Weed and Water
by Ian Dexter Palmer, Ph. D.
A mysterious stranger helps a teenage boy called Ethan rescue his mentor, an elderly father-figure, from drowning when their canoe capsizes in a flooding river. A star athlete, Ethan later gets involved in unsafe sex, which leads to drugs, and gets him blackballed by jealous and gossiping team-mates. The boy is going down, and at times hates himself for it and for hurting his mom who is a caring, loving, and beautiful woman.
After another disastrous episode, where Ethan might have died, the river-stranger turns up again to confront him about his life choices. However, even after rehab, the boy’s condition is marked by a yo-yo attitude which causes massive emotional heartache for his mom.
The river-stranger, after sharing his own amazing history, suggests taking the fight to another level which draws on the resources of God. This begins a new and fascinating sequence of events, including a tornado, which get Ethan’s attention.
This book is a captivating story, packed with adventure in the desert Southwest and in the rivers and lakes of the Midwest USA. But it is also a goldmine of spiritual wisdom for teenagers. The mystery that permeates the story is compelling, and the thrilling ending may call for a tissue or two.
Originally from Australia, Ian lives in the high desert in his beloved Southwest USA. As a petroleum engineer, recently retired, he consulted all over the world.
When he hik
es with them or watches them play sports, Ian’s grandchildren are a particular source of happiness.
His main interests are hiking, dancing, writing, and stimulating conversation.
Ian regularly writes a new blog on various topics relating to Christian faith, and has also written a book called Hiking Toward Heaven.
You can find out more about Ian and his books at http://www.iandexterpalmer.com/
IAN: Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you! While living in the USA, I was invited to a conference in Townsville, Australia, to be the keynote speaker at dinner. The reason for the conference was to share experiences about Australia’s budding natural gas industry. Townsville is a tropical town real close to the Great Barrier Reef. On a balmy evening, we enjoyed shrimp and scollops and Moreton Bay bugs, a smaller species of local lobster. I popularized my talk, as the dinner outdoors included many wives and girlfriends. I added some funnies between slides, the drinks flowed, and a glow of happiness spread all around.
The next day was an open-day at the conference. Mary who had traveled with me sailed out to the Great Barrier Reef. I was sick in the morning and had to cancel. Although scared of water, she agreed to don mask and flippers only after a friend of mine, Steven, offered to stay close to her. The water was clear and the reef colors spectacular. Steven even took her to the edge of the black abyss, which was awfully scary to a woman already afraid of water.
I felt better in the afternoon, and took a long hike around Magnetic Island to Balding Bay, a particularly pretty beach framed by giant boulders in a pincer pattern. Surprise…. it was a nudist beach with quite a few folks lolling in the sand. It was a warm day, and the only swimsuit I saw was my own. The views of the bay and the delightfully cool water are stamped on my memory.
IAN: What can we expect from you in the future? I am writing a memoir. First, about my career, which started out in space physics: cosmic rays that travel from sun to earth. Got a Ph.D. out of this weird stuff. I was studying how these energetic protons and electrons travel across interplanetary space. Then came a solo year in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where they built the bomb. Finally, I jumped ship to the oil and gas industry where I became a petroleum engineer who studied fracking.
Second, about my personality. As a young man, I lacked confidence in my abilities. To correct this, I worked too hard. When I reached age 40, I realized I was better than I thought I was, and my confidence returned. Now I was able to market my work successfully, and my social skills took off too.
Third, about my relationship with God. I always believed, but as I look back I can see the hand of God intervening in my life. Not just once, or a few times, but many times. As a result, I have now learned to ask God for insights and wisdom, and I do this on most days.
IAN: Where were you born/grew up at? I was born in Australia, so I’m an Aussie. I was raised in Jamestown, a farming area in South Australia – a state larger than Texas. The locals only added up to 1,500 people, but the frequent farmhouses dotted across the rolling hills enlarged this number. Farming was mainly wheat and sheep. More sheep than people – only 20 million people in a land as large as the continental USA where 350 million people live. Every Sunday my mother would roast a leg of lamb surrounded by rings of veggies: potatoes, peas, and pumpkins. Roasted pumpkin was my favorite, along with lamb and mint sauce. When folks ask me if I miss Australia, my answer is no, not really – except for lamb and mint sauce and roasted pumpkin.
When I was a kid, there were rabbits and kangaroos everywhere. Once during a rabbit plague, we had to slow the car to avoid hitting rabbits who came to feed on the taller grass near the roadside. We stopped the car. It was night time, and the rabbits were confused by the headlights. We ran around and tried to catch them with our hands, and we almost did.
Kangaroos lived about 40 miles away in the real desert. One night we chased one along a dirt road while we were doing 40 mph. I didn’t know kangas could run that fast. We picked up a baby kangaroo, called a joey, when he could barely walk. My mom fed him milk with an eyedropper. We called him Rawnsey after the name of a mountain. We built him an artificial pouch out of a burlap bag we mounted on a wall. We cut a hole in the side. Rawnsey would dive in headfirst, then do a somersault until his head was poking out the hole. He slept there in his own “pouch” until he grew up.
Ian: What book do you think everyone should read? The five love languages, by Gary Chapman. The five languages are (1) Words of affirmation, (2) Quality time, (3) Receiving gifts, (4) Acts of service, (5) Physical touch. Knowing these five languages of love about the other significant person in your life, whether spouse or child or parent or friend, gives you a huge advantage in showing love to them.
An example: a woman I know rather well always identified love by Receiving Gifts. In a previous marriage, her husband figured this out, and always bought expensive jewelry for her after they had a fight. She felt loved again, and quickly made up. In her current marriage, her husband never did that because he never identified love with Receiving Gifts. His notion of love was Physical Touch. So they had real trouble making up after fights…. until he read the book and figured it out.
Ian: What are you passionate about these days? Dancing. I’m a dancing fool. When I was in college, I went to a ballroom dancehall on a Saturday night. The Wonderland was what it was called. I looked around and noticed that the women loved to dance, and were good at it, while the men were okay but not as fluid and graceful as the women. I decided to learn to dance, so I bought a book and taught myself from the book. Holding a pillow in my arms, I turned on the radio and shimmied around in the kitchen following the footsteps in the book.
It worked! When I returned to The Wonderland, I could do the swing and the waltz and a few other dances. The gals loved it, and I soon had dates. Dancing actually changed my whole social life, as I had been backward in relating to girls. Not any more…..now these dancers wanted to relate to me. After ears of taking classes, and even teaching dance classes, I’ve learned that nearly all women love to dance, even those who have trouble keeping the beat. But men…. only a few love it. The others are overly sensitive, worried that people would judge them if they missed a step or forgot a dance pattern.
Guys, if you only knew that dancing is the way to a woman’s heart! Take lessons if you don’t know how to dance. If you do know, take your wife or lover out next weekend for an hour of dancing.
Ian: Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick? In the book Weed and Water, Ethan is a good-looking teenager, well-adjusted, and a star athlete in basketball and football. But his attitude takes a downturn when he contacts herpes from a cheerleader named Rachel. When he is blackballed by seniors in the football team, who hear about this, Ethan is crushed. He turns to drugs. Then the struggle is on. Angelina, a beautiful single mom, tries everything to save her son. But he is by turns resistant one day and charming the next. Everyone knows the story…..a good kid goes wrong. His self-esteem is too often in the dumpster, and nobody seems to know how to help him.
Ethan’s life is pushed and pulled by forces for good and bad. It’s every teenager’s story. Confronted by options, the smallest upset can propel a boy to make the wrong choice and step from the garden into the swamp. Plenty of advice arrives from parents and the church on the one hand, and enticements from dubious peers on the other. When Ethan is sane, he can make good choices. But when he’s embroiled by past mistakes, and desperate for emotional escape, he can plunge into darkness. And yes, God makes an appearance in the life of this boy, several times in fact, but the end result is never guaranteed.
This story is a metaphor for the eternal struggle for the heart and soul of men and women everywhere, and the choices they make toward good or evil. The book Weed and Water is also a goldmine for learning more about the warring emotional forces that act on a son or daughter in high-school.
by Dawn K. Henderson
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Women’s Fiction
Because life is one big ballroom – and all we can do is dance… Former UK dance champion Caroline Elliott has two burning passions in her life: her sexy, young Spanish lover Antonio, and the weekly Ballroom dance class she teaches to a diverse group of enthusiastic locals in the small English town of Castleham where she lives. But Caroline has a problem. The numbers attending her class have dwindled, and unless she can somehow breathe new life into it, she will have no choice but to close it down. A dance display at the local Arts Festival might just be the perfect opportunity to showcase her students and pull in those much-needed new members. How difficult could it be? With the date of the display approaching, however, illness, affairs and relationship break-ups threaten to crush Caroline’s hopes. As she battles to keep rehearsals on track and soothe her students’ rampant nerves, she must also conquer the demons of a long-ago tragedy in her own life. Will she be able to let go of her fears and step into the spotlight once again? Heel Lead is an emotional, passionate and poignant story that entertains while it tugs at your heartstrings. In this short yet compelling novel, author Dawn K. Henderson presents a captivating tale of the power of love, dance and the ties that bind us.
