Author Archives: thedarkphantom

Honolulu Heat, by Rosemary and Larry Mild

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Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea

By Rosemary and Larry Mild

(ISBN 978-0-9905472-3-5, Trade Paper and e-Book, 298 pages, $14.95)

Websitehttp://magicile.com/

Find out more on Amazon

Honolulu Heat, Between the Mountains and the Great Sea—the long-awaited sequel to Cry Ohana—brings back the same Hawaii families that readers so warmly embraced. They confront fierce torments, take on exotic challenges, and find new loves.

Leilani and Alex Wong anguish over son Noah, an idealistic teenager who teeters on both sides of the law. He meets Nina Portfia, his dream girl, and they unwittingly share horrific secrets. Facing a murder charge, Noah flees and finds himself immersed in a bloody feud between a Chinatown protection racketeer and a crimeland don who, ironically, is Nina’s father.

Violence targets innocent real estate agents, a Porsche Boxster Spyder, a stolen locket, a petty thief, and an odd pair on a freighter to Southeast Asia. Two mob leaders and the police are pursuing Noah. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, only the boy can unlock his own freedom and bring peace to his family—and Honolulu’s Chinatown.

Chapter 1

Wind and Water

MAN AND NATURE coexist in a not-so-delicate balance, each pushing, and more often punishing, the other. Beautiful, brilliant, respectful in one moment. Violent, vengeful, destructive in the next. The forces engage and recede. A victor emerges in the ongoing skirmish and then relinquishes the laurels——so true on the tiny Garden Isle of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The moment is 11:34 a.m. on the eleventh of September 1992, a Friday.

Alex Wong, an accountant in his early thirties, entered a few more numbers on the keyboard in his home office. But he couldn’t focus on his client’s quarterly fiscal report. His usual pragmatic head just wasn’t in it today. The radio lulled him with Hawaiian slack-key guitar melodies. He leaned back in his swivel chair. Ah, the joy of working in T-shirt and shorts. Gazing out the picture window opposite his desk, he drank in nature at her most seductive. The ocean lay peaceful with nary a whitecap in sight. The sun glared brazenly. Malia, in her baby bikini, sat under a striped umbrella next to Noah, a neighbor’s son. With shovels and pails, the two-year-olds wallowed joyously in the glistening sand. Leilani, in a broad sun hat, sat in a beach chair, dividing her watchful eye between the toddlers and the half-finished seascape on her canvas. The oils were drying quickly in the late-morning heat.

Alex breathed deeply. It doesn’t get any better than this.

At 11:40 a.m., the guitar music stopped in mid-chord. A female voice announced: ‘‘This is a hurricane alert from the National Weather Service. Hurricane Iniki is currently 160 miles south and

80 miles east of Honolulu with winds up to 135 miles per hour. On its present northwesterly track, it is now likely that the main force of the storm will miss the island of Oahu and the islands of Kauai and Niihau. However, the storm’s path is unpredictable. You are advised to secure whatever you can outdoors, then stay indoors, away from outside walls, and particularly, away from windows and glass doors. The storm center is moving at 100 miles per hour. Its track is constantly shifting and could swing north at any time—–onto a collision course with Kauai. Be aware, this Category Four storm is still gathering strength. Stay tuned for further updates.’’

Alex stopped listening. He shut down the computer and placed the monitor face-down on the floor. Sliding bare feet into his size-thirteen sneakers, he hurried out of the house, striding fast to the beach.

Halting squarely in front of his wife, he announced: ‘‘Lani! We need to get the children inside. Now! I just heard on the radio that Hurricane Iniki may be headed our way. We need to get everything inside or else tied down.’’

Leilani, a tawny-skinned Hawaiian with lush dark hair, didn’t even look up. ‘‘Not to worry, Alex.’’ She applied a brush stroke of cobalt green. ‘‘Right after breakfast the TV said the storm was going to pass between Molokai and Oahu and we might just see a little rain.’’

‘‘All that’s changed now,’’ Alex said. ‘‘The hurricane’s eye is moving fast. It could be only a matter of hours before it hits here.’’ ‘‘Alex, the sky is clear blue. Look! Oh, maybe a few more

clouds over that way. So what? I have to finish this. I’m entering it in a juried show next week.’’

‘‘Lani, why are you being so stubborn? Can’t we at least take Noah home?’’

‘‘There’s nobody home. I told Ilima I’d watch him for the day. They went to a house-warming party up in Princeville.’’ She dabbed a bit of silver-gray over a whitecap.

A rare wave of anger crossed Alex’s unshaven face. ‘‘Damn it, Lani, your painting can wait.’’

Scooping up the toddlers, one in each arm, he carried them squirming into the house. He set them down on Malia’s throw rug on the mauka, mountain, side of her bedroom and drew the Hello Kitty drapes shut. Dragging her twin-size mattress onto the floor, he hefted the two children onto it. They gave him a puzzled look, then decided they must be playing a game, and bounced up and down on the soft mattress.

Leilani was about to mix fresh colors, but paused to reflect. It’s not like Alex to be so short-tempered. As if in response, the incoming clouds began to smother the beach with darkness, night descending in midday. She felt a sudden chill. Sharp gusts whipped up the sand, stinging her ample bare thighs. She gathered up her painting paraphernalia and hurried into the house.

When she appeared in the bedroom doorway, Alex looked up, his face grim. ‘‘It’s about time. Give me a hand with the dresser.’’ He stuck a large folded soji screen in front of the window, and the two of them pushed the dresser in front to hold the screen tight against the drapes. Lani gently laid Malia’s matching Hello Kitty comforter over the children; they had already tired of the jumping game and fallen asleep.

During the next hour, Leilani and Alex silently set to work. They crisscrossed masking tape on all the windows; filled empty milk jugs with water; stacked towels and blankets; brought out flashlights plus candles; and laid everything on the floor along one wall of Malia’s room. It was the safest room in the house, with only one window on an outside wall and that was now covered.

Out on the lanai, the steel sofa glider was too heavy to move. They flopped down on it to rest, both of them breathing hard, as much from tension as the physical effort of rushing around to secure things.

Leilani grabbed her husband’s upper arm. ‘‘Look how fast the clouds are moving. They’re coming straight at us.’’

They left the sliding door behind them open to hear the radio——just in time for a new report. ‘‘We interrupt this program… Attention! This is the latest update on Hurricane Iniki. The hurricane’s eye is headed directly toward the south shore of the island of Kauai at 120 miles per hour. Winds have increased to 145 miles per hour with pulsing gusts to 175.’’

The time was 12:42 p.m. Leilani shuddered. ‘‘The humidity is so heavy you could choke on it.’’

Alex eyed the two coconut palms out back and the Cook Island pine at the side of the house. ‘‘There isn’t a leaf or frond stirring out there, and it’s so darn quiet. Not good, eerie even. The calm before the storm.’’

The words barely out of his mouth, a furious gust bowed the two palms inland in deep deference to Laamaomao, the Hawaiian god of the winds. At 12:55 the humidity yielded to a brief drizzle, then a drenching downpour, sending the couple indoors. First checking on the children, who were still asleep, they watched the storm from the center of the living room. Alex drew a protective arm around his wife’s waist. The rain angled at their home from the south. Sand particles peppered the sliding glass doors with a plinking, piling up at floor level as though demanding to tunnel into the Wongs’ domain.

Alex dared not utter his one optimistic thought, as though saying it aloud might jinx them. They had chosen this sturdy little house soon after their wedding four years ago. The outer walls were cement block covered in stucco; the roof was solidly covered in blue ceramic tiles. Yeah, we just might weather this storm, he thought. Or not.

The wind roared and screeched and bellowed. They heard unfamiliar objects strike the house in a clatter of thuds, clinks, and clanks. Although sunset wasn’t due for almost six hours, darkness followed the storm’s intensity, enveloping them. They retreated to Malia’s bedroom. The toddlers slept on, indifferent. Holding hands, the parents leaned against each other as they sat on the box spring of Malia’s bed. Leilani had spread two blankets across the box springs to make the bed more comfortable.

The picture window in the office gave up first. They heard it implode. Flying shards resounded against the common wall between Malia’s room and the office. Plasterboard was no match for

the angry wind. The wall bowed ever so slightly, then a small crack appeared. Like a malicious living thing, the crack spread vertically a few inches, threatening, but somehow containing itself.

The bay window in the living room surrendered next, unleashing the cyclonic forces, toppling lamps and ripping Leilani’s framed paintings from their picture hooks. Shelves displaying her hand-built ceramics trembled. Glazed pots in glowing colors, comical dogs, cats, and geckos turned into missiles, hurtled against the remaining walls and windows——until there were no windows and no art works left to be destroyed.

Alex and Leilani knew from the clatter in the kitchen, beyond the opposite wall, that the winds had attacked from yet another direction——sounds of cabinet doors slamming open against their frames. Thumps and thuds as the wind became a giant sweeping hand across the countertops, littering the floor.

They heard an elongated groan ending in a loud thump outside. Leilani screamed as she sensed it was the massive ironwood tree next to their driveway crashing down——hoping it wasn’t crunching her new Toyota Corolla. It was 2:05 p.m. The blunt force of the storm was upon them.

