The Acadian Secret Tammy Lowe
(The Acadian Secret, #1)
Published by: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: August 10th 2022
Genres: Action, Adventure, Time-Travel, Young Adult
Nova Scotia has kept an incredible secret for centuries. In 1795, sixteen-year-old John Smith, convinced he’s found buried treasure, digs down into a mysterious pit on a small island.
In present day Nova Scotia, twelve-year-old Elisabeth London knows there’s no such thing as magic, but when she finds herself in 17th century Scotland, she no longer knows what to think. While under the guardianship of a kind-hearted Highlander, Elisabeth discovers his ancestral home holds a mystery of its own.
As John continues to dig the strange pit, he inadvertently begins the longest running, most expensive, and deadliest treasure hunt in history. Now, Elisabeth London and John Smith each try to unravel the secrets consuming them, unaware that a tormented young man holds the string weaving all of their lives together.
For Elisabeth, the adventure is just beginning. Unless her parents discover she’s time-travelling. Then…she is so grounded.
As the evening sun wandered behind the mountains, it cast an emerald glow across a glen. The valley was dotted with boulders, rocks, and drifts of bright yellow flowering bushes that blanketed the rolling hills, perfuming the air with a coconut scent. A small river twisted its way toward a distant forest. Overhead, a hawk screeched while soaring across an endless blue sky, declaring its vast territory to other hawks.
A dog yelped, over and over and over again.
Awakened by the barking, Elisabeth’s eyes narrowed in confusion. Her chest tightened as she sat up. “What the—?”
A huge, hairy boar, with razor-sharp tusks, lunged into the nearby brambles.
With a gasp, Elisabeth scrambled behind a large rock. Her breath hitched as her mind raced to make sense of the surrounding scenery.
That’s when a hunter, with a short beard and wild black hair that gave him a crazed look, came galloping over the crest of a hill on horseback. “Good boy, Talbot,” he yelled when the dog lunged into the brambles after the wild pig. The angry grunts of the boar filtered through the thick shrub.
Elisabeth leaped back, ducking low to hide behind the boulder. One hand pressed tight across her mouth.
The clip-clop stomping of the horse’s hooves sounded closer. Then, the hunter’s voice rose in pitch as his piercing blue-green eyes stared down at her, crouched in the heather. “What the devil…?”
A cold chill ran up her spine when he dismounted. His head cocked slightly to the side, and she realized his hearing focused on the dog and the boar as he drew closer.
Bending to peer at her, the hunter scratched his cheek. “You all right, lass?”
Elisabeth’s muscles tightened and she drew her head back sharply. “Yep. Fine.”
“Then…what are ye doing out here?” he asked in an uncertain tone while helping her to her feet. “Dressed in naught but…that?”
Elisabeth’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“Well, you’re lucky I found you before—” The silence in the valley now broken, Talbot howled, the boar squealed, and Elisabeth backed away with quick, jerky steps.
“Dinnae move, lass,” he ordered in a steady, low-pitched voice while reaching for his dagger.
Elisabeth gasped for air, watching the enraged boar desert its hiding spot in the brambles and charge toward the dog, its lethal tusks ready to kill.
Talbot seemed well-trained so, instead of turning tail and running, he danced backward, facing the pig, luring it away from his master. With the boar now in pursuit of the dog, the hunter ran at the beast as if he were a wild animal himself. Jumping on the boar from behind, he grabbed its ear, yanked its head up, and slashed its throat.
Elisabeth’s heart pounded, and she gripped the sides of her head.
The hunter jumped off the boar as it fell limp at his feet and cleaned the blade on the carcass before putting it away. He then walked toward Elisabeth, his bloody hands held in front of him.
“You’ve got a knife.” Elisabeth whimpered as her gaze darted from the enormous man dressed in a skirt to the ragtag group of hunters who came cantering over the crest of the hill.
“Aye, and a sword.” He smirked while pointing at it. “I’m not going to harm you, though. I’m hunting.”
“Hunting what? Little girls?” Not waiting for an answer, she bolted, heading for the distant forest.
The hunter took a step back and chuckled as Elisabeth made her great escape in slow motion, hindered terribly by bare feet.
“You’re completely mad!” he shouted while mounting his horse, motioning to the arriving men to deal with the boar carcass.
The black warhorse was as large and intimidating as the hunter and the animal’s powerful legs kicked up tall grass and thistles as it galloped along. The sound of its hooves seemed amplified as it neared Elisabeth.
Without needing to slow his horse, he reached down, scooped Elisabeth into his arms, and placed her in the saddle in front of him. She let out a sharp scream.
“There. Now be a good lass. I promise I’m not going to hurt you. You’re on my land so I know you’re not from these parts. I cannot leave you alone out here. It’s not safe and will soon be dark.”
A wave of coldness caused Elisabeth to tremble. She had no idea where she was and no recollection of arriving. When the hunter wrapped her in his plaid and nudged his horse on, Elisabeth’s shoulders tightened. She remained silent, bringing a shaky hand to her forehead while trying to figure out what the heck was going on. This definitely wasn’t Mahone Bay anymore.
An adventurer at heart, Tammy has explored ruins in Rome, Pompeii, and Istanbul (Constantinople) with historians and archaeologists.
She’s slept in the tower of a 15th century castle in Scotland, climbed down the cramped tunnels of Egyptian pyramids, scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, sailed on a tiny raft down the Yulong River in rural China, dined at a Bedouin camp in the Arabian Desert, and escaped from head-hunters in the South Pacific.
I suppose one could say her own childhood wish of time traveling adventures came true…in a roundabout way.
Welcome to my stop on the tour for The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham! Read on for more details!
The Legend of Black Jack
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Genre: YA Fantasy, Action Adventure, Coming-of-Age, Portal Fantasy (Full Page Illustrations)
Jack Swift can tell you every element on the periodic table, recite Treasure Island verbatim, and would remember in perfect detail every word you’d ever say to him. He has been alone for a long time, so he has buried himself in books, using them to plan his escape.
But no textbook could ever prepare him for the land of Keymark.
At 3:33 a.m. on his fourteenth birthday, Jack is kidnapped by a hideous monster to another sphere of existence. Now there are two moons in the sky, and he is surrounded by grotesque creatures and magical warriors training for battle. They want the impossible: Jack must use his abilities to save a life or be trapped in this bizarre world with no chance of rescue.
Jack doesn’t have secret magic, a great destiny, or any experience.
So why do they all expect him to become a legend?
Shown on Page: Child Abuse (foster mom hits main character), Child Abduction (main character kidnapped by monster)
Alluded to: Child Neglect (foster mom ignores her wards)
The operating room was anything but sterile. The floor was pounded-down dirt, the walls were splintered wood that collected dust by the handful, and the smoking fire in the corner exhaled nearly as much soot into the room as up the chimney. It was dark, it was dirty, and it put the odds against Jack Swift before he even began.
Jack had two concerns, other than the obvious: that Xiang-lo would die the moment he touched him. The first worry was the anesthesia. Dr. Richards had told him repeatedly that in almost any surgery, the drugs used to put the patient to sleep were by far the most dangerous part of a procedure; more men had been killed by a tiny slip in the amount of medication used than from any mistake a surgeon made. The gas passers, as Richards called them, were the background heroes of the operating room, and kept their patients walking the thin line between sleep and death.
Jack had made the calculations for the correct amount of anesthesia, but in the end, it proved unnecessary. Memphis would keep Xiang-lo asleep. Such majik was well within the monster’s mastery, said Valerian, and keeping Xiang-lo out of consciousness and out of pain would be the rhino’s task during the procedure.
The second concern was more personal. “I don’t want to see his face.”
Valerian nodded as if he had been expecting the request. “That has been arranged.”
Good. So the knight understood. “Not just his face,” continued Jack. “I don’t want to see any part of him other than his belly on the right side. There are medical sheets in Memphis’s bag; cover him with those. His chest, his legs, but especially his face. I don’t want to see it.”
Surgery was just like carpentry. Jack had to remember that. But the only way to treat a man like a block of wood was to remove his face, remove his personality, remove any trace of humanity from him…and even then, he would still be a Pinocchio.
If everything went well, Jack would love to hear about Xiang-lo, about who he was, what his dreams were, and how he’d lived his life. But right now, all Jack wanted to know, all he could know, was where to cut.
Besides, some darker part of his mind chided. You don’t want another face haunting your dreams when you kill him.
A.R. Witham is a three-time Emmy-winning writer-producer and a great lover of adventure. He is the world’s foremost expert on the history of Keymark. He loves to talk with young people and adults who remember what young people know. He has written for film and television, canoed to the Arctic Circle, hiked the Appalachian Trail and been inside his house while it burned down. He lives in Indianapolis.
If you would like a sneak peek at his upcoming work or upcoming events, please reach out to him.
Working with the guy who turns him on and pisses him off has Nick in a tailspin.
Nick’s trying to get everything together—his life, his job, his family. After leaving the military, he joined both his brothers at Hart Consulting, but he can’t seem to get his shit organized. His brother still won’t speak to his father, his dad is willing to go to crazy lengths to see his brother and Nick has to train for his new job.
