Who’s Your WIP; Archer’s Sin, by Amy Raby

Who’s Your WIP; Archer’s Sin, by Amy Raby

[My apologies. This should have gone up yesterday.]

This month I bring you an excerpt from Amy Raby, an alumni of mine from the Online Writer’s Workshop. I remember when she was working on Assasin’s Gambit, and it is my honour to bring you an excerpt from her latest work, Archer’s Sin.

~~~~~

AmyRaby_ArchersSin800Nalica wasn’t used to crowds.

In the eastern mountains where she’d grown up, the air was thin and the trees were sparse, and one could walk all day without seeing another soul. Here at the festival grounds in Riat, the air tasted as thick as porridge, and she’d seen more people in an hour than she normally saw all year.

More than one pair of eyes lit on her as she walked. Her height made her stand out; she towered above most southern Kjallans. But they also looked askance at her unpowdered face and at the leathers she wore in lieu of a syrtos. And at the longbow she carried on her back.

Never mind their curiosity. Somewhere on the grounds was the registration for the Triferian archery tournament. She’d come a long way to enter because this tournament offered an unusual prize: after three days of competition, the winner would be granted a position as a prefect in the Riat City Guard. Nalica would give anything for a steady job and an opportunity to use her skills. She wanted that job. She would enter the tournament, and she would win it.

She squinted at a sign with a bow and arrow on it. Unlike many eastern Kjallans, she did know her letters, but she’d learned them late, and only just enough to get through her education in magic. Painstakingly, she worked out the words. The sign said when and where the three rounds of competition would take place, but it didn’t say where to sign up. The only other sign in the area was one announcing a horse race.

The festival didn’t officially start until tomorrow, which meant the crowds would get worse between now and then. On her left, merchant families raised tents. On her right, a group of men measured out an open field, planting flags in the ground as markers.

There, just ahead—a longbow bounced through the crowd on the back of a tall, burly man. Surely that man was here for the tournament. She hurried after him in case he knew where he was going. If he didn’t, at least they’d be lost together.

She realized as she pushed her way toward him that he was very tall. It made him easy to follow, and she felt a certain kinship with him based solely on height.

The crowd thinned. She dodged around a few slow-moving people and was about to call out to him when he joined a group of men, all of them with longbows on their backs.

Well, this was fortunate. Someone here would know where to register for the tournament.

A black-haired archer with a sharp nose turned to greet the giant. The two clasped wrists and began to talk.

Nalica approached the group. “Sorry to jig in, but—”

Jig in?” repeated the black-haired man.

Oops, that was an eastern phrase. What did southerners say? “Sorry to speak out of turn—”

“Is she speaking Kjallan, or is that some other language?” asked a man in a leather cap.

Nalica sighed inwardly. She had an accent, but it wasn’t strong—at least she didn’t think it was. She did tend to forget about those eastern phrases that weren’t used in the south.

“Pay him no mind,” the giant said to her. “He understands you perfectly well.”

She looked up at him—in itself a novel act; so rarely did she look up to anybody—and nearly gasped. He was eastern Kjallan, and she’d bet her last quintetral he was from the mountains of the province of Vereth, same as she was. His height and size ought to have tipped her off, but now that she saw him up close, his beard clinched it. Southern Kjallans shaved; her people did not. The giant’s broad nose and features looked vaguely familiar. She might have seen him before, or more likely she’d met one of his family members. Clan identity was important in Vereth.

Southern Kjallans looked refined and fancy to her eyes, like toys rather than men. But this fellow was genuine, of true mountain stock. Her eyes traveled eagerly over his form. He wasn’t just tall, but broad. Some might call him fat, but they’d be mistaken. The weight he carried was all muscle.

“That your daddy’s bow?” asked the black-haired archer.

“No,” said Nalica, drawing herself to her full height.

Black Hair snorted. “That’s a six-foot longbow. You can’t even string it.”

“Do you think I’d carry a bow I couldn’t string?” In fact, she could string it with or without her war magic. Many war mage archers couldn’t handle their bows without calling upon their magically enhanced strength, but she could.

“Show me,” he said.

Her shoulder twitched, and she almost reached for the bow. But she resisted the temptation. If she strung her bow as an exhibition for this sneering twit, she would only worsen her standing among the group. Even if she succeeded in stringing it, which of course she would, she would have allowed him to order her around. He would have made her perform like a trained dog while appointing himself arbiter of her performance. “If you want to see me string this bow, you can wait for the tournament like everyone else.”

The other men chuckled—all but the giant, who regarded her gravely.

“I’ll bet she can string it,” said Leather Cap. “Look at those shoulders—you don’t get muscles like that scrubbing pots in a scullery.”

“I shouldn’t be surprised she wants to enter the tournament,” said Black Hair. “Justien, do all your eastern Kjallan females look like she-bears?”

Justien—that was the giant’s name. She ignored the insult from the black-haired man. She’d heard worse.

“Strong women bear strong sons,” said Justien. “It’s a lesson you should learn, Caellus. It’s not like you have much of value to pass on yourself.”

The giant had only the slightest hint of an accent. Probably he’d left the east a long time ago.

Caellus snorted. “I’ll stick to women who look like women. But Justien, you should propose marriage straight away. Who else but a walking she-bear could carry your child?”

Justien frowned.

Nalica had borne enough of this. Trading insults was not a skill she enjoyed or excelled at; she’d rather show these men up at the tournament. “Where’s the registration?”

“You’re wasting your time,” said Caellus. “The tournament is special this year. War mages only.”

“I savvy it,” said Nalica.

“You what?” said Caellus.

“Three gods, we don’t speak savage,” said Leather Cap.

“I mean, I know it,” said Nalica.

“So you’re not entering?” said Caellus.

His question suggested he couldn’t process the obvious conclusion that she was a war mage. She waited in silence to see if the others would figure it out. She knew they’d begun to entertain the possibility when some of them glanced at her neck, looking for her riftstone. They wouldn’t be able to see it; the stone hung on a steel chain and was hidden beneath her shirt.

Caellus, apparently putting two and two together at last, turned to his fellows. “I hate it when people give top-tier riftstones to women. What a waste.”

Leather Cap nodded. “I’ve a friend whose parents couldn’t afford a stone.”

“What’s the real waste,” put in Justien, “is when they give them to talentless hacks. Right, Caellus?”

A few chuckles broke the tension.

“It’s not funny,” said Caellus. “We shoot the first day without magic. Do you think she can get even one arrow on the butts without the magic doing the work for her?”

Justien grinned. “If she gets anything on the butts, she’ll be shooting better than you.”

More laughter from the group. Caellus glowered.

Nalica addressed Justien directly, figuring he was the only one who might give her a straight answer. “Sir, do you know where the registration is?”

“Of course. I’ll show you the tent.” He took her arm and led her away from the group.

As they walked in silence across the outskirts of the fairgrounds, Nalica felt hotly aware of his hand on her arm, a sensation that drove out all other sensations. If there was a crowd around them, she was oblivious. If her feet were sore from walking all day, she felt no pain. Her entire awareness had narrowed to Justien’s hand where it rested lightly on her flesh.

She was burning with questions she wanted to ask. What clan was he from? How long had he been away from eastern Kjall? Did he have family here? A wife? Probably no wife, given what Caellus had said. Never mind; she couldn’t ask Justien any of this. Curious as she was, those questions were too personal. She’d only just met the man.

“What’s your name?” asked Justien.

“Nalica,” she said. “Are you in the tournament yourself?”

“Yes,” said Justien. “Already registered. Allow me to warn you, Nalica, before you give the tournament director your money: I intend to win.”

She smiled at him thinly. “Intentions are not reality.”

“In this case, I think they will be.” There was not a trace of humor or smugness in his voice. He acted as if he were simply sharing information. “I can outshoot anyone here, including you. I need that job in the city guard, and I intend to have it.”

Nalica kept walking and said nothing. Justien had no idea how well she could shoot; he might well believe his claim that he was certain to win, but she knew it was an idle boast. She needed the city guard job too, probably more than he did. And she’d come to Riat for the sole purpose of winning it.