Dawn K. Henderson: Storyteller, poet & author
Goddess in training and ballroom diva (at least in her imagination)
12 years ago, Dawn walked into her first Ballroom dance class and the love affair began. Since then she has tango’d and quickstepped, waltzed and rumba’d through life. Although at the time of writing Heel Lead, she is without a permanent dance partner, she is fortunate enough to have good friends who lend her their men occasionally – she usually hands them back undamaged.
As D. K. Henderson, she is the author of The Skull Chronicles series of metaphysical adventure novels .
She lives and writes in the mystical, magical county of Wiltshire, England surrounded by crop circles, the ancient & mysterious stone monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, and her own family of crystal skulls. When she isn’t wandering the ancient downlands that inspire her novels and poetry, you’ll probably find her pottering in the garden, foraging in the hedgerows or attempting a nifty Cha cha or elegant Waltz on the dance floor.
The Dance Class
Two, three, cha-cha-cha. The music chirruped gaily, pumping out the familiar notes of an old pop song.
‘Ouch! For God’s sake, you clumsy idiot.’ Stuart had trodden on his wife’s toe again – the third time that evening already – and she was laying into him big time. Caroline winced in sympathy. Poor Stuart, she felt sorry for him. Angela could be a right harpy at times and was no elegant swan on the dance floor herself. And while it painfully true that her feet were often subjected to Stuart’s abuse, to be fair it wasn’t always his fault. Angela needed to move more quickly. Caroline shook her head. Angela and Stuart loved their dance classes, they had told her so often; it just never seemed like it with all the conflict it created between them. If only Angela would replace those open-toed sandals with a closed-in shoe, her feet wouldn’t suffer half as much from Stuart’s mis-steps. But she had pointedly ignored Caroline’s frequent suggestions that she do so, claiming she didn’t like the full shoe, and eventually Caroline had given up trying.
Angela! Caroline had tried hard to like her, really she had. But, to be blunt, the woman really wasn’t very likeable. She was sharp-tongued, critical, and quick to take offence, with a physical appearance to match her character. Although she wasn’t old, only in her late thirties, her severe hairstyle – always pulled back into a tight bun – and permanently cheerless expression made her look considerably older. Caroline did her best not to judge; she had heard rumours of a tragedy in Angela’s past that the woman had been unable to move on from, and in an unguarded moment, Stuart had hinted at it too, a haunted look momentarily darkening his features. What the tragedy had been remained a mystery.
Stuart bore the brunt of his wife’s constant ill-humour with endless tolerance, letting the verbal blows fall, rarely retaliating, and then only with the gentlest of reproaches. He was popular with the rest of the class, friendly and approachable with a smile for everyone in his warm eyes, and yet… In their depths drifted the unmistakeable shadow of an enduring sadness.
Who knows what really lies beneath the faces and façades of anyone, even those we think we know well, Caroline pondered, watching them across the room. Angela’s complaining had fallen into a grumpy silence, though she was still looking daggers at her husband and limping exaggeratedly.
The other couples were still cha-cha-ing around the room – four tonight, even less than usual. While at first sight, they seemed an unlikely bunch to be Ballroom dancing, after years of teaching, Caroline had learned not to judge by appearances. Take Trash and his wife Donna for instance. Of course, Trash wasn’t his real name but Reginald, the one given on his birth certificate, really didn’t suit the huge bulk of a man and he had been known as Trash for as long as he could remember. When he had first registered for her class, he had sworn Caroline to secrecy to never reveal his true identity.
Of all the couples that came along to her class, Trash and Donna were perhaps the most incongruous and unlikely. Built like – to put it politely – the proverbial brick outhouse, Trash was a biker to his bones. Unruly sandy hair, now fading to the colour of washed-out nicotine and decidedly thin on top, reached below his shoulders, and had been pulled back into a rough ponytail for class. His face sported a beard of the same colour and length. He invariably wore tatty, faded blue jeans and an equally well-worn black T-shirt with the slogan ‘Ride or Die’ emblazoned across the front, the blood-dripping words entwined around a garish image of a scarlet skull from whose eye sockets heavily-fanged snakes stretched to breaking point over his impressive belly.
His wife, Donna, barely reached his shoulder. Her dyed raven-black hair was chopped short, revealing heavily studded earlobes, and matching studs graced her eyebrows, nose and top lip. Caroline had never seen her in anything other than unrelieved black, usually jeans, T-shirt and a hefty leather belt. She was pretty, a little plump with curves that any woman would envy, in all the right places.
The last bars of the Cha-cha faded. Next came a Waltz. Caroline revised the latest steps she had been teaching and started the music, returning to her study of Trash and Donna. She smiled as she watched them. They were probably the best dancers in the class. Despite his size, Trash was unexpectedly light-footed, and he floated across the floor, his huge bulk seemingly weightless as he guided Donna with a gentle but firm touch. Both of them felt, rather than heard, the music and its rhythm, and lost themselves in its magic; it was the secret ingredient essential to becoming a really good dancer that they both naturally possessed. Caroline had lost count of the times that technically able pupils of hers had failed to progress simply because they had been unable to get out of their heads and dance with their hearts. And of course, she thought with a touch of unwelcome envy, as she watched the couple glide around the room’s perimeter into a graceful Whisk, Wing and Telemark, Trash and Donna adored each other. The connection between them created a spark that was wonderful to watch, and forged an almost telepathic bond as they danced.
Love Is Death
The Afterdeath Book 1
by L.P. Masters
Genre: YA Paranormal
Gina’s plan for her afterlife is simple: survive as long as possible. The afterlife is a ghost-kill-ghost kind of place. When she meets newly-dead Alec, she can’t help her desire to protect him. Before she knows it, she finds herself falling for him, despite the little voice in her head telling her it’s a bad idea. Alec’s goals don’t mesh well with Gina’s plans. Determined to save his living sister from a murderer, he’s willing to disobey the laws of a well-established cult in the afterlife. If the cult finds out, they’ll kill him. Again. He’s hesitant to accept Gina’s help and threaten her afterlife, but he’s guaranteed to fail without her. Together they embark on a perilous mission, but the most dangerous aspect of all is the threat of falling in love. Because in the afterlife… love is death.
“Hey,” I said softly. “What’s going on?”
He bit his lower lip and shook his head. “Nothing.”
He was lying. Something was bothering him, and that was dangerous.
I heard a rare sound: birdsong, but it was clear, not muffled, which meant it was a ghost. I searched for it. There!
“Look, quick.” I pointed at the ghost of a black-capped chickadee a few feet away.
Alec smiled. The little bird twittered in its usual way and hopped across the grass, head turning in jerks like birds always do. It took wing, and I knew what that meant.
“Watch,” I whispered.
In the middle of a flap the bird disappeared. Its water dropped and splashed on the grass, and for a moment the afterghost continued to fly, swooping and twisting in the air before it disappeared as well.
“What the…?” Alec looked shocked.
“Birds don’t stay in the afterlife. Not for long.”
“Soul sickness. They get here, realize there is nothing like them around, and they get sick.” I held my breath. “The same can happen to you if you’re upset about something.”
Alec looked me in the eyes. His stare was intense, as if he wanted to tell me something. Then he tore his gaze away. “I’ll be fine, Gina.”
I wanted to swear. He wouldn’t be fine. I could see it. I could feel it. He was going to die again if he couldn’t get himself out of that mood.
“Why are you doing this?” Alec asked abruptly.
My breath hitched. I didn’t know how to answer. The same question had plagued me since we’d left the Chinaman’s warehouse. Why was I doing this? I knew the answer in my gut, but I didn’t want to say it.
I did anyway.
“Because I don’t want to see you get hurt ag…”
I barely stopped myself before I said again, then wondered if he’d noticed. I frowned when it became obvious that he had, but thankfully I was turned away from him looking out the windshield.
“What was that?”
“I said I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Did you say again?”
The wiper blades must have swished water off the windshield at least ten times before I said anything. I tried to come up with an excuse, but I finally decided the truth would be the best option.
“Yes. Again.” I looked out the window. I couldn’t bear to see him. “I was there when you got shot.”
His response surprised me, so I turned around in my seat to look at him.
“I knew I wasn’t crazy.”
I shrugged. “I’m not so sure about that. But how does my being there mean you’re sane?”
“I told Gary that I saw you before I died, and he told me it was impossible. I swore when I first met you that I’d…” His eyes glazed over as if remembering what he’d done. “I asked you for help.”
