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Chapter 4 

Professor Valentine’s lecture drew to a close and soon students were emptying out into the halls. Outside the windows, the sun was setting. A violet curtain shrouded the heavens, save where the horizon blushed coral in the west. Pivoting a desk, Ransom sat atop it and threw one leg up on the chair.

“Why take me here?” asked Corwin. “If a philosophical debate is in order, I feel that I may require more bourbon.”

“Before you attended this university,” said Ransom, “you already had your doubts about God and Christianity, but here something changed. Those doubts solidified into a worldview, turning you from an agnostic into a hardened atheist. Do you recall what spurred that change?”

“I guess it was the first time that I’d applied critical thinking to religion. Once you stop trying to justify the fairy tales, all that’s left are contradictions and wishful thinking.”

“Yes, yes.” Ransom waved a hand dismissively. “That’s all very enlightening, but it’s not really what I wanted to know. What changed you wasn’t anything that you realized about religion. It was something you realized about yourself.”

The angel’s words struck a chord and Corwin understood at once what he meant. It wasn’t any clever argument or decisive piece of evidence that had swayed him. To question a creed was easy, and the merit of such arguments could be endlessly debated by those who felt compelled to do so, but to look in the mirror and question one’s innermost self . . . that took a bit more resolve.

“I came to see that I’d been accepting beliefs, or at least entertaining them, simply because they were comforting. They were what I had always been told, and easier than seeking my own answers. At first it was scary letting go of religion’s promises, walking the tightrope of life without a spiritual safety net, but if I was to be honest with myself, it was a step that I had to take.”

“Good!” Ransom clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s more like it!”

Corwin blinked hard, unsure whether the angel staring back at him was still playing for the same team.

“Humans are creatures of passion,” said Ransom. “Whether finding faith or rejecting it, the decision is often more a matter of the heart than of the head. Take the atheist who scorns God on account of the foolishness that men do in his name, or the believer who clings to faith because the harshness of life without the hope of Heaven is too much for his fragile spirit to bear.”

“People believe what they want to believe,” affirmed Corwin.

“When perceived truth differs from the truth one desires, a person must choose. You chose the right master, Corwin. In your self-reflection, you stumbled upon a simple and profound, yet seldom followed principle.”

“And that would be?”

“That the only good reason to believe something is if it’s true.”

Dead_Godless

When outspoken atheist Corwin Holiday dies an untimely but heroic death, he’s assigned a chain-smoking, alcoholic angel as his defense attorney in the trial to decide the fate of his soul.

Today many cast Christianity aside, not in favor of another faith, but in favor of no faith. We go off to school or out into the world, and we learn that reality is godless and that free thinking means secular thinking. But must faith entail an end to asking questions? Should not the Author of Reason be able to answer the challenge of reason?

Dead & Godless is a smart and suspenseful afterlife adventure that explores the roots of truth, justice and courage. In these pages awaits a quest that spans universes, where the stakes are higher than life and death, and where Christianity’s sharp edges aren’t shied away from, because we’re not called to be nice. We’re called to be heroes.

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Genre – Christian Fiction

Rating – PG-13

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Connect with Donald J. Amodeo on Twitter

Book Excerpt: (Chapter 1)

 

Onyx stood on the cusp of the dance floor and took in the sights and noises of the club. It was beautifully done. They really took the whole green monster/envy/serpent theme and ran with it. By the time she snapped out of it, she had lost track of Angel. Knowing her friend, she was either in the middle of the dance floor or up in VIP by now. She scanned the room, trying to spot the florescent pink and purple hair, which usually made her stick out in any crowd. Mid-scan, she locked eyes with a stranger across the bar. Her breath caught while her heart jumped into her throat. She tried to look around, to confirm that it was her he was staring at, but she couldn’t move. His eyes bore into her, holding her attention as he floated through the crowd straight for her. He never dropped his stare. The party goers parted, making way for him to move with ease as though he was Moses crossing the red sea.

The stranger approached her: tall, well built, with perfectly tan skin. His blonde hair was buzz cut. His cheeks darkened from a days’ worth of stubble, adding to his rugged handsomeness. She felt the urge to run her teeth along his jaw line, just to feel the texture. Philip was always so well-manicured.

The handsome stranger reached where she was standing. Their intense stare was broken by his cocky smirk as he glanced down at his hand, which is waiting to meet hers. She followed his gaze and without thought, placed her hand in his. The sleeves on his plaid shirt were rolled up to his elbows, revealing impressively detailed full sleeve tattoos.

