Monday, September 30, 2013

Free Alert - What Lies Inside by J.L. Myers

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~
The remainder of the morning, with constant and at times agonizing restraint, had so far passed without any bloodshed. Every moment around humans, I felt on the precipice of crumbling. Always, the sinister plotting of how to take one of them down without repercussion played at my thoughts. Reprieve seemed unattainable, until my first double art class before lunch.
The art center was a separate and small building. It was located down a quiet path shrouded by a thicket of sassafras trees, and isolated from the main building. Its seclusion and smaller class headcount disturbed me. There’d be fewer witnesses if I lost it, less mess to clean up. It would take more control than I thought I could muster, to keep my mind from planning someone’s bloody demise.
Preparing for a doubled forty-five minute game of ‘ignore and don’t kill’, I walked stiffly through the open door into class. A girl with pixie-like features and sleek fiery-red hair bopped in front of me. My mouth clamped shut, holding my breath.
The girl’s face beamed as she swayed on her much-too-high-for-school stiletto heels. “Hi, you must be Amelia. I’m Vanessa.”
Her bubbly personality floored me. So far she was the only person—apart from the mysterious and tempting Ty—to introduce herself to me. The memory of him tugged at me from within, our entire interaction imprinted on my mind. I could remember every detail of his appearance and the few words he’d said to me. Still, I was no closer to placing him.
Now this girl was watching me, waiting on a reply while I stood reminiscing. “Uh, hi,” I said with caution.
Vanessa motioned to the back of the classroom, where two vacant easels waited. They were the only two left available. “Come on, I saved you a seat.”
With a smile, she turned and led the way past the other students already seated. A broad beam of warm sunlight streamed through the wall, made entirely of glass panels. The light encompassed the two vacant easels and a single paint rack positioned between them. Not nearly a good enough barrier to separate her from me.
The sun’s rays cast a distinct line across the polished cement floor. I paused at its edge, staring blankly past Vanessa and into the lush fernery beyond the glass. Sunlight was supposed to burn vampires. Well, all turned vampires, from what I had been told.
Yesterday I even witnessed it. I had been in the front passenger seat of Mom’s Mercedes SUV, bewildered by the huge mansion before us. The day was overcast, wind-blown clouds sheltering what should have been a pastel-blue sky. Mom slid from the car while Dorian and I stared. Was this monstrous structure really our new home?
Then the clouds shifted. A sizzling and gag-worthy stink of burning flesh reached us. Mom swore—something she rarely did—and dove into the back seat, tugging the door shut behind her. The UV resistant tint provided refuge from the sun’s escaping rays.
“Mom!” I cried, twisting in my seat. “Are you okay?”
Dorian’s arm shot out, collecting her hand and pulling it forward. “Shit!”
A bubbling welt of scorched flesh covered her forearm. “Language, Dorian,” Mom chastised. “And I’ll be fine.” She pulled her hand from Dorian’s. Instantly the redness began to soothe, the bubbled skin smoothing until her arm was totally unblemished.
I turned back to the dashboard, dropping my head into my hands. “Tell me again,” I said, hating the quake of my voice. “Tell me how you’re affected by the sun, when we’re not?”
Mom had gone over this subject many times at the cabin, but I was still unsettled by her explanation. The story just didn’t add up.
Mom flattened her blouse and sighed. “I was turned as an adult. However, it seems the circumstances in which you were both infected has provided immunity.” She edged forward, her posture straight as she rested a firm hand on each of our shoulders. “Now, this isthe last time I will repeat myself.”
Back in the classroom, Vanessa had taken her spot and was waiting, watching me with a mixture of what looked like impatience and anticipation.
Shaking the memory from my mind, I stepped into the light. The curve in Vanessa’s smile twitched, her piercing blue eyes blinking.
“Welcome, Amelia.” The sudden voice caused Vanessa to jump, knocking her knee against the paint rack. A thin woman in paint-spattered overalls and a paintbrush holding her hair back in a bun, stood at the front of the classroom. “I’m Mrs. Ruby.” She looked to Vanessa. “Vanessa, would you please explain the project options to Amelia?”
Vanessa nodded, shifting her eyes back to me. Her face was painted with a perfect and what I thought was a faked smile. There goes my paranoia, again.
“So, we have two options,” she said. “Create a portrait of what we see ourselves becoming in ten years, or reveal our hidden selves. The side we keep secret from the world.”
The image of me devouring a blood-baggie that morning, with greedy drops of crimson escaping the corner of my mouth, intruded on my thoughts. Not pretty. Bile threatened to rise up at the back of my throat. I swallowed in an attempt to push it back down. Then I grasped a tube of paint from the rack to mask my discomfort. “Sounds interesting…”
Vanessa leaned closer, eyes sparkling. “So, what do you see yourself becoming in ten years?”
I clung tighter to the paint tube. The lid popped and a squirt of green shot at the ground. A murderer, I thought. Though I doubted ten years would pass before I did finally lose control. “Um…” Needing to evade her watching eyes, I snatched paper towel from the rack to clean up the mess. I searched my mind for a normal response, before hesitating and coming up blank. “I really don’t know.”
Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, what about the second option? Got any deep dark secrets I should know about?”
Yes. I’m a vampire and drink blood, I thought, but had the better sense to respond with. “Nope… What about you?”
I attempted to keep my voice level, even though I was lying through my teeth. Teeth? I did a double take, running my tongue over my teeth. They were completely level and human. My fangs aren’t extended? And that’s when it hit me, or should I say, didn’t hit me. I couldn’t scent her blood.
My eyes shot up to Vanessa, who shrugged. “Well, I am kinda a fashion Nazi, which sucks for me. Unlike almost every kid at this school, I’m on a scholarship. Even with a part-time job I’m reduced to shopping online.”
“Where do you work?” I looked her over while sniffing the air. Diamanté-studded stretch jeans and a fitted, red-leather jacket. No scent.
“Nowhere, really. It’s more of an errand-based gig.” As I kept staring, a frown pinched Vanessa’s brow. “What?” A look of horror transformed her expression. “Oh my God, don’t tell me I have body odor!”
Wiping the primal look from my face, I shook my head. “No. Sorry.” I held up my hand that still clung to the paper towel smeared with green paint. “It’s the paints,” I said, drilling my brain for a normal excuse. “They, uh…smell the same as the ones from our old school. Kind of like toe-jams and toothpaste.”
“Oh, good,” she said, voice hesitant, “as long as you can’t smell me.”
Forcing a smile, I began squeezing different paints onto a pallet. I should have been figuring out what I planned on painting. I should have been doing anything and everything to appear normal. But my mind was elsewhere. Yes, I felt relieved to have met someone I didn’t want to drain, to drink from until they were lifeless in my arms. Still I couldn’t get my head around her lack of scent. Who was this girl?
“Hey,” Vanessa said, breaking my train of thought. “What’s your mobile number?” When I frowned, wondering why on earth she’d want my number, she said, “You do have one, don’t you? I mean next to lip gloss, it’s the one accessory a girl can’t live without.”
Puzzled, and trying not to stare at her heavily-glossed lips, I pulled my iPhone from my jeans and handed it over. It was personalized with a Three Days Grace case.
Vanessa snatched the phone and dialed from it. Then she pulled her own mobile, sporting a cover speckled with diamantes, from her jacket pocket. It chimed and her fingers glided over the glass screen. “All done,” she said handing mine back. “I texted you my number too.”
“Oh, thanks.” The phone chimed and I stuffed it back into my pocket. The interaction left me feeling even more confused. She’s just being friendly, I tried to convince myself. But my suspicion didn’t agree.
After that I stared at my blank canvas for what felt like forever. I was trying to force myself to think about the project, but my mind kept wondering about the unusual girl sitting beside me. When the bell rang, I realized my efforts had been useless. I had spent the entire class staring at my canvas and tapping a dry paintbrush against my thigh.
Vanessa rose to her feet and looked down at me. “Got any plans for lunch?”
“Uh, no,” I replied. Where she was going with this?
“Great! You can sit with us.”
Eat in a cafeteria full of humans? Yeah, that’ll end well. “I can’t,” I said quickly, thinking up a lie. “Math quiz tomorrow. I need to study.”
 
