Monthly Archives: March 2016

Chapter reveal: Original Cyn, by Sylvia Dickey Smith


Genre: women’s fiction

Author: Sylvia Dickey Smith


Publisher: White Bird Publications

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: About Original Cyn:  Protagonist Cynthia Carter’s life appears perfect—but for the fact that she and her husband, The Reverend Wilburn Carter, are controlled by fear.  Cynthia is afraid she’ll displease Wilburn and if not him, his parishioners. But her biggest fear is the emptiness swelling inside her.

In the pulpit, Wilburn is the hero:  God’s right hand, the messenger, the revered Reverend. At home, however, is a different story: he’s cold, controlling, selfish and self-consumed.  Every Sunday, Wilburn stands at the podium and worries which parishioner might stab him in the back.  But his deepest, darkest fear is that people will discover he’s a phony.

As Cynthia drowns in her lack of identity beyond what’s assigned by her preacher-husband, she wonders if she should stay in the relationship.  Could there be more to life than just being the Pastor’s wife?  Before she can decide, events force her to flee.  If she goes far enough fast enough, those back home will have to deal with the chaos they created—deal with it or go to hell in their sanctimonious handbaskets. Until a phone conversation leaves her with even more difficult choices…

A powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking story, Original Cyn is extraordinary. Novelist Sylvia Dickey Smith takes readers on an unforgettable journey that spans anguish, heartbreak, hatred, love, fear, humor, peace and joy. Resplendent with compelling characters and an exceedingly-relatable storyline, Original Cyn is wholly—or perhaps holy—an original tale about moving beyond the black-and-white and living life in full, vibrant color. Sylvia Dickey Smith’s latest novel is a richly-drawn, rewarding read destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.  



When the sun came up that morning, Cyn Carter did what every other burned-out unambiguous preacher’s wife did. She crawled out of bed, threw on yesterday’s jeans and tee shirt, and did a quick finger-comb as Wilburn strolled out of the bathroom. “If you don’t mind Cynthia,” he said, “can you get a move on? I have an appointment at eight o’clock, and you haven’t even gone downstairs yet, much less started my breakfast.” Sarcasm dripped from his words.

Big fat hairy deal.  Cyn hustled down the hall toward the stairs. Same story, same attitude, every single solitary day.

Out of habit, she paused just inside the door to her son’s bedroom. His recent departure to college left the house feeling so empty, so quiet.

“I said get a move on, Cynthia,” Wilburn barked as he came up behind her, then stopped to check his reflection in the full-length mirror. After a quick adjustment to his tie, he spun on his heels and walked on, an overdose of aftershave trailing behind him.

Cyn took a long deep breath, as if his departure returned oxygen to the room.

He waited for her at the bottom of the stairs worry lines creasing his forehead. Cyn followed him into the kitchen where he went straight to the coffee pot, prepared and set the night before. He often teased that he expected the coffee ready when he got up every morning, much like the cruse of oil in the Bible. As the story went, the cruse remained full of oil, regardless of how much the poor widow used, implying, of course, that God kept the righteous woman supplied with oil. Guess that made a statement about Cyn’s righteousness, or the lack thereof, for she supplied their coffee.

“I see you’re still moping around like you lost your best friend.” He spooned a heaping teaspoon of sugar into his coffee and stirred, stirred—and stirred.

It made her want to grab the spoon out of his hand and shove it up his butt.

“I wish you’d get over this notion of having nothing more to live for since Justice left for college.” He tapped the spoon against the rim of the cup and tossed it on the granite counter top.

“Don’t be stupid.” Her sharp words startled her. She wasn’t accustomed to talking back.

“Then stop acting like he died. I get depressed just looking at you.”

“You make it sound like I can simply wish away whatever bothers me,” she said through clenched teeth. “That bugs the heck out of me.”

“You watch that pronoun curse word, young lady.” Finger-quotes bracketed his words.

“It’s not a pronoun.” She did her own bracketing.

“Maybe not, but you use it in place of a curse word, so it counts as the same thing.” He tapped his forehead as he spoke as if any idiot should know that. “I never said you could wish anything away, but you sure can do something about it.”

He took a few sips of coffee then ambled to the breakfast table, newspaper in hand. “What I said was to get out and go do something—get it off your mind. Mrs. Turner and a couple of other ladies fold the bulletins on Thursdays. Why don’t you come help them? At least it’ll get you out of the house.”

“No thanks.” She bit her tongue before it released the dictum that a snowball had a greater chance in hell. Mama’s words bounced around in her head. You can think it, Cynthia Ann, but that doesn’t mean you have to say it.

She’d cooked Wilburn’s breakfast so many times she could do it blindfolded, and might as well today, for all the interest and energy she had in doing so. True to form, however, the smell of frying bacon soon filled the house, half-cooked, the way he liked it. After plating the bacon, she basted the eggs, whites firm, and yolks soft.

All while Wilburn read the newspaper and slurped coffee.

As she moved the eggs from the skillet to Wilburn’s plate, being careful not to break the yolks, her mind drifted to the night before. In their twenty-plus years, she’d never known him to take much notice of his dreams, but he’d awakened at straight up 3:00 o’clock in a cold sweat brought on, he’d said, by the image of her vaporizing like an early-morning fog exposed to bright sunlight.

“It’s only a dream,” she’d said, trying to comfort him. She stopped short of admitting how close his dream touched reality, that as of late she felt herself fading into someone else. No, more like exploding into it.

When she put his food in front of him, he folded the paper and laid it beside his plate, eyes still glued on the article he’d been reading. Approaching his mid-forties, Wilburn looked every bit as handsome as he did the day she first laid eyes on him talking to a group of girls at her hometown church. His trim frame and impeccable taste in clothing still made him stand out, regardless of the crowd. The sprinkling of gray at the temples didn’t hurt either. Women, young and old, worshipped him and envied her.

They needn’t have bothered. Although she worshipped him herself before they married, afterward, she’d sworn someone kidnapped him and replaced him with a stranger. Like once he caught her, the romance ended and doing God’s work began. Over the years, he kept her at an emotional arm’s length. Except for the God-talk, she had no idea what went on inside the man’s head.

But she knew what went on inside hers. The day stretched painfully in her thoughts—clean the kitchen, make the bed, wash the clothes, and have Wilburn’s lunch on the table at straight up noon. She poked her eggs with a fork and bit into a slice of toast.

“Cynthia.” His voice was strident.

“What?” She glanced up to see him glaring at her.

“Shame on you. You know we never eat without first saying grace.”

Good lord, she’d broken the cardinal rule of the parsonage, a rule, without a doubt, written on tablets of stone hidden somewhere in the house.

Tempted to say “Grace,” and get on with eating, Cyn thought better of it. Instead, when he bowed his head and closed his eyes, she kept hers up and open, fork in midair. The memory of Justice doing the same thing years ago, and the shame heaped upon him by his father, still rattled her heartstrings.

However, what bothered her the most was Wilburn’s so-called prayers always—always—targeted more than one agenda item, each intended not for God, but for Wilburn’s audience and more often than not, her.

After the blessing, Wilburn glanced her way then back at his food. “You haven’t said anything about my sermon yesterday.” He reached for the blackberry jam and spooned a mound onto his toast. “Didn’t you like it?”

The exact same question, word for word, he’d asked her over breakfast every blessed Monday for the last twenty years. This time, she said nothing. Just kept eating, but not tasting.

An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

Wilburn broke it. “It’s evident you’re still thinking of no one but yourself.” He shoveled in another mouthful of eggs. “You’ve acted like this ever since Justice left for college.”

Their son Justice, a young teen when they first moved to Mobile and into the century-old parsonage, soon started calling his dad’s church the “Do Right Be Good Church,” but never in front of his father.

“I miss Justice, yes, but the boy leaving for college has nothing to do with what I’m going through.” She tried to explain the unexplainable. “It’s not the empty nest that bothers me. It’s me. I’m empty.”

“You’re just depressed. Probably time for your period or something.” He shrugged. “Anyway, if you want something to do, as I said, every Thursday, several women get together and have fun folding the bulletins. If you want to—”

“I don’t want to fold your damn bulletins.” She spat the words through clenched teeth.

Wilburn stood and slung his napkin onto the table. “Watch your language, young lady.” He stormed out of the kitchen, slinging words over his shoulder as he tromped down the hall. “I’ll be home for lunch, Cynthia. See that it’s ready on time. Think you can at least do that much?”

The front door slammed behind him, leaving a tension she could pierce with one of Justice’s epées. Did other dutiful preachers’ wives ever daydream about murder?

Over the years, Cyn had learned not to push. After growing up with an abusive father, Wilburn shied away from physical violence, but he learned the more manipulative ways of his mother. Add to that, he suffered the aggravation of an older brother who acted like Mr. Perfect in front of their parents, and tormented Wilburn without mercy behind their backs.

To say Wilburn never crossed the line wasn’t totally accurate. On occasion, he resorted to his father’s ways of dealing with frustration. He never hit her or Justice, but a couple of times he came mighty close when she questioned one of his religious beliefs, and he couldn’t convince her to see it his way.

Addicts filled their cravings with something. His father used alcohol. At times, Cyn wondered if Wilburn’s extreme religiosity was a type of addiction. The thought of that bothered her as much as his lack of intimacy. The distance between them wasn’t new, but it hadn’t improved over the years either. In fact, it seemed to have grown worse.

She’d vowed to be the submissive wife, to honor and obey him at every turn, and Lord knew she’d done that—for decades. So why hadn’t it worked? Why, instead, did she feel like some soul-sucking monster slipped in and gobbled her up from the inside out?

Cyn shoved the chilling questions aside, shifted her brain into zombie-mode, and loaded the dishwasher, wiped the table, made the bed, and started a load of laundry, her 14,200,656th load—but who’s counting?

After the laundry, she ran the vacuum, boiled a couple of eggs for the tuna salad she’d make later for their lunch, and then headed outside with a mug of hot coffee. Strolling through her flower garden, the one place where she found peace, she cupped a late-blooming gardenia in her palm and inhaled, letting the fragrance soothe her soul.

She wished Wilburn understood her feelings. Wished he wanted to understand them. Perhaps if he did, he might not resent her reluctance to go to church every time someone unlocked the frigging doors. Instead, he nagged about the responsibility she’d accepted when she married a preacher. “He forgets he wasn’t a pastor when we married,” she muttered, “and he certainly didn’t consult me before enrolling in seminary.”

She felt trapped, like she lived inside the world rather than outside where the air smelled fresh, where possibilities came true, or had the chance of doing so. She longed to breathe, to flap her wings like the baby bird after it outgrows its shell and pecks its way out.

Lost in rumination, she hadn’t heard the back gate open and close until a familiar voice called out, “So that’s why you didn’t answer the doorbell. I hoped I’d catch you out here.”

“Dee?” Cyn dumped her coffee into the thirsty soil and hurried to meet her younger sister. “Sweetheart, I thought you were headed to Europe or something.”

“Operative word, headed, until they diverted my flight to Mobile. Mechanical problems they claimed. Canceled the whole trip until tomorrow. I stood in line at the ticket counter for over half an hour trying to make a connecting flight before my boss texted and said, ‘Hold off, complications of some kind.’ So, anyway, I took a taxi and here I am.”

They embraced for the longest, each bubbling with the joy shared by sisters, who couldn’t be more different, yet never got enough of each other.

As a baby learning to talk, Dee struggled to pronounce her older sister’s name, but could only manage the first syllable, Cyn. The nickname stuck, much to Cynthia’s delight and their mother’s horror. From then on, everyone except Cynthia’s mother called her Cyn. That is until she married Wilburn.

He swore no one would ever call his wife Cyn again. A person might be born in sin, but that didn’t mean he’d let someone call his wife that ugly word.

However, with Dee, Wilburn met his match. She simply ignored his order, acted like she hadn’t heard him. The girl knew no fear. All her life, she slashed through any obstacles in her way as if they existed to encourage her, to prod her into action. Perhaps the red hair and freckles had something to do with it. She spent her childhood fighting and scratching through taunts in elementary school until the bullies ran. Unlike Cyn, she did not tolerate bad behavior or fools.

Arm in arm, Cyn and Dee strolled into the house while Dee chattered about her adventures as a foreign correspondent. “You should see my new cameraman.” She flicked her fingers, laughing. “Hot, hot, hot.”

Cyn smiled, wondering what it might feel like for a man to turn her on again, or to be more accurate, for her to turn on a man.

“Now, tell me about my favorite nephew. How’s Justice? He’s in college now, right? What a neat kid—takes after his mom, that’s for sure.” Dee gave Cyn’s waist a gentle squeeze.

“I’m afraid he takes more after his Aunt Dee.” Cyn laughed. “A thought goes in his head and comes out his mouth. Got himself in trouble a few times because of it too.”

Dee raised her eyebrows in question.

“I remember one night at a church picnic when a bossy deacon ordered Justice to go gather wood for the bonfire.” Cyn smiled at the memory. “Justice felt demeaned by the way the guy spoke to him and countered with, ‘You want firewood, go get it yourself.’”

Dee doubled over with laughter. “He didn’t? Really? Good Lord, I’ll bet Wilburn had a coronary.”

“Wilburn wanted to beat the kid black and blue, but thank goodness he didn’t. Ate a big piece of humility pie with the deacon, though, that’s for sure. And Justice received a heated lecture from his dad on the topic of courtesy.” Cyn smiled, remembering how embarrassed she and Wilburn were over their son’s behavior. Later that same night, Justice had asked Cyn why he should treat someone he did not respect with that same courtesy and respect his dad yelled about. Put Cyn back on her heels for a few seconds, but when she felt the answer in her heart, she knew it to be true. “Justice, you treat all people with courtesy and respect, not because of who they are, but because of who you are, a person who treats others with—”

“Respect and dignity,” he said, finishing her sentence. “Okay. I see what you mean, Mom. Thanks.” He’d given her a big hug and went on his way.