I forced a smile even though I desperately wanted to cry. “Begged was more like it.”
“But you left.”
I faced forward again. This was precisely the reason I hadn’t wanted to tell him I was there. He didn’t even realize what I’d done for him, the danger I’d put myself in to try to save him. I could have told him but I was filled with rage that I’d even tried, and filled with guilt that I had failed.
“I’m sorry.” Alec sat forward and placed a hand on my shoulder. Like every time he touched me, I felt that incredible heat rushing down my arm and into my core. He shook his head. “I’m not mad at you. In fact, knowing what I know now, I’m glad you left.”
I held my breath to keep myself from saying anything. I wanted to tell him I hadn’t left, but at the same time, I was determined not to.
About the Author
Born and raised in the rainy streets of the Seattle Area, L.P. Masters spent her fair share of time staring out rain-streaked windows and writing books. Masters has always had extremely vivid dreams, which often spark inspiration for her novels. In 1999, after one such dream, Masters began her first writing project. She has participated in National Novel Writer’s Month every November since 2010. Writing isn’t the only thing she can do with a pen in her hand, she also enjoys sketching and drawing—with varying degrees of success. Masters now lives in the slightly-less-dreary city of Spokane Washington with her husband and two wonderful daughters.
The Dragon in the Garden
The Watcher Rising Series #1
by Erika Gardner
Genre: Epic Urban Fantasy
There is magic beneath the mundane and in The Dragon in the Garden, Siobhan Orsini witnesses it all. No lie can fool her, no glamour or illusion can cloud her Sight. She sees through them all and wishes she could close her eyes. Returning to face her past, Siobhan inherits her grandparents’ house in California’s wine country. She encounters a talking dragon, a hot fallen angel, a demon lord, a Valkyrie, and, oh yes, her ex-boyfriend. And that is just in the first twenty-four hours.
It’s time to find out why she has this power.
Siobhan seeks out the Oracle and learns that only her Sight can help mankind navigate the travails of an ancient war. Our world is the prize in a battle between the dragons, who would defend us, and Lucifer’s fallen angels, who seek to take the Earth for themselves. Using her gift, she will have to make a choice that will decide humanity’s future.
The Dragon in The Garden– Excerpt #1
The memory has haunted me for years.
In the middle of a bright California summer, dark days came. My mother and grandparents spoke in hushed, serious voice, arguing about my absent father. Was it my fault he left? A soft whimper escaped my throat and my eyes burned. I needed a hug, but no one paid any attention to me that day. So I ran away to the refuge of my grandparents’ garden where I could hide among its statues and flowers.
My eyes lingered over the familiar garden ornaments. I passed the old birdbath, the statues of gnomes, and a cheerful squirrel. I ran one hand over the stone deer. Its brown paint had faded from years under the sun. Walking with quick steps down the gravel path, I made my way to the center of the garden, my special spot where my favorite statue waited.
A gnarled apricot tree grew there. Right now it was covered with tiny green apricots. Later in the summer the sweet fruit I loved would ripen. I would get to pick them with my parents, no, just with my mother. My lip trembled. My father wouldn’t be here.
The bright-green dragon lay curled at the foot of the apricot tree, partially covered by vines. My mother called the color jade green—the same shade as my eyes. As a child she talked to all the statues, but I only spoke to the dragon. I named her Daisy. Sitting down next to her now, the tears welled up at last, spilling over my cheeks. I wrapped my arms around my legs, making myself into a little ball of five year old misery.
“Child, why are you sad?” said a woman’s voice.
“Who said that?” I asked, wiping my cheek.
“Where are you?” I stood and peered at the plants and statues around me.
“Are not,” I retorted.
A soft laugh filled the air and the woman spoke again. “Perhaps you are right. Easy enough to fix, I suppose.”
The breeze picked up. The space beneath the apricot tree shimmered. Ripples warped the air like the heat over the barbecue when my father cooked. The sweet notes of wind chimes filled the yard. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t have any wind chimes. I whirled around to find the noise.
Under the branches appeared an enormous green dragon’s head.
Erika is a sixth generation San Franciscan of Irish descent. She attended the University of California at Davis and completed degrees in Medieval History and Biological Sciences. A lifelong lover of books and a scribbler of many tales from a young age (her first story was completed at age five) she turned to writing full-time in 2011.
On a personal level she loves spicy food, twilight, dark chocolate (with sea salt-yum!) and nickel slots at Vegas. Erika lives for time with friends, a nice glass of red wine, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” & “Doctor Who” and good conversation. Her favorite things to do are running, cooking, reading, needlework, gardening… and of course, writing. Erika’s music of choice is heavy metal. To pick her out in a lineup you should know that she is very short, fairly loud, and has dark eyebrows. The rest, as her hero Anne McCaffrey once said in her bio, “is subject to change without notice”.
Erika resides in Northern California with her incredibly hot husband, their three amazing kids, and their chocolate Labrador named Selkie. To reach Erika regarding her books, wine recommendations, or to debate which Iron Maiden album is the best (clearly, it’s Brave New World)
The topic is simple… a day in an author’s life…
Hmm. Or maybe not so simple at all. Actually it’s darn hard. I hate to let anyone down.
I could talk about the near Zen experience of seeing fresh words proliferating a new page. Maybe I might mention the joy of following my lifelong dream of being an actual, real live, professional writer. The reader could be interested in my day dreams, the sword fights being choreographed in my head as I run errands, or the villains haunting my nights as I fall asleep. I could tell you about the tears I shed at the gym as I realize (incongruously on the stair stepper) that I must kill off a character I truly like. Then I shudder with fear at the certainty that my critique group is going to murder me when I do.
All this does happen, but mostly a typical day in my life as a writer is pretty much like everyone else’s. I pay bills, clean house, get my oil changed. I spend time online on social media and blogs because I have a marketing department of ONE and that’s moi. (That said moi is not trained in marketing is not relative. We authors learn on the job.) If I am really lucky then I carve out some time to actually… write.
I think people would be shocked at how little space there is in my life for the actual writing, that creative process I so desperately crave. I love my family to bits but I am fairly certain that they do not realize, let alone understand, how essential writing is to me. It’s regenerating, life giving, and it’s simply what I was born to do. Usually I get the most work done around the edges of the rest of my life. It blossoms late at night, in carpool lines, when the kids are at school, or in dentists’ waiting rooms.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. Even a bit of bliss is still bliss. I’ll take it. Hopefully, if enough of you read my work then I will be able to carve out more of this awesomeness and keep going!
Thanks for letting me stop by. Oh, and welcome to my head.
ET Book One
by Joy Spraycar
Genre: YA SciFi
If Valcor Sentorum can bring back more girls than his predecessor, General Labaam, he’ll have set himself up to become the next President of Dactilt. That’ll put an end to those meddling Ventician women for good! Of course, only if no one finds out where he’s been or what he’s found. But once he lands on Earth, someone changes all his aspirations.
Loreen Baccarin would give anything to go back and undo the last year and a half. Never trust a man, especially not a Dactiltian! Now she’s been banished from Venticia until she can redeem herself, spending the last eight months stuck on Earth and waiting for a Dactiltian ship to land. When one does, all the hatred she’d been holding inside boils to the surface, and she’s determined to unleash it on the poor sap who’s arrived outside of town.
But when she reaches the ship, she comes face to face with the person she thought she’d never see again…
The hood figure waved its hand, and the coverings floated to the ground.
The stand – dark and gloomy – enticed Valcor.
Yes, this feels right. Just what he’d hoped for.
Ratty black drapes hung from the ceiling. A tall cabinet filled with bottles of colored liquids stood in the corner. Tables were piled with old books in odd colors. Some looked like reptile skin while others had fur. A couple shimmered like the evil eye Valcor wore on his chest.
In the back, shelves lined with jars drew his attention. Pickled eyes. Brains. What was a coranthination?
Small trinkets were scattered amongst the mess, and a mug of wands sat on a shelf.
Something drew Valcor’s gaze. Something half hidden by books and papers, but he couldn’t look away. Could it be?
“Is that a…a flute?” He stepped closer.
A bony hand stopped his progress, and the hood shook back and forth.
“I can pay.”
Her heart hammered. He was right outside! She should leap out of the trash bin and beat him to a bloody pulp. Kill him for turning her in.
The gentle beeping as Valcor flipped open the screen reached into her metal prison.
That deep bass voice burrowed deep into her soul and brought tears to her eyes, or was it the methane and hydrogen sulfide gasses of decomposition burning them?
The melodies of his love songs played inside her mind. The times she’d thought he was pouring out his heart and soul in rhythmic lines and tunes. Those low notes that sent shivers of appreciation up her spine.
She’d missed that. Missed the comfort of lying beside him, her hand completely dwarfed by his larger one. Why did he turn on me?
Valcor slid his left foot completely free of its bindings. She should have used separate ropes. “I’m in the army. I think I know when we’re at war.”