Another ten minutes passed and the electricity failed. Alex lit one of the candles and heated its opposite end with the match, so it would stick to the bottom of a water glass. This he set atop the dresser and sank back down on the bed next to his wife. He took her hand in his and squeezed it whenever he sensed her quivering responses to what they were hearing. An ear-splitting crash resounded at the opposite end of the house, followed by the clatter of loosened roof tiles falling onto the cement driveway for several seconds afterward. She began to shake. Even the candlelight shivered, creating eerie dancing shadows in the room.

‘‘The avocado tree must have fallen on the master bedroom side of the house,’’ he calmly offered, so as not to upset Leilani.

‘‘Mommy, mommy!’’ The wailing, frantic cry jolted them. Noah thrashed about on the mattress in the middle of the floor. ‘‘I want my mommy!’’ he screamed.

‘‘Maybe the crashing tree woke him,’’ said Leilani.

Alex picked Noah up, cradling him. ‘‘You’ll see Mommy soon,’’ he said in a soothing voice. But the little boy refused to be comforted. His chubby body heaved and struggled as he sobbed. Alex steadfastly kept rocking, until Noah, exhausted from his own protests, nuzzled silently against Alex’s chest.

Leilani’s watch said 3:50 when Malia awoke with a whine and toddled over to her mother, arms raised, to be picked up. Leilani pulled her in and held her close, not able to speak for fear her own anxiety would be contagious and frighten her baby girl.

Minutes later the ruckus and howling winds outside the house ceased, and all they could hear was the persistent beat of the rain. Then, surprisingly, even that disappeared. It was as though nature had flipped a switch and turned the storm off.

Is the storm over or are we merely stalled in the hurricane’s eye? Alex wondered. He had to venture a peek outside and see what was going on. He set Noah down on the mattress and handed him a stuffed teddy bear; the boy seemed content enough, at least for the moment. Selecting the one Maglite from the group of flashlights, he looked across at his wife.

‘‘All quiet. It must be the eye of the storm.’’ He cautiously opened the bedroom door and peeked out into the living room, strewn with sand and debris. He stepped out, closing the door behind him.

‘‘Be careful and don’t go too far from us,’’ Leilani called out to him.

Switching on the Maglite, Alex stepped into what had been their lovingly arranged and organized living room. The irony of it. Weak sunshine illuminated what now looked like a city dump, covered with wet sand and puddles of water. Pieces of Leilani’s artwork amassed and embedded against the inland wall; the two upholstered wing chairs on their sides; the TV set smashed on its belly; end tables overturned with legs broken. Huge shards of bay window glass stuck or lay everywhere.

Glancing through the void where the sliding doors should have been, Alex saw sunlight overhead, but black clouds still blanketed the sky elsewhere. The lanai no longer had its wood-slatted roof. The air was soundless with the exception of water dripping everywhere. They had certainly entered the eye of the storm. Feeling his way to the kitchen, his sneakers immediately met up with the storm’s clutter. He pushed all the cabinet doors shut, but not before noting that boxes and cans of food inside somehow had stayed in place; and luckily, their wooden table had remained upright. From the kitchen he crossed the living room to inspect the master bedroom. Their tall, full avocado tree had indeed fallen onto the roof of that room, denting and slightly caving the roof in, but not destroying it.

The hesitant patch of sunlight now surrendered to a shroud of blackness like a moonless nightfall. A distant whine pierced the heavy air once more and grew louder. Palm trees hunched in defeat, their fronds pointing stiffly in unison. Smaller objects were flying again.

Leilani, making sure the toddlers were still asleep, anxiously opened the bedroom door and stepped out. Her brain stubbornly refused to accept the destruction in the living room. A returning Alex wrapped his arm around her shoulders in empty reassurance. He shuffled Leilani back into Malia’s room, shutting the door behind them. Just as they slumped down beside each other on the box spring, her dark eyes filled with tears. He gave her an extra squeeze.

Alex somehow knew this terrible storm wasn’t finished.

Just then, Noah rolled onto his side and moaned. Husband and wife looked at each other, sharing the same feeling of alarm. Where are Noah’s parents? Are they safe? Did the hurricane hit Princeville?

Alex knew it might be days before the electricity was restored. He stood and walked to check if the door was securely closed. When he turned around Leilani was standing and crying.

‘‘Why now?’’ she sobbed, her hands in motion. ‘‘Why, when everything was going our way? Must we always live in fear?

What have we done to anger the gods so much?’’

Alex acknowledged that there were no rational replies to such questions——and he certainly didn’t have to answer to the Hawaiian gods. His wife’s repeated reference to these gods was a cultural, traditional obsession stemming from her grandmother, Tutu Eme, and not religious in nature. But he felt obligated to give comfort anyway. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close once more. Alex Wong, the son of a Japanese mother and Chinese father, was neither superstitious nor religious.

The storm howled and battered away, but there was yet another noise, a repeated and distinctive one.

‘‘Listen, Alex! Someone’s pounding on our front door,’’ said Leilani, slipping out of his embrace and putting her ear to the wall.

‘‘I’ll take a look. Push the door shut after me.’’ He pulled the door ajar and bent almost backward to stay upright against the whirling wind. He labored through the living room, kicking away obstacles that had once made their house a home. He was able to hear an urgent voice through the missing stained-glass window that Leilani had created near the top of their door.

‘‘Please, Alex. Let us in, for God’s sake. We’ve lost our whole roof and need shelter. We’re soaking wet.’’

Alex recognized his neighbor from across the road. ‘‘Just a minute, Jesse, while I get this open.’’ It took all his strength pulling and Jesse pushing to get the front door open. Ellie Duran slipped through first, carrying their swaddled four-month-old infant. As soon as Jesse followed her inside, they allowed the door to slam shut again.

‘‘Wait! Be careful! The power’s out,’’ Alex warned. He switched on his Maglite, concentrating the beam on the debriscovered floor toward Malia’s room. Hunching forward into the wind, he followed them and called to Leilani, ‘‘It’s me and the Durans. They’re going to stay with us.’’

Once everyone was inside, Leilani handed them towels and took the baby from Ellie so the family could dry off. Frightened by the darkness, too confused to babble, Malia and Noah sat wideeyed on the mattress and watched the grownups.

‘‘You folks have one of the only houses in sight with a roof overhead,’’ Jesse said. His voice trembled. ‘‘What a disaster outside.’’ He described the impassable roads strewn with downed trees, abandoned cars, and beach sand piled up in little dunes. ‘‘The Kaleos’ house next door was hit bad, but looks like it survived——sort of.’’

‘‘What about our cars?’’ asked Leilani. ‘‘Did you see what happened?’’

‘‘Sorry Lani, your Corolla is a total loss, but the Cherokee appears to be intact.’’

Alex braved a foray across the living room to the master bedroom to bring back dry clothes——pants, T-shirts, and underwear——for the Durans, with hand towels to turn into diapers.

The howling slowly dissipated. The drenching, driving rains eased, then ceased altogether. It was 7:30 p.m. The storm had finally passed over them. Ellie stayed with the children while the others ventured out to inspect the rest of the house. In the kitchen, Alex worked in the beam of his Maglite.

He found a broom and dustpan and swept up the smashed glass coffeepot and other debris. Next, he lifted the dented toaster-oven and small microwave oven back up to the counter.

The master bedroom had a hole in that corner of the roof where the tree had fallen, but the tree still covered much of the opening. In fact, their king-sized mattress had stayed dry, and much of the bedroom furniture was still intact. But there was no guarantee that the roof wouldn’t cave in entirely from the tree’s sheer weight. Nothing in the living room or dining room appeared salvageable.

‘‘I’ve got a small portable gasoline generator,’’ said Jesse, ‘‘and some heavy-duty tarps in what’s left of my tool shed. Maybe we can at least salvage the food in both our fridges and have a little electricity left over for some light. The tarps can cover some of the holes here. Problem is, they’re probably under a mess of debris right now. Are you willing to tackle this with me?’’

‘‘Let’s go!’’ said Alex.’’ He actually felt buoyed up with the relief of having something useful to do.

The two men had to slog through muddy ponds and climb over tree limbs and house parts just to get to Jesse’s property. There was no sign of the Durans’ roof. The men skirted the three remaining house walls still standing. They found the roof of the tool shed wedged between two trees, with the shed’s corrugated steel walls collapsed inward. Using a pole as a lever, they managed to slide the steel walls out of the way. They found the tarps first and searched for the portable generator next. At last they exposed its red metal exterior.

The generator was too heavy to lift. Even in its carriage it couldn’t be moved; the carriage wheels were too small to be of any use without bogging down in the mud. Jesse made a sled out of a flat piece of steel and some heavy cord. With huge effort and a lot of muscle, they slid the generator onto the makeshift sled and got the rig moving. Jesse was able to retrieve an axe and a saw from the tool shed he’d uncovered earlier. They made quick work of a tree branch that barred their way. The two men dragged the sled across the road to the window outside the Wong kitchen.