Just when he thinks he might have everything under a bit of control, he’s assigned to work with Ax, the only operator who’s able to get under his skin. Nick needs to put his head down and make a good impression on his first assignment with HC. Too bad Ax is determined not to make it easy…
Reader advisory: This book is best read as book two in a series. It contains abduction and trafficking of minors, references to torture and medical abuse and violence.
“Look, kid. I got nothing to tell you.”
Bray pulled his gaze from the full lips he’d been watching as the man in the doorway, Sam, gave a flat refusal. He took a deep, calming breath and willed away his body’s response. Maybe he needed to back up a little and explain the urgency of the situation. He didn’t have a lot of time to find Mase, and this Sam guy was his best bet.
The guy blocking the doorway would be hot if his eyebrows weren’t pinched together so tight and his big, full lips weren’t turned down. Hell, he was still hot, even in full intimidation mode.
Sam’s honey-blond hair was longer on top and styled high. His groomed beard was just a few shades darker than the hair on his head and hinted at the tiniest bit of red highlights. Bray lowered his eyes again to Sam’s lips. Both were plump, but the top lip was a little fuller than the bottom one. That was rare, in Bray’s experience, but sexy as hell.
The tic in the jaw next to those lips brought Bray back to the matter at hand. He looked up into Sam’s cinnamon-brown eyes as he considered his options.
“I know you’re working with Mase and I have to find him. I’m—”
“I don’t know what you’re going on about, but I have shit to do.”
Sam tried to close the old, paint-chipped door in Bray’s face, but Bray stepped forward, using his foot as a doorstop. He wouldn’t give up that easily. Bray needed to untie his tongue and keep on task, no matter how sexy the guy was.
“Please, I don’t have a lot of time. I just need to talk to him.”
“I’m not a kid. I know he’s pulled some crazy stunts since he got kicked out—”
“You don’t know shit, kid. If you just got kicked out of the military and you’re looking for camaraderie and a job, forget it.”
As soon as Sam said the word ‘military’, Bray breathed a sigh of relief. Sam swore under his breath. So the guy definitely knew his brother. Sam flexed his huge biceps as he crossed his arms. His head dipped to one side as he leaned forward. Bray swallowed then a tiny breath escaped his lips as he imagined the man before him leaning in to steal a kiss. Was this guy Mase’s boyfriend? If so, his brother was one lucky bastard.
“Move your foot. Like I said, kid, you don’t know shit,” Sam ground out through clenched teeth.
“Just tell me what’s going on. Is he okay? If he’d returned any of my emails over the past two and half years, maybe I’d know more about what was happening.”
“You think I can help you?”
Bray gave one sharp nod of confirmation. Sam blew a breath out between his lush lips and dropped his arms to his sides. The crease between his brows eased a bit as he seemed to really look at Bray for the first time. He looked over Bray’s head down the hallway for a moment before coming to some kind of decision.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Bray, Brayden Hart.”
There was a pause. Bray assumed it was Sam digesting Bray’s last name, Mase’s last name.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I got nothing for you, Mr. Hart.”
“How’d you know I was in the army?”
“You got it written all over you, from your close-cropped cut to your military stance.” The guy rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I’ve got things to do, kid, so do you mind moving your foot—or do I need to move it for you?”
Bray wet his dry lips as he contemplated his choices. He could call Max for another favor, but if he went that route, he’d need this part to be believable.
“I can just sit out here and wait until he comes home.”
“You’ll be waiting the rest of your life, kid.”
“It’s Bray or Brayden, and I think you have a really good idea when you’ll be talking to Mase again.”
Looking over Sam’s shoulder, Bray took in the shit-hole apartment with its dingy brown carpet and walls so old that the wallpaper was peeling at the corners along the ceiling. A ceiling with tiles that had different-sized brown rings, a sure sign of water damage. Was this how Mase was living now? The thought made Bray’s gut twist uncomfortably.
If Mase needed money… Bray shook his head. Mase would never be the one to reach out, which was exactly why Bray was standing in the hallway that smelled like piss mixed with broccoli farts. Unless the inside of the apartment smelled better, he didn’t see how anyone could even think about putting a morsel of food into their mouth in this place.
If by chance Sam did talk to Mase before Brayden could get to him, he had to figure out a message most likely to get a response. Would Mase come home or even return a call if he knew the truth? Probably not. Bray bit his lip as he waffled. He didn’t like lying, and he especially didn’t like lying to family. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forgive his father for his ‘little white lie’.
“When you see him, tell him Nickel needs him. Tell him it’s looking like it might be life or death.”
Both those statements taken separately were absolutely one hundred percent true. Nick might deny he needed their older brother, but he and Bray were twins. Bray knew they both required all the support they could get.
When Mase heard those statements together, Bray knew what he’d assume, and he’d have to apologize for it later. For now, he decided it was the best route. He had a feeling Sam would repeat those statements verbatim to his brother.
“Nickel?” Sam asked.
“Nick, my twin.”
“Twins? There’re two of you running around wreaking havoc?”
“Nick wreaks more havoc and we’re not identical, so there aren’t exactly two of me.”
Sam’s only response was a raised eyebrow.
“So you’ll tell him?”
“I’m sorry. There’s no way I can help you,” Sam said with the shake of his head.
Even though Bray was anxious, he hesitated before lifting his foot. He needed Sam to think he was reluctant to leave. Sam was only a couple inches taller than Bray’s five-foot-eleven-inch frame, but he hunched down a little, so they were eye to eye.
“I can’t help you,” Sam said again.
Bray swallowed as energy began to hum under his skin at the man’s direct stare. He couldn’t be lusting after his brother’s boyfriend. Wetting his dry lips one last time, Bray nodded and lifted his foot. The two men stared at each other for a moment longer, until the sound of a baby screaming somewhere down the hall had Bray turning his head. Before he could even suck in another breath, the door in front of him slammed shut and the lock snicked into place.
With a dejected sigh, Brayden looked at the door for another minute. Guilt had his stomach tightening into knots. He couldn’t afford to stand around, though his hesitation to leave would probably work in his favor in case Sam was watching through the peephole.
When he pushed open the door of the building a few minutes later, Bray sucked in some of the fresh air. He didn’t even care that his clothes immediately glued themselves to his body with the humidity Florida was famous for. He was just glad to be out of the stench that had pressed down on him inside the apartment building.
After one last glance at the second floor, Bray walked down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. As soon as he was in his rental car, he dialed Max’s number.
“How’d it go?” Max said.
“He wouldn’t even admit he knew Mase.”
There was silence on the other end. Max had warned him against making contact with Sam. He’d suggested following him until he led Bray to Mase, but Bray didn’t have that kind of time.
“So, it looks like you were right,” Bray admitted.
There was still silence on the other end of the line.
“Look, Sin. I still need help.”
Bray always struggled calling his friend by his pseudonym. Even though it stood for Super Intel Nerd, calling a nerdy guy like Max, Sin seemed funny to Bray.
“Next time listen to me. You’ve now ruined the advantage of surprising him.”
“Fine. Can you find out where he’s going?”
“Of course I can.”
Bray could hear the light click-clack of Max tapping on the keys of his laptop. Putting the phone on Bluetooth, Bray started his rental and pulled out of the parking spot behind Sam’s apartment building.
“Where’s he going?” Bray asked as he pulled out onto the street.
“I have him traveling out of Miami to Kiev tomorrow with a stopover in Munich.”
Bray tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. This had just gotten a lot more complicated and expensive than he’d anticipated. Was Mase undercover or was he in trouble? If he was in trouble, Bray wanted to be there.
“Looks like I’ll be heading to Kiev,” he sighed.
“I’ll book you a flight that stops over in DC. I’ve got something I want to give you if you’re going to Kiev.”
“I just have to check out of the hotel. Give me a couple of hours to get to the airport.”
Max disconnected the call without saying goodbye, but it didn’t surprise Bray at all. Max was always on to the next problem.
Rae has been secretly penning romances since high school. It started with short stories that grew into full-length novels. When she received her first Kindle and had thousands of books at her fingertips, she became a little distracted from writing. Then one day she read a book that she would have written a different way. She began writing again and hasn’t stopped since.
When she’s not writing, Rae can usually be found reading, walking along the beaches of Half Moon Bay, or taking her geriatric dog to the vet, yet again.
Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult, Christian Fantasy, Adventure, Action and Adventure
Publisher: Celestial Fury Publishing
A Science Fantasy Epic Saga like no other!
Winning 35 literary Awards and Honors!
She scoffs at the legends of long-ago civilizations. He grew up battling deadly dinosaurs. When their lifelines intersect, can Nikki and Rogaan survive humanity’s genesis and the nemesis of our apocalyptic end times…the Four Horsemen?
Bolivia, 2080s. Nikki Ricks dedicates her life to scientific truth. So when the book-smart graduate student discovers a perfectly preserved blue-steel sword among the fossilized bones of a Cretaceous-era dinosaur, she struggles to accept what should be an anachronism. And when the ground gives way, she finds herself plunged into the memories of a prehistoric young man.