He couldn’t be sexier if he tried, she mused.

As he led her to the bar, she stumbled after him, eagerly trying to keep up like an excited puppy. His hands were warm and she could smell his cologne waft off of him: a salty fresh combination that instantly reminded her of a hot beach day.

They reached the bar, and Onyx noticed on either side of them were crowds of people waiting to be served. Yet they walked right up. It was like there was a gap reserved just for them. She glanced at him in admiration, he must be good luck, she told herself. The young, blonde bar tender came right over to take their order. That never happens, she thought.

The stranger ordered two of something and handed one over to Onyx. The dark purple drink tasted of lychee and other berries. She could hardly focus on the taste; too busy drinking the sight of her companion in. The man’s lips were thick, lusciously pink and incredibly enticing. She watched him as he took a sip of his drink. His eyes were so light blue they were almost white giving him a softer, ethereal look that countered his otherwise edgy appearance.

Only one or two drinks, I have to keep my wits about me around this one. Onyx told herself.

OrderOfEarth

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Genre – Urban Fantasy

Rating – PG – 13

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Connect with Jennifer Cornet on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://www.jennifercornet.com/

Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.

“Stand up and drop the weapon.”

A long shadow stretched over the grass, followed by a second. Breton loosened his grip on the weapon and let it fall. Careful to step on the blade as he rose, he held out his hands to show he wasn’t armed.

A second robed figure emerged from the knee-tall grass, and the tip of a second arrowhead glinted in the sunlight. Breton ran his tongue over his teeth. The first stood close enough for Breton to reach, if he could avoid being struck.

The second man would prove the true problem. If Breton was hit — or if the archers missed him and hit Ferethian instead — he’d have more than his survival to worry about. While he needed to find Kalen, he didn’t want to lure the Rift King back to the Rift through death.

“That’s right. Easy now. Keep your hands where we can see them, Rifter.”

Breton glanced out of the corner of his eye at Ferethian. The Rift King’s horse stood rigid, the animal’s dark eyes staring beyond the two outsiders.

The pair of large shadows moved closer, and it took all of Breton’s will to stare at the two figures in front of him.

“Hands up higher, Rift King,” the man snapped.

Breton hesitated, glancing at each figure in turn. They thought he was the Rift King? He frowned and considered the two men. They didn’t exactly go out of their way to describe Kalen to anyone. However, he could recall a few missives talking about how unusually small the Rift King’s horse was. Had they learned of Ferethian, but not of the man who rode him?

“Do it!”

The shadows solidified to the towering forms of black horses. The taller of the two Breton recognized from the familiar warmth in his chest born from being near his horse. Perin’s teeth were bared and both ears were turned back. The second horse was covered in river mud and dust, with black patches showing through.

Breton held his breath.

Ferethian lifted his hoof and struck the ground once. A chill ran through Breton. The two large animals took their placed behind the robed figures, their movements silenced by the ever-present hiss of the wind.

“Halter your horse,” the man ordered.

He lifted his hands to his shoulder to grab the ruined halter. Ferethian snorted and reared back, slamming both hooves down at the same time.

The outsiders fell to the heavy blow of hooves to the head. Angry squeals broke the silence, and Ferethian surged forward to trample the fallen, his long tail bannering.

Breton shivered, stooping to pick up the poisoned blade and the outsiders’ bows and arrows. One of them was carrying a small pouch tied to his belt. He grabbed it and tucked it away in a pocket. Pivoting on a heel, he left the bodies for the nibblers. The three Rift horses flanked him.

He hurried to where the Foristasa cut its way through the plains. The weapons vanished beneath the white caps of its waters. Perin draped his head over Breton’s shoulder and sighed. There was only one reason he could think of for outsiders to make their way to Blind Mare Run. They wanted the Rift King, dead or alive.

If the outsiders learned the truth of the Rift King’s disappearance, he didn’t want to think of the consequences. Breton knelt by the river’s edge and clucked his tongue at the horses. Perin came without complaint, letting him clean the blood from his legs.

The other two horses refused, as though unwilling to wash away the evidence of their devotion to the King no longer within the Rift.

He glanced in the direction of the bodies, shook his head, and headed back towards Blind Mare Run to call for the other Guardians.

StormWithoutEnd

Kalen’s throne is his saddle, his crown is the dirt on his brow, and his right to rule is sealed in the blood that stains his hand. Few know the truth about the one-armed Rift King, and he prefers it that way. When people get too close to him, they either betray him or die. The Rift he rules cares nothing for the weak. More often than not, even the strong fail to survive.