Jesse removed the gas cap and discovered the tank empty. No surprise. Alex came to the rescue. He kept a siphon in the trunk of his Jeep Cherokee, along with a gas can. When they were ready to start the generator, Leilani tossed the end of an extension cord out the kitchen window. Alex turned the key. The engine choked. He tried the starter cord. After a dozen hopeless pulls, he surrendered the job to stronger Jesse. Five pulls later, the generator engine took hold. Jesse adjusted the choke and throttle until it ran smoothly. Alex plugged in the extension chord and immediately Leilani yelled out, ‘‘The fridge is running. We’ve got lights! Let’s see if we can rustle up some food.’’

The men did a high five, and Jesse said, ‘‘Let’s cover the hole in your master bedroom roof next, pal, then I’ll be ready to call it quits for the night.’’ Hacking away at two large roots, the avocado tree soon slipped away from the roof and fell to the ground.

Using a tree branch, they poled up and draped one of the tarps over a corner of the bedroom roof. Standing on the front window sill, Alex stapled the tarp to a sloping beam and repeated the stapling from the window on the side of the house.

The families huddled up to the kitchen table, children on laps, Ellie nursing the baby. At 9 p.m. they devoured left-over chicken with rice and wilted, warmish salad.

But Leilani was merely keeping up a brave front. She’d already made up her mind. No matter how much repairing and rebuilding they could do to their dear little house, it would never be enough. She wasn’t going to live each day in anguished suspense, fearing another hurricane. She knew that every time high winds or heavy rain assaulted their vulnerable island, she would feel a sense of doom——that maybe next time they wouldn’t be so lucky. She hadn’t graduated with honors from the University of California at Berkeley to spend her life under a cloud of anxiety——from weather they couldn’t control or vengeful gods they couldn’t appease.

She’d wait a few days to break that news to Alex. For sure, they would go back to Oahu. Of course, they’d wait for little Noah’s parents. Leilani’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. He was still whimpering for his mommy.

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On the Spotlight: ‘Burning Ridge,’ by Margaret Mizushima

Burning Ridge cover

NameMargaret Mizushima 

Book TitleBurning Ridge: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Featuring Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, Burning Ridge by critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima is just the treat for fans of Alex Kava.

On a rugged Colorado mountain ridge, Mattie Cobb and her police dog partner Robo make a grisly discovery―and become the targets of a ruthless killer.

Colorado’s Redstone Ridge is a place of extraordinary beauty, but this rugged mountain wilderness harbors a horrifying secret. When a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave on the ridge, officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation. But this is no ordinary crime―and it soon becomes clear that Mattie has a close personal connection to the dead man.

Joined by local veterinarian Cole Walker, the pair scours the mountaintop for evidence and makes another gruesome discovery: the skeletonized remains of two adults and a child. And then, the unthinkable happens. Could Mattie become the next victim in the murderer’s deadly game?

A deranged killer torments Mattie with a litany of dark secrets that call into question her very identity. As a towering blaze races across the ridge, Cole and Robo search desperately for her―but time is running out in Margaret Mizushima’s fourth spine-tingling Timber Creek K-9 mystery, Burning Ridge.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the critically acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. Her books have garnered a Reader’s Favorite gold medal and have been listed as finalists in the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, the Colorado Book Awards, and the International Book Awards. Margaret serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and she lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, on Instagram at margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Find out more on Amazon

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Excerpt reveal: ‘Claire’s Last Secret,’ by Marty Ambrose

Claire Last Secret CoverGenre: Historical Fiction

Author: Marty Ambrose

Website:  https://www.martyambrose.com/

Publisher: Severn House

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

1873, Florence. Claire Clairmont, the last survivor of the haunted summer of 1816 Lord Byron/Mary Shelley circle, is living out her final years in genteel poverty.  The appearance of British tourist, William Michael Rossetti, brings Claire hope that she may be able to sell some of her memorabilia to earn enough cash to support her and her niece, Paula.  But Rossetti’s presence in Florence heralds a cycle of events that links the summer of 1816—when Claire conceived an ill-fated child with Lord Byron, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and when four tempestuous lives collided—to a tragic death. As Claire begins to unravel the truth, she must go back to that summer of passion to discover the identity of her old enemy.

EXCERPT

Florence, Italy, 1873

                  His letter came just at the point when I thought death was my only option.

                  Poverty had been creeping in like a shadow edging out the light, and it was only a matter of time before it engulfed what was left of my life and snuffed out any prospect that fate would offer another way. I could no longer envision a road that led to some lost, yet cherished land of dreams – especially when I was too old to pick up and start over on some adventure that would lead me into a new dawn.

                  It was too late for that.

                  Those were the youthful regions where fortune bestowed some great, golden happiness on anyone who had the courage to live with soulful purpose – hardly the reality of my present circumstances.

                  Yet, the letter brought a glimmer of hope . . . a wild fancy that I might, even at this late stage, turn things around. What I did not realize was that it would take me back to the early days and expose a labyrinth of deception and lies that had altered the course of my existence.

                  But I digress . . .

                  I must start at the beginning because the echoes of one’s origin never fade to silence, no matter how much it is desired. I did not know my own origin because I never knew my father – not that I needed to learn his identity, but it would have centered my world at the very least with a beginning point. A compass for my life. A moment when I first became aware that I drew breath.

                  Sadly, it never happened.

                  My last name is Clairmont. A melodic sobriquet to be sure, but my mother simply chose the name like someone would choose a ribbon for the bodice of a dress:  – it seemed appealing and created just the right effect of class and respectability – but it was for show, nonetheless, since she never married a man named Clairmont. Not that I particularly minded her choice. I love showiness. In my opinion, modesty in a woman is highly overrated, though no one in my family agreed with me. But I, Clara Mary Jane Clairmont, always went my own way – even without the compass – and I am more proud of that than anything else in my seventy-five years on this earth.

                  Just as I claimed my version of my name: Claire Clairmont.

                  Il mio nome.

                  ‘Aunt Claire, don’t overtax yourself,’ my niece, Paula, said as she strolled into the warm, slightly stuffy room, a cup of my favorite oolong tea in her hand. It was late morning – not terribly hot yet, but by afternoon the midsummer Florentine temperature would soar and everyone would take refuge inside, resting and praying to St Clare of Assisi for a breath of air. My rented apartment faced the Boboli Gardens – a lush, open space on the outskirts of Florence, perched on a hill – that often provided a slight breeze, whispering through the centuries-old cypress trees and hidden grottos.

                  Paula set a delicate blue-and-white patterned china cup on my tea table, already cluttered with letters, books, and an inkwell. ‘You need to move around more, Aunt. Your ankle is starting to swell again, and, if you cannot walk, I will have to call in Raphael to carry you to bed.’ My niece’s voice took on that familiar combination of love and exasperation of the young who are tethered to the old; she cared for me deeply, but I tried her patience as well when I refused to heed her advice, which occurred quite often. I wasn’t ready to give up my independent ways yet.

                  Besides, she would not mind calling our domestico, Raphael; I’d seen the sweet longing in the glances that she cast at him when he was distracted by some task in the kitchen. Paula might be the daughter of my dearly-departed brother, Charles, but she was also my niece, after all. Spinning romantic fantasies around a handsome face was embedded in her nature. Certainly, I had done that a time or two in my life – sometimes finding regret in my impulsive feelings, sometimes not. But always true to my passions.

                  Quickly, I slipped the letter under the stack of books, shifting in my chair and smoothing down my faded blue cotton dress.  I was not ready to share it with her yet.

                  ‘Is that the missive you received this morning?’ she asked absently, leaning down and plumping the delicately embroidered pillow under my sprained ankle, which was propped up on a footstool.

                  ‘Nothing important.’ Assuming an air of nonchalance, I shrugged. ‘Just a letter from one of my many old friends, Edward Trelawny, inquiring as to our well-being.’

                  Paula straightened with a sigh. ‘Do we have any old friends left who have not abandoned us to our state of poverty, except Trelawny?’

                  ‘Thank you, my dear, for pointing that out. I am well aware of our impoverished state of affairs since my last ill-conceived investment in that farm.’ Folding my wrinkled hands in my lap, I echoed her sigh. Investing in my nephew’s farm in Austria was a foolishness that I could ill- afford, but I never could resist helping my family, even though it had pushed me to the brink of bankruptcy.

                  ‘I apologize – that was unkind, Aunt.’ She placed a hand on my forearm, glancing down at me with her dark eyes clouded in guilt.

                  ‘You are forgiven, even though I must remind you that friendships can ebb and flow during the years regardless of one’s financial status – even those who are closest to us can disappoint us.’ Of course, I meant the members of the sacred Byron/Shelley circle of my youth: Byron, the great poet who broke my heart, and Shelley, the husband of my stepsister, Mary, whose brilliance lit my life and whose small annuity protected me in my advanced years. I had loved them all – especially my accomplished and beautiful stepsister, Mary. Even though Mary had created a hideous monster in her novel, Frankenstein, she herself possessed that kind of tranquil loveliness that made everyone gravitate to her.

