Author Diana Rubino!

Interview with Historical and Paranormal Author Diana Rubino @DianaLRubino

 A BLOODY GOOD CRUISE is a fun-filled blend of the vampire world and luxury cruises.

Romance writer Mona Rossi’s book sales are slipping. She needs new ideas and fast! Her vampire love, Fausto Silvius is a doctor aboard the Romanza, a luxury cruise ship. Holding a “Motion on the Ocean” writer’s cruise sounds like a great idea. What better way to combine a career boost with romance? But they soon discover hunters on board who give chase to Fausto and his fellow vampires. While he longs to bring Mona into his world, how can he convince her to join him with fringe lunatics on the hunt? In the prime of her life she’s not sticking her neck out for a shot at eternity.

 

Diana Rubino is my blog guest today. Diana’s passion for history has taken her to every locale of her books, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, colonial Virginia, and New York. Her a fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, received a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. In her spare time, Diana bicycles, golfs, plays her piano and devours books of any genre.

 How do you decide on setting?

I’ve always set my books in my favorite times and places—medieval and Renaissance England, Colonial America, and anytime in New York City. But now that I’m writing biographical novels, the setting comes with the figure I decide to write about.

 What genre(s) do you write in?  Why?

 Historical, because I’m such a history nut, and paranormal because I’ve always been fascinated with ghosts, reincarnation, the spirit world—anything otherworldly. Then of course romance has to come into it.

 What is your favorite part of writing?

 The research—I can lose myself in library stacks, and now with the miracle of the internet, one website can lead me to another, until I’ve gone on a multi-hour journey where time just flies by.

 How much research was involved in writing your book?  How did you go about it?

 My husband and I are hooked on cruising, and my very first cruise was on the Eastern Mediterranean, beginning in Rome and ending in Istanbul. The ports of call included Rhodes, Cyprus, Santorini, and Egypt. Because I love Italy and cruising, I wanted to combine those passions with a story about vampires and how they face prejudice in the human world.

 What inspired your latest release?

 My latest release, A NECESSARY END, is a paranormal (ghost) romance centered on Booth’s insane plot to kill President Lincoln. A Lincoln buff since third grade, I always wanted to write about him. Adding the paranormal twist combined two of my biggest interests. 

 E-books, print, or both?  Any preferences?  Why?

 They both have their pros and cons. E-books are so easy to travel with, you can load as many as you want onto your E-reader, but there’s nothing like settling back with a good old fashioned printed book and inhaling those inked pages.

 How much time do you spend promoting your books?

 About a third of my workday—some first thing when I sit down, and some last thing before I log off.

 Have you had other careers before becoming a writer?

 Sure have…I own a construction consulting business with my husband, which I still run when I’m not writing, and I have a real estate license, although I’m not with a brokerage right now.

 What is your least favorite part of writing?

 The times when it doesn’t explode out of me—when finding each word takes major scouring of the thesaurus, when the prose comes out of my head looking sloppy and unpolished. But this stuff comes out of my head at 120 wpm, so I allow myself some sloppiness in first drafts.

 Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of editing.  How about you?

 I edit after I finish writing for the day, after I’ve met my 2,500 word goal. But I go over it and over it, until—as the saying goes—when you’re no longer rewriting, you’re only tinkering.

 Visit Diana at www.dianarubino.com, her blog at www.dianarubinoauthor.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/DianaRubinoAuthor?fref=nf
Purchase A BLOODY GOOD CRUISE: http://amzn.to/NrBF43

 

Julia Suzuki- The Land of Dragor

Fantasy genre a fave of yours? Julia Suzuki visits this week to promote her series of fantasy books. Read on for more information!

The Gift of Charms Book #1 is NOW available in paperback to PRE-ORDER at AMAZON HERE http://tinyurl.com/o95ufw9

 

‘A beautifully presented, wonderfully unique debut’ – The Sun

 

 

‘It was during the time that my son was at junior school that I was inspired to write the first novel.  One day I had an epiphany – ideas came flooding in. 

 I had been thinking back to the wonderful vintage books I had read and wishing there were more like this – but with unique and modern edge and interactive web presence. I knew first hand what parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles were looking for when purchasing a book for their children, yet more than that, I also knew what adults sought themselves. They wanted gripping action, loads of adventure – all the classic aspects of  heroes and villains, mystery and magic, quests and suspense, and the hope of happy endings. 

 I wanted to write books with universal appeal, that were fantastical and ‘out there’ and yet still felt somehow real; to fulfil the expectations of book lovers and also hook  non-readers back into reading.  For me this had to be in the form of a series set in a place we would all be excited to visit – and so the Land of Dragor came to be’. 

 Julia Suzuki

 

 SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK!

‘Many great creatures first roamed the earth with us,’ Ma’am Sancy announced to

her class, her wings held wide. ‘There were all different types. Some had trunks

and tusks as long as their bodies. Others had claws that enabled them to leap

through the highest trees in the forests.’ The younglings all gazed at their history

teacher, as her words captured their full attention.

‘At first they were happy to share the lands with us. But as the

years went by, the earth moved and the seas divided,’ she continued.

‘Some of the dinosaurs sought survival by breeding with our dragon

ancestors against their will creating a super-evil species known as

dragsaurs – monsters who were willing do anything to take over the world

and destroy us!’ One of the orange Mida dragons gasped in horror at the

thought of such beasts.

‘But despite their efforts, and indeed after many great wars, both

dragsaurs and dinosaurs became extinct. It was only us dragons who

managed to survive the new climates, though we became slaves to man.

That is until one great rebellion, when after receiving a special gift we

managed to escape and flee to the Land of Dragor, where we now remain

hidden below the smoky mists.’

The Strange Egg

First came the whispers, then the rumours, and by New Birth’s Eve every dragon was

gossiping that Kiara had laid a strange egg.

Some said it was square, like the toffee-nuts gathered by the sweet-toothed

Bushki dragons. Whilst other dragons claimed they had heard a strange sound from

Kiara and Ketu’s cave as they had flown overhead, as if the egg was singing. And the

older dragons said it was the grey colour of a sickly hatchling, that when the shell

broke the Hudrah dragon would arrive with her black wicker basket to ferry the infant

away.

Each clan had its own Hudrah, who would watch over the births. But as the

night darkened on Kiara’s cave there was no sign of her coming.

Then a great crack echoed around the mountain.

The egg was hatching.

Kiara had not left nest for three seasons. She had sat patiently in the same

position day and night, feeding on mouthfuls of powdery quartz whilst hiding her egg

from prying eyes. Now she looked on with Ketu by her side as the shell opened.

It split into two, then four, and a determined little pink snout became visible.

Suddenly, a dark shape appeared at the mouth of the cave – Yula the Nephan

clan Hudrah had arrived.

Some said Hudrahs possessed the sharpest of hearing that could sense the first

pecks inside an eggshell from far distances, whilst others thought it was the black

stones they wore around their necks that had magical powers to foretell a new birth.

But on this occasion the Hudrah’s powers to predict a birth had not worked

soon enough. Yula rushed through the cave entrance, her large red body and silver

cape barely squeezing through.

‘Oh horror!’ she exclaimed. ‘It has cracked open already!’

Healthy dragon eggs were a delicate lilac colour, which after birth lay in pretty

pieces around the baby-pink hatchling, which within hours would change to one of

the seven dragon clan colours.

This eggshell was very different. It was every colour of the rainbow and

jewelled like the contents of a treasure chest. It swirled with yellow, green, blue and

violet and shone and sparkled in the firelight.

The pieces of the shell fell away.

Kiara breathed out in relief to see that her hatchling was the same pink as all

others. The tiny dragon wiggled to dislodge the last piece of shell.

Kiara moved to help nudge it off with her nose, but Yula stopped her.

‘Let me see the hatchling make his own way,’ she insisted.

The determined little dragon shook off the last piece of shell and Kiara

immediately scooped him up in great delight and nuzzled him.

‘Oh, isn’t he perfect?’ she exclaimed, holding him out to the others. ‘See his

straight little muzzle, his lovely ears and just look at his big green eyes!’

Ketu looked at the newborn, full of pride. ‘Our beautiful son,’ he said

watching Kiara holding him aloft and then bringing the baby close back against her

chest.

Kiara continued to smile. ‘Yoshiko,’ she said. ‘His name shall be Yoshiko,’

and with that she leaned forward to kiss her hatchling.

Then there was a flash of black.

For the first time in her history as a Hudrah, Yula had taken out the black

wicker basket. Ketu moved quickly to protect Kiara and the baby hatchling.

‘What do you mean by this, Yula?’ Kiara exclaimed. ‘Our hatchling is a

perfectly healthy addition to the Nephan clan!’

Yula shook her head slowly. ‘Step aside, both of you,’ she snarled. ‘Do not

obstruct the Hudrah in her work. This hatchling is cursed. It is my duty to protect the

clans of our land so I must take him away immediately!’

Kiara stared at Yula defiantly. ‘There is nothing wrong with my hatchling,’

she said. ‘Any who look at him would know he is a blessed creature. There is no need

for him to be carried away by the . . .’ But she could not even bring herself to say the

words.

‘The black wicker basket is for the good of all,’ insisted Yula boldly. ‘Give

me your son, or I shall use my Hudrah powers to take him from you. Once the basket

has emerged there is no hope for this dragon.’

Ketu stepped forward quickly to intervene, taking Yula calmly by the

shoulder. ‘It has been too a long night for you, Ma’am,’ he said. ‘Thirteen births so

far and this your fourteenth.’

Yula nodded with uncertainty.

‘Our dragon is as normal as any young hatchling, who all come in different

shapes and sizes!’ continued Ketu. ‘As for the shell, please look again. It is only the

reflection of the flames that makes it glint strangely. Besides,’ he added, ‘you must be

tired and I have not yet paid you for your services.’