~~~~~

Where to find Amy online:

Amy author photo (small)Blog: http://amyraby.com/
Twitter: @amyraby
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Amy.Raby.Author

Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horseback. Amy is a Golden Heart® finalist and a Daphne du Maurier winner.

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Who’s Your WIP? Unscripted, by Jayne Denker

September is almost gone and time for another guest post excerpt. This month I bring you some romance Hollywood style, courtesy of Jayne Denker. Her novel UNSCRIPTED is a fictional tale about one of Hollywood’s hardest working women, who discovers there’s a lot more drama behind the camera than in front of it.

~~~~~

unscrcoverUsually, grabbing a man’s balls can take you far in this business. I mean, the Hollywood entertainment industry? Please. Far worse has gone down in the name of getting ahead. (No pun intended.) (Okay, maybe a little.) But that particular move came close to ending my career; I just didn’t notice at the time.
But then, I wasn’t really thinking rationally, let alone considering the “consequences of my actions,” because I was having my usual knock-down, drag-out argument with my boss, Randy Bastard (real name: Randy Barstow). And, as usual, we were out of our chairs and nose to nose—well, figuratively, at least; in what I preferred to think of as my don’t-fuck-with-me-or-you’ll-get-a-stiletto-in-your-ear heels, I was half a head taller than he was. So it was more nose to bald spot as I attempted to “explain” myself. That was pretty tough, because I just wanted to slap the smirk off his face instead of using my words like a grown-up. Plus I was finding it pretty difficult to make a cogent point when I was all up in his aura, which reeked of caramelized onions and stale gym sweat.

I did try.

“Okay, let’s put it another way,” I said, exhaling in short, quick puffs. “All that stuff you just brought up? Not happening. Modern Women’s ratings are doing fine without some ass-backward ideas about what constitutes ‘entertainment’ that were outdated two decades ago. So you can keep the donated outfits from your cousin’s lingerie shop, because my female characters aren’t parading around in them for your jollies. And there will be no bouncing-cheerleader scenes for no apparent reason. My characters—and the women who portray them—will never,ever be anything less than three-dimensional individuals. These characters are not just strutting life-size Barbie dolls, and their story arcs will most definitely not focus only on sex. Have I covered everything to your satisfaction, you perv?”

I probably shouldn’t have called him a perv, but hey, if it walks like a duck and all that—and Randy definitely walked like a duck. He was also president of the unfortunately abbreviated EWW (Entertainment Worldwide) channel, a second-tier cable network that was home to my hit dramedy, Modern Women. The network wasn’t half bad, but Randy? He was another story. Dude made me see red even on my best days. And today was hardly one of my best, with Randy—yet again—challenging me in a meeting with a dozen other suits about creative control, making idiotic recommendations about my show. Mine. I created it, I exec-produced it, I wrote every episode. I knew what direction it was going in; I had every bit of the story planned out for the next three seasons, and longer, if it came to that. Not to mention Modern Women rocketed to success in its first season and saved his lame-ass network—I mean, literally kept it from turning into a 24/7 syndication- and infomercial-fest.

He knew all that, but he conveniently forgot it. Why? Because I was a woman—and, even worse for this type of job, halfway decent-looking, with my chestnut hair often in out-of-control-waves and blue eyes that could pin any slacker on my staff to the wall at twenty paces—and he was one of those dinosaurs who still thought it was cute when women try to be in charge of anything besides baking pies and popping out babies. You couldn’t win with those guys. I knew I should have gotten out of the situation. I knew I should have just sat back down at the conference table, among his startled toadies—I could see their wide eyes, each mouth in an identical “O,” out of the corner of my eye—and thank my lucky stars that my Little Show That Could was about to complete its third season on his network.

Yep, that would have been the smart thing to do. But then he said it. All the arguments about story arcs and character development we had been hurling at each other for the past ten minutes vaporized as I focused on the one phrase that issued from his fleshy lips, his voice dripping with sarcasm: “Look, sweetheart—”

It was like my appendage had a life of its own. Although if I had known in advance what it was going to do, I’m not sure I would have stopped it. Honestly, I thought I was dreaming—you know, like in those TV fantasy sequences where you see the main character do something outrageous to his or her nemesis, but then the main character blinks, and reality kicks back in with a zoosh sound effect, and you realize it was all going on in her head? This was like that. Except it actually happened. No life-saving zoosh.

I only realized I had his nards in a vise grip when I saw Randy Bastard’s face get small. It was as if all his facial features congregated in the middle of his face, close to his nose, as if they were huddling together to protect and comfort one another.

Everything froze. In all my thirty-eight years on the planet, my senses were never as heightened as they were at that moment. The midafternoon L.A. sunlight coming through the meeting room’s windows was brilliant and blinding. Randy B.’s rank onions-and-sweat odor burned my nose. I fixated on his navy track pants. I never was able to figure out how he could make expensive clothes—in this case, Givenchy—look cheap. On him, even Armani suits look like they came off the rack at Kmart. I remembered thinking that somebody should have told this network emperor that the stripes on the sides of his pants worked about as well as after-market go-faster stripes on the hood of an ’89 Yugo. And that he probably should have just given up and gone for the Pajama Jeans.

It occurred to me that the track pants were a perilously thin barrier between my hand and his nether regions. And that completely skeeved me out. Because it finally sank in, what I’d done. I’d gotten even closer to him, my nose nearly touching his, and . . . grabbed his ballsack. Right through the damp fabric of his track pants and whatever passed for underwear beneath them (I didn’t want to know). And yeah, I squeezed, but only a little. Just to make my point. Which was . . . how did I put it? Oh yeah.

“My show? It’s about women. And you have no right to tell me how to run my show. You know why? These.” And I gave another squeeze, making sure the sharp tips of my manicured fingernails made themselves known to his, er, boys. Of course, a silent scream of revulsion was ricocheting around in my head, and the rest of my body was recoiling with disgust. But my clawlike fingers held on. “They mean you have no opinion. None. Don’t forget that.”

The instant everyone else in the room realized what I’d done, they all sucked in a horrified breath at the same time. It was kind of impressive, really. If it had been a scene for my show, it would have taken several takes and a whole lot of yelling through a megaphone to get a bunch of extras to all gasp on cue like that. But this reaction was spontaneous.

In the silence that followed—miraculously, not even one cell phone chirped or vibrated on the table—it occurred to me that all those people, from the execs down to the assistants to the assistants, figured I had just dug my own grave and jumped right in.

Point made, I let go of Randy Bastard’s moist and, not surprisingly, suddenly quite small package. One glance at his face, which had gone from parchment white to get-him-his-blood-pressure-meds purple once he knew his boys were safe, and I knew what I had to do next. I resisted wiping my hands on my skirt, fought down the bile rising in my throat, squared my shoulders, and grabbed my expensive leather portfolio bag off the floor. Before Randy B. could find his voice—and before any of us could find out if it had gone up an octave—I muttered, “Yeah, yeah. I’m going,” marched to the door, yanked it open, and strode out.

He didn’t need to shout after me “You’ll never work in this town again;” it was implied. And he didn’t. So he gets points for not succumbing to one of the millions of clichés that ping around L.A. like so many annoying gnats. Or Mini Coopers. But that didn’t stop him spewing a few choice epithets at my back, as well as some threat about my being “done” and another tidbit about “charges for assault.”

I wanted to march triumphantly out of the building, with inspiring music swelling in my wake. But I had to make a brief stop at Randy’s assistant’s desk. I smiled as naturally as I could at the poor waif, who was staring at me, saucer-eyed, terrified of what I had done to set her boss off, and said softly, “Heather, please tell me you have some hand sanitizer in your desk.”