“Study can wait.” Vanessa strung her arm through mine and yanked me forward. “Besides, I’m not taking no for an answer. Oh and don’t worry, my friends don’t bite,” she said flashing me a wicked grin, “unless provoked.”
What Lies Inside
Free until 30 September 2013
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Genre – YA Paranormal Romance
Rating – PG-13+
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Semmant by Vadim Babenko

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A brilliant scientist creates a brilliant robot. Working together, they beat the stock market. But which one will survive the battle for love?

When Bogdan Bogdanov, a troubled cybernetics genius, creates Semmant, a robot living inside a computer, he feels on top of the world. Semmant takes on the capital markets and makes money with the ruthless efficiency of a machine. Bogdan grows richer by the day, but when he falls deeply for the irresistible Lidia, Semmant’s artificial mind faces a new challenge. The robot becomes involved in a genuine human drama and is forced to confront the cruelty of real life. He discovers the eternal joy of what it means to have free will, but it takes him to a destination no one could have predicted.

This is a tale of lust and affection, an erotically charged story of betrayal and murder. It explores the scope of human feelings from a truly unique point of view. Universal chaos and the strict laws of society; precise mathematical rules and the elusive nature of love: all interact and clash, working together and against one another. Tragedy looms, but free will fights back – bringing hope that lasts forever.

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Genre - Literary Fiction
Rating – NC17
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Pelican Bay–Jesse Giles Christiansen

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Some things are better left alone…
After Ethan Hodges discovers an undersea cemetery just off the beach of Pelican Bay, South Carolina, he seeks answers from a grandfatherly fisherman named Captain Shelby. The captain wants the past to remain buried, and he warns Ethan to stay away. But Ethan doesn't listen.
Ethan's best friend and secret love interest, Morgan Olinsworth, joins in the investigation, unearthing intriguing secrets about the mysterious fisherman. When Captain Shelby is suspected of murder and disappears, a manhunt ensues, revealing a truth that unnerves everyone in Pelican Bay.

Pelican Bay by Jesse Giles Christinsen

Amazon Kindle US

Genre – Mystery, Suspense

Rating – PG13

4.2 (29 reviews)

Free until 29 September 2013

Author's Corner - P.T. Macias

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How do you work through self-doubts and fear?
I work through self-doubts and fears by focusing on my writing. I focus on the positive critique and learn from the constructive criticism.

What scares you the most?
What scares me the most is the thought that my books wouldn’t be read.

What makes you happiest?
I love that the reader enjoyed my story and writing style.

What’s your greatest character strength?
My greatest character strength is that I’m authentic in every characteristic.

What’s your weakest character trait?
My weakest character trait is being trusting.

Why do you write?
I write because it’s part of my being. I enjoy writing and providing an avenue of escape or entertainment.

Have you always enjoyed writing?
Yes, love to write. It’s a passion.

What motivates you to write?
The characters and their story motivate me to write. I see them alive in my mind.

What writing are you most proud of?I’m proud of all of my writing.

What are you most proud of in your personal life?
I’m proud of my family. I adore my children and grandchildren.

What books did you love growing up?
I loved to read Nancy Drew when I was young.


Hot & Dangerous
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Genre – Romantic Suspense
Rating – PG13
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Cleanse Fire by Anastasia V Pergakis

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Pars IV

20th day of Solis Moon, 1364

Derac choked. "What?"

"He came to speak with me while I was in the bath." The amber swirls in her eyes glowed bright and betrayed her panic, but her voice was calm.

His eyebrows shot into his hairline. "Did he force himself on you?" He swallowed the bile in his throat.

"No. He stared at me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable and," she paused and held her lips between her teeth for a moment. "He kissed my neck. He didn't press any further than that, however."

Derac's breath rushed out of his lungs. He leaned back against the sofa and forced his muscles to relax. "What did he say?"

"He told me that he had great power, greater than just being the Mission Commander. He told me I should partner with him."

Derac's eyebrows shot up again. "What did you say to that?"

She spoke in hushed tones, but the words tumbled from her lips. "I told him no. I don't care for power. He said I could have my own power if I did partner with him. Then he told me to think about it. To wait until after the mission. He said that the events of the mission would help me to make up my mind. I have the awful feeling that this mission is going to go terribly wrong, and the Commander is behind it." She paused to her catch her breath. "Centurio, I know it sounds outlandish, but my feelings have never let me down before. We have no proof, but I think at the very least we should exercise caution around the Commander until we do find out the truth."

Derac rested his chin on the tips of his fingers. The elf thought he could barge in on the elfa's bath like he was supposed to be there? He tried to feel shocked at his Commander's possible betrayal and perverted actions, but he failed.

"What should we do?"

"I trust your judgment Kie. And you're right, we don't have proof. But I think I know of a way to get it." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "We tell the Commander our plan is to stay together. During the mission however, we split up. Get one group of faeries out of the cells and have two elite lead them back to the cabin. The other four will get the second group."

"Wait. Wouldn't that make the two vulnerable handling that many faeries on a six hour trip, on foot?"

"Yes. But, even if the faeries are weak, they could offer some help. There are hundreds of them down there according to the report." He winced. "Then again, you may have a point. What if the intel is wrong, yet again?"

"Didn't I see a report about sentry rotations at night?" Her eyes roamed over the table.

"Yes. It's here." He handed her the paper.

Her amber pools scanned the list. "Let's assume this is incorrect. According to this, they cut the guards in half at night. What if they had less? That would mean less to worry about. And, two of us could easily handle a few sentries."

"What do we do if they actually double the guards at night?"

Her lips pressed into a thin line. "Good point."

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "We can't even rely on our intel. Even if it ended that Palto was not involved, we could still be walking into an ambush. How would we know for sure it was his doing or just bad intel?"

She put her hands behind her head and glanced up at the ceiling. "I don't know. I have no skill with strategy."

He snorted. "You read battle strategies for fun."

"Exactly. I'm trying to learn. Doesn't mean I can make up new ones."