 

WEBSITES

http://www.juliasuzuki.com (Author blog and website)

http://www.landofdragor.com (An interactive website for Dragor fans)

TWITTER

http://www.twitter.com/juliasuzuki_uk (Follow Julia here on Twitter)

FACEBOOK

http://facebook.com/juliasuzukiauthor (Follow Julia and here on Facebook)

GOODREADS

http://goodreads.com/juliasuzuki (See latest book reviews)

AMAZON

http://amazon.com/juliasuzuki (Buy the books here)

Author Natalie Wright- YA Trilogy- The Akasha Chronicles

Available now! The 3rd in the series- Emily’s Heart

Read book synopsis below, but keep reading if you want the sneak peek into the books!

Emily’s House (Book 1)

Fourteen-year-old Emily Adams has special powers she doesn’t want, a spiteful aunt she can’t escape, and a primeval legacy she knows nothing about. But when an otherworldly being materializes, Emily discovers the true purpose of her magical blood and of the danger that threatens to annihilate her world.

Dormant for over a thousand years, an ancient evil has arisen. This time, it will destroy anyone – or anything – that stands in its way.

With her two best friends by her side, Emily risks everything and embarks on a dangerous journey to Ireland and beyond where she unlocks the secrets of her Celtic ancestors. As the hour of world annihilation draws near, the fate of her friends, her family and her world lies in her hands.

Can a teenage girl without hero credentials save the world? And will Emily find the courage to face her true self in Emily’s House?

Join the Journey …

Book 2- Emily’s Trial

Two years ago, Emily Adams took a perilous journey, answered the hero’s call and became a modern Celtic Priestess. Armed with a magic dagger and powerful golden torc, she was entrusted with sacred magic and ancient wisdom.

But even a Priestess can know desire, feel temptation, and yearn for love. Will passion entice Emily to use the sacred magic entrusted to her in a forbidden way? Can new love take root in a world of nightmares? And will her friendships survive Emily’s Trial?

The Journey Continues . . .

Book 3- Emily’s Heart-

Seventeen-year-old Emily Adams unintentionally unleashed a shadow god’s dark energy power into the world and started an Apocalypse. But Emily is also the only one that can end the dark god’s reign. Though the powerful faerie magic of the golden torc is still coiled around her arm, self-doubt threatens to undo her. Emily wants nothing more than to feel the soft kiss of her one true love, but he won’t even speak to her. Her first crush is still quite dead and her best friend remains a prisoner in the dark god’s house of nightmares. A growing legion of black-eyed shadow people, devoid of conscience, roam the streets. Emily needs help now more than ever, but redemption seems far off indeed as she faces the expanding darkness alone.

Emily will need an army of her own if she is to save the world from being taken over by pure evil. But will a small band of Lucent geeks and freaks be enough to send the dark god packing?

Amidst chaos and ruin, will love blossom in Emily’s Heart?

SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK!

Prologue 

The whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of that infernal machine. Its bellows pump up and down as black, tarry sludge is sucked up the tube and into the holding tank.

She lies on the bed like a robot corpse, tubes and lines going in and out of her body. Her once rosy lips are pale, tinged slightly green. Her once vibrant emerald green eyes are closed, sunken into the eye sockets. Her once strong body lies still and shrunken. Only her hair looks the same, flowing like a red wave across the white shore of the pillow.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

I stand at the door and gingerly peek in. I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to see her like that. I don’t want the putrid odor of dying people stuck in my nostrils.

I don’t want to go in, but I’m sucked into the room anyway. My legs feel powerless against the invisible force that draws me in. I flail my arms and try to command my body to obey me and run from the horrid scene.

But I’m in the room anyway, drawing ever closer to the bed.

Whoosh, whoosh.

What is that tarry black stuff? Is it being sucked out of her body? Or put in?

I’m close enough to touch her, but I don’t want to. The last time I touched her I saw a vision of her taking her last breath. The last time I touched her, I saw her die. I don’t want that to come true. And I don’t want to see her die again. The first time I saw her die I ran and ran, trying to escape the vision. I don’t want to touch anyone ever again.

But my hand reaches anyway, a mind of its own. My mouth opens to scream, but nothing comes out. My lips are locked open in a soundless “O.”

My hand quivers as it reaches in slow motion toward the sleeping body that bears a resemblance to my mother. Is she still in there? Or has the cancer stolen the last of her?

My fingertips shake as they touch her hand. The skin on her hand is as thin as an onionskin and shows the blue-red blood vessels beneath.

 As soon as my fingers touch her hand, her eyes pop open in a look of terror. Her mouth is open in a scream. But it’s not a human scream. It’s the loud whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of that tar-sucking machine.

She sits up. The long, wavy red hair flying about her head is the same, but the face is no longer my mother. It looks at me with large, solid black eyes, devoid of light or emotion, staring out of a bare skull. Her hand is no longer covered in thin flesh but is instead the hand of a skeleton. The hand of bones grips me hard.

I pull and pull to get free of the monster, but it has me. I’m caught in its grip.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

I finally wake, dripping in sweat. My mouth is still open in an “O,” the scream still caught in my throat.

I awake once again from the same ghastly dream I’ve had for the last seven years, only to find myself in a house of nightmares.

 

SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! (Book 2)

Excerpt of Emily’s Trial:

The Apocalypse didn’t start with four horsemen, harbingers of the horror to come. It didn’t start with a plague, or pestilence, or even zombies rising from the dead.

It came slowly, and without warning. It crept up on people in the shadows, no more than a vague darkness that spread like an unseen cancer.

And it wasn’t set into action by a divine hand. A teenage girl was the catalyst for the End Times.

I should know. I’m the one that started it.

I didn’t plan to. I didn’t want to start the End Times, and I’m not evil.

Madame Wong taught me to tell the truth, and so here it is. I’m the one responsible for the Apocalypse. And this is the story of how I unwittingly unlocked the door to the darkness; of how a Priestess of the Order of Brighid, entrusted with powerful magic that was supposed to be used for the benefit of all humankind, unleashed a force that would destroy it instead.

And it all began with desire.

Check out the 3rd in the series for the exciting conclusion to Emily’s journey!

Author Bio 

Natalie is the author of The Akasha Chronicles, a young adult paranormal fantasy trilogy. When not writing, blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, Wattpadding or eating chocolate, Natalie nurtures her young daughter, plays with her two young cats, and feeds her dog too many treats.

Natalie enjoys walking in the high desert, snorkeling in warm waters, travel, and excellent food shared with family and friends. She was raised an Ohio farm girl, now lives in the desert Southwest, and dreams of living in a big city high rise.

Natalie enjoys chatting with readers, so stop by and say hi:

Blog: http://www.NatalieWrightsYA.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com.NatalieWright_

Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com.NatalieWright.Author

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/468945.Natalie_Wright

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/WritesKidsBooks

Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/NatalieWright_

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/natwrites/

Here are buy links for all three books, the audio book of Book 2 (Book 1 is still in production), and the boxed set (boxed set only available on Amazon)

 

Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00641WC8C

B &N - http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/emilys-house-natalie-wright/1107730738?ean=2940032861492

 

Akasha Chronicles Boxed Set – $6.99 for all three books! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HY474B

 Natalie Wright, Author

NatWritesYA@gmail.com

NatalieWrightsYA.blogspot.com

www.NatalieWright.net

Follow me on Facebook: Natalie Wright, Author

Follow me on Twitter@NatalieWright_

Author Winslow Eliot- Sati and the Rider- A Satyana Mystery

Winslow Eliot has just launched a new mystery series – featuring a fortune-telling sleuth!

 Satyana – or Sati, as her friends call her – is a bold and alluring intuitive consultant, who’s smart, fiercely loyal, has a big heart and a knack for getting into trouble.

 

SATI AND THE RIDER: In her first adventure, a charming young man brings an unexpected delivery and Sati’s life is changed forever. She’s thrown into an adventure of hide-and-seek, fraud, murder, and a strange cult, and she needs to use all her powers to follow a mysterious trail to its surprising end.  

 

Winslow Eliot is the award-winning author of Heaven Falls, A Perfect Gem, Pursued, The Happiness Cure, and Bright Face of Danger (originally published by St. Martin’s Press 1993). Bright Face of Danger has been published in four separate French editions: as Fatale Vengeance (Harlequin) and, most recently, as L’Innocence du Mal (Mira Books). Her books have been translated into eleven languages and published in twenty countries.

Her greatest pleasure is entertaining readers with tales of romance and thought-provoking posts about writing in general, and poetry, teaching, and inspiration in particular. Her free online newsletter, WriteSpa – Oasis for Writers, welcomes visitors from all over the world. Besides writing novels and managing WriteSpa, she writes poetry, loves belly-dancing, singing and playing guitar, Tarot and all kinds of divination, sacred places, reading, and people.

 

What is it about the wonderful world of intuitive consulting that’s so appealing?

 If you’d like to learn more about the tools Sati uses in her sleuthing, especially the lenormand and tarot cards, there are many excellent resources, books, groups, teachers, communities, and helpers.

But if you’d rather simply continue your exploration in the smartly-gloved hands of Satyana, she’ll be back soon with her next adventure: SATI AND THE CLOVER.

 

Winslow’s website: http://winsloweliot.com/about-winslow/

Purchase Sati and the Rider on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/pn2ms3l

 

Sneak Preview of SATI AND THE RIDER: :

I don’t often get men as clients. Usually if a man shows up for a consultation, it’s because his girlfriend or wife pushed him to it.

When they do come in, they tend to be reluctant, or skeptical, or nervous.

Sometimes all three.

But Joel Wakefield was different. Not that he was chatty or curious. No, he was chilly and dry as unbuttered toast in an Italian marmalade suit, a beige cashmere coat draped over his arm, fawn leather gloves, somewhere between forty and fifty, with an ultra-smooth chin that jutted aggressively.

He certainly was not reluctant or nervous. He set down his gloves and a manila envelope on the mantel, and frostily asked me to advise him on whether or not he could trust—completely—one of his employees.

I like to get to know my clients before I dive right into a reading, so after inviting him to sit down, I asked him what kind of business he was in.

“You’re the psychic,” he said. “You tell me.”