                  Serenità, as the Italians would say.

                  Unlike me.

                  I could never sit still.

                  I talked incessantly.

                  And I never let my head rule my emotions, which caused me more heartache than I can say. But my life was never dull.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christmas, 2017 068

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marty Ambrose has been a writer most her life, consumed with the world of literature from the time she first read Agatha Christie mysteries and British Romantic poetry.  Marty pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, both in the U.S. and the U.K. so she could teach students at Florida Southwestern State College about the writers that she so admired.  Three decades later, she is still teaching and has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, and Thomas & Mercer. Marty Ambrose lives in Florida with her husband, ex- news anchor Jim McLaughlin.  She plans to travel to Italy in the Fall to research A Shadowed Fate, the next book in the trilogy.

Links to your site and social media:

https://www.martyambrose.com

 https://www.martyambrose.com/blog

https://www.facebook.com/MartyAmbroseMysteryWriterMemoirist1957

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‘Blood and Wisdom” by Verlin Darrow

BloodandWisdom_w12516_750Title:  BLOOD & WISDOM

Genre:  Mystery/PI Novel

Author: Verlin Darrow

Website: www.verlindarrow.com

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: 

When Private Investigator Karl Gatlin takes on Aria Piper’s case, it was no more than a threat—phone calls warning Aria to either “stop doing Satan’s work” or meet an untimely demise.  But a few hours later, a headless John Doe bobs up in the wishing well at Aria’s New Age spiritual center near Santa Cruz.  Aria had ideas about who could be harassing her, but the appearance of a dismembered body makes for a real game changer.  And what Karl Gatlin initially thought was a fairly innocuous case turns out to be anything but.

Dispatching former rugby superstar and Maori friend John Ratu to protect Aria, Karl and his hacker assistant Matt are free to investigate a ruthless pastor, a money launderer on the run, some sketchy members of Aria’s flock, and warring drug gangs.  With his dog Larry as a wingman, Karl uncovers a broad swath of corruption, identity theft, blackmail, and more murders. But nothing is as it seems, and as the investigation heats up, Karl is framed, chased, and forced to dive into the freezing water of the Monterey Bay to escape a sniper.

Against the backdrop of a ticking clock, Karl races to find answers. But more murders only mean more questions—and Karl is forced to make an impossible choice when it turns out Aria’s secret may be the most harrowing of all… 

An intelligent, intense and engaging tale, Blood and Wisdom races from the opening scene to the final page.  Brimming with colorful, multi-dimensional characters, wit, humor, and a taut storyline, Blood and Wisdom is filled with twists, turns, and surprises.  Novelist Verlin Darrow, a practicing psychotherapist, infuses Blood and Wisdom with fascinating details about psychology and metaphysics, and seamlessly blends elements of hardboiled and softboiled detective fiction.   With its original premise, smart plotting, to-die-for redwood-studded coastal Santa Cruz and Big Sur setting, and protagonist like no other, Blood and Wisdom is a pitch-perfect PI novel.

Blood and Wisdom has garnered high advance praise.  According to Richard House, MD, author of Between Now and When, “Darrow has a sense of plot and style that carries the reader forward into that special place of anxious expectation, the place where putting the book down is unthinkable. Fascinating.”  C.I. Dennis, author of the Vince Tanzi series, including Tanzi’s Luck, praises Blood and Wisdom for its “great pace, fun characters who you care about, plenty of twists, and narrative personality.”

About the Author:

Verlin Darrow is a psychotherapist who was patted on the head by Einstein, nearly blown up by Mt. St. Helens, survived the 1985 8.0 Mexico City earthquake, and, so far, has successfully weathered numerous internal disasters. He lives with his psychotherapist wife in Northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary.

Connect with Verlin Darrow:

https://www.verlindarrow.com/blog

www.verlindarrow.com

 

EXCERPT

 

“Do you think we still need John?”

“I have no idea. Having a bodyguard was your idea, Karl. But if you’re asking me if I’m enjoying helping him, the answer is very much so.”

“Helping him?”

“Of course. That’s what I do.” Aria pulled her hands apart and then tilted them as though she were holding an invisible beach ball.

Something occurred to me. “Are you helping me, too? I mean, in some weird way besides answering my questions.”

“Did you sleep especially well the night we met? Right now, are you present and invigorated?”

I checked in with myself. I was feeling very alert, and the monkey chatter in my head was noticeably reduced. But the idea of somebody screwing with me without my permission was not okay with me.

“You know,” I said, “there’s something my first clinical supervisor told me. Well, first and last supervisor. Let’s face it, I got canned just a few months later, didn’t I? He told me that unsolicited help is interference.”

“I agree. What you’re experiencing is just the side effect of someone at your stage of spiritual development being exposed to my type of energy field.”

“Like what happened to Larry? Aria, let’s not get too weird. I’ve been tolerant of your beliefs, and I know you think all this is germane to the case, but…” I didn’t care to go further with this. I was likely to say something offensive.

She smiled another sweet, gentle smile. “I’m doing the best I can to minimize whatever would be difficult for you to handle, Karl.”

Larry barked. I glanced at him, and he barked again—more urgently this time. He was hearing something alarming that I couldn’t hear yet.

I stood. “Stay here,” I told Aria. “I mean it.” I didn’t wait to see her response.

Larry and I ran outside and hurtled down the front porch stairs. After a half-dozen steps toward the sound of a powerful motor, I saw it. A humongous silver SUV tore across the meadow, heading straight for us.

I dove to the side, behind a dangerously slim fruit tree. Larry remained on his feet, barking frantically as the truck bore down on him. I pulled my gun and called my dog, and thank God he obeyed. He was by my side in a flash.

Unfortunately, neither of us sensed the man behind us in time. He kicked the pistol out of my hand just before Larry took him down, but by then it was too late.

The SUV skidded to a halt, and three men piled out. One of them was the guy who’d stopped me on the road—the driver’s side guy. None of them held a weapon in his hand. They didn’t need them. There were four of them, and I was now unarmed. Presumably, someone was calling this in to the police, but we were out in the boondocks. It might be a while before a car could get to us.

“Larry!’ I called. “Heel!”

I didn’t want him getting hurt. He was astride the big guy on the ground next to me, but he backed off and sat by my side.

Larry’s guy kicked my gun away from me and moved behind us again in case we tried to run. With my knee, that wasn’t an option.

The other three stood directly in front of us now. “We meet again,” the guy with the acne said. “Where’s the woman? Is she in one of these buildings?”

I guess I didn’t answer fast enough. He stepped forward and pistoned a straight right to my gut. Jesus. This guy could punch. I’d tried some amateur boxing when I was young. Nobody had hit that hard—and this guy was a bantamweight at the most. I doubled over, trying not to retch.

“Hit him again,” one of the other men said in Spanish.

Then I heard a primeval bellow—a sound so deep and loud, all of us froze for a moment.

John Ratu sprinted around the corner of the building and tackled the boxer, driving him into the man next to him. Before the other one in front of me could react, John shot out his massive leg and swept the guy’s legs out from under him. In about two seconds, he’d knocked down all three of them.

I turned around. “Attack!” I called to Larry, and he launched himself at the guy behind us. I almost felt sorry for him. I headed for my pistol, which was about fifteen feet to the side of me.

The guy who’d punched me cut me off. He’d scrambled to his feet and eluded a roundhouse kick from John, who was now engaged with the other two attackers.

The man crouched on the balls of his feet, looking like a cross between a boxer and a martial artist. I had no doubt he could beat the crap out of me in a fair fight. It was lucky I didn’t fight fair.

He didn’t either. He pulled a double-edged knife on me and lunged forward, the weapon held low. He was going for my crotch.

I hit the ground and called Larry. We’d practiced this move at the training school we’d attended in New Mexico. With a running start, Larry leapt onto my back and launched himself. He was about head height when he reached our attacker, who was leaning forward. Larry’s open jaws clamped onto the guy’s cheek, and he screamed.

I heard sirens now. I got up, retrieved my gun, and held it on the four men on the ground. Once Larry had disabled his foe, he’d lost interest in the whole attack thing. And it had taken all of a minute for John to dispatch the other two, one of whom wasn’t moving at all.

We waited for the police. After taking all our statements, corroborated by multiple witnesses, they hauled off the thugs and towed away their SUV.

 

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Excerpt Reveal: Frozen, by Christine Amsden

Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married.

When a couple freezes to death on a fifty degree day, Cassie is called in to investigate. The couple ran a daycare out of their home, making preschoolers the key witnesses and even the prime suspects.

Two of those preschoolers are Cassie’s youngest siblings, suggesting conditions at home are worse than she feared. As Cassie struggles to care for her family, she must face the truth about her mother’s slide into depression, which seems to be taking the entire town with it.

Then Cassie, too, is attacked by the supernatural cold. She has to think fast to survive, and her actions cause a rift between her and her husband.

No, life doesn’t end after marriage. All hell can break loose at any time.

Book Links:

Goodreads * Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Apparently, life doesn’t end when you get married. I suppose that’s obvious, but it’s hard to tell from the way Happily Ever After stories dominate our culture. At any rate, marriage seemed like such a solid conclusion to the stories I had to tell that I ended my first four memoirs the day I married Evan Blackwood.