When he’s abducted, his disappearance threatens to destroy his home, his people, and start a hopeless and bloody war. There are many who desire his death, and few who hope for his survival. With peace in the Six Kingdoms quickly crumbling, it falls on him to try to stop the conflict swiftly taking the entire continent by storm.

But something even more terrifying than the machinations of men has returned to the lands: The skreed. They haven’t been seen for a thousand years, and even the true power of the Rift King might not be enough to save his people — and the world — from destruction.

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Genre – Fantasy

Rating – PG – 13

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Connect with RJ Blain on Facebook and Twitter

Tom pushed open the screen door of Glancy’s grocery. He carried a bag of food and was embarrassed to be here. Boys didn’t shop. But Aunt Bessie told him if he wanted her to cook food, he had to go buy it. She didn’t have time to kill and pluck a chicken.

The rickety door slammed behind him and he nearly ran into Junior Baker. Beside him stood Alrik Olsen. Both boys were fifteen, a year older than Tom. He tensed.

“Watch where you’re going, little boy,” said Junior. He pointed to the shopping bag and grinned at Alrik. “Lookie here. The shrimp is doing the shopping. What happened, shrimp? Did your Uncle Davis found out that you couldn’t lift a fork of hay and made you do woman’s work?”

“Get lost, Junior,” said Tom.

He stepped away and headed home. Junior rushed him and jammed his shoulder into Tom’s back. Tom crashed to the ground, the groceries spilling into the dirt. A fresh chicken wrapped in brown paper scooted across the dust. Junior stomped it.

Tom’s face reddened. He raised up, driving his head into Junior’s stomach and swinging with his right hand. His fist clipped Junior’s ear and the larger boy fell backward. As Tom charged him, Alrik grabbed Tom’s arm and spun him around. Tom saw the big fist coming and ducked, but the knuckles caught him under his left eye and he went down again. Junior stood over him, fists ready when the screen door opened and Mr. Glancy rushed out holding a baseball bat.

“I won’t have fighting around my store,” the gray haired man said. Junior and Alrik scurried away.

“Who started it?” said Mr. Glancy.

Tom struggled to his feet rubbing his face. “Doesn’t make any difference. Looks like I’ll need another chicken.”

Mr. Glancy nodded and went back in the store as Tom picked up the groceries. He brushed the dirt off of everything except the smashed chicken. Mr. Glancy brought him another wrapped in brown paper. At the end of the month, Aunt Bessie would question why her bill listed two chickens when she only got one. Tom planned to lie. He couldn’t tell her the truth. She didn’t want him fighting and watched over him like a mother hen.

He dropped off the groceries in the kitchen of the West Lot house, dodged Aunt Bessie, and hustled out to the well pump. Will peered at him from the upstairs window, and before Tom finished, Will joined him. He touched Tom’s swollen cheek.

“Spit it out. What happened?”

“Junior and Alrik jumped me. I could handle Junior, but Alrik throws a mean punch.”

“We’ll get them back,” said Will.

“I don’t care. I won’t be around anyway.”

“You’ll have a black eye for the picnic tomorrow. The girls’ll fawn over you like a newborn kitten. They’ll persuade you not to leave town.”

“Nope, I’m going.”

“Good food, sunshine, good-looking girls and explosions. What else could you want in life?”

Tom laughed. The picnic might be fun and he always liked being around Helen, but nothing could happen at a picnic to keep him from leaving.

StepIntoDarkness

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Genre – YA/Mystery

Rating – PG – 13

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Website http://BooksByBen.com

EXCERPT

The other vampires turned on him, but before they could attack, shadows flickered through the air and unfurled to reveal an ethereal creature. Scarcely five feet tall, it was so slender it seemed almost delicate. Its skin was pale, and its silver hair wove into a long braid that it wore down its back. Its large gray eyes slanted upward in a finely featured face that mirrored the murals of angels in the city square.

Its angelic innocence was a fragile illusion. Bat-like wings stretched outward ten feet from wingtip to wingtip, and the horn-shaped bones that emerged from each juncture between the flaps of the black leathery wings were encased in studded metal. Dressed in a leather bustier, pants, and matching boots, the icrathari strode past the silent vampires.

Jaden, his green eyes narrowed into slits, watched for the flash in its eyes, for the split-second warning prior to its attack.

It never happened.

The serene expression on its face did not change. In a blur of motion, it spun toward him; its wings swung out like a living weapon. The metallic tips of its wings smashed into Jaden’s face and chest, hurling him to the ground. Before he could spit the blood from his mouth, it seized him and dragged him to his knees. Its small fingers wrapped into his dark hair and pulled back his head, baring his throat for the fatal kiss of his own blade.