65 million years BC. Rogaan yearns to claim a place among his tribe’s heroes. Already a skilled archer and metalsmith, he chafes at his father forbidding him from his planned foray into adulthood by joining the town hunt. Defying his family’s command and going anyway, the brash would-be warrior reveals a forbidden weapon… and draws the attention of an assassin.
With Nikki torn between her physical body and her mental journey, she grapples to hold on to the logic of reality… despite a fierce conviction that a mystical doomsday is looming. And as Rogaan fights to dodge death from a powerful sect, he realizes the world is more complex and dangerous than his wildest imaginings.
Are the tangled senses of this strange pair fated to bring about the end of mankind?
In this meticulously researched tapestry of legends, B.A. Vonsik entwines humanity’s mythologies, scientific discoveries, and religious wisdoms into a seamless whole. Cleverly contrasting modern research with ancient knowledge, this multiple-award-winning novel will leave you breathless and questioning as you delve into its intricacies.
Primeval Origins: Paths of Anguish is the visionary first book in the Primeval Origins Epic Saga of science fantasy adventures. If you like prehistoric heroes, fast-paced thrills, and hidden truths, then you’ll love B.A. Vonsik’s apocalyptic legend.
Buy Primeval Origins: Paths of Anguish to wield the secrets of the ages today!
Multiple Award-Winning Science Fantasy Saga like no other! She scoffs at the legends of long-ago civilizations. He grew up battling deadly dinosaurs. When their lifelines intersect, can Nikki and Rogaan survive humanity’s genesis and the nemesis of our apocalyptic end times…the Four Horsemen?
Multiple-Award Winning Science Fantasy Author and Creator of the Primeval Origins® Epic Saga
– Primeval Origins: Paths of Anguish (7 Awards and Honors)
– Primeval Origins: Light of Honor (11 Awards and Honors)
– Primeval Origins: Rise of Serpents (17 Awards and Honors)
B.A. Vonsik is a 1985 graduated of the United States Air Force Academy and flew as an USAF Special Operations aviator before joining the training and simulation industry. While working in his adventurous careers, B.A. Vonsik spent much of his remaining time creating and detailing the world of Primeval Origins®. Curious about why many of our mythological pantheons seemed so similar despite the cultures creating them having never interacted with each other, B.A. created the Primeval Origins® science fantasy saga based on more than 30 years of his research into our mythologies, ancient alien theory, accepted human history and our undiscovered history, the sciences, modern and future technologies, metaphysical studies, the Bible, Quran, Hindu, and other religions. What B.A. discovered was mind bending and written into the pages of his multiple award-winning science fantasy epic.
When Sutherland Bio buys up the little bio research firm Human Resources specialist Angela McCormack works for, she tries to adapt. Even though her shady new boss’s smarminess and sexism makes her stomach turn. She sticks it out through the verbal abuse, and through the benefit cuts and layoffs.
But when her boss, George Sutherland Jr., tasks her to recruit replacements for the people he laid off—and lets it slip that the layoffs were just part of a regime change strategy—she’s ready to throw in the towel. As much as she hates the idea of shoveling manure again, she’d rather return to her family’s farm and petting zoo than stay with Sutherland Bio.
Then George Jr. takes a particularly bad day out on her. And Angela decides she’s tired of the humiliation. She’s going to fight fire with fire. She makes it her mission to fill George Jr.’s team with the worst possible candidates she can find.
But she didn’t take into account falling for one of the new hires. All of a sudden, she’s not sure she wants to leave. Not yet.
And that’s just the first chicken to come home to roost. Little does she know, George has plenty of secrets of his own. And when one of them turns deadly, Angela will have to rely on her handpicked sabotage crew for survival. She might just wish she was back home shoveling manure after all.
You don’t piss off the person making your food. You don’t piss off the woman who gave birth to you. And you don’t piss off the HR lady. Everyone knows that.
Everyone, it seemed, except George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. As with most memos, George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed that one. Along with the one about manners. And treating employees with respect. And showering every day instead of wearing a bucket of cologne to work.
Angela McCormack wrinkled her nose and stared at her boss’s feet. They were at eye level since he had them propped up on his desk. The sight made her stomach turn a little. It wasn’t so much the untrimmed talons on the ends of his toes, or the hobbit-like growth of untamed hair. It was the fact that she could see them at all. And the no-feet-on-the-furniture and don’t wear flipflops into work when you’re the CEO memos.
Yes, there were quite a few memos George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. had missed. But at the moment, it was the one about not downsizing people out of their jobs just to recreate the same position two months later that weighed the heaviest on her mind. Because, unless she’d misunderstood everything he had just said, that’s what he was doing here. And despite George’s propensity to torture a simple sentence into a longwinded monologue for the sole pleasure of hearing himself talk, she was pretty sure she hadn’t got it wrong.
“Excuse me, Mr. Sutherland,” she said, “just to clarify, we’re refilling the positions we just downsized?”
He cocked an eyebrow up at her. “No, not at all. These are different positions, Angie.”
God, she hated when he called her Angie. “Yes sir, I heard you say that. But if I’m understanding you, the titles will be different, but the positions will fill the same basic function as before. We’re looking for an IT team lead to replace Dawn. You need a Director of Business Services to pick up where Mark left off, and so on?”
He flashed her a toothy grin that, she supposed, he assumed was charming. It wasn’t. It was the kind of smile she’d expect from someone selling a car that probably wouldn’t make it out of the lot. “Now you’re getting it. You know how it goes. New era, new regime. If I’m going to do this right, well, I need people I can trust.”
He studied her for a long moment with keen blue eyes. “That’s why I kept you on. I had a good feeling about you. And you know what I say—I’m a man who goes with his gut.”
Angela McCormack forced a smile and lied through her teeth. “Of course, sir. You can always trust me.”
“Don’t call me sir. Call me George.” He smiled again. He smiled too much for her liking. Grinning CEO’s, smiling politicians, and gas station sushi: she reserved the same measure of trust for each of them. “Now, I’d like these listings up by Friday. Is that something we can do?”
We. As if he’d lift a finger to help.
“I’ll get the drafts to you by the end of the day tomorrow. If the revision process goes smoothly, I don’t see why not.”
He nodded. “Excellent. Excellent. Well, that was all I had, then. Oh, my dry cleaning’s not back yet, is it?”
“No sir. I mean, no, George.”
He winked and clicked his tongue as a kind of sound effect to match the finger guns he aimed her way. “That’s better. I don’t like a formal workplace. I’m all about casual. I think it builds better morale. Don’t you?”
Angela smiled and lied again. “Oh, absolutely.”
She had nothing against casual, as long as it wasn’t the kind of casual that involved dirty hobbit feet on the desk. But George had come into Fenwood Bio like a whirlwind, laying off staff, axing benefits, and implementing draconian cost reduction programs within his first two weeks. The turnover rate was already higher than the layoffs. Which was one of several reasons why she was currently filling the role of the entire HR department, as well as admin, IT department, and supply requisitions. All for the same salary as before, of course, but with a much slimmer retirement package, and no life insurance benefits.
No, Angela McCormack didn’t want to hear the word “morale” pass his lips. He’d personally shredded every last bit of it and flushed it down the toilet.
“Me too. You might say, it’s one of my core philosophies.” He nodded, to himself it seemed, then added, “Well, I’ll let you get to work, then.”
She didn’t mind the dismissal. Hell, it couldn’t come soon enough as far as she was concerned. “Right.”
Retreating to her office and closing the door after her, Angela breathed out a long sigh of relief. She hadn’t been afraid he’d called her in to lay her off. He’d gotten that out of his system within the first few weeks. Still, she’d seen so many come and go, she would have been lying if she said the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
Mostly, she detested him. And she had the kind of face that didn’t know how to use its inside voice. When someone tripped her BS trigger, well, her face broadcast it loud and clear before she even realized it.
George Maxwell Sutherland, Jr. lived in the BS zone. And Angela McCormack needed her job. She had a mortgage and a house she loved. Sure, she could have found a job elsewhere that would have paid as well, or maybe a little better. But she didn’t want to give up her house. Not after all the years she’d spent restoring it, a room at a time.
Nor did she want to leave Fenwood. She’d grown up here, and she planned to grow old here. Older, she thought with a sour glance at the calendar. She’d be thirty-five in two days. She didn’t want to have to start over at thirty-five.
And that’s exactly what finding a new job in human resources would be. Fenwood Bio—now Sutherland Bio Research—was the biggest employer in the area, and those companies that did have HR departments weren’t hiring.
She knew because she’d checked. So, if she was going to find another job, it would mean leaving the area. It would mean moving a hundred miles south, or seventy-five miles north, or even farther east and west.
Fenwood was one of those smack-in-the-middle-of-nowhere towns, with more cows and horses than people. You either loved it or hated it.
Angela loved it, and she didn’t want to leave.
