Turquoise Mountain Pre-Order Blitz

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About the Author

 AmazonAuthorPhoto.DianeJReed

USA TODAY bestselling author Diane J. Reed writes happily ever afters with a touch of magic that make you believe in the power of love. Her stories feed the soul with outlaws, mavericks, and dreamers who have big hearts under big skies and dare to risk all for those they cherish. Because love is more than a feeling—it’s the magic that changes everything.

Her latest book is Turquoise Mountain.

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About the Book

Title: TURQUOISE MOUNTAIN
Author: Diane J. Reed
Publisher: Bandits Ranch Books
Pages: 270
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Turquoise Mountain

BOOK BLURB

He’s a fierce protector of his land and sacred heritage–and only a strong woman can capture his wild heart.

Dillon Iron Feather is dangerous and he knows it. Hardened by his championship fighting career, he returns to his remote Colorado ranch to heal, only to discover that city girl Tessa Grove is determined to stake her claim to the old mine she inherited on a corner of his land. Stubborn to the bone, Tessa soon digs up precious gems from deep within the earth to use in her custom-made jewelry business. But those stones turn out to be sacred, and sparks fly as they begin to guide her to the secret chambers of Dillon’s heart.

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Book Excerpt

The first meeting between Dillon and Tessa in Turquoise Mountain

(Tessa has traveled all the way from New York to Colorado to find her mine, which happens to be on Dillon’s property)

“I’m Tessa Grove, and when my grandfather passed away, he left his mining claim to me. It doesn’t expire for another six months, which means I have legal title to that mine.”

“You only have mineral rights to a hole in the ground.” Dillon Iron Feather nodded in the direction of the mine. “Which means you can’t set foot on my property.”

“What?” Tessa crossed her arms.

“You heard me. This piece of paper entitles you to dig behind that old wooden door. That’s all. And my land surrounds every inch of it. Which means you’re breaking the law by getting anywhere near that mine. So get lost.”

“Wait, you can’t deny access to what’s legally mine!”

“Can’t I?” Dillon’s face broke into a wry smile. For a moment, his eyes sparkled at the prospect of challenge, lighting them up to a warm, charming brown.

Damn! Tessa cursed to herself. That’s all I need right now is a guy who gets more good looking when he taunts me—

Fuming, she boldly yanked the mining claim and map from his hand to scrutinize them. According to her documents, it looked like her ancestor was the one who originally built Grove Road that led to this mining parcel, which sat right smack dab on the stranger’s property. Okay, so he was right—her quarter acre didn’t include any of his buildings, but it connected to the road. And nowhere did it specify that she was required to get permission from any stranger to use that dirt lane. But how could she convince him of that?

“Listen,” Tessa sighed, “I know it might seem out of the blue that I’m here. But my grandfather meant a lot to me. And this place—this gold mine—it’s…it’s kind of sacred. What I mean is, my great-great-grandfather found it only because a Native American outlaw gave him some powerful medicine. That might sound crazy to you, but it’s true. His name was Iron Feather—”

“Your great-great grandfather knew Iron Feather?”

Tessa nodded. “He was Benjamin Grove the First, and he helped Iron Feather and the Bandits Hollow Gang hide from a posse.” She dug into her purse and held up the sacred owl feather. “All Iron Feather had to give him in return was this, but it was rumored to have, you know—”

“Special powers.”

To Tessa’s amazement, Dillon’s face darkened in thought. He studied the feather for a long time as though it were a precious artifact. Then he looked out over the mountain tops at the threads of garnet in the sky that had begun to spread from the dipping sun. His eyes seemed very far away.

It’s the feather, Tessa realized. He knows something about that feather…

Dillon returned his gaze to Tessa. Yet when he reached for the feather, she seized her moment and surprised him by lunging for his shotgun. She managed to grab it and run several strides, when she whipped around.

“Back off!” She aimed the shotgun straight at him and pumped it awkwardly, barely remembering how from when her grandfather taught her fifteen years ago. “I want to see that mine,” she demanded, her body visibly trembling. “And I’m not leaving till I do.”

Dillon smirked, his gaze tracing her wild blonde hair that had fallen across her face, her blue-green eyes spitting fury. What Tessa hadn’t noticed in her panic, of course, was that her purse had fallen from her shoulder and spilled onto the ground. He crouched carefully to the grass, keeping his eye firmly on the gun barrel, and picked up some of the contents before standing to his feet.

“Where do you expect to go after this if I’ve got your ID and credit cards, city girl?” Dillon smiled, noticing the blush that suffused her cheeks. Her eyes darted to the drivers license and MasterCard he held in his hand, and that was all the opening he needed. With an expertly aimed kick, he knocked the shotgun from her grip and sent it twirling in air, then caught it. He set the butt down on the ground.

“You should know your opponent a whole lot better before you start a fight,” he scolded. “Now you don’t have your purse or a weapon. Fortunately, you’re far too pretty for shooting practice today. But don’t press your luck.”

Another blush warmed Tessa’s cheeks, and she cradled her arms tight to try and stop the tremors. To her astonishment, Dillon threw down his gun and caught up to her within a couple of strides. Before she knew it, she was born aloft by his strong arms, her body next to his warm, hard chest. Despite her kicks and screams, he set her gently on the grass and pulled a long piece of baling twine from his pocket, then proceeded to tie up her hands and feet.

“What the hell are you doing!” Tessa screamed, wriggling on the grass like an angry caterpillar. “First you threatened me with a gun, and now kidnapping? You’re going to face the law for this!”

“For your information, lady, I deliberately shot out the truck mirror and fired the second shot in the air to scare you off. I have no intention of killing anybody today. But I will make sure you have a soft bed and a good meal in your belly, since you appear to be stranded, no matter how hot headed you are.”

With that, he pulled a bandana from his pocket and stuffed it in Tessa’s mouth. She kept thrashing violently while he picked up the scattered items on the meadow and returned them along with her ID and credit card to her purse.

But he slipped the owl feather into his pocket.

Just then, Tessa saw vivid red and blue lights trace over the cabin and barn as the shrill sound of a siren echoed off the hillsides. A police cruiser appeared at the front gate, and an officer stepped out.

“Dammit, Dillon!” The officer called out. “What have you done to this poor woman? For crying out loud, are you that desperate for female company?” He walked boldly toward them. “Good thing Dusty went to town and called 911 after you shot out the mirror on his truck.”

Dillon laughed. “As a matter of fact, Barrett,” he replied, picking up Tessa’s squirming body and heading toward the cruiser, “I was about to bring her to you anyway. She’s lost, and if she hadn’t been so pig-headed about refusing to leave, I would have driven her to town and put her up in a hotel myself without hog-tying her. Watch out—she’s a feisty one.”