Khiarra, held fast by a vampire, sobbed out his name. Her arms reached out to him.

The icrathari paused. In a lightning-fast move, it released his hair and pressed its hand against his stomach.

Jaden sucked in his breath as his vision spun into shades of gray. Images flashed before his eyes, too quickly to be visible. Sounds and voices pounded through his skull, too jumbled to be coherent. Shards of raw agony pierced him. He gasped, sobbing for each hard-won breath of air.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jade Kerrion developed a loyal reader base with her fan fiction series based on the MMORPG Guild Wars. She was accused of keeping her readers up at night, distracting them from work, housework, homework, and (far worse), from actually playing Guild Wars. And then she wondered why just screw up the time management skills of gamers? Why not aspire to screw everyone else up too?

So here she is, writing books that aspire to keep you from doing anything else useful with your time.

Her debut novel, Perfection Unleashed, spawned the Double Helix series which has won a total of seven science fiction awards, including first place in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2012 and the gold medal in Readers Favorites Awards 2013. She is also the author of Earth-Sim and When the Silence Ends, which placed first and second respectively in the 2013 Royal Palm Literary Awards, Young Adults category.

She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her wonderfully supportive husband and her two young sons, Saint and Angel, (no, those aren’t their real names, but they are like saints and angels, except when they’re not.)

Connect with Jade: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Eternal Night ebook

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Genre – Fantasy, Paranormal

Rating – PG-13

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Connect with Jade Kerrion on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://www.jadekerrion.com

Excerpt

Chiku turned to the chimpanzees and raised her hands. What fascinated Kessel was the way the girl from Brookline transformed herself. Chiku didn’t just use her hands to communicate with the lesser primates. She evolved. Her whole body became the story she was telling. She had pored through Tim’s old library of books last night after dinner and had chosen a child’s version of Disney’s The Lion King to stuff in her backpack. Retrieving it, she not only became each and every character in turn, she bent like a tree in the wind and threw herself around like a storm on the grasslands. She held the chimpanzees in such thrall, none of them moved until she was done with her story. Then, feigning exhaustion, she dropped to the ground just so she could feel the embraces of all the delighted chimpanzees. Scallion came up last and hunkered down beside her, his back braced against hers.

The two men, Tim and Mark, just gaped at her. Kessel placed her hands on Chiku’s shoulders and whispered in her ear. “You should have been the one to run things around here, not your father.”

Chiku beamed, glancing up at Kessel. “You have your father’s eyes,” Kessel told her. “Toughness, I think. I hear you were bitten by a crocodile.”

“She was almost supper,” Forsberg said. “Myself, I think the croc would have taken one chew and found her too hard to swallow.”

“Thank you.”

“Did anyone look at the wound?” Kessel asked.

“Mrs. Hayfield. I think it’s okay,” Chiku said.

“You mind if I look. As a professional.”

Chiku stood up and, with a procession of chimpanzees trailing behind, followed Kessel to the large tent Seth Flynn used as his sleeping/living quarters. Inside a three-drawer wooden bureau, he kept a medicine box that Kessel opened. She told Chiku to sit on the lone cot in the tent.

“Lift up your pant leg.”

“You’ve been here before,” Chiku said.

“How did you know?”

“You know where Dad keeps his medicine.”

“I’ve been here once or twice. Occasionally, your dad needed medical assistance.”

“Because he was drunk?”

Kessel pulled down Chiku’s pant leg and looked up at the patient, wondering at the sixteen-year-old’s astuteness. “How did you know that?” she asked.

“I lived with him for eleven years.”

“Yes, well,” Kessel said. She got up without further elucidation. Just outside the tent flap, Tim and Forsberg were pacing, occasionally peeking in to see how their female charge was doing. Kessel said, “Maggie did a good job on your leg. I didn’t know your mother. She had… well… What was she like?”

“Smart. Fun.”

“She loved your dad.”

“Yes. What else?”

“His drinking didn’t bother her?”

“I never asked. What’s it to you?”

Chiku felt a sudden chill in the air and, putting her arms about herself, got up, to  wander about the tent.

Devolution

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Genre – Young Adult

Rating – PG

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Website www.peterclenott.net

From Chapter 16

‘The American girl’s unconscious!’ Glen called from the water’s edge to Luke and Patrick. He’d gone there to distance himself from the crowd of onlookers who’d suddenly coalesced like a swarm of flies on a fresh cow pat. He was juggling a conversation with someone on the rescue boat and an imperative to Luke and Patrick. ‘Can one of you blokes call for an ambulance?!’