“But you didn’t…we didn’t…Ahhh…” She pushed her fingers into that luscious hair, and he longed to do the same.
“To tell the truth, I was injured pretty badly. I don’t remember the war myself.”
“What?” She turned, and an unreadable expression crossed her face. “So how do you know what happened?”
“Let’s just say that they brought me up to speed when I got better.”
“Interesting.” She took another step forward.
He needed her to come closer.
“So out there in the woods, why did you chase me?”
“Because…” He raised one eyebrow. “Come closer and let me show you.”
She pushed the blaster against his chest. “Is this close enough?”
He smiled. “Yes, it is!”
About the Author
Joy Spraycar lives in Utah at the base of the Rocky Mountains. She has always had a vivid imagination and told stories, not always to the amusement of those around her. Since she was young, she enjoyed bringing stories to life and sharing them with others.
However, her decided career lead her down many paths before finally setting her back where she began, putting pen to paper.
She enjoys writing about life the way she wishes it was, men who aren’t afraid to show their feelings (What girl doesn’t want that?) and romance in many different settings. She also loves her characters to have adventures, and face peril.
She hopes that you enjoy her Young Adult and New Adult Romances.
The Aria Knight Chronicles Book 1
By Alesha Escobar and Samantha Lafantasie
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal
Aria Knight has an unusual set of skills: she will hold back the hounds of Hell so you can fly toward the Pearly Gates, and she will wipe your slate clean so that you don’t become karma’s bitch…for a price.
A Sin Eater has to make a living in today’s world somehow.
But when she’s called in the dead of night to perform her rite for a recluse billionaire, she stumbles upon a murder scene, and the evidence points to her.
In an attempt to clear her name and uncover the true culprit, Aria is forced to team up with a private investigator who’s possessed by three spirits, and a handsome wizard who would rather see all Sin Eaters like Aria go extinct.
Aria knows her job is never easy, but now it’s become downright deadly.
SIN EATER is the first book of the Aria Knight Chronicles by USA Today bestselling author Samantha LaFantasie and Alesha Escobar, author of the bestselling Gray Tower Trilogy.
**.99 on Amazon!!**
I’m a caffeine addict and chocoholic who enjoys reading and writing engaging stories, loveable (and not-so loveable) characters, and expressing my creativity daily. I write fantasy with intriguing characters, action-packed scenes, and always throw in a good dash of humor and romance.
Science Fiction and Fantasy are my favorite genres, but I also adore the classics (Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, etc.) and I have a soft spot in my heart for Victorian poetry. You can geek out with me all-day every day over these
Some of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors are George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan (rest in peace), J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher (Dresden Files made me love Urban Fantasy), and Ilona Andrews among others. I enjoy movies and shows like Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, Arrow, The Flash, The Avengers…there are too many to name!
I want to read more comics and graphic novels, please shoot a recommendation or two my way (I LOVE the Hellblazer comics, by the way).
Please don’t be a stranger–I want you to kick up your feet, sip your coffee (or tea) and join in on my weekly rants, discussions, and updates.
A DESOLATE HOUR
by Mae Clair
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Pub Date: 7/18/2017
Sins of the past could destroy all of their futures . . .
For generations, Quentin Marsh’s family has seen its share of tragedy, though he remains skeptical that their misfortunes are tied to a centuries-old curse. But to placate his pregnant sister, Quentin makes the pilgrimage to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, hoping to learn more about the brutal murder of a Shawnee chief in the 1700s. Did one of the Marsh ancestors have a hand in killing the chief —the man who cursed the town with his dying breath?
While historian Sarah Sherman doesn’t believe in curses either, she’s compelled to use her knowledge of Point Pleasant to uncover the long-buried truth. The river town has had its own share of catastrophes, many tied to the legendary Mothman, the winged creature said to haunt the woods. But Quentin’s arrival soon reveals that she may have more of a stake than she realized. It seems that she and Quentin possess eerily similar family heirlooms. And the deeper the two of them dig into the past, the more their search enrages the ancient mystical forces surrounding Point Pleasant. As chaos and destruction start to befall residents, can they beat the clock to break the curse before the Mothman takes his ultimate revenge? . . .
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Mae Clair opened a Pandora’s Box of characters when she was a child and never looked back. Her father, an artist who tinkered with writing, encouraged her to create make-believe worlds by spinning tales of far-off places on summer nights beneath the stars.
Mae loves creating character-driven fiction in settings that vary from contemporary to mythical. Wherever her pen takes her, she flavors her stories with conflict, romance and elements of mystery. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lives in Pennsylvania and is passionate about writing, old photographs, a good Maine lobster tail and cats.
Author Blog Post:
Cryptozoology, Urban Legend and Myths
By Mae Clair
The word “cryptozoology” is one that often leaves people scratching their heads. Simply put it’s a pseudo-science devoted to the study of creatures that may exist, but haven’t been proven to exist. Most commonly, Bigfoot and the Lochness Monster spring to mind. I love reading up on cryptozoology, urban legends and myth, so I thought I’d share my Top Ten:
- The Mothman
I spent three years researching this winged “cryptid” including visiting the area where he was sighted in 1966-67, so of course he gets the number one position! My Point Pleasant Series incorporates the mythology of the Mothman, UFOs, Men In Black, and an ancient curse.
- The Lochness Monster
I’ve been fascinated by Nessie since I was a kid. I honestly hope no one ever discovers she’s “real.” The mystery is far more compelling.
- The Van Meter Monster
This gargoyle like creature haunted the town of Van Meter, Iowa during the autumn of 1903. Most of the eyewitness accounts were made by businesses men and other professionals who couldn’t afford to be viewed as “crackpots,” thus lending credence to the sightings.
- Jellyfish of the Air
In 1953 William Reich and an assistant raised an “orgone-charged” rod into the air in the hopes of attracting invisible beings he believed co-existed in our in our dimension, but were invisible to the naked eye. Within five seconds, a huge jellyfish-like creature attached itself to the rod, becoming visible long enough for Leistig to capture it in a photograph.
- The Squonk
I love the name! This Pennsylvania creature is reputed to be so hideous in appearance it spends its entire life sobbing and will vanish in a pool of tears if captured.
- The Hopkinsville Goblins
Extraterrestrial visitors who descended on the Sutton family farm in August of 1955, terrorizing the Suttons and their guest. No evidence of a hoax was ever discovered, causing many to believe the events an authentic UFO encounter.
- Men in Black
Mysterious men in black suits descended on the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966-67 with the sole intention of warning UFO witnesses not to talk about their encounters.
- Scotland’s Dog Suicide Bridge
Since the 1960s more than fifty dogs have leapt to their death from the Overtoun Bridge in Scotland. Even stranger, all the dogs jumped from the exact same spot, and each apparent “suicide” has occurred on pleasant, sunny days.
- Ley Lines
It’s believed many of the old places of the Earth resonate with power—hillforts, crossroads, standing stones and old funerary paths among them. When these and other “ley markers” align in a geographical pattern, they create a hypothetical link capable of releasing powerful energy.
- The Snallygaster
Maryland’s half-bird/half reptile creature was given enough credence in 1909 that Teddy Roosevelt almost canceled an African Safari to hunt it.
by Mary Feliz
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pub Date: 7/18/2017
As a professional organizer, Maggie McDonald brings order to messy situations. But when a good friend becomes a murder suspect, surviving the chaos is one tall task . . .
Despite a looming deadline, Maggie thinks she has what it takes to help friends Jason and Stephen unclutter their large Victorian in time for its scheduled renovation. But before she can fill a single bin with unused junk, Jason leaves for Texas on an emergency business trip, Stephen’s injured mastiff limps home—and Stephen himself lands in jail for murder. Someone killed the owner of a local Chinese restaurant and stuffed him in the freezer. Stephen, caught at the crime scene covered in blood, is the number one suspect. Now Maggie must devise a strategy to sort through secrets and set him free—before she’s tossed into permanent storage next . . .
Thursday, February 16, Morning
Maggie, we’ve got a crisis,” Jason had said the last time I’ded to him. “I know you insist on working with both halves
of a couple—”
“But I’m also a problem solver. What’s up?”
“That spate of tornadoes and flooding in Texas, that’s what. I’ve been deployed. I can’t back out or delay our departure. Those people are hurting, and it’s the first test of my new auxiliary law-enforcement team. A group of TV journalists is reporting on our project for some newsmagazine. Our funding and the future of programs like this de- pend on our success.” Jason rattled off the sentences breathlessly, without giving me a chance to comment or interrupt.