She never needed to talk to him about courtesy again.

Cyn and Dee spent the day catching up on the goings-on of family and friends. That, plus Dee’s latest love interest, which changed as frequently as the weather.

Wilburn always asked why Dee didn’t pick one man and settle down. What did she want to do, hump every man in the country? Cyn hated it when he started in on Dee.

The two sisters dropped any further mention of Wilburn until he called after lunch to cancel lunch. “And don’t bother about dinner either,” he added. “I’ve got a building committee meeting this evening and will likely go straight from it to the deacon’s meeting.”

“And you’re just now telling me? I already prepared—”

“The building committee, Cynthia,” he said as if his precious committee took precedence over everything else, especially her. For months, the committee had been working on an expansion project and planned to present their proposal to the deacons for approval later that evening. Last minute rehearsal, she guessed, but she figured he knew about the meeting before now.

She slammed the phone down and threw the spatula across the room. Before it landed, however, she realized with him not home for dinner she and Dee could breathe easier, longer.

Dee shrugged. “Well, at least you’ve already got tomorrow night’s dinner done.” She stood at the sink cleaning up after Cyn’s prep for a canceled dinner. “I swear, girl, I don’t know what you ever saw in the man. He’s good-looking, if you like that type, but he’s a turd, big sister. I know it. You know it.”

“He’s not that bad.” Cyn laughed, but her words felt like fish bones in her throat.

Dee glanced over her shoulder. “If he isn’t, why didn’t you tell him his call came too late. Look at this mess, all for a man who surely knew of a committee meeting before now. Good Lord, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we still lived in the twentieth century.”

Relieved when Dee’s ringing cell phone and her subsequent exit of the room ended the conversation, Cyn moved to the sink full of dirty dishes, took one look, and shuddered. Bits of greasy food floated to the top. Not-so-greasy bits swam around the bottom, waiting.

She shuddered at the thought of putting her hands in that mess under the pretext of cleaning the dishes. It stood to reason, use dirty water, get dirty dishes. Oh, they might look clean, but without a doubt, they contained more germs than before they took the plunge.

All her life, Dee argued dishwashing should be done one way, and one way only. Put in a stopper, fill the sink with hot, soapy water, and plunge every filthy dish into the depths and scrub. Voila, the dishes came out clean.

Not on Cyn’s watch. She pulled the plug and loaded the dishes in the dishwasher.

A few minutes later Dee returned to the kitchen. “My boss called. Former boss, I guess I should say.”

“He fired you?”

“Used the term cutbacks.”

The two stood with their mouths open, staring at each other. Then, Dee cracked a smile. “Look on the bright side, you’ll get to tell dipshit I’m here after all.”

“Don’t act ugly.” Cyn turned her back to hide a grin.

“I’m just sayin’…”

“Well, I’m just saying let’s take a glass of ice tea outside and sit on the front porch.”

What she’d say to Wilburn about her sister visiting, she hadn’t a clue. One thing she did know, she had to tell him before he walked in and saw Dee, or else he’d pout for a week.

Once outside, the sounds of a creaking swing and the rapid-moving wings of a hummingbird soothed the silence until Dee spoke up.

“You know what? I’ve heard Catholic nuns consider themselves married to Jesus, right? Thing is, you’re not a nun. You’re not even Catholic. But I get the idea you married Jesus all the same, or at least to a man who sees himself as second-in-command.”

Weary of the topic, Cyn didn’t respond. How could she, and stay loyal to her husband? Plus, she hated to admit her sister spoke the truth.

Cyn’s silence, however, did not discourage Dee. “I guess when you go to church you still sit on the front pew like Wilburn tells you to, so you can catch his drippings from the pulpit. That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.” Dee laughed so hard she almost spilled her tea.

“He laughs when he says that, and you know it.” Cyn sucked through her teeth.

He joked all right, but Cyn had come to realize that, once again, the joke fell on her. Most church members pooh-poohed the New Age phenomenon of channeling. Humph—nothing new to her. Wilburn channeled God every service and most times in between.

However, she certainly wasn’t going to admit that to Dee. Instead, she changed the subject.

“There’s a women’s circle meeting at church tonight. I’m expected to attend. Hope you won’t mind staying here alone. Wilburn is at a deacon’s meeting, so I should get home before him. You won’t have to face him by yourself.”

“Why don’t I go with you?”

“That’d be great, but are you sure you really want to?” Cyn shuddered to think what Dee might say or do at a group like that. Shock the conservative women right out of their pantyhose and padded bras.

“Better than sitting here by myself. Besides, I’ll make sure those biddies don’t take pot shots at my older sister.”

“Careful on that older stuff.”

It felt good to laugh. Cyn couldn’t remember doing so since Justice left. His antics always gave her comic relief.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Irish Jewel, by Julie Ann James

Irish Jewel JpegTitle:  IRISH JEWEL

Genre: Suspense

Author:  Julie Ann James


Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Irish Jewel opens, bride-to-be Amy Reid is living out a fairy tale.  She’s engaged to be married to the love of her life, Michael Cambridge, an Irishman. Michael, a member of one of Dublin’s most  prominent families and heir to the Cambridge precious gem business, is everything a girl could dream of—and more.   He’s handsome, loving, charming, smart, successful, and, as icing on the wedding cake, Amy and Michael will be married in an elaborate ceremony in Dublin. This lavish, spare-no-expense event will be an exquisite dream-come-true-affair—a beautiful beginning to their lives together.

But this dream-come-true quickly turns into a nightmare:  what begins as a vague threat quick escalates into something much more sinister. On the eve of what should be the happiest day of her life, Amy is quickly swept up in an insidious web of danger, kidnapping, and murder.

When long buried truths emerge and dark secrets come to light, this fairy tale will be irretrievably fractured.  Nothing is as it seems—and the only way to win this deadly game is to get out alive. But the odds are stacked against Michael and Amy.  Will they even live to see “till death us do part”? Expect the unexpected in this twisted tale…

Irish Jewel

Julie Ann James

Chapter One

The captain’s deep monotone voice interrupted the restless sleep of some 120 passengers to prepare them for touchdown. They were about 20 minutes outside the Dublin airport at the end of a smooth but long flight, something that Amy Reid was still getting used to since her engagement to the love of her life, an Irishman, Michael Cambridge. They had met two years earlier as seatmates on a flight out of Dublin to her hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

Since then, they had been inseparable, other than the exasperating fact they lived across the pond from one another, which put an unexpected spin on the term, “long distance relationship.” Last summer, his proposal was sweet and romantic. Following a shared meal, he offered her an after-dinner mint, and hidden inside the wrapper, a princess-cut diamond ring, a whopping three-carats! His family is in the jewelry business. How lucky can a girl be to wear on her left hand what are literally the family jewels?

It was hard to believe that their wedding would take place in ten days after months of planning, choosing the perfect dress, and brilliantly persuading her entire family to make the trip to Ireland. Now that most of the details had fallen into place, she felt as though she had conquered all. A March wedding in Ireland—inside a castle—was a dream come true for any girl.

The seatbelt sign turned off, giving passengers permission to move about the cabin. Amy rifled through her purse making certain all her belongings were in order, pulled her carry-on out from the overstuffed compartment, and took her place in the crowded aisle.

The flight attendants thanked the passengers for flying Aer Lingus and provided concise directions on how to get from the gate to the baggage claim. Amy couldn’t care less what they were talking about, as her mind was in an entirely different place. She couldn’t believe she was going to marry someone she considered to be her soulmate. As corny as that sounded, she made sure complete strangers were aware that she was about to marry a “Cambridge.”

The Cambridges were known for their generosity, as they donated to charitable organizations throughout the country. They hosted elaborate parties at their estate located just outside County Clare—all on behalf of the miracle of medical research for so many causes. This made a lasting impression on Amy and was one of the many traits she admired about Michael. The Cambridge donations made a huge difference in many deserving lives. The family’s name and pictures were plastered in the newspaper quite often, but for the greater good, which was refreshing to say the least.

Michael wasn’t able to pick her up from the airport due to a work thing, so she was prepared to hail a cab to take her to their temporary flat in the city. It felt so good to be back in Ireland, where the Celtic history overflowed in each charming town. It wasn’t unusual that one of their endearing people would offer a 30-minute dissertation of that history in response to one simple question.

To her pleasant surprise, a limo waited for her arrival outside the airport doors—Michael’s doing no doubt. The driver, in a sleek black suit and top hat, rescued her from her heavy bags and opened the door with a gracious nod and smile.

“Thank you so much—this is great. I can’t believe Michael did this for me. Wait, what am I talking about? Of course, he did this—he’s Michael. You will have to forgive me, driver. I often talk to myself, so pay no attention to me. I am just so very excited to be getting married in ten days—count them, ten days—in Ireland for that matter.” Amy held up her freshly manicured hands to give the visual of ten days as she slid into the back seat.

“So I have heard, Miss Reid. That rumor has been spreading all around town. Believe me, everyone knows of your upcoming wedding. The Cambridges might just as well be royalty.” His eyes sparkled directly at hers, and then he closed the door.

“I am going to be a bride, Michael’s bride.” She giggled and danced her feet on the floorboard of the moving limo.

Amy settled back into the plush leather seat and pulled out her overstuffed wedding planner, skimming the pages for the final “to dos” before the “I dos” actually took place. Of course, her newly launched ad agency back in Sarasota had been somewhat difficult to leave behind and was always on her mind. But she had great confidence in her staff. They should be able to hold down the fort in her absence.

Her clients were few, but the word of mouth proved to be steady and went beyond her wildest expectations. She hoped to double her clientele by the end of next year. She wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with the rest of them and push her business hard, all the way to the top. Her goals, which had been in place since she was twelve, were to get married before she turned thirty, start her own business, and travel the world—not too shabby for a 28-year-old University of Florida graduate.

Now that her feet were touching solid ground, the reality set in about why she was in Ireland, and the butterflies started to work on her stomach. There was a chill in the air, the kind that went straight to the bone. It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing were applied, one never seemed to warm up. A Florida girl through and through, the frigid cold was something she might never get used to.

The scenery was breathtaking as usual, never disappointing. It was picture-perfect and resembled one of the many postcards she had collected and received from Michael in the past two years.

Suddenly she realized she didn’t recognize the part of town they were driving through. “Driver, excuse me, but I believe you missed the turn back there somewhere, but I could be wrong. Didn’t Michael give you directions to our apartment?”

“He had a change of heart as to where you will be staying for the next few days and wanted it to be a surprise. By the way, my name is Matt—not driver.”

“My apologies, Matt. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I have quite a few friends and relatives flying into the Dublin airport. Will you be picking them up too?”

“Yes, I’m Michael’s new personal driver, and I’ve been instructed on your family’s flight plans, arrivals, and departures.”

“Great, I’ll check that off my list. I thank you, kind sir.”

Amy’s eyes were to her list and not the scenery, so her confusion and wonder peaked when they arrived at a 15-foot wrought iron gate, the entrance to the most enormous castle she had ever seen.

Matt opened the limo door and escorted her up the walkway to the massive entrance. Waiting for her on the other side was a familiar face.

At six foot two, Michael Cambridge’s rugged Irish looks and wavy brown hair would stop anyone in their tracks, as they might wonder how one person could be so amazingly handsome and perfect from head to toe.

“Darling you are finally here! Welcome.” He took her hands in his, and pulling her close, kissed both of her cheeks and her soft lips.

“Michael, what are we doing here? What is going on?”

“Now, don’t worry your pretty little head about anything. God, you look gorgeous. It is so good to see you.”

“I thought you were at work.”

“Nope, I lied,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“What do you mean?” Her voice ascended an octave.

“I lied because that’s the only way I could have pulled off your surprise.”

He opened the double doors to the ballroom proudly. Her entire family stood in the center of the room, each with a glass of champagne in their hand, ready to toast the birthday girl and soon bride-to-be.

“Oh my God, what did you do? I thought they weren’t flying in until midweek.” Tearfully, Amy hugged Michael.

“They wouldn’t miss your birthday, pretty girl.”

“Wait a minute,” she stuttered. “I’m still 28 in my head.”

“Not anymore. You are officially 29, Ireland time.”

“Michael, you say the sweetest things.” As they laughed together, he handed her a glass of sparkling champagne and proposed a toast. Amy listened to his eloquent speech of adoration and flushed with embarrassment from the attention.

“To my blushing bride, Amy, Happy Birthday, my love.”

The sound of glasses clinking echoed, and the crowd called out, “here, here” and “to Amy.”

“Are you surprised, darling?” he whispered in her ear, his strong arm wrapped around her slender waist.

“Surprised? Of course! You never cease to amaze me, Michael Cambridge. This is why I love you so much.” Then she whispered, “I just wish I would have dressed more appropriately. I still have airplane on me, if you know what I mean.”

“But you look amazing to me. You could be wearing a potato sack and still look great.”

“Oh Michael, you are so funny. Who talks like that?”

“I suppose I do,” he confessed.

“I do,” she repeated. “I cannot believe we will be saying those two little words to each other in just a few short days.”

The next 30 minutes or so were spent getting reacquainted and greeting relatives from both sides of the family. Coming together for the first time, the Cambridges met the Reids. It was so odd to see, but at the same time, it felt right. The conversations were mostly small talk, both pleasure and business, but they always segued back to the happy couple.

Dinner was served sit-down style in a smaller room adjacent to the main ballroom. Irish food, something pureed no doubt. Either one loves it or hates it. Mostly, it’s tolerated.

Michael stepped out of the room to take a phone call from the concierge’s desk. While he was gone, one of the servers tucked a note next to Amy’s dinner plate, but said nothing and just refilled her water glass and walked away.

How strange, she thought. She glanced over her shoulder to see the server who had delivered the note, but she only caught a glimpse of the back of his head before he quickly made his exit.

She searched the faces at the table, but it didn’t appear that anyone was looking her way. They all seemed engaged in their own bubbly conversations.