Luke was the one to respond. ‘No worries, mate – I’ll do that!’

Patrick called to Glen. ‘Where can I get hold of US 333’s details?! We’re almost certainly going to be asked for them!’

‘Good thinking!’ Glen shouted back. ‘Go to the organisers’ tent – they should have a copy of her application form!’

Patrick ran off.

Luke called 000. Almost in synchrony as he pushed the “End call”’ button, he heard a roaring sound as the rescue boat arrived at full speed. He saw its driver slam the motor into reverse, a brilliantly timed manoeuvre whereby the boat seemed to rise on the approaching wave of its own wake, before gently settling two metres from the shore line, just as the driver raised the motor on its transom to prevent the propeller from digging into the sand.

‘Got to go back ASAP!’ the driver shouted to Glen. ‘We’ve left three people with their boards out on the water! Can someone help carry Katie on to the beach?! Be careful: she’s unconscious; we’re not sure whether anything’s broken; Allison managed to bring her to the surface; Katie was trapped under the board!’

Luke leapt forward and reached the boat at the same time as Glen.

‘I need to watch out for her neck,’ Glen said to Luke. ‘Can you grab the stretcher at her feet? Wait for my signal before you lift!’

The American girl was already lying on a portable stretcher. There’d been no time to brace her neck before the boat had commenced its return dash. One of the crew members had been holding her head steady. He now stood aside while Glen reached across to place his hands on the stretcher’s handles.

Luke did as he was instructed. ‘Got it!’ he confirmed. ‘On your signal!’

Glen’s command was urgent and clear. ‘Lift slowly and gently!’

In unison, the two men lifted the stretcher and made their way on to the sand, where they set it down.

Patrick returned, an odd look in his eyes. ‘Apparently there’s an ambulance depot about two K’s away, just on the other side of the Singing Bridge.’

Luke nodded absently. He was looking down at the young woman’s face, her features clearly visible now they were no longer hidden by the canary-yellow cap. It can’t be! he told himself. Instinctively, he fell to his knees on the sand near her shoulder, and just stared at her. The sheila from Beotkott’s deck – I’d swear to it!

‘Hey, Luke!’ Patrick’s voice penetrated the gauze of shock engulfing Luke’s thoughts. ‘Do you want to know who she is?!’

‘Yeah,’ Luke responded, ‘but I’m almost sure I already know.’

‘Impossible,’ Patrick retorted: ‘I’ve just found out myself, and neither of us has met her – I know that for a fact.’

Something in Patrick’s voice caused Luke to look up at him. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘Her application form says her name’s Katarina Marchetti – she’s Katie Marchetti! He pointed to her for to emphasise the fact.

Luke was stupefied. ‘What?!’

‘Guido sister – and you couldn’t know her, ’cause Guido told us she was at a “finishing school” in Switzerland, when he was still at uni with us. And neither of us has seen or heard from him in years.’

The Last Finesse

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Genre – Conspiracy Thriller

Rating – MA (15+)

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HOLLYWOOD – JULY 9, 2009

The Dracul was one of Hollywood’s hot spots, a place for the beautiful people to see and be seen. On any given night, Hollywood stars could be seen mingling among the crowd or holding court in one of the private rooms that dotted the periphery. The club’s owner, Morgan Blackstone, stalked through the center of the packed dance floor, rage rolling off her in frozen waves. She paid no attention to the loud music thundering through the converted church, or the mob parting to let her pass. James, the head of security, walked at her side, and it didn’t take them long to reach one of several doors that led to the employee–only sections. She entered a code on the small panel beside the door and pushed it open.  James followed her into the maze of halls, letting the door thump closed behind them.

“What happened?” she asked, her words clipped and precise.

“Apparently the two we are about to see, decided it was okay to harass a regular about his job.” James answered, being cryptic, since it was possible that a human staff member might hear.

“Was it one of the VIPs?”

“Yes. Christophe is taking care of him,” he answered, all cool professionalism.

Morgan nodded. She trusted her Blood Son to see to it that the situation was defused.

“The other two are in the security office,” James continued. “A couple of my people are making sure that no one goes in. Danny and the rest of the team are out on the floor making sure that nothing else happens.” He finished as they stopped in front of a door marked ‘Security.’