I understood his predicament. He’d been working on establishing a rapid-response law enforcement team for as long as I’d known him. The short version of the saga was that the team, with all its supplies, could swoop into a disaster area and support law enforcement efforts under local authority. The idea was to prevent looting, keep people safe, provide skilled guidance to volunteers, and eliminate many of
2 • Mary Feliz
the problems experienced by civilians, volunteers, and first respon- ders following Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. Jason’s team and others like it hoped to plug gaps between what FEMA and the National Guard could provide and what community resources were designed to accomplish.
“No problem,” I said. “We’ll start after you get back.” “Stephen’s ready to start, like, yesterday, and the demolition is
only two weeks away.”
“Ah . . .” I began, stalling for time. “To be successful, any system we develop will have to include you. If it’s going to work long term—”
“Look, Maggie, I’ve got to go. They’re loading our containers on the cargo plane. Stephen and I talked about priorities and goals last night. We made a list. I gave him parameters for tossing my stuff, and I promised not to divorce him if he gives away my favorite baseball glove. If that works for you, great. If not, take it up with Stephen. Arrange something—”
The phone cut off. I was left with the decision of whether to begin or postpone. I spotted several potential problems with Jason’s plan. Among the stumbling blocks was the fact that they might waste time and money creating a system that would work for Stephen, but not for Jason. When I’d spoken to Stephen, afterward, he considered my advice but ultimately decided to go ahead.
“No matter what Jason says, he’s going to have trouble making time for this project, even once he’s home again,” Stephen said. “Damn the torpedoes . . .”
That was two days ago. I’d decided Stephen was right. With Jason’s full-time job as a police detective he was never in full control of his own hours. Stephen was a retired US Marine who worked unpredictable hours volunteering with veterans and their canine counterparts, creat- ing civilian partnerships. If we were going to have their house ready to start a major remodel, there was no time to waste.
Today, Stephen and I were meeting to start purging their belongings, deciding what to save, and fine-tuning our organizational strategy.
I knocked on the front door of their sprawling Victorian near the Palo Alto border. There was no answer to the bell. No resonant woof from Stephen’s huge mastiff, Munchkin. I peered through the front window, leaving the print of my nose on the glass. Only dust motes moved inside.
I sat on the front step and texted Stephen:
Dead Storage • 3
My calendar says we’re meeting at 8:30 today. Do I have that right?
Stephen was an early riser, so I’d agreed to meet him as soon as I dropped my teen boys at the middle school and high school. He’d promised me coffee and bagels. At the thought of food, my stomach rumbled and my mouth filled with saliva. I was starving and caffeine deprived. My golden retriever, Belle, thumped her tail, whined, and leaned into me, looking up with yearning. Normally, I didn’t bring Belle to work with me, but Stephen was a friend of mine, a dog per- son, and Munchkin was Belle’s BFF.
“They’ll be back soon,” I told her, referring to both Stephen and his seldom-absent canine partner. “I’m sure everything is fine. How often are they ever late?”
Belle made a polite sound in response. “Right,” I said. “Never . . . Well, nearly never.”
Extreme and unrelenting punctuality was a fault of Stephen’s, an artifact of his time in the military. Some of his friends found it an- noying, but I shared the trait and appreciated his timely arrival when- ever we got together. I bit my lip, sighed, and squinted into the sun to scan the neighborhood. There was no car in the drive. He must have had a last-minute errand that went longer than he had planned. Unex- pected traffic tie-ups were a recurring Silicon Valley problem. With the high-tech economy, growing population, and high-density build- ing projects booming, the area was home to a record number of peo- ple. More people meant more cars. A trip to the dentist that took fifteen minutes a month or two earlier could easily take thirty min- utes or longer today, even without a rush-hour fender bender creating gridlock. The problem grew worse daily and there was no easy solu- tion.
I looked at my watch. Any minute, I expected to see Stephen and Munchkin loping up the street from one direction or the other. At six- foot-four inches, accompanied by a dog that weighed almost as much as he did, Stephen was hard to miss.
I paced in front of the house. This situation reminded me too much of a client session I’d begun four months earlier, standing on a front porch a few blocks away when my client was late. That morn- ing had culminated in the death of a dear friend. I shivered, drew my fleece coat closer to me, peered at my phone, and dialed Stephen’s number.
The phone rang before I could finish punching the buttons. “Hello?” I said. The phone responded with crackles and pops. “. . . police station . . . jail . . .”
“Hello? Who is this? I’m not going to fall for that trick. My kids are safe in school.” I disconnected the call. Our entire town had been plagued with phishing phone calls from crooks pretending to be our children or grandchildren. The calls all followed the same pattern: a distraught young voice claiming to be kin begged for money to be wired immediately. Most people, like me, recognized it for what it was and hung up the phone. But older people, those in the beginning stages of dementia or vulnerable in other ways, grew distraught. A friend of my mom called her daughter nearly every day to be reas- sured that the children and grandchildren were safe. The scams were criminal, disruptive, and downright cruel.
I shook off my righteous indignation and dialed Stephen again. In the process, I noted that the crooks, whoever they were, were getting crafty. My phone reported that the phishing call originated from the police station in Mountain View, the town that abutted Orchard View’s southern border. I made a mental note to tell Jason about the call the next time we spoke. When he wasn’t helping flood-ravaged towns in Texas, Jason was an Orchard View detective. He’d know who to no- tify about calls from people impersonating the police.
My call went to voice mail.
has lived in five states and two countries but calls Silicon Valley home. Traveling to other areas of the United States, she’s frequently reminded that what seems normal in the high-tech heartland can seem decidedly odd to the rest of the country. A big fan of irony, serendipity, diversity, and quirky intelligence tempered with gentle humor, Mary strives to bring these elements into her writing, although her characters tend to take these elements to a whole new level. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and National Association of Professional Organizers. Mary is a Smith College graduate with a degree in Sociology. She lives in Northern California with her husband, near the homes of their
two adult offspring.
The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
by Joan Schweighardt
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Historical
Two threads are flawlessly woven together in this sweeping historical novel. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission. Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue.
Joan Schweighardt is the author of five novels, and more on the way. In addition to her own writing projects, she writes, ghostwrites, and edits for individuals and corporations.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I had my own publishing company for a while, GreyCore Press (from 1999 to 2005). I loved publishing, and I think I did a pretty good job of it. I published a beautiful memoir (A Month of Sundays: Searching for the Spirit and my Sister, by Julie Mars), that became a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” title, which meant that it could be found on the front shelf of every BN in the country. I also published a children’s book (When I Wished I Was Alone by Dave Cutler) which became a top ten “read to me” selection at Borders Books. Other titles did really well too. I would probably still be publishing today, but my penultimate distributor went out of business owning me (and many other client publishers) quite a lot of money, which I in turn owed to the bank I’d borrowed from. I found another distributor, but I never quite recovered from that setback. But all’s well that ends well. I still continue to work with authors, and now I don’t have any overhead.
Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!
As part of my research for my most recent novel (not yet published) I stayed with an indigenous tribe in the rainforest in Ecuador and then made a second trip to South America to travel the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers with a private guide. I took the first trip when I started my book, to get a feel for the jungle. The second trip was my reward for finishing the first draft. In between the two trips I read everything I could find about the rainforest, its people, its medicinal plants, etc., until I was dreaming the rivers and the jungle. Now I’m spoiled. The combination of the book research, the travel research and the actual writing has been a grand life experience. I won’t want any future books to be anything less.
Describe your writing style.
Back when I first started writing I tried to develop a writing style by emulating my favorite authors. For a while I tired to be Nabokov, but of course no one can be Nabokov but the man himself. Then I tired to be D. H. Lawrence, and I’m here to tell you there is nothing more nauseating than a bad imitation of Lawrence. But as I grew into becoming a writer, I realized it wouldn’t serve me to have a particular style anyway, because I didn’t intend to stick to writing a particular kind of book. Some of my books, like The Accidental Art Thief, are humorous. Others, especially the historical fictions, are dramatic but not necessarily humorous. Some are written in third person, some in first, and some in first person but in the voices of several different characters. Over the years I have made a living writing, ghostwriting and editing for other people. The ability to change styles and voices easily has helped me to become a good ghostwriter. My clients really like it when the text sounds just like them. I’ve become a literary chameleon.
What makes a good story?
That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Of course a good novel has to be well structured and well written, but there’s always something else too, some je ne sais quoi that makes the story sing. It might be a fabulously-drawn character, like the husband in Carolyn Parkhurst’s Dogs of Babel. Or it could be a really clever plot, like in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Or great dialogue, like just about everything by Tana French, especially her first novel, In The Woods. I could have listened to her characters talk forever, even if the book had no plot, which of course it did.
What are you passionate about these days?