If only I’d known then that all hell was about to break loose.

My name is Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Blackwood, and if you think that’s a mouthful, go ahead and call me Cassie. Most of my friends still do, although I no longer feel unworthy of the full appellation.

To be fair to my younger self, eager to share her journey of self-discovery with the world in the wake of some powerful events, things were quiet for almost two years. More happened to my two best friends than to me during that time. Oh sure, I consulted with the sheriff’s department here and there on cases that mystified them. I also worked with my husband and a dozen others to form and support the White Guard, an organization attempting to unify and protect the magical world. We made some big gains when Matthew was able to convince most of the magical world that his nemesis was using blood magic to control people’s minds – including mine and my husband’s.

It was a sobering moment for us.

But mostly during that time, I grew a baby and took care of her. I always wanted children, maybe because I’m the oldest of nine and having kids around seemed natural.

Anastasia Blackwood turned one in mid-December, right around the time my youngest siblings, Michael and Maya, both turned two. Honestly, I would have preferred to have two separate parties – or even three – to give each child his or her due attention, but my mom wasn’t up to it. She wasn’t up to much anymore, including party planning, so it fell to me and Juliana, seventeen now and pretty much already an adult. The last two years had aged her, as the responsibility for raising Michael and Maya fell heavily upon her shoulders.

The day started normally enough. Juliana, with Michael and Maya in tow, arrived at my place several hours before the party to decorate. My two best friends, Madison and Kaitlin, came to help too, the latter with a one-year-old son of her own. Madison, pregnant but not showing just yet, volunteered to keep the toddlers out of trouble. “For practice,” she said, although we all knew she was doing us a favor. I’d return that favor as soon as she realized how badly moms need breaks sometimes.

Yeah, I know, babies and birthday parties and maybe life really does end when you get married. Or at least loses its sex appeal. Although for the record, I still found Evan as sexy as ever. I mean, the man could drive me to orgasm with a single, magical kiss.

Damn, but it was addictive.

About the Author:

Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which scars the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. In addition to being a writer, she’s a mom and freelance editor.
Social Media Links:

• Website • Newsletter • Blog • Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads • Google+ •

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Chapter reveal: ‘Traveling High and Tripping Hard,’ by Joseph Davida

THTH_final_4Name: Joseph Davida

Book Title: “Traveling High and Tripping Hard”

Genre: Travel Memoir

Publisher: Dark Planet Press

Fine out more on Amazon

Websitewww.josephdavida.com

Traveling High and Tripping Hard is the story of a young man’s quest to find the meaning of life through a series of altered states and high adventures…

After accidentally ingesting a large dose of PCP at eight years old, Joseph Davida had an apocalyptic vision that would change the course of his life forever. Charged with the monumental task of saving the world, he set out on a mission that led him through the jungles of Central America, the pyramids of Egypt, the temples of Kathmandu—and into the deepest recesses of his mind.

For anyone who has ever wanted a glimpse into those strange places that lie somewhere between the darkness and light, hope and despair, and spirituality and madness, Traveling High and Tripping Hard is guaranteed to deliver.

Long Island

I grew up in a small working-class town near the Queens-Nassau county border. Technically, it was an incorporated village. Even though it was less than twenty miles from Manhattan, the town maintained strict zoning laws that were designed to keep the modern world at bay. There were no fast-food chains, franchises, or department stores. The main road had a strip of mom-and-pop-owned businesses that provided all of the essentials. In theory, you could live out your entire life without ever having to leave. There were a few small restaurants and bars…a butcher, a baker, and a grocery store. There was a post office, a pharmacy, and a bank. An old two-screen movie theater and a bowling alley. The town had its own police department, and even the last operational farm in Nassau County. Everyone knew everyone else. All the kids referred to the town as Mayberry.

I lived on a street called Wright Avenue. Every day, I walked to and from school with a kid named Jay who lived a few doors down from me. He was my best-friend-slash-arch-enemy. After school, we usually stopped at one of the candy stores that we passed on our walk back home. Either Lenny’s or Mike’s Lotto. Both places were pretty much unchanged since the 1940s. They each had racks of newspapers and magazines up against the walls, candy displays, and cartons of cigarettes on the shelves behind the register. They also both had long wooden counters equipped with old-fashioned soda fountains and round spinning seats bolted to the floor.

One afternoon in 1984, Jay and I decided to stop at Mike’s. The store had recently acquired the new Elevator Action arcade game, and we were anxious to play it. After putting a quarter in the machine, we took turns sharing lives, then walked over to the counter to buy candy with whatever coins we had left. Since you could get more candy by buying the pieces individually, I usually bought some Dubble Bubble bubblegum and probably a few loose Peanut Chews or Mary Janes. The bubblegum came wrapped in waxy pieces of paper, the ends twisted like a Tootsie Roll. I vaguely remember that one of the pieces had an abnormal amount of bitter-tasting powdered sugar (that’s supposed to keep the gum from sticking to the paper), but after over thirty years it’s hard to say for sure.

After inhaling our candy, we rushed home to pick up our cleats and gloves for Little League practice. As we walked over to the field behind the junior high school, I began to notice that things were starting to look a little strange. Everything seemed to be taking on unusually vivid colors, and normally inanimate objects seemed to be pulsating with energy. By the time I made it to the baseball diamond, practice was already underway and I was rushed onto the outfield with my mitt. I don’t know how long I was out there, but I remember staring at the trees in the distance…and for some reason, the leaves appeared to be spinning.

The next thing I knew, I was up at bat. Justin Calabria, who I didn’t like at all, was winding up to throw out a pitch. As I watched the ball come flying in my direction, I thought I detected something sinister…something about the way it whizzed past me over the plate. But it wasn’t until I saw the next pitch coming that I knew for sure. Somehow, in midair, that ball transformed into a missile…kind of like the ones Wile E. Coyote buys from the Acme Corporation. And then my suspicions were confirmed: Justin Calabria was trying to kill me. Then, as if a switch went off, something in me snapped, and I realized that I had to destroy him—before he could destroy me.

I started running toward the mound with the bat clenched tightly in my hands, and chased him into the outfield with the sole intent of smashing in his face! When the coaches realized what I was trying to do, they chased after me and eventually began to close in from all sides. Every time they tried to get close, I swung my bat at them with all the force I could possibly exert.

My father was an assistant coach for the team and he would sometimes show up a little late for weekday practices. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that his car had just pulled into the parking lot, and I heard Coach Evans yell out to him, “Hey Al, your son has gone fuckin’ crazy!” I froze as I saw my dad running toward me. He slowed down as he got close, and the other coaches stepped back. As he approached, my fear started to melt away. He pulled the aluminum bat out of my hands, and kneeled down and grabbed me by the shoulders. He looked directly into my eyes and could apparently see that my pupils were completely dilated.

He said, “He hasn’t gone crazy…he’s tripping his fucking brains out.”

At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I was only eight years old.

 

I don’t remember everything that happened after leaving the baseball field, but I know at some point after getting home my father had me piss into a cup. He sent my urine out with one of our neighbors, who worked as a lab technician at the local hospital. Fortunately, after having his own experiences with psychedelics in the 1960s, my dad was smart enough to realize that taking me to the hospital might not be the best idea.

After the lab analysis was completed, a doctor called the house and told my parents that I had tested positive for PCP. While no one had any idea where it had come from, the doctor said that I’d somehow ingested a very large dose…enough to potentially cause a psychotic breakdown in a full-grown adult. The only thing they could possibly do was give me a large shot of Thorazine, but apparently the amount needed to counter my hallucinations came with its own set of risks. In some kind of bizarre experiment, my dad decided the best thing he could do was let me ride it out.

 

When night fell, my father took me up to my room and put me to bed. After tucking me in, he turned off the light and told me to try to sleep. It wasn’t long after he left the room that things began to get really weird. First, the walls burst into flames, and then the floor started oozing blood and lava. I looked up and noticed demonic bat-like creatures flying around the ceiling. I knew where I was…and it was hell. Suddenly, a shadowy figure started rising out of the molten ground, and began to materialize right in front of me. He looked straight at me and I asked him who he was.

“Who are you?” I said.

Without making a sound, the creature spoke directly into my brain, answering in German—which, to my surprise, I could understand perfectly: ”You know who I am.

He was right. I did know who he was.

Then I asked him why I was there and again he answered me telepathically: “You know why you are here…”

“No,” I replied. “I don’t!”

But I did know, I thought. It was because I was evil.

The figure started laughing. “Yes, that is right! You are evil!”

I asked what he wanted from me, and the fiend quickly morphed into a form that looked familiar. It was Hitler. I knew it was him because both of my grandfathers had been in the war.

He was smiling, and then he answered me: “You know what we want you for. You were chosen! You are going to finish my work for me and take over the world!”

“But I’m only eight years old,” I said. “How am I supposed to take over the world?”

Yet even before he could reply, I knew the answer: I had to kill my parents.