GIVEAWAY DETAILS

Turquoise Mountain giveaway

Diane J. Reed is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter
  • This giveaway ends midnight January 31
  • Winner will be contacted via email on February 1
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply

Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

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Crowdfunding Campaign – Creatives On The Couch Season 3

As some may know, we are going to be filming another season of Creatives On The Couch, in Melbourne in Mid February

From the launch of the show on C31 Melbourne, we have had some wonderful guests on the show from all walks of Creative life.

Now in it’s third season, we are asking people to check out our project on Indiegogo, and help us make some quality programming for another season.

All funds raised go to: Studio Hire, Make Up Costs over 2 days, Tech Mixer, Editing, Catering.

Check out the wonderful perks we have in place for businesses and individuals alike.

https://www.indiegogo.com/project/creatives-on-the-couch-season-3/embedded

VBT – From Compton to Congress

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About the Book

Title: From Compton to Congress: His Grace for my Race
Author: Walter Tucker III
Genre: Nonfiction Memoir

From Compton to Congress reveals shocking criminal charges, based on an FBI Sting, that send Congressman Walter R. Tucker III reeling, and changes his life forever. Against the great odds of overcoming the tough streets of Compton, young Tucker fulfills his goals of becoming valedictorian of Compton High School, graduate of USC with honors, graduate of Georgetown Law School, passing the California State Bar, and filling his father’s vacant seat as Mayor of Compton—all by age 33. During his meteoric rise in the political arena, at age 35 he becomes the youngest African-American from California to be elected to a U.S. congressional seat. However, the U.S. Attorney’s federal indictment against him shocks the nation. Tucker’s choice to fight the charges against him thrusts him into a criminal trial that tests the condition of his human spirit and provokes us to reflect on every man’s plight versus every man’s fight.

FINAL FRONT COVER 9.23.17

Author Bio

Walter R. Tucker, III is a native of Compton, California. He graduated Valedictorian of Compton High School in 1974. After graduating from high school, Walter studied Politics at Princeton University for two years. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from U.S.C. in 1978, and his Juris Doctor from Georgetown Law School in 1981, Walter worked as a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, established his own law firm, served as Mayor of Compton, and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1993 – all by age 35. Walter R. Tucker, III is still the youngest African American to ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress from the State of California. In 2003, Walter became a pastor of a church in Chicago. In 2012, Walter and his wife, Robin Tucker, returned to Los Angeles and founded Truth and Love Christian Church, located in Carson, California. The church currently has over 300 members and 40 ministries in operation. Walter and Robin have been happily married for 30 years. They are the proud parents of Walter, IV, and Autumn and have one son-in-law, Spencer Rodney Sr., and one wonderful grandchild, Spencer Rodney, Jr. Walter enjoys morning walks on the beach and candlelight dinners with Robin.

Links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/COMPTON-CONGRESS-Grace-Race-Book-ebook/dp/B07731BN3J/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514881084&sr=1-1

Website: https://www.fromcomptontocongress.net/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17304450.Walter_R_Tucker_III

 

 

VBT – The Adventures of Mitee Mite

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About the Author

 Dave_Edit1

David John is the author of The Adventures of Mitee Mite book and app series. The series follows the adventures of superhero Mitee Mite and her sidekick, Terry the Ticker. The five titles in the series are The Time Frame Game (Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-0-2; Softcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-6-4), The Measuring Game (Softcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-2-6), The Money Game (Softcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-4-0), The Shape Game (Softcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-3-3), and The Time Frame Game Advanced (Softcover ISBN: 978-0-9860919-5-7). Complementary apps for each book are available on Google Play and iTunes.  The companion song is available at the website:  www.miteemite.com.

David lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and daughter. He enjoys spending time with his family, playing hockey, and creating new stories for The Adventures of Mitee Mite book and app series.

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About the Book

 The Adventures of Mitee Mite

Title: THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE SERIES
Author: David John
Publisher: Mitee Mite
Pages: 120 pages total in series
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

BOOK BLURB

Building on a desire to teach children about time, shapes, measurements, and money, author David John created THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE series. In the same way that many of us learned our ABCs, the book and app (available on Google Play and iTunes) collection helps young readers learn how many seconds are in a minute, the number of sides different shapes contain, and more, using a catchy tune that captures their attention and motivates learning.

Focusing on children from age 3 to 11 years old, THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE book and app series offers its readers a dynamic female superhero, Mitee Mite, as their guide through the often tricky terrain involved with mastering time, shapes, measurements, and money. In her matching red cape and boots, Mitee Mite, accompanied by her alarm clock sidekick, Terry the Ticker, activates her superpowers by using her manners, respecting others, and accurately answering questions in the games she encounters during her adventures.

The five books in THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE book and app series include The Time Frame Game and The Time Frame Game Advanced, which break down seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years to teach readers the fundamentals of time. The Measuring Game explores the components of feet, yards, and miles, as well as cups, pints, quarts, and gallons. Mitee Mite teaches kids about currency in The Money Game and dives into a colorful world of triangles, squares, hexagons, and more in The Shape Game. The companion song for this series (available at www.miteemite.com) helps kinds absorb the skills in an enjoyable and interactive way.

The idea for THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE book and app series came about when David was faced with a dire challenge. “One day as I was babysitting my friends’ children, and not having any idea what to do, I made up fun games to help them learn,” David revealed. The goal of the series is to expose children to a variety of lessons in a manner that is fun, relatable, and memorable. David says, “Mitee Mite was created to help give children a head start on the basics of time, measurements, shapes, and money.”

David’s daughter, whom he calls his “Little Mite,” is the inspiration for the main character and the themes of the series. David’s desire to teach his daughter the basic skills featured in THE ADVENTURES OF MITEE MITE book and app series has expanded into the goal of sharing these lessons with other children through his “You Buy, They Read” program. “We plan to give away one book for every one bought to kids in need.” In addition, David will donate $1 for every $2 of the gross sales of apps to teachers “who are going into their own pockets to buy supplies.”

 

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Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkeJmSC1-Xw

Book Spotlight – Double Take

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About the Author

 Version 2

Abby Bardi is the author of three novels: Double Take, The Secret Letters, and The Book of Fred. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies and journals, and she has written academic articles on Roma (Gypsies). She grew up on the South Side of Chicago and now lives in Ellicott City, MD, the oldest railroad town in America.