~~~~~

Unscripted, published August 2013 by Kensington Publishers.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/22744

Jayne_DenkerJayne Denker is the author of contemporary romances–chick lit by any other name, although she really doesn’t give a toss about designer shoes or handbags and doesn’t view New York City through rose-colored glasses. Her first book, By Design, was published in May; her second, Unscripted, in August; and her third, Down on Love, is coming in November). When she’s not hard at work on another novel (or, rather, when she should be hard at work on another novel), she can usually be found frittering away stupid amounts of time on Facebook.

Facebook Author Page:
Twitter: @JDenkerAuthor
Blog: http://jaynedenker.com.

Who’s Your WIP?: Days With The Undead, Book Two by Julianne Snow

The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler. A perfect time to let our imaginations loose about things that go bump in the night. This month, I bring you an excerpt from horror author Julianne Snow and her book DAYS WITH THE UNDEAD; BOOK TWO. A journal-type novel about five people escaping the horror of a zombie apocalypse and their attempt to stay alive.

Days with the Undead: Book Two

From Day 51…

I’m sorry about last night but after everything that we’ve been through, there was really no way that I could’ve processed it all into a coherent update in such a short period of time. I hope y’all understand.

The crew rowed Doug, Phillip, and I to the shore at Coney Island at dawn the morning of Day 47. Luckily nothing was waiting for us on the beach. In fact, the area was eerily quiet and devoid of… well, anything. I mean I would have expected to see some evidence that people were caught unaware during the initial outbreak. That they’d been out and about doing what they would’ve normally been doing on a ordinary day. But there was no evidence of that; no dropped parcels, no bodies, nothing. Just an eerie silence that crept into your brain and took your breath away.

We moved inland toward 10th Street and started to see the damage I’d expected earlier. The closer that we got to Surf Avenue, the more damage that there was. Destruction from small arms fire was readily apparent on the walls of buildings and in the sides of the vehicles that clogged the streets at all angles. Garbage was rotting everywhere along with the bodies that had fallen. You couldn’t tell if they had been victims of the Undead or Undead themselves at some point. The stage of decomposition on the bodies was just too advanced. The only saving grace was that they were not going to be getting up at any point and we counted that as a small victory for our side. We didn’t stay too long observing the scene; the smell was overwhelming.

We made our way over to West 8th Street, and turned in the direction of the 60th Precinct. We were careful to travel quietly and quickly while still being cautious. We didn’t want to be out in the open for too long, but we also didn’t want to run the risk of entering too many buildings for cover in case they were infested with the Undead. It was a delicate dance and one we meant to master without much practice.

When we reached the 60th Precinct, we could see all of the doors had been barricaded from the inside. The tragic thing was the barricades hadn’t held. We took the chance and gingerly entered the building, ready to beat a hasty retreat if we had to. The inside of the station was completely trashed. During the siege, all of the personnel or other survivors had turned the desks and tables on their sides to use them as shields to fire from. As a result, all of the computer equipment was hopelessly smashed to pieces. Even the servers were damaged which meant we couldn’t patch our laptop into it in the hopes of getting in and out without having to go any further into Brooklyn.

The worst part however wasn’t finding the station trashed to bits. It was finding the full and partial bodies rotting away in the open common areas as well as in the enclosed private office. We spent a few moments looking in some of the offices, hoping to find a computer or server that was salvageable. Something that made our trip here worthwhile. Instead, we released some of the most putrid, foul smelling odours that any human should have to endure. The building began to quickly fill up with that odour and as a result, we had to get out. We were risking our lives by staying anyway. The Undead might be close and respond to that smell or worse, we just might pass out and choke to death on it.

Our next best bet after the 60th Precinct was the 61st Precinct. It was a bit of a hike through potentially Undead infected streets but again, we had to do what we came here to do. We continued along West 8th Street until we came to Neptune Avenue. The idea was to take a right and continue along Neptune Avenue all the way to Coney Island Avenue where we would turn north and head toward the 61st Precinct. It was a simple plan and in our minds, simple plans always work.

We made it to Coney Island Avenue without too much effort or incident. As soon as we turned north however, I noticed our first roving horde of the Undead about a kilometre ahead of us. If they had been moving away from us, I might not have been worried but as chance would have it, they were moving in our direction. As silently as surprise and fear would allow, we ducked into the closest building, hoping it was vacant of the Undead. I kept vigil at the window while Doug and Phillip quietly scoped out an exit in the back. We’d only use it if we needed to. At this point, the horde could change direction so our best bet was to wait and see where they were going to go before doing anything. And there was a chance that they would pass us by without even a notice and we could slip away once they were gone.

As the horde got closer to us, the more agitated Doug became. I know from talking with him that he hadn’t spent a lot of time dealing with the Undead. He’d been rescued by the cruise ship pretty early after the dead started to rise again. I hoped this wasn’t going to be an issue and took him aside to talk him down a bit. Explained that as long as they didn’t see us, we would be safe. Told him it was important for us to remain calm and still while they were close. Being an officer with the NYPD helped to let that information sink in I think. He’d been in hairy situations before and had survived; he could survive this one too as long as he kept his wits about him.