 

By the time my father came back into my room to check on me, I had already resigned myself to my terrible fate. I was sitting on my bed in the dark, staring into the infernal abyss, with an open Cub Scout pocketknife in hand. When my dad turned on the light, he could see that some really bad shit was happening.

“Umm… What’s going on, man?”

“Dad. I’m evil. I just spoke with the devil and he told me that I have to kill you and Mom to take over the world.”

Now that I am a parent myself, I can’t even imagine how I would have dealt with a situation like that. But this is why my father was the man. It is almost impossible to fully comprehend how delicate my psyche was at that point, but what my father said was perfect. He told me that not only was I not evil, I was in fact a pretty good kid. He said I was being tested, and only if I gave in and actually killed my mother and him would I become evil. Even in my semi-deranged state of mind, this seemed to make sense.

After seeing how quickly things went south when I’d been left alone, my dad decided not to take any more chances. He asked me to hand him the knife, and then took me downstairs to lie down in his bedroom. For the next few hours, I saw the history of the universe play out before my eyes—from the Big Bang up to the rise of modern civilization. And then, I witnessed what I could only perceive as the future…and it looked grim. The world was at war: cities were burning, children were starving, and entire populations were killing one another. It seemed like the entire planet was possessed by madness. The entire surface of the Earth was either devastated by drought or flooded with water. It was the apocalypse, the end of the world, and I could see that it would happen in my lifetime.

Then there was only death—and everything went dark.

Just when I thought it was finally all over, the room became engulfed in an almost blinding white light. I could hear a sound—a constant layering of notes played by an orchestra of unknown celestial instruments—that climaxed when it reached a perfect chord. And then…I heard a voice. It was the sweetest voice I had ever heard, and it told me that I’d passed my test…that my heart was pure. And then it explained that while everything I’d seen was real, it was not too late. There was still time for things to turn out okay, but there was just one catch…

I had to save the world.

I called out to my father, who was sitting outside the door: “Dad, you were right! An angel came and told me it’s going to be okay!”

I was crying hysterically, but these were tears of joy. The gravity, the weight of my mission was not yet apparent, but at that point it didn’t matter…the nightmare I had been experiencing for fourteen hours was coming to an end. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of relief, and for the moment at least, I knew it was all over. Then, finally, I fell asleep.

 

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The Lubecker by M.J. Joseph

9781614935247-JacketGray_Lubecker COVER.inddNameM. J. Joseph

Book TitleThe Lübecker

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Peppertree Press

The Lubecker explores the dynamics of personal identity and self-knowledge in a thematically braided journey of characters toward a dramatic and unexpected finale. M.J. Joseph achieves this by plunging the reader into a world of parallel and lively narratives drawn into the roiling milieu of European history leading to the onset of World War I. the book also recalls many of Western Literature’s most engaging philosophical and religious challenges and its most memorable and moving human struggles.

Chapter 1

Dr. Tomaso Bettoli looked down at Dr. Sam Yoffey, who was sitting on an old, blackened, scarred, hickory stump, picking with the edge of his left thumb at the black shell of a nut, exploring grooves where the nut’s skin it had lifted away.  The stump had been created some years, ago, after a squall had moved-in from the Bay over the Bluffs and blown the tree down.  Men had hacked at the stump for a while, trying to shape it into something flattened, and their axe bites had left their straight and wedged marks.  There were trees everywhere: hickory, oak, magnolia, all hung with moss swaying in the light breeze stirring from the Bay, below.

 

“Sam, you can’t save them all; premature births are all too common, here on the Hill.  The women don’t let anyone know they’re in trouble, until it’s too late; some are afraid of their husbands, some rely on midwives.  Who, knows? said Bettoli. Dr. Bettoli was from New Jersey, and having served his commitment with the Navy, left his last station in the adjoining town, to serve as a physician in the town across the Bayou from the Hill.  He was only able to visit patients on the Hill once a week: far too seldom.  He had let it be known through medical schools, that he was looking for a partner and one day, Samuel Yoffey, late of South Carolina, had arrived at his door. Sam wore the same clothes he was wearing, today: khaki pants, white cotton shirt with two chest pockets and cowhide brogans; all items procured from his father’s dry goods and surplus store.   “I’ll leave you, now; maybe old Jones still has my boat unrented.”  And, so, Bettoli left the tired, saddened young man muttering to himself: “It’s 1886; might as well be 1786, as far as these poor women are concerned,” to walk down the Hill to the boathouse and, hopefully, rent a boat to row back to town, to rest in his house, atop Town Hill.

 

Sam looked out over the Bay, silver and calm, with sea birds wandering from the Hill’s shore out to the white sand island, the spit that enfolded the harbor.   He lifted himself from the stump; it had been a long night, and the peace he’d enjoyed with the hickory nut was to be left behind for a while.  He walked back to the little cottage, passing unwashed, children of all ages, a parade of dirty bare feet and mostly blond and light-eyed heads. As he entered the house, he went into the small, mournful room and accepted the small bundle from Sister John.  The nurse had worked with him several times, but neither Yoffey, nor the nurse, had been able to accustom themselves to such scenes.  Yoffey moved the bundle to his left arm and said to the Sister, “I’ll take it to the Esther, if you’ll see to the girl, please.”  The Esther was the Hill’s infirmary, hospital and late-morning gathering place for the Hill’s women, who sat in the most comfortable crux, which varied according to season and weather, of its low, stone

 

2

 

wall, to gossip and complain and keep account of their neighbors.  The Esther House had been founded by Miss Esther Cord, a well-to-do spinster who had lived-out her days in a tall, wooden mansion next door, the daughter of a timber magnate who had appeared on the Hill in the 1830’s, the scion of an old, Mississippi plantation family. Esther Cord inherited the white, columned house and a fortune that she devoted to establishing a hospital for the residents of the Hill with a group of nuns she had invited from across the South, most of whom had walked away from disparate Orders to serve more of mankind and less of the Church. These women had kept their distinct habits and somehow, had captured the support of the nearest Catholic priest, who was careful never to mention the ladies of the Esther to his superiors. Sam bent his back forward to stretch in the early day, and the cool air, quiet, except for locust with their insistent buzz along the bayou as the sun rose higher into a clear sky.  Sam left a couple of hours after the rosy shafts of the dawn had begun to reach over the east bluffs and fall down the great hill that defined the community, bringing the season’s heat through the trees to meet the Bayou’s interminable humidity.

 

The young doctor left the small, green, shotgun house, meeting no one, except one or two of the girl’s worried women relatives, some holding hands, some clinching their sides or pulling and twisting stringy hair; all the men were in the Bay or the Gulf.  A sandy path paved with magnolia leaves, each side lined with large white chunks of marble, all growing green with age, damp and shade, led away from the small house, and the pervasive beards of Spanish moss hung slightly angled from the live oak branches tangled over the ill-defined yards that neighbored the sad home.  Yoffey followed the dirt road along the bay heights and decided to detour and trudge down, along the narrow trail dividing the native tangle of dewberry vines, yaupons and false rosemary.  As the trail began to rise, he came to the long thicket of palmettos which, as he’d learned as boy in South Carolina, harbored rattlesnakes.  The palmettos led up the hill and he rejoined the road as it curved and straightened into a wide, dirt, four-rutted lane that led to the Esther Sisters, as they had become known to the tiny community.  The “hospital” had been established after the Civil War and the number of Sisters varied, according to a management Yoffey didn’t attempt to understand. The “Mother” was always glad to see him, notwithstanding the news he brought or the time of day he appeared.  As he walked up the concrete steps onto the porch, he noticed that the painted boards were wearing and flecked, but clean, as always, the wood declining under the feet that trod them and the Sisters’ application of rough brooms and potent mops.  He nodded to the thin, black boy who rose to open the double, black-painted, screen door and, as he entered the reception room, was met by a new, fresh face, fixed into a coif and veil and an old-fashioned, dampened bandeau.  Her eyes shone light, brilliant gray and she stood before the young man as an apparition of the type of Rococo light he’d seen in museums, a kind of beauty he could not recall encountering amongst the living.  As he opened his mouth to speak, the Mother appeared and shook her head, and unclasping her hands, held them out to take the bundle. “This is two, this week, doctor.”

 

“Yes, Mother, birth mortality is so common on the Hill.  The womenfolk run themselves to death, trying to earn extra money across the Bayou and the men are never around, until after

 

3

 

dark.  It’s hard to know an ailing woman by the light of a kerosene lantern and then, after pulling up oysters or mackerel all day, trying to look at them through eyes, half drunk or half asleep. I am a twenty-six year old doctor, I do not want to keep delivering these premature and stillborn babies, Mother; I suppose that I’m just tired” said Yoffey, with tears welling up behind his spectacles, over his soft brown eyes.  His ample mustache was damp and the curls of his black hair, loosed by the removal of his hat, had begun to spill over his forehead. He bowed, walked out onto the porch and sat down at the left edge, knocking his heels against the brick that lined the bottom and hid the cool and dusty underside of the building.  He allowed a few of his tears to fall, and took out his plain, white handkerchief, to wipe them away and blow his nose. The Sisters were busy, as always, working the grounds’ verdant and variegated collection of flower bushes, hedges, and grass, as well as, cleaning, and more cleaning of the stone fountain with the Virgin standing with clasped hands.  Other nuns walked their patients around an elliptical stone path that centered the building, or pushed them in wooden wheelchairs, silently, cutting through the usually indifferent and voluble gaggle of women who had found the perimeter wall’s ideal corner.  Behind Sam, a steady influx of maids with food from the richer families mixed with the sick, and the dying, to enter the front door to leave their offerings.   The occasional cackles and Southern articulations of “uh-huh” or “uh-uh” or “ah-ha” of ladies filled the air as visiting Esther Foundation members came and went, most hailing from across the Bayou and “Town”.