"All right. Let's go over all our options again. We can enter through the front or through the secret tunnel. With any of those options, we can stay together, split in half, or split four to two. Is there any other way to get into the mines?"

She shook her head. "I've heard rumors at the very top of the mountain is a shaft that runs all the way down to the lower levels of the mine. But, I don't know for certain and the mountain side is treacherous. We could injure ourselves more just trying to gain entry."

Derac held his head in his hands and tried to predict the outcome of their mission. Kie mirrored his position as her eyes scanned the intel scattered across the table. Her spine jerked and she sat up straight.

"What if we split up into three groups of two? Two to lead the first group out like you said before, two to provide protection, the last two get the second group. Done fast enough, all six of us and all the faeries would leave right after each other, or at least within moments of each other."

"And you say you have no skill with strategy."

She chuckled. "It's still risky though."

"What part of any mission isn't?" He sucked in air and held it a few moments before he exhaled. "Again, I don't like the plan, but it'll work."

They finalized their strategy and detailed every second of their mission. Confidence filled Derac that their idea would work and he ordered Kie to sleep.

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Genre – Fantasy / Military

Rating – PG13

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hindsight by Owen Banner

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Seven

I laid in bed that night, assuring myself that it would be the easiest money I'd ever made.

There was something about it, though--something cold sliding down into my gut. I had bitten that worm, and the hook was already working its way through me.

I smoothed over that feeling with the thought that I could be giving Haley a shot at the life she deserved--Winnie too. That's all I needed. I'd pay any price for that. Somehow that thought helped me get to sleep.

Around nine thirty-five, I began to drag myself out of unconsciousness like I was coming out of a coma. Slamming my hand down on my alarm, I stumbled through the living room to the red leather briefcase. An hour and a half later, I was in Philly, turning down a little side road called South Juniper Street. I had the brown paper package and a clipboard tucked under my arm.

About twenty-five steps from the corner was a small shop with a green awning and a candle lantern beside the entrance. The print on the window read McAfee’s Clockworks and Antiques. The curved brass handle on the door was cold. It was the kind of cold that hits your chest like a gong, then vibrates through the rest of you. The bell tinkled over my head as I pushed through the door and a small old man walked out from the back room. Wiping his hands with a dirty towel, he hobbled out from behind the counter.

"Can I help you, lad? Don't be afraid, there isn't anything an old goat like me can do ta hurt ya."

"I've got a package for Mr. Lyndon McAfee."

"Well, that would be me, wouldn't it?" He said with a smile. The man's face was tough, despite his age. He wasn't hobbling because he was old, he must have had some injury back in the day. I handed him the clipboard with the delivery sheet that Isaac had given me.

"This is quite unexpected," his voice had the same syrupy thickness of Isaac's. "There you go." He handed me back the board as I placed the package in his other hand.

"You have a nice day," I said and started to go.

"Can I get you anything before you go? Cup o' tea? A sandwich or something other?"

I turned back and forced a smile. "No thanks, sir. I'd really better be getting back to work," I said holding up my clipboard and giving it a shake.

"Very well, you have a good day."

"You too," I said as the bell tinkled overhead again. The door shut behind me. I rounded the corner feeling the sunlight on my face and crossed the street between the cars. When I stepped onto the sidewalk, I was already thinking about that money and just caught myself before I knocked a latte out of the hand of a blonde-haired businesswoman wearing a little too much perfume. Dodging her, I almost ran smack into a young guy with a black windbreaker and a camera. He stepped aside, and I caught his eye as he went past. I had time to notice he had short, dark hair, olive skin--Middle Eastern. A small scar cut down at the edge of his hairline. His eyes locked onto mine. That's when it hit.

Hindsight

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Genre –  Thriller

Rating – R

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Website http://www.owenbanner.com/

Jack Canon’s American Destiny - Greg Sandora

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CHAPTER FIVE

We had a team of agricultural scientists that said it’s possible with our land and climate. Big Oil and greedy politicians had blocked the United States from doing it for years.

Our job was to convince the American People.

People are deathly afraid of change. Ideas have a life cycle. Early adopters jump on the bandwagon right away, eager to try the latest thing. Next, you have the show me types; they’re a little afraid to try anything new. They’re worried when they go to the pump there’ll be no gas. Third, there are the late adopters. After most people are convinced, then they’ll buy in. Last, you have the - that’ll never happen types. They’re quick to say it will never work. They wait until an idea is in common practice, then they go around telling everybody they thought of it years ago.

Bud liked to educate prospective big dollar supporters, “The first cars ran on bio fuel; back in 1880, cars were made to run on peanut oil. Hell, Henry Ford made the 1908 Model T to run on Corn Ethanol; he even had his own plant to produce it. This is nothing new, fellas. It’s been around for years! It’s easier than makin’ moonshine!”

Well what’s old is new again. Bio Energy had been hard to get across to the voters. Folks didn’t seem to get how it would create jobs. For this election, our message was honed to American Energy Works; we would link it with a new slogan - We Can.

Bio Energy sounds like something you flush.

I know people want a president, not a chemist. Focus group testing showed anything we tried sounds better after the words 'We Can'. I’d say the sexy stuff and leave the science to the talking heads.

America had done so well with corn technology, farmers had tripled the bushel yield per acre a decade ago. If American ingenuity could send a man to the moon, we could do the same for our homegrown fuel.

We’d all heard stories of guys working in their garages, who chanced upon a breakthrough technology, only to have it bought out by some oil company. Or worse - tales the inventor were quieted by the government in some conspiracy. That’s all science fiction.

We were holding a workable plan, the key feature being the planting of Jatropha, a hardy grass-like plant that grew in almost any soil. We would convince farmers to grow it and chemists would turn it into Bio Fuel. I preferred Jatropha to other feedstocks like soybeans because it couldn’t double as food.

I figured, why give people a reason to debate? Our experts laid the country out in a grid showing, by planting, just the available farmland of Kentucky; we could accomplish nearly half our national goal. Imagine what we could grow if we spread it around to all fifty states. The message had resonated so well in my home state, I’d won a third term.

Bud was telling donors, ‘It just makes good old-fashioned common sense!’

H. Bud Singer was in charge of the campaign and, in addition to fundraising, he was chiefly responsible for reshaping the message. I needed Bud because he could do and say things other men couldn’t or wouldn’t. Besides Bud, three other rising stars rounded out our core team, each in charge of a segment of the campaign.

Once we announced, we expected a flood of volunteers in addition to more paid staff. Our offices would be buzzing with enthusiasm and the aspirations of youth seeking a place to make their mark in the world. I had an uncanny knack for turning talented people into true believers.

Bud and I spent hours going over speech notes. Ideas didn’t come cheap; especially the kind that could lift us out of recession and pay our debt to China without going to war. We always ended believing the surest way to National Security and prosperity for America was to produce lots of cheap energy. Top economists calculated, for every one percent of energy produced on our soil, we would lower the import cost of oil by 3% and create a quarter million jobs. Our goal is to produce twenty percent of the energy we use and cause the price of world crude to plummet.