Dabbing at the corners of her mouth with the embellished napkin, she unfolded the note and discreetly read it.

“He is not who you think he is…”

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Trish’s Team by Dawn Brotherton

TrishCover800-1120Title:  TRISH’S TEAM

Genre:  Tween Fiction (Middle Grade Fiction)

Author:  Dawn Brotherton

Publisher:  Blue Dragon Publishing

Purchase on Amazon

The debut release in Dawn Brotherton’s Lady Tigers series, Trish’s Team is a terrific new young adult tale featuring Trish Murphy.  A member of the Blue Birds, a recreational fastpitch softball team for 11 and 12 year old girls, Trish Murphy longs to be a member of the Lady Tigers, the elite travel team comprised of the best of the best players in the area.  When she is presented with the opportunity to try out for the team, Trish jumps at the chance. There’s just one small problem—it seems Trish’s parents don’t understand her love of the game.  Chances are they’ll be even less understanding and when they find out that team practice conflicts with Trish’s orchestra practice…

But being part of the Lady Tigers—and nurturing newfound friendships with the other team members—is Trish’s top priority.  When she tries to pull a fast one to get what she wants without considering the consequences, Trish puts everything in jeopardy. Trish’s decision could ultimately affect more than just the game: it could affect her friends.  Along the way, Trish discovers that being a part of the Lady Tigers is about much more than playing fastpitch softball:  it’s about being a part of a team.  But Trish may have to learn a painful lesson. After all, it really isn’t if you win or lose, but it’s how you play the game.

Chapter 1

Trish Murphy stood in center field and brushed her brown bangs off her forehead with the back of her right hand. Frowning in concentration, she waited for the next pitch. In front of her, Ashley stepped onto the pitcher’s mound, hesitated only briefly, and then spun her right arm in a clockwise motion to deliver a good-looking pitch. Smack. The ball sailed toward center field. Racing forward, Trish got under it, just like the coach had shown her. Plop. It landed snugly in her glove for an easy out.

“Nice catch, Trish!” Coach Tim called from the dugout. She smiled and threw the ball to the infield. It was a beautiful throw, yet it bounced out of the second baseman’s glove and rolled to the pitcher.

Rolling her eyes in frustration, Trish hurried back to her spot in the outfield.

Two outs, one to go.

Trish watched as, on the mound, Ashley took the signal from the catcher. Nodding, Ashley positioned the ball inside her glove, stood tall on her wind up, and fired the ball to the exact low-inside location the catcher had indicated.

“Strike one,” the umpire called.

Shifting her stance to the right slightly so she could look around the pitcher’s back, Trish waited to see where the next pitch would cross the plate. She was betting it would be low and outside this time.

“Strike two!” she heard across the plush grass that lay before her.

Yep, low and outside, she thought, grinning. Ashley was a pretty good pitcher, and with Alisha catching for her, they were a great team.

Trish knew the next pitch would be a change-up, high and inside. She smiled as the batter was caught off guard, swinging before the ball had even reached the plate. “Strike three! Batter’s out!” the ump called.

“Yes!” the team cheered as they raced for the dugout.

Coach Tim met them as they ran off the field, holding his hand out for high-fives. “Come on, girls, gather around. Nice catch out there, Trish. Beautiful strike-outs, Ashley. We’re behind by one run. Let’s swing some sticks.”

The Blue Birds was a recreational fast-pitch softball team for 11- and 12-year-old girls that only played 10 games a summer. The coaches were volunteers and mostly dads of the girls on the team. Trish felt lucky that she was on Coach Tim’s team. Some of the dads didn’t even know how to play softball, let alone teach the girls to play. Coach Tim was different. He had played baseball in college, so at least he knew the game.

Trish glanced around the softball complex hoping her mom might be there. She didn’t really expect to see her, but she was disappointed anyway.

She heard a loud cheer come from the field behind where the Blue Birds were playing. She saw the orange and black uniforms of the Lady Tigers. Trish sighed. She would love to play for the Tigers. The coaches only picked the best-of-the-best players for the travel softball team. They played ball almost every weekend in long tournaments.

“Head in the game, Trish,” Coach Tim said, refocusing her attention on her own team.

“Come on, Becky, you can do it!” Trish yelled to the leadoff batter.

Trish turned to read the lineup hanging on the fence. It was the top of the line-up. Trish grabbed her helmet and bat. She was batting fourth.

Hearing the crack of the bat, she looked up in time to see Becky hit a short pop-up to the third baseman. The player tried to catch it, but the ball dropped in front of her, and Becky beat out the throw to first.

“Batter up!” The umpire seemed in a hurry to keep the game moving. Clara quickly stepped inside the chalk-outlined rectangle of the batter’s box. The pitch came quickly on the inside corner. “Strike one.”

Clara stepped out and took a few practice swings. She settled into the box again. It turned into a long wait as the pitcher threw four balls in a row. Clara jogged to first; Becky went to second.

Trish watched in anticipation as Samantha moved toward home plate for her turn at bat. Trish put on a helmet and stepped out of the dugout to take a few practice swings, getting her timing down for the pitches.

Samantha stepped into the box. She was tall so the outfielders backed up, anticipating that she would hit the ball far. Crack. The ball flew over the third baseman’s head, landing in the grass. The left fielder raced in and scooped up the ball, preventing the runners from scoring.

Bases loaded. No outs. Trish stepped into the box. She knew she didn’t look very impressive. At only four-foot-six, she hadn’t reached her full height by a long shot. Her legs were long, slender, and solid muscle. She was used to people underestimating her, but she liked it that way. It usually worked to her advantage.

Trish settled in as the pitcher began her wind up. The pitch came in. Way inside. Trish leaped out of the way. The next pitch was outside, and the catcher missed it. Becky raced past Trish to cross the plate as the fans cheered.

“Just a base hit, Trish,” her coach called.

“You can do it, Trish!” The fans were all cheering her on. She kept her concentration on the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand.

The pitch was coming in perfect, right down the middle, ideal height. It was slow, so Trish looked at it again. It had a weird spin. She didn’t swing. Right before the plate, it dropped. “Ball three.” Trish was thankful for the many hours of extra batting practice Coach Tim had spent with her. He had shown her how to truly watch the ball.

The next pitch was almost the same, but it didn’t appear to be spinning. Smack. It went over the second baseman, missing the right fielder’s glove and rolled all the way to the fence for a triple. Clara and Samantha scored as Trish rounded the bases.

The fans were cheering. The score now read, “Blue Birds: 9; Redhawks: 7.”

“Nice hit, Trish,” Coach Tim said, smiling broadly.

Trish’s grin lit up her face. She clapped her hands and cheered on the next batter from third base.

Alisha hit a nice single to left center field that allowed Trish to score. The girls lined up to high-five her as she came into the dugout.

Ashley hit a fly ball to right field that cost them an out, but moved Alisha to third. Amber grounded out on a hit to second base, leaving Alisha in place. Ton-Lou flew out to left field to end the inning. The girls were in high spirits because they were winning, and the other team only had one more chance to bat.

“Good inning, ladies; let’s hit the field. Hold them for three more outs,” the coach said.

The first Redhawk hit the ball to Lexi on second base who easily picked it up and threw her out at first. Trish was a little nervous when the other team’s number four batter stepped to the plate. She was tall for a 12-year-old and had already hit it to the fence once this game. She took a few steps back and angled toward left field.

Ashley delivered the pitch low and inside. The batter got under the ball, and it went high into foul territory on the left field side. Much to Trish’s surprise, Ashley put the next pitch in the same place. This time the batter swung and missed.

Trish smiled. She knew the coaches called the pitches from the dugout. She would have to ask Coach Tim why he called two in a row the same way. That wasn’t very common. She liked to learn as much as she could about the strategy of softball, not just the technique.

The third and final pitch stayed low but to the outside corner. The batter swung but didn’t even come close. Two outs.

The number five batter had hit the ball to center field twice already in previous innings so Trish was ready. The batter let the first pitch go by but got ahold of the second. It was a long fly ball to deep center field.

Trish immediately turned her body and began to run toward the fence. She ran full out, praying her left fielder would be there to back her up if she missed it. At the last possible second, Trish dove at where she predicted the ball would be, capturing it in her glove as she hit the ground. That ended the game; final score was 10-7, Blue Birds.

The girls cheered enthusiastically. Trish couldn’t stop smiling as the coach and other girls clapped her on the back as they lined up to shake hands with the Redhawks. Even some of the opposing team members congratulated her on such a great catch. It felt wonderful!

She looked around at the crowd waiting outside the fence, but there was no sign of her parents. Trish wished that they had been there to witness her final catch.

Categories: Children's, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Ninth-Month Midnight, by Marie Bacigalupo

Ninth-Month_Feb9 (2)Title: Ninth-Month Midnight

Genre: women’s fiction

Author: Marie Bacigalupo

Website: www.mariebacigalupo

Publisher: KDP

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book

Ninth-Month Midnight is contemporary women’s fiction with a paranormal twist. The novella focuses on Dolores Walsh, a bereaved mother who, hiding a guilty secret and verging on mental breakdown, defies her husband and her religion to get what she wants. With another pregnancy highly improbable, she wants the seemingly impossible: she wants her baby back. The loss has transformed Dolores into a zombie-like chain smoker who stays unwashed and unnourished until her husband, Joe, bathes and feeds her.

Enter Salvador Esperanza, a charismatic psychic who helps the grief-stricken communicate with their dead. Dolores cannot resist this new hope or the man who offers it. But in order to attend Sal’s séances, she must do battle with her jealous husband’s hard-core rationalism. When Sal decides to move on, only a miracle can save Dolores from the numbing despair that threatens her sanity.

About the Author 

When Marie Bacigalupo was nine, she read Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and was instantly hooked on fiction. She grew up to teach high school English before focusing exclusively on fiction writing, studying under Gordon Lish at The Center for Fiction, taking classes at the Writers Studio, and attending a number of university-sponsored craft workshops.

Marie won First Prize among 7000 entries in the Writer’s Digest 13th Annual Short-Short Story Competition with her entry, “Excavation.” Her other works have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, The Examined Life Journal, Romance Magazine, and elsewhere. Ninth-Month Midnight is her debut novella.

The author is a native New Yorker who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Visit her at

Connect with the author on the web:




Ninth-Month Midnight

Chapter 1

A year has past, and still Dolores hates waking up to another day. The morning light pours, unwelcome, into her bedroom. Dolores feels her husband shift position behind her on the king-sized bed, his lanky six-foot frame extending only four inches beyond hers. She looks outside the open window where the first buds peek through the dogwood branches that front her Fresh Meadows Cape. April again. She fumbles for her pack of Salems on the dusty night table and knocks over the ashtray teeming with butts. Ashes scatter. The odor of stale smoke clings to the carpet, the linens, the furnishings, her clothes. No matter. She props herself on her elbow, lights up, drags deeply, and exhales with a raspy cough.

Dolores turns to her husband. “I can’t find her, Joe,” she whispers in his ear. “Today’s her birthday, and I can’t find her.”

Joe, his sandy hair tousled, faces his wife and draws her close. “I’ll run you a warm bath,” he says, then pushes himself off the bed. He walks barefoot in his jockey shorts to the bath that adjoins the bedroom. When the tub is half-filled, Joe walks back to Dolores, who allows him to draw the faded gown over her head and lead her to the tub. When her husband leaves, she reaches for the pack of cigarettes and lighter on the bathroom vanity. She has scattered cigarettes and lighters around her house and her person—on counters, tables, shelves, and niches, inside handbags and pockets—so they’re always in easy reach.

Ten minutes later, water streaming down her torso and legs, Dolores throws on a white terrycloth robe, and towels the dripping strands of her shoulder-length hair. She walks back into the bedroom, tripping on an area rug and knocking over a night-table photo of three-year-old Bertie at the beach, the child’s hands reaching out, hungry for all the wonders that life promised to serve up—rolling waves, billowing sand, boundless sky. She wears a powder blue playsuit. The wide-brimmed straw hat that protects her face against the high-noon sun has no power to shade her smile. Dolores runs an index finger over the plump cheek.

The sun no longer shines for Bertie. Now it’s always midnight.

Dolores loved being pregnant, and in labor she welcomed the searing pain and pounding pressure that pushed her baby home. She loved being a mother. Who is she now? she wonders. If both her parents were dead, she’d be an orphan, but her mother isn’t dead. If Joe were dead, she’d be a widow, but Joe isn’t dead. Her baby is dead. What does that make Dolores? There’s no word for her because mothers aren’t supposed to outlive their babies.

“Did the bath help?”

She replaces the photo on the table and shuffles into the kitchen, where her husband waits for her, as always willing her into his meaningless world, his eyes full of fear that she might slip away from him.

The white wood cabinets and yellow walls once made the kitchen warm and sunny; now they mock her grief. She sits at the white-tiled table under the pricey pewter chandelier, a relic of the time when she devoted a lot of money and most of her energy to making a home for her family.

A damp curl hangs over her cheek, obscuring one brown eye and a new pimple on her once flawless olive complexion. Joe winds the curl around his forefinger and tugs gently. He’s calling her back.

“I’ll be okay. Please stop worrying.” Dolores checks her pocket for a cigarette and finds one, bent but serviceable.

Her husband opens a window.

“Your mother called me at the office yesterday, said you keep pushing her away.”

“She spent weeks here a year ago. I couldn’t bear it, remember? All she did was follow me around the house and yak, yak, yak.”

“She loves you. She wants to help.”

“Let’s not talk about my mother.”

He waits a beat. “Okay. Let’s talk about our four o’clock appointment with Dr. Kaur. I’ll leave work early, meet you there.”

She says nothing.

“Dee? You were walking in your sleep again last night.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be all right.”

“Don’t worry? It’s been a year, and it’s not getting any better. You don’t even go to Church anymore. You used to find strength in your faith. I’m telling you, we need help. Give Dr. Kaur a chance, please.”

