he stepped into the light where I could see him.
I desperately wanted to give a snarky come back but was immediately taken aback as I found myself speechlessly gaping at Demien instead. He was standing there beneath the lamplight in a stunning greatcoat, as if he’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. It was a humid night. He should have been sweating in that coat, but he seemed comfortable. Goddess in heaven and hell, he was gorgeous.
Silence wrapped around us as he gracefully sat down beside me, making no noise at all except for the rustle of a white paper bag he carried in one hand. In his other hand, he carried a cup. Both Aloysius and Josephine had warned me to stay away from this man, but I was pretty sure he’d just gotten me out of a dangerous predicament. Plus, curiosity and questions overwhelmed me.
“You know those two creeps?” It wasn’t the best question. Obviously, he did know them.
“Why are you out here alone at night?” he snapped. His sheer disapproval was emphasized with his last three words.
…because this is a free country. I am a grown woman. It’s none of your business.
I thought all of those things and worse, but did not say any of them.
“Zylphia and Ambrose are…they won’t bother you again. You are fortunate that I saw you walking to the riverside alone. If you intend to stay in this city, and I suggest you don’t, you must learn caution and common sense. If you want to see the city at night, take one of the Touchets along for protection.”
My mouth was wide open in disbelief. I could feel the night air on my teeth. I knew I looked foolish. The tone of his voice had shifted from anger to great concern. I didn’t understand.
“It’s beautiful,” I mumbled. All of my years of arguing with my father and brothers should have aided in dealing intelligently with this over-opinionated man beside me, but no…I, once again, had said something stupid.
“Yes, this city is a unique place,” he concurred.
“Especially at night. At least I think so. I’ve only viewed a small section since I moved here two days ago. Tonight was my first venture out.”
“And you attracted their attention…” Beneath the street lamps his face showed no emotion, yet I sensed confliction within him. “Here.”
“What’s this?” I wondered as I took the bag without a thought.
“Beignets and a cup of café au lait. You passed right by Café Du Monde and didn’t stop.”
“You were watching me?” True, my friends had warned me to stay away from him, but I thought their warnings came from his being a total malcontent, not because he was a stalker.
“A friend owns a bar down the street. I saw you pass by, noticed you were alone, and assumed that since you were being foolish, you would need my help.”
He’d insulted me again.
“Where do you get off? That’s the second time you’ve insulted me. You don’t even know me.” I couldn’t believe his audacity. I also couldn’t believe how much his opinion hurt me. I didn’t even know him. Why should I care if he liked me or not? I’d spent my life living with people who didn’t like me.
“You’d be well on your way to dead had I not been waiting on you to do something ill-advised. No one would have batted an eye. Locals are well-acquainted with your type. You come here in search of good times and a flirt with the supernatural, but you have no idea what really waits lurking in the shadows. You get yourself in trouble, and then we have to clean up the mess. Eat your beignets before they cool off.”
“Dead? What are…?”
“Eat and drink a little of that coffee.”
“I don’t want…”
“Sybella Rose,” he said my name as if it were painful to pronounce, as if those two words were much more than just my name.
He knew my name…probably from the same source that I learned his.
“Demien…” I hesitated because his facial expression twitched when I spoke his name. He seemed to be struggling with something. “Look, you are right. I don’t know what I am doing, but here is where I am meant to be. It’s the only place I can be.”
Before finishing what I had to say, I pulled out one of the beignets covered with powdered sugar from the bag and took a bite, failing to keep the messy white sugar from getting on everything.
Oh hell, I was going to die of overwhelming delectable-ness of food in this town. Not wasting time on words, I held up the bag to Demien to offer him one of the fluffy little pillows of awesomeness. He declined as he pulled napkins out from a jacket pocket and waited for me to finish off the doughy square.
When I came up for air, I asked. “What were they?”
“What? Not who or why…”
“No, what?” I insisted. As a great consumer of fiction novels, I am aware of all manner of creatures that go bump in the night. “There are two kinds of beauty. One, like the kind Aloysius and Josephine carry, is physically appealing, but their real attractiveness comes from their soul. They are both true individuals.”
“And the other kind?” He sounded like he didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Well, like those two who were just here, their beauty is distracting, nasty, sneaky, oily…wrong.”