I refrained from making a joke, since he didn’t seem the humorous type, and grew quiet inwardly. I’d been giving readings for people for so long that by now it hardly took more than a minute to grow still inside. When I was ready, I checked a sample of his dubious operative’s handwriting, which I had the foresight to ask him to bring. I checked the o’s and a’s first—no loops. They were closed, too, so I could tell he wasn’t much of a talker. But they were clean and clear, so I knew he wasn’t hiding anything from his boss.

The answer was unequivocal: yes, his employee, Simon Jones, could be trusted completely.

But I didn’t make my answer unequivocal. Whenever I was asked questions of this kind, I really needed to be absolutely sure, because Joel Wakefield implied he was trusting this employee with large sums of money.

And, more importantly, I didn’t want him to walk out without paying for the full hour appointment. I seriously needed the money.

So I did a little scrying with the crystal ball, and studied the tarot spread I laid out on the low oak chest between us. The 10 of Swords seemed to vibrate and shift slightly and I turned my attention to it. The exhausted figure sprawled face-down on the hard ground in a pool of crimson. Something coming to an end.

I turned back to the handwriting and recognized signs of repressed anger.

Another thing I noticed: the writer was depressed. Aggressive, but I could easily glimpse his feelings of hopelessness and despair. The jagged phrases sloped down to the right—almost off the edge of the page.

But when I began to say some of this out loud, my client reminded me sharply that he was not asking about the mood of his employee. All he was asking was whether or not he could trust him.

 “Yes, you can trust him,” I said finally, confidently, toward the end of the hour. “Simon Jones is a good guy. Is there anything else you’d like to ask me?”

He assessed me silently, as though I were a department store suit on a hanger. His bronze shoes gleamed in the low light. He was sitting with one leg crossed over his thigh so I could see the shine on the leather sole. It was barely scuffed.

I wondered what he was waiting for, because our hour was up and I was expecting my next client at noon. I glanced at the clock on the wall, making a point. He saw me do it and a dimple creased his cheek as though he was trying to smile but it hurt.

He didn’t look like he intended to leave. There was definitely something else on his mind.

“Yes?” I prompted. “There’s something else?”

The hostile eyes flickered, almost softened, like a ripple in a pale gray sea. But then they froze again and he said, “Yes, there is. I want you to find my daughter.”

Author KateMarie Collins- Fin’s Magic

Another thrilling story by the international best-selling author of “Mark of the Successor”!

 

Fin depends on her companions to keep her safe…and out of chains. As one of the Amari, the only race that can harness magic, she longs for a normal life. One where she didn’t have to constantly look over her shoulder, and she could fall in love.

 

Alaric fell hard for Fin from the moment he laid his eyes on her three years ago. He swore an oath to keep her safe, even if it meant his life. But he knew that any relationship he could hope to have with her would be on her terms.

 When a king offers them the chance at a normal life, Fin’s cautious. And rightly so, as there are others who think she’s the one to lead the Amari from a life of slavery.

Buy now! https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/420044

SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK!

Chapter One

            Thunk.

            The sound of the arrow piercing the wild boar’s carcass seemed loud in the early morning silence. Fin lowered her bow. “Well, at least I hit it that time”.

            “Your aim’s getting better. It may not convince a trained archer, but most won’t question your role with us. That should make things easier for you.” Alaric kept his voice low.

            She reached over her shoulder and extracted another arrow from her quiver. Nocking it into place, she slowly drew back the string. “Easy hasn’t been part of my vocabulary for a very long time.” She let the string go, wincing as the string bit into her arm. “And fooling most of the people isn’t good enough.” Fin rubbed at her stinging skin as she watched the arrow fly. It landed in the ground at least a yard away from the boar.

            “Come on, let’s go pick them up and try again.” Alaric motioned for her to follow him.

            They kept their voices low as they passed the small tents where their companions slept. No sense in waking them up before dawn, not unless something showed up. The last few days had been tough on all of them. After the way they’d left Lorien, Fin still kept her ears open. She didn’t like the feeling of being chased. But it was better than being chained.

            “Fin, relax. If anyone made out what you are in town, they’d have caught up to us by now.”

            She shook her head, the red braid dancing down her back. “You know I can’t. The only reason I’m still free is because I don’t relax. If I relax, this happens.” She looked at him.

            Fin watched as Alaric’s face turned momentarily to amazement as she flashed the true color of her eyes at him. The normal green was gone, replaced by the metallic gold that marked her as one of the Amari. She sighed.

            “It’s beautiful, you know. They’re beautiful. It’s a shame you have to hide them. Even around us.”  Alaric’s voice was barely above a whisper.

            “Yeah, well, hiding them has kept me out of chains for twenty years. It’s a habit now.” Fin bent down and picked up her arrow. “I read somewhere once there used to be thousands of us. Walking the streets, not hiding. I haven’t met another Amari for over ten years, not one who didn’t belong to someone.” A wistful tone crept into her voice.

            Alaric’s hand on her shoulder made her look up. “You don’t have to hide around me. No one should be treated like that, ever. And I won’t let that happen to you.”

            The look he gave her sent chills down her spine. Of all her companions, he was the one she talked to the most. Put all her trust in. Emile, Trystian, and Gwen were all there to protect her, hide her, and she knew it. But there was something about Alaric that told her his interest went even farther.

            His focus changed to something behind her. She made sure her eyes were hidden again. That was the first bit of magic she learned how to do. It was the only thing that had kept her free for so long.

            “In the camp!” A male voice called out from the surrounding brush. “We’re cold tonight. Can we share your fire?”

            Fin hurriedly gathered the last of her arrows, then darted back to wake the others. Alaric’s voice carried across the small area. “Depends. Are you friend or foe? We don’t take kindly to those who would share our fire and try to rob us blind.”

            Fin rushed into the first tent, shaking Gwen awake. A single finger to her lips was all the warning the dark haired woman needed. Slipping back out, Fin could see three men emerging from the forest not far from Alaric’s tall form. No armor, no uniform, but something wasn’t right about how they walked.

            “Would we ask first if we were foes? Why not just rob you? Why give your pet time to warn the others?” Fin stiffened at the word the man used to describe her. Pet. That’s what a chained Amari was called. She dove into the second tent. Emile caught her within his embrace. “Shh. There’s no guarantee they know.”

            Trystian was up as well, strapping his sword belt on. “Stay close. We’ll keep you safe.” The tall, bearded man reassured her before leading the way out of the tent.

            “What pet? There’s none here. If that’s what you seek, you’re in the wrong place.” Alaric’s voice was even. It was always better to talk their way out of a conflict.

            The first tendrils of light from the approaching dawn gave her enough to see what she feared. All three of the men approaching Alaric had chains dangling from their belts.

            “Ah, that’s fine. Charlie here–” the leader jerked his head back towards one of his companions, “–he likes to pretend he can smell ‘em. Says they smell bad on account of being corrupted by that magic of theirs.” He kicked at the dead boar Fin and Alaric had used for target practice. “Seems to me this is what he was smelling.”

            “Fire’s that way.” Alaric gestured towards the rest of them. Fin tried not to grip her bow too tightly. The others stood near enough to prevent anyone from reaching her, but far enough away to pull out their weapons if it became necessary.

            “Much obliged,” the leader remarked as he motioned the others to follow. Fin watched the strangers approach, Alaric trailing close behind. Something wasn’t right about them. It went beyond the shackles.

            Alaric raised his chin, calling out “We have guests.”

 

            That’s when it happened.

            The lead bounty hunter threw his fist back hard, knocking Alaric to the ground. Fin fumbled with her quiver, sending out the silent healing energy to her friend. Around her, the other three drew their weapons and prepared to meet the charging foes.

            By the time she got an arrow nocked, they were too close. Fin retreated a few feet, watching the fighting closely. Her bow was ready, but she needed to get a clear shot.

            Close combat always unnerved her. The stench of blood turned her stomach. Gwen was holding her own against the one named Charlie, and winning handily. When the first body dropped, Fin relaxed just a little. There weren’t many out there who could beat Trystian or Emile in one-on-one combat, because the two men didn’t believe in mercy. Just an expedient death.

            An arrow buzzed past her ear, the fletching scratching her cheek. Spinning on her heels, she watched it sail past the man charging at her. He leaped to tackle her as she tried to raise her bow. Instinct kicked in, and she did the only thing she could think of to stop him.

            She willed his heart to stop beating.

            An anguished wail tore from her throat. Pain forced her to her knees and caused her to drop her bow. The body of her would-be assailant fell with a heavy thud in front of her. Fin grasped at her left arm, desperate to breathe through the searing agony rippling down her bicep. She’d killed him. Justified or not, she’d taken a life.

            “Fin? Are you okay?” Alaric’s voice broke through the shock. She opened her eyes.

            He knelt in front of her. A single hand gently brushed her hair from her face. Concern for her was clearly visible in his brown eyes.

            “I…I killed him.” She could barely whisper the words.

 

Chapter Two

 

Captain Roberts watched the fight unfold. The fools. That had to be the dumbest set of bounty hunters he’d ever seen. The one remaining hidden was fairly good, but still clumsy. No wonder it’d taken them three days to catch up with the Amari and her friends.

            When she killed the one, he knew it was time to move. He signaled to one of the men behind him. “Get everyone mounted, move around to surround them. But don’t come out until my signal.” He turned to the man to his right. “James, come with me. I might need your help convincing her to come quietly. We’ll go in on foot.” He nodded once, assured that his men would do as he ordered without hesitation. They always did.

            Roberts looked back towards the makeshift campsite. Three of them were moving to pack up gear. The Amari still remained on the ground, the archer comforting her. She favored her left arm.

            “The scar will be deep for that,” James remarked in a low voice. “The physical pain will not cease for days.”

            “What about the rest of it?” Roberts asked.

            James turned to face him. The metallic gaze of his always amazed Roberts. No matter how often he’d seen it. “The mark on her soul will remain. We do not forget any death we cause, no matter how justified.”

            He nodded in understanding. “Keep your eyes hidden for now. When we need them to know what you are, we’ll reveal it.” With that, he stepped out of the edge of the woods and into the dawn-drenched clearing.