What’s scaring the Saudis is they knew it was possible; even their own scientists were telling them so. At least all the data we are continually sharing with them brought them to this conclusion. We have them so worried, the whole Middle East would be planted if they could grow anything in the desert. America has millions of acres of available farmland, a willing workforce, and people who can’t pay their oil bills nearly freezing to death in the Northeast. If ever there was a time for a message to resonate, this was it.

I met Bud Singer at Brown where I majored in economics. Bud was a Political Science undergrad, eventually getting a degree in law. He loved the strategy of politics and started working on congressional campaigns right out of law school. Later he headed a prestigious lobbying group, leaving it only to help me win the election to the senate. Bud was stocky and bald and stubborn, continuing to chain smoke even after having a couple of heart attacks.

Bud would say to big money donors – ‘We’ll have cheap energy like we had back in the 50’s and 60’s, so cheap the multi nationals fall all over themselves to bring production back to America.’ Privately he had a more ingenious plan. ‘We’ve got to make it economical to manufacture here again. Once we lure the Corporations back and get them hooked, we force them through taxes to keep the money and jobs here. Bud was right: politicians had made a crucial error rewarding American Corporations for sending jobs overseas, searching for cheap labor and short-term profits.’

Bud and I agreed that the richest Americans didn’t care where they made the money; they had quadrupled their wealth over the longest recession in history. Once we change the Energy Dynamic, the big players will all rush in for a piece of the action.

A trillion dollars worth of wealth would pour back into this country. We would appeal to their massive egos and call them patriotic - after all, they live here, anyway.

This time was nothing like our first presidential campaign, when our offices were housed makeshift in an old mattress store. One thing the first loss brought me was better positioning in the senate. In the most striking example of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know,’ greater name recognition had secured me a coveted position with the Armed Services Committee.

Our new headquarters were courtesy of our friends at TenStar, a Major Defense Contractor who wanted to get to know me better. They “rented” us the space, renovated to suit, and agreed to accept delayed payment over ten years.

Bud liked the idea, ‘That’s making the paper walk backwards, Jack!’

In addition to providing office space, TenStar would make the campaign an unsecured loan of five million dollars and provide the use of a corporate jet. Privately, the agreement was more complicated, involving several components. Provided Bud would sit on their Board and appear at Corporate Events, the lease debt would be considered settled. The caveat attached to the five million was after I left office I would speak at their annual meetings. Open-ended access was an assumed, but unspoken, part of the deal.

All in all, we considered that fair for us at this juncture, as we get closer, the arrangements will get better.

Sandy called on the speakerphone, “Brenner’s on the line. Can you take it, Jack?”

“Sure, Honey.”

Joe Brenner, CEO of TenStar, personally arranged for the space. TenStar made major weapons systems including a prototype fighter - code name, Phantom, that could enter Earth’s Orbit and fire weapons from space. Sort of an X-35 meets the space shuttle. The problem was, Brenner and his counterparts were the guys who lobbied Congress to shut down the U.S. Shuttle Program.

I picked up the phone, “How the hell are you, Joe,” mirroring his usual style and tone.

Joe fired back, “I’m well, Jack, just calling to see how you boys are settling in.”

“We’re doing fine.”

“How’s the donor money flowing in?”

“Don’t worry, Joe, you got us cheap.”

He chuckled, “We’ll see, Jack. You’ve still got to do well in New Hampshire and you’re not that well-known in the Northeast.”

“Thanks for the heads up, you son of a bitch! If Bud ever decides to leave politics, I’ll know who to call.”

Joe laughed, “I don’t think I’m ready for that. I’ve got all I can handle right here, but Jack, you let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Joe, we’ll have a drink together in the White House, and seriously, I appreciate your support. We’ll talk soon.”

I could count on that, since the Phantom’s projected price tag was estimated at eleven billion per copy.

“Hey, Jack, I heard you were headed out of the country. Anyone I know?”

Joe was always snooping.

I laughed, “If I told you I’d have to kill you, so you’re better off.”

Joe’s laugh sounded forced. We said goodbye.

Sandy tilted her head in, blonde hair hanging down to the doorknob.

Still smiling, I thought she mistook my grin for a reaction to the plunging sweater blouse she was wearing.

Girlishly, “Senior Staff is ready when you are, Jack.”

I figured I’d just go with it to make up for semi-ignoring her before.

“Hey step in here a second.”

“Why, Jack, you need something,” flirting.

“I didn’t get the chance to tell you before; you look fantastic! Is that a new outfit?”

Sounding like a spoiled twenty, “Yes, do you suddenly like it? I didn’t think you noticed me, running through the building to look at your stupid car.”

“Well, I’m noticing now. You look gorgeous. Wow, Honey!”

“Well, better late than never, I guess…Thanks, Jack.”

Her look and the way she practically bounced out of the room told me she was happier.

I was sitting at my desk when Bud arrived, taking his usual seat on one of the sofas.

My office was shaped like an L. Our gathering area consisted of two black leather couches, a couple of wing back chairs, and my desk, all in a tight-knit square.

Bud asked, “How’s everything going today?”

Looking over my reading glasses, “Good, have you finalized the distribution points for the large donations?”

Bud answered, “Everything is set to go. The pump is primed, all we need is the cash.”

“You’re the wizard, Bud, great work.”

Bud had been working for months setting up Super Pac’s that would be controlled by us. The Committees could spend as they wished and collect vast contributions without burdensome regulations. Advertising on television is expensive, even on the local level. Regardless of cost, it’s critical to catch voters in that semiconscious state.

TV helps instill a positive and familiar ‘I know that guy’ kinda feeling. I don’t believe an election could be won without it. To be ingrained, our message has to be playing over and over. I still remember ads I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

The bottom line is - in order for us to make the financial commitments necessary to influence the election we have to set up these channels. I was confident Bud would handle our finances in a way that would still allow us to accept Federal Matching Funds. The people he placed in charge of the Super Pacs would be handsomely rewarded with opportunities, either in the White House, or with corporations that supported us. The system’s crazy; we had no choice but to work the gray areas if we want to win.

Next into the office was Robert “Tip” Thornton, after him, my best buddy, Bill Mitchell, and finally Lisa Pennington. The hit squad, we liked to call it.

This group, along with Sandy, was our inner circle.

We had an understanding of total candor - no subject was off-limits. We liked thinking out loud, knowing everything would stay with us. Secondary staff was on a need to know basis.

Bill was first to speak, holding up his thumb and fore finger an inch apart, “I’m this close to finalizing the trip to see the Saudis.”

We were priming the Crown Prince to be a keystone contributor. We would need a quarter billion to win this thing and we were banking on him to give us a big piece of that.

I said to the group, “If I can get twenty from them, we could get some of the others to pony up. Everybody likes to follow the big dog.”

Bill said, "They’re going to want some heavy assurances that you’ll stall the home still, Jack. Are you prepared to lie to these guys?”

“The truth would be really quaint right now, Bill. Listen, they’ve been selling us high-priced tar for years, sucking the life out of our economy. I don’t care what I have to say at this point! If we’re gonna do this thing and bring America back, we’ve got to hold our noses and do it. If any of you have a problem with this, try focusing on the ordinary Americans who are suffering. We need to tip the scales back in their favor!”