“Good,” she answered. She stepped into the room, feeling the emotions of the two men inside permeating the air. “Idiots,” she muttered under her breath and crossed to the table where the pair sat on opposite sides. The door closed, and James leaned against it, arms crossed over his chest.

The vampire was dressed in unrelieved black. His hair fell in long lanky shanks, and he looked as though he’d forgotten to feed for the past few days. His flesh was pale and drawn tight over his bones. The werewolf was just as bad, in a flannel shirt with the sleeves ripped off, and tattered jeans.

“Goddess! Could you two be any more cliché?” Morgan rolled her eyes and set her cane on the end of the table. “Do either of you have any idea of the trouble you caused?”

“That poser started it,” the vampire insisted in a high pitched whine that sent a spike of pain through Morgan’s skull.

“That poser, as you call him, happens to be a regular, but that’s beside the point.” Morgan reached down and slipped the blade free of its cane sheath. “Do either of you morons have any clue how many hoops I had to jump through to get this establishment cleared by the Council?”

“An insane amount of paperwork, not to mention upholding a strict set of rules at all times,” James answered from where he leaned on the door, sounding bored.

“There are advantages to slogging through all the red tape though,” Morgan continued. “It does afford the owner some…” she paused and examined the edge of her blade, “…latitude when it comes to dealing with rule breakers.”

“I really didn’t expect to be dealing with corpses tonight.” James sighed, looking down at the faded jeans and white t–shirt he wore.

Michelle Rabe

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Genre – Paranormal Urban Fantasy

Rating – PG-13

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Website http://paperbackvamp.tumblr.com/

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Chapter One – London, 1896

The ballroom of Mr. Reginald Hamilton’s townhouse was awash in bright, swirling colors.  The lamps were all lit, bathing the room in a warm, sparkling glow.  Musicians played a lively waltz.  The scents of candles, perfume, and bodies was rich as half of London society danced their cares away.  But above it all, the room buzzed with the sound of lords and ladies spreading the latest gossip.

Amelia Elphick wedged her way through it all, heart pounding terror in her throat, one hand clutching the not-so subtle curve of her stomach.  Her simple cotton skirt and blouse marked her as an interloper amongst the finery, even as she struggled to keep her head high.

“Who is that?” she caught one of the ladies murmuring.

“Dear Lord, that’s the Marquess of Horsham’s daughter!” a second woman gasped.

Amelia blanched, pushing on through the crush.  It was too late to turn back.

“Look at the state of her!” the first woman said.

“I heard she’s the governess here now,” the second woman informed her with a haughty sniff.

“That’s not what I meant,” the first replied.  “Look at the state of her.”

Amelia dropped her trembling hand from her belly.  She was well aware that she was past the point where her sins could go unnoticed, but this was her last chance.  Nick was at this ball.

She spotted him several yards away, deep in conversation with her employer, Mr. Hamilton.  Nicholas Hayworth stood tall and handsome, the aristocratic lines of his face sharp in the lamplight.  The  rich blue of his eyes and black of his hair drew the attention of every woman in the room.  She knew his face so well, knew every contour of his nimble body.  Even now, with shame threatening like a thundercloud, she wanted to embrace that body, to melt into him and have him tell her everything would be all right.

A different body, as tall as Nick’s but broader and more muscular, bumped into Amelia as she surged toward Nick.  The man knocked her off balance, sending her spilling over her feet and his.  She flailed for balance and hit a glass out of one of the fine guest’s hands.  The man caught her, but the sound of shattering glass and a lady shrieking broke through the hum of gossip.  All eyes snapped to her.

“Watch it there, Miss Amelia.”

Amelia raised wary eyes to the man who had both tripped and caught her.  Her heart sank.  Of all the Hamilton’s guests, she had bumbled into Mr. Quinlan, the American that had been staying in the house for the last few months.  He smiled at her with his artless brown eyes and boyish grin and set her back on her feet.  The hush that had followed her spill burst into a full roar of whispers.

“You all right?” Mr. Quinlan asked again as he brushed imaginary dirty off of her skirt.

All Amelia could manage was a tight nod.  “I’m fine, thank you.”

It was a lie.  She swallowed and turned, wincing, to Nick.  He had seen her stumble.  Everyone had seen her stumble.  Nick sneered at her, his head tilted with aloof grace.  She had to do this now, before it was too late.  All eyes bored into her as she rushed through the gap that had formed in the crowd.

“Nick,” she kept her voice low as she reached him, “Nick I must speak with you.  It is a matter of utmost urgency.”

She reached out to him.  Nick backed away.  His glance darted through the crowd that now judged him as much as her.

