Category Archives: Book Tour

Pre-Pub Blast – Darkest Before the Dawn

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About the Author

Mike Martin

Mike Martin was born in Newfoundland on the East Coast of Canada and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a long-time freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand. He is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People and has written a number of short stories that have published in various publications including Canadian Stories and Downhome magazine.

The Walker on the Cape was his first full fiction book and the premiere of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series. Other books in the series include The Body on the T, Beneath the Surface, A Twist of Fortune and A Long Ways from Home, which was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award as the best light mystery of the year. A Tangled Web was released in 2017 and the newest book in the series.is Darkest Before the Dawn.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

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About the Book:

Title: DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN
Author: Mike Martin
Publisher: Ottawa Press and Publishing
Pages: TBA
Genre: Mystery

Darkest Before the Dawn

BOOK BLURB:

Darkest Before the Dawn is the latest adventure of Sgt. Winston Windflower, a Mountie who finds himself surrounded by a new family and a new life in tiny Grand Bank, Newfoundland. There are signs of trouble that may disturb his pleasant life, including a series of unsolved break-ins and the lack of supports for young people in the most trying time of their lives. But there are always good friends, good food and the sense that if we all pull together, we can find a way to get through even the darkest days.

Ghosts, mysterious deaths, and a new character enliven the pages as Windflower and Tizzard and the other police officers awaken the secrets that have been lying dormant in this sleepy little town. The deeper they dig the more they find as the criminals they seek dive deeper behind the curtains of anonymity and technology. But more than anything, this is a story of love and loss, of growing up and learning how to grow old gracefully. It is also about family and community and looking after each other. Of not giving up hope just before the dawn.

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VBT – Miss Behave

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About the Author

Traci Highland

Traci Highland writes funny books for sassy ladies. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and has a Master’s from Quinnipiac University. She uses this education to write books, bake cakes, garden and make homemade jams. Her children say she’s bossy, her husband says she’s high-maintenance, but the dog thinks she’s perfect.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | BOOKBUB

About the Book

Title: Miss Behave (The Anderson Family Series Book 1)
Author: Traci Highland
Publisher: Cheshire Lane Press
Pages: 330
Genre: Romantic Comedy

Miss Behave

BOOK BLURB:

She’s great at giving advice, too bad she never takes it…

Piper Anderson wants to be a serious journalist at a serious paper covering serious news. Instead, she’s stuck at the Pendleton Falls Herald, where her massive investigative skills are wasted penning the paper’s advice column, Miss Behave.

Her shot at a meaty story comes when she’s assigned to write up a profile of a local business, Brookes Jewelers. She is determined to write the piece so she can use the article to impress a real paper.

Unfortunately Hunter Brookes, co-owner of Brookes Jewelers and the Pendleton Falls Herald, is rather persistent, in his own hot little way, that the piece should be nothing more than a glorified sales pitch.

But when diamonds disappear, Piper may get the chance to do a real investigation, leading her to confront family secrets and worst of all, turn to her mother for help.

Piper soon realizes that there is more to Mr. Brookes than a tight ass and a ridiculous fascination with name tags. Together they deal with roasted pigs, crazy cat ladies, and gun-toting fashionistas.

In all the chaos, they just might find the one thing that neither one was looking for: true love.

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Book Excerpt

Dear Miss Behave,

Last weekend I was at the pool with the children, and there was a woman naked and walking around the locker room.

I hate to be prissy, but to be naked around young children like that just isn’t right. She comes to the pool regularly and I am not the only one who has happened upon her strolling around the locker room without clothes. Now I know there are showers and that people change in locker rooms, but showers should be taken while wearing bathing suits and there are private changing rooms that are clearly marked.

How can I convey to her the accepted rules of decency before any of our children become hopelessly corrupted?

Sincerely,

-Agape at the AquaPark

Dear Agape,

Do please get over yourself. People shower naked. If you choose not to, then I assume you probably smell and your skin is beset by odd rashes.

I suggest that you buy your kids an ice-cream and treat yourself to a margarita. Life is short, darling. Lighten up.