I am passionate about the writing process. When I was still learning the craft, I was content to stick to writing about what I knew, as my teachers always advised. But once I had the craft down, I wanted to explore the many aspects of life (and history, particularly) about which I knew little or nothing. That is one of the reasons why I love writing books with historical settings. I love extensive research. For me the process of writing is one of both discovery and creation. I want my books to be life changing experiences. Then, if other people like them too, it’s all gravy!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Sometimes I yield to my vices, such as drinking wine and playing poker. But most of the time I read.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I was very shy as a kid, and even to some degree as I got older. I always felt awkward and unable to express myself as fluidly as I would have liked. But give me a pen and paper, or, eventually, a keyboard, and I could go at it. Reading and writing have always been my way of exploring the world.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing around the time I started reading…not reading for school but reading on my own. We did not have a lot of books in the house when I was growing up, but I did come across a collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe when I was in my teens, and that was where it began. I loved the fluidity and intensity of his writing. I was enthralled with the power of his imagination. I wanted to do that too. Before that, I wanted to dance ballet. There was no chance I would ever be a ballerina, because I was never that coordinated and my family couldn’t have afforded dance lessons anyway. But I did think I could do the writing thing, in time, if I worked hard at it.
The Freedom Broker
by KJ Howe
KIDNAP & RANSOM
IN-DEPTH RESEARCH FOR CANADIAN AUTHOR’S DEBUT INTERNATIONAL THRILLER
There are twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world. Only one is a woman. And she’s the best in the business. Meet Thea Paris in THE FREEDOM BROKER.
With over 40,000 reported kidnappings every year—which translates to five people every hour—the world of kidnap and ransom is taking on a newsworthy role across the globe. Displaced military and police in third world countries have no way to put food on the table, but they do have security skills, so they have turned to kidnapping as a way of making a living. Also, terrorists are using kidnapping as a fundraising enterprise, filling their coffers with over 125 million dollars since 2009. Kidnappers used to only abduct high net-worth individuals and executives of multi-national organizations. Not anymore. Journalists, aid workers, and family members of executives have now become high value targets.
Kidnapping is a growing international crisis. What tools do we have to fight against this increasing threat? There are twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators who travel to the globe’s hotspots to bring hostages home, through negotiation or recovery, and they are called response consultants or freedom brokers. Local to Toronto, author K.J. Howe has immersed herself in the world of kidnapping for the last three years, interviewing kidnap negotiators, former hostages, kidnap and ransom insurance executives, hostage reintegration experts, psychiatrists specializing in the captive’s mindset, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues.
Howe’s research culminates into her debut thriller, THE FREEDOM BROKER, published by the Hachette Book Group under the Quercus imprint in the US, Canada, U.K. and many foreign territories. The book has reached attention North America wide, and has led to reviewers such as #1 NYT Bestseller James Patterson calling it “fact and fiction at its best.”
K.J. Howe’s novel has received positive and international acclaim from some of North America’s most influential mediums and authors including:
TIME Magazine called the book a “Dark Delight.”
#1 NYT Bestseller Lee Child endorses the book: “Razor sharp and full of you-are-there authenticity—a superb thriller.”
NYT Bestseller Linwood Barclay shares, “Breathless action, great characters, and convincing details make Howe’s debut a surefire rocket to the top of the lists.”
In The Providence Journal, USA Today Bestselling author Jon Land reviews, “The Freedom Broker is a blisteringly original, superbly crafted thriller that promises to be one of the major debuts of 2017. K.J. Howe’s gut-wrenching foray into the world of hostage negotiation turned upside down propels her straight into the league of Linda Fairstein, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Scottoline, and Karin Slaughter, thanks to a tale framed by an emotional complexity and structural elegance both rare for the genre. As riveting as it is bracing, this is reading entertainment at its absolute best.”
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Born in Toronto, Canada, K.J. enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle during her early years, living in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean, which gave her an insider’s view into many different cultures. While abroad, she read every book she could find, which triggered in her a desire to create her own stories.
She attended Salzburg International Preparatory School, Neuchâtel Junior College, and Albert College before earning a Specialists Degree in Business from the University of Toronto. K.J. found success in the corporate world, but her passion for travel, adventure, and stories drew her back to school where she earned a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She also won several writing awards, including three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.
While honing her fiction skills, K.J. worked as a medical, health, and fitness writer. She then became involved with the International Thriller Writers as the executive director of ThrillerFest, the organization’s annual conference held every July in New York City.
In preparation for writing THE FREEDOM BROKER series, which focuses on elite kidnap negotiator Thea Paris, K.J. spent extensive time researching the dark world of kidnapping. She has interviewed former hostages, negotiators, hostage reintegration experts, Special Forces operatives, and K&R insurance executives.
K.J. is an avid tennis player, cyclist, and swimmer. Travel and adventure still rank high on her priority list. She has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, zip lining in the Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action.
K.J. Howe is available for interviews and appearances along with presentations about kidnapping and travel safety. For media appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and/or book review requests please contact email@example.com by email or by phone at 403.464.6925.
500 feet above Kwale, Nigeria
Thea Paris knew the drill.
If the mission failed, no one would retrieve her body. She’d be left to rot in the jungle, unidentified and forgotten. And that wouldn’t do. She couldn’t miss her father’s 60th celebration.
Her gloved hand glided over her flak jacket and M4 with practiced ease. Night vision goggles, flares, grenades, extra magazines—all easy to access. The weapon had been tested, cleaned and oiled, ready to combat the humidity of the jungle. Pre-mission checks done.
The hypnotic purr of the resurrected Hughes 500P helicopter set the tone for the operation. Black, in every sense of the word. Sound, movement, light, all kept to a minimum. They were flying Nap-of-the-Earth; low, utilizing the terrain to stay below the radar.
As operational commander, she’d led her seven-man team through endless rehearsals, using a model of the targeted area. Now it was time for execution. Brown listened to Hendrix in his earbuds, his way of psyching up. Johansson stared into space, probably thinking about his pregnant wife who wasn’t happy he’d accepted this mission. Team A, following behind in the other gutted chopper, consisted of twin brothers Neil and Stewart—yep, born in Scotland—and a wizened former French Foreign Legionnaire named Jean-Luc who could outshoot them all. She’d handpicked each one from the pool of operatives at Quantum International Security.
Except Rifat Asker, her boss’ son.
Who was staring at her. They’d known each other since they’d been kids, as their fathers were best friends. Rif had serious combat skills, but they often locked horns on methods of execution. She traced the S-shaped scar on her right cheek, a permanent reminder of Rif clashing with her brother Nikos.
She pressed a special app button on her smartphone. The glucose monitor read 105. Batteries were fully charged. Perfect. Nothing screwed up a mission more than low blood sugar. She slipped her phone into the pocket of her fatigues beside her glucagon kit. Rif’s assessing gaze still focused on her. Did he suspect she had diabetes? She’d done her best to keep her illness under wraps. Competition was tough among this elite group, and she didn’t want anyone thinking she wasn’t up for the job.
The pilot’s voice crackled in her earpiece. “Three minutes to touchdown.”
“Roger that. We’re green here.”
The second helicopter followed somewhere behind them, but the stormy sky obliterated all evidence of its existence. She wiped her damp palms on her fatigues. Rain rattled the chopper’s fuselage, and the turbulence unsettled her stomach. Flying had never been her strong suit. The reduced visibility worked in their favor, but the cloying humidity and heat degraded the airtime and performance of the chopper. To compensate, they’d reduced their fuel load to stay as light as possible, but that left only a minimal buffer for problems.
Rif shifted to face Brown and Johansson. “Okay, boys, let’s grab this ‘Oil Eagle’.”
The hostage, John Sampson, an oil executive based in Texas, earned high six figures to visit remote drilling sites and increase their output. Sampson had two kids, and his wife taught third grade. He coached baseball every Thursday night, but he’d missed the last ten weeks because he’d been held captive in the swamp by MEND—Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta. Seemed like every terrorist group had some catchy acronym, like they’d hired PR firms to come up with them.
This Nigerian militant group wouldn’t budge from a three-million-dollar demand, and Sampson’s kidnapping insurance topped out at one mil. That left one option. Rescue. But one out of five was the success rate for extractions.
“One minute until touchdown,” the pilot warned.
She slipped on her night vision goggles and clutched the straps anchored to the cabin walls.
“You sure there’s no leak?” Black camo paint emphasized the tension in the lines around Rif’s eyes.
“Roger that.” She concentrated on the positives—always better than bleak thoughts when descending into hellfire. They should have the element of surprise, and she’d selected a crackerjack team. Every member would put his life on the line for the others, and their combined combat experience read like the Ivy League of special ops.
The pilot threaded the riverbed using the narrow view provided by the FLIR camera mounted near the skids. Flying into the thick jungle on a moonless night was far from optimal, but their intel was time sensitive. They had to get Sampson out tonight.
“Thirty seconds.” The pilot’s warning was like a shot of caffeine injected into her veins.
They’d arrived at a small clearing in the triple canopy jungle two miles from the rebel camp. A film of perspiration coated her back. Her body tingled. Alive, awake, adrenalized.