So, she pulled open her archaic software suite and started filling in the job listings they’d talked about. Did it make her a modern-day Judas Iscariot, helping this son of a bitch after he’d fired so many of her friends on the pretense that their jobs were redundant, now that Sutherland Bio Research had acquired them?
Maybe. Then again, Judas didn’t have a mortgage. Angela stared at the screen, trying to focus on the work. But the work didn’t—couldn’t—make up for the feeling in the pit of her stomach. The feeling of betrayal that left her a little sick. God, I hate this job.
She started as her messenger application dinged. Glancing at the clock on her desktop, she frowned. Somehow, half an hour had already passed.
Angela brought up the messenger window and groaned. It was George, and he’d flagged the chat as a high priority.
Can you come to my office?
Grimacing, she typed, On my way.
Angela practiced her fake smile on the way. It probably wouldn’t have convinced anyone who wasn’t as obtuse as George, but at least it wouldn’t be scary. Or, so she hoped anyway.
She knocked on his closed door and immediately heard, “Come in.” She did, and Sutherland smiled at her. “Ah, Angie. Thank goodness. We’ve got a situation.”
Oh no. “Oh?”
“I forgot I had an appointment this morning.”
“Really? I didn’t see anything in your schedule.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you about it. I would have had you add it to the calendar. But that’s not the issue. Point is, we don’t have anything for them to eat.”
Now, she did grimace. So far this month, he’d sent her on eighty-some dollars’ worth of coffee runs, lunch pickups, and pastry runs. For a millionaire, Mr. Sutherland was chronically short of cash. It had all gone on “the tab.”
The tab didn’t exist, except as a figment of his imagination. Angela had her doubts that it would ever be settled. He’d pay off ten or twenty bucks here and there. But it always seemed larger than whatever cash he happened to have on hand.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you can find.”
“When are they going to be here?”
“Nine-thirtyish. Maybe ten. I’m not really sure. They were going to be here when they could. They’re flying in from Philly. Shit.” He shook his head. “I need to have something here for them. They probably haven’t eaten yet.”
Despite herself, Angela felt his tension get to work on her mind. “Well, I can put a call into Tealeaves & Coffeecake. I’m sure we can get a breakfast tray.”
He nodded. “Good. Good, their stuff is good. For Fenwood food anyway. See if you can get one of those breakfast quiches, and pastries.”
“Nothing with mushrooms though. I can’t stand them.”
“Oh, and what are we going to do about coffee?”
“I’ll make sure we have a pot freshly brewed by nine-thirty.” It wasn’t her job, but if it quelled a panic? Well, Angela would do it.
But George wrinkled his nose. “I’m not going to force them to drink that crap.”
She blinked. “You mean, the office coffee?”
He nodded as if she was agreeing with him somehow. “You’ll have to get one of those jugs of coffee. French roast. You know how I like it.”
“All right,” she said, then added, “I’ll let you know how much it costs.”
He nodded absently. “Sounds good. Thanks, Angie, you’re a lifesaver.”
“Anytime,” she said, leaving his office before the scowl set in.
Award-winning author Rachel Ford is a software engineer by day, and a writer most of the rest of the time. She is a Trekkie, a video gamer, and a dog parent, owned by a Great Pyrenees named Elim Garak and a mutt of many kinds named Fox (for the inspired reason that he looks like a fox).
According to ancient rhymes, the islanders of Ansar and Skarle are children of the volcano, born of fire and destined to be lovers. After the eruption, the prophecies are forgotten as all are forced to flee. Nobody cares about silly nursery rhymes now, certainly not Jalob.
When shy medic Jalob Baleine heads to war, it isn’t for romance. She only wants to help refugees who have no home or allies. Because they are kin. Jalob was born under the same glowering volcano, on an idyllic island surrounded by dolphins. Like the refugees, she fled the lava and secretly cherishes the old ways.
She falls asleep, ignoring the pull of tides, and dreams of a loving touch. Who doesn’t? And sure, maybe Jalob hasn’t felt whole for years, but war isn’t the time for fantasies. She keeps to herself and hopes someone else will sort the war out. One woman can’t heal the world. After all, she has enough to do, what with tending the sick and her supervisor, Susan, always on her back.
Then Jalob meets stroppy violinist, Corail Esplash. After an explosive introduction, they’re forced to spend time together. Stress makes them long for a reprise, and a fragile line dances between love and hate. Inevitably, the young women exchange island stories. Corail is head-strong and rude, a typical Ansar who loves to tease and be chased. And Jalob—strong, loyal, from Skarle—has such fast legs… Could the old rhymes about destiny be right? Ah, fate.
Death and war are relentless enemies, and difficult choices lie ahead. Can a shy girl rekindle the power of a dead volcano and harness the ocean? One woman can’t heal the world, but maybe Jalob is the only one who can save Corail.
The news on TV isn’t good. Refugees march across Mainland with no place to go.
Dad sighs. “Why? What can anyone achieve by systematic annihilation? Why do some people want to own the world?”
“Supremacy?” I guess. The ways of angry people have always been a mystery to me. “I don’t understand either. Why is there so much hate?” I did world history in school and know the basics, but it doesn’t really help. There’s never been peace, despite Mainland being filled with people from all creeds. “There must be wrongs on both sides.”
Dad stirs his tea vigorously. Brown liquid sloshes over the rim. One of these days he’s going to break that mug. “I’m not so sure. It’s territorial, like always,” he says ruefully. “We should be safe.”
Mainland is more than thirty miles from where we live on the island of Farland. Our small-island laws and rules are thankfully removed from Mainland dictation and, by and large, they leave us alone. My people have a long history of looking the other way. Not very admirable, but it has its plus points.
“Yes, but what about them?” The news is full of footage of little kids and old people being carried in supermarket carts. “Will anyone help?” I lean into Dad’s solid frame, glad to be safe in our cottage. We don’t have much, but we sleep at night and have enough to eat.
I remember what it’s like to leave at midnight, knowing you’ll never see home again.
He pats my knee. “I don’t know. Macke says they’ve already started arriving in boats. Families mostly.”
“From where?” I try to think back to geography lessons and books. Although I’ve done well in medical studies, I was no good at other lessons. “From Esk? Isn’t that the nearest coast?” I love Esk. We used to row there often to spend weekends and holidays. “I hope it doesn’t get ruined by war.”
Dad tuts. “Jalob! People are much more important than buildings.”
“I know that. I just don’t get why countries can’t solve things by talking.” The truth is, seeing the refugees is more than disturbing. It’s easier to pretend all the trouble can be solved with a chat than to acknowledge it probably can’t.
“A country behaves the same as an individual,” he says. Any minute now, he’s going to bring up me being bullied at school. “When one person is stronger than the other, or maybe, angrier, more damaged, more hurt, sometimes being friends isn’t an option. You can’t have a conversation if the other person isn’t listening.”
“Friendship is a privilege, not a given right. Remember when you were at school, and—?”
“I get it, I get it. I’m being selfish. It’s just hard to imagine when you’re seeing it on TV. What even started this war? I don’t mean all the petty arguments. I mean, what was the actual cause?”
“Do you know nothing of the world? It’s your history too.”
I shrug. “I know potatoes make excellent chips and fried eggs are good to dip. What goes on in Mainland isn’t my business.” I’m uncomfortable he’s trying to make this war relevant to me. I don’t mind hearing about Skarle, but I don’t want to start thinking about boats and refugees. It’ll only lead to images of volcanoes and what happens when people can’t get away.
He shakes his head and laughs. “Always thinking with your stomach! What do you mean it’s not your business? Mainland Ansars originate from the islands.” He looks at me meaningfully. “You know—our islands. They’re different from our island Ansars, sure, and they left hundreds of years ago, but still. They’re our people, Jalob.”
Ours? From what I remember, island Ansars certainly didn’t belong to anyone.
“Mm. I know that much.”
Ansars fascinate me. Since I can remember, I’ve had a crush on an Ansar—Berl. Fish and frogs, is she gorgeous! Tall, slim, messy long hair, and full of cutting sarcasm. Everyone fancies her. I’ve always kept out of her way. People like that don’t want to associate with the likes of me.
On the last night of our final school term, students had been allowed to gather. She’d got out a guitar and sung all night. It was spellbinding. I waited until everyone had left, just to watch her pack away. Just to make the evening last a little longer. Maybe I hoped she might talk to me? Skarles and Ansars have a long history. And, like Dad says, we come from the same place.
Berl noticed me, standing by the big oak tree. She sauntered over and looked me up and down. “You’re massive. Are you Skarle?” she asked.
“Um. Yes. I mean. I was. Until the volcano. Yes. Um.”
“Um? What are you, a bee?”
I thought she was going to be rude, like she normally is. When she kissed and started touching me, I actually thought I was drunk and hallucinating. It was the best night of my life.
When she unbuttoned my top, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do, so I just watched her do it.
Being tall, big, and clumsy, I’m all the opposites to her. I could probably have lifted her up with one hand if I had wanted to. That night, though, I hadn’t felt very strong at all. She took my top off, unzipped me, and then squeezed and prodded at me. I didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. Even now, I’m not sure I liked it that much.