 

Presently, the young Sister he’d encountered came out of the building and offered him a cup of strong, black coffee. Yoffey accepted it and, ashamed of his tears, whispered, “Thank you, Sister.” She stood behind him for a few minutes, until he seemed calmed, and then sat down, next to him.  Her bright eyes and full lips were the only things he noticed, pulling his mind away from his amassed grief and into her presence.  She offered her hand, a defiant gesture that would never have been allowed by her original Order, and introduced herself as Sister James. Yoffey accepted her hard and callused hand and said, “I’m Sam Yoffey; you’ll have to get used to me; I’m the only doctor practicing east of the Bayou. Your physician on the Hill, ma’am.”

 

“Dr. Yoffey, that’s a beautiful accent you have: South Carolina? I believe that I’ve heard it at the abbey, where I trained. ”

 

“Yes, ma’am, born and bred, except for some training in Paris.”

 

The two young people sat quietly, Sam sipping his coffee, trying to revive his spirits and alertness and Sister James, watching the activities of the other nuns about the hospital grounds and the antics of the poor Hill women, who occasionally rose from the wall to bring to life an absent member of their tribe with comical, idiomatic wiggles and other, more lively gestures.  “Where do you maintain an office, Doctor?” asked the young nun. “Do you live on the Hill, or in town?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt reveal: Watch Me, by Jody Gehrman

Watch Me CoverTitle:  WATCH ME

Genre:  Thriller/Psychological Suspense/Women’s Fiction

Author: Jody Gehrman

Website:  www.jodygehrman.com

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Find out more on Amazon

A gripping psychological thriller about one college student’s dark obsession with his professor, Watch Me plunges readers into a tense, twisty, and terrifying tale about how far obsession can go…

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.

Except one.

Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.

As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?

In this gripping novel that explores intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what one desires most may be the most dangerous thing of all.

EXCERPT:

You’re in the foyer now, closing the door. Any moment you’ll turn and see me. My heart pounds against my ribcage like a crazed dog throwing itself against a fence. I dash up the stairs, willing my boots to stay silent. If you could see me now, you’d be impressed. I’ve got stealth. My criminal instincts are honed. The good girl in you can’t help but be turned on by that. Maybe if you catch me, you’ll find it sexy.

 

But no. Not going to happen.

 

You can’t see me.

 

I have to disappear.

 

Everything’s riding on this. My pulse races.

 

Without thinking, I run into the first room at the top of the stairs: the bathroom. Your smell is heavy in here, a tropical storm of Kateness. I creep inside the tub and, careful not to make a sound, pull the shower curtain closed.

 

I hear you walking up the stairs. You’re humming. It sounds like “Wild Night” by Van Morrison—one of my favorite songs. That has to mean something.

 

There’s a preoccupied cadence to your footsteps. I picture you flipping through mail, your brow furrowed in that tiny apostrophe of concentration. You probably have your reading glasses perched on the end of your nose. I ache for you. I peak around the curtain just enough to catch a glimpse of your slender bare feet reaching the top of the staircase and making a left toward your bedroom. I hold my breath, letting the curtain fall back into place. Why didn’t I slip out when I had the chance? If you find me here, everything’s fucked.

 

I let my cockiness get out of hand.

 

From now on, I resolve to be more careful.

 

You’re in the bedroom, still humming. Definitely “Wild Night.” I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool, white tile. My heart continues to race. My breathing’s ragged. I can hear you searching through drawers. You must be looking for your yoga pants, your wife-beater. Your humming turns to singing in the bedroom. There’s the sound of coat hangers clicking against one another. Your voice is husky and rich.

 

Out of nowhere, a ripple of calm washes over me. This is how it will be when we live together. You’ll be in the next room singing while you change clothes. I’ll step out of the shower, wipe steam from the mirror. I’ll walk into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around my waist. You’ll glance over your shoulder at me, your face lighting up as you pull your tank over your head. I’ll sit on the bed and rub my damp hair, caught between the need to touch you and the simple pleasure of watching you from across the room.

 

You drop something—your phone? The sound jolts me back to the moment. I need to go right now, while you’re still in the bedroom.

 

I can’t, though. With your scent in the air, your off-key song in my ears, there’s too much anchoring me to the spot. We’re so close right now. I’m in your world, and even though I haven’t been invited, your nearness fills me like a drug.

 

Oh, god. You’re in the bathroom. You turn on the faucet at the sink. This is torture. You’re so close.

 

So close.

 

I listen to you brushing your teeth. Smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste. You gargle. Spit.

 

My breath catches in my throat as you fall silent. What are you doing now? You’re motionless. Are you eyeing the shower curtain? Maybe it’s not as opaque as I thought. You can see my silhouette. You’re standing there, still as a tree, holding your breath, staring at my outline in the pearly white curtain. Any second now you’ll yank open the plastic and—

 

Oh, god, I can’t stand it, I’m going to—

 

Wait. You’re leaving.

 

I exhale in dizzy relief as your bare feet patter back into the hallway and down the stairs.

 

When I hear NPR come to life in the kitchen, I decide it’s now or never. The stairs end in the downstairs hallway opposite the kitchen, so it’s risky. I have to chance it. Let’s pray you’re in the pantry or at the stove, your back to me. I lift first one foot, then the other, out of the tub, moving like a mime. Every step requires extreme control. My system’s still flooded with adrenaline; my muscles ache to take the stairs at a dead run. In spite of the radio, the oak planks will make way too much noise if I hurry.

 

There’s a window at the landing. I catch sight of your neighbor’s children in the side yard—two little girls. They’re playing a game involving plastic guns. Like marionettes controlled by the same hand, their tiny blond heads swivel toward me. We stare at one another through the glass for a long moment.

 

I need to get out of here.

 

Now.

 

There’s a bad moment at the bottom of the stairs. You’re not in the pantry. Not at the stove. You’re at the sink. All it would take for you to catch sight of me is a quick sideways glance.

 

Again, the crazy injustice of our situation hits me. I know you better than anyone, Kate, yet I’m forced to run away like a thief. I hurry toward the front door.

 

Just as I’m closing it behind me, lunging for the porch steps, I hear you say, “Hello? Is someone there?”

 

As I slip away, head bowed, hoodie pulled up, one of the little girls next door cries, “Bang-bang! You’re dead!”

 

I offer her a weak smile and stride toward my car.

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A Police Action, by A.A. Freda

A Police Action Cover jpegTitle:  A Police Action

Genre:  Coming of Age Novel

Author: A.A. Freda

Website:  www.aafreda.com

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

Award-winning novelist A.A. Freda received high acclaim for his debut novel, Goodbye Rudy Kazoody.  In his second novel, A Police Action, Freda delivers a gripping Vietnam era novel about two lost, confused young adults, Samantha Powers and James Coppi.   A Police Action has garnered high early praise:

“Well written and historically accurate, A Police Action is a reminder of what the 1960’s were really like, for better or worse.”

Foreword Clarion

“Fluid, beautifully crafted, and emotionally rich. A brilliant intersection of coming-of-age and romance.”

Manhattan Book Review

“An engrossing tale that moves deftly from the battlefield to the heart.”

Midwest Book Review

“A spellbinding story with a powerful setting”

Readers’ Favorite

About A Police Action: It is love at first sight when nineteen-year old Samantha Powers meets James Coppi at the Country Honky Tonk in Colorado Springs. There are just two problems standing in the way of a storybook ending for Samantha’s passion:  she is pregnant with someone else’s child—and James, a young soldier, is heading for a war in Vietnam.  But is there something more to this instant attraction?  And what will happen after James is deployed? Will he return home safely, and, if so, will it be for Samantha?  For James and Samantha, it seems uncertainty is the only certainty.  A moving story that unfolds as James and Sam mature through individual and shared hardships, A Police Action is unforgettable. 

A solid and thought-provoking novel, A Police Action is a richly textured tale resplendent with vivid historical detail.  In this unique story that blends elements of coming-of-age, romance, and historical fiction, novelist A. A. Freda captures the atmospheric, turbulent late 60s, the heady rush of young love, and the unmistakable restless uncertainty of youth.  A powerfully realistic story informed by Freda’s own experience in Vietnam, A Police Action brings to life the spirit and the struggles of the 60s.  With its engaging premise, multi-dimensional characters and gripping storyline, A Police Action is an extraordinary tale extraordinarily well told.