“I have nothing to say to you, Miss Elphick,” he hissed.

“Please, Nick!”  The threat of tears pinched Amelia’s voice.  “You know … you know what it’s come to.”  She smoothed her hand over the bump of her belly.

Nick sniffed and backed further away.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

To his side, Reginald Hamilton’s back stiffened.  His eyes went round with shock and disgust.  “Miss Elphick!” he exclaimed in a whisper.  “What is the meaning of this?”

A flash of boldness stiffened Amelia’s back and her resolve.  “Ask Mr. Hayworth,” she said.  “It is his doing.”

Nick blanched, shrinking from the eavesdropping guests.  “How dare you!”

“No, Nick, how dare you!”  Her attempt at bravado withered as the horror of the situation spilled over her.  “I have your child growing inside of me and you know it.  You have known it all along, yet you turn your back on me?”

“Miss Elphick,” Mr. Hamilton was red with rage, “Have I have entrusted the care of my precious little girls to a harlot?”

Before Amelia could summon a defense, Nick muttered, “Like mother, like daughter.”

The pitch of whispered gossip around her spun with such fevered intensity that Amelia thought she might swoon.  Ripples of shock spread through the room as London’s finest stood on tip-toes to see the tragic farce unfold.

Amelia met Nick’s eyes with what was left of her pride, tears running two hot trails down her cheeks.  “I loved you.  We were to be married … before.”

“Yes, well that clearly isn’t the case now.”  The smirk that bit at Nick’s beautiful face was too much to bear.  Every promise he had made shattered.

“My family is not what it once was.”  Amelia made one last attempt to stave off ruin, sniffling and wiping her eyes.  “But you and I have been friends for too long to break over such things.  I thought … I thought you still cared for me.”

“I care for certain parts of you.”  Nick’s gaze flickered down.

“Mr. Hayworth,” Mr. Hamilton warned, “my house has seen enough scandal for one night.  Pray do not make it double.”

“Forgive me, sir.”  Nick bowed low to his host.  “It was not my wish to disrupt your magnificent gathering.  That, I believe, was the lady’s intent.”  His stare pierced Amelia with such malevolence that her heart withered.

“I have no wish to make our private emergencies public,” Amelia countered.

Our emergencies?” Nick balked.  “I think not.”

Amelia’s chest constricted in panic.  “You must help me, Nick,” she implored in barely more than a whisper.  “You must-”

“There is nothing I must do,” he clipped his reply.  “You have ruined yourself, now face the consequences.”

Amelia gulped, tears stinging.  A sob caught in her throat as the weight of her sins piled down on her.  She stole a desperate glance around the room.  Men and women who had smiled and welcomed her at her coming-out just three short years ago now turned up their noses at her as if she was diseased.  It was all because she couldn’t control her instincts.  Her cheeks burned scarlet in humiliation.

With one last deep breath she laid her life at Nick’s feet.

“So you have no intention of fulfilling your responsibility toward….”  She couldn’t say it.  She couldn’t even think that Nick’s child was inside of her.  “After all we-”

“Enough, Miss Elphick!” Mr. Hamilton snapped.  “Go to your room!  We will discuss this in the morning.”

Amelia gasped, blinking rapidly.  She had heard that tone of voice, seen the same sharp glower from Mr. Hamilton when one of his daughters had disobeyed.  She took another step back, lowering her head.  It was no use resisting.  Her great gamble had been a failure.  Her life was over.

She turned to flee, but where she had hoped to find a quick escape, she was met by a wall of faces.  Women and men of refinement and breeding, their jewels as bright as the scorn in their eyes, stared at her as though she was a guttersnipe loose amongst her betters.  The turned-up lips, the pointed glares at the bulge of her stomach, the whispering behind hands and fans, flayed Amelia like a scourge.

It took all of her effort to put one foot in front of the other.  Her whole body shook as she walked through the crowded ballroom, the last vestige of what her life had been.  The musicians had stopped playing, the dancers had stopped dancing.  Her heart had stopped beating.  She couldn’t lift her head or raise her eyes to meet any of them.  With all the awkward humiliation of her fall, she shuffled toward the door.

“Of course you’d expect that from Sophia deLaurent’s daughter,” someone murmured to her left.

“She always did give herself airs,” another voice chased her, “but ones true nature always shows through the gloss, doesn’t it.”

“Such a pity,” a male voice chuckled to her right.  “I wonder how much she’ll charge once she’s taken her place on the market.”