Then she walked off, like nothing had happened.
Didn’t answer any of my messages afterwards. I suppose one day, I’ll stop thinking about her and wishing for what can’t be.
Dad gets into his stride. “Over the years, they’ve become undesirable in Mainland. I suppose that’s the word. I don’t know how it started, but Mainlanders started squeezing them out. There were protests, but nobody can stand up to an army. Looks like they’ve ordered the Ansars out of eastern Mainland. But why? Those poor people have to live somewhere.”
“It’s really worrying. Are Ansars safe here in Farland?”
“Are you thinking about that girl?” Dad pats my knee. “She’ll be fine. Mainlanders have no jurisdiction here.”
“You know who. Berl.”
“Oh! Hah-hah. I wasn’t thinking about her. I’ve moved on,” I lie. “Haven’t seen her since college.”
“She isn’t worth the time you spent pining,” Dad says. “Didn’t have the decency to answer your calls.”
“It’s fine. I couldn’t care less.” I’m absolutely not going to talk about dates with my father. “We can’t just watch.” I nod at the TV, wanting Dad to stop scrutinising me. Sometimes I think he reads my mind. “We have to help.”
Watching Ansar people in trouble is different to seeing Farland folk in trouble. I’d still be upset, but this is more. It’s not like watching people fight and knowing you can step in and help. It’s more like, I’m in the fight and on the losing side.
“Actually—” He starts to speak and then turns away, biting his lip.
“It’s just. Well. The International Agency is asking for medics to volunteer.” He speaks slowly, like he might be already regretting it. “It’s nothing. Forget I said anything.”
“Doctors, nurses, anyone medical. All those people walking miles need medical treatment.” He shakes his head and sighs. “The camps must be crying out for help.”
It’ll be another two months before I’m a qualified medic. I haven’t considered doing anything except work at the local hospital and stay with Dad.
“Oh.” I speak fluent Ansar and am used to working with all kinds of people. Theoretically, I could offer. “Do you think they’d accept me? I don’t have any experience except college. I expect they’ll get a lot of applications from some great medics. They don’t want someone like me. I’m sure there’ll be others who can do it better.” Like always.
“Jalob,” Dad tuts. “Why do you have such little confidence in yourself?”
I wait for him to say, Believe in yourself; you’re a great girl, so I can nod without having to answer. He doesn’t though. He waits for me to speak. I blush up like a big red stupid letter box. “I dunno” is the best I can manage. “Stop looking at me.” I stand and head for my bedroom.
“Jalob,” Dad calls.
I lock the door and flop onto my bed. I can’t stand another round of Dad therapy. I hear the words, but they just bounce off my skin. I wish he was right—that I’m a great person who only needs a chance to prove myself.
Truth is, I’m just me. When has that ever been good enough?
Eule Grey has settled, for now, in the north UK. She’s worked in education, justice, youth work, and even tried her hand at butter-spreading in a sandwich factory. Sadly, she wasn’t much good at any of them!
She writes novels, novellas, poetry, and a messy combination of all three. Nothing about Eule is tidy but she rocks a boogie on a Saturday night!
For now, Eule is she/her or they/them. Eule has not yet arrived at a pronoun that feels right.
A brilliant Native American archaeology student and her Brit ‘bad boy’ professor find the key to love, hot sex and…what? A lost civilization?
Cocheta ‘Cat’ White Eagle is a Native American archaeology grad student on a mission to prove the existence of her ancestral Lost Tribe. A vision tells her it’s somewhere high in the treacherous mountains of Sedona. The only problem is she’s afraid of heights! Trying to conquer her fear through pole dancing—of course—she attracts the attention of a bad boy Brit. He’s exciting, brilliant and sexy but totally off-limits. He’s her new professor, a hound, and if he recognizes her as the girl behind the mask of ‘The Contessa’, her career will be over before it begins.
Colin Tucker is a drop-dead-gorgeous Londoner who is rocketing to the top of his field. Alas, the sandy-haired, blue-eyed wunderkind has a weakness for sexy women—including the French Ambassador’s daughter, no less. Banished to the Colonies, he finds himself torn between the exotic stripper and his brilliant student. After being put to a sexy test, he gives his heart to Cat, his student. He pledges to help her in her search, they join forces and live hap—
But wait! Smugglers, deception and danger… Oh my! Colin breaks up with Cat to keep her safe, gets arrested for stealing artifacts and helps the thieves trying to thwart her quest.
Is that really how to win the girl?
Reader advisory: This book contains explosions, death threats, outdoor sex and minor instances of racism from a secondary character.
Nick and Rebecca are madly in love, kinky as hell and ready to push the boundaries a little. As her Dom and her Daddy, fulfilling all her desires is both Nick’s responsibility and his privilege, but while Rebecca loves the idea of Nick sharing her with another Dom, she’s not sure if she’s ready to turn her fantasy into reality.
Nick is eager to facilitate the threesome of her dreams, but it’s no hardship to wait until she’s ready…and, in the meantime, maybe give her a hint of just what two Doms can do for her.
With a small taste of the very sexy possibilities, it doesn’t take long for Rebecca to get on board, especially since she’s developed a small, harmless crush on Nick’s preferred co-Top, his good friend and fellow Dom, Cade.
Nick and Cade have teamed up before, so he knows they can deliver on the promises Nick has made. Together, they’ll be sure to give Rebecca a scene—and a night—none of them will ever forget…
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of erotic humiliation and multiple partner sex.
The tremor in her arm was the first sign Cat was reaching her limit. Her labored breathing was the second. She’d pushed so hard during this climb that every bit of clothing she wore—her long-sleeved gray jersey, her sports bra underneath, her long black climbing tights—was soaked. Sweat ran down from her sopping bandana into her eyes. The salt stung. She clenched her jaw.
I can do this.
The fear she’d fought so hard to ignore disagreed. ‘No, you can’t,’ cackled the demon within.
She fought back.
Hang in there. Stay here for a minute and rest. We’ll be okay. Relax. Just don’t look down.
She took a deep breath and gripped the red-hued rock tighter. Her gloves weren’t thick enough to protect her from its knife-like edge. It bit back. “Ow!” The burn spread through her arms. She kept shifting her right foot to find a more secure foothold.
Better. Worse. Better. Worse. Damn!
The struggle only added to the strain on her upper body. Now both her arms were shaking. Stop! she commanded. They ignored her. She took a series of deep, hard breaths, hoping to get oxygen to her muscles. Her throat burned from the effort.
Put the weight on your left foot to get a better grip.
The black rubber sole slipped off the rock and shot into mid-air. She grunted and instinctively tightened her grip even more, which only increased the pain.
Defying the agony, she pulled herself up a few more inches. Her heart thundered against her chest. Straining, she gasped for air. Safety was within sight. If she could just grab the next handhold, she could regain her balance and give herself a chance. She gritted her teeth and stretched—but it was just out of reach.
She put all her weight on one leg and explored the rough surface with her free foot. Miraculously, she found a foothold that would let her lift herself.
I can do this!
She shifted her weight onto that side.
Stretch! Push! Pull! Fight! Just two more inches.
But the pressure on her leg was too much. The pain in her calf was instant and searing.
Fuck! A cramp!
The muscle tightened with a mind of its own, oblivious to the fact that it was bringing about its own destruction. With her legs now useless, she shifted back to her arms. Drained, they shook. Even her hands had nothing left.
She gulped as dread washed over her. But she still struggled.
It will be okay, she lied.
Her heart pounded as her fate became undeniable. Her throat tightened and her face flushed. She didn’t know which felt worse—the pain in her hands from gripping so hard? The searing burn in her muscles? The terror at being so high? Shame at having overreached and being the author of her demise? Swallowing hard, she knew that, given what was about to happen, the question was academic.
Her trembling arms told her that she had only seconds before her body betrayed her. She closed her eyes tight, clenched her jaw, kept fighting and prayed for a miracle. But her final bit of energy evaporated.
Even as the cold, merciless hand of Death pried her fingers from the rock and pulled her to her tragic destiny, she refused to surrender.
But gravity pulled her backward like a rag doll.
“No! No! Please, God! No!” she screamed into the void.
The sturdy black safety harness snapped sharply around her. She grunted in reply, and her friend slowly lowered her to the gym floor.
Lauren greeted her with a big smile and a warm hug. “Twenty feet. That’s a new personal best, Cat. Congratulations. Of course”—she laughed—“it doesn’t change that you just died again. What is that…five times today? But it’s still an accomplishment. High five!”
Cat’s arms were so spent that she couldn’t raise either one in response. As her friend helped her out of the harness, she hung her head and wiped her face. “I know you’re trying to be encouraging, but being so weak and terrified only twenty feet off the ground is humiliating. I’m such a failure!” She began to cry.
Her friend covered her in an oversized pink towel to sop up the perspiration. “They’ve got the AC blasting, sweetie. You’re drenched from going all out. You don’t want to catch cold.” She put her arm around her as they walked to the locker room.