A low deep rumbling sound erupted from Mr. Cranky himself. I looked over to see that Demien was laughing.
“WHAT they are doesn’t matter. You probably wouldn’t believe it if you knew, and even if you did believe it, knowing the truth never benefits the person who knows. They almost always end up dead or worse.”
I detected bitter truth in his words and wondered what made him such a pessimistic entity. “Okay, so illuminate me on this. I have supposedly walked into a situation I am not equipped to handle, but I’m not allowed to learn the truth so that I may be better informed so that I may be safe because the truth is also danger. Demien, what do you propose I do? And do NOT say leave the city!”
I carefully closed the paper bag, sealing in the freshness, so that I could eat the other two beignets later and sipped on my café au lait as I waited on him to speak.
“Learn what you can from Josephine, anything and everything she might teach you. Eat at least one meal a day from Aloysius’ kitchen. And wear this always. Never take it off.”
He was removing an oval amulet from his neck, a black stone embellished with a faded silver fleur-de-lis. As he placed the necklace around my neck, careful not to entangle it with my hair, his eyes caught mine. I leaned in closer to him. I could not help it. I needed to be nearer to him. My fingers reached up, desperate to touch the lines of his face. I wanted to kiss him.
Demien moved to the far side of the bench fluidly, like the scary two had moved, and quickly.
“Sybella Rose, stop. I am more dangerous to you than those two ever could be. Do as I said, all that I said. And don’t seek me out. This amulet will deter others like me from harming you. It will not, however, protect you from me.”
He was gone before I could reply, and I was left with an intense yearning to yell at him again. I looked all around me in every direction. After all of that, I didn’t believe for a second that he had disappeared completely, leaving me, once more, alone in the big bad dark. But he was nowhere in sight. When I stood up, I realized I was gripping his amulet. Again, I felt a sense of wrongness within me. I should be scared, but I was not. Instead, irritation and suspicion filled me.
At the peak of a rocky red outcropping, Draven paced, sat, leapt up to wander again and shouted into the empty darkness. “I should have saved you.” He stumbled, grabbed fistfuls of his blond hair and threw his head back to shout at the night sky. “I accept that I’m a failure.”
The only answer was the desert wind’s drone.
“Tonight, was my last. I’m done. I’m ready.” He spun to face the brightening horizon and stripped off his shirt. “I’m coming to join you, my beloved Gwynevere.”
Dawn’s light lingered below the jagged crests, slicing through the landscape one ray at a time. Pinholes of smoke erupted across Draven’s skin like a spray of bullets.
Gritting his teeth to muffle a scream, he stared at the patch of ground a few feet away, already bathed in killer sun. After a long exhale, he took two strides toward instant death. The final step was cut short by a missile dressed in a royal guard’s uniform. Two vampires tumbled down the back side of the butte into the cold safety of shadow.
“What the bloody hell?” Draven clawed his way back up the red rock, only to be yanked into a cliffside cave. He narrowed his eyes to focus in the pitch black. “Ronald?”
“Your highness.” Ronald bowed.
Draven lunged for the cave’s mouth and was knocked down again. “Have you gone insane?”
“Have you?” Ronald rolled a boulder across the opening. “On second thought, don’t answer that. When did you last feed?”
“What concern is that of yours?” Draven turned up his nose at the flask Ronald offered.
“It’s my job to keep you safe.”
“Then, you’re fired.”
“Unacceptable.” Ronald plunked a silver flask on the stone floor in between them.
“This is not how it works.” Draven charged toward Ronald and landed flat on his back. “I’m a damn prince!”
“Tackling you now, and on top of that rock,” Ronald dusted off his palms and held out a hand, “was easier than knocking a child down on the playground.”
“Blood would be wasted on me.” Draven swatted him away. “Doesn’t matter where I’m going.”
“And, your highness, where is that?”
“Not sure, exactly.” Draven puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “To find my beloved Gwyn.”
“I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Ronald rested his hands on his knees. “But burning yourself up in the desert isn’t going to bring her back.”
“I hate myself and I’m broken beyond repair.” Draven wrapped his arms around his chest. “How did you find me out here, anyway? I covered my tracks.”