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About the Book

 Double Take

Title: Double Take
Author: Abby Bardi
Publisher: Harper Collins Impulse
Pages: 186
Genre: Mystery

Set in Chicago, 1975, Double Take is the story of artsy Rachel Cochrane, who returns from college with no job and confronts the recent death of Bando, one of her best friends. When she runs into Joey, a mutual friend, their conversations take them back into their shared past and to the revelation that Bando may have been murdered. To find out who murdered him, Rachel is forced to revisit her stormy 1960s adolescence, a journey that brings her into contact with her old friends, her old self, and danger.

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Book Excerpt

1975

I recognized his voice from across the room. When I handed him a menu, he looked up absent-mindedly and went on talking to some guys, then did a double take.

“Cookie?” he said.

I tried on the name like an old article of clothing to see if it still fit. It felt like a suede fringed jacket. “Yep,” I said.

“Wow. You look so different.”

“I cut my hair.”

“Everyone did.”

“I’m older,” I said. “Everyone’s older.”

“You look exactly the same,” I said. He was wearing a beat-up leather jacket over a green T-shirt, maybe the same jacket and T-shirt he had always worn. His thick black hair was shorter now and curly, skin still tan from summer, small mouth with perfect teeth. He still looked tough and handsome, but in a creepy way, like someone you couldn’t trust.

“Cookie, what the hell are you doing here?”

“I work here. I’d rather you didn’t call me that. My name is Rachel.”

“I thought your name was Cookie.”

“Nope. Do people still call you Rat?”
He laughed. “Nowadays I go by Joey.”

“Okay, Joey,” I said, since this was nowadays.

“Miss?” a voice called from a nearby table. The voice brought me back to where I was standing, in Diana’s Grotto, a Greek diner on 57th Street, with ten tables full of customers. For a moment, I had thought I was in Casa Sanchez.

It took me a while to make it back to Joey’s table. A divinity student had found a fly in his milkshake, and it wouldn’t have taken so long if I hadn’t made the mistake of saying, “So, how much can a fly drink?” Like most academics, this guy had no sense of humor and gave me a lecture on hygiene. It was amazing that knowing as much about hygiene as he seemed to, he would continue to eat at Diana’s Grotto. By the time I got back to Joey’s table, the men he had been sitting with were gone. Off-duty police, from the looks of them, I thought, or plain-clothes. We got a lot of cops in Diana’s; they slumped on stools at the counter with their guns hanging from their belts, sucking down free coffee. Back in the sixties, the sight of their blue leather jackets had always made me nervous, like I’d committed some crime I’d forgotten about.

“So why are you working here?” Joey asked. “I thought you were a college girl. A co-ed.” He flashed his white teeth. “I don’t mean to be nosy.”

“The problem with college is they make you leave when you finish.”

“And here I thought it was a permanent gig.”

“Nope.”

“But why aren’t you doing something a little more—”

“Collegiate? Don’t ask.” I slid into the booth next to him. From across the room, Nicky, the maître d’, shot me a poisonous glance. I ignored him. “I like it here.” I smiled a crazy little smile.

“Hey, different strokes.” His eyes swept the room, resting on a mural of a white windmill on an island in the Aegean. The windmill’s blades were crooked. I remembered this eye-sweep from Casa Sanchez, where he had always sat facing the door so he could constantly scan the whole restaurant. His eyes returned to me. “Didn’t I hear a rumor you were supposed to be getting married? Some guy in California?”

“Just a rumor. Glad to hear the grapevine still works.”

I felt someone hiss into my ear. Nicky had slunk up behind me. He looked like a garden gnome in a plaid jacket and baggy pants, reeking of aftershave that had tried and failed. “Rose!” he snapped. He never called anyone by their right name. “What’s in a name?” I always murmured.

“Be right with you.” I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile.

“This is a classy place,” Joey said as Nicky ambled away.

“He’s the owner’s brother-in-law.”

“Diana?”

“There is no Diana. She’s a mythological figure.”

“Like Hendrix?”

“Kind of.”

“Hey, you want to have a drink after work?”

“Actually, I don’t drink any more.”

“You want to come watch me drink? What time do you get off?”

“Nine thirty. You could come help me fill the ketchups.”

“What?”

“You know, take the empty Heinz bottles and pour cheap generic ketchup in them.”

“Sounds like fun, but why don’t you meet me at Bert’s? Back room?”

I thought for a moment. This did not seem like a good idea, but I didn’t care. “Okay, why not. So, can I get you anything?”

“Just coffee.”

“You want a side of taramasalata with it? It’s made from fish roe.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

When I brought him his coffee, he said, “You’re still a hell of a waitress, Cookie.”

“You’re still a hell of a waitress, Rachel.”

“Whatever.”

“Thanks,” I said.

VBT – Secret Baby, Second Chance

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About the Author

 jane godman lg

JANE GODMAN worked in a variety of shops, bars, and offices before settling into a career as a teacher. She was born in Scotland and has lived in Germany, Wales, Malta, South Africa, and England. Home is now the Wirral, a beautiful English peninsula situated between Wales and Liverpool.

Jane still gets the urge to travel, although these days she tends to head for a Spanish beach, or a European city that is steeped in history. Venice, Dubrovnik, and Vienna are among her favorites.

When Jane isn’t reading or writing romance, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her family. She is married to a lovely man, has two grown up children and has recently discovered the joy of becoming a grandparent.

Jane writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne and SMP Romance, thrillers for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and self-publishes her steamy historical and gothic stories.

Her latest book is the romantic suspense, Secret Baby, Second Chance.

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About the Book

Secret Baby

Title: SECRET BABY, SECOND CHANCE
Author: Jane Godman
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 288
Genre: Romantic Suspense

BOOK BLURB

She’s alive! Vincente Delaney has finally found his girlfriend, Beth Wade, who disappeared a year and a half ago, alive. But he’s shocked to discover someone with her: their child, a little girl he never knew about! Once upon a time, lone wolf Vincente never expected forever with Beth, but now he must put everything on the line to protect her and their family.

Beth was forced to leave Vincente to protect everything she held dear. But now the threat to her loved ones’ lives has reared its ugly head again. As danger approaches, she and Vincente must delve into her past to cast out the darkness jeopardizing their future.

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Book Excerpt

As he approached, he sized up the building. Nothing about it made him think of Beth. It had a slightly neglected air, as if the owner didn’t have the time, energy or money to spend on it. He contrasted that with the Stillwater house she had lived in. That had been as neat as wax. Being organized seemed to come effortlessly to Beth, spilling over into how she dressed, her surroundings and how she dealt with other people. Vincente wondered, not for the first time, if the reason she had struggled with their relationship was because she couldn’t neatly package up her feelings for him. When they were together there was no controlling what they felt. It had always been raw, primal…and incredible.