Sincerely,

Miss Behave

VBT – Wheels Up

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About the Author

Jeanine Kitchel, a former journalist, escaped her hectic nine-to-five life in San Francisco, bought land, and built a house in a fishing village on the Mexican Caribbean coast. Shortly after settling in she opened a bookstore. By this time she had become a serious Mayaphile and her love of the Maya culture led her and her husband to nearby pyramid sites throughout southern Mexico and farther away to sites in Central America. In the bookstore she entertained a steady stream of customers with their own Maya tales to tell—from archeologists and explorers to tour guides and local experts. At the request of  a publisher friend, she began writing travel articles about her adopted homeland for websites and newspapers. Her travel memoir, Where the Sky is Born: Living in the Land of the Maya, and Maya 2012 Revealed: Demystifying the Prophecy, are available on Amazon. She has since branched into writing fiction and her debut novel, Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival, launched May 2018.

Jeanine Kitchel

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS
WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK (Personal) | FACEBOOK (Page)

About the Book

Title: WHEELS UP: A NOVEL OF DRUGS, CARTELS, AND SURVIVAL
Author: Jeanine Kitchel
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 294
Genre: Thriller

Wheels Up

BOOK BLURB

Layla always wanted to run the family business. But is she willing to kill for it?
When her notorious drug lord uncle is recaptured, Layla Navarro catapults to the top of Mexico’s most powerful cartel. Groomed as his successor, Layla knows where the bodies are buried. But not all the enemies. She strikes her first deal to prove her mettle by accepting an offer to move two tons of cocaine from Colombia to Cancun by jet. Things go sideways during a stopover in Guatemala whe Layla unexpectedly uncovers a human trafficking ring. Plagued by self-doubt, she must fight off gangsters, outsmart corrupt officials, and navigate the minefield of Mexican machismo. Even worse, she realizes she’s become a target for every rival cartel seeking to undermine her new standing. From her lush base in the tropics, she’s determined to retain her dominant position in Mexico’s criminal world. If she can stay alive.

ORDER YOUR COPY:
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Book Excerpt