“I’m not ready for a shrink.” She flinches when he cracks a knuckle.

“It’s time, Dee, time to pick up the pieces. Maybe go back to teaching.”

“I have no interest in other women’s children.”

“Please don’t give up. You have to go on living.”


Dolores is sorry as soon as the word leaves her lips. Joe looks stricken. She knows it’s guilt, not empathy, she feels. No surprise, considering Catholic nuns used to be the voice of her conscience. Dolores can still hear Sister Ann’s last-chance admonitions before she entered a secular high school: Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost; keep it pure for the man you marry. And remember, a good wife supports her husband.  She stopped listening to that voice when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all three of them, let Bertie die.

Maybe Joe’s pain should move her more than it does, but right now, she needs him to stop nagging. “Okay,” she says, “I’ll see Dr. Kaur.” Even though it’s pointless, a certainty she leaves unsaid.


When Joe leaves for work, Dolores remains at the table and thinks about her mother’s last visit. She recalls the time her mother was washing dishes, blocking her cigarette drawer. Dolores, standing behind her, addressed her by her given name. Did she mean to goad the woman? She’s not sure, but the reaction was instantaneous. Her mother spun around. “Don’t you call me Roseann!” she said, her voice rasping. “I’m your mother, so it’s Mom when you talk to me!” Dolores took a step back and mumbled an apology.

A week later Dolores put her on a plane back to Florida, though her mother resisted. “It’s better if I stay,” she said. “Your heart is heavy. Let me take care of you.”

“Joe’s made that his job. You’d put him out of work if you stayed.”

The truth is Dolores can’t overcome her bitterness toward Mom. The rift widened when her father died, though her mother saw to all his final needs and, she has to admit, was always an excellent caretaker. Dolores remembers when she caught the chicken pox and wanted to scratch her skin raw. Her mother dabbed calamine lotion on the rash and read Dolores’s favorite fairy tales again and again to distract her. After the stroke, she kept watch at her father’s bedside day and night, assisting the nurses, coming home only to feed Dolores and catch an hour or two of sleep. Still, as far as Dolores is concerned, the loving attention to her dad came too late.

Her head is starting to hurt. When her four o’clock appointment worms its way into her mind, Dolores has had enough. She gets up, returns to bed, and wills herself to sleep.


The taxi gets caught in traffic halfway over the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge. Hopelessly immobilized in a cab reeking of pot, Dolores regrets her decision to keep the appointment with the psychiatrist. She’s stuck in a bumper-to-bumper lineup. Frustrated drivers crane their necks, step out of their cars, fling epithets, but accomplish nothing. The cabbie, taking it all in stride as the meter keeps ticking away, hums along to lilting West Indian music.

It takes half an hour to cover the short span of the bridge. Dolores decides to get some air by walking the last few blocks to Park Avenue. The gentle breeze, though, does nothing to lift her spirits. And why should it? April is the cruelest month, the poet said. It promises life and warmth forever, but before you know it, the darkness and cold return. She forces herself to focus on the street numbers. The doorman greets Dolores as she approaches the Park Avenue building that houses a half-dozen high-priced doctors, including Kaur. She hesitates in the lobby. Just get it over with.

Exiting the building elevator, Dolores finds the door marked Afifa Kaur, M. D., and enters an office with upholstered period chairs and a rich walnut coffee table displaying late issues of Architectural Digest and Forbes Magazine. She recognizes a print of Hopper’s Cape Cod Afternoon on the wall. Inside the sitting area, Joe is waiting and greets her with a kiss. Dolores leaves her name with the puppy-eyed receptionist, who looks fifteen but is probably closer to twenty-five, young enough to make her feel old. Joe hands Dolores the partially completed paperwork.

She steels herself for the tedious task of completing multiple forms. Opposite her, a wan middle-aged woman reads a hardcover edition of “The Metamorphosis.” She looks up from her book once, dead eyes meeting dead eyes, and returns to Kafka. “If I’m not called in fifteen minutes,” Dolores says to Joe, “I’m out of here.”

She barely has time to complete the questionnaire when a strikingly attractive woman, black tendrils escaping a tight bun, calls her name. Under a white lab coat, the doctor wears a black skirt-suit that is custom-tailored to downplay her full figure. Dolores grabs Joe’s hand, and she walks into a room where a floor-to-ceiling bookcase shelving medical texts, their spines neatly stacked, lines the back wall, and period chairs posture like peacocks on either side of a fireplace. If the doctor is striving for a homey look, she isn’t succeeding. Brass andirons straddle the fireplace, and a gorgeous mantelpiece of ivory filigree frames it. Behind the doctor’s over-sized mahogany desk, eight-foot French windows open inward.

“I hope, for your sake, the insurance picks this up,” she whispers to Joe.

“Sit, please,” says the doctor, pointing to the chairs in front of the desk. She takes a seat behind it. “We spoke briefly on the phone, Mr. Walsh, when you called on behalf of your wife. Tell me again how I can help.”

“My wife and I lost Bertie, Roberta, our little girl, a year ago,” says Joe. “My wife needs help picking up the pieces of her life.”

The psychiatrist fixes her black eyes on Dolores, whose own eyes dare the doctor to comment.

“Do you agree with your husband, Mrs. Walsh?”

“I guess so.”

“You are not sure?” she asks, using the precise diction of a non-native speaker.

“I don’t know.”

The doctor turns to Joe. “Mr. Walsh, since your wife is the patient, I will ask you to leave the room.”

Joe, about to protest, looks to Dolores for a reaction. When he gets none, he squeezes her hand. “I’ll wait outside,” he says, and closes the door behind him.

Again Dr. Kaur fixes her penetrating eyes on Dolores. “He seems like a loving husband.”


“The two of you obviously share burdens. Do you make time for leisure activities?”

“Joe tries, but he works long hours.”

“How do you spend your time when Joe is working?”

Dolores is confused. “I don’t know. Waiting for it to pass, I guess.” She runs her fingers through hair the color of bitter chocolate, then checks the spaces between her fingers. At least it’s stopped falling out.

“You look tired. Do you sleep nights?”

“Night and day. The sleep of the dead, at least for a few hours.”

“Are you taking sleep medication?


“Mrs.—May I call you Dolores?”


“Seconal is a dangerous drug. How long have you been taking it?”

Since . . . no . . . a couple of months after . . . I forget.  I need another prescription. Can you write me one?”

“No. It is not good for you.  Tell me, please, do you dream?”

Dolores hesitates. “Maybe.”


“I’m not sure it’s a dream. Sometimes I sleepwalk.”

“Please describe what you say may or may not be a dream.”

“I hear my baby crying, but I can’t find her. I search through the house, but I can’t find her.” Dolores bends over in her chair, her knees at her chest.

“How did Bertie die?”

“Yesterday was her birthday. She’s . . . she’d be five years old.”

“How did she die?”

“She had a cold.” Dolores almost giggles, but catches herself in time. Whenever she laughs or cries, she can’t stop until Joe talks her down.

“She died of a rare cancer. The tumor was in the sinus cavity. At first we thought she had a cold.” She clears her throat. Maybe if we had caught it earlier . . .”

“Did you want a child?”

“I wanted nothing more out of life, but we waited till Joe’s career got started–he’s a CPA–and then till his school loans were paid off. In the beginning I suggested we use the rhythm method—that means abstaining from sex during fertile cycles.  The Church condemns all other forms of birth control as mortal sins. But Joe made a joke of it.  ‘Know what they call people who practice the rhythm method? Parents!’ he said. So I went on the Pill, and every First Friday eve I confessed to Father Tom, my parish priest. I’d say the usual ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys till the next time, when I’d make the same confession. Pretty soon I realized I was making a sham of the sacrament.  A person has to be truly penitent to be absolved of sin; you can’t keep committing the same sin and expect God to forgive you. So I stopped going to Confession. And then came the payback: by the time it was okay to conceive, I couldn’t get pregnant . . . eight precious years wasted. Finally, we went to a reproductive specialist.”

“What was the problem?”

“My cervical opening was too small.”

“Please go on.”

“I had an operation to correct it, but the improvement was minimal. Next came injectable hormones followed by endless temperature monitoring, the rhythm method in reverse: wait till the fertile period, then rut like animals.  The sex was joyless. Every month the blood flowed.  Finally someone decided to test Joe. Turns out he has a low sperm count.”

Dr. Kaur keeps her silence.

“The Almighty seemed to be punishing us for our arrogance. We had waited too long. Already thirty-two years old, I would never have a child. But then the miracle happened. I thought God had forgiven me.”

“Do you feel responsible for your daughter’s death?”

“Oh, God, Doctor! That’s so glib! Of course, I feel responsible. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to protect her.” Her broken nails cut into her upper arms. It feels good.

“What did you do wrong?”

“We shouldn’t have waited so long. My eggs got old.”

She can’t continue. She takes time to get herself under control.

“Sometimes I hear her calling me . . . she was talking at two, so bright, my baby, so smart . . . I see her in her Hello Kitty romper. I smell her sweetness. It’s like she’s almost a ghost. I want her to be a ghost. I want her to haunt me, but she’s gone before she fully materializes.”

Dr. Kaur stirs. “Right now you miss your child acutely. You will never forget your child, nor should you, but you can learn to live with your loss, and even in time to take satisfaction in what the world offers.” The psychiatrist ignores Dolores’s twisted grin. “Grief is a process that the bereaved must undergo in stages in order to heal. The danger is getting stuck in one of the stages, in your case despair, and never recovering.”

Dr. Kaur underscores her words with hand gestures, her fingertips adorned by an elegant French manicure. “Right now you are convinced beyond a doubt that you will never be happy again. But if you are patient and kind to yourself, and cooperate with those who would help you, you will one day value life again.”

Dolores hates the doctor’s facile lecture. She rises from her chair. She needs to get out of the office.

Dr. Kaur looks up from her seat behind the desk. “Before you bolt, may I ask what made you come to see me today?”

“Joe. He’s worried that I’m losing my mind, that I’ll do something desperate.”

“Does he have reason to worry?”

“You’re the psychiatrist, you tell me.”

“Those scars on your wrist are not too faint for a doctor to read.”

The antique wall clock ticks off the passing seconds. Kaur’s words have conjured a lurid scene: Only half conscious at the time, Dolores remembers the blood spurting from her wrists, swirling in the bath water, spilling over onto the tiles as she lay face up on the floor. Joe, blue eyes bulging, racing into action, wrapping her wrists, sobs racking his body. Then a shrieking ambulance, jouncing bumps, probing needles, blackness swallowing her.

The doctor breaks the silence. “Those scars tell me your husband has cause for concern. I advise you to get off the Seconal. Barbiturates may be causing some of your symptoms. Sleepwalking and vivid dreams are documented side effects. The drug has even been known to trigger hallucinations.

“I’d like to see you again soon, say in a week. You can make an appointment with Miss Bell at the desk, or call the office at your convenience. For now I am going to prescribe medication to ease your depression.”

“Thanks, but no thanks. My feelings are all I have left of Bertie.”

Kaur writes the prescription and, rising, hands it to Dolores. “Think about filling this. It will make you feel better.”

The psychiatrist continues speaking as she escorts Dolores to the door. “Dr. Kindry tells me he gave you a list of bereavement groups in Queens. I urge you to choose one that is convenient and join.” With her hand on the doorknob, she gives Dolores a final piece of advice. “Build up your physical strength. You need at least another ten or fifteen pounds to support your tall frame. Eat regularly, exercise. The body and the mind work together in the healing process.”

As far as Dolores is concerned, she’s done her part. She has seen the psychiatrist. With a formal handshake, she thanks Dr. Kaur and walks out, ignoring Miss Bell and leaving Joe to make a more gracious exit.


Dolores regards Joe’s decision to take a taxi back to Queens as a second exercise in futility. This one forces them to endure the screeching decibels of angry horns and the unintelligible curses of a cabbie brandishing his middle finger.

Joe sits quietly beside Dolores. She knows what’s on his mind and steels herself to ward off his appeals. His final goodbye to the psychiatrist involved an inaudible exchange. Sure enough, even sooner than expected, Joe speaks up.

“A bereavement group makes sense, Dee.” He lists the benefits: she can find out how other people cope; she can talk to mothers who understand; she won’t feel so alone and hopeless.

“I don’t need other people. I need Bertie.” The hurt look on his face annoys her.

When they finally arrive home, Joe wants to talk, but Dolores needs a nap. He helps her out of the worn black coat they picked out together in another life and follows her into the bedroom. Dolores stands motionless as he unbuttons the coffee-stained white blouse and draws it off her arms.

“Dee, please. We need help; we need to learn how to live again.”

“I’m so tired, Joe. Let’s not talk now.”

“We have to talk. You want to give up, and I won’t let you!” He sits her down on the bed, and kneels to remove her scuffed loafers and peel off wrinkled jeans. She smells his pungent after-shave as his lips brush the nape of her neck, and she feels his swelling need against her thigh. She allows his hands and tongue to probe the mounds and recesses of her body in search of comfort; she herself is beyond comfort. He enters her, then heaves his body in desperate lunges. A final frantic thrust brings release. His muffled words moisten her neck. “Dee, Dee, I can’t lose you both.”

“Okay, Joe,” Dolores says, “we’ll try the support group. But, please, don’t expect too much.”

Categories: Uncategorized, Women's Fiction | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: The Asset, by Anna del Mar

The Asset from AmazonTitle: The Asset

Genre: Romantic suspense, Contemporary romance, Military romance, SEAL romance.

Author: Anna del Mar


Publisher: Carina Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

Ash Hunter knows what it is to run. A SEAL gravely injured in Afghanistan, he’s gone AWOL from the military hospital. Physically and mentally scarred, he returns home to his grandmother’s isolated cottage—and finds a beautiful, haunted stranger inside.

Like recognizes like.