The thought spurred his feet up the front step. His heart was pounding so loud it almost drowned out the sound of his knock on the door. Prepared for disappointment, his nerves—already under intense pressure—were ratcheted up to crisis level when he heard a voice calling out.

“Did you forget something, Detective ?” It wasn’t just any voice. It was Beth’s voice.

He wondered how she would react if she checked who it was through the peephole in the door. Her words indicated she thought Laurie had come back again and he heard a key turn in the lock immediately after she spoke.

The door swung open and the smile on her lips faded. As she gazed at him in shock, Vincente took a moment to drink in her appearance. Her hair was shorter, just reaching her shoulders now instead of the waist-length mass in which he had loved to bury his hands. It was scraped back into an unflattering ponytail. She looked thinner. And tired, definitely tired. Almost to the point of exhaustion. But maybe the reason for that was sitting on her hip.

The baby wore pink sweatpants and a T shirt with butterflies embroidered all over. Not quite a toddler, she was a perfect little girl. Her black hair clustered in a halo of curls around her head and she studied Vincente with eyes that were huge, dark and framed by thick, spiky lashes. The hint of olive to her skin and the full ruby lips were additional confirmation of his first suspicion. It was like looking in a mirror .

Vincente almost took a step back in shock as he gazed at his daughter.

Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohfQ59gCygc&feature=youtu.be

VBT – Crimson Realm Series

About the Authors

Gabriella Bradley lives amidst rugged mountains. She more than often has a grizzly in her backyard searching for food. Other critters that visit on a regular basis are cougars, coyotes, squirrels, raccoons.

She has been a writer all of her life, though only ventured into erotic works in 2003.

Gabby’s hobbies include hiking, gardening, swimming, sewing, embroidery. Favorite movies are old timers like Gone with the Wind, Spartacus etc. Favorite music is Abba. Besides all that, she owns and directs a busy company and its staff.

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Taryn Jameson is a mother, artist, and avid reader who lives in an enchanted forest that sparks her imagination to create. Her latest outlet is the written word. She is the alter ego of cover artist Angela Waters.

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About the Books

 Carnal Twilight

Title: CARNAL TWILIGHT (Prequel)
Author: Gabriella Bradley & Taryn Jameson
Publisher: eXtasy Books
Pages: 23
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi/Paranormal/Shifter

BOOK BLURB:

The prequel to In Search of Pride

The gods smile upon a weary warrior…

Brenn, a warrior, returning home from battle, rests by a tempting magical pool and meets a siren who changes his life forever.

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Book Excerpt:

Then he saw her… Grabbing the base of his cloak, Brenn quickly wiped the water from his eyes. He shook his head in disbelief. This woman, this dainty naked nymph rising from the water, was not what the legends spoke of. Her body glowed in the moonlight, a halo of unruly raven hair framing a beautiful face and cascading down to her trim waist. Her full luscious lips parted in song, hypnotizing him, beckoning him to come to her… begging him to take her. The gods were smiling down upon him again with the gift of this beautiful creature.

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

In Search of Pride

Title: IN SEARCH OF PRIDE
Author: Gabriella Bradley & Taryn Jameson
Publisher: eXtasy Books
Pages: 125
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi/Paranormal/Shifter

BOOK BLURB:

Bound by a curse, Brenn must find a way to save his pride.

Brenn returns from a war far from his home to find that his village is destroyed and his pride missing. With the help of his guardian dragon, Ciara, he sets out to find his missing family and pride.

After Ciara saves Brenn’s life twice, he begins to realize that he isn’t as invincible as he once thought. He must accept his limitations and the help of his lifemate to keep him safe.

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Book Excerpt:

Brenn swore under his breath. Everything had been as it should on his travels home after he’d left the Clyss. No attacks, everything normal. Why the sudden interest in their realm? The Toubosians had sent several ships, but only one craft had attacked the village and abducted all the occupants? During his travels, he’d heard nothing, no rumors of alien attacks, of spaceship sightings. Would they really send several ships to capture the people from one village? Had the ships returned to Toubos? He doubted it. He had a feeling the ships were hiding somewhere in the far mountain range south of their village—planning another attack?

Were the Toubosians in league with Cewrick, the evil sorcerer who had placed the curse on all shifters? The sorcerer’s castle stood on the highest peak in the center of the Sucronian Mountains, a forbidden mountain range. No one dared to approach it. At the base of the mountains was the Verboten Forest. Its trees were said to have been bespelled by Cewrick and would kill anything or anyone treading the ground below. Large black dragons guarded the castle, along with urcals, giant birds with wingspans as wide as the road in his village. They, too, were black. Their beaks were a bright orange, curved and very sharp, their claws so big they could easily pick up several horses in one swoop, their talons an arm’s length long, and their eyes like glowing embers.

They had all seen the dragons and the birds as they circled above the forbidden forest. Brenn’s father, Yartah, the alpha of their pride, and some of the warriors, including Brenn, had ventured to the edge of the forest when one of their young women had suddenly gone missing. When Huf, a young warrior, rode ahead into the forest, one of the monstrous birds had plucked him and the horse from between the trees and disappeared with them.

After that tragic event, Yartah had doubly enforced the rules. No one was allowed to venture near the forest. Brenn didn’t think after what had happened that anyone would even dare, but one never knew what young people would do. The youngsters thought themselves invincible. The only thing that seemed to scare them was the curse—if they shifted, which usually surfaced during puberty, they could remain a lion forever and lose all humanity.

He turned his attention back to Ivran. His friend was distraught, barely holding onto his human form, his lion fighting to burst free.

Brenn swore under his breath. Everything had been as it should on his travels home after he’d left the Clyss. No attacks, everything normal. Why the sudden interest in their realm? The Toubosians had sent several ships, but only one craft had attacked the village and abducted all the occupants? During his travels, he’d heard nothing, no rumors of alien attacks, of spaceship sightings. Would they really send several ships to capture the people from one village? Had the ships returned to Toubos? He doubted it. He had a feeling the ships were hiding somewhere in the far mountain range south of their village—planning another attack?

Were the Toubosians in league with Cewrick, the evil sorcerer who had placed the curse on all shifters? The sorcerer’s castle stood on the highest peak in the center of the Sucronian Mountains, a forbidden mountain range. No one dared to approach it. At the base of the mountains was the Verboten Forest. Its trees were said to have been bespelled by Cewrick and would kill anything or anyone treading the ground below. Large black dragons guarded the castle, along with urcals, giant birds with wingspans as wide as the road in his village. They, too, were black. Their beaks were a bright orange, curved and very sharp, their claws so big they could easily pick up several horses in one swoop, their talons an arm’s length long, and their eyes like glowing embers.