As she and her friend dressed in the pristine locker room after showering, Lauren pointed to the sopping mountain of heavy, colorless, sweat-soaked fabric in front of Cat’s locker. “That’s at least one problem you could solve in one stroke. You’d be cooler and more comfortable climbing in shorts and a sports bra. All that wet cloth makes you overheat and drains your energy.”
Cat winced. She was a failure as a climber. Now she couldn’t even dress right.
“I’m sorry, Cat.” Lauren hugged her. “You know I’m your biggest fan. I’m just trying to help. Let me treat you to coffee. I’ll even spring for a chocolate croissant. The good news is that since you’re now nearly a ghost, calories don’t count.”
Cat mustered a weak laugh.
“Seriously, it takes real guts to face your fears like this. You should be proud. You’re a fighter!”
“Sure, a fighter without a punch,” she replied dejectedly.
Lauren wrapped Cat in another big hug, and Cat laid her head on the comforting shoulder, took a deep breath and relaxed into her warmth.
“You’re the best, Lauren. I’d have given up weeks ago if it weren’t for you.”
As they left the gym, Cat squinted at the bright sunshine and winced at the heat then she tossed her bag into the trunk of her old canary-yellow Toyota. It was a glorious day in Sedona. The spectacular blue sky perfectly framed the red rocks glistening in the distance. Normally, Cat took comfort in the natural beauty around her—especially the rugged red mountains that reminded her of her heritage and her mission. Today, defeated by the climbing wall yet again, she barely acknowledged her surroundings. Her friend pointed to the mountains. “You have my word,” she said resolutely. “You’re going to own those rocks.” Cat shrugged. She was too tired to argue.
They walked the few blocks to the café arm in arm. Lauren wore cute pink shorts and a tight white sleeveless top. Cat had on long, loose-fitting black track pants and an oversized, long-sleeved, gray, Red Rock University T-shirt. Pressed down by the weight of her exhaustion, the best she could manage was a slow trudge.
As she reached for her coffee on the white stone counter, her arm still shook. She had to use both hands to pick up the red paper cup. She carefully placed it on the sturdy wood table so it wouldn’t spill. As she started to sit down, however, her leg began to cramp again. She lost her balance and jostled the table. The cup rocked, but Lauren grabbed the drink before it could tip over and stain the red-and-white checkerboard tablecloth. Despondent, Cat plopped into a chair and stretched out her leg to stop the cramp. Once the pain had passed, she picked up a sugar packet—but tore it so badly that it exploded over a pair of cute guys walking by. As she brushed the white powder off her gray T-shirt, she noticed that they looked her way then chuckled. She flushed hotly, put her head on the table, covered it with her arms and sighed.
“They thought it was cute,” Lauren said quietly. “Sit up. They’re hanging around. They want to come over and chat.”
Cat sat back up, shook her head and mumbled something incomprehensible.
Lauren caught the guys’ eyes and shrugged apologetically. They picked up their drinks and headed out. “Okay, the coast is clear.”
Cat shook her head in disgust. “See? I can’t even manage a cup of coffee and cute guys. I’m pitiful—a pathetic sack of fears destined for failure. I’m an aspiring archaeologist who’s afraid of heights. Even after presenting at a bunch of conferences, I’m still terrified of public speaking. I hate it when anyone even looks at me. Those guys were gawking at adorable you. They noticed me only because what I did was stupid. I have ‘career fiasco’ and ‘relationship nightmare’ written all over me. I’m hopeless.” She slumped again.
Lauren took her hand and gave her a warm smile. “Are you kidding? Bumping into the table and not being able to open the sugar are signs that you went all out on your climbs. You don’t do things halfway. I admire that about you.” She put her finger under Cat’s chin, raised it and looked directly in her eyes. “Now, tell yourself you’re a fighter…and mean it! That’s an order!”
She sighed. “Fine. I’m a fighter,” she murmured sullenly.
“Cat!” Lauren replied.
“Okay, okay. Despite my unbroken string of miserable failures and despite the obvious futility of continuing to try, I stupidly haven’t given up,” she said.
Lauren laughed. “If that’s the best you can do, I’ll take it. And also tell yourself that you’re a beautiful, sexy woman. I’ve seen you naked at the gym. Those guys were checking you out because you’re hot—even when you insist on dressing like a nun.”
Cat managed a weak smile then the tears started again.
Lauren reached into her white backpack and handed her a tissue. She stroked Cat’s arm gently. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, sweetie, but you actually had a good day. Once you get past the fear of heights, you won’t waste so much of your energy gripping so tightly. And weight work will give you the strength you need.”
Cat wiped her eyes and made a face, recalling how embarrassing her recent sessions at the gym had been. “I struggle so much, even with small dumbbells, that I get that pitiful look from everyone around me. They ask me if I’m okay, like I’m coming back from major surgery or something. I’ve even tried to go when no one else is there, but then the trainers come over. I can see it in their eyes. They’re worried I’m going to hurt myself then sue them. I’m so self-conscious that it’s humiliating.”
Her friend paused, a frown furrowing her forehead, and looked down at the table. She sat quietly for a few seconds, pursed her lips and moved the saltshaker from a red square to a white one as deliberately as if she were playing chess. She glanced back up at Cat. “Maybe…you…” She took a sip of coffee. “It’s just…”
“Nothing.” Lauren looked down and took the pepper shaker this time. Staring in its direction but not really looking at it, she rhythmically tapped it on the table as she pursed her lips.
Cat sighed. “Come on. I can take it. You’re going to tell me I’m stupid to think I can do this. I need to face facts and give up.” She closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands as though someone was going to punch her.
Lauren gently took Cat’s hands and put them back on the table. “Look at me, Cat. I am not going to criticize you. You do that too much already. How do you forget so quickly that you graduated summa, won a great graduate fellowship and are on a fast track to your Ph.D.? Didn’t the school just send you to that conference in Greece where everyone raved over your presentation? You’re awesome! You’re the only one who doesn’t know that. I wasn’t going to criticize you. Actually”—she looked out of the window—“I might…have an idea,” she said hesitantly.
Is there hope?
Looking back at Cat, Lauren sat quietly. She leaned in, lowered her voice and spoke. “I have a thought…about a Plan B…to solve your problems. It’s unusual, but…” She left the sentence incomplete.
Cat leaned forward excitedly. “A Plan B? Really? Tell me.”
Lauren looked into her coffee and stirred. She took a deep breath and sipped. Then her face tightened and turned red. Quickly looking down at the crusty croissant in front of her, she said abruptly, “Boy, this coffee is hot.” Flustered, she tore off a piece of her pastry. “And this looks great.”
Cat was startled. She didn’t believe that hot coffee could make her friend’s face turn scarlet. What is she not saying?
Lauren looked away and pulled her long blonde hair behind her. “Um. Not weights.” She looked down and tapped her fingers on the table. Her face tensed, and—to Cat’s surprise—she bit her lip and held her breath for a few seconds. When she exhaled, she almost imperceptibly shook her head.
After a few seconds, she looked up and glanced out of the window. “I mean, let’s figure out why you’re so afraid first. If we can reduce your panic, you’ll be more relaxed and will climb better,” she said, looking back at Cat. “Then we’ll worry about body strength. So, where does the fear come from? And if you’re so terrified, why are you so committed to learning to climb?”
Everything—Lauren’s cadence, expression, posture—screamed that she’d deliberately changed the topic.
Cat frowned. If there were another way to tackle her fears, she didn’t understand why her friend wouldn’t tell her. But it was obvious that pressing for an explanation was the wrong thing to do. She’d respect Lauren’s wishes. At the same time, she wasn’t ready to confide everything to Lauren yet about her embarrassing fears and weird obsessions—at least not in a public coffee shop where she could be overheard. “I promise I’ll explain—but let’s save it for a day when I haven’t fallen to my death so many times.”
“Fair enough.” Lauren smiled. “But enough with the sad stuff.” She leaned in with a naughty smirk and lowered her voice. “Tell me all about the conference. Any cute guys?”
“I told you I’m not interested in anything that could distract me from my work—and certainly not a relationship until after I have my degree.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Did you follow my suggestion”—she nudged Cat conspiratorially—“and engage in some wanton revelry? God knows you deserve it after how hard you’ve been working.”
“Wanton revelry?” Cat looked puzzled.
“Sorry. Too much Shakespeare. When you got to the conference and unpacked, you must have found my strapless red dress I snuck into your bag. Did it work? Did you get laid? Surely there were any number of hot young studs happy to service you.”
Cat laughed. “Hot young studs? Have you ever seen what archaeologists look like?”
“Sure. Indiana Jones. The hat. The whip. The bedroom eyes. Bedroom hands. Bedroom you-know-what.” She playfully raised her eyebrows a couple of times.
“Sorry,” she chuckled. “That’s the movies. Real life archaeologists are nerd city.”
“Wait a minute. Didn’t you text me that there was some drop-dead gorgeous guy all the women were drooling over? The one who’d made some sort of amazing discovery?”