The pilot raised the bird’s nose, flaring to a hover, then settled onto the grass. She nodded to her team, and they hit the ground and rolled away from the chopper. Heat emanated from the rotorwash, as their transport rose up and away.
A moldy stench flooded her mouth and nose, the residual effect of endless rainy seasons. They huddled in the thick bush while the other Hughes dropped off Jean-Luc and the two Scots. She scanned the area. The choppers faded into the distance, their peculiar silhouettes showcasing the modifications for stealth.
Night sounds returned. Crickets chirping, water gurgling from the nearby river bed, the ominous roar of a hippo. She checked her GPS, signaled Rif, and entered the dense foliage. Forty-two minutes to execute the rescue, rendezvous with the helicopters, and get the hell out of here. She circumnavigated the heaviest brush, then froze.
A sound. Scuffling in the bushes. Her hands tightened on her M4. A sentry so close to their launch point?
She glanced over her shoulder. Rif’s large frame crouched two feet behind her. Brown and Johansson squatted beside him while Team A covered the rear. The shrubbery to their left rippled in the brisk breeze.
Silence. A mosquito implanted itself in her neck. She ignored the sharp sting.
A branch snapped. She flicked off the safety.
Crunching footsteps. A shrill cry.
She scanned right, left. Movement flashed in front of them at ground level.
Her finger hovered beside the trigger.
A porcupine scurried across their ingress route, its quills in full attack mode.
She exhaled a long breath and gave Brown a half-smile. Dammit to hell. She’d almost shot the prickly creature, which would have blown their cover. Brown touched the rabbit’s foot around his neck and nodded. Good luck charms were an operational must. She always wore the St. Barbara silver pendant her father had given her on her twelfth birthday. It hadn’t let her down yet.
The two teams traversed the unfriendly terrain, minimizing any disturbance of the bush. Animal sounds punctuated the night, the rainfall a constant backdrop. She scouted the path, moving cautiously in the darkness. At the edge of the ridge, she paused. Faint flames from a fire kicked her heart into overdrive. The outskirts of the MEND camp lurked below.
She scoured the area. No sign of sentries along the bluff. She squeezed Rif’s arm, signaling him to lead Team A down the escarpment. They’d have a rough time of it. The earth was thick, muddy, slick.
Thea, Brown, and Johansson remained on the curved ridge. As commander, she needed a bird’s eye view. Brown and Johansson flanked her, positioned to counter any patrolling rebels.
She cloaked herself in shrubbery and settled into her hide. They’d mapped all the major landmarks from satellite images: the rebels’ weapons hut perched beside the acacia trees, a large shelter to the west sequestered in the jungle, and five small buildings rooted in the southwest quadrant. Outbuilding Tango held their hostage, a quarter mile away.
She waited and watched for what seemed to be an eternity, rain seeping into her shirt mixing with sweat, leaving her skin clammy and cold. Her mind went to the weirdest places during missions—she pictured this sodden landscape as an ideal backdrop for a waterproof mascara ad.
A tiny shiver darted across her shoulders. The world was preternaturally still, quiet—like death had already arrived. Twenty-five precious minutes had evaporated. Not good.
Precise and measured, she nestled her rifle into the overhang. Her breathing slowed. She scanned the area, pursing her lips, the familiar taste of camo grease comforting her.
A soft hiss whispered in her earpiece, then Rif came on. “Going for the Eagle.” Team A hovered on the outskirts of the camp.
Muffled laughter echoed in the distance. A few rebels huddled by the campfire, undoubtedly trying to ward off the dampness with some kai-kai, a local palm liquor.
“Six hostiles by the fire with AK-47s. You’re good to go.” Her voice was barely audible. They had to assume MEND had guards posted. Double-crosses dominated the rebels’ lives, making them especially paranoid.
Footsteps sounded nearby. She froze. Definitely a human cadence. The soft glow of a cigarette caught her eye. A rebel headed straight for her.
Time for cocktail hour. She eased her hand into her pack and pulled out the tranquilizer gun, her fingers brushing the ballistic syringe loaded with an immobilizing drug.
The rebel cleared his throat and continued his patrol, oblivious. She waited, keeping her breath even, her body motionless. He stepped into range. In one motion, she twisted her body, lifted the tranquilizer gun, and fired. The rebel grunted and slapped at his neck, as if swatting an insect. Seconds later, he slumped to the ground.
She scrambled over to him and poked him with the toe of her boot. No response. She crushed his cigarette into the wet earth and secured his hands and feet with plastic cuffs, slapping duct tape on his mouth. They should be long gone before he woke.
Thea’s skin was slick as the rain continued to batter the earth. She glanced at her stopwatch—another four and a half minutes had passed since Team A had entered the camp. Glancing to the southwest, she waited for Rif and his team to return with the hostage, anxious to hear the code “gusher,” meaning the hostage had been found.
Minutes ticked by, and nothing. Her nerves were tighter than the strings on a Stradivarius.
Her radio buzzed. Rif’s measured voice came through. “Dry well. The Eagle isn’t in Tango.”
She sucked in air. Intel from two hours ago had confirmed Sampson’s location in that outbuilding. He must’ve been moved.
“Abort.” It killed her to do this, but she couldn’t endanger her team members’ lives by ordering an exploration of the camp. There wasn’t enough time. They’d tried—and failed. The intel was bad. End of story. End of mission.
Silence greeted her. Dammit. Rif was a pro; he knew to respond to her command.
“Abort mission. Confirm.” She scanned the camp. A few more rebels joined the group around the fire.
Rif’s voice filled the silence. “Give me three minutes, over.”
No way. Three minutes was a lifetime. They needed to leave immediately to meet the choppers.
“I repeat, abort mission, over.”
Her earpiece finally crackled. “Wait, out.” Operator speak for bugger off, I’m busy. Rif had spent years in Delta Force, but this wasn’t the U.S. Army. She was in charge of this mission, and he was defying orders.
Before she could respond, shots fired below at the base camp. No more hiding in the shadows. Time to bring it.
“Go active,” she commanded her team.
The men from the campfire scrambled for their weapons while Brown and Johansson blasted their M4s from their positions on the ridge. Figures dropped to the muddy earth. Bullets ripped through the night, and the scent of gunpowder flooded her nostrils.
“Brown, take your shot.” He was responsible for disabling the rebels’ ammo hut with the grenade launcher.
“Eyes shut,” Brown warned, protecting the team’s vision from the bright lights of the explosion since they all wore night vision goggles. Seconds later, the building erupted in a burst of crimson flames.
The sound of metal hitting rock sharpened her focus. Bullets showered the area around her. She pressed her chin into the mud, flattened her body, and returned fire.
A group of rebels stormed toward the cliffside, but the team’s NVGs made the figures easy targets. Blasts reverberated across the valley as muzzle flashes flared.
“Return to home base, over.” Her voice remained calm, but four-letter words ricocheted through her brain.
Where was Rif?
She spotted rebels at the base of the hill, the men cutting off Team A’s egress route. Dammit to hell. Well, “all in” was obviously the theme of the day.
“Cover me, Brown.” She jumped up from her hide and ran down the slippery hillside, her footing uncertain in the muck. Before the rebels could react to her presence, she pressed the trigger on her M4, rattling off round after round. She slammed in a fresh magazine and kept firing. Several men fell, others ran for cover. She continued the barrage. The egress route was clear. At least now Rif and the others had a chance of getting out.
Her radio buzzed. “Bravo four, hit.” Johansson’s voice was reedy. He’d been shot.
The northeast wasn’t covered, and Rif was AWOL. It was up to her to help Jo.
She pressed the talk button. “Coming, Jo. Brown, watch my back.”
Sprinting back up the hill, she traversed the ridge toward Johansson, mud sucking at her combat boots.
Fifty feet. She pushed harder.
Bullets peppered the air around her. She dove behind the tree.
Her forearms bore the brunt of her landing, the pain rumbling up to her shoulders. She scrambled forward on her belly and checked Johansson. Blood seeped from his shoulder. His face was ashen, his eyes unfocused. She grabbed a quick clot from the first aid kit in Jo’s backpack and placed it on his wound. “I’m too scared to face your hormonal wife alone, so keep your shit together.”
He gave her a weak smile.
She secured the morphine syringe from his front pocket and injected him. He’d be lost in the hazy world of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon soon enough.
A group of rebels climbed the embankment. Brown maintained his disciplined fire, but couldn’t keep up. She aimed at the oncoming attackers and pressed the trigger. Several men fell. She shoved a fresh magazine into her M4.
Figures appeared in the mist, the heat of their bodies a hazy green through the night vision goggles. She counted them. Four. The tallest one, Rif, had a body slung over his right shoulder. Sampson. They’d found him, but she couldn’t tell if the hostage was dead or alive.
“Jo, Team A’s back. Can you walk?” Her breath was rapid and shallow.