They had all seen the dragons and the birds as they circled above the forbidden forest. Brenn’s father, Yartah, the alpha of their pride, and some of the warriors, including Brenn, had ventured to the edge of the forest when one of their young women had suddenly gone missing. When Huf, a young warrior, rode ahead into the forest, one of the monstrous birds had plucked him and the horse from between the trees and disappeared with them.

After that tragic event, Yartah had doubly enforced the rules. No one was allowed to venture near the forest. Brenn didn’t think after what had happened that anyone would even dare, but one never knew what young people would do. The youngsters thought themselves invincible. The only thing that seemed to scare them was the curse—if they shifted, which usually surfaced during puberty, they could remain a lion forever and lose all humanity.

He turned his attention back to Ivran. His friend was distraught, barely holding onto his human form, his lion fighting to burst free.

 ******************

The Dragon's Lion

Title: THE DRAGON’S LION
Author: Gabriella Bradley & Taryn Jameson
Publisher: eXtasy
Pages: 172
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi/Paranormal/Shifter

BOOK BLURB:

Danger, lies, and betrayal forge the path to unlocking the secrets Brenn seeks.

The rescue of Brenn’s pride sets off an angry tirade from Cewrick that results in curses that almost cripple the Crimson Realm and all of Ierilia.

With the help of Ciara, Brenn leads his crew through the bowels of the planet and the forbidden forest to unlock the secret of defeating Cewrick. But will his defeat end the reign of terror on their world?

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Book Excerpt:

Brenn paced back and forth. How could he possibly rest after the events of the night? What had started out as a night of victory and discovery had quickly turned into one of disaster and havoc. Cewrick had vented his rage at losing his captives across the whole planet. Brenn’s family and pride were safe, but at what cost? Even though Ciara had dispelled the wind funnels and their destruction, there was nothing she could do about the stone curse. So many innocents had turned to statues in a matter of minutes. If Cewrick unleashed the renegade Toubosians on the villages west of the Inar Ridge, they would have no defense against the ships and could suffer the same fate as Xynnar.

He stopped his pacing on the verandah of his rooms. Gazing over the courtyard, he caught a glimpse of his beautiful dragon as she slept in his orchard beneath the umbrella of his giant wraggia trees, their branches heavy and laden with ripe, lush fruit. He frowned, his brow creasing with worry for her. The night had taken its toll on Ciara. After flying to every corner of their planet to stop the black wind funnels, she had returned to Brenn’s estate and tried every possible spell she could muster to halt the stone curse, but her magick had weakened. He could feel how weary she was, how helpless she felt against Cewrick. She rested now, too exhausted to fight the sleep that overtook her.

He hated that she fought alone. Dissipating the wind funnels had exposed her to more and more people. He knew word would travel to Cewrick about the jewel dragon protecting the Ierilians and he would realize it was Ciara, the sorceress that had escaped his clutches. He would know she was no longer bound to the Clyss, and the sorcerer would spare no effort in his attempts to find her so he could bespell her again and try to capture her for her much-coveted soul shard.

After the suns came up, the stone curse had stopped, but Brenn was sure Cewrick was brewing up more plans of revenge.

He was about to go and bathe when he spotted a swarm darkening the rays of the suns. Shading his eyes, he saw dozens of black dragons and urcals in the sky heading for the city. A bath was not important right now. An announcement needed to be made to the citizens of Cront to remain inside their homes. The dragons and birds could not pluck them from inside their dwellings. He quickly hailed Admiral Zhala on his communicator.

“Admiral, I apologize for contacting you this early, but a swarm of black dragons and urcals is approaching the city. A global warning needs to be issued as I’m sure this is happening in all our major cities on Ierilia.”

“By the gods, I see them,” the admiral uttered. “Leave it with me, Brenn. I just hope it is not too late for some. I’ll send my fleet to annihilate them.”

“No. You can’t do that,” Brenn warned him.

“I can’t? What is—”

“Those black dragons, or many of them, were once jewel dragons, Ciara’s parents among them. They have lost their humanity, but when the curse is lifted, they will return to their natural state. We cannot kill them. The urcals, yes. But they are flying together as one flock,” Brenn explained.

“By the gods! What are we to do?”

“Stay inside. If they can’t grab people to bring to Cewrick, they will surely give up.”

“This is frustrating. We have the power to kill them all. But after what you told me, I won’t attack. I have no wish to destroy jewel dragons.”

“We also need to issue a warning for people not to touch the stone statues. They could break. Imagine when the curse is lifted, and people are missing arms or legs, or worse, if broken in half or missing their heads.”

“Yes. We need to dispatch teams across the planet to transport the statues to safe holding areas. I fear it will prove quite an impossible task unless our people can all pitch in. There are far too many villages and outlying farms that suffered the curse.” The admiral paused for a moment. “Let me get in touch with our media offices to get word out about the dragons and urcals and a message to the population to take great care in handling the statues. I’ll be in contact.”

Brenn feared for Ciara. As long as she remained sleeping, the black dragons and urcals could not see her from above. But what if she woke up and ventured into the courtyard?

After a quick wash and dressing, he opened his door to find Laro and Ivran about to knock, as well as Tomas standing behind them.

“Have you seen the black dragons, Brenn?” Laro asked.

Brenn was relieved to see Laro had returned from picking up Tomas. “It is good to see you are safe, my friend,” Brenn said as he embraced Laro. “Yes, and the urcals. I have already been in contact with the admiral.”

“What else is Cewrick going to hit us with in his wrath?” Ivran asked.

“I worry about Ciara. She is sleeping in my orchard, so she can’t be seen from above, but what if she wakes? Cewrick knows by now that she is free from the Clyss.”

“Can’t she hide elsewhere? The Tideless Abyss, her natural habitat?” Laro asked.

“I don’t know. Once the danger has dissipated, I will talk to her. Just help me pray to Taella, the goddess of tranquility, that Ciara sleeps for some time. I must warn my staff not to venture outside.” Brenn quickly headed for the kitchens and hoped he wasn’t too late as he could hear the flapping of wings above his house.

 ******************

Sword of Betrayal

Title: SWORD OF BETRAYAL
Author: Gabriella Bradley & Taryn Jameson
Publisher: eXtasy Books
Pages: TBA
Genre: Fantasy/Scifi/Paranormal/Shifter

BOOK BLURB:

The blade of betrayal cuts deep.

When Erica is granted a commission in the king’s army and a magical sword for her bravery, she begins to look forward to a future for both herself and her crew. But not everyone is happy with their circumstances.