Bud added, “If any of you think there’s any other way to win, speak up now, because it’s now or never. Once we go over there, we’re in it up to our eyeballs!”

Lisa piped back, “I agree with Jack, I’m sick of seeing Americans losing their homes! This is our chance to finally have the power to do something about it.”

“Power isn’t given, it must be seized,” I asserted, “We’ve got to pull the rug out from under these guys, before they catch a whiff of what’s coming.”

Tip was a man of few words and had one quirk: he refused to ever repeat himself. When he spoke, we all piped down for fear of missing even a single word. It was always interesting. An ex-Navy Seal, he was in charge of security for the campaign. I trusted him with my life. Decorated for Valor in Iraq, he was recruited with a sub-agency of the NSA. Tip and company had been dropped into hotspots all over Afghanistan to hunt for snipers. The agency believes ‘it takes one to hunt one’ and chose candidates based on natural ability, recruiting secretly out of the military. His group eliminated targets considered security threats to the United States. Nicknamed King Cobra, Tip commanded an elite squad outfitted with sophisticated survival gear, capable of encampment behind enemy lines for days at a time. Tip saved lives by surgically removing the enemy’s instruments of death. The existence of the team was never made public.

Buy Now @ Amazon & Smashwords

Genre – Political Thriller

Rating – PG

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Website http://www.gregsandora.com/

Friday, September 27, 2013

Author Interview – Stacy Verdick Case

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Who is your favorite author?

Stephen King has to be at the top. I also love Anne George, Jodi Picoult, and of course Agatha Christie.

What book genre of books do you adore?

All of them. There isn’t one genre that I can point to and say I’ll never read. Each genre offers you something different in form that I want to read and study all of them from Literary Fiction to Romance. As long as the story is interesting I want to read it.

What book should everybody read at least once?

To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s such a powerful story written for adult from a child’s perspective. The writing is so evocative of a time and a place. It’s one of those books that is both a study in the craft of writing and entertaining. I read it over and over.

Is there any books you really don’t enjoy?

No, but I can get fatigued by certain types of story when they become over saturated. For instance at the moment I won’t pick up anything with a vampire in it. I’m so bored with the whole notion these days. But in the future I might read another one.

What do you hope your obituary will say about you?

I hope that it will say she was well loved by her friends and family. I had to attend a funeral once where there were so many people in attendance that it was standing room only all the way out to the vestibule. This person wasn’t a celebrity, but he had touched so many lives that people wanted to pay their respects. To me that is a testament to a life well lived.

Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up and where you now live?

I was a military brat so I grew up on military bases. I thought tanks and soldiers rolling through the neighborhood was normal but it turns out it wasn’t. We always came back to Minnesota where both my parents are from so I really consider Minnesota my home. It’s where I live now and it really is the best place for me to live.

A Luring Murder

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Genre – Mystery

Rating – PG13

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Website http://sostacythought.wordpress.com/

Author Interview – Lynn Osterkamp

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What was your journey as a writer? I was an academic for many years, so I wrote journal articles, grant proposals, training manuals, etc. at work. Outside work I wrote a couple of popular nonfiction self-help books, one on stress-management and the other on communication between adults and their parents. All that time I wanted to try writing fiction, but I worried that I’d never sell it. At one point I had an agent who told me that selling fiction is next to impossible. But over the years I learned a lot about the publishing industry, and I had my own business, so when digital printing and internet bookstores came along, I realized I could publish and sell a novel through my own business. So I wrote and published Too Near the Edge and its sequel Too Far Under, and now the third in the series, Too Many Secrets.

What is your writing process? Even when I’m writing fiction, I’m obsessed with facts. I do a lot of plotting, outlining and research before I start. And I write each character’s backstory. I spend even more time on research as I write the story, because I like to have every detail as accurate as possible. For example, if I’m going to write about someone picking a lock, I find a site on the internet that gives me details of how to do it. Sometimes I end up spending hours researching details that end up being only a few sentences in the story.

Have you developed a specific writing style? Probably, but I’m too close to my writing to see that. I expect my readers would be better able to describe my writing style than I am. For fiction, I like writing in the first person, but I’m thinking of trying to write a novel in the third person with several different point-of-view characters.

What is your greatest strength as a writer? I spent years writing professional newsletters where each article couldn’t be more than about 500 words. So I got very good at cutting extraneous words and sentences.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it? Everyone has writer’s block occasionally. When I draw a blank, I remind myself that the book isn’t going to write itself without help from me. Then I go ahead and write what comes up, knowing that I can revise it later.

Can you tell us about your main character? My main character, Cleo Sims, tells the story. She’s a grief therapist who has discovered a process that lets grieving people contact the spirits of departed loved ones in an apparition chamber. Cleo’s vision for her Contact Project is to help grievers heal by giving them an opportunity to complete unfinished business with friends, family members and lovers who have died.

But Cleo’s ability to help people contact the dead gets her involved in possible murder investigations. These are cases the police are not investigating, either because the death has been declared an accident, or because the person has been declared missing rather than dead. Nevertheless, family and/or friends want to know more, so they turn to Cleo.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? Too Many Secrets is the third mystery novel in my Cleo Sims series, all of which are mystery novels with a touch of the paranormal. In Too Many Secrets, a Boulder, Colorado nurse mysteriously disappears while celebrating her fortieth birthday with friends in a mountain wilderness area. The brother of one of the friends is Cleo’s benefactor who funds her Contact Project. When he prevails on Cleo to help find out what happened to the missing woman, she can’t refuse.

What are the first two books in your Cleo Sims series about? In the first book, Too Near the Edge, a young widow wants to use Cleo’s apparition chamber to contact her husband’s spirit to find out more about his death. The husband’s fatal fall from the rim of the Grand Canyon was ruled an accident, but his wife believes he was murdered.

In the second book, Too Far Under a wealthy heiress drowns in her backyard. Again, the death is ruled an accident. But the woman’s daughters refuse to accept that and beg Cleo to help them contact their mother’s spirit to find out what really happened.

Should the books be read in order? Each of the three books is a stand-alone book, so they can be read in any order.  Of course Cleo’s life changes from book to book, so if you want to follow her life that way, you may want to read the earlier books first.

How do you develop and differentiate your characters? I start with the mystery. Someone dies or disappears. No one knows what happened to the person, but friends and family suspect the worst. Then I create a group of characters who become suspects. I don’t want to tell too much about them, but I’ll reveal that I’m fascinated by abnormal and deviant behavior. I’m a social worker and I’ve studied psychology, so I use a lot of sources to develop characters who live on the edge in a variety of ways.

Cleo’s a lot like me in her experience and the curious way she sees the world. She’s a capable professional, but has her own personal issues with her boyfriend and her grandmother with Alzheimer’s. She’s funny, down-to-earth, caring, and strong willed; and she won’t give up on a problem until she solves it.