 

Chapter 1
The Launching Point

Coppi’s definition of a lifer is any man who enlisted to join the service, any soldier that has the initials RA on his dog tags, RA standing for Regular Army. Draftees, like Coppi, are not lifers. Their dog tags begin with the letters US, which stands for United States. The army probably doesn’t even consider them regular soldiers.

To Coppi, there is also a difference between a lifer and a true lifer. A lifer is a mixed-up jerk who joined the army for some stupid reason, probably to get away from something in his pathetic life on the outside. Once in the army, the poor slob realizes his mistake and wants to go home just as much as a draftee does. Unfortunately for him, his mistake will cost him an extra year of active duty.

A true lifer is a loser who has made the military a career.

• • • • •

Specialist Fourth Class James Coppi comes out of the company headquarters where he’s just reported for duty, early one mid-April evening, picks up his duffel bag, and heads to the barracks. A drab gray building of horizontal planks, it looks the same as all the other barracks he’s seen since being drafted. It makes him long for home for a minute—but just a minute—and then the beautiful Colorado evening with its night sky already full of stars reminds him that the Bronx was no Garden of Eden, either.

Coppi hasn’t seen so many stars in the sky since he was a young boy in his native Italy. The air is already beginning to freshen, a cool breeze moving across his face and carrying with it the aroma of those fields of bright-blue flowers he saw out the window of his plane as it landed earlier. What were they called … Texas bluebells? Yes, that’s the name. The sight of acres of deep sky blue blooms had stayed with him. There is something else in the air, too—a chill following not far behind the fading sun and the fragrance of the flowers; he wouldn’t be surprised if during the night there’s a late-spring freeze. He’s read that the night temperature in the Rockies can easily drop fifty degrees.

He still can’t believe he’s headed for Vietnam. Only ten months left on his tour—he’d thought he was in the clear. What draftee goes to Nam in his last ten months? He will have only six months remaining on his service when this unit heads out, sometime in July. The army must be really hard up for men. The news coming from the conflict is bad. The Tet Offensive, mounted by the North Vietnamese Army, has shown the general public that victory for the Americans, as assured them by the politicians, is not imminent. The news is so bad that Lyndon Johnson has dropped out of his reelection bid. The stubborn fool still won’t accept reality and defeat. So, what’s his plan…to increase the forces fighting in Southeast Asia to more than five hundred thousand? To what end?

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Written Off, by Sheila Lowe

Written Off_Sheila Lowe Cover FinalTitle: Written Off

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Author: Sheila Lowe

Website: www.claudiaroseseries.com

Publisher: Suspense Publishing

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:    

In the dead of winter, handwriting expert Claudia Rose journeys to Maine to retrieve a manuscript about convicted female serial killer, Roxanne Becker.  While searching for the manuscript, written by Professor Madeleine Maynard, who was, herself, brutally murdered, Claudia uncovers a shocking secret about a group of mentally unstable grad students, selected for a special project, and dubbed “Maynard’s Maniacs.”  Was Madeleine conducting research that was at best, unprofessional—and at worst, downright harmful, and potentially dangerous? Could that unorthodox research have turned deadly?

Claudia finds herself swept up in the mystery of Madeleine’s life—and death—and makes it her mission to hunt down Madeleine’s killer.  But Claudia soon realizes that Madeleine left behind more questions than answers, and  no shortage of suspects.  Seems the professor’s personal life yields a number of persons who might have wanted her dead—and her academic success and personal fortune clearly made her the envy of fellow faculty members.   The University anticipates being the beneficiary of Madeline’s estate—but that seems in question when a charming stranger, claiming to be Madeleine’s nephew, turns up brandishing a new will.

The local police chief prevails upon Claudia to travel into town to examine the newly produced, handwritten will. Rushing back to Madeleine’s isolated house to escape an impending storm, Claudia becomes trapped in a blizzard.  With a killer.

Intelligent and engaging, bristling with tension, twists and turns, Written Off is a pulse-pounding tale that grabs readers on the first page and doesn’t let go. With its appropriately chilling Maine winter backdrop, compelling characters that spring to life in the novel’s pages, and seamlessly-plotted storyline, Written Off brings spine-tingling thrills and plenty of chills. Resplendent with fascinating details informed by Sheila Lowe’s experience as a forensic handwriting analyst, Written Off is an extraordinary—and extraordinarily terrifying—work of psychological suspense. Smart and suspenseful, tense and intense, Written Off will leave readers gasping for breath.

EXCERPT

December 3

The cabin was the size of a master bedroom; a ramshackle shed whose cedar logs had expanded and contracted, until the spaces between them were large enough to admit small vermin. Inside, the musty smell and scat on virtually every surface confirmed that many such creatures had availed themselves of the accommodations over the years while it fell into disrepair.

It had been unused for so long that few in the village of Summerhays remembered that the cabin stood—or more accurately, leaned—in the overgrown clearing in the woods, let alone who had built it, though most folks readily agreed that given the one room, a hunter was more likely than a family to have occupied the place.

No evidence of any dweller endured; no furnishings other than a rough-hewn kitchen chair. No guesses how long the chair had stood in front of the old wood-burning stove, waiting for someone to sit down and warm their hands.

Each summer, the vegetation crept closer to the cabin. What little light that managed to penetrate the sagging windows was murky at best. In winter, even when the trees were stripped of their leaves as they were now, the metallic snow-laden skies darkened the cheerless room to a permanent dusk.

It was through those grimy, sagging windows that searchers spotted the remains of Professor Madeleine Maynard. 

Chapter One

Chaos theory—the science of surprises—teaches that one small change to a system can later produce tremendous, and often unintended, consequences. You start the day taking a friend to the doctor and make a choice that ends up altering lives. Including your own.

Claudia held open the doctor’s office door and followed Zebediah Gold out into the hallway. The week following hip surgery he was eager to get back to the gym, to long walks on the beach and driving his car whenever he felt like it. To his chagrin, he was being forced to understand that in his early seventies his body took longer to heal than it used to. The patience he generously imparted to his psychotherapy clients was less evident when it came to himself, and the unhappy thump of his cane on the polished floor shouted his feelings louder than an F-bomb.

That he was stewing over something had been noticeable from the moment Claudia picked him up at the guesthouse where he lived in Venice Beach, The drive to the Beverly Hills medical building made in near silence. Even when she told a silly joke that on any other day would have made him groan, Zebediah—ordinarily the most good-humored person on earth—barely responded.

“The Buddha said to the hot dog man, “Make me one with everything.”” Half a head shake. “Come on Zebediah, that was funny. Okay, the Buddha hands the hot dog man a twenty. The man puts it in his apron. The Buddha says, “where’s my change?” The hot dog man says, “Change must come from within.” Nothing.

He had not flirted with woman at the front desk, nor the nurse, and that was definitely out of character for her friend. Now, back at the elevator, Claudia kept waiting for him to tell her what was on his mind. By the time she pressed the button for P2, she was burning with curiosity and could no longer contain it.

“What did the doctor say? How’s your progress?”

“Fine.”

The noncommital answer was infuriatingly unsatisfying. Claudia was glad when no one else shared the ride to the parking garage. She held the view that when shared with strangers the trip took longer, everyone uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact by watching the floor numbers flash past. Her friend Kelly Brennan would inevitably make some ribald quip to break the ice. If Kelly were there now to vamp with Zebediah, she would certainly have found a way to make him laugh.

They bumped to a stop at the subterranean parking level. Dozens of parked cars and she and Zebediah the only humans in sight. It made Claudia think of earthquakes and being trapped underground. “Would I get an answer if we played twenty questions?” she asked, her voice hollow in the gloomy cave-like structure.

This time, he managed a faint smile. “Twenty questions sounds like fun.”

“Number one, is there a problem with your recovery?”

“Not at all, darling, I’ll be leaping tall buildings in a single bound by tomorrow.”

“So, does that mean you got a clean bill of health?”

“All is well, Doctor Rajagopian says I’m right where I should be.”

“Then what’s with all the cane thumping?” Reaching his Lexus, Claudia opened the passenger door. Zebediah handed her the cane and maneuvered into the seat. In his present condition it was easier for him than her low-slung classic ‘85 Jaguar. “Too many restrictions,” he grumbled. “No air travel for three months.”

She handed him back the cane and went around to the driver’s side. Up the winding slope to the exit, she inserted the parking ticket in its slot, happy to see daylight. “What’s the problem? You don’t need to fly anywhere in the next three months.” He didn’t say anything and she glanced over at him. He was staring down at his hands, twisting in his lap. “Do you?”

“As it happens…” Zebediah started, then broke off. The gate arm rose, and Claudia shouldered the Lexus into the endless stream of vehicles on Wilshire Boulevard. L.A. might have dealt the smog a crippling blow, but the traffic monster consumed the Southland with the appetite of King Kong.

“As it happens, what?” she asked when Zebediah left his words hanging.

“As it happens, I do need to fly. To Maine.”

“Maine?”

“Yes, darling. It’s a large state on the East Coast.”

“I know where Maine is, thank you. What’s there?”

“Blueberries in the summer. Loads of snow in the winter.”

 

 

 

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