“We’re blood.” Ronald dug through a canvas bag and tossed him a wrinkled shirt. “Can’t hide from me. To your credit, the search did take weeks.”
“I never really thought about that…your direct lineage, I mean.”
“If I remember correctly, you turned me vampire as a stunt to impress Sorcha.”
“I was rather taken with her back then. But the reason doesn’t matter.” Draven pulled on the shirt and buttoned it without looking down. “As my sole heir, when I’m gone, you’re next in line for my father’s throne. Should it ever come to that.”
“Well.” Ronald swallowed hard. “There’s extra incentive to keep you alive—”
“If you dare call me Daddy, I’ll rip your face off.”
“It will only grow back.” Ronald held out the flask again. “Sire.”
“I never believed in hell, but I’ve been there every night since Gwyn died.” Draven grabbed the flask and gulped. “Every damned night. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes, and I don’t pretend to know the pain of losing a fiancée.” Ronald settled down with his back against the cave wall.
“I remember saying something very similar once.” Draven sat down across from him, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “To Raimond, after his Emily was murdered. He certainly handled it better than I have.”
Ronald rubbed his neck. “About Raimond—”
“I left my guards in Louisiana to watch over his house full of fools.” Draven looked up when Ronald didn’t answer. “What?”
“At first, I tried to find you…unsuccessfully. When I returned, it was too late.”
“I don’t understand.”
“After you left, there was an attack.” Ronald stared at his hands. “They burned it.”
“Who?” Draven tilted forward. “Who burned what?”
“The Victoires and others, foreign soldiers, witches. An army of mercenaries.” Ronald lifted his eyes to meet Draven’s. “Your royal guards are dead. Normandie Hall is ashes.”
“You must be mistaken.” Draven shook his head violently. “They were all upstairs—”
“After Sorcha and Vir crashed through the window, the entire house imploded.” Ronald bit the inside of his cheek. “Rumor has it that Steven Banitierre survived. I do know that Miss Rayna is on your island. I’ve spoken with her.”
“Julia?” Draven rubbed his face with both hands. “Lily?”
“Both dead.” Ronald frowned. “We should go back to New Orleans.”
“Raimond will be furious with me.”
“Never mind the house, though he did restore it from a ruin into a fortress.”
“But, his family is his whole life. Those girls—”
Draven froze in Ronald’s vacant gaze.
“I’m sorry, sire, about Raimond—”
“No.” Draven’s jaw dropped and his body convulsed. “No, no!” He stared at the flask in his hand and hurled it with enough force to cause a shower of rock dust to fall. “Not Raimond. He would have escaped the fire.”
“Not if he was murdered.”
Draven’s eyes flew open and he flashed in front of Ronald. “By whom?”
“Nicholas Victoire.” Ronald grabbed Draven’s quaking shoulders. “That criminal has seized power in New Orleans. We need to go back.”
“Sorcha will never forgive me. Never. She’ll try to kill me.” Draven staggered again. “Raimond. Are you sure? He’s the strongest…my best—”
“Sorcha won’t try to kill you in New Orleans.”
“She should!” Draven shivered and landed on his knees. “I left her and the whole…all of Raimond’s family to die?”
“Sorcha and Vir escaped, and haven’t been seen since. Rayna said they had help from locals, Crescent magic.” Ronald reached out but pulled his hands back. “Normandie Hall was an ambush. You couldn’t have known.”
“Murder, murder.” Draven slammed his head on the stone floor. “Failure, failure.”
“I want to die!” Draven flew into the jagged rock wall, fell and leapt up to do it again. “Why can’t I die?” He spun to Ronald with black blood streaming down his face.”
“You don’t look right, sire. A little rest, maybe?”
“Such a good man.” Draven patted Ronald’s cheek. “My blood…my son.”
“Whoa.” Ronald flinched. “Take it easy with the crazy eyes.”
Draven grabbed Ronald’s gold dagger and scampered back into the shadows.
“All right.” Ronald reached for the gold and fell back at Draven’s maniacal howl. “Enough of this nonsense. Hand it over.”
“I told you I was done.” Draven’s body shrunk. “It’s over. Put me out of my misery or I’ll do it myself. I swear on the souls of all the deaths I’ve caused.” He collapsed into a writhing heap with the dagger pointed at his own heart.