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Genre - Mystery

Rating – PG

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How To Find Your Vital Vocation by Brian Cormack Carr

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CHAPTER 2
TALENTS

What you love is what you are gifted at, and there are no exceptions.
~ Barbara Sher

This chapter is action-orientated and is all about finding the key that unlocks your Vital Vocation. It’s where we go in search of your gifts and talents in the sure knowledge that these lie at the root of your ideal work. If you already think you know what they are, great; now’s your chance to verify that. If you don’t, the exercises in this chapter will really help you to unearth them.

Discovering What Makes You Tick

The simplest way to get a hint of where your talents lie is to pay attention to anything that you are attracted to and in particular, anything that you really love.

Even if you don’t have an obvious talent in that area, you can be sure that your love for a thing points you towards a talent of some sort. Perhaps it will be something as simple as the fact that you have a heightened appreciation of the subject in question. Yes, that is a real talent. An expert wine-taster doesn’t need to be able to make wine, but he or she needs to fully appreciate good wine in order to do the job well. A history teacher may never make history, but he or she needs to love learning about it in order to teach it effectively. So it is with you. If you love something, you see it in a particular way: a way that’s utterly unique and therefore very valuable to you, and to others.

In order to cast the net as wide as possible, I’m going to ask you to explore several areas which will provide you with clues as to what you should be doing with your life. In the exercises that follow we’ll be searching for this treasure in:

- Your memories

- Your future plans

- Your imagination

- Other people’s perceptions of you

- Your unconscious mind

Each area is explored in a separate exercise and I’ll give examples from my own life so that you can see how it’s done.

It’s worth giving yourself sufficient time to do each exercise without having to rush through it. By going searching for what you love in each of these areas (the last two are optional) you’ll be able to gather enough information to spot any pattern in the things that are capable of satisfying and stimulating you. Once you can see a pattern like that, you can begin to build a life and career around it.

Ready? Enjoy this. We’re about to do no less than discover your purpose in life!

EXERCISE 3: Journeying into the Past

For this exercise, you’re going to cast your mind back to things you’ve loved doing in your past.

Step 1

Wherever you are just now in your life, think back to several earlier periods, for example:

- Childhood

- Your teenage years

- Young adulthood

- Adulthood

- Middle age

Write each of the periods you’ve chosen as a heading on a separate page and make a list of all the things you really loved to do when you were that age. List as many as you can recall and be as specific as possible.

However – and this is important – only write down the things you particularly loved. Choose things that would rate a 7 or above if you were to rate them on a “lovability scale” of 1 to 10 (with 10 being highest).

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Genre –  NonFiction / Careers

Rating – G

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Website http://vitalvocation.com/

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Hunters and the Queen: Element Series (Young Adult Fantasy Romance) @VirginiaVayna

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The Hunters and the Queen – Virginia Vayna

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre – Fantasy, Paranormal, Mythology

Rating – PG

3.8 (4 reviews)

The Hunters and the Queen is a work of fiction in the young adult, fantasy and paranormal romance genres. The story blends elements of romance, darkness, history, fantasy, and reincarnation. The second book in the series, The Gypsy Hunter, has a release date during fall 2013. I hope you enjoy the story. Please come back for more of the journey.~
Description:
The main character, Jolán Vajnbirg, is developing into another being. She has a calling from the sky world. A battle is on the horizon.
While working on her studies at the Churchill Military Academy in Kinsburgh, England, Jolán Vajnbirg’s final year at the academy develops into a year of competition, aristocratic love, reincarnation, and a calling from the sky world to help save earth from the death and destruction caused by the Order of the Hunters.
Jolán Vajnbirg is an often reserved, yet occasionally outspoken young woman living in Kinsburgh, England. She has a relatively easy life living in her quiet England town. She has a full-ride swimming scholarship to the Churchill Military Academy. She has a strong mind, she has an athletic body, and she has a loving family and caring friends.
As Jolán embarks upon her final year at the Academy, her life takes an unexpected turn. She has a quaint encounter with Colemund, the Prince of Gallia Belgica, and the two are literally a universal match created centuries ago. As Jolán begins the last year of her studies, she experiences many changes. She is unaware her future love will develop in to a star-crossed romance.
The sky world is steadily preparing Jolán for her future fate. She will need her friends to help her battle the Order of the Hunters. The hunters have upset the universal balance of earth, and the hunters have upset the sky world.
Jolán will learn about her past, she will learn about reincarnation, and she will understand her responsibilities in the realm. Her relationship with Colemund is no ordinary college love.
An Excerpt from The Hunters and the Queen:
The Phoenix
Hadrian immediately placed an angry phone call to Akuji, but this time she answered her phone. Hadrian sharply inquired, ‘Where are you, Akuji? We have a major problem in development.’ Akuji nonchalantly replied, ‘I just transformed a farmer into a hunter, and I’m explaining the rules.’ Hadrian didn’t care about what Akuji was currently doing at the moment; he violently said, ‘Return to Komi. Do not waste time, do not waste resources, but return on the next flight out of England.’ Akuji said, ‘I still have to finish one more assignment. I need to find and follow this girl named Jolán.’ The mere sound of such a name caused Hadrian’s stomach to turn, and his unnerving sensation returned. Hadrian dryly inquired, ‘Who is Jolán?’ As soon as Hadrian spoke Jolán’s name, he felt his insides turn and his stomach ache. Hadrian felt weak. Akuji said, ‘She is some assignment I have to figure out, but I’m not having any success.’ Hadrian gathered as much strength as he could for the moment, and he said to Akuji, ‘Get on the next flight back to Russia. We have heavy issues of concern we need to assess for action.’ At that moment, Akuji heard several voices come through her phone; but she was unsure what happened or where the voices were located. She asked Hadrian, ‘Are you ok?’ All Akuji could hear was the sound of a thousand whispers. Hadrian kept saying, ‘Akuji, are you there? Answer me.’ Hadrian received no response from Akuji. Hadrian finally hung up the phone, but Akuji still heard the voices. She was caught in a trance for several minutes until she received a piercing headache. Akuji quickly left some items behind for the farmer to study, and she walked towards her car. She hustled to the seat of her car. She was en route to the airport; and she was headed back to Komi. Akuji felt something had changed. She felt a sense of urgency.

Sweet Karoline by Catherine Astolfo

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Chapter 1

I met Ethan on the day that I killed Karoline.

Other than a few minor adjustments, I believe that I have handled her murder exceedingly well.

The state of my car, for instance, has become something of a nuisance. Bits of tissue, used napkins, paper cups and pop cans litter the floor at my feet or fly out the window as I drive along. I am invariably subjected to a barrage of honking whenever I reach a red light.

People these days have no patience. They ought to understand that I am busy examining the stray bits in my car. Some of them are works of art. I don't notice the change to green because they are so infinitely interesting.

This study of creative possibilities has become somewhat of an obsession. In the back of my mind I know that all I have to do is clean it up. Yet the thought of actually tackling the onslaught of debris leaves me inert and helpless.

Ethan offered recently to take me to the car wash. He'd help me dump the debris and vacuum the inside, but I have seriously considered the idea that I may be destroying a future Picasso. I have thus far refused his proposition. Not that I have shared my vision of a Picasso with him, of course. I just say that I never have time.