            He didn’t announce himself. He just walked. They would see him, or he and James would stop close enough they didn’t have to scream and alert anyone else lurking in the woods.

            The other woman saw them first. She slapped the arm of the two helping her pack up camp. Swords came out quickly. They were well trained. Roberts could appreciate that. All three moved to take positions to defend the Amari. The archer was helping her to stand. He and James were close enough now to see her face clearly. Pain marred the pale skin. She was not well.

            “That’s close enough, soldier.” The bearded man spoke, his accent giving away his identity. That helped Roberts immensely. He had names, but not descriptions, of the Amari’s companions. “We do not need assistance from you. The corpses are those of some ruffians who set on us. We just defended ourselves. Go keep the King’s Peace elsewhere.”

            Roberts spread his hands wide, keeping his sword in its sheath. “Have no worries, Trystian. We saw the fight and know who started it. We’re not here to arrest you, just deliver an invitation.”

            Suspicion crossed the faces of the ones he could see. “I don’t blame you for your caution. There are many out there who would send better men than the ones you dispatched in hopes to find your companion. And chain her. My liege is not one of those. He would help her, offer her sanctuary.” He walked a few more steps, staying just out of sword range. “Not all feel the Amari are dangerous unless leashed. I can show you the proof of that.” He looked at James and nodded.

            The reaction was what he hoped for. The one he thought was Emile glanced back and whispered something to the archer. Roberts still wasn’t certain he had the names right between those two.

            “What is it you want from us? We only wish to be left alone, travel in peace.” The archer spoke, cinching his identity. Alaric, the Islander.

            “We only offer sanctuary while you’re in my King’s lands. We will not prevent you from leaving. He knew you roamed near and would take counsel with you. Give you the chance to rest, recover. Meet more of your kind.”

            “How do you know what I am?” The voice of the woman rose up from behind the group. They parted, giving Roberts the first real look at her. Her shirt was ripped and bloodstained, her red hair escaping from a single braid and framing her tired, pained face. She did not hide her eyes from him.

            James dropped to his knee in front of Roberts. “We know because we would not give up hope, Your Highness. Please, let us help you. Trust is not easy among us, but I would give my life up willingly if we deceive you in this. King Christoph is friend of the Amari, not foe. Let me prove it to you.”

            Roberts was taken aback. James had told him nothing of her being royal. From the looks of her companions, they were as stunned as he was.

            “And if we refuse?”

            Roberts raised his arm, waving his fingers once. The rest of his men, all seventy-five, slowly emerged from the forest. Ringing them with a mounted force. “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to insist. His Majesty is most anxious to talk with you.”

* * * *

            He didn’t try to engage them in conversation. They  took only two horses. Alaric rode behind the Amari, while Gwen took the other horse. The other two walked, hands on the reins of their companions’ horses. The expressions on their faces made it obvious that they didn’t trust him, especially after he called out his troops. Roberts sighed. He really didn’t want to do that, but the King had been adamant. Find them, find her, and bring her back to the safety of the castle. Lorien was at the very border of the kingdoms, and tensions were high between the countries. Roberts had pushed his men hard to try and get here before King Lor sent out his own troops to find her. Another league, though, and they’d be far enough into Caerlynn where he could relax. Even Lor wouldn’t cross the border that far.

            “Except that we did, Captain, and he could see that as a violation of the treaty.” James’ voice was low.

            “Treaty or not, we had orders. Though a little more information from you would’ve been nice! What possessed you to not mention she was the last member of the Royal Family?”

            James shrugged, “I wasn’t sure she was, not until I saw her. From the look on her face, she has no idea herself. The story has been told so many times, you wonder how much is true and how much has been added by a bard.”

            “I want to hear this story, sir. I don’t know it.” Fin’s voice sounded from behind them. Roberts turned in his saddle, glancing back at her. Her voice wasn’t as unsteady as before. The pain was still marring her features, but it was less pronounced than it had been when they first mounted up. She wore more of a mask now, of her own creating. He nodded to James, the two moving far enough apart to give her horse space to join them.

            “It doesn’t surprise me, Your Highness, that you–” Raising her right hand, Fin cut him off.

            “Don’t call me that. It’s not my title to claim, nor yours to bestow. I want the story, not the truth as you see it.”

            James nodded. “As you wish. Twenty-two years ago, the Amari still had a home, and a ruler. It wasn’t much of one. It was more a series of caves in the Eastern Mountains. But we did what we could to remain undetected. When we could, we’d try to free any of our kind who had been chained. That was our ultimate downfall.” He paused. “A group went to rescue one such slave. And they did. But she betrayed us all. She told her master how to find us. When the bounty hunters came, she even used her magic against those of us who fought. In the end, everyone who had lived free under the mountain was dead or in chains. Everyone but one small girl.”

            He looked right at Fin. “The youngest daughter of the King, Serafina by name, was scooped up by her nurse and she carried the toddler to the underground river. She placed the girl into a small basket and used her own magic to propel the craft quickly downriver. When the hunters found the woman, she claimed she drowned the child rather than hand her over to a life of servitude. There are some who believe that, one day, the child will return and lead us to freedom.”

            Roberts swore to himself. From the tone of James’ voice, he believed every word of the story. Christoph was a just King, unlike his father. Sheltering the Amari was one thing. Helping with an open rebellion? That wasn’t something Roberts thought he’d be able to stomach.

            “Interesting story, but that doesn’t tell me why you think I’m this lost child. The name’s common. I doubt I’m the only one within the Amari whose ever been saddled with it.” There was an edge to her voice that alarmed Robert. Casually, he listened closely to the exchange between her and James.

            The look on James’ face changed as he looked at her. Was that adoration? Infatuation? Idolatry? Damn! He’d talk with the man later, when they stopped for the night. The last thing he needed was for him to get besotted by a pretty face that might be royalty.

            “A few things. The child had red hair, the only one in the royal family for the last three generations. It’s common enough among humans, yes. But among the Amari the trait is very recessive and hardly comes to pass. Your age is right. She would be twenty-five now, and you are close to the same age.” He hesitated.

            ‘Don’t stop now. You’re spinning quite a tale.” Alaric spoke up. Roberts glanced at the Islander who sat behind Fin on the horse. His face had hardened, his posture more guarded. The arm encircling her waist tightened. James was treading on thin ice with the man. The intelligence he’d been given didn’t mention any romantic leanings, but it hadn’t talked about her being potential royalty either.

            James turned his attention to Alaric. “We Amari can sense things. Things that humans cannot. We know when someone is lying, or if they are destined for greatness. Once she is back with her own kind, she will learn how to do this herself.” The emphasis on those two words was enough for Roberts. This stopped. Now.

            “James!” he snapped. “Ride ahead. The waystation’s not far from here. Give them warning of our approach. Arrange for rooms for our guests and have something hot waiting for us to eat.”

            “One room’s all we’ll need.” Trystian spoke. “We’re used to sleeping in rotation. No need for more than the one. We aren’t going anywhere.”

            Rather than argue, Roberts nodded in agreement. One room would be easier for his men to watch than five anyway. At least, he hoped it would be.

            Once James had ridden out of earshot, Roberts spoke up again. “I apologize for his behavior, my lady. James is a bit reactionary. Above all, he would see his people have their own lands again. He thinks it would be better for the Amari to live apart from the rest of the world. My king does not agree. He feels we should live peacefully side by side.”

            “There aren’t many who would agree with his views.” Fin’s voice, though calm, was still guarded.

            “That’s the truth. His father didn’t, that’s for certain. Two weeks after he died, though, Christoph personally unchained each Amari his father had collected during his lifetime. He gave them the option of going out into the world or staying there under his protection. Any that stayed would be expected to do a job, but not their magic.”

            “Magic is banned, then?”

            “No. It’s more that he doesn’t command them to do it. All the jobs they were given required manual labor. Anything from helping around the keep to blacksmithing to farming. A few were asked to join his small council. James was the only one to volunteer to help scout for more Amari, though. He’s a good man.”

            Alaric’s head bent nearer to the woman’s ear and he whispered something that Roberts couldn’t hear. She found it funny, though, as her face brightened slightly and she giggled.

            Rather than ask, Roberts turned his focus back to the road ahead. A warm meal was going to do him wonders tonight.

Author Bio

Born in the late 60′s, KateMarie has lived most of her life in the Pacific NW. While she’s always been creative, she didn’t turn towards writing until 2008. She found a love for the craft. With the encouragement of her husband and two daughters, she started submitting her work to publishers. When she’s not taking care of her family, KateMarie enjoys attending events for the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA has allowed her to combine both a creative nature and love of history. She currently resides with her family and two cats in what she likes to refer to as “Seattle Suburbia”.

 

You can find KateMarie at the following sites:

 Twitter:  @DaughterHauk

FaceBook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/KateMarie-Collins/217255151699492

Her blog:  http://www.katemariecollins.wordpress.com

Vampires and More- Author April M. Reign-Giveaway!!

Thank you Jessica for giving me an opportunity to be a part of your blog. I’m truly honored.

About April M. Reign

I’m in love with writing. It’s true. I left the company where I worked for over 23 years, so I could pursue my love of writing. It’s a great time for indie authors and these opportunities have given us a chance to share our work with readers around the world. How darn cool is that?

If you’re reading this now, I’m touched and honored. If you’ve read my books, well then, I consider you a good friend.

Aside from writing, I spend a lot of time with family going to the beach, working out and/or hanging by the pool. I have two wonderful sons that are supportive and loving.

Current Project

I am currently working on the 4th book in THE TURNING SERIES called Vampire Curse – The Pendant. 

I’d love to do a GIVEAWAY of books 1 – 3 in a box set to two lucky winners.  It’s simple to enter. Just follow the link: http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/aprilmreign/blog-survey/! Your email address is confidential and will not be used for anything else but to notify you if you’ve won. Here’s what you’ll get: ALL 3 NOVELS!