The horde was disgustingly close by that point. You could smell their rotting flesh; the metallic tang of blood, hot from the sun, filling our nostrils. Bile filled our throats, making us wretch. We tried to stay still, keep silent but it was hard. Thank God for the shadows of the store that we had ducked into. Had the Undead come into the storefront that day, we would have been dead. We were useless against the smell emanating from them. It just might be the greatest weapon in their arsenal.

I think it was the smell that finally did Doug in. Poor Doug. Before I could grab him he ran. Right out of the storefront and into the street. The horde had passed by us but just barely, so at least he had a small advantage in that regard. And when he ran out, he ran right down a side street – Brighton 8th Court – and not in the direction we had to travel. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose, but we can certainly thank God for small miracles. The horde immediately turned around and began to slowly pursue him. Phillip and I could do nothing but wait until they’d passed.

Once we felt the street was somewhat safe to venture out into again, we continued to travel north. Our expedition was going to be a complete waste of time, of that we were certain. Doug was the only one who knew how to access the NYPD mainframe, so only he would be able to get onto the computers if and when we found one that worked. We had discussed at length learning passwords and such, but when it got down to it, if you didn’t know the system, you’d be pretty much lost. The entire trip was dependent on Doug and finding a computer or server that still worked within one of the Precincts.

The reason we were still heading further inland is based on the possibility that if Doug managed to outrun the horde, he may go to the 61st Precinct looking for us. And we needed a place to stay for the night. It was going to be dark soon and we wouldn’t be able to make it back to the beach in time to be picked up for the night.

Coming up on the 61st Precinct filled us with a sense of hope and despair. Like the 60th Precinct, it had been barricaded from the inside. The difference being that the barricades here appeared to be intact. How exactly were we going to get inside? It’s not like going up and knocking on the door would get them to open up for us. And I wasn’t about to go shouting in the street either. There was no telling what was out here that I would end up attracting to this location. The situation called for a little bit of reconnaissance and some finesse. If there were living people inside, they had to be getting outside for supplies somehow. All we needed to do was figure out how and use that to our advantage. And hope of course that they were going on a supply run tomorrow, because we really didn’t have a lot of time to waste.

Phillip and I took a wide circle around the building, noting each of the exits and trying to figure out which of them looked like they might’ve been used most recently. There was also a fire escape on the west side of the station that had been locked in the up position so there was the chance that they were using that as their means of coming and going. Wanting to have eyes on the fire escape, we decided to scope out a place to spend the night across the road when a voice called out to us.

It identified herself as Lieutenant Mary Alice Lafferty of the NYPD, senior ranking officer in charge of the 61st Precinct. Lt. Lafferty offered us asylum as long as they were willing to acquiesce to a full body search for any bite marks. Since our goal was to get inside the Precinct, we were more than happy to agree to the terms.

~~~~~

Social Media links:

Julianne SnowJulianne Snow is the author of the Days with the Undead series. She writes within the realms of speculative fiction and has roots that go deep into horror. Julianne has pieces of short fiction in publications from Sirens Call Publications, Open Casket Press, James Ward Kirk Publishing and Hazardous Press as well as the forthcoming shorts in anthologies from 7DS Books, Phrenic Press, and the Coffin Hop charity anthology Death by Drive-In.Twitter: @CdnZmbiRytr

Facebook: Julianne Snow

FB Fan Page: Days with the Undead

FB Author Page: Julianne Snow, Author

Amazon Author Page: Julianne Snow

Blogs: Days with the Undead & The FlipSide of Julianne

 

Book Links to Book One

DwtU CoverAmazon US – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007F14OTA

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007F14OTA

Amazon Canada – http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B007F14OTA/

Amazon Germany – http://www.amazon.de/dp/B007F14OTA/

Amazon France – https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B007F14OTA

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Amazon Japan – http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B007F14OTA/

Amazon Brazil – http://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B007F14OTA/

Amazon India – http://www.amazon.in/dp/B007F14OTA/

CreateSpace – https://www.createspace.com/3963077

Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/137213

Barnes & Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/days-with-the-undead-julianne-snow/1111390854?ean=9781468007992

Apple – https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/days-with-the-undead-book-one/id512572755?mt=11

Kobo – http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/days-with-the-undead-book-one

Who’s Your WIP; Spirit Heath by Lisa Groszek

This month I bring you an excerpt from Lisa Groszek’s latest work SPIRIT HEATH.

~~~~~

“Oh Zander, you make me laugh so. I’m sure going to miss you when you’re gone,” Nurse Sheila said.

“My time is near,” he whispered, still smiling at his joke, admiration in his wrinkled grayish-blue eyes, “I can feel it coming. Funny, it sounds just like the wind chimes that Genie loved hanging next to the open window in our patio room, as if she’s there, calling me home.”

“Perhaps she is; rest now. You’ve earned it.”

Zander’s half closed eyes narrowed into a warm smile for his caregiver who had stayed by his side. She had refused to go home regardless of the fact that she hadn’t slept in at least a day. Nurse Sheila had seen to Zander’s care for the last five years. She cared for him as a daughter does a father. His only child had gone before him as had his wife. His family was gone, only Nurse Sheila remained now.

Zander was one hundred and eight years old, one of the oldest humans alive and his minutes were now numbered. He drifted in and out of consciousness, always recognizing Sheila’s concerned face. He knew she’d miss him and he fleetingly wondered what she’d do with herself now that his time was over. But the chimes were growing louder, demanding his attention. He was just aware enough to open his eyes one final time.

“Ah Genie, there you are my love. And Roy, my son, I’ve missed you both so,” the words were mumbled, but Sheila knew they would be Zander’s last. She sat there quietly for another few moments, watched his eyes close and his chest cease rising and falling. She kissed his cheek and covered him with a sheet.

“I hope you have found them,” Sheila whispered.

******************

Moments after exiting the body of Zander Medfin, Spirit Heath opened his silver eyes and blinked the lids a few times. He breathed deep of the sweet ambrosia that filled the air in Quadrant sixteen of the Radial. He began to sit up and felt as the billowing figure of Senior Eleanor placed the strength of her arms on his back helping him rise.

“Spirit Heath, there you are, welcome back. You lingered so long with your human,” said Senior Eleanor, “It’s hard for your being to remember how to move at first, are you well?”

“Yes,” Spirit Heath replied and was surprised at the realization that he had no mouth or voice box, “just readjusting.”

“It’s sometimes hard to let go of those human qualities, especially since you were a part of Zander for so long. Human traits are human; therefore, we leave them behind with the bodies we leave. Our communication is through the mind, though I’m sure you remember now.”