“I’ll help you, I promise. Just put it down.”
“Make it quick.” Draven nodded, squeezed the blade to his throat hard enough to draw blood, and handed it over. “I’m a coward.”
“You’re no such thing.”
“Don’t tell my father.”
Ronald spun the blade in his fingers.
“Though, we really should tell—”
“Save that thought for later.” He snapped Draven’s neck with military precision. “I’m sure you’ll be a royal pain in my ass when you wake up.” Ronald tucked a blanket around the limp body and drew a ragged breath. “Heal quickly, my prince. Raimond’s family desperately needs you.”
Like this sneak peek from Book 3 of the Monsters & Angels series?
Leaves of orange and gold litter the ground beneath a lone Copper Beech tree, the only semblance of life at the entrance of this desolate landscape. Thick at the bottom and bushy at the top, shaped a bit like broccoli, this thick tree a reminder that someone once hid from life here..
Dilapidated and askew, the wooden house breathed against a sky of watercolor hues. Once occupied by a washed out politician whose relativity had run dry, he’d moved to this haven away from the land of the living, preferring the limited life that Nowhere had to offer.
His years of solitude affected him deeply, giving him the solace that the cruelty of government never had, and now, he lingers in this house of rotten boards leaving nothing behind of his once witty arsenal except a solitary silver cufflink wedged between a buckled oak floor.
Aguaclara sat down on a wooden bench under the shade of a beautiful tree whose name she didn’t know. A man rode by in a weird-looking bicycle, but no one appeared to question his transport. Along the boardwalk people walked with careless abandon, looking for all the world like this coastal town in New England was totally normal. It totally wasn’t. What the sign on the road had advertised as a charming little town, had actually turned out to be a ridiculous parade full of crazy characters.
She tapped her forehead in frustration. “We should’ve gone to Hawaii instead,” she bemoaned.
“Agreed,” a voice said above her. She looked up to see Laster as he sat down next to her. “Although all twenty islands are just one giant tourist pit, I’ll take a Hawaii sunset over this weird town and that awful storm that came out of nowhere on the way here.”
They had flown in from California, but as they had descended over the Appalachian Mountains they’d barreled through a thunderstorm that no weather monitoring bot had predicted.
“That storm was awful, right?” Aguaclara agreed. “And this town … yeah. Everyone talks so funny and acts so strange. I think they’re going for quaint, but it’s remarkably archaic.”
“Yes! Oh my gosh, this place is nuts!” Laster held up his hands in frustration. “The people are crazy! Just now, I saw a balding man asking for money. He said he didn’t have anywhere to live.”
“What? Where does he sleep?”
“I don’t know! It doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t want to pry. Well, I tried to give him money, and he didn’t have a scanner. He even asked me, ‘why would I have a scanner?’ What! How does he expect people to help him? Can you believe that?”
Aguaclara nodded sadly. “Laster, I believe you, but only because I went into a little store where a woman was selling handwoven goods, and she also said she didn’t have a scanner. She did have a hand computer that looked like a scanner, but when I waved my wrist over it nothing happened. She took back the scarf I meant to buy and said she didn’t weave for free. I said I didn’t want it free; I meant to pay but her scanner didn’t work! And then she acted really confused and said her computer was a phone and not a scanner. Okay, crazy lady, bye. I left.”
Laster shook his head. “This whole town is crazy. While you were shopping I went by the beach. I stopped to watch a small group of people stretching in unison. I wondered out loud why they would do that. A woman next to me heard me and said they were doing yoga and that it was a great way to keep their bodies flexible.”
“Why would they need to exercise for that? That’s why we have metaxalone in the water. Ooh …” Aguaclara snapped her fingers. “Maybe these people drink untreated well water. So they’re all stiff. That’s crazy.”
“Right? But that’s not as crazy as the other thing she said.”
“What else did she say??”
“She said she was a better teacher than the guy teaching the class, and had more experience. But she quit when she found out that he made more money than she did.”
“What! How come? If she was better, she must have been getting paid more.”
“I asked the same question, and she just shook her head and mentioned the gender gap.”
“The gender gap in population? What has that got to do with salaries?”
“No clue. She was wearing tight pants printed to look like leopard spots, though, so I just assumed she wasn’t right in the head.”