Lia Stewart’s in hiding from the cartel she barely escaped alive, holed up in this small Rocky Mountain town. Surviving, but only just. Helping the wounded warrior on her doorstep is the right thing to do…it’s loving him that might get them both killed.

Soon, Ash realizes he’s not the only one tormented by the past. Pushing the limits of his broken body, testing the boundaries of her shattered soul, he’ll protect Lia until his last breath.

Chapter One

My finger twitched on the trigger as I stared down the barrel of my shotgun. A stranger stood on my stoop. The mere sight of him shoved my heart into my throat and sent my brain into default. I widened my stance, tightened my grip on the gun and aimed at the stranger’s chest. No way. He wasn’t going to take me alive.

A sharp bark startled me. The largest, darkest, most handsome German shepherd I’d ever seen stood next to the stranger, head tilted, ears forward, nose quivering in the air. It uttered a quiet whimper and padded over to me without a trace of aggression, circling me once before it leaned against my legs.

I kept my shotgun leveled, but I spared another glance at the stunning dog. The plea in his eyes tempered the adrenaline jolting through my body, reined in my runaway heart and gave me pause to consider the stranger before me.

Framed by the Rocky Mountains and the lake, the man at the threshold blocked the morning’s gray light and cast a huge shadow over my little porch. Raindrops tapped on his leather jacket, dripped from the rim of his cap and ran like tears down the sides of his face. Despite the exhaustion etched on his features, his glacial blue eyes narrowed on my gun.

“That’s a pretty old Remington,” he rumbled. “With the damn safety off, no less. Who the hell are you expecting, Jack the Ripper?”

“Stay back.” I forced the words out. “I’ll shoot if you come any closer.”

“Damn it, girl,” he said. “If you want us to leave, just say so.”

The scowl on his face contributed to his dangerous appearance. So did the scruffy beard and the shaggy hair sticking out from under his baseball cap. If he hadn’t come all the way out here to get to me—and that was still a big “if”—what on earth was he doing here?

I couldn’t see any weapons on him. Was he a drifter? He didn’t look dirty, but a metallic scent wafted from him, an odd, ripe trace I couldn’t place.

He must have seen my nose wrinkle. His whole body stiffened. He drew taller than six feet by several inches, but it was the outrage I spotted in his eyes that reinforced my fears.

“Aren’t you a spitfire?” He pulled out a rumpled piece of paper from his pocket, balled it and dropped it at my feet. “Secluded, cheap and quiet, that’s what the ad said. But I don’t think you want to rent out a room, at least not to me. Come on, Neil,” he said to the dog. “Let’s leave this little hellcat to count her bullets.” He touched the rim of his baseball cap. “And a good day to you, ma’am.”

He braced on a pair of sturdy crutches and hopped down from the stoop. Crutches? I should’ve noticed those before. The sable shepherd looked up at me, then nuzzled my hip and trotted off after his owner. The rubber bottoms of the man’s crutches stabbed the ground as he shuffled to the black truck parked in my driveway, a supercharged Ram 3500 that matched its owner’s brawn.

I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. Bad guys didn’t knock at your door. They didn’t back down, attack while on crutches or hobble away after they came for you. They didn’t call you ma’am, either. I picked up the crumpled paper and flattened it against the stair’s wobbly baluster. It was indeed the one flyer I’d dared to post at Kailyn’s convenience store, printed on pink paper, complete with the ten tear-off rectangles that listed my cell phone number.

The ad. My brain came on line. He was here about the ad?

Crap. Terror had a sure way of wiping reason from my mind. The ad talked about a stone cottage but didn’t include the address. True, mine was the only stone cottage around. Still, my stomach churned.

I stared at the paper in my hands. He’d taken down the ad. Now I had exactly zero chance to rent out the room, which also meant that, since I’d have no money to make the rent, I was going to lose my little stone cottage. I was going to be homeless and I’d have to move on. Again.

But I liked it here. The place suited me well. People in this secluded valley were nice and I’d managed to build a semblance of a life hidden out here. And what about my little friends out back? Who’d take care of them if I wasn’t around?

The pound, that’s who.

I took a deep breath and looked down on my flannel pajama pants and my extra-large sweater. With my hair up in a messy tail, I was pretty sure I looked like a gun-toting, gray-eyed witch, brimming with hostility. I’d just scared away my first and only customer.

A top-notch German shepherd like that couldn’t belong to a crook. It was obvious that the owner took excellent care of his dog. If that wasn’t enough, the man got around on crutches. He couldn’t hurt me and, if he tried, I wouldn’t need a shotgun to defend myself. I’d just have to trip him.

God, the things I thought about. Was I going to live in fear forever?

Yes, I would, but living in fear was better than not living at all.


I considered the paper in my hand. My rent was due next week.

“Wait!” I jammed my feet into my weathered rubber boots, gripped the gun in one hand and the umbrella in the other, and rushed out into the rain. I caught up with him as he slammed the door of his truck shut.

“Hey!” I waved the flyer in the air. “I didn’t know that you came for this.” I tapped on the window. “Could you please, like, talk to me…please?”

He rolled his eyes, but the window whirled down. “What now? You want to sue me for stinking up your stoop?”

“Oh, no.” I blushed all the way down to my toes. “I just wanted to say—I’m sorry. I’m…um…skittish, you know? Living out here in the boonies all by myself…”

“I get it.” The man’s glare didn’t waver. “Lots of folks don’t like dogs. Or vets. Sorry I scared you.”

“You didn’t scare me,” I lied. “I love dogs. I was just…being careful, that’s all.”

“Careful?” His mouth twisted into that terrible scowl. “Is that why you’re still toting that thing around, cocked and loaded no less?”

My eyes shifted to the shotgun, still clutched in my hand, and then back to the stranger glaring at me. “Oh.”

“That’s what I thought.” He turned the key on the ignition.


On impulse, I stuck my hand through the window and placed it over his on the wheel. He flinched. I cringed. He was hot, and I mean scalding hot, to my touch. The look he fired in my direction burned just as bad.

“I…I…” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I think you should come back inside.”

“No way,” he said. “I hate the wrong end of the barrel.”

“It didn’t register,” I said. “I didn’t realize that you were a vet.”

He growled like a cranky bear. “I don’t want your damn pity.”

It was a good thing I recognized pride, fury and defiance when I saw it. Otherwise, I might have forgotten the whole thing and fled back to the cottage with my tail between my legs. Instead, I steeled my nerves and stuck out my chin.

“I’m not offering you any pity,” I said. “But I do need to rent out a room. So let’s start over. Okay? I’m Lia.”

“Lia?” He lifted his cap and scratched his head. His eyebrows drew close together in a frown that deepened the two little vertical lines above his nose. “Have we met before?”

“Not in this lifetime.”

He let out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t think I’m the kind of tenant you were looking for.”

“You might be right about that,” I said. “You’re grouchy and we didn’t exactly get off to a good start. But right now, I’m offering you a cup of coffee. So follow me. If your references check, if you’re not a serial killer or wanted by the FBI, then we’ll talk.”

The dog barked and, stepping over his owner, stuck his huge muzzle out the window and licked my face.

“Come on, boy.” I opened the door. The German shepherd bounced out of the truck, running around me in an explosion of energy. I petted him as he loped beside me on the way to the cottage.

“Neil!” the man shouted. “You traitor. Come back right this minute!”

Neil sat on his hind legs halfway between the house and the truck and woofed.

“See?” I said. “Even your dog wants you to come in.”

The man slapped the wheel and cursed some more. Oh, Lord. He was stubborn. All that anger stiffened my shoulders and churned up my belly. Did I really want a bundle of rage as a tenant?

But Neil wasn’t moving either. This was a war of wills if I’d ever seen one. The umbrella sprang a leak so I got out of the rain, set it on the porch to dry and wiped my feet on the mat. I brought the shotgun into the kitchen and settled it on the counter for easy access. Better safe than sorry. I prayed that my instincts were right on this one.

The German shepherd trotted into the foyer, ears forward, mouth agape and long tongue lolling. He pawed at me, licked my hand and yapped in a way that sounded a lot like commiseration.

“That’s a surly owner you’ve got there.” I scratched him behind the ears. “He’s lucky to have you, yes, he is. I would have shot him without batting an eyelash, but you? No way. You’re too gorgeous.”

I went into the kitchen, grabbed an old towel and laid it on the floor next to the stove. Neil shook his coat and settled on the towel. I set up the coffeepot as the man shuffled with his crutches into the foyer and hesitated at the threshold. I kept my face blank but my senses on alert.

“You look goddamn comfortable,” he said to the dog, before his gaze zeroed in on me again. “He’s never done this before. Go with a stranger? Never.”

“Don’t take it personally.” I set out a pair of mugs. “Animals like me. I like them too. They’re better than people any day.”

“Amen to that,” he muttered, his glare leaving no doubt that I belonged in his despicable human race category.

“Take a seat.” I gestured toward the kitchen table and placed the clipboard at one end. “Fill that out. Coffee will be ready in a moment.”

He set his jaw at a stubborn angle. Yikes. The guy was nothing if not ornery. Neil got up and pressed his body against his owner’s legs. Bluster aside, the man couldn’t resist the plea in the dog’s eyes. He scratched Neil’s head with unmistakable affection. I took that as a good sign, but even as I went about the kitchen, I kept my eye on the man and the shotgun within reach.

“You’re a pain in the ass, Neil,” the guy said as he took off his leather coat and hung it on the rack. “You’re trained a lot better than that. We’ll give this a try, but I’m telling you, this isn’t going to end well. That gun-toting madwoman is not right in the head.”

“I heard that.” I poured some cream into a dish and stuck it in the microwave, “I’m not right in the head? What about you, Mr. Sourpuss who talks to dogs?”

“Neil isn’t just any dog.” He set the crutches against the wall and winced as he lowered himself into the chair. “He’s got brains. He deserves to be talked to. As to the rest, I’m not the one going about in my pajamas aiming loaded shotguns at people.”

“Sorry,” I said, duly contrite. “I’ve only been up for a bit. I’m a waitress, so I work late. But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do—”

“Jesus Christ.” He stared at the clipboard with open alarm. “How many applicants were you expecting? You do know that the nearest town is Copperhill, population two thousand? You’ve got like ten applications here and each one is five pages long.”

“Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but I’m like the Boy Scouts, always prepared.”

“I can see that.” He glanced at the shotgun before returning his attention to the clipboard.

Hackles down, girl. I forced myself to breathe. He was only making a point. Still, the permanent knot of fear that churned at the center of my being tightened, an irrational impulse I couldn’t always control. It may have won out, if the ancient microwave hadn’t begun to clatter and rattle like my discombobulated, panic-prone brain.

“Come on.” I pounded on the thing. “Please, don’t break down now.”

“Wow.” The man shook his head. “You also talk to microwaves.”

“If it makes any difference, I only beat naughty appliances that want to quit on me.” I pounded some more until the microwave rattled back to life. “Yay.” I kissed the old clunker.

He rolled his eyes, leaving no doubt that he considered me foolish, eccentric, or both. I watched him from the corner of my eye as I finished fixing the coffee. He pulled out his driver’s license and began to write down his information with a shaky hand. After only a few pen strokes, he stopped midline and dug his fist into his thigh.

The lines on his face set with grim determination. He grumbled something under his breath and jotted down a few more lines. I poured a cup of coffee and parked it in front of him. He squinted, clutching the pen with a white-knuckled grip.

“Are you okay?” I said.

“Fine,” he muttered.

“Are you sure?” I said. “You don’t look fine to me.”

The pen snapped between his fingers.

“Christ.” He stared at the pieces in his hand. “This was a stupid idea.” He pushed away from the table. “I…I need to go.”

He faltered as he tried to get up. I moved quickly. I tucked my shoulder beneath his arm to steady him, but he was heavy and I stumbled under his weight.

“Easy, now.” I helped him to sit down again. Ooof. All that heat coming from his body. It enveloped me like a wave of steam. Neil whimpered. The man tried to stand up again, but he couldn’t.

“Give me a sec.” He slumped on the chair. “I’ll go in a moment.”

This man was sick and in a lot of pain, pain he concealed behind a mask of rage and gruff. He sat there, shivering like a penguin stranded on an iceberg, swaying dangerously in the chair. Who was he and why was he so ill?

I picked up the clipboard and read through the application. He’d only gotten far enough to fill out the top part, but the shaky script spelled a familiar name. I straightened. Holy cow. Could it be? I scanned the driver’s license on the table for confirmation.

“Ash?” I studied the man sweating all over my kitchen table. “Are you really Ashton Hunter?”

I’d never met Ashton Hunter, but I’d heard an awful lot about the town’s very own golden boy. I would have never recognized him from the pictures, but looking closely, seeing beyond the nearly healed scar that split his left eyebrow and all that facial hair…yes…I supposed it could be him. Wynona Hunter’s grandson in the flesh, right there before me, sick as a dog and, judging by his terrible pallor, about to throw up.

I got the pail just in time.

He vomited—such a violent explosion. I almost threw up myself. I did okay with animals, but people? I wasn’t so sure.

Man up, girl, this is Wynona Hunter’s grandson getting sick in your kitchen.

Wynona was the reason I had the cottage in the first place, the one person who’d gone all out for me and possibly the only reason why I’d survived on the lam this long. She was also the closest thing to a grandma—or a friend—I’d ever had.

Losing her had torn me to pieces. Her death had deprived me the opportunity to return her incomparable kindnesses. Which was why now, holding on to her beloved Ash as he puked out his liver, the universe was giving me a second chance to pay her back for everything she’d done for me.

To think I’d confused Ashton Hunter for a drifter. Well, at least he was a local, which explained how he knew where to find my cottage. What was he doing here? Why was he looking to rent a room from a stranger so far away from town? And why was he sick?

“Christ,” he mumbled. “This is embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I got a paper towel and wiped his mouth. “Are you really Wynona’s grandson?”

“I am.” He shuddered like a wet dog. “Ash.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m fine,” he said before he heaved again.