“Oh, him. The Brit who found an ancient Grecian vase that’s going to rewrite the history of the period. Because my flight got delayed, I got to the conference after his lecture, and he was nowhere to be seen. I don’t believe he was as good looking as everyone said. Nobody’s that handsome! Even so, I wouldn’t be interested. He’s not my type.”
“Not your type? Handsome and brilliant? He’s every woman’s type!”
“No, I mean he’s a hound.” She waved her hand in the air dismissively and grimaced. “He pursues women with the same vengeance he uses to look for artifacts. We’re just prizes for him. The rumor mill said he was bed-hopping the entire conference. Colin Tucker is the last man I’d ever be interested in!”
Jane Colt began writing romances to deal with the stress of a ‘day job’ that’s mainly about examining the various ways people treat one another badly. An incurable romantic, her stories give her hope that we really can live happily ever after—even if only in our imaginations. She writes erotic romances because, having been raised in a morally rigid home, she wants to encourage in her readers a healthier, ‘sex positive’ outlook. She especially wants her heroines to be as sexy and passionate as they desire. You can count on the fact that her couples end up in love and having great sex! … OK, maybe they have the sex first!
Her stories aim to be light-hearted, fun, upbeat—and sexy! No dark, brooding, broken, tortured guys who need fixing. Just great, handsome, smart, sexy, ‘real men’ whose only weakness is being unable to resist the women she pairs them with. Think Lifetime or Hallmark movies plus hot sex!
She’s lived on both coasts of the U.S., recently leaving the beaches of Los Angeles to return home to the glorious autumn foliage of western Massachusetts. Married, she and her spouse are happy to be the devoted servants of two adorable cats. She loves traveling. Favorite cities: San Francisco, Boston, Venice, London, London, London!
By the way, anyone who knows her would be shocked to learn she writes erotic romances. “Jane Colt” is a pen name. So, shhhhhh.
JANE COLT IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET GET A FREE EBOOK FROM THE AUTHOR! Notice: This competition ends on 10th August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.
Emerging from the cocoon, the last thing Cyprus expects is to be female. But there she is, the only female born of the Clan Equlestraa Untitalis, the most important family in their clan. She still remains a warrior, through and through, and no pair of breasts is going to stop her from her training! Until she meets him.
Alknowan, the Prince of the Dragonish Prime, thinks he’s saving a damsel in distress. But instead, he takes one look at Cyprus and loses his heart. He vows to do anything to keep her, including battling her to the death for the honor of keeping her.
But there are more issues. She is of the Equlestraa, the horse type gargoyle warriors, while Alknowan’s secondary form is Dragon. Then there’s the matter of her wanting to kill him. But if he can survive her family, the politics trying to keep them apart, and Cyprus herself, then he would give up everything to become Unus, the First of her Coven.
With heart racing and fear mounting, the panicked being struggled against the thick bindings that encased and restricted shem’s movement.
No one ever said that the conversion, the physical change would be so… so… there were no words! Cyprusurakaliesupreidesa raked long nails against the membranes, shem’s limbs moving slowly through the pale pink fluid that filled the sack.
Cyprus could hear the boom of the voices above, echoing down through the fluid. That is Cypusupriaratizaor Raitza, this Coven’s Master. Cyprus’s fevered mind latched on to that thought and held fast, using it as a talisman and a calming tool.
Coven Master was there. Coven Master was there!
Why is the Coven Master not offering aid?
It was enough to make Cyprus want to scream, to lament shem’s physical imprisonment, to demand release.
So that was what Cyprus did, buried the fingers of both hands in shem’s long flowing hair, the hair that entrapped almost as well as the casing surrounding Cyprus, opened shem’s mouth and… choked.
Out! Out! Out! OUT!
The thoughts of escape swirled through an even more terrified mind as anxiety grew. Fear and frustration ruled, tearing through shem’s mind and flowing through shem’s consciousness until Cyprus thought for sure shem would be swallowed up by a sea of black and red fury. Madness! Cyprus recognized its teasing call, the fall into the mental state where nothing existed but pure emotion. Right then, that emotion was rage. That rage, that taste of madness, scared Cyprus almost as much as being locked in this cocoon. It was the fear of that yawning, tantalizing unknown that lent Cyprus the strength to shove at the liquid thing holding shem prisoner.
Cyprus clawed and scratched at the membranes, kicking and twisting, fighting until the nails of one hand pushed their way through the thick, rubbery walls.
Yes, there was a way out. Cyprus dug at the tear, using both hands now, pulling and jerking until a sudden waft of cool air caressed shem’s fingers.
“Not long now.”
Coven Master was still there. Cyprus could hear her speaking.
She must be speaking with my Damshire. The thought comforted Cyprus, calmed the chaotic thoughts streaking through shem’s frantic mind. That both Coven Master and Damshire were waiting for the completed emergence enhanced a sense of calm, but also reignited the desire to be done with the whole process.
Yes, that’s right. The emergence. How long had it been?
Cyprus couldn’t remember.
Cyprus’s last memory was of bathing with shem’s six siblings, laughing and joking with the youngers about the change, exchanging knowing glances with the elders, knowing that shem’s Sibs understood the excitement and the mounting fear.
And then as shem made a comfortable nest of bankets that night with the siblings, the light of the setting suns caressed Cyprus’s face as shem stared up at the darkening sky through the large windows that surrounded the crèche room.
The large yellow moon glowed in the rich purpling of the growing night sky. It seemed so close that Cyprus reached out a hand to caress it, knowing that change was going to happen and somehow feeling in harmony with the ever-changing face of the first moon.
Stephanie is a USA Today Best Selling, multi published, multi award-winning author, Master Costumer, handicapped, wife and mother of two.
From sex-shifting, shape-shifting dragons to undersea worlds, sexually confused elemental Fey and homo-erotic mysteries, all the way to pastel-challenged urban sprites, Stephanie has done it all, and hopes to do more.
Stephanie is an orator on her favorite subjects of writing and world-building, a sometime teacher when you feed her enough tea and donuts, an anime nut, a costumer, and a frequent guest of various sci-fi and writing cons where she can be found leading panel discussions or researching varied legends and theories to improve her writing skills.
Stephanie is known for her love of the outrageous, strong female characters, believable worlds, male characters filled with depth, and multi-cultural stories that make the reader sit up and take notice.
Lorelei: Lorelei Sapelo is perfectly content with her life, thank you very much. She has a job she loves, owns her own house, and is fulfilled by being surrounded by books. Home has been what she has created for herself by herself. And, while she may feel a nagging sense of something missing, it doesn’t stop her from creating her idea of a perfect life.
Connor: Connor Dwyer is perfectly happy moving from place to place. Meeting new people, exploring various places, and being content with his own company. The concept of home has been for other people, for families, something he’s never had. And, while others might have that need, he hasn’t worried about stopping long enough to see if it’s something he lacks.
Two lonely hearts on a collision course that will change their lives in unexpected ways. Yet, in the shadows, there are those watching, interested in a bond that shouldn’t exist.
Mondays were the worst. This one, even more so than usual. Several things were vying for the spot of frustration number one as Lorelei Sapelo reported to her job. First day of classes with demanding, entitled students. Her car had some ominous glowing light on the dash that probably meant an expensive trip to the mechanic. And her favorite fountain pen was missing. She had the vaguest hope it would turn up when she got a chance to turn her office upside down but wouldn’t count on it.
“Hello, Ms. Sapelo.”
Lorelei fought the urge to roll her eyes. His smarmy voice was not attractive at all. The upperclassmen were all the same, but this one was more persistent than most.
“Mr. Jernigan, are you lost? The library is across the quad.” Lorelei’s eyes narrowed slightly. She was in no mood for his stupid come-ons. It wasn’t like the archive was an extension of the library. They were housed in a completely different building. It was tucked out of the way from the main quad thoroughfare.
“Just getting a jump-start on the optional reading list for my Lit class. Thought I’d pop in to see if you have any recommendations.” He moved closer to the counter and leaned against it in what he probably thought was a coy, come-hither manner.
What a pack of lies. Lorelei fought the urge to roll her eyes as she moved farther behind the counter, so not only was it between them but the computer was as well. His pursuit was beginning to verge on harassment, something she would not tolerate. If this continued, she would have to lodge a formal complaint. This was the part of her job she hated — playing babysitter, especially to the ones who did not appreciate the historical culture they held in their hands. Each book, each artifact was a valued piece to be appreciated and treated with respect.
The message chime on her computer interrupted her mental tirade. She had never been happier to hear that annoying tone in her life. It meant she had to work to do which meant Mr. Jernigan had to leave. She didn’t care what the message said. It was going to get her out of this tedious interaction.
She clicked on the alert and frowned as she quickly read the opened window. Well, Lorelei had wanted an excuse for denying Mr. Jernigan access to the archives. Here it was in nice Calibri font. The Kyoko Foundation, her employer, wished to conduct a full audit and inventory.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Jernigan, but the archive is going to be unavailable this semester.” Lorelei looked up. What an ugly expression. Someone didn’t like not getting their way. “It seems the Kyoko Foundation will be conducting an audit and inventory. I’ll be sure to send out the communication email notifying the campus by the end of the day.”