Aguaclara shook her head. “These people are crazy.”
“Definitely,” Laster said. “Maybe we should just head back.”
“I’m hungry, though. Let’s find some food. Someone is bound to have a scanner.”
“Let’s hope. I’m hungry, too.”
They walked along the boardwalk until they reached a small shop with a sign that read: All forms of payment accepted. They walked up to the counter eagerly and read the menu. Attempted to, anyway.
“I have no idea what any of this means,” Aguaclara confessed after a minute.
“Me neither,” Laster said. “Bacon, ham? Drumsticks? What’s that?”
“And what about this chicken, fish, lobster? Why call food after an animal?”
At that moment a young man came out of a door in the back and smiled at them. “Hi, welcome to Ed’s Lobster House. What can I get you?”
“Um, we’re not sure yet,” Aguaclara answered.
“How ’bout our famous lobster? Ed just brought them in this morning and they’re super fresh.” Seeing their confused expressions, the young man added, “Ed’s the owner and also the lobsterman.”
Laster frowned, extra confused. “You mean like a superhero? Like Spider-Man?” He’d heard of Batman and Spider-Man, but not Lobsterman.
The boy looked confused. “No…? I meant like … a lobsterman? You know, a person who catches lobsters?”
“Why does he catch lobsters?”
“Uh, maybe to serve them—” he said in an infantile tone, as he pointed to the restaurant sign “—in his Lobster House??”
Aguaclara and Laster looked at each other in horror as the light bulb turned on in their heads. And they ran away. Out of the town and across the road, and into the clearing where their monojet was parked. Only when they were back inside their jet did they stop to catch their breath.
“These people eat animals, Laster.”
“What crazy town did we stumble into, Clara?”
But Aguaclara’s gaze had drifted to a banner that was hanging from a tree. The large, bright letters were printed over depictions of fireworks. She read the words, but they didn’t make sense.
Happy New Year! 2020
“Gosh in Heaven, Laster,” she finally whispered, horrified. “You know that crazy storm we went through on the way here?”
But Laster couldn’t answer, because he had too seen the sign, and had lost his voice.
“I think it warped us back through time,” she concluded miserably, “… to the 21st century.”
A collection of short stories from your favourite authors who have come together to deliver you a Christmas read with a twist.
With true war tales that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost and found, this anthology has something for everyone. And, with every penny made being sent to support our troops, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.
From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Lucy Cameron, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!
When Stars Will Shine is the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life!
As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.
Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.
There isn’t a person in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.
It has been an honour working on these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.
Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman Four Seasons by Robert Scragg The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff Believe by Mark Brownless What Can Possibly Go Wrong? by Lucy Cameron Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell The Art of War and Peace by John Carson A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton Free Time by Stewart Giles Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen The Village Hotel by Alex Kane A Present of Presence by HR Kemp The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin Brothers Forever by Paul Moore Girl in a Red Shirt by Owen Mullen Pivotal Moments by Anna Franklin Osborne Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli Time for a Barbeque by Carmen Radtke Christmas Present by Lexi Rees Inside Out by KA Richardson Penance by Jane Risdon New Year’s Resolution by Robert Scragg Family Time by Graham Smith
Large, puffy cumulus clouds rolled across the sky and the golden rays of the sun pierced through the cottony fluffs mocking the somberness that had settled upon the day.
A genesis, a new beginning, to be a pioneer in someplace new–that is what my grandmother hoped for when she made the rash decision to sell our two-hundred plus year old family home where generations had lived.
I looked back one last time at the stately Georgian dreamscape, the only home I’d ever known, and listened to my grandmother’s pitiful attempt to convince her family that selling this part of our legacy was a good decision. I locked the beauty of our home into my mind, the pristine condition of the gardens before I jumped into my mom’s red truck, mashing the seat-belt into its locking mechanism, hoping I could erase the negativity brought on by this tragedy of a day and one day only remember my childhood home with fondness and not loss.
“I’m home!” Love closed the front door behind her and shrugged off her school backpack and coat, then she jumped in fright as she noticed her parents standing five feet away, staring at her. “God, you scared me,” she said, adjusting her volume.
“Hello, Love,” her mother said, a worried frown clouding her usually perfect face.