Erica joins Brenn’s team in the fight to save his planet from the angry god, Zolmes and she finds herself charmed by more than just the planet. The sexy lion shifter Laro, claims she is his lifemate, setting her passions ablaze. Stung by the sharp tongues and dissension of some of her crew, Erica pushes him away to focus on the lives of her crewmembers.

Can Erica accept a future with Laro or will she let hate and betrayal decide her fate?

 

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Book Excerpt:

“Ground shift. Come on! We need to move!” Aldis yelled.

Erica snagged the strap of her pack as Laro pulled her to her feet. They took off running with the others in the general direction of the road they were seeking. Puffs of dirt shot up around them and dust filled the air, obscuring Erica’s vision.

A loud crack echoed through the veld. Long, spindly legs peeked through a wide breach in the ground in front of them. Claws snapped as eight huge creatures pulled themselves from the gorge. Huge mandibles were set on a small head with twelve eyes. Their long, segmented bodies sported two massive claws, eight legs, and a long tail with a pointed stinger.

“What in the hell are these things?” Erica screamed.

“Durogons! They are Zohmes’ pets. He had to have sent them from Yanata. They were banished with him,” Ciara said.

Erica looked around. A gaping maw right behind them seemed to meet the crack at both ends. They were trapped, with nowhere to run. All hell broke loose. Fire spewed from the durogons’ mouths as they advanced on them in a full attack. Icaras threw his hands up and shielded them from the fire with a magical shield. Ciara and Icaras began throwing balls of fire at them, trying to hold the durogons back but of no avail. The durogons’ hard bodies seemed impregnable, the fireballs sizzling out before causing any damage to their black, armored shells. Shots from Aldis’ fleet weapon met the same fate. Brenn, Ivran and Laro drew their swords, ready to attack.

One of the durogons broke through Icaras’ shield and lunged at Erica. She yanked her sword from the scabbard with both hands and nearly dropped it. Laro moved quickly in front of her to shield her and slashed off one of its claws. All it did was piss the creature off. Its tail whipped around and gashed him in the side before Laro could dodge it and slice off the other claw. Erica had never seen Laro wield a sword and was stunned by the beautiful display. He fought the durogon in a deadly dance of precision, each strike of his sword hitting its mark.

A movement caught her attention. Another durogon found an opening and rushed in to attack. Erica pulled out her fleet weapon and started shooting it in the eyes, hoping to keep it from advancing further. Its claws snapped at her, and its tail swished around, trying to find purchase. Suddenly, all she could feel was intense heat, and the scent of charred bodies filled the air. A wall of flame rushed up in front of her, consuming the creature she was trying to kill. Ciara had shifted and set the creatures ablaze.

The rumbling stopped, the ground no longer moved, and the maws slowly closed, burying the creatures.

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

The Inspiration Behind the Crimson Realm Chronicles

The start of this adventure is so much bigger than just one book, but what sparked the world Gabriella Bradley and Taryn have created was one tiny 1400 word glimpse into the lives of two people whom the gods determined were destined to meet. We decided the short story should not be the end. Readers deserved to know more about Brenn and Ciara and their destiny.

Taryn had hidden the short story away for over ten years and had actually forgotten about it until she started doing a hard-drive cleanup. She read it again, then contacted Gabriella to see if she would like to take a peek at it and maybe edit it. Gabriella phoned Taryn and discussed what her muse had inspired. Both their muses just seemed to take over. The short story, Carnal Twilight, grew to over 4k and became the prequel to the Crimson Realm Chronicles, and book 1, In Search of Pride.

This brief snapshot of the meeting between Brenn and Ciara, spawned an adventure filled with fantasy and science fiction—a vivid world where gods and goddesses rule, shapeshifters, magic, and sorcery are very real, and evil has wormed its way throughout the realms. Throw a crashed spaceship and people from Earth into the mix, and it has become an even more interesting journey, laced with romance, angst, quests, and humor.

The Crimson Realm Chronicles now has five completed books with two more in progress and more planned for the future.

We are published through eXtasy Books Inc. A company that has been in existence since 2002. Gabriella has been published with them from their start-up. They are a great company to work with. Royalties are paid on time. The editing process is painless, and coverart is fantastic.

We are working hard on books 6 and 7 and are already planning a spin-off series. It is a fantastic rollercoaster ride with new characters entering the story all the time, characters that deserve their own tale. And bingo, another book is in the making.

VBT – Along Came Jones

Along Came Jones banner

About the Author

Victoria Bernadine (a pseudonym) is, as the saying goes, a “woman of a certain age”. After twenty-something years of writer’s block, she began writing again in 2008.

Victoria enjoys reading all genres and particularly loves writing romantic comedy and post-apocalyptic science fiction. What those two have in common is anybody’s guess.

She lives in Edmonton with her two cats (The Grunt and The Runt).  Along Came Jones is the second novel she felt was good enough to be released into the wild.

 

About the Book

Title: ALONG CAME JONES
Author: Victoria Bernadine
Publisher: Love of Words Publishing
Pages: 324
Genre: Chick Lit/Contemporary Fiction

BOOK BLURB

Benjamin Ferrin Macon-Jones has it all: a luxurious lifestyle in Toronto and the love of an intelligent, ambitious woman…until that same woman refuses his marriage proposal, tells him he’s a detriment to her career, and leaves him. Unable to deal with his cantankerous family trying to be supportive, he quietly slips away into the Canadian countryside.

Lou Upjohn has problems of her own. She’s a recluse and agoraphobic, staying safely within the walls of her ancestral home in small town Saskatchewan and depending on Ike, her best and only friend, to deal with the outside world. Only Ike’s just married another woman and now he’s moving to Vancouver. Before he leaves, he hires the new guy in town, Ferrin Jones, to run her errands and do her yard work. Lou isn’t happy, but even she has to admit the stranger looks mildly interesting.

Both their lives could be changed forever if she only has the courage to open the door.

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Book Excerpt

“Marry me.”

Olivia laughs.

“What?” she teases with a fond, slightly mocking smile.  “Are you ‘proposing’ because you think it’s what people are supposed to do on New Year’s Eve?”

Ferrin smirks his lopsided, endearing smirk as he lowers himself to one knee and proffers the small, square velvet box he dug out of the pocket of his tuxedo.

The beautiful brunette laughs again.  “Oh, Ferrin, get up—you’re being ridiculous!  And the joke really isn’t all that funny.”

Olivia glances at the crowd of beaming friends and family surrounding them and Ferrin watches as realization slowly dawns on her face.  Her gaze snaps back to his as realization morphs into horror, and Ferrin feels a corresponding sick, sinking feeling grow in his stomach as her expression changes.  His own smile slips away and his face freezes into an expressionless mask.  Their spectators’ hissed in-drawn breaths and sudden, uncomfortable silence barely register given his complete and utter focus on Olivia.