  

 

 New Series

I have a new series that will be out by the end of summer called THE GHOST DETECTIVE. I wanted to include the teaser trailer for you to enjoy.

http://youtu.be/_gfrPHa6bo0

 

Again, thank you Jessica for giving me the opportunity to share my work with your readers and fans. If you’d like to learn more about my writing or my business, AMR Publishing, you can visit any of the following links to say hi. I’d love to chat.

You can get my book list here: http://bit.ly/1mdSqOS

www.aprilmreign.com

www.facebook.com/aprilmreign.author

www.twitter.com/aprilmreign

www.instagram.com/aprilmreign

www.pinterest.com/aprilmreign

https://www.youtube.com/user/aprilmreign

Author KC Sprayberry-Evil Eyes

Evil Eyes Blurb:

Lisa is so ready for a break from the grueling first semester of college. Along with five other friends, she returns to Landry, and hopes to have nothing but fun. Within days, one of the group is the victim of a vindictive stalker, and Lisa herself is now in the man’s sights. No matter what she does, she can’t shake this person.

Fred has a little problem, but he figures he can take care of it himself, if he achieves fame with his folk rock band, Olney-Oak Lane Sounds. Then he happens to see this beautiful woman, who turns out to be just like every other woman he’s met. He takes care of her, and is immediately drawn to Lisa. No one will get between Fred and Lisa, absolutely no one.

On Christmas Eve, Lisa has to fight for her life and sanity after Fred kidnaps her. She turns out to be very different from the other women, in a way he never figured.

 

Evil Eyes by K.C. Sprayberry – Stalkers.

She’s hot, has gorgeous two-toned hair framing a face that belongs on an angel. You dated a few times, even seemed to get along, but then you moved on. Problem is you work in the same office, and she’s always humming “Call Me” or holding her hand up by her ear as a hint that you give her a ring sometime.

You’re so over her. Aren’t you the man? The guy who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em? Who does she think she is? So, you ignore this woman. She’ll get the message.

The first text startles you in the middle of an important client meeting “Drinks, sweetie?” You ignore it. To your utter embarrassment, she sends text after text, until you turn your phone off in desperation.

By the time you turn your phone back on, there are over 30 texts and a couple of voice mails. You’re determined to nip this problem in the bud, so you confront the woman. “Get over it. There isn’t anything between us.”

Tears dribble from her eyes. You walk away. You’re not a heel. She deserved the curt reprimand. Why can’t she get the message?

That night, as you’re drifting off to sleep, your phone alerts you to a text. It’s from her. Your eyes roll nearly out of your head. Again is your thought.

The situation escalates until you can’t concentrate. Your job is suffering from her continual contacts. Finally, she sends a text “No one else will have you.” You approach your boss, feeling like a fool. The boss tells you to file a police report and suggests that you change your phone number. The woman is fired for her inappropriate actions.

Is this woman a stalker? Yes. Nothing serious has happened except her inability to walk away from a disinterested male, but she crossed the line by text-bombing his phone. Is losing her job right? Ask yourself if you’d want someone working with you who can’t move on from the end of a relationship?

Stalkers come in many shapes and forms. They can be the guy who looks totally sweet, a pretty girl with everything going for her. Men stalk both women and men, women do the same. Teenagers even experience this horror.

What can you do if you believe someone is stalking you?

  1. Document what you believe are stalking actions. Don’t leave anything out. Describe your feelings.
  2. Don’t think you can handle this on your own. Stalkers are determined to have their target, or no one will have them. Once the stalker makes a threat, whether overt or subtle, contact the police. Ignoring a threat could very well turn out where you are injured or worse.
  3. Most people have phones equipped with cameras and recording devices. Use those to document what’s happening. Save copies of those images and recordings in a secure area, away from your personal computer or phone. Tell a trusted person where the information is, so if the stalker attacks and you can’t speak, what you’ve documented will tell the story.
  4. Never, ever attempt to deal with the stalker alone. We’ve all been taught to stand on our own, to solve our own problems. This isn’t a problem you can solve by yourself. Go places in groups. Don’t give the stalker a chance to get close to you.

 

KC Sprayberry started writing young, first as a diarist, and later through an interest in English and creative writing. Her first experience with publication came when she placed third in The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge contest while in the Air Force, but her dedication to writing came after she had her youngest child, now in his senior year of high school.

Her family lives in Northwest Georgia where she spends her days creating stories about life in the south, and far beyond. More than a dozen of her short stories have appeared in several magazines. Five anthologies feature other short stories. She has three books that are Amazon best sellers: Softly Say Goodbye, Who Am I?, and Mama’s Advice. Her other novels available are: Take Chances, The Ghost Catcher, Family Curse … Times Two, Secret From The Flames, Where U @, The Wrong One, Pony Dreams, and Grace. Her romantic suspense novel, Starlight, releases May 2, 2014 from Muse It Up Publishing.

 

 Social Media Links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/KC-Sprayberry/331150236901202

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kcsowriter

Blog: http://outofcontrolcharacters.blogspot.com/

Website: www.kcsprayberry.com

Lovers in the Woods- Helen Alexander

Sneak Peek! Sneak Peek! Sneak Peek!

They called her Sleeping Beauty back at the lab.

 Nina has been asleep for a long time. Two hundred and fifty years, to be exact. She doesn’t change, and she doesn’t die. She’s always fifteen. All she wants to do is to wake up, but she can’t. Something – or someone – is keeping her in a perpetual dream state.

 Leon is a programmer working for a security systems company in the Metro Palisade. His life is fairly ordinary and uneventful. But one day, things change. He begins to see a strange girl in his dreams. He knows she needs his help, but he doesn’t know who she is – or if she’s even real. Leon is willing to risk a lot to find out, and his curiosity finally gets the best of him. The mystery that surrounds Nina is greater than Leon had imagined, however: soon he’s on the run from the company he worked for, the police, the secret service and the criminal underworld.  

 All Leon wants is to save Nina from her endless sleep, but the price of that rescue could be a terrible one. Somehow, Nina is connected with the fabric of reality itself, and there are many dubious people chasing after the legendary Sleeping Beauty in the hopes of wielding ultimate power. When the world begins to fall apart with the sudden, inexplicable outbreak of war, only Leon holds the key to saving everything from complete annihilation – but, unless he can rescue Nina, it may already be too late.

 Check out a sneak peek from this new addition to fiction:

She dreamed of a great city. It was a city she had never seen before, a city from the future. Nina would walk its streets, which were full of the strangest people she had ever seen. Some of them were not really people, even. There were things with extra arms, and eyes, and legs, insect-like things and bird-like things, but they all wore clothes and could talk intelligently. A Birdman called her over softly on one street corner and took her by the arm. He had bright red eyes, like those of an albino rat, and in his beak was an unlit cigarette. Nina was scared of him. “Please come with me,” the Birdman said, and they began to walk away down the street, hand in hand.

 

As they passed under a tall arc, which read, “Metro – Entrance,” the Birdman turned to Nina, and said: “Take the train to Stella Maris, Nina. He will be waiting for you. He will help you.” Nina was about to ask who “he” was, but she was already walking down the concrete steps. Just ahead, the multiple horseshoe arcs lit up the subterranean entrance to the Metro. An old-fashioned train whistle sounded. The high-pitched scream of the whistle echoed through the dark halls of the subway, announcing the approaching train as it pulled into the station: a fantastic, antique looking thing. Nina only had enough time to read the destination placard on its side. It spelled, in glowing letters, “Port Stella Maris.” Then she woke up. It was the same old room. Nothing had changed here. Nina looked up and saw the familiar pattern of the ceiling. One of her hands was lying freely now across the pillow. She followed the thin glistening tube with her eyes until they stopped at a small, translucent square bag suspended from a hat rack that stood in the corner. It functioned as a makeshift IV stand.

 

She was no longer dreaming. On the contrary, she felt more fully awake now than she had ever before in her life. The walls had gained solidity and color and suddenly came into focus, as it were. The ceiling began to pull away. It rose higher and higher, until it disappeared entirely from Nina’s view into a shrinking rectangle of black, revealing a crystal blue sky with white clouds drifting across it.

 

Nina shook her head. She wanted to get up, to take out the useless IV, but she couldn’t move. She kept looking at the sky. Several times, a Dutch Delta crossed it; a kind of passenger ship Nina had seen many times flying above the city. The aircraft cast its gigantic cold shadow into the room. When it finally passed, drifting very slowly, importantly, the room was once again full of sunlight.

 

“Hurry now, Nina,” she heard someone say; it was the Birdman. He had descended into the room through the ceiling. He had small, iridescent wings, like those of a hummingbird; they beat at an amazing speed, fanning the air. The Birdman approached her and pulled out the IV. He smelled of nectar. He picked her up in his arms and they flew out through the open ceiling.

 

The Birdman carried Nina to a beautiful bright building shaped somewhat like a horseshoe. It was a very tall building, and its exterior was paneled with black sheets of glass that reflected everything around it. As they approached, Nina could see the blue sky and the white clouds drifting mirrored across its surface. This Round House, as Nina called it, also lacked a roof, and they descended right through and landed on its upper floor, which was also a ceiling.

 

About the author:

 Helen Alexander is a writer and digital artist living in San Francisco, California. After graduating from the Academy of Art University, Helen worked as a video game artist in San Diego and Los Angeles. Currently she is back in San Francisco, at work on several new projects, including a comic book, a children’s book and a dark fantasy/horror novel. You can visit Helen at helenalexander.weebly.com for the latest news on upcoming releases, author interviews and previews of new stories and works-in-progress.

Website:

 http://helenalexander.weebly.com/

Amazon author central page:

 amazon.com/author/helenalexander

 Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/bosco.page

 Twitter:

 https://twitter.com/fish_zombie

 Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6067699.Helen_Alexander_Rusinoff?from_search=true

 http://www.goodreads.com/helenrusinoff

 Blog:

http://helenrusinoff.wordpress.com/

 LinkedIn:

 http://www.linkedin.com/in/helenrusinoff

 3d portfolio:

 http://www.fishzombie.com/

Hustle Henry and the Cue Ball Kid- Jack Strandburg

Clarence Flannery was luckier than most men his age to discover his life’s ambition, particularly in the unpredictable years just following the Civil War. Born with an unmatched skill to play pool, he left his home in Kansas when he turned twenty-six and traveled throughout the Southwestern United States to make his mark as a legendary pool hustler, with every intention of amassing a fortune in the process.

