Anne Marie Andrus
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?
Catch up with Books 1 & 2
A Haunted House
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.
Find and Follow
A Coastal Town in New England
is Full of Crazy Characters
Words: lobsterman, bicycle, light bulb, yoga, fireworks, infantile, weave, leopard, balding, sunset
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.”
Dun Dun Dunnn
Find & Follow
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!
Note from Emma Mitchell:
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
When Stars Will Shine is available to in digital and paperback formats and on Kindle Unlimited.
For more information, please contact Emma Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Wild Animal Loose in the House
Elizabeth L. Lemons
It was the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Were remnants of spillage
Nog all over my blouse
For while I was chilin’,
Feet up by the fire
A deer crashed the window
Wearing sleigh-bell attire
He stomped and he slipped
He knocked pie to the floor
He licked it all up
Then looked to me, wanting more
Being pregnant, I moved slow
But tried to reach a broom
Ripping apart a pillow
White feathers he consumed
I coaxed and I yelled
I pleaded and I cried
While shaking straw broom
My pleadings still denied
When suddenly, on the lawn
My husband arrived home
He walked through the door
While this beastie still roamed
With one powerful yell
Hubbie threatened with all might
Get out of my house, deerie
Or there will be a great fight!