It was plain she wanted him gone. She wasn’t trying to hide it. It must have come across because he stormed out when he didn’t get what he wanted. Pleased, Lorelei returned to the message to read it in more depth. They were sending a representative to perform the audit while she completed a full inventory. Great. Either this rep was going to know nothing of the subjects collected here, or they were going to know too much to interfere with the process she had perfected over the years for acquisitions and loans.
Lorelei glanced back toward her office. She gazed specifically at the stacks of boxes she had been meaning to convert into the new digital system. So much dust. Her allergies were going to go berserk. She could only hope mice hadn’t gotten into those records. She did not like rodents.
Further information provided in the email let her know she had a week to complete the conversion. Doable, if she worked late with a minimum of interruptions. She had to have everything in order considering she was soon taking a short leave for medical reasons.
Lorelei glanced up and was stunned. It was as if the entire world paused. A moment of revelation and acceptance and longing she didn’t even know she was capable of flashed through her. A moment that could be summed up in a single word: mine. All mine, from his pelt of black, grey, white hair like the coat of a wolf to his sun-kissed skin from time outside. Icing on the cake was his lean, hard body encased in a slouchy jacket, button-down shirt, and tailored jeans. All of it, topped off by a pair of ice-blue eyes watching her with the same possessive fervor.
What a crazy thought. It snapped her out of whatever trance she had fallen into. You couldn’t own another human being. Maybe her friends were right — she needed a break. Although it would have to wait until after this audit.
“Yes? May I help you?” Her mind finished the rest of what she wanted to say. Help you take off your dapper jacket? Unbutton your crisp white shirt? Pull those jeans — Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Lorelei blinked a few times and forced her brain off the X-rated track it was on. Jesus, what was wrong with her? He was a fine-looking man who ticked all her boxes, at least for now, but here she was, quivering like a schoolgirl.
He approached the information desk with long strides, while the energy between them seemed to spike the closer he got to her. Never in her life had she felt anything like it. Judging from the slight flush across those high cheekbones and the rapidly dilating pupils of his eyes, he felt it too.
“I’m Connor Dwyer, the new adjunct.” He reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket. “I believe this is yours. I found it on one of the stone planters in the quad.”
Lorelei gaped at her favorite fountain pen held in his long-fingered hand. “Oh, my God, thank you!”
He handed it over. The brush of his skin was a shock. He was the one. Yet there was something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Something about him that belied the usual male-female attraction. Something making the attraction much more intense. The urge to get close to him, to touch him, was almost overwhelming. Suspicion made her frown. She thought she might have snatched the pen out of his hand in a somewhat brusque manner.
Connor’s lips curved slightly, obviously not offended. “You’re Lorelei Sapelo, correct? The archivist?”
Lorelei gripped the pen tightly and shivered. He had kept her pen close in the days since he’d found it. She could tell. She could always tell. An invaluable skill…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M. A. Freeman lives near Wilmington, NC and never makes it to the beach. Any free time is consumed with books, either reading or writing. An avid traveller and self proclaimed geek, trips abroad and to cons such as DragonCon in Atlanta are always on the agenda. Currently working full time in healthcare and attending school to obtain a Master of Library and Information Science degree to compliment the Bachelor’s of Arts in English and Creative Writing.
King in Check: On the run, Rey is forced to depend on Mosquito, the mysterious young boss of his old home. When they search for help, they have to discover who who they can trust, or they’ll end up dead.
King’s Gambit: When Mosca chose Calle to be his personal guard Calle should have suspected something was off. But this time is different. Very different. Living one step away from betrayal and falling in love with the man he’s charged to protect changes both of their lives. For good.
“Need anything? I’m going to town.” I looked up at the big man on the kitchen porch, trying not to show how urgently I wanted to leave. It would have been even more obvious if I’d left without asking, since trips to town were rare.
I kept myself from shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I was trying to stay casual, trying to avoid the inevitable.
“What for?” Calle asked the question anyhow.
“To pick someone up.” I made it sound routine, but of course a trip to Medianoche never was. If you weren’t caught by the Feds or robbed, and if you got what you were willing to barter for — hell, that made it an extraordinary trip. And if we returned, we never took new people past the portal.
“Rey?” Calle’s face lit up. “Is it today?”
Calle was a big man who didn’t talk much and never smiled. None of the men ever complained about his cooking, and it wasn’t just because they wanted to be fed regularly. Despite his injury, his muscles were impressive, and his arms could reach wide enough to grab and knock someone against the wall before the other person could move. He’d proved that more than once… and all without changing his dour expression.
But now Calle was beaming like I’d told him I’d found a miracle cure for his crushed leg. Damn it. Where was the stolid cook I’d come to know when I wanted him?
“If he shows.”
“If he said today, he’ll show.” Calle’s smile left. He seemed to be thinking deeply. Then that smile came back full force, unable to be restrained. “Yeah. I need something. Bring sugar. We’ll do something special for the meal tonight.”
Shit. The man was going to bake a cake or something. The cook who always cooked chili on Monday, eggs on Tuesday, and so on through the week, following his routine without fail.
I already hated Rey. I’d spent three months busting my ass to manage the compound, and all I got was “Rey wouldn’t do things that way.” I was the freakin’ boss’s kid, but it didn’t matter. No one took orders from me unless I got in their face and proved I could enforce or buy what I demanded. Otherwise, the men just did what Rey had told them to do back when he was still around to give orders. After all, in their minds, he was still the foreman.
He’d been gone for years. While he’d been gone, the compound had withered. The campesino women and children had left first. Then the strongest and boldest of their men had vanished. I’d been sent to save the compound before the hands deserted us and everything fell apart. I’d arrived before the last of the campesinos left. I’d promised the hands double pay if they kept the remaining sharecroppers on our land without killing them. I didn’t ask how they managed it, but the campesinos stayed. Just that was almost enough to make the compound sustainable if we ever needed to close the portal against the Federistas.
“Maybe Dog should go instead.” Calle frowned. “He’s strong.”
“I’m touched that you worry so about my safety,” I said. “But I’ll do it.”
I knew damn well what Calle was worried about, and it wasn’t me. His concern was that I was too short, too weak, too city to pull off bringing Rey home.
I’d managed a miracle to get the compound back to life so quickly. I’d not just ridden but walked the entire compound to work it with the men. I’d done more than my share and never whined. But all I got as a reward was the short end of the Rey stick.
Those hands who stayed made it clear they did because Rey would be back someday. The campesinos didn’t look at me or speak when I gave them orders. But they would sing at night about El Rey — and they didn’t mean their primitive god. Unless, of course, they thought the man was their god. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“But, Boss, if you let someone else go –”
“Don’t argue with me.” I stalked out.
* * *
My mood hadn’t improved after waiting almost two hours at the station. No one from outside Medianoche stayed in one place that long once they reached town. And waiting at the station, a place officially sanctioned, was even more dangerous when you weren’t sanctioned yourself.
The fans that provided some relief from the heat moved sluggishly, raising my temperature and temper by the minute. When was the coach going to arrive?
I wiped my face. Sweat had already stained my shirt through. Maybe I should leave. Probably he wasn’t going to show. There were all kinds of dangers traveling by coach — from retired-soldiers-turned-thugs to interfering officials, all of whom required either a bribe or a beating before you were sent on your way.
I wasn’t sure the new Rey would be able to manage either feat if he were stopped. From what I could gather in the brief message sent to me before the reception was jammed, Rey was returning because he was of no more use to our side. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but no one gave us back healthy, whole men once they became part of the endless fighting in the cities.
That thought sent a sudden chill through me. Maybe he’d been sent back to die. God, how would I manage the hands if that happened? Especially if it happened when he was my charge.
And then I heard the noise in the distance. No one else around me looked up, but I fumbled with my locator and caught the faintest blip of something foreign on the screen.
I stood up and pushed my hands into my pockets to keep them from shaking.
The same dilapidated coach that had spit me out here into my new world three months ago stopped again. The horses slumped under the shade, and the driver leaped down, more concerned about them than any of the passengers. The coach door opened, and I braced myself.
One passenger leaped down, apparently healthy, his face hidden under a wide-brimmed hat. Then he looked up.
Blue eyes in a tanned face. Blue eyes that looked right into you and almost made you miss that the rest of the man was equally beautiful. Almost. Perfection like that was hard to miss for long.
And hard was the word for that body.
I’d had no one since I arrived at the compound. But that wasn’t why my body was leaning toward him.
It was him. He did it with one look at me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Treva Harte has always been an overachiever. She also collects things. First it was degrees. First a B.A. in English, then she decided to go back for a Master’s degree. Not content with that, she added a J.D. Since then she’s added a husband, also an attorney, and two children to her collection. She’s continuing her ways as an overachiever, writing her wonderfully offbeat tales of passion and possibilities — in her spare time.