He knows what she’s going to say before she says it, but like any impending disaster, he can’t seem to look away.

“Oh, my God,” she whispers.  “Oh, shit!”  She bites her lip, then says in a rush, “I love you, Ferrin, I really, truly do…but I can’t marry you.”  Her voice breaks; her eyes fill with tears.

The silence that follows seems to grow and envelop them in a stifling cocoon built from his humiliation and suddenly terrified heart.  Ferrin hears, as if through cotton wool, subdued voices and the shuffling of feet as their family and friends gather their things and leave the apartment.  In some distant corner of his mind, he’s mildly surprised they’re all leaving so quietly…or maybe he just can’t hear them across the yawning divide that’s opened between him and Olivia.

As the door closes, she whispers, “Get up.  Your knee must hurt.”

Does it?  He can’t tell over the crushing pressure in his chest, his stomach, his head, but he struggles to his feet anyway, like she asks, because she asks, aching and sore and suddenly ancient.  He straightens and becomes, as always, self-consciously aware of how big he is in comparison to her, and how his bulk looming over her always makes her edgy.  He automatically slouches his shoulders, trying to minimize his size, trying to make her comfortable.

“Say something,” she begs, and her voice breaks.

His voice is cracked, hollow, distant, as he says, “Is this it?”

‘It’, he thinks with despair.  Such a tiny word with such a huge meaning.

She hesitates, then nods, not quite looking at him.

“This can’t come as that much of a surprise.  Not if you’re honest with yourself.”

Ferrin can’t seem to make his brain work.  He shakes his head, trying to force something—anything—loose so his world—his life—will start to make sense again.

“I—I—no.  Yes.  Why?” he asks, and winces at just how lost he sounds.

Olivia sighs and says, very gently, “I want other things in life than you do, Ferrin.  My career means everything to me and I want to make it to the top of Macon-Jones Enterprises, or as high as I can get without being a blood relative.”

Finally, finally, anger flares inside him.

“And I’m holding you back?  In my own family’s company?”

Olivia hesitates.

Ferrin’s eyes widen.  “You really believe it,” he breathes.  “When have I ever stood in your way, Olivia?”

This time her sigh is long-suffering.  “You’ve never stood in my way, no, but you’ve never actively helped me, either.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me to!  If I recall correctly, you told me so in no uncertain terms when we moved in together.  That’s only a couple of years ago!  What’s changed?”

“I didn’t want you using any undue influence with Abram to get me promotions I didn’t deserve,” Olivia snaps, her own anger flaring.  “That didn’t mean I didn’t want you to help me at all!”

Ferrin snorts.  “Nobody has undue influence with Abram.  You should know that by now!”

“Abram isn’t the point!  The point is that I could have used your support when some of my projects came up for a vote before the Board.  Instead, you, as always, stayed out of it and gave your vote to the first cousin who asked for it, without any regard to how the decision would impact my career or my projects!  Half the time, you didn’t even bother asking me how I wanted you to vote!”

“I never ask anyone about the projects or how they want to use my vote!  The cousins know how I play the game and it works well for all of us.  Why do you think I’m the only one any of them will talk to without a witness present?”

Olivia throws her hands up in the air as she whirls and paces away.  “There!  That’s exactly the problem!”

He takes a step back, blinking.  “What?  The fact that I’m friendly with all my cousins?  That’s a problem?”

“No!”  She brushes a hand over her face in exasperation.  She turns to him, and now he recognizes that look on her face.  It’s the one she has when she’s getting ready to lecture him on what, exactly, he’s done wrong, and what he needs to do to avoid making the same mistake again.

She says, “It’s not the fact the cousins all like you that’s the problem; it’s the reason they all like you!  You’re such a goddamn fixer, itching to solve everyone’s problems that you’ve become a complete pushover!  I don’t want to hurt you, Ferrin, but, let’s face it:  you’re a sucker.  You’re gullible.  And I hate to say this, but you’re also a bit of a wimp.  You’ll do whatever anybody tells you to do, and that’s proven in spades by your so-called ‘business investments’!  All anybody needs in order to get money out of you is a sob story and a half-assed idea!”

His mouth sags open as he rocks beneath her barrage, every word slamming into his heart and his gut and his mind.

“What the hell?” he chokes.

Olivia deflates, pity in her eyes.

“Look,” she says, and now her voice is calm and firmly matter-of-fact, the way Ferrin has so often heard her speak whenever he’s forced to attend a board meeting with her, “I’m going to be CEO someday of a multi-billion-dollar multinational company.  Your family’s multi-billion-dollar multinational company.  It’s ruthless and cutthroat, and a spouse’s strengths and talents are just as important to an executive’s rise as the executive’s own skills and talents, especially in Macon-Jones Enterprises.  You know how outright Machiavellian your family can be, and that’s when they’re arranging Christmas!  If you think they’re ruthless in their personal lives, they’re ten times worse in the boardroom, trust me!”

“Yes, I know,” Ferrin says drily, and is almost glad he’s starting to feel something—anything—now.  “I have met my cousins and I’ve even been to a board meeting a time or two.  Abram seems to have done all right without a spouse to support him.”

She snorts.  “He’s Chair and he was handed the job by your great-grandfather!  He’s never had to prove anything to anybody!”

His laugh is harsh and barking.  “Now you’re the one who’s forgotten what my cousins are like!” He waves his words away.  “Doesn’t matter.  You knew when we met that I do everything I can to avoid anything to do with the company.”

“You’re not supposed to avoid it by giving your vote to whichever cousin gets to you first!  Besides, you’re your father’s only surviving child, the last of your particular branch of the family!  You out of all your cousins shouldn’t avoid the company at all!”

Ferrin flinches.

She grimaces.  “I’m sorry; that was low…but you know I’m right.  You could wield enormous influence and power in the company, and not only with the family when they want something, if you’d just take an interest!  If you would listen to me, let me guide you, advise you so you don’t believe everything you’re told, and let me stop Carson, Dyson and Jack from constantly distracting you, you could be the next Chair of the Board instead of Jack!”

“So I’m not only gullible and a wimp, I’m also so stupid I can only trust you to advise me?” he says, incredulous.

“Of course not!  But you’re wasting your potential—and your birthright!  Your father was Abram’s second-in-command, for God’s sake!  All you have to do is step up and follow in his footsteps!”  She runs a hand through her hair and groans.  “Face it, Ferrin, I’m never going to be CEO if I remain allied with you, not unless you change your approach to the business.”