“Hold on.” I groped for my cell. “I’ll call the ambulance. It’ll take a little time to get out here, but they’ll come.”

“No ambulance.” He snatched my hand and tightened his fingers around my wrist.

I jumped back, but I couldn’t shake his hold. God, he was strong. Even as he shuddered with fever, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t free my arm.

“Let go.”

I choked on a wave of panic fueled by the perverse memories that ruled my subconscious. My heart rate sped into triple digits. My fight response kicked in and I threw my best punch. With the reflexes of a baseball player, he caught my fist in his other hand.

“Stop it,” I said. “Let me go!”

His stare was cold, unfocused and remote, his face blank. He snarled some harsh words I couldn’t understand. Nothing that I said registered in his expression, that is, until Neil barked, a set of sharp, loud yaps.

Neil’s barks returned Ash to his senses. As if waking up from a dream, his eyes focused first on the dog, then on his hands, gripping my wrists, and finally on my face, surely frozen in a grimace of terror.

“Christ.” He released his hold on me. “Did I hurt you? Jesus, I’m sorry.”

I thrust myself away from him, against the wall. My knees shook like babies’ rattles. My wrists throbbed with the memory of his grip. Steady. Breathe. Cope. I rubbed my wrists and stared at the man before me, trying to squelch the dread churning in my belly. He was really sick, I reminded myself. He couldn’t harm me, not if he was truly Wynona’s grandson, the boy she’d raised, the man she adored.

“I didn’t mean to lose my cool.” He braced his hands on the table and tried to get up but his legs wouldn’t hold him, so he sat down again. “I’m not like that, I swear. I just need my meds.”

It took all I had to rally my wits and reclaim my courage—that, and the tremendous pain I spotted in Ash’s eyes, plus the memory of Wynona Hunter opening her world to me.

“This medicine of yours,” I said, cautiously. “Where is it? Is it in the truck?”

“Duffel bag,” he muttered. “Front seat.”

“Sit tight,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t call the ambulance. Don’t call anybody. I’m not ready, not like this.”

“Okay,” I mumbled, but I wasn’t sure.

Part of me understood what he meant. Wynona had told me that he was super smart, an extraordinary athlete and an officer in the United States Marine Corps. His family had been prominent in the area for several generations. I sensed he didn’t want to be seen weakened and sick by the folks who’d watched him grow up. Still, the other part of me worried.

My best guess was that Ash had been wounded while serving in the military. It made sense. Other than a curt statement from his unit’s commanding officer notifying us that he’d been “out of reach and on assignment” at the time of Wynona’s death four months ago, no one had heard a word from him.

I’d resented him for missing the funeral. Ash had been Wynona’s last living relative. She’d raised him. He’d been the center of her existence. He should have been there. Instead, he was here, now, four months late, in my house, sick and refusing to go to the hospital where he obviously belonged.

What would Wynona do if she was in my shoes?

I put on my coat, slipped on my boots and ran out to the truck. I grabbed the blue bag sporting the Marine Corps seal from the front seat. Neil waited by his owner when I came back, resting his chin on Ash’s lap. Ash sat slumped over the table, forehead leaning on his crossed arms.

I plopped the bag down on the table and rushed to unzip it. My jaw dropped. A jumble of prescription medicines filled the duffel. There must have been twenty different bottles of pills, liquids and injectables in there, all labeled and marked with instructions.

I forced myself to get over the shock. “Which one do you need?”

He lifted his head painfully and groped through the bag, squinting at a bottle. “No, not this one. It liquefies my gut.” He chucked it aside and picked up another bottle. “This one makes me drowsy. This one makes me stupid. This one, I think.”

I twisted off the cap and handed him the two pills indicated on the label.

He washed down the pills with a gulp of coffee and then picked out a pack containing a loaded syringe. “I’m supposed to have this one too. At least that’s what I think they said.”

He fumbled with his belt. For a sick guy, he moved swiftly. Leaning to one side and then the other, he dropped his pants, ripped the syringe out of the sterile pack and without so much as a word, stabbed it into his thigh and pushed down on the plunger.

A hiss escaped between his clenched teeth. “Motherfucker burns.”

I stared in horror as the veins in his neck bulged. My eyes shifted between the wicked syringe, dispensing its load of liquid fire, his muscular thighs, thick as tree trunks, and the bandage wrapped around his left calf. The ripe smell I’d detected earlier came from that bandage. Mother of God. I was no doctor, but Wynona’s grandson was clearly sick with a full-fledged infection.

He dropped the empty syringe in the bag and pushed himself to his feet. “Let’s go, Neil.”

“You can’t leave.”

“Why not?” He wavered on his feet but managed to pull up his pants and buckle his belt.

“You can’t drive like this.”

“Sure I can,” he said. “And I did.”

He slung the bag over his shoulder, gripped his crutches and, with Neil at his heels, shuffled to the coat stand. How long had he been running around like this?

“But…” I didn’t know what to say. “What about the room?”

He grabbed his jacket and sneered. “You don’t want to rent me a room any more than you want me to puke all over your damn kitchen again.”

“Well…” I gulped. “I’d prefer it if you kept your breakfast to yourself, but…um…you did say you were looking for peace and quiet. So if you want the room, you can have it.”

His blue eyes lasered through my brain, his gaze dulled with pain but alert all the same. This guy wouldn’t accept help from me, from anybody. He would get in that truck, pass out from the fever and kill himself—and his dog—in the process.

He more or less growled. “Why the hell would you want to rent me a room when that upturned nose of yours finds my stink so offensive?”

I fingered my nose, a little self-conscious. “I knew your grandmother. Wynona.”

“You knew her?” He frowned, a familiar gesture now. “How?”

“She—um—she helped me when I first arrived in Copperhill.” I measured my words carefully. “She took me under her wing, found me this place to live and helped me get a job. She was the kindest, most loving person I’ve ever met.”

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. “That she was.”

I had a moment of hope that he would reason with me, but then the grim expression reclaimed his face and he clutched the crutches with new resolve.

“Nona is dead.” His eyes darkened to indigo. “I don’t need help from you or from anyone else. Neil and I, we can take care of ourselves. So get the hell out of my way.”

I had to make a conscious effort to overcome my fears and differentiate violence from desperation, pain from danger. Helping Ash was a bad idea, but could I really let him leave in this condition, knowing that he had no place to go to and no family to take care of him?

“Your grandma and I were good friends,” I said, against my best judgment. “She told me lots of stories about you. And she gave me this.”

I pulled out the chain buried beneath my sweater and showed him the pendant I wore around my neck. I flinched when he reached out, but I got hold of my fear before he noticed. His square-tipped fingers closed over the pendant, a highly polished obsidian crystal mounted on a silver frame. His eyes narrowed on the stylized frog skeleton carved in the center of the stone. It had the look of an ancient fossil, but it was actually one of Wynona’s edgiest designs.

“Damn.” His broken eyebrow rose in surprise. “She gave this to you?”

I nodded, all too aware of his proximity as he leaned in closer to examine the pendant. A wave of intense, metallic-scented heat radiated from him. His pain-sharpened breaths came out in blustery bursts.

“Courage,” I mumbled.

“What?” he said.

“Wynona told me that obsidian was the stone of courage.” I rallied. “She told me it would balance and restore, calm and soothe.”

“Lia.” His eyes narrowed. “Now I remember. Nona emailed me. About you. You took care of her when she broke her hip last year.”

“It was the least I could do.”

He took off his cap and raked his hair with his fingers. “Damn meds. They muddle my brain. But I know who you are now.”

“Will you stay?”

His brows clashed over his nose. “I don’t need you to feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t, but I think your grandmother would have liked it if you stayed, and I need to pay my rent.”


That last bit was the type of rationale I could sell to the proud and the stubborn.

The meds were kicking in. Ash’s eyelids drooped and his legs wobbled. His gaunt complexion matched his nickname. He looked like one of those giant lodgepole pines infected with beetles, colorless and brittle, swaying in the wind and about to topple over.

His words came out slow and slurred. “The house burned down.”

I swallowed hard. “I remember.”

“She was in there.”

I shivered inside.

“I was in goddamn Afghanistan.”

I reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “There was nothing you could’ve done.”

He tensed beneath my touch like a feral cat, but he didn’t pull back. He stared at my hand with an odd expression on his face, as if he expected me to recoil in horror, as if he hadn’t been touched with kindness in a long time.

“I think Wynona would’ve really liked it if you stayed with me,” I said. “Let’s do this, for her, at least while you get your act together?”

He fingered the pendant once again. “I don’t know.”

“You must have had a really good reason to come back, even if you don’t feel so good.”

“The property,” he mumbled, thumbing the stone. “I have to deal with that. This place is close. It’s nice here. Not so many people around. Besides…” His stare drifted out the window. “I grew up on that lake. I like looking at it.”

“I do too,” I said. “It’s peaceful and beautiful. Wynona told me that the two of you loved to hike around it.”

“She did?”

I nodded and held my breath. Maybe he would go along with my suggestion. Or maybe I was out of my freaking mind. His presence spelled only trouble for me. My life didn’t have room for complications or mistakes. If he stayed, I’d have to worry about his safety on top of mine.

If all of that wasn’t enough, he came across as proud, stubborn and bitter. He scared me, especially when he got angry. It would be so much easier if he just moved along. If I was smart, I’d let him leave in his fancy truck and be done with it. But how could I let Wynona’s grandson walk out when he needed help?

It was a bad idea. It was a dangerous idea, and reckless. I opened my mouth to send him on his way, but what came out of my lips had nothing to do with my impeccable logic.

“What’s it going to be?”

Ash hesitated for moment, then he squinted down at me. “You still want me to fill out that application?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“What the hell,” he said. “I do need a place to crash. No one wants dogs. Or screwed-up vets.”

Way to go. I’d just persuaded Ashton Hunter to barge into my carefully conceived, little farce of a life. To my astonishment, he pulled out his wallet from his pocket, and, after counting out a few crisp, hundred-dollar bills, pressed them into my hand.

“First, last and deposit,” he said.

It was already spent, but it was more money than I’d seen all month.

Was I doing the right thing? I hoped so. Damage aside, I was basically a decent human being. But kindness was at the heart of catastrophe and evil thrived on good intentions. The danger in my life was very real. If I was going to come through unscathed, I needed to heal him quickly and then send him on his way. But first I had to think of a way of getting him up the stairs.

“Would you like to check out the room?” I said.

“Damn it.” He looked at the steps. “It’s up that way, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know if you can make it.”

Even in his drug-induced stupor, he wasn’t one to pass up a challenge. He tucked the crutches under one arm and, gripping the balustrade, tackled the staircase.

Neil whimpered.

“I know,” I mumbled. “This isn’t going to be easy.”

Ash nearly fainted on the landing, then regained his senses long enough to get his arm over my shoulder and make it to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, where he did faint. I managed to get him gently to the floor. He came to as I filled up the bathtub.

“What the hell?”

“Two choices.” I knelt on the tiles next to him. “Either I take you to the hospital or we get your fever down the old-fashion way.”

He lifted his head from the floor and contemplated the old claw-foot bathtub with trepidation. “No hospital.”

“Okay, then.”

He groaned when I took off his boots. I bit down on my lips and suppressed the grimace that tried to overtake my face. Ouch. His left foot was riddled with scars and swollen like a rotten gourd. He unbuckled his belt and, between the two of us, we managed to lower his pants. The swelling in his foot connected with his lower leg, which was also flushed and inflamed. I helped him to take off his shirt. I tried to keep my eyes averted from the other scars on his body, but they were many and most of them were still raw and red. My God. He’d been seriously injured.

He hunched over his arms, hugging himself, shaking uncontrollably, glowering at me through lidded eyes. He snapped when I tried to loosen the bandage around his calf.

“Forget this.”

He heaved himself from the floor to the toilet and from the toilet to the tub and, perching his calf on the ledge, slid into the bath, groaning as he immersed the bulk of his body in the tub, shivering nonstop. A tide of displaced water swelled and spilled over the edges, splashing on the floor and drenching my feet. Within moments, his teeth began to chatter.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call the ambulance?”

“Sure as shit.”

“I could drive you to the hospital or call the sheriff for help.”

He snarled. “No.”

A tiger trapped in my bathtub might have been a safer bet. A swipe of his paw could take my head off.

Perhaps this was about more than embarrassment. “Ash,” I said. “Why don’t you want me to take you to the hospital or call the sheriff? Are you in trouble?”

“Yeah,” he mumbled. “I’m in trouble all right.”

“With the law?” I said, fearing his enemies as much as mine.

“No, not with the law,” he muttered before he closed his eyes. “With someone a lot more dangerous than the law.”

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Chapter reveal: ON EDGE, by Gin Price

Title:  ON EDGE

Genre:  Mystery/YA Mystery

Author: Gin Price

Publisher: Poisoned Pencil

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When a serial-killing graffiti artist starts painting your picture all over town…it puts a girl on edge.

Emanuella “LL” Harvey puts her gymnastic skills to good use as a member of her brother’s Parkour group. Freerunning, jumping, and climbing over their corner of the city like it’s an obstacle course gives them something to take pride in and keeps them out of trouble—sort of. But trouble finds LL when she runs into Haze, a talented graffiti artist whose sister Heather was murdered two years before. Freerunner and Writer promptly fall in love, but they decide to hide their relationship till they’re sure it’s the real thing—and until they can find a way to placate LL’s hotheaded brother, who has it in for Haze and his gang. But when portraits of LL—done in Haze’s distinctive style—start popping up on city walls, all hell breaks loose. LL’s brother threatens a gang war, which LL tries to avert by identifying the Writer who is really responsible for the paintings. But when another teen is murdered, it looks bad for Haze, especially when LL discovers that Heather’s killer and her portrait-painter are one and the same.


Gin Price 

Chapter One 

            I wasn’t going to make it.