“Hello, Love,” her dad said, looking equally worried. “We have some news.”
“Okay,” Love said. “Give me a sec, I need to plug in my phone; it ran out of battery.”
“This can’t wait. Let’s sit down,” her mom said, and she motioned to the adjacent sitting room.
“Oh-kaay…” Love had no idea what this was about, but she knew it was going to be bad from her parents’ expressions. She sat down in the closest armchair. “Alright. What’s up?”
Her parents sat in a lounge chair opposite of her. Her mom took a deep breath and said, “Love, honey … we’re moving.”
Love just stared at them, trying to determine if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.
“We’re so sorry about what this will do to you,” her dad started to say, and was joined with similar apologetic words by her mom, until Love finally found her voice.
“We’re moving out of Woodstock?”
Her mom frowned in anticipation of dropping possibly the most unwelcome news. “Darling, we’re moving out of the country.”
“Are you kidding me!” Love almost yelled in happiness. “This is the best news! I hate my life here. I hate my school. And the country currently sucks too. I’d rather be anywhere else. Anywhere!”
Again her parents exchanged a look. “You hate your life?” her mom asked.
Love shifted in her chair. “I mean, it’s not like I hate you guys … just my school and its stupid backwards mentality. I told the counselor I wanted to be an engineer and he said I should try a career more geared towards women. What the hell? And I also hate the idea that any one of my ignorant classmates could be a potential shooter and he could just walk into a store and buy whatever weapons he wanted, and nothing is being done about it. Oh, and I hate the stupid soda machine that never works. High school sucks.”
“That’s all … very …” her mom started to say, but didn’t finish.
“Awful, yeah. I know. So … moving is the best news I’ve heard all day. Where are we going? Why are we moving?”
Love could tell her parents were ill at ease; they were shifty-eyed and looking suspicious. They didn’t answer right away, so she became apprehensive. After another few seconds of silence she all but shouted, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hold on, sweetheart,” her mom said. “This is very difficult for us to say. We haven’t been honest with you about our … parentage.”
Her dad tried to explain. “Our family … which we’ve always said were dead, they’re now really dead, and we have to go back home to take care of … it.”
“What!” Love asked, totally confused. “Who’s dead? Who’s not dead? Take care of what?” She flipped her hand palm up in sign of questioning. “Can you be any more cryptic? Please explain.”
Her mom looked at her dad, then back at Love. “Okay, we’ll tell you everything. It might be very upsetting to hear,” she warned.
“I don’t care. Just tell me.”
Her mom took a deep breath. “First of all, we are … not human. We are fae. Faeries.”
Love’s jaw dropped. No words came out, so her mom continued. “We came from another place, the faerie world, where we lived under the rule of our father …”
“Did you say faeries??”
“Yes. And I know it might be hard to substantiate that claim without some form of proof, so look.”
Her parents held an open palm toward the other and held them a few inches apart. Before Love’s very eyes, a ball of light appeared between their hands. They held it there for a few seconds, then, with a quick burst of light, it vanished.
Love’s jaw dropped. “What was that?”
“Our magic,” her mother said. “It works much better back in our world.”
There was a moment of silence while Love’s brain tried to make sense of what was happening. It sounded crazy, but it also seemed very true. And it was … kind of exciting. Actually, really exciting. Her favorite comic book had always been one about faeries—she had been captivated by them for years and years. And to learn that faeries were real? That there really was a magical faerie world … and her family was going back to it?!
Her mom looked anxious. “We know this might be difficult for you to grasp—”
“That’s where we’re moving to? The faerie world?” Despite her parents’ apprehension, Love could not contain the excitement in her voice.
“Yes,” her dad answered. “We just learned that our father passed away. He wasn’t a nice person, which is why we never wanted to talk about him and pretended he was dead, and why we were so eager to leave our home and live here amongst humans. But … he was the ruler of our kind back home, and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take care of our family and our people.”
“Your father was a ruler?” Love asked. “You mean like … a king?”
Her dad nodded. “Yes, a king—”
“Oh my God.” They were royalty.
“—and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take our place in the realm,” he finished.
“So you get to be king now?” Was she going to be a princess?