Ferrin rears back and stares.

“‘Allied’?” he says slowly.  “Is that what the last five years have been about, Olivia?  An alliance?”

“No!  Of course not!  I love you.  I do!  You’re a wonderful man, Ferrin.  But you’re…” She spreads her hands and shrugs helplessly.

“Weak,” he says flatly, “and obviously a little stupid.  Have I got it right?”

“Ferrin…”  She takes a step towards him, but he quickly retreats.  She stops and stares at him, her large, brown eyes brimming with tears.  For once, he’s unmoved.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a disappointment to your professional ambitions,” he grates out, a bitter twist to his lips.  He turns and heads for the exit.

“Where are you going?”

“I have no idea,” he says, and slams the door behind him.

♠♥♣♦

Lou signs the last of the papers and sits back with a rueful scowl.

“Considering I never leave the house,” she grumbles to Ike, “you’d think there’d be less paperwork.”

Ike chuckles as he straightens the papers and tucks them into his briefcase.

“You have a lot of investments, Lou.  You need to keep track of them all.”

She shrugs.  “I suppose, although I thought that’s what I was paying you to do.”

“Lou,” Ike says, and leans back in Ike’s Chair with an annoyed sigh.

She grimaces and waves a hand.  “Whatever.  You know I don’t read the things when you put them in front of me, and I tune out as soon as you start talking finances and investments and whatever the hell else you’re saying when your lips are moving.”

“Yes, I do know.  Why do you think I gave up a long time ago on trying to convince you to pay more attention?”

She shrugs, then tugs her over-sized, dirt-brown sweater more closely around herself.  Her stomach churns and tightens as she buries her suddenly shaking hands in the knitted wool.  She staunchly reminds herself of her New Year’s Resolution to make changes in her life, beginning with her relationship with Ike and ending with her finally figuring out a way to leave the house.

“Would you like something to drink?” she asks, carefully casual, but she can’t quite keep the hopeful lilt from her voice.

It’s been a long time since Ike stayed past the time it takes to get her signature on a stack of papers, or to confirm she’s still breathing.  She misses the days when he’d linger and talk with her, giving her news of the world outside the walls of her house.  Even more, she misses those all-too-few nights, when he’d whisper against her heated skin, and leave her weak with need.  But those nights, like everything else, faded away and now he barely spends any time with her at all.

She doesn’t really miss people, but she misses Ike, and he’s the only one right in front of her.

Now he hesitates, and the thoughtful look on his face makes her stomach drop.

This won’t be good, she thinks.

“I don’t want anything to drink,” he says slowly, “but I do want to talk to you.”

Her stomach drops even further as she shifts her weight in her seat, her fingers clutching at the strands of her sweater.

“All right,” she says, feeling as wary as a rabbit sensing danger.

Ike leans forward, his gorgeous golden-brown eyes never wavering from hers.  He says, very carefully and precisely, “On New Year’s Eve, I asked Irish to marry me, and she said yes.”

The ensuing silence lengthens, deepens, as the words drift around her like leaves, like dust.

She loves Ike, has always loved him.  Even while they played cops and robbers through the dusty streets of Ledoux, or hunted for ghosts in and around the abandoned hospital on the outskirts of town, or searched for buried treasure in the rare copses of trees that dot the prairie landscape, she also secretly dreamed of playing house.  He’s her white knight, riding to her rescue whenever he noticed her schoolmates teasing her or when her mother got sick or when she realized she could no longer bring herself to face the world lurking outside her windows.  He starred in more dreams than she can count when she was a teenager, and he’s in more fantasies than she cares to admit as an adult.

Ten years ago, he helped her cope with her mother’s illness as he gradually took over all the mundane tasks she had no time or energy to do:  paying bills, buying groceries, talking to the neighbours.  Five years later, he stood by her side, strong and tall and comforting, when she finally laid her mother—that poor, long-suffering woman—to rest. Lou had been twenty-five then, grief-stricken and suddenly unable to cope with the world outside, but Ike remained her friend even after she crept into her house and allowed the doors to seal shut behind her.

She stayed inside, and there were those few brief months when he joined her in her bed, but then his desire faded away, and when she wasn’t looking, he fell in love with Irish.

She shivers.

The cold of a Saskatchewan winter doesn’t even come close to the ice growing inside her.

“Lou?”

She blinks and shifts, her fingers flexing nervously against the knitted fabric of her sweater.

“Congratulations,” she croaks.  Her heart clenches at the genuine happiness on his face, in his eyes.  She clears her throat, then asks, her voice husky, “When’s the big day?”

“The beginning of March.”

“That’s only six weeks away!”

He laughs.  “Well, there’s no reason to wait, is there? Don’t worry, Lou, I’m still going to manage your finances and take care of you.”

“Oh.  Well.  That’s…good.”  What did it matter, she wants to scream, if there’s no longer any hope you’ll come back to me?

Ike nods as he smacks his hands against his knees and surges to his feet.

“Maybe someday you’ll meet her,” he says, grinning as he picks up his briefcase.

She forces a smile, and hopes he doesn’t notice her trembling lips.  “Maybe.  You’ve told me so much about her, I feel like I know her already.”  She winces inside at her dry tone.

Ike either doesn’t notice or decides to ignore the sarcasm.

“You’d like her, you know,” he says as he walks to the door.  She drifts after him and watches, helpless, as he pulls on his boots and parka.  “She reminds me a lot of how you used to be.”

Lou opens her mouth to say she could be the way she used to be; she just needs to figure out how to get there, that’s all.  But he’s already opening the door, and she closes her mouth, the words unsaid.

He pauses on the threshold, the icy air swirling round his feet and into the large, cluttered foyer. He half-turns towards her, standing in both shadow and light.  Lou swallows, once again struck by how perfect he is, from the compelling beauty of his amber eyes, high cheekbones and perfectly symmetrical features, to his crown of carefully groomed dark brown hair, now ruffled by the cold winter wind.  She sometimes finds it hard to believe he’s ever run barefoot through mud, or hovered over her as he patiently coaxed her to orgasm.  Maybe if she had been able to enjoy the sex more—

“I’ll be back before the wedding,” he says now, startling her from her thoughts.  “See you later, Lou.”

He flashes his charming smile, and is gone before she even finishes nodding.

She stares at the door without seeing it before she carefully straightens her sweater, vaguely aware her feet are numb even in their wool socks, thanks to the cold prairie wind that had blown inside the house.  She turns and walks just as carefully back to the living room.  She eases down onto the couch, feeling as if even the air touching her skin is enough to break her.

She stares at nothing, and allows the comforting silence to gently settle over her.

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