I have acquired a habit of going shopping. I make lists of things in my mind—groceries, toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, vitamins or clothing—that seem absolutely essential to the arrival of tomorrow. But once inside the pharmacy, the clothing store or the shopping center, the bright lights mesmerize me. My eyes blur and I can't for the life of me remember what I have come for.

When I do buy something, I am left vaguely dissatisfied, certain that I could have gotten a better bargain somewhere else had I only looked a little longer. Depressed because I had to use my credit card again and this purchase will become just one more thing to do. Write the check. Buy the stamp. Walk to the post box. Mail the envelope.

The little, unfinished things do sometimes bother me. Dirty laundry is piled up in the closet. The bed is always unmade. In the bathroom, the ceiling is slowly cracking from some unspecified leak that I have failed to report to the superintendent. The drapes in the living room neither open nor close anymore.

At first I tended to watch television all night long, despite the fact that the next day I was a zombie. After I decided to go on an extended sick leave, it didn't matter. I started to sleep all night and all day, never moving unless forced to by some phone call, knock at the door or the call of nature.

I spend hours at the sink. For some reason, the suds and the water are calming. So far I have washed every dish, bowl, and ornament in the apartment two or three times. I reenact advertisements for the latest dishwashing liquid, showing off my lovely long fingers and hands to, well, myself. I speak in a sing-song voice to the imaginary audience, telling them how kind the dishwashing liquid has been to my hands over the years, encouraging them to run right out and buy this product before it disappears from the shelf.

After I've allowed the water to swirl down the drain, I shift to spending hours in front of the little mirror that hangs in my kitchen. People tell me that I am a very beautiful woman. On good days, when I feel haughty and happy, I can gaze into the polished glass and agree with their assessment. On other days, I notice the nose that's a little too upturned. The lips that protrude a bit too much. The dark birthmark above my left eyebrow. The ears that don't lie flat against my head. I have no idea why I am considered flawless, for I have many perceptible flaws, both inside and out.

My father is white and my mother is black with some Native American thrown into her background. My parents have always bragged that I inherited all the great physical features of those races. Their perspective is far less critical than mine. They focus on all the positives. Naturally wavy hair. Large brown eyes with long curling lashes. High, full cheekbones. A small, pert nose. Lips just thick enough to be called luscious.

I am one of those fortunate people who can eat all day and not gain an ounce. Thus I am described as tall and lean as opposed to thin. I have full breasts and a narrow waist. I am a fast runner and good at any sport I attempt. In Hollywood, I am considered full figured.

My skin is a light brown, the color of coffee with cream I guess you would say, that makes me look as though I've just stepped out of a tanning bed. Heads literally turn to stare at me in the street, from across a room, or on the subway. Male and female. To me, it's a constant source of surprise, chagrin and exasperation.

Lots of people, especially women, have jealously told me that I should be grateful for my looks. But I hate being identified as beautiful. Men tend to stare only at my chest when they talk to me. Or they show me off like some trophy and do not bother to ask my opinion on anything. I have been approached in bars and stores alike. Even in this land of plastic enhanced faces, I literally cannot go anywhere without being stared at or even followed. Most people, in fact, are convinced I am a movie star or model. These are not careers I've ever wanted.

I have often been stalked, thus the three sets of locks on our door. Our telephone number is always unlisted and has to be changed once some obsessed man discovers it. When you are lovely on the outside, it's always difficult to entice people to look for the true person underneath. I'm learning through Ethan that it's exactly the same for truly ugly people.

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Genre –  Psychological Suspense

Rating – 18+

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Website http://www.catherineastolfo.com/

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Above and Beyond: A Novel of the Civil War by Jessica James

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Chapter 1

Looks like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.

—Shakespeare, MacBeth (Act I, Scene V)

June 1862

Major Douglas Benton rode in front of his men, his straight, broad back giving no indication of the hard-fought battles through which he had recently passed. To anyone watching, he appeared the epitome of rugged masculinity and imposing power, yet beneath the stalwart exterior of muscle and strength rode a man with straying thoughts.

With the fighting well over and the enemy long gone, Benton’s wandering mind had turned to more peaceful pursuits. He was daydreaming—mostly about things like shade and a cool draught of water but also of kindly succor at the hands of a beautiful maiden. It was a dream that had little chance of becoming reality, dusty and dirty and disheveled as he was. But it was his to dream nonetheless as he and his horse, with his staff and troop behind him, plodded wearily down an overgrown bridle path.

Two days and nights in the saddle is enough to dull most men’s thoughts of women, but Major Benton found that fatigue did little to diminish his appreciation for the opposite sex. Recently entrusted with his own command, Benton’s orders had kept him engaged in tracking and harassing the enemy for the past few weeks, which had resulted in an unusually long isolation from feminine society. So hot as it was and as parched as he was, Benton still dreamed of warm smiles and womanly charms, deciding he would gladly forego the water and shade if only for a few minutes diversion with a female face and form.

“Sir?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?” Benton’s voice betrayed his annoyance when the young officer interrupted his daydream. He knew only the name and rank of some of those he now commanded—and not even that for others.

“Sir, I don’t think…”

“There’s a house up ahead, Major,” another one of his men interrupted.

“Yes, finally.” Benton’s weary gaze fell upon a well-tended home sitting amidst a clump of old oaks. Aha, the trees prove evidence of bountiful shade, and the stone well in the yard testifies to the existence of water. Now all that is needed

The lieutenant interrupted again just as Major Benton began turning his horse off the path to the wagon track toward the house. ““Sir…as I was saying…”

“It will have to wait, Lieutenant.” Benton stuck spurs to his horse to ride in advance of his men. He’d already noticed the place itself was a thing of singular beauty, offering the added advantage of remoteness and isolation. He had only another quarter mile to dream about who might inhabit it.

* * *

The yard smelled of roses and appeared carpeted with velvety grass. The sun fairly gleamed from the broad, white bosom of the majestic ivy-covered house, making it appear almost celestial in nature. As he drew close, the slight hint of a breeze caressed Benton’s brow; he felt like he was part of a dream.

As Benton tugged on the reins to slow his anxious horse, his gaze fell upon a womanly form sitting on a garden bench with her head bent intently over a book. He pulled his horse to a halt and took in the scene, then reached down to open the latch of the gate. It was then that she stood and turned her face toward him, and it was then that Benton’s movements were for a moment arrested. Even a dream could not equal the perfection of beauty that stood before him. Astonished, Benton moved his horse forward and removed his hat, bowing low over his saddle. “Pardon the intrusion, miss. My men are tired and thirsty and would be much obliged for a place to rest.”

Benton was close enough now to see two blue eyes regarding him unemotionally from above the high collar of a drab, black mourning dress. Although he thought he had caught a glimmer of welcome at first glance, he could not help notice now the straight, authoritarian bearing of her stance, a trait he tended to find disagreeable in women. His gaze drifted down to the book she held in one hand, and its scuffed and tattered cover. As black as her dress, it reflected hard usage, but he could still read the title in barely recognizable gold letters: Holy Bible.