I had a stitch in my side as widespread as the distance between the Pizza Pie Pagoda and the apartment roof we ran across, so the chances I’d screw up and smack my head against the concrete waiting below were pretty good. The waist of my yoga pants began to unroll, the fabric sliding down with every pump of my aching legs and I had to waste precious energy to pull them up. But if I didn’t, and I stepped on a hem, I’d stumble.

Stumbling would be bad—like lose a tooth on the balance beam the day before prom bad. Already I could feel the quiver of fatigue in my knees signaling my eventual burn out.

“He’s going to catch me, he’s going to catch me,” I chanted between panted breaths.

I spoke more to myself than my companion, but he answered anyway. “Nah, Baby-girl, you got this. Forearm, shoulder, booty, then knee up and walk away. Daily cake.”

I grunted. Easy for him to say. This fiasco made it five consecutive hours of balls-out athletics for me while he was on hour two and only slightly less out of breath than I.

“Get back here!” The voice behind bellowed, growing closer.

I threw off my rhythm a fraction to look behind me. “Damn, he’s on us. How’d he get up here so fast?”

“You realize I had you this time, right?”

Appalled at my friend Surge’s attempt to claim a victory when the game had clearly been called due to weather conditions—it was raining cops—I ran faster, pushing myself beyond my limits toward the roof’s edge. I didn’t care if my pants fell around my ankles mid-flight; I was going to win our little game today—and moon the state of Michigan doing it.

But first, I had to stay out of jail.

“Whoa! Come back.” The cop yelled. He sounded more concerned now than angry.

Too late. There was no coming back once we’d made the decision to run.

“Boosh!” Surge yelled as we both hopped the lip of the roof and leapt across the expanse between the buildings, sprawled out and reaching through the air like action heroes.

Unlike the movies, nothing happened slow enough for me to process the danger of a jump. I committed to the plunge and depended on ingrained knowledge to take over.

The Pizza Pie Pagoda building came up fast. I bent my legs to absorb the shock and let my exhausted body fall forward and to the side. The remaining energy of the landing pushed me over in a Side-Roll, taking the impact from thigh to shoulder until the momentum brought me up to my feet again. Hurray incoming bruise.

Surge’s Roll was swankier than mine, but for once he didn’t gloat. Probably because we didn’t have time.

“You kids all right?” The cop called from the building over.

We didn’t take the time to answer him verbally. We just waved off his concern and continued to ignore his command to give ourselves up. Surge grabbed my elbow and helped me to the side of the pizza place where we were able to hang off the side of the roof and drop down into the alley.

“How you doing?” Surge asked me, once we were making distance between us and the cop.

“Well, I worked my butt off in gymnastics practice, ran around the mall only to get kicked out because of your food court tabletop trick—”

“You’ve got to admit that was swank,” he interrupted. “How was I supposed to know they were going to call in the real blue?”

“And now I’ve spent the last ten minutes upgrading from a trespassing ticket to an arrest.”

“Only if we got caught, which we didn’t. So you owe me five bucks.” He grinned at me and I couldn’t help but return it.

“We aren’t off main, yet.” I slapped his extended palm away. “When I’m home and couching you’ll get your five.”

I tugged off my black hoodie as we walked, stuffing it behind a dumpster to come back for later. We knew the drill. You didn’t walk around wearing the same colored clothes after a cop was running you down. The next corner you turned would probably have you stuffed in a squad car before the first lie left your mouth. Changing shirts wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Besides, with my hoodie on, most cops mistakenly took me for a guy. I guess they thought girls had better things to do than monkey around the cityscape.

“Damn, there’s the cop,” Surge said.

I looked down the block from where we stood and frowned. He didn’t seem to notice us any more than the other pedestrians, but to be safe, I tugged Surge into The Slow Drip.

The few tables the coffee-shop had inside were up front with a window view, while racks and racks of tee shirts and other gift items created an aisle to the registers in the back. Outside, a few more two-seater tables were full of the loitering public, making blending in a little easier.

“I guess we take a time-out for refreshments,” I said.

Surge paced, looking out the store front with his lips pursed. “He’s going to keep circling and look in here eventually. Not sure stopping was a good idea this time.”

“Hey Surge,” a girl called out from behind us.

I turned and nodded a greeting at Ramona as she chatted Surge up. Dressed in her coffee-pot-shaped apron and teardrop visor-hat, she was clearly working the counter.

Wenda, her best friend and my gymnastics nemesis, walked up and stood next to her. We were all on the same team but no one would know it the way they acted—except Wenda and I were both wearing our Kennedy Gymnastics Team tee shirts.

“Hey guys,” I said, trying to be a beacon of polite through the thick fog of seething hatred. Ramona tried to smile but settled on a grimace. Wenda didn’t even try to hide her nostril-flare face.

“Ramona-girl, you think you could get us out the back of this place?” Surge asked.

Standing on her tiptoes, Wenda leaned up to whisper something in Ramona’s ear while staring at me.


“I can take one of you through,” Ramona started to say.

Surge snorted. “Forget it.”

“No, no.” I knew this was a good opportunity to draw less attention to ourselves. “Surge, you go out the back and I’ll go out the front.” I smiled my second best smile at Wenda, while talking to him. “We’ll meet up at the library and finish what we started earlier.”

His glare at the two girls melted when he turned to me, and I suspected he did that on purpose to show anti-bitchery support. “Ooo. I accept your challenge! I’ll even beat you there.” He winked and then turned to Ramona. “Lead the way, mama.”

With Ramona taking Surge out the back door, Wenda and I were left standing there. “Guess I’ll see you next practice.” I said.

“Oh didn’t you hear? We’re going to do individual practices until coach returns from her vacation.”

Odd. I hadn’t heard, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. Since Regionals and even at practice earlier, I suspected some of the girls were mad at me. Now I had my suspicions confirmed.

“Well, then. See ya at school.”

“Whatever.” She did the hand brush-off and turned her back on me, cutting me down without saying another word.

Shaking my head, I turned and left the coffee shop.

No one had ever looked at me with such hatred before, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I knew gymnastics competition pitted us against each other a lot, and I’d definitely ridden the group hard at Regionals at the end of last season, but it seemed like there was more to her attitude than just rivalry, but whatever. I couldn’t puzzle through her bullshit when I still needed to get a few blocks away to avoid a tour of the city jail.

Losing my concern for Wenda was easy once I was Freerunning again on my way to the Library. No troubles or stressful thoughts stood a chance against the heart-pumping adrenaline rush that was Parkour.

I raced down streets using the objects in my way to increase my pace instead of slow me down. I swung under a metal railing and leaped over its parallel twin. I jumped over a fire hydrant and the three bikes locked on the rack right next to it, all without choking up.

My seamless movements cancelled out Surge’s head start, and as I rounded the corner on the last block to the library, I caught sight of my friend a block to my right.

At the same time, he noticed me.

I heard his laugh across the distance and the challenge within it spurred me on. “Oh you are so gettingshown,” I promised quietly, forcing my legs into motion.

So close, so close! If I could get to the lion statue first, I’d get the prize, but Surge wasn’t going to make it easy on me. We both ran full speed, coming closer to each other and to our destination.

I vaulted over one wide stone railing, Kong-style, with my feet straight out in front, ready to catch me for my landing.

I didn’t expect anyone to be standing there.

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Dying to Tell, by Tj O’Connor

DTT Cover 800 jan 2016 copyTitle:  DYING TO TELL

Genre:  Mystery

Author:  Tj O’Connor

Publisher:  Midnight Ink

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

In Dying to Tell, the latest mystery by award-winning novelist Tj O’Connor, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker—dead detective extraordinaire—is back for the case of a lifetime, or, rather, the afterlifetime.  

A former police detective who now solves mysteries from beyond, Tuck doesn’t appreciate just how perilous the past can be till his wife, Angel, is nearly killed and reclusive banker William Mendelson is found dead in a hidden vault.  Tuck knows there’s more to Mendelson’s murder than decades-old skullduggery. As murderers, thieves, and spies descend on small-town Winchester, Tuck joins up with Angel, old detective partners, and a long-dead grandfather still on an army mission from 1942. With the case unfolding around him, Tuck must confront haunting family secrets and the growing distance between his death and Angel’s life.  The outcome could be a killer of its own, but Tuck is set on solving this case. Dead set.  After all, some things never die…


Dying is as perilous as secrets and lies. Depending, of course, on

who is keeping the secrets and who is telling the lies. Trust me, I’m

in the secrets and lies business—I’m a homicide cop. Well, I was.

Secrets and lies can lead to big problems—like murder—although

it’s not in the secrets or the lies themselves. It’s that someone always

wants to tell. The urge is like an addict needing a fix. You need to

tell—you cannot help it—you have to tell. Sometimes it’s out of

guilt. Sometimes it’s for revenge. Sometimes it’s just spite. No matter,

in the end, someone is always dying to tell.

And then bad things happen.

An auburn-haired beauty with green eyes—eyes that could hypnotize

vampires—walked down the outdoor Old Town Winchester

mall through a dusting of blowing December snow. She stopped

momentarily to adjust her long wool overcoat over her athletic legs

and curvaceous, bumpy body—a good bumpy. She looked around

the mall, twice back from where she’d come, and turned down the

sidewalk to the annex behind the First Bank and Trust of Frederick


County. When she caught sight of me, her smile—one that normally

could charm snakes—looked more like that of a cobra ready to strike.

I ran to catch up.

No, not because I’m obsessed with vampires or snake charmers.

And no, I wasn’t stalking this classy university professor on her way to

some mysterious early morning appointment. She was my wife, but

she was on her way to a mysterious appointment—and I didn’t know

where or why. So, being the former detective I was, I followed her.

“Angel, where you going?”

“To the bank.” She reached the employee entrance door and stopped.

“Why are you following me?”

Silly question. “Because you’re going to the bank at seven in the

morning. It’s closed.”

She checked her watch. “And it’s almost seven thirty.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of banker’s hours? Who do you think is

here this early?”

She rolled her eyes—a signal that my wit or charm had disarmed

her. “I’ll explain later at home.”

“I’ll wait. We can get pancakes.”

“You hate pancakes. What’s wrong with you lately? Are you spying

on me?”

I did hate pancakes, but watching her eat steak and eggs—my

favorite breakfast—was much more painful. “Spying, no. Me?”

“I didn’t think the dead could be so frustrating.”

Oh, did I mention I’m dead? No? I’m Tuck, formerly Detective

Oliver Tucker of the Frederick County Sheriff ’s office. Now I’m just

Tuck to my friends—those living and dead. I was a hotshot homicide

detective before I went investigating noises in my house late

one night. Those noises led someone to put a bullet in my heart.


That was nearly two years ago. And it’s taken me that long to come to

terms with it. Sort of. It helped to catch the bastard who shot me and

put an end to his killing spree. And it helps to have my wife, Angel,

and Hercule, my black Lab, around, too. Dead and gone are two totally

different things. I’m dead, but as Angel and Hercule will tell

you—well, maybe not Hercule, he’s a dog—I’m just not gone.

“Angel, listen, I …”

The steel security door at the employee entrance door burst open

and banged against the brick annex wall. A masked gunman—a tall,

strong-looking figure dressed in dark clothes and the traditional bank

robber’s balaclava—ran from the annex, turned, and fired a shot from

a small revolver. He slipped on the sidewalk, freshly adorned with an

inch of snow, and crashed to the ground. He cursed, jumped to his

feet, and locked eyes on Angel.

“Run, Angel. Run!” I yelled.

Too late.

The gunman scrambled the three yards to us and grabbed Angel

by the arm. “Come here!” He spun her around, pulled her to him

like a shield, and faced the annex doorway.

A bank security guard emerged through the door, gun first.

“Freeze! Let her go!”

The gunman fired two shots in rapid succession. One hit the security

guard and the other slammed safely into the wall two feet beside

him. The guard grunted, staggered back, and went down, striking

his head on a stone flower planter beside the entrance.

“Angel, stay calm,” I said. “I’ll get you out of this.”

“Tuck, help me!”

I dove for the gunman and took two vicious swings trying to free

her. Both blows struck him in the face and neither caused him to


flinch. I struck again—lashed a kick to his knee, a jab to the rib cage.

Two more body blows.


“Angel, fight. You have to fight. I can’t help.”

Angel was not a timid or slight woman and she erupted like a

wildcat, taking the gunman by surprise. She twisted and fought

against his grip and nearly broke free.

“Dammit, lady, stop!” He jammed the revolved to her cheek. “Or


“Tuck,” she cried out, “help me! Tuck …”

Rage boiled over and the explosion started inside me everywhere.

A second later, my fingers tingled and my body burned from

the inside. Seconds were all I had. I lunged forward and struck the

gunman in the throat with the heel of my hand. He staggered back,

relaxing his grip around Angel. I struck two more vicious punches

to his face and followed with a kick to his midsection.

“What the f—” He released her and turned in a circle, his eyes

darting around.

I struck two kidney punches and a sharp kick to the inside of one

leg. He umphed and crumpled sideways down onto one knee. I

crushed him with a two-fisted hammer punch to the back of his neck.

“Run, Angel—go!”

She was only four or five strides from the gunman when he lifted

his revolver and took aim.

A gunshot split the air from behind us, searing a lightning bolt

through me on its way to the bank robber. It struck him in the upper

arm and spun him sideways. A second shot followed but missed him

by mere inches. The gunman was stunned but regained his footing—

his injury wasn’t stopping him. He staggered back, lifted his


revolver, and pulled off a shot before he ran around the rear of the

bank annex and disappeared.

“Angel?” I spun around. “Are you all right?”

Apparently, she was fine.

A tall, square-jawed, distinguished man in a heavy wool overcoat

stood beside her now. He had one arm around her, speaking slowly to

her—consoling her—and his other arm hung to his side, a black, compact

.45 semiautomatic handgun in his grasp. He looked like a younger

Clooney, but perhaps better looking. I instantly distrusted him.