Her parents exchanged a worried look again. “Maybe,” her dad said. “Maybe I’ll just be a prince, and Aurelia will be the queen. We don’t know yet.”
She looked at her mom, Aurelia, who closed her eyes; and before Love could form a question in her head, her dad spoke again.
“This might be a little disturbing to you,” he warned, “but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Your mother and I are twins, firstborns of our royal parents, King Razel and Queen Ashelia. We hated the royal world and our father’s tyrannical rule. We always relied on each other for strength; we were inseparable. After our mother passed away, our father only got worse; he forced Aurelia to marry an awful prince of another kingdom without caring that he was a known sadist; so Aurelia fled the night before the wedding. In his arrogance our father never expected her breach of duty and obedience, so it was easy for her to escape. I went looking for her and a month later found her here, in the human world. We stayed hiding, and we never meant to go back. But as of this morning, we’re both feeling a strong magic pulling us back home, as though something inside us has been activated with the passing of our father. It seems we can’t escape our blood.”
“I know this is a lot to handle, my dear,” her mom said. “Ash and I never meant to return, and we thought it would be extremely dangerous for you, so we never wanted to tell you. But we didn’t know about this magic that would call us back home.”
“Oh God!!” Love didn’t know what to think. She could handle having a tyrannous grandfather in a magical kingdom that she’d never been told existed before … but her parents, twins? This was some incestuous Lannister shit. Oh God. She was afraid she might puke. “You … is this normal in the faerie world? Brother and sister … relations?” Gross.
Her parents looked at each other and immediately started talking at the same time.
“No! It’s not like that—”
“We’re not lovers, no!”
“We love each other, but not like that.”
“We’re just best friends …”
“Wait, what?” Love was confused. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she pointed out.
“We’ve slept in the same bed since we were born, honey,” her mom said. “We’re like two halves of one soul, and we sometimes joke we’re the same person in two bodies, male and female … but that doesn’t mean we’re involved romantically.” She laughed awkwardly.
“But then … how did you have …” me, Love trailed off and couldn’t finish her question. Because all of a sudden a lot of little things that she’d noticed or questioned about her life, but always mostly ignored, started popping up in her head. First and foremost was that her parents were impossibly beautiful and she looked nothing like them. They both had fine blond hair that matched their bright golden eyes, and yet somehow had managed to produce a daughter with brown hair and brown eyes and average looks.
“You’re not my father?” Love asked, looking at the man that she called her dad. She was starting to question who her real father might be when her mom spoke.
“Our dear daughter,” Aurelia said with a deep sigh, “Ash and I are not your birth parents.”
“Whaaat …” Love started. She took a minute to let that sink in. So many signs pointed to it, yet it wouldn’t sink in. She was adopted? She knew a girl who was adopted. That girl knew she was adopted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her parents looked very uncomfortable and took a few moments to form an answer. Finally her mom spoke.
“We’re faeries, dear. I didn’t know what to do when I found you. You see, your birth mother—I was hiding in this world, living in the woods, learning to live on my own, when I heard a human shuffling around. I could tell it was a woman, but she didn’t say a word; she left as quickly as she came in, got in a car and drove off. I didn’t follow her; I didn’t think much of the odd, brief visit, until some short time later I heard a baby’s cry! I just rushed to the noise and found the most angelic thing I’d ever seen. I picked you up and decided to keep you safe. I joined human civilization for the first time. I stole infant formula to feed you and clothes to dress you and keep you warm. I left my crumbly shack in the woods and moved into an apartment in this small town. By the time Ash found me and told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep an abandoned baby, that I should’ve taken you to the human police, I loved you more than I could ever describe, and I couldn’t give you up. I had named you Love.”
“So naturally I stayed here with my sister, and we raised you together,” her dad concluded.
“So let me get this straight,” Love said. “You’re faeries, you can do magic, you’re royalty, and we have to go back to your faerie world for you to rule now that your father is dead?”
“Yes, Love, that is correct,” her mom said.
“But I’m just … a human someone abandoned in the woods?”
“Well, yes; but you’re not just any human; you’re our daughter and we love you so much—” her mother replied, not seeing the problem here.
Love burst into tears. “That is just the worst news ever!” And she ran up the stairs to hide in her room.
Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more…
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~ aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
by Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”