Spirit Heath did recall and was beginning to relish the thought of being home. Here he didn’t have to worry about human things like eating. Being dexterous enough to stab food with a fork, or scoop it with a spoon was bad enough, but having to hold with one and cut with the other, he remembered, was a daunting task, at least for a time. Here the ambrosia was constantly floating through the air and taken in through his porous outer layer. It was all the sustenance he would need until he was again placed with a human. He would need some time to recoup though; being through the human experience was extremely draining; it was usually at least a month or so before one was again ready to be placed.

Idly, he wondered what type of human he’d be placed with on his next visit. What would this human have to accomplish within his lifetime? How long would it last? He looked up and met with Senior Eleanor’s narrowing eyes.

“I’m surprised you have these thoughts so soon,” Senior Eleanor cautioned, “it usually takes weeks before a being is even ready to think about returning to the human world, you’ve only been here for minutes.”

“I had a restful human. I think that makes me eager to go back, after I’ve had some time to debrief and rest, of course.”

“Good.” Her tight eyes relaxed, then froze up again. “We have a special assignment this time around and I think you’ll find it an interesting one.”

He knew his mentor was hiding something, but knowing her so well; she’d get around to telling him when she was ready. He wanted her comfortable so he decided to distract her. He took a moment to observe, “You’ve gotten taller since I left. Does that mean you’ve reached your next plateau?”

“I’ve forgotten just how long you’ve been gone, Heath, a lot has changed and yes, I’ve grown. I’ve been awarded my Initial Rite Status. We’ve had a lot of coming and going since you were last here. And a lot of new ideas,” she said nodding toward the doorway to their left, “Once we meet in the Grand Hall, it will be made clear, rest now, soon enough it will be time for you to share.”

The human experience was always interesting, Spirit Heath distracted himself as he absorbed the idea of change that was clearly making Senior Eleanor nervous. Sure he could be assigned to a bat, a fish, a gnat, something with a much shorter life span, and it was always nice to try out different abilities such as floating on the air or being nocturnal, but even those things become redundant after a while. The human experience was never redundant. Good or bad, it was always enthralling because of how it would differ from the last. Of course, while in the experience, Spirit Heath could only focus on the traits of his current human, but when it came time to come home, rest, and debrief, he was able to see the intricacies that were involved in each human experience.

“Yes, I always enjoyed the human experience myself,” Senior Eleanor said with a nervous smile and quickly flashed her eyes away as they entered the sharing space, “but the domesticated animal experience wasn’t bad either. I once was a cat named Tibidoe and my owner cherished the very ground I walked on. It was nice to be taken care of and also nice to realize that some of those human emotions can be felt by animals as well. I actually outlived my human owner and was passed on to her daughter who also took good care of me. But it was incredible the sense of loss I felt after she’d gone. I became quite lazy and depressed and probably shortened my own life span as I just didn’t want to be as active as I’d been before.”

“How many of your experiences do you get to remember once you’ve moved up the ranks?”

“All of them. It takes a little getting used to, getting all those memories back at once, but after a while you’re grateful to have them. I know you’re coming up on your five hundredth anniversary which is another reason why you were chosen for the special mission. Soon you will be the mentor, I will move on to the Great Assembly, and you will be given a new spirit to teach. There are a lot of changes coming up in your future,” she finished, smiling again.

“What is it like, spending all of your time here? Do you ever get bored?” Spirit Heath noted again, her reference to change.

Her usually sure hands that have ceaselessly handled the sharing caps and Integration Stimulator, latest fibrous and Plexiglas network of sharing material to be developed, fumbled often as she prepared to receive memories of the human Zander that Spirit Heath had just left.

“Oh no, there’s always something to do. There’s always beings scheduled to come back to us each day. Getting to hear their stories is one of the best parts. It’s what allows us to keep track of the human pulse. Through all of the experiences from all walks of life we decide what things need to be changed and decide how we’ll go about making those changes. That’s why I don’t really get this conscious spirit assignment, but like I said before, once we have more information it should make more sense,” she finished with that ever present smile, but Spirit Heath could see the concern that she was trying to hide.

“Is it something you fear?”

“I always fear the unknown. And I don’t like how they said we may have to start fresh,” she threw up her narrow arms in frustration, “does this mean another ice age? They said ‘no’ when I asked, but how else would we start fresh? I don’t like not having details.”

Her eyes contracted as she concentrated on the conversation that brought her this knowledge.

“What do you mean we need to start over?”

“Senior Eleanor, the time is upon us. The humans need our help before it is too late.”

“But a full reckoning? Is that necessary?”

“It is still to be determined. Starting fresh may be the only right choice left for them. Remember your place,” the shadows behind the curtain seemed larger as they reminded her that she was not yet among them, “Soon you will be a decision maker too. We always have to remember that the decisions must be what are best for the humans.”

“Maybe this is one of your tests to see if you’re ready. They say it’s sometimes hard to do what’s necessary, but we have to trust that they know what’s best for our continued existence here, right?” Spirit Heath said in an attempt to calm her.

“I suppose you’re right,” she smirked, “it is time to get those memories out and get the ball rolling, but before we do, let’s move around a little bit to be sure you’re in top condition. Are you strong enough to glide over on your own or would you like a little push?”

“Ah, I guess you’re right, it does take a little time to remember everything. I’m glad hovering comes naturally otherwise I’d be flat on my face,” Spirit Heath laughed once, “I think I will be okay. Let’s go.”

~~~~~

LisaLisa Groszek is thirty seven years old, married, and has two amazing children. She was a middle school English teacher for twelve years, and is currently a literacy coach. She recently completed a half marathon and aspires to be an avid runner. She has loved the written word since she first began to read! She is elated that she can translate that love to the page and share it with her readers. She has published two novels, “The Lonesome Isle” and “Above and Below” which are paranormal mysteries and is currently working on her third novel, “Spirit Heath”.

Who’s Your WIP; Worlds Apart by Marlene Dotterer

This month I bring you an excerpt from my good friend Marlene Dotterer’s new paranormal romance novel—Worlds Apart.

~~~~~

Marlene Dotterer_Worlds Apart [2] (1)An itch started in the back of Tina Cassidy’s neck, spread to her shoulders, and turned into a shudder as it crawled down her spine. The e-mail on her screen was innocuous: a patient, Kathy Brayley, described symptoms of intestinal distress, which hit her entire family before dawn. That they had fevers made it a bit more serious than most stomach ailments, but that was not enough to cause such a feeling of foreboding.

After a brief phone conversation with the patient, she typed up a quick note, shaking off one more shiver of unease. Then she put it out of her mind while she saw her scheduled patients. Shortly before closing, another family called with the same symptoms.

There was no reason to think the two cases might be related.

Tina taught a diabetes nutrition class at the library, then headed home, her mind already on the evening’s plans.

Change clothes, eat some dinner, and play with Beowulf for a few minutes, then I need an evening at Eddie’s.