Chapter 1
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Present Day
The Gulfstream jet, loaded with two tons of Colombian cocaine, careened over dense Yucatan jungle as Layla stared out the compact window, horrified. If they weren’t running on empty and destined to crash, it might have looked lush to her, even beautiful.
Without fuel, the engines starved into silence, she heard only the whooshing sound of the aluminum plane as it cruised over mangrove swamps and fast-approaching mahogany trees. All thoughts of her hasty departure from Guatemala to escape Don Guillermo’s wrath had vanished along with any hopes of safely landing in Cancun. They were going down.
Layla gripped the armrests, dropped her head between her knees, and prepared for the worst.
#
Three weeks earlier, Layla was sitting at the crowded bar in Bucanero’s Cantina in Ensenada, on Mexico’s west coast, while she waited for Clay Lasalle, Canada’s biggest pot dealer, to show up. Carlos, her bodyguard and sometime lover, was with her, but rather than relieving the stress, his overbearing presence just added to the pressure.
With the recent recapture and imprisonment of El Patrón, her notorious uncle, Layla had catapulted to the top of the Culiacan Cartel as his replacement. Now she was facing her first deal without her uncle’s guiding hand. To calm her jitters she resorted to the one thing that never failed her: tequila shots.
“Don Julio, por favor!” Layla called to the paunchy bartender over the clamor of the rowdy, alcohol-fueled crowd—mostly tourists in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Above the polished mahogany bar a framed poster-sized photo showed a nude blonde being ushered out of the century-old watering hole by two Mexican policia. Of course it’s a gringa, Layla thought, Mexicans treaded more carefully in shark-infested waters. She waved a two-hundred-peso note as the bartender passed by with a tray of margaritas.
“Momentito!” he promised.
Carlos stepped away just as she downed her second shot. Though he’d given her his “cuidado” or “be careful” look before heading to the restroom, she ignored it. When a handsome gringo sat next to her and started talking, she was all in.
By the time Carlos returned, Layla was too busy chatting with her neighbor to worry about her bodyguard’s glare. Carlos hated outsiders as much as seeing her drink, but she needed to chill. Tequila shots and flirting were a mindless diversion. The agave centered her, allowing her to distract herself without losing her edge before the meeting.
“You’re from Chicago?” she asked. “I’ve been there.”
The man gazed at the dark-haired Latina by his side. “What did you think?”
She gave a dismissive shrug. “Too cold.” Her intelligent almond-shaped eyes were the color of charcoal. “I prefer Mexico.” A sardonic smile highlighted her cheekbones, making her face even more appealing.
Layla turned back toward her bodyguard and focused on the shot glass the bartender placed in front of her. Poor Carlos. Coming to Baja always rattled him. It wasn’t only the jaw-breaking drive from Culiacan on dodgy Mexican roads. It was Ensenada—far from the safety of Sinaloa, well out of their comfort zone. But for Layla, Bucanero’s Cantina qualified as northern Baja’s one saving grace. The dive bar brought back memories of her wild, reckless early years. At thirty-five, Layla still had plenty of the right stuff. Her five-foot-six frame seemed mostly legs and Carlos’s rare compliments always focused on her tiny waist. She emphasized her striking physique by wearing low-cut tops but her most notable feature was the cascade of curly dark hair that spilled over her shoulders.
She downed her last tequila shot, scooted off the wooden bar stool a step ahead of Carlos and moved towards the empty dining room. The cantina was not the best place for a meeting, but it suited their needs: an easy landmark near the border with a back room for business. Layla slipped into the barely lit room, accepted a menu from the waiter, and handed him a two-hundred-peso note.
“Our associate arrives soon. We need privacy. Close the restaurant,” she ordered. “Your manager knows.”
He nodded, pocketed the bill, and turned towards the kitchen.
Layla walked across the worn wooden floor to a corner table in the back. She took a deep breath to steady herself before sitting down. Things would escalate into a full-scale argument once Carlos reached the table. She could already hear him scolding, “Bosses keep to themselves, especially in public.”
When Carlos had a bad day, everyone had a bad day. He could easily vie for title of most miserable man on the planet. Too bad the sex was so good. Hijole! He had the body of a male model but two sizes larger, with café au lait skin. So handsome, but so disagreeable. Granted she shouldn’t have given that gringo the time of day, but tequila made her bold.
Layla opened the menu, waiting for her bodyguard’s interrogation to begin.
Carlos banged a cheap wooden chair against the table before sitting down. “What the hell do you care about Chicago? It’s not Madrid, not even Barcelona! That guy was boring! Are you so starved for conversation you have to talk to a gringo?”
Layla silently perused the bill of fare.
“I’ve had it,” he said, his voice rising. “I’m tired of my life. Am I just your bodyguard and nothing more? Everyone, everyone, told me to keep it strictly business, even your uncle. But I didn’t listen. I thought it would be that one drunken one night stand, and now I’m fucking chained to you because of this goddamn job!”
His powerful hands clenched into fists as he rubbed them over his knees. “If only I could’ve left you in Guadalajara. But I’d have never made it out of the city before taking a bullet from your uncle.”
That was accurate: You didn’t quit the cartel, the cartel quit you. She looked at the menu, avoiding eye contact, glad the waiter hadn’t yet returned. “Should we order?”
He glared at her. “Are you acting like this conversation isn’t happening? Do you want me to walk out of here, meeting or no meeting?”
Best not to test him. He’d do it, and then she’d be without a bodyguard. The drone of his voice, the bullying, started to sink in. Chinga! She had no trouble working the cartel mob, but Carlos ran her. He was as overbearing as her two brothers. Reynoldo who should have been running the cartel had died trying, and Martín, her other brother, wasn’t up to the task. Now with one brother and two cousins dead, Layla found herself atop the Culiacan Cartel.
She looked up and said in as soothing a tone as possible, “Carlos, let’s not fight, okay? We’re here for business. I need you with me. You’re not only the man who protects me. I love you.”
She did love him, though his bad attitude and barking complaints—usually aimed at her—were tiresome. He shifted his perfectly-proportioned body forward, staring at her with eyes she’d been lost in a hundred times. He surprised her by grabbing her hand, a little harder than necessary. They never touched in public.
“After this meeting, we’ll talk about you and me.” He scowled. “I don’t know why you drink so much—and with strangers.”
These macho men! “Okay, okay. I’ll let up on the shots. One last Pacifico while we wait.”
The waiter came and they ordered. She checked her watch, 10 p.m. Lasalle would be showing up soon. She’d met him once before in Miami and sparks had flown—there was no denying they had chemistry.
Layla changed topics. “So, what does he want?”
“Chinga! Who cares?”
She backpedaled. “Carlos…”
He gave her a cold look but couldn’t hold back his opinion. “Routes for coke or pot.”
The meal went smoothly. Layla pushed an enchilada around her plate and watched Carlos demolish an order of chilaquiles, three tamales, and