Amelia burst into a sob, clapping a hand to her mouth.  It was over.  She didn’t care who she crashed into or whose toes she stepped on as she fled the room at a run.

She passed Mr. Quinlan, who was red with fury, at the door.  His fury was no more than she deserved.  She was furious with herself for the folly that had cast her out of the life she’d tried to resurrect for herself.  But there was no hiding from the truth of who one really was at heart.

FoolForLove

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Genre – Western Historical Romance

Rating – R

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Connect with Merry Farmer on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://merryfarmer.net

Jez turned his head and saw jeeps stacked up one behind the other, coming at him. They were equipped for combat with mounted mortar cannon and sub-machine guns rigged on the integral bases behind the front seats. The heads of soldiers bobbed behind mortar blast protectors as the vehicles maneuvered over snowdrifts. He couldn’t tell how many vehicles, but seeing them fan out and fire, the number no longer seemed relevant.

He ran. He wanted to drop the ski jacket to quicken his pace, but he’d lose his weapons. The only thing he could do was wind in his head and race flat out. WHUMP! A mortar shell exploded 50 meters forward and to the right of his position. Shrapnel whizzed by, and though he could hear it, he felt nothing. He hadn’t been hit. He crouched lower, but the rabbit-skin hat fell off. No time to pick it up. Stop for nothing. With the rifles set to automatic, they traced straight black lines in the snow on either side of him and then swept horizontally across his horizon – Kalashnikov AKMs. They didn’t quite have him in their sights, but they would get there soon enough.

Not safe running in a straight line, he zigzagged, sacrificing distance for evasive tactics. Even so, it wouldn’t take them long to get a bead on him. He looked ahead for anything that might impede his progress, and saw a murder of crows take to the air on the opposite side of the nearest hill. If only he could join them, he thought. Instead, he ran a short distance to the left and then a longer distance to the right, on occasion reversing the strategy so as not to reveal a pattern.

WHUMP! WHUMP! One after another, mortar shells exploded; and while Jez’s evasive actions proved successful, progress slowed. The jeeps occasionally stopped to drop-blast their mortar shells more accurately, but it didn’t stop them gaining ground.

Clearly, while the snow slowed him, it had no such effect on the pursuit vehicles. They would catch him before he could get to the hills. He had to make a stand. WHUMP! A shell exploded 30 meters ahead. That would do, fight from the mortar’s footprint, die like a soldier. He ran towards it. The jeeps closed in. WHUMP! Another explosion – and it was in the same hollow he was headed for. He ran in the opposite direction to make them realign their weapons.

The aim moved. Shells exploded away from the crater, so he veered back and got close enough to jump. Any other time of year the landing would have been soft, but now solid ground jarred his bones as he made contact with the fissure’s base. The earth moved and rumbled, feet banged against brittle crust that cracked and broke beneath him. A thin layer of earth had been all that remained after the two explosions and Jez crashed through the crater into another hole.

He dropped the depth of the first hollow and through into the hole below. But he couldn’t see out to shoot. If his life hadn’t been about to end he might have laughed. Too low to make a stand, he would have to… but just a minute, what was that? He wasn’t in a hole, but a pothole, a chance, a slim chance, but a chance.

He pulled the landfall aside, squeezed through and scrambled along the tunnel in a direction in line with the hills. The cave got bigger. He could stand up straight. He started running again, and half a minute carried him 100 meters in. WHUMP! Grit and soil blasted along the chasm behind him, stung his legs, back and buttocks as fragments struck. They’d realigned a fix on the crater too soon. It had to be Mitrokhin up there. The regular army weren’t that good.

With adrenalin pumping, he gave that extra push, but the channel narrowed and lowered. Lack of headroom forced him to his hands and knees. Movement slowed. The ground shook. Tremors shuddered through his arms and legs, and then a blast was followed by a rumble.

The channel collapsed and fallen earth charged towards him. Rapid breathing, his heart raced, but he had to steady his thoughts. He couldn’t lose control, but the ground rumbled, ever closer.

Still on his hands and knees, he pushed his back hard against the roof. Earth fell around his feet and legs as the miniature cave fell in. But his body remained rigid, acting as a stanchion. His part of the crown hadn’t fallen, but ahead and behind, the rumble continued and the fragile earth crashed down. The structure of the hollow folded, and when it stopped he’d become entombed. Panic engulfed him. There was no way out.

Birth of an Assassin

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Genre – Thriller, Crime, Suspense

Rating – R

More details about the author

Connect with Rik Stone on Facebook & Twitter

Website http://rik-stone.simdif.com


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