Her body wanted a night at the club in Portland, but she was working tomorrow. A few drinks, one or two games of pool, and some dancing were all she’d get tonight.

It would do.

After a few minutes of teasing her black cat with a string and flashlight, she stood in her underwear in her bedroom closet, tapping her nose as she considered what to wear. She was drawn to the new black dress, but it was far too naughty for an evening at Eddie’s with men she considered friends.

With a last glance at the dress, she turned to the casual section and grabbed a pair of jeans and a sweater. The sweater was pleasingly snug, with a daring plunge to the neckline. The deep blue set off her black hair and made her brown eyes appear larger under her arched brows. A glance in the full-length mirror told her she looked sexy, but not so much that she’d distract her friends.

It was just too bad there wasn’t anyone to distract her.

Maybe it was the Wild Turkey, but she made the mistake of playing pool a little too well. Or more likely, Mike Ormand’s prodigious beer drinking caused him to play a little too badly. Either way, he lost his temper over something and raised his arms to shake them at her.

Unfortunately, he still had his cue stick in his hand. Tina could see he’d forgotten he was holding it and she backed against the table behind her, keeping her eye on the waving rod. Glasses clinked behind her. From his perch on a stool, Jake Wilson slipped an arm around her waist and patted her hip. “Easy there, darlin’.” His words slurred in her ear. “Don’t wanna be spillin’ the slop, now do you?”

Tina ignored him. Mike stepped closer, towering a foot above her head, the cue still waving.

“Now Mike,” she said, “that was a fair shot and you know it. The ball went in the pocket nice and easy. It was just pure luck that your four-ball got hit out of the way.”

Mike tended to be slow after a few drinks, so he gave her words some thought. Tina sensed Jake was ready to pull her out of the way if the cue inched closer. His swaying upper body gave her doubt as to his usefulness in that regard.

She was surprised when a light baritone broke into their tableau. “I beg you, sir. For the sake of your fellow men, please reconsider your actions.”

“Huh?” Mike turned to the fellow who stood beside him, but he didn’t lower the stick. Tina glanced without moving her head. The stranger was a few inches shorter than Mike, clean-shaven, with light brown hair, and wearing a trim suede-leather jacket. That’s all she noticed, since she felt it was important to keep an eye on Mike.

“I beg you,” the man repeated, “not to mar the beauty we all find so entertaining. If you hit her with your cue, there will be a bruise. We will all be disappointed.”

Asshole, Tina thought.

The man continued, his voice becoming grim. “Of course, if I see the smallest indication that you might actually hit her, I would prevent your action. You would not be pleased with the result.”

Okay, maybe not an asshole.

Mike lowered the cue and shrugged. “Wouldn’t really hit her,” he said in a whiny tone. “But she’s robbin’ me blind, and she knows I got kids to feed. She’s got no heart.”

A couple of nearby customers guffawed at this and Tina rolled her eyes, sliding away from Jake to put the table between her and Mike. “Hearts and pool are two different games,” she said. “You didn’t ask to play hearts.”

“Tell you what.” The stranger placed his half-empty glass on the table. “I’ll take your spot for this game. Give you time to relax and get your arm back. If I win, you get the pot. If I lose, I’ll pay your ante and you’re out nothing.”

Mike wasn’t that slow. “Why in hell would you do that? You don’t know me from Adam.”

The stranger’s smile relaxed as he offered an innocent shrug. “I’m not doing it for you. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get this woman’s attention for an hour. You’re obviously regulars, and you know each other well. I couldn’t find an opportunity to break in until you lost your temper.” He turned to Tina with a slight bow. “If the lady is willing to give me a game?”

Tina’s lips twitched in response to the raucous laughter this provoked, and she gave him a thorough look. He was cute, in a scruffy kind of way. Straight brown hair hung over his forehead. His eyes were an interesting golden-brown, his face a bit craggy, as if his skin had a story to tell. Full lips that were downright inviting. His body was trim, almost too skinny. She figured he was thirty, maybe thirty-five.

And just might make up for missing Portland.

She crossed her arms. “All right. But you have to play me a second time. Double ante.”

He took Mike’s cue. “I believe it’s your inning?” He gestured toward the pool table.

He looked her over as she came around the table. She stopped a few feet from him, giving him plenty of time to see what he wanted, not hiding her own casual observation. His eyes met hers just as Jake chortled “she’s found some fresh meat,” which was heard over the crowd’s ribald encouragement. She smiled and stepped closer. “Welcome to Green Roads, Oregon, Mr…?” She tilted her head and held out her hand. The laughter quieted down as the others waited to hear his name.

His smile was for her alone, but he answered so everyone could hear. “Clive Winslow. At your service.” His smile deepened as the crowd hooted its approval of his phrasing. His hand squeezed hers, warm and gentle.

Tina suppressed the rising inner flame his touch ignited and imitated his formality. “Tina Cassidy,” she said with a dip of her head. She dropped his hand and strolled to the pool table to pick up her cue before glancing back at him. Yes, he just might make up for Portland. “Services to be determined.”

 

~~~~~

Author photo MarleneBorn in Tucson, Arizona, Marlene Dotterer lived there until the day she loaded her five children into her station wagon, and drove north-west to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, she has earned a degree in geology, worked in nuclear waste, run her own business as a personal chef, and now teaches natural childbirth classes. She says she writes, “to silence the voices,” obsessed with the possibilities of other worlds and other times.

 

Blog: http://marlenedotterer.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marlenedotterer

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarleneDotterer

Author of The Time Travel Journals

http://marlenedotterer.wordpress.com/

Who’s Your WIP; A Home by the Sea, by Craig Saunders

This month I bring you two excerpts by two wonderful authors. First up, Craig Saunders gives us a taste of his latest novel A HOME BY THE SEA.

~~~~~

new cover 3.3Irene always wanted a home by the sea. Somewhere to call her own, maybe a place with a view of the sea. Somewhere she was able to hear the waves rubbing the sand, or even just to get that fresh salt smell in her washing on a fine day.

She sat on the porch, hands on her belly, smiling.

She was petite and beautiful in a kind of boyish way. She was also young, and frightened. Her belly seemed enormous on her small frame, and so it should, because she was pregnant with twins.

She rubbed her belly and made a noise like the sand rolling in the tide, soothing her babies. One kicked and set the other off and she laughed.

Out here, way out on the point, with nothing to look at but the sea, she could think. She could feel.

Some people called it the spit, but she could never think of it like that. It was the ‘point’ to her, pointing out to sea, telling her to look and never forget, every single day.

She was drawn to the sea. Always had been. When the Blue House came along she fell in love all over again, with that electric, sickening pulse deep within that couldn’t be ignored. She’d had to have it.

Back in her old town, she hadn’t been able to see clearly through the traffic, the Saturday shoppers, the queues at the supermarket and drunks walking past her door from the pubs further on down the street, singing football chants and swearing and fighting. Walking past dead kebabs that littered the streets and hearing the rumble of buses, or the plastic fake glass being smashed in telephone box. It was never the worst place in the country, or even the county, Norfolk, but something never felt right, like she didn’t belong and was just a traveller, passing through.