Clarence needed help for both support and protection, and recruited James Skinner as his partner, along with nine other highly-skilled pool players to assist him in his quest.

Wanting to be included in the same sentence as Attila the Hun and Alexander the Great, Clarence changed his name to Hustle Henry, Skinner became the Cue-Ball Kid, and the eleven men would go down in history as The Hole-in-the-Table-Bunch, known far and wide for hustling wannabe pool sharks out of their life savings.

All goes to plan and life has a rosy and profitable outlook, but Henry and his men want more than what pool halls and saloons offer, so they decide to challenge the more affluent clientele on a riverboat.

Initially, the venture proves profitable, but the millionaire tycoon and owner of the fleet of riverboats, takes exception, and intends to bring down the Bunch and thrust Henry and The Kid into a life of destitution.

Taking along the Kid’s girlfriend, Penelope Henderson, the Kid and Henry flee to South America – where there will be a final showdown.

Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is a fiction work of Western humor with an interesting and amusing cast of characters.

Jack Strandburg stopped by the site today with a man’s man-kind of book! A Western with a load of laughs and fun- saddle up partner! Read on for a sneak peek into the book!

What is the most challenging part of writing?

I find the most challenging part of writing is making decisions on how the plot unfolds. There is so much work done in character profiling and their history from the time they were born until the time the story takes place, so many events in their life, so many people they met, the paths taken and the actions and reactions to characters and events are virtually limitless. Deciding on which one will work best is no easy task.

In a more general sense, the greatest challenge is constantly learning how to write better which sometimes causes me to look back on previous projects as falling far short of being the best they can be.

 What is the most enjoyable part of writing?

Easily the most enjoyable part of writing is the revision stage, and that could be anywhere from two to ten major revisions. After I decide the first draft is complete, all issues have been resolved, all characters know their role, revision allows me to see the improvement to the story and many times will provide ideas on how to make the story better.

 Do you outline or free write, or some combination?

I find outline is necessary for how my brain thinks. I have tried other methods which eventually fizzle out and cause me to sometimes start over and cause major delays in writing the first draft. I spend a lot of time on outlining in order to answer all the questions, detail any research required, in the hopes I have a minimum number of false starts or diversions from the plot and characters.

 What are your current projects?

Currently I am working on rewriting my first mystery, originally written in the mid 1990’s. I have learned so much over the years in what makes for a good story and I felt a total rewrite was necessary to maximize the potential of the story.

Do you see writing as a career?

I consider writing a career although after a very rude awakening of “less than expected results” from my first published novel, career might now be defined as simply “being published.”

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

No, although seeing other interesting places would be a big plus to writing. Since I don’t have the time or the resources, I try to mold my story and characters so not only travel but research will be minimal.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid is set in the Old West and covers the latter part of the 1800’s into early 1900’s. The research required to make clothing, dialect, conversation, technology, and housing was extensive although a much better story, particularly a rewritten ending far better than the original (in my opinion of course) was a direct benefit.

 Do you ever experience writer’s block?

If we agree writer’s block is defined as having absolutely nothing to write, I never experienced it nor do I even acknowledge its existence. There is always something to write, even if it doesn’t apply to the current project. There is a ton of sources on ideas to spark writing and if all else fails, write your personal journal for the day or even why you can’t think of anything to write. One never knows when you might produce a story.

Do you consider your book character-driven or plot-driven?

My books will likely always be plot-driven but I believe even if you profile the most interesting characters in the world, unless something happens (an event) causing them to react, all you have are very interesting characters standing around doing nothing. A more significant, perhaps even life-changing event will allow the writer to bring the characters to life and make them memorable.

SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK!

The people in the lobby at the Grandy Hotel were stuffed tighter than a boa constrictor following an all-you-can-eat meal of mice. Sheriff Winchester and the old woman in the blue bonnet were the last to arrive. Every table, chair, and object not nailed down was thrown out into the street to make room for the pool table scheduled to arrive from the saloon.

The town, with the exception of Nate, his workers, and a few shopkeepers, swarmed like bees from a continent absent of honey to witness the epic pool match between one of its most respected yet feared citizens and one of the best pool players ever to visit Gunshot Junction. One could hardly blame them for their fever pitch enthusiasm. The town’s last memorable event was the resident drunk stumbling into the saloon wearing nothing but a dirty pair of mismatched socks. The musical group notwithstanding, Gunshot Junction’s standards for entertainment were pretty low.

* * * *

The Cue-Ball Kid, known to the town only as J.T., circled the pool table and studied the arrangement of billiard balls, feeling the searing heat of a thousand and one eyes upon him. Someone reported Dead-Eye Joe was in town. As the Kid looked at the faces of the crowd mottled with anticipation, his spine tingled as though an army of ants decided to take up residence on his back. He stopped pacing, picked up a mug from the table and raised it in a mock toast, then threw his head back and guzzled the beer. Handing the mug to a nearby spectator, he again paced from one end of the table to the other, scratching his chin while considering the next shot, his concentration akin to a saber-toothed tiger stalking its prey.

The Kid glanced over at the stack of crisp green bills resting on the table then looked his opponent in the eye and smiled. Twirling his cue stick like a baton, he lowered it slowly to the table, placed it behind the cue-ball, then just as slowly drew it back to make what was likely the final shot of the match. The Kid stared down the thirteen-ball which would give him sixty-one points, exactly what he required to win a match of fifteen-ball. The crowd fell as silent as if attending the funeral service of a loved one.

“Hold it right there,” said the ominous and threatening voice of Teddy Dowd, the Kid’s opponent, stopping the Kid the moment before his stick came forward to strike the cue-ball.

The hush of the crowd rose to a murmur.

The Kid raised his head, then straightened, wondering what prompted the interruption. Could it be because Dowd was about to lose his life savings?

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“You’re pretty damn good for someone who never played this game before,” Dowd said with a smile not quite warming the cockles of the Kid’s heart. “That is what you said, correct?”

The Kid swallowed hard and nodded.

“Yeah, that’s what I said, first time.” Okay, so I lied, but this is the twentieth century and it’s not like I attend religious services on a regular basis, the Kid thought.

“I’ve been watching you for over an hour,” Dowd said, his eyes narrowing to slits. “You’re one hell of a pool player, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. If this is your first time, how do you explain your success? If you say beginner’s luck, you’ll need to remove a pool cue from your ass before you squat to take your next shit.”

The Kid didn’t respond, primarily because Dowd eliminated his answer. He looked at the spectators, hoping to buy some time while thinking of an appropriate reply to satisfy the man. Their expressions indicated they anxiously awaited an answer to the question. His Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat like an over-inflated rubber ball, he looked back at Dowd, who returned the Kid’s gaze with threatening eyes receding so far back into his skull they looked like they might drop out the back of his head.

The Kid had cause to be scared. Dowd stood six feet three inches and weighed two-hundred twenty pounds. His face was weathered, his beard coarse. Some said he shaved with a Bowie knife. For what the Kid assumed was for intimidation, Dowd removed his shirt before the match started and his biceps were throbbing like an oxygen-deprived heart of a man following three hours of long-distance running. Offending Dowd was the last thing on the Kid’s mind, knowing the man could squash him with no more effort than he would an annoying mosquito.

“Uh, I guess it’s just a lot of wishin’ and hopin’, Teddy,” the Kid said. The lump in his throat threatened to cut off his air supply and the words emerged like those of a newborn baby crying for the first suck of its mother’s teat.

Dowd laughed and addressed the crowd. “You hear that, boys? Just wishin’ and hopin’.”

The crowd laughed along in perfect unison but it sounded forced, and for good reason. Everyone in town insisted they were Dowd’s best friend but it wasn’t a relationship borne from a legitimate heartfelt attraction. It stemmed from rumors Dowd killed more than a dozen men for reasons as trivial as insulting his boot size. There were also allegations he’d recently gunned down an unarmed saloon owner in Coyote Creek. While most men shook in their boots just from his imposing size, the Kid was about to shit into his.

Dowd glared back at the Kid with eyes blazing hellfire. “You know what I think, you puny little

shit? I think you’re a ringer, yeah, that’s right, a hustler.”

Author Bio:

Jack Strandburg was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio.  He is a degreed professional with a background in Accounting and Information Technology and recently retired after more than 33 years working for a Fortune 500 company.  He has been writing since his teenage years. 

His first published novel through Solstice Publishing is Hustle Henry and the Cue-Ball Kid, a parody of the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

He is currently rewriting his first mystery novel, A Head in the Game, writing journals for an inspirational non-fiction book, and has completed 70% of the first draft for a second mystery novel titled War Zone.

In addition he is writing short stories and working hard to establish a blog presence.

Jack currently lives with his wife and two grown children in Sugar Land, Texas. He has two grandchildren.

Rachel’s Legacy- Author Lizzie Stevens- free chapter!

Lizzie Stevens has  a lot to be proud of. Her works in publishing are international bestsellers!

Rachel Connors loved her life, and her job as a manager at a ski resort in Aspen Colorado, but after learning she was ill, she decided to take a long needed vacation to her parent’s home. This was when she met Kyle Landers, who in her absence had moved into her parent’s lives, and before he’d even met Rachel, Kyle had decided not to like her. Kyle had been alone in the world when Rachel’s parents had taken him in; and he couldn’t understand why their ungrateful daughter had chosen to distance herself from them. 

Rachel and Kyle grew closer, and she knew she was falling for him. Everything changed when  Rachel was scheduled to meet Kyle, but a call from her doctor summoned her back to Aspen, telling her parents there was a problem at work. When Kyle hears of this, he boards a plane to find her, learning the truth of her condition. Their love blossomed but it was to be short lived when on their flight back to the ranch the plane crashed. Despite an extensive search, Kyle was never found, and Rachel was forced to go on without him.