“I’m fine, Mr. Thorne, really.” Angel slipped from his arm and went

to the security guard lying on the snowy ground beside the annex

door. She moved over him, checked his wounds, and tried to wake

him. “Call an ambulance. He’s been shot and is unconscious.”

Thorne—a man I’d never seen before—pulled a cell phone from

his overcoat pocket. “Right, and the police. Is Conti all right?”

“I’m not sure.” She investigated a small, thin hole over the guard’s

left breast through his blue suit coat. From inside the coat, she pulled

out a paperback book and held it up. “Agatha Christie saved his

life—Murder on the Orient Express. The bullet hit this and didn’t go


I put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her—or perhaps, to

comfort me. The rage had passed, and with it, the last of my connection

to the physical world. “Are you okay, babe? I …”

“I’m fine. Go see if anyone else is hurt inside.” She caught Thorne

eyeing her. “There may be more employees inside, right?”

“Not at this hour, no. Let’s wait on the police.”

No, I wasn’t waiting.


A voice beckoned me into the bank and I followed. It wasn’t a

voice—not really—it was more like someone telegraphing words

into my head: “It isn’t over, kid, follow me.”

The bank annex was dark. The faint morning light was barely

enough to cast more than a dull haze through the lobby windows. I

went through the grand lobby, down a long, dark corridor into the

executive wing. At the end of the corridor were three offices. I stopped

at the suite of William H. Mendelson, Chairman of the Board, First

Bank and Trust of Frederick County—or so said the brass plaque

below the oversized portrait of a silver-haired titan.

The voice from nowhere whispered, “Hurry up, kid. Inside.”

I followed the voice into the pitch-black office and through a

second doorway in the corner of the room—a closet, I thought—

but it was the entrance to a stairwell leading down into more darkness.

Two floors below, in a sub-basement, the stairwell opened to a

wide landing at a heavy steel security gate that looked like a prison

cell door. Beyond the gate was a small anteroom lit by a dim fluorescent

light overhead. The gate was unlocked and open and the anteroom

beyond was empty except for a small metal work table and

two battleship-gray chairs. In the rear of the room was a monstrous,

turn-of-the-century steel vault door—the nineteenth century. To my

surprise, the door was cracked open, and a sliver of eerie light from

inside the vault etched the anteroom wall.

“Inside, Oliver.” The voice was all around me now. “Go inside.”

Oliver? “Who the hell are you?”

“Just go. Quit stalling.”

I turned and found a strange man—a fellow wraith—leaning

against the anteroom wall watching me—not in a casual way, but

trying to appear casual. He had one hand in a pocket of his leather


bomber jacket and he tipped a baseball cap that had a big “W” on it

off his brow with the other.

“Trust me, kid. This isn’t the way it looks.” He threw a chin toward

the vault. “Go on in. I’ve done my part. Now it’s your turn.”

Inside I found the Chairman of the First Bank and Trust of Frederick


William H. Mendelson always reminded me of Lionel Barrymore’s

Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He was a starchy, arrogant

old banker who made rare appearances around town. When he

did, he never spoke, didn’t wave, and never, ever smiled. And to

those who knew him, he was never William or Bill—God, never

Billy, either. He was Mr. Mendelson—or more often, the Chairman.

Like he was Frank Sinatra or something, right?

William sat behind a square steel counting table in the middle of

the vault, facing the door. He was dressed in the same blue doublebreasted

suit he must have worn yesterday—from the smell, he’d

been here a while. A dark blood stain ruined his starched white shirt

and expensive silk tie—the result of a small-caliber bullet hole in his

heart. Both hands rested on the tabletop like he was waiting for a

sandwich—or pancakes—and they were stuck to the blackish gooey

remains of his life.

And hanging in the vault air was the heavy, pungent odor of


The bomber-jacketed man—strangely familiar—said, “Remember,

kid, it’s not what you think.”

“Hello, William,” I said, looking at the murdered chairman. “I’m

Tuck and I’ll be investigating your murder. Perhaps you can tell

me—what should I think?”



Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: ‘Ninety Nine’ by Rocco Lo Bosco

ninety-nine (1)Title: Ninety Nine

Genre: Literary Novel

Author: Rocco Lo Bosco


Publisher: Letters at 3am Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

During the summer of 1963 in Brooklyn, Dante’s family falls into financial ruin after his stepfather borrows money from loan sharks to start his own trucking business. Young Dante has his first love affair, with an older woman, while his stepbrother Bo struggles with murderous impulses over his mother’s abandonment. The brothers become part of the Decatur Street Angels, a wolf pack led by their brilliant cousin who engages them in progressively more dangerous thrills. Four event streams—the problem with the loan sharks, Dante’s affair, Bo’s quest for closure, and the daring exploits of the Angels—converge at summer’s end and result in a haunting tragedy.

Ninety Nine is a fierce coming-of-age story, with tight plotting, interesting characters, and the timeless ingredients of any good piece of fiction—the anguish of change, the agony and ambivalence of love, the exuberance and craziness of youth, and a tragic ending with the whisper of redemption.


  1. Bed on Fire

Even through the curtain of cold rain Bo clearly saw her watching him from the window. Why was she crying anyway? Falling to his knees, he clasped his hands together and sobbed, “Mama!  Please! Let me back in. Please!”

She put her hands over her eyes. Then she shut the window.

He was a bad kid, everyone said so: his aunts and uncles; his fat little grandmother with her tight, white bun and her support stockings rolled down to her swollen ankles; his thick-armed, ugly grandfather who stank of cigars and had the eyes of a snake.

He screamed and yelled and threw things, not because he was mad, but because it was so much fun. He liked to scale the refrigerator like a mountain climber and then leap off the top and land onto the counter. He liked to race through the rooms while pretending he was The Flash, a comic book hero who dressed in a tight red suit and yellow boots and ran so fast he couldn’t even be seen. The Flash had tiny wings on his ears and a yellow lightning bolt wrapped around his waist. Bo once tried to paint a lightning bolt across his chest with black oil paint, but the thick blobs of paint smeared and ran in black rivulets down his body. When he saw the mess he made, he decided to paint his whole body black. His mother became hysterical when she saw what he had done, and it took her hours to remove the paint with olive oil.

He liked to tease his sister, pulling her hair and taking her dollies away, throwing them up into high places where she couldn’t reach them. He stayed up at all hours of the night, turning on the television and watching old movies that he didn’t understand while eating Italian bread and leaving crumbs all over the living room. He sometimes broke stuff for spite and dropped water balloons on people’s heads from the second-story window where he and his sister lived with their mother and grandparents. He’d fling his cereal bowl against the wall when its contents weren’t to his liking. He could howl at the moon like a wolf. But the thing that got him tossed out, it was really bad.

His grandfather had been eating goat cheese and his little sister Angelina wanted a piece of it. She called it “ticky.” “I want some ticky,” she said, reaching up her small dark hand. The old man said she could have it only with bread. But she didn’t want the bread, only the cheese. She became insistent, saying “Give me ticky!” over and over, and she started crying, but that fat slob just kept eating his bread and cheese, drinking his sandy, homemade wine like she wasn’t even in the room. When Angelina grabbed for the cheese, he slapped her so hard she fell down. Then he picked her up and slammed her into a chair, offering her some cheese he had spread on the bread.  When she threw the bread and cheese on the floor, he beat her across her arms, shoulders, and face with his thick, meaty hands. Bo jumped on the old man’s back, and the beating turned on him, much harder, the old man knocking him to the floor and wailing on him with closed fists.  His mother ran into the room to save him, and she and her father began screaming at each other in Sicilian. Bo had a bloody nose and a swollen lip.

About an hour later, when everyone was gathered in the kitchen, he used the big, wooden matches he had stashed in his dresser drawer to set his grandparents’ bed on fire. The fire looked surprisingly beautiful, the flames leaping up from the mattress like hungry tongues, spreading across the bed as if they had been spilled from a bucket of pure fire, long intertwined ropes of flame the color of bright autumn leaves twisting and dancing in the air. Completely entranced, he watched as the fire billowed across the bed, its outer edges licking the air like something alive.  He could see shapes forming in it, faces and beasts and landscapes made of flame momentarily appearing before being sucked back into the roiling blaze. He had turned the bed in which his two rotten grandparents slept into a blazing barge of light, an altar of shimmering incandescence.

When his mother ran into the bedroom and saw the spreading inferno, she yanked at her hair and began screaming incoherently. His grandfather came in behind her and, cursing in Sicilian, pushed his daughter aside and flipped the mattress onto the floor and stomped on the flip side, quickly putting the fire out. Nonetheless, besides the ruined bed, the parquet floor was burned, and the walls of the room were partially covered in black soot. Within the hour his aunt was called to pick up Angelina, and Bobby was put out in a pouring autumn rain with his suitcase to wait for his father.

Every few minutes his mother would come to the closed window and look at him through the blurry glass. The rain became heavier, beginning to flood the streets. She looked like a shadow standing behind the window, her face a dark blurry thing to which he silently mouthed the word “Mommy” each time he saw her.  His suitcase and its contents were thoroughly soaked by the time Valentino pulled up in his blue Ford, breaks screaming and tail lights glowing like red eyes peering through the watery veil. When he saw his Papa, Bo began to wail, half in fear, half in sheer relief.  But Papa’s face was a boiling blur of rage as he tore out of the car. “Get in the car! Hurry! Get in!” he told his teary-eyed son.

Papa ran toward the building and screamed up at the window. “You wretched Butana! How do you throw your own son out in the rain? He’s seven years old! You pig! You whore! You should be slaughtered like a cow!”

She pushed up the window, stuck out her head, and with a face twisted in fury, began shouting back at him in Sicilian. “You take him, you bastard, you pimp, you take him! And Angelina, too! She’s at your sister’s house if you want her. They won’t take your son. Nobody wants any part of him! He set my parents’ bed on fire! On fire!  He’s a criminal, just like you! I don’t want either of them! I’m starting a new life! Without you! Without them!”

In the same dialect he screamed back up at her. “It’s a shame you and your filthy parents weren’t in the bed when it was burning. The three of you aren’t worth the bones and ash that would be left, you ugly disgraciata. If I come up there, I’ll kill you all. I’ll pull your heads off like chickens. You’ll burn in hell for what you’ve done, you whore, you filthy pig, you soulless bitch! You should be gutted, you rotten stronza!”

She leaned halfway out the window, shaking her fists in the air. “Come up here and I’ll stab you to death, you stinking piece of shit!  I never wanted you! I never loved you! I hate you. If I go to hell, I’m sure to meet you there, bending over for Lucifer!”

Her voice pierced the rain like a siren. Bo had not gotten in the car. He stood next to it, his soggy suitcase beside him with his mouth opened and his eyes pinned to his mother. His father whirled around and screamed, “Didn’t I tell you to get in the car? Get in the goddamn car right now!”

When his father turned back to face his mother, she threw a potted plant out the window. It missed Val’s head by inches and smashed against the rain soaked sidewalk, scattering its dirt like ash among the broken shards and sodden green leaves. Val bit the middle knuckle of his forefinger so hard that he drew blood, and then he kicked at her front door, over and over, splintering it and stopping only after he had really hurt his foot. Still exploding in volcanic fury and hopping around like a madman, he punched the garbage pails, knocking them over and scattering trash in the downpour. He ran in circles, punching the air and howling while she screamed down curses from the window and threatened to call the cops. It looked to Bo like Papa was dancing barefoot on thumbtacks.

“Even a dog doesn’t abandon its puppies!” Val screamed hoarsely, throwing pieces of garbage up at the window. “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, you miserable bitch! Your asshole should be sewn to your mouth, you filthy porka disgraziata!”

Bo’s mother spat out the window, “And I hope they find you someday with your cock and balls stuffed in your mouth! Get lost you bum, and take your bastard son with you! You and your rotten kids should drop dead.” His grandfather finally came to the window and rained down a few curses of his own before he pulled his daughter away.

When Papa got back into the car, he was soaking wet and shaking with such rage that it looked like he was being electrocuted. The whites of his eyes had become red, and when he turned those terrifying, bloodshot peepers on his son, Bo cringed against the door and put his hands over his face.

“What did you do!” he screamed so loudly it hurt Bo’s ears. “Just what did you do this time, you bad, bad boy!”

Bo clenched his eyes shut and waited for the rain of blows. He heard the sound of the rain pounding against the car and the streets outside. Nothing else. Finally he opened his eyes and saw his father with his hands clenching the steering wheel and his head down between them. It was the first time he saw his Papa cry.


Val told Bo he had to put him in a place for a little while, a good place, where sisters and brothers watched over little boys until their parents could take them back. He told Bo not to cry, gently chiding him for starting the fire. “If you didn’t burn your grandparents’ bed, I’d have more time. But don’t cry, it’s only for a little while. Everything will be okay. Don’t be afraid.”

“What kind of place is it, Papa?’

“I told you, it’s a place for boys. It’s a Catholic place, Saint Joseph’s Home.”

The name sent a small ray of heat into the ice spreading in Bo’s gut. However large or small, every statue of Saint Joseph that he’d ever seen in a church or on a house altar depicted a kindly man. Saint Joseph was a good saint and so the home had to be good too.

“Where is it?”

“It’s in Watertown.”

Watertown. He was going to a place with lots of water. “Where’s Angelina going?”

Papa glanced at him, then looked away. “Staying with Aunt Alba and Uncle Santos.”

“Why can’t I stay with them too?”

“Bobby, people don’t like taking care of someone else’s kids. You and Angelina together would just be too much.”

“What about Aunt Conchetta and Uncle Carmine?”

“We hardly talk. I can’t really ask them for a favor.”

“Why can’t I live with you, Papa?”

The old man hissed out a long sigh. “I work all day. Who would take care of you? I’ve got to get a new life. It’ll take some time. But eventually we’ll all be together, the three of us. You have to be patient.”

“When can I come back?”

“I don’t know, Bobby. Maybe several months.

“How much is several?

“Roberto, please! Not now, okay?”




Categories: literary fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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