The Blue House was right. She wasn’t a traveller anymore. She was home.

The point ran slowly curving out to sea from east to west, joining the land in the east and petering out into the sea in the west. Out to the west was a seal sanctuary and on a still day she could hear them barking. The gulls and terns woke her first thing in the morning, as soon as the sky got light. They nested in the dunes that ran down to the beach. There were no trees, just hillocks with tufts of sea grass, lumps of driftwood and broken plastic and squid and broken nets and cages pushed up on the shore.

She could sit out on the sand or in the warm, like now, when it was autumn and that bite was in the breeze that you only got on the chilly Norfolk coasts.

To wake and walk down to the shore first thing in the morning had become a ritual, no matter if it was blustery or warm or wet or cloudy. To look out at the weather way off over the rough North Sea, and know that Holland lay over the horizon in the north, and Norfolk and the whole of southern England at her back.

Every morning she stared with pale blue eyes at the sea, with the pale Blue House at her back and when she went back over the dunes to her home, she was never sad to leave the sea behind, because out on the point she was surrounded by it. From every room in the house she could see it. It was always there, when she woke and when she went to sleep. She could close her windows and shut out the sound of the waves breaking, but she never had.

Maybe the Blue House could save her. Let her be a mother to her children, concentrate on raising a family, and forget.

She smiled again, cooed, and her kicking babies calmed.

She wished Paul could have shared those kicks with her and held his big hands against her belly. She would have loved the chance to share the Blue House and the sea with the only man she’d ever truly loved. But he was gone and her babies were all she had left of him.

***

 Marc Jones frowned and rubbed a hand through his unruly greying hair, looking at the delivery he’d just received. The offending article stood in the middle of the shop, Beautiful Brides. It wasn’t what he’d ordered at all.

‘What is that?’

The delivery man shrugged.

‘It looks like a mannequin to me.’

‘I know it’s a mannequin. I ordered a mannequin. A dress maker’s mannequin. I did not order that. It’s…’ Marc shook his head. He wanted to say it was a piece of shit, but he didn’t like swearing unnecessarily.

It was a piece of shit, though, he thought.

The delivery man shrugged again. He couldn’t give a shit either way. He had three more jobs on his docket, and he had to go half the way across the county from Blakeney to Yarmouth, out on the east coast of Norfolk, for his final run. He wouldn’t be home ‘til after seven as it was. He just wanted a signature.

‘Sign here,’ he said, holding out his electronic pad.

Marc shook his head. ‘I’m not signing for it.’

‘What am I supposed to do with it?’

‘Take it back,’ said Marc, mentally preparing himself for a battle of words.

‘I can’t take it back. I’m just here to deliver it. I’m the driver. You need to call whoever you ordered it from.’

‘I’m not taking it, and I’m not signing for it,’ said Marc.

The delivery man sighed. He closed his eyes and shook his head, like a man on the edge counting to ten and thinking of balloons or Mickey Mouse, maybe, instead of lashing out with words.

‘Look, Sir…’ he said.

‘No, you look,’ said Marc, through gritted teeth. ‘That thing’s moth eaten. It’s mildewed. It stinks, for Christ’s sake. It smells like dead fish or something.’

‘It’s not up to me, OK?’

‘Just put it back on the van. I wasn’t in, OK?’

The delivery man looked down at his feet. He really did want to be home early. He shook his head once again and picked up the mannequin.

‘Whatever,’ he said, and lumped it back out of the door of Beautiful Brides.

Marc puffed out some air, shook his head.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ he said again.

The delivery driver lugged the heavy thing back out to the van and hefted it into the back, swearing a little under his breath, but not cursing too heavily.

He rolled a tight little cigarette. He wasn’t allowed to smoke in the van, so he stepped round the back of the shop. Took a piss against the rear wall of Beautiful Brides, zipped up and nodded.

He finished his cigarette and returned to the van. The keys weren’t in his pocket. They weren’t in the driver’s seat.

Something stank, stank like rotted meat. He turned his nose up and swore, more heavily this time, because if he’d lost the keys to the van there would be hell to pay from his boss and he’d never make it home for tea.

With a steadily darkening face he walked around to the back of the van and saw the keys swinging in the van’s back door.

The delivery man laughed, shook his head, and took his keys from the lock.

He wound down the window on the drive out and kept it that way for the whole journey to Yarmouth, because he just couldn’t seem to get that stink out.

He never did notice the footsteps leading up to the van.

~~~~~

299888_276237145750766_1196887213_nCraig Saunders lives in Norfolk, England, with his wife and three children, who he pretends to listen to while making up stories in his head.

He has published more than two dozen short stories, and is the author of many novels including Rain (Crowded Quarantine Publications), Spiggot (Grand Mal Press), The Love of the Dead (Evil Jester Press) and A Stranger’s Grave (Grand Mal Press).

He blogs at www.craigsaundersauthor.blogspot.com.

FB facebook.com/craigrsaundersauthor

Twitter @petrifiedtank

Who’s Your WIP?: Color Me Blue, by Amy Rolland

One of the things I like about doing this guest excerpt blog series is highlighting new authors I’ve met over social media, as well as writing friends that I hang with online. This month, I am proud to present to you YA author, and fellow #goatposse member Amy Rolland, with her excerpt from her WIP COLOR ME BLUE.

~~~~

When Lanna found the blue rose, she assumed she was losing her mind. No one would be surprised. Insanity was a genetic misfortune in the Mason family, and after everything Lanna had been through, her classmates wagered actual bets on how long it would take for her to crack. Most assumed her walls would be padded by the time she was seventeen. Darren Lamberg, the school bookie, prepared to win or lose a lot of money that night, the eve of Lanna’s birthday.

The flower was unnerving for several reasons. For one, it was waiting for her on the top shelf of her school locker. The only other person who knew the combination to her locker took those numbers with him to the grave. Two, while Lanna’s mind was not closed to the idea of ghosts, when this particular boy was alive he was not in the habit of doing nice things for other people. Three, the rose was the saddest shade of blue, a color with which the same particular boy was obsessed. Four, that same boy had died one year ago today.

Lanna stuffed the flower into her bag so aggressively that petals sprinkled the floor like the pieces of her life she could never seem to pick up. She slid her bag over the shoulder of her new blue sweater, an early birthday gift from her mother.

She glanced at the tiny mirror taped to the interior of her locker. Framed by the chipped blue paint of the hallway behind her, even her silhouette appeared tinted . Had things always been this blue? She looked tired, but that was nothing new. Sleep was not a luxury she could afford anymore. In fact it had been nearly a year since she’d slept through a straight eight hour block. She swallowed her complaints, however, because her mother was always willing to recite the “you made your choice” speech. But staring at her reflection now, the girl in mirror seemed so worn. She was sixteen, nearly seventeen, going on thirty.