Four years had passed, and Rachel’s relationship with Marcus, her new boyfriend, was moving to a different level, but at the same time, the thought dead Kyle had come out of his coma; his mind lost in the events four years earlier. After Rachel accepted Marcus’ proposal, Kyle returns, leaving Rachel with a dilemma. For four years Marcus had been by her side, but now Kyle was back, wanting her just as much as he had the day of the crash. She needed to get away to make her decision, so she left for Aspen, only Kyle followed her to try to convince her that they belonged together. 


Who will Rachel Chose? Is Kyle’s love enough to bring her back to him?

 

SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK! SNEAK PEEK!

   Chapter One

 

 

The snow was coming down hard, quickly blanketing the ground as it fell. Rachel Connors sat on her window sill, watching it fall. The tears rolled down her face, as the thought of going back home haunted her. She hadn’t seen her parents in five years, and wasn’t completely positive she was making the right decision in going back now. She needed to be near family now more than ever. Rachel decided to keep her medical problems to herself. There was no sense in making her parents worry about her. She would tell them nothing.

The sound of the cab’s horn jarred her out of her thoughts. She wiped the tears away and grabbed her bags. She would be staying with her parents until after the holidays. The doctors didn’t need to see her until the new year. How am I supposed to forget everything and enjoy a vacation at a time like this? Rachel sat in the back seat of the cab as it headed to the airport. It would be a long plane ride from Colorado to her parents’ ranch in Tennessee, an hour and a half outside of Nashville. It was always beautiful there. They always teased her growing up about being a singer, but she never had any interest in singing. She always wanted to be a talent agent. She wanted to be the one who found the talent, which was exactly what she did. She was very successful at it, until she received a job offer to manage a friend’s ski resort in Aspen. It was a great escape from the harsh realities of the past, and she grew to love her new life.

Rachel took a long nap on the plane. She had been under a lot of stress lately. It seemed like only minutes after her head hit the pillow that she heard the flight attendant say they were landing. She looked around and saw that they were coming onto the runway. She rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms before standing up.

Kyle Landers waited for her in the terminal, holding up a sign for a woman he had never met. How do I get myself into situations like this? he thought as he started to pace back and forth. He couldn’t tell Sue and Tom that he wouldn’t go pick up their daughter for them even though he knew he wouldn’t like her. He couldn’t understand how she could stay gone as many years as she did knowing her parent’s missed her. Kyle would do anything for Sue and Tom. They took him in four years ago when he didn’t have anywhere else to go. He had no family and them gave him a job on the ranch. He looked back and forth for Rachel. He had seen many pictures of her over the years.  Kyle decided he didn’t want to give some stuck up, too good to come home to her family, uptight woman a ride. He dropped the sign into the trash can and walked out. He would tell Sue and Tom the flight must have been delayed. He felt a little bad lying to them, but he knew that their daughter could use a good lesson on how you treat people.

As she entered the terminal, Rachael looked for her ride. Her parents told her a man named Kyle would be picking her up. Not seeing him, she thought he might be outside, or in the luggage area. As she left, she saw a large cardboard sign lying in the trash can with her name on it. Where was he? Why didn’t he wait? The plane was right on time.

 She collected her luggage and walked out of the building, hopeful of catching a cab. Rachel walked up and down on the sidewalk trying to hail someone, with no luck. All the cabs were busy and she wanted to go home. She grabbed her bag and started to walk. Surely somebody would give her a ride within an hour and a half’s distance, she thought. As she looked around for prospects, she saw a young man getting ready to get into his truck. “Excuse me, sir. My name is Rachel Connors. Can you please give me a ride to my family’s ranch? I’ll pay for the gas and if you can’t take me all the way there, I would be happy with anywhere close.  My ride didn’t show up to pick me up and I can’t seem to get a cab.”

Kyle shot her a look that let her know he wasn’t in the mood to talk. He couldn’t believe his luck. Of all the people wanting a ride it had to be the one person he wanted to leave at the airport. “Let’s go. I have a lot of work to get done back at the ranch.”

Rachel didn’t know what to think. “Okay,” she said, as she glanced down at the ground.

She jumped up into his truck not saying a word. Rachel felt a little uncomfortable being with him. Once she buckled in, she looked over at him. “Excuse me, but you haven’t even told me your name.”

“Kyle. My name’s Kyle,” he said as he continued to drive.

“Have I done something to offend you? I don’t even know you, but you seem to dislike me for some reason.”  She said, as she played with her hands nervously. “Wait a minute. Are you Kyle Landers? The same Kyle Landers that works for my father? Why were you going to leave me here at the airport? I wasn’t late.”

Kyle really didn’t want to get into it with her right then, but it was going to be an hour and half ride back to the ranch. He knew he would have to talk to her at some point in time. “Why don’t we stop to eat? I haven’t had lunch yet.”

Rachel wasn’t sure if he was trying to be nice now or if he was just hungry.  “That sounds good to me,” she said even though she was still angry at him for leaving her there.

They drove for another thirty minutes in silence before turning into the parking lot of a small restaurant. Rachel had eaten at there before and remembered them having good food although she hadn’t been eating much of anything lately. She hoped the trip back home would take her mind off her problems, but not bring up bad memories in the process. They found a table in the back away from everyone.

Kyle sat down and picked up a menu without speaking. When the waitress walked by he waved her over to him. “I’ll take a cheeseburger, fries and a coke please.”

Rachel saw the waitress look over at her. “I’ll take the same. Thanks.” She looked over at Kyle. “How long have you worked for my father?”

“Four years.” He said without adding anything more.

“That’s great. My father really needed help after Bobby. . . . Well, never mind. I’m glad my father has you.” She took a sip of her soda trying to hold back the tears as she thought about her brother.

Kyle looked surprised to hear that Tom had somebody else work for him. He hadn’t ever heard them talk about anyone else. “Who’s Bobby? I’ve never heard the name before.”

Rachel looked surprised by the question. “Oh, well. . . Bobby was my brother. You would have liked him. He died six years ago in a car accident.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He felt bad for asking now.

The food came and they ate in silence. When they were finished, they started back to the ranch. Neither of them spoke. Rachel couldn’t help but wonder why Kyle seemed to dislike her so much. How could he make a judgment so fast without even knowing her? She sat there staring out the window thinking about when she was younger.  She remembered how her and Bobby would go on long walks exploring the entire ranch or taking the horses out across the range. He would run the horse like he was in a race that he had to win. She could remember staying back, watching him go. He feared nothing and embraced life to the fullest. Rachel could feel the tears starting again. She hadn’t been home in so long that she had buried the memories deep down. She always thought about Bobby during the holidays, but more so this year. Bobby would have handled the news from the doctors better than she did. Rachel wiped a tear from her eyes.

Kyle glanced over at the saddest person he had ever seen. He was beginning to think maybe he misjudged her. Could she have good reasons for not coming around? Did it have something to do with Bobby? He knew that he didn’t know anything about her, but the same time he knew that he wanted to. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

Rachel wiped her eyes and sat up straighter. “I’m fine. Just memories catching up,” she said with a little smile.

Kyle could tell that she didn’t really want to talk about it and he wasn’t sure that he did either. “It’s not much further,” he said as he wished he could take the words back. Of course she knew it wasn’t much further. She grew up there. He always got flustered when he got nervous. He stared at the road, trying to focus on his driving.

Rachel could see her parents’ house coming into view as she got more excited. She couldn’t wait to see her mom and dad. It had been a long time. They had visited her two years ago in Colorado, but she just couldn’t bear to come back home after Bobby died. She’d stuck around home for about a year after his death and then she had to get out of there. He was not only her brother but also her best friend. She didn’t know how to live without him. She knew that learning how to was one way she could remember him.

The truck stopped and Rachel jumped out as fast as she could. She saw her mother standing on the porch with a smile on her face. Rachel ran to her and threw her arms around her. “I missed you,” she said to her mom.

“I missed you too, baby. I’m glad you’re home, even if it’s only for the holidays,” Sue said, hugging her tighter.

“Where’s Dad?” Rachel asked as she looked around.

Sue pointed into the house. “He threw his back out again. That’s why Kyle had to pick you up.”

“Is he all right now?” she asked. Looking back at Kyle, she said, “Thank you for driving me home.”

Kyle nodded his head. “No problem. I’ll talk to you later, I’m sure.”

Upon entering the house, Rachel found her father lying on the couch with a heating pad behind his back. “Dad, how are you feeling?”

Tom sat up with a smile. “You made it. I’m glad you’re here. How was the trip?”

“It was fine. I don’t think Kyle likes me much, but the trip was fine,” she answered.

Tom gave her a smile. “Kyle just takes a little getting used to. He’s a good man.”

They talked for hours, sitting in the living room around the fireplace. Her mother had made hot chocolate and apple spiced cake. Her mother always made the best cakes in the world. At least that was what Rachel always thought. She loved being home again and hated to think about leaving. She decided to go take a nice long, hot bubble bath before going to bed. She needed it after all the stress she had been under lately. She planned to get up bright and early to go riding on the ranch. It had been too long time since she’d had the chance.

The next day Rachel got up and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She walked in to the stables to pick out her horse, and saw Kyle brushing one of them.

“Good morning,” she said.

 “Hi,” he said. “Going riding this morning?”

“Yes. It’s been a while. I can’t wait. Would you like to go with me?” she asked, then blushed. The words came out of her mouth without thinking.

Kyle didn’t know what to say. “Sure. I have time. Let me saddle up a couple of horses.”

Rachel went over to one of the stalls and started brushing a midnight black horse. Its coat was shiny and smooth. “This is my horse, buttercup. I haven’t ridden her in a while. I’ll get her ready for me to ride. If you don’t mind?”

“No. Go ahead. I’ll saddle up Ranger for me.” He walked over to the brown horse in the last stall and started getting the horse ready.

Ten minutes later, they headed off across the land. Rachel loved the feel of the wind hitting her in the face as she galloped across the fields.  Thoughts of her and Bobby racing their horses flooded her mind.