“Conscience compels me to decline the honor.” She spoke softly yet firmly, never removing her eyes from him as she slowly let the Bible drop to the bench behind her.

“We wish you no ill, miss.” Benton leaned on the pommel with negligent grace, confident of his effect on women. “Surely you are aware there is no refreshment more delicious than that afforded by shade.” He nodded toward the large canopy of trees to his right as he spoke, yet it took no intimate knowledge of his character or familiarity with his dream to know that shade was not necessarily the refreshment he was seeking.

The young woman’s eyes swept across his uniform, then over his shoulder to the approaching horsemen. The suspicion in them turned to intolerance. “I have offered you no invitation, sir,” she said in a cold voice.

Benton laughed as much from amusement as from surprise at her tone and examined her in such a way as to surely make her feel he knew her better than he possibly could. He continued to sit erect and poised, full of manly strength and confidence. “I see you are in mourning, and offer my condolences for your loss. But you are mistaken if you think we mean you harm.” He loosened his reins, making preparations to dismount.

“I have made no mistake.” The woman’s voice turned clearly hostile as she lifted an ancient shotgun from the folds of her skirt. In another instant, the gun was locked expertly between her side and elbow and was pointed straight at his chest. “But if one of your boots dares touch this soil, you may claim the responsibility for making one.”

“But I am Major Douglas Benton—” He stopped short when he saw the look that radiated from her eyes.

“Yes, I gathered that.” Her gaze remained locked on his. “I am no stranger to your character and reputation.”

The words were said in such a tone that it was clear she believed his character and reputation were not features to be proud of. Benton looked at her incredulously. In her expression, he could behold no friendliness or affection, yet the voice was distinctly Southern, gentle and drawling.

“Surely you do not mean to deny water to the soldiers defending you.”

She spoke unemotionally, not deigning to lower the gun. “I can deny water to those who are trespassing on my property.”

Benton looked down at her now with blank astonishment and then back toward his men still some twenty yards away. He saw out of the corner of his eye that she shifted her gaze to the east with a look of grave concern, but by the time he turned back around, her full attention was once again upon him.

“Come, my dear, where is your loyalty to Virginia?” Benton knew his tone revealed his agitation and made an attempt to sound less surly.

“I am loyal to the only authority I recognize,” she snapped, loud enough now for his approaching men to hear.

Benton let his breath escape him in a loud sigh of exasperation as he thought of the many battles he had fought to achieve his renowned reputation as a fighter. Yet not quite knowing what to do or say, he stared at the foe before him. “You intend to deny shade and water to these men?” He purposely asked the question in such a way as to indicate he did not think he had heard her correctly the first time, and wanted to give her another chance.

Her reply was simple. “I intend to defend my property. If you do not wish me to bestow the contents of this gun upon you, I suggest you urge your men to move on.”

In the heat of the moment, Benton completely forgot his dream. “And I urge you, miss, to put down that gun!”

Although he possessed a voice of easy command, Benton knew he was in a situation in which he was losing control. Indeed, if eyes possessed the power to kill, he knew he would be departing the earth for good, because her gaze, like the two barrels of her shotgun, remained locked on his heart.

“You may have the power to make that request, Major Benton—but most assuredly not the authority.”

“Madam, I did not request you. I ordered you!”

Benton looked from the gun to her face and saw no sign of fear or compromise. Then his agitation became obvious. His face kindled with the fire that was wont to burn there when on the battlefield. “I beg your pardon, young lady, for seeing the necessity of giving advice,” he said from between tightly clenched teeth, “but as we are men worthy of respect, I must insist that you drop that weapon.”

The woman remained unflappable. “As you have kindly begged my pardon for giving me this advice, I must beg yours for not taking it. To be frank, sir, you ought to have more prudence about where you request hospitality.”

Benton sat back on his horse as if having suffered a physical blow. Staring at his opponent with a look of intense annoyance, he dropped the focus of his gaze to the muzzle of the gun, which he noticed had begun to lower ever so slightly. Lifting his eyes to hers, he saw they had softened considerably as she followed the approach of a horse and rider behind him.

“Major, this isn’t a place you want to stop.” The soldier urged his mount forward and then drew rein beside Benton. “It’s the home of a traitor.”

The woman’s cheek twitched slightly at the words, like the spontaneous quiver of a horse’s hide when touched by a fly.

“You are acquainted?” Benton scrutinized the same lieutenant who had attempted to stop him earlier from turning down the lane.

“Sir, I have the unfortunate duty to report that this is my sister. Well, that is… was my sister.”

“I am still your sister, Jake,” the woman said softly, all the callousness gone from her voice. “The war cannot change that.”

The lieutenant did not answer her, just turned his head and spit into the dust as if that was a sufficient response. Then he addressed Benton again. “As I tried to tell you earlier, sir, there is a loyal family only another mile down the pike.”

Benton looked from one to the other for a moment and then decided to take his lieutenant’s advice. For a moment, he considered warning the woman about her unpopular stance in the region and the possible danger to her welfare, but one more look into those fearless, ice blue eyes changed his mind on the necessity. “Lead the way, Lieutenant.”

Riding at a swift pace, it did not take long for the band of warriors to put the house called Waverly behind them. As they trotted up a small rise, a scout came galloping out of the tree line and pulled his horse to a sliding stop in front of Benton. “Found this in the old tree, sir.”

Benton opened the communication and scanned the missive quickly. Turning his horse back toward the east, he scanned the landscape a moment and looked over at his next in command. “You see anything suspicious out there, Captain Connelly?”

Connelly squinted against the late-afternoon sun and then pulled a spyglass from his saddle. “Yea, looks like something’s kickin’ up some dust down there.” He handed the spyglass to Benton. “Might even be heading to Waverly from the direction they’re heading.”

Benton stared through the lens briefly then closed it in disgust with a loud snap.

“If that’s from Sid, looks like he’s right again.” Connelly nodded toward the piece of paper Benton still held.

Benton merely grunted in reply as he leaned over his pommel and studied the horizon with a scowl. “Whoever Sid is,” he said at length. “He seems to know every movement the Union army makes in this region—and I don’t even know who he is.”

The two officers sat silently and assessed the situation as the moving cloud of dust slowly transformed into a small band of cavalry wearing blue uniforms.

“Well, I reckon it’s a good thing we didn’t hang around Waverly.” Connelly shifted his weight in the saddle. “Looks like nothin’ but a small scouting party, but they could have caused some headaches.”

Benton took one more look, and then turned his horse back around. “Well they are welcome to Waverly—and its inhospitable occupant as far as I’m concerned.”

“Speaking of which, what do you reckin’ we should do with that one?” Connelly tilted his head back toward the house from which they had come.

Benton sighed heavily, trying to erase the image of those brilliant blue eyes filled with hostility, and attempted instead to imagine them shining with the devotion with which he was accustomed. “Frankly, I’m inclined to cut off the tail and hope it dies when the sun goes down,” Benton muttered as he tried to reconstruct the dream that had been ruined by the only woman he’d ever met immune to his charms.

Above and Beyond

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Genre - Christian Fiction

Rating – G

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Website http://www.jessicajamesbooks.com/

 

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