She poked at the dark pillows of fatigue cushioning her light green eyes, eyes which once upon a time had been described as fierce and cat-like. Now they just looked weathered. She sighed, slamming her locker and then falling into the moving tide of students drifting their way to class. Somehow amongst the steady stream of voices she heard a male voice singing no higher than an eerie whisper,

Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care

            Talking ‘bout worries and problems people,

            Oh you know I’ve had my share

            Every day now, every day I have the blues.

            I have the blues.

            The blues? What was going on?! She closed her eyes and literally saw blue. Perhaps she really would find herself in a straitjacket before her birthday. Fourteen hours and counting.

Lanna was never so happy to see her English classroom and its puke-yellow walls. No blue in sight. She ducked into her usual seat by the window where she could hide. The front of the classroom was teacher’s pet and IEP territory, and the back was the social zone. She wanted no part of either. The middle of the right-most row was always the safest bet. The majority of her teachers were right-handed, and thus when they faced the class they inadvertently turned slightly away from their dominant side. Their eyes were less likely to find someone sitting in their blind spot, and if they wanted to catch students who weren’t paying attention, by default they’d choose someone chattering in the back.

Lanna curled her feet under her and slouched behind a novel she’d plucked from her bookshelf that morning. The cover was blue which she ignored. As long as she could hide behind it, she didn’t care. She spent most of her time trying to blend into the crowd, trying very hard to keep her head above water without making waves. She wanted to be left alone.

Throughout the past year, she’d had enough attention for a lifetime.

Her mistake was glancing up as Danny Davidson slithered past her desk. The corners of his lips lifted into a grinchy grin as he curled over her, a canopy of cigarettes and cheap cologne. He hovered there for a moment before he snatched the book from her fingers. “I saw you checking me out.”

She offered an impassive half smile which surely looked more like a grimace. Unfortunately, it did not discourage him.

“When are you finally going to agree to go out with me?”

There was nothing sweet or honorable about the proposition. His condescending arrogance snaked its way through the rickety, wooden desks, alarming everyone it touched. He glanced around, aware of his audience.

Lanna shifted to avoid touching him. “Still not ready to date anyone, Danny.”

“Come on. It’s been a year.”

“Still not ready,” she repeated. Firm but polite which was more than he deserved.

“I want you to know that I’m alright with your…” he paused, trying to find the right word with his limited lexicon. “Obligation,” he finally finished.

Yes, she was sure he was.

“The offer stands,” he purred, and to Lanna’s relief, he straightened. The exchange was less painful than usual. Danny elbowed the boy to his right and gestured to Lanna. “The quiet girls are always the ones to look out for.” He winked and slunk to the back row.

Lanna shuddered and inadvertently made eye contact with the boy whom Danny had elbowed, the boy who was now watching her curiously. What could he be thinking now? Undoubtedly, he knew who she was. She might be quiet, but everyone knew her. Grayson Canterberry had made sure of that in more ways than one. But maybe this boy was now thinking that he too should be trying to get into her pants. Why should Danny Davidson have all the fun? Considering Lanna’s history it must be pretty easy, right? There was walking, talking proof.  And as an added bonus, there was no longer anyone to answer to.

Grayson was dead now.

Yes, that was probably what this curious boy was thinking, but what he didn’t realize, what no one realized was that when he was alive, Grayson had actually been Lanna’s biggest threat, that a part of her was happy when he wrapped his car around a tree last year. A secret she kept tucked deeply inside her scarred heart.

Class began. She halfheartedly listened but did not contribute to the seminar on The Scarlet Letter. Lanna hated seminars. They were like clocking practice time with a driver’s ed instructor. The teacher had her own set of brakes, meaning if any student veered off in a direction she did not intend to navigate, the discussion would be rerouted. No insight would be shared that wasn’t written in the Themes and Motifs section of the Cliff Notes. Lanna wasn’t concerned about her participation grade. She would make up for her lack of input by turning in an essay summarizing the seminar and adding some of her own reflections. She would ace the class whether she chose to participate or not. Teachers loved her. She was quiet and followed the rules. Her mother wouldn’t accept a GPA lower than 3.5, and as a junior Lanna had yet to earn a B. No matter the number of personalities her mother exhibited within a given week, each of those personalities demanded progress reports with the intensity of a parole officer. Or a warden.

The lunch bell rang much too soon. English was comfortable and warm. The cold blue hallway lurked outside ready to close in on her. Most kids looked forward to lunch just like most kids looked forward to fire drills and homecoming pep rallies. Not Lanna. She just wanted to show up at school, get the work done, and go home. Deviations from her typical schedule were just another reminder that she no longer had friends. Everyone was friendly to her, mostly because they felt sorry for her, but she didn’t know anyone who really understood her life—what she’d been through and what she was still going through. With her mother. With Grayson. With Penny. She went through the motions of her life because she had to, because if she didn’t, there was no telling what she’d really find underneath all that monotony. She could only guess it was like lifting the shroud from a dead body.

Usually Lanna avoided the lunchroom and found refuge in the school library. She was not allowed to eat there, but she could sneak snacks in some of her classes, and those nibbles would sustain her until she went home. This year the school implemented a new rule that students needed a pass to be in the library without a teacher. God forbid she attempt to do something constructive during lunch like read a book. Did the administration really think that if some morons were ditching class they would spend their free hour in a media center with a bunch of bookworms?

Thankfully, even the librarians felt sorry for Lanna. They knew her story; the whole town knew. It had been all over the news last year, and she’d become a local celebrity. Lucky her. And although she hated pity, Lanna quickly discovered that despite the ridiculous new rule, the librarians allowed her to come and go without a pass. She was as unnoticed as a ghost. It was as though Grayson had taken her with him. He’d tried to, after all.

But during that blue afternoon, she realized she was actually hungry. She shouldn’t have pushed her luck on such a strange day, but if her stomach started growling in the middle of class it would be embarrassing. Would that be worse than choosing a place to sit in the lunchroom? Being forced to socialize? She was still deciding when she found herself being shuffled through the double doors. The scent of stale mop water and tater tots hit her in the face like a brick. No turning back now.

~~~~~

Amy16-M_(2)A. Lynden Rolland was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, a picturesque town obsessed with boats and blue crabs. As a child she spent much of her free time compiling dramatic stories of tragic characters in a weathered notebook which she still keeps. She is a sports fanatic, a coffee addict, and a lover of Sauvignon Blanc, thunderstorms and autumn leaves.

She is a former high school English teacher and a mother of two who moonlights as a writing tutor and gymnastics instructor. When she isn’t chasing her two vivacious boys or arguing about football with her husband, she can be found hiding behind a laptop at her local bookstore. She is represented by Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services. Of Breakable Things, her debut novel, will be released by Month9Books in the spring of 2014.

 

Website: www.ALyndenRolland.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/alyndenrolland

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