Not sure she believed him, given he was on morphine. She was strong for a buck thirty lightweight, but couldn’t run while carrying over two hundred pounds. They’d be an easy mark for the rebels.
Rif’s team had reached the ridge.
“Stand up, Soldier.”
Johansson groaned. “My wife’s going to kill me.”
“No time for marriage counselling.” She helped him to his feet. He stumbled, unsteady in the mud. She wrapped his arm around her shoulder, supporting his weight. “Let’s get you home, Papa-To-Be.”
The faint sound of incoming rotorwash spurred her. They only had a few minutes to reach the clearing.
A burst of nearby gunfire startled her. She looked up, prepared to shoot, but she recognized Rif’s lanky frame running across the ridge. He joined them behind a massive tree. Rain had smeared the black camo paint, giving his face a sinister look. “Team A’s headed back to the clearing with Sampson.” He slung his rifle across his back and hoisted Johansson over his shoulder. “Cover me.”
She stormed after them, heart and rifle on full auto. The rebels dove for shelter as she and Brown laid down suppressing fire. She shouted at Brown. “Chopper!” All of her teammates needed to be on the Hughes before she would jump in.
The three of them sprinted for the clearing as another onslaught of bullets barraged the surrounding trees. She used a large mangrove for cover and returned fire, giving Rif time to help Johansson to safety.
She zigzagged across the open field. Her chopper rested in a valley a hundred meters away. The other Hughes holding Team A and Sampson lifted off into the rain. Bullets whipped by. A sharp sting flared in her arm as she plowed through the thick underbrush. She ignored the pain and ran faster.
She scrambled down the gorge and dove inside the chopper. Johansson, Brown, and Rif were already on board. She ripped off her night vision goggles and grabbed her headset.
“Go!” she yelled at the pilot.
The winds gusted from the east, which meant they had to power up while heading straight into the barrels of the rebels’ AK-47s. The rotorblades strained as a group of armed men ran toward the Hughes. Come on, come on. Her fingernails dug into her palms. They plunged straight into live fire like a flying piñata.
She kept her gaze straight ahead, willing the chopper to reach 60 knots so they could turn. Seconds felt like hours as they finally accelerated and swerved away from the camp. She glanced into the cockpit. The pilot’s shirt was soaked.
Rif glanced at the blood on her sleeve. “You hit?”
“Just a graze.” She stared at the holes in the fuselage, realizing just how close a call it’d been—and how Rif changing the plan mid-mission could have cost her teammates their lives.
“Is Sampson okay?” After all this, she prayed the hostage was alive.
“He’s dehydrated and a bit roughed up, but he’ll make it.”
“Amen for that.” Saint Barbara had done her job again. Thea slumped against the fuselage, grateful the rebels didn’t have an RPG. She checked her phone. As expected, the intense stress had skyrocketed her blood sugar levels. But the insulin would counteract that soon enough.
She inhaled a deep breath. Another hostage safely returned by Quantum International Security. Looks like she’d make Papa’s party, after all.
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These Mean Streets Darkly
Liquid Cool Prequel
by Austin Dragon
Genre: Cyberpunk Detective Thriller
THESE MEAN STREETS, DARKLY the prequel to the cyberpunk detective series, Liquid Cool.
It’s a world of colossal skyscrapers. Hovercars fly above in the dark, rainy skies and gray people walk below on the grimy, hard streets in the “Neon Jungle.” Uber-governments and megacorporations fight for control of the supercity, but so does crime.
An average woman, Carol—hardworking and decent in every way— loses her daughter to the psycho Red Rabbit. Can Police Central find the girl in time—alive? And is it really a random, senseless kidnapping in the fifty-million-plus city?
There are a million victims and perpetrators in this High-Tech, Low-Life World. This is one of those stories…before we meet our private eye (and unlikely hero), Cruz, in the debut novel, Liquid Cool!
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Liquid Cool Series Book 1
A Cyberpunk Thriller To Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat!
Liquid Cool is the action-packed (and funny), cyberpunk detective series.
How Much is One Life Worth?
In the sci-fi/cyberpunk detective series, author Austin Dragon shows why you never want to meet a cyborg in a dark alley. Liquid Cool is a cross between Blade Runner and the Maltese Falcon. There is plenty of gritty action, suspense, thrills, and even a few laughs.
It’s cyberpunk reimagined—an ever-rainy world of colossal skyscrapers, hovercars, flashy neon streets, and futuristic mechanization. Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and megacorporations fight for control of the fifty-million-plus super-city, but so does crime.
We meet Cruz, our private eye (and unlikely hero), in this super-city with a million victims and perpetrators. Watch out for tech-tricksters, analog hustlers, and digital gangsters—psychos, samurais, and cyborgs aplenty. Visitors have a way of becoming permanent attractions.
Welcome to the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool.
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Liquid Cool Book 2
The Cyberpunk Detective Thriller Blade Gunner Keeps You on the Edge of Your Seat!
Liquid Cool is the action-packed (and funny), debut cyberpunk detective series.
Who is Blade Gunner?
In the next installment of the sci-fi/cyberpunk detective series, author Austin Dragon shows you when two forces of evil want to kill each other—get the hell out of the way! The Liquid Cool Series is the sci-fi classic, Blade Runner meets the Old Hollywood classic, Maltese Falcon. There is plenty of gritty action, suspense, thrills, and even a few laughs.
It’s the cyberpunk novel reimagined—an ever-rainy world of colossal skyscrapers, hover-cars, flashy neon streets, and futuristic mechanization. Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and mega-corporations fight for control of the fifty-million-plus super-city, but so does crime.
Sinister secret megacorporations. Savage Cyborg cults. And the Blade Gunner. How does Cruz, our private eye (and unlikely hero), solve this case—let alone survive? Off-worlders will do anything to stop the unknown man called Blade Gunner—even to blow up a supercity from space! The seedy spousal surveillance case doesn’t look so bad after all, but it’s too late to go back. You haven’t read a cyberpunk novel like this.
Welcome to the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool.
Liquid Cool Book 3
The Cyberpunk Detective Series Continues to Thrill in NeuroDancer!
Liquid Cool is the action-packed (and funny), debut cyberpunk detective series.
Has Cruz met his supervillain match in NeuroDancer?
Liquid Cool is a Blade Runner meets the Maltese Falcon. In the next installment of the sci-fi/cyberpunk detective series, author Austin Dragon goes from less frenetic cyberpunk to a smoother, cyber-noir with our hero, Cruz, matching wits with the sultry NeuroDancer. There is always plenty of gritty action, suspense, thrills, and even a few laughs.
It’s the cyberpunk novel reimagined—an ever-rainy world of colossal skyscrapers, hover-cars, flashy neon streets, and futuristic mechanization. Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and mega-corporations fight for control of the fifty-million-plus super-city, but so does crime.
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” she said to him. He should have listened to his instincts when she strolled into his office to hire him. “I knew I wasn’t gonna touch this case with a 10-foot pole. It had danger written all over it, back and front.” But he did take the Case of the NeuroDancer. Is this the private eye story where the bad “guy” rides off into the sunset and the hero lies flat on his back waiting for the meat wagon to fly down in their hoverambulance.
Which is crazier, indeed: the criminal—or the client? Welcome to the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool.
The Electric Sheep Massacre
Liquid Cool Book 4
The Cyberpunk Detective Series Goes to London!
But in The Electric Sheep Massacre does our detective come back? And, is that before or after someone tries to kill him in the world of virtual reality?!
Liquid Cool is the action-packed (and funny), debut cyberpunk detective series.
Liquid Cool is Blade Runner meets the Maltese Falcon. In the next installment of the sci-fi/cyberpunk detective series, author Austin Dragon takes our private detective from the wild, concrete wastelands outside the supercity Metropolis across the Great Ocean to London Prime (that’s what they call it in the future) to the most dangerous place in the world—virtual reality, where all of a sudden people are killing and dying.
It’s the cyberpunk novel reimagined—an ever-rainy world of colossal skyscrapers, hovercars, flashy neon streets, and futuristic mechanization. Metropolis isn’t a bad place, but it isn’t a good one either. Uber-governments and megacorporations fight for control of the fifty-million-plus supercity, but so does crime.
Welcome to the high-tech, low-life world of Liquid Cool.
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Austin Dragon is author of the After Eden Series, including the After Eden: Tek-Fall mini-series, the classic Sleepy Hollow Horrors, and the cyberpunk detective series, Liquid Cool. He is a native New Yorker, but has called Los Angeles, California home for the last twenty years. Words to describe him, in no particular order: U.S. Army, English teacher, one-time resident of Paris, political junkie, movie buff, campaign manager and staffer of presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, Fortune 500 corporate recruiter, renaissance man, and dreamer.
He is currently working on new books and series in science fiction, fantasy, and classic horror!