She pulled up at a creek to let her horse have some water and a rest. Once dismounted, she looked back to see if Kyle was still there. He was coming up behind her at a slower pace.

“You ride great,” he told her as he jumped off his horse.

Rachel smiled. “I love to ride. I never get a chance to anymore. The only thing I ride now is a snowmobile.”

She walked over and sat down on a big rock and watched her horse drink from the creek. Glancing up at Kyle she said. “It’s okay though. I get paid good money to do what I do.”

“Money isn’t everything though. You need family too.” He still wasn’t sure why she moved away, but he was starting to think she had reasons, and maybe he was wrong to misjudge her the way he did. He could tell that she loved her family. Why did she leave? He wanted to know, but didn’t want to come right out and ask.

Rachel sighed. “I know, and I do miss my family. It was really hard on me after Bobby died. I stuck around for about a year afterwards, but then I had to get out of here. Now I don’t know what has been keeping me away. I wish more than ever that I lived here near my parents.”  She looked away with a tear in her eye. She didn’t want to cry in front of him, and she didn’t want this complete stranger to know anything about her medical problems.

“I’m sorry if I upset you. I didn’t mean to do that.” Kyle felt horrible.

Rachel wiped a tear away. “You didn’t upset me. I always get emotional around the holidays. More so now than before.”

Kyle didn’t know what she meant by that, but he could see a sadness in her eyes. He stood there staring at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was about five foot, five inches tall with long brown hair. She couldn’t be more than a size six. He couldn’t believe that he was looking at her that way. It was only a day ago that he had decided that he didn’t like her. Things were changing for him too. He looked over at her. “I guess you and your brother were close?”

Rachel smiled as the thoughts of Bobby came back to her. “Yes, we were like best friends. We did everything together. It was really hard for me when he died.  We had spent the whole day together that day at a baseball game in Nashville. That night Bobby wanted me to go to the store for him and get him some ice cream, but I was tired and said I didn’t want to. He left to go get it himself, and on his way home he was hit by a drunk driver. I can’t help but blame myself. If I had gone to the store, then maybe he would still be here with us. It’s my fault he’s dead.” Rachel couldn’t stop the tears from falling. They were coming down like rainfall.

Kyle went over to her and took her into his arms. “It’s not your fault, Rachel. You can’t blame yourself. Is that why you have stayed away so long? If it is, then I think you need to come home to your family.”

Rachel wiped the tears away and walked back to her horse. “You don’t understand. I can’t leave Aspen right now. I have to be there. I wish I could, but I can’t.” She walked over and got up on her horse, riding away without looking back.

When she returned to the stables, she removed the saddle and brushed her horse down, thinking about how great it would be if she could move back to the ranch now. But no—she needed to hear from the doctors first. Rachel was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of Kyle walking in with his horse.

“I’m sorry I upset you. Sometimes I put my whole foot in my mouth,” he said as he walked the horse to the stall.

Rachel laughed. “You’re fine. I just get a little emotional sometimes. It’s not your fault.”

“How about you let me take you out tomorrow night for dinner to make up for it?” Kyle had no idea where that came from. He was usually a little on the shy side with women.

She looked at him with a little surprise in her eyes. “I would love to go out with you tomorrow night, but I can’t. Mom and Dad are going out of town to the cattle sales, and I promised that I would get some baking done for Thanksgiving for her. You’re welcome to come over and let me cook you something if you would like. We can watch a movie while the cakes are baking.”

“Sounds good to me.” Kyle said. “I’ll see you then.

Rachel couldn’t believe she had made a date with him. She barely knew him, but she couldn’t help but think how great looking he was. He was six foot tall with sandy blond hair and a great complexion. She could tell that he worked long, hard hours out in the sun—he was well muscled and tan. She walked in the house and saw her mom over by the stove cooking. She went over to her and gave her a hug. “Something smells good.”

Sue smiled over at her daughter. “It’s beef stew. One of your many favorites.”

Rachel laughed because she loved to eat. She told her mom. “Guess what I’m doing tomorrow night.”

“I have no idea, dear.” Sue answered.

“I’m cooking dinner for Kyle while you’re gone. He asked me out and I told him I had to do the baking for you, but that I would cook him dinner. He said yes.” She seemed to be talking a mile a minute.

Sue hadn’t seen her daughter look that excited about anything in a very long time. “I’m glad honey, but I would be careful not to lead him on. You’re still leaving at the end of December aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mom. We won’t get serious. It’s just one date.” Rachel tried to make herself believe it more than her mother. She went over to the cabinet to get the dishes down to set the table. Then she went to get her father for dinner.

They all sat down at the table together to eat. Rachel made small talk with her dad about the ranch and the horses. “How’s it going around here lately?”

Tom looked over at his daughter. “Well, I could sure use a good manager to run this ranch. Do you know anyone that can run a whole business, like maybe a huge resort, that might be interested in the job?”

Rachel had no idea that her dad wanted her to run the ranch with him. “Dad, I can’t believe you are asking me this. I would love to, but I can’t right now. I have some stuff that I have to take care of back in Aspen. Hopefully I can get that all taken care of in a few months and then I would love to move back here.”

Sue’s face could have lit up the whole room. Happy didn’t come close to the way she felt at that very moment. She would do anything to have her daughter back home. “What do you have to take care of?”

Rachel nearly choked on her iced tea. “What? Oh, I just need to give a notice at work. Help train somebody. That could take a few months. Then pack everything that I own and move it here. It might take me some time to get things in order, but I will work on it as quickly as I can.”

After they all finished eating, Rachel went to take a long hot bubble bath. She filled the tub to the top, and then sank down in the steaming hot water. She felt so relaxed for a few minutes. She laid there in the tub, and before she realized what she was doing, her hand reached up and fell on her breast. She couldn’t help but touch it, but when she did the tears came flooding from her eyes. The doctors had found the lump in a routine exam. They told her that it may be nothing but they would have to run some blood tests and CT scans. If that didn’t give them the results that they wanted then she would have to have a biopsy. Rachel laid there in the bathtub crying until her water went cold on her. She didn’t know how long she had been in there but she knew she didn’t want to get out.

After what seemed like hours, Rachel got out and dried off. She stood there looking at herself in the mirror for a few minutes. How could somebody as healthy as she had always been be sick now? It didn’t make sense, and it didn’t seem fair. Was she being punished for something? That was all that she ever thought to herself. She got dressed and crawled into bed. Maybe thinking about spending time with Kyle would help take her mind off other things.

Rachel woke up to the smell of bacon cooking. She had truly missed being with her family. She usually grabbed something quick and easy for breakfast. It had been a while since she had a nice home cooked meal like the one she smelled downstairs. She threw her robe on and headed down the stairs. When she made it to the bottom, she saw Kyle sitting at the table. She turned around and ran back up the stairs as fast as she could. She couldn’t let him see her like that. She had to make herself beautiful. She ran over to the dresser and started combing her hair and putting some make-up on. She grabbed a red t- shirt and some blue jeans. When she finished getting dressed, she walked into the kitchen to find only her mother there. Her father and Kyle had already left to get started on the ranch work.

“Didn’t I hear voices down here a few minutes ago?” Rachel asked as if she hadn’t seen Kyle sitting there.

“Yes, you did. Your father and Kyle already went out to the back field to gather the cattle for tonight’s sale. They will be gone for most of the day. I’m sorry that you missed them,” her mother told her.

“It’s no big deal. I was just wondering.” Rachel said as she acted like she wasn’t really interested. “I think I’ll go into town today and do some sightseeing. It’s been a while since I’ve been home.”

“That sounds like a great idea, dear.” Sue was glad to see her daughter thinking of it more like home. She had wanted her to move back for many years now.

Rachel spent the whole day in town going from store to store looking around. She went into the music store and spent hours in there. She remembered going there with Bobby many times. It had a new owner now, but everything looked the same. Rachel picked up a couple of CDs to buy. After she left the music store she went into a small general store. The first thing that grabbed her attention was a pink ribbon pin for sale for one dollar to help promote breast cancer awareness. It seemed like she noticed more things like that now then she ever had. Rachel walked past the pin without picking it up. She didn’t need any reminders telling her that she might have cancer. It was scary enough thinking about it on her own and knowing that she was going through it alone. Rachel couldn’t tell her parents they could lose the only child they had left. She spent the rest of the day in town and then headed back home. She wanted to say goodbye to her parents before they left for their three day trip. They had asked her if she wanted to go with them, but she didn’t want to leave the ranch. It had been too long since she had been back there. Rachel didn’t want to think about leaving. She only had six weeks before she had to go back home for her doctor visit. That’s when she would get the results to the CT scan and blood work. She didn’t understand why the doctors couldn’t get the results before the holidays, but they said the lab was overloaded with work and they were way behind. She didn’t like it, but she understood.

She pulled into the driveway and saw the cattle trailer hooked up to the back of her father’s truck. She had made it just in time to say goodbye before they left. Rachel walked in and found her mother in the kitchen making notes. “What are you doing mom?”

“I’m making you a list of pies, cakes, and breads that I would like you to make for me while I’m gone. I’ll be delivering them to the church when I get back. They are making baskets for needy families.” Sue told her as she handed her the list.

“Wow, Mom. You have enough stuff on this list to feed the whole state. I’ll be busy all night and tomorrow too.” Rachel pretended to be angry, but the whole time she loved every minute of it. She hadn’t done any baking in years. She used to love making things with her mom. It was going to be fun being in the kitchen all weekend. She walked over and gave her mom a hug. “I love you. Have a good trip.”

“We will. You have a good weekend too.” Sue hugged her daughter and then turned and went out to the truck.

Rachel went back into the kitchen to try to figure out what she wanted to fix for dinner that night. She wanted it to be perfect for Kyle. She put some chicken breasts in the oven to cook. Then she peeled some potatoes to make mashed potatoes. She sliced one of her mom’s fresh loaves of bread and put some butter on the table. Rachel had everything almost finished when she heard Kyle pull in. She ran upstairs to spritz on her favorite perfume before he walked in. After double-checking her hair in the mirror, she hurried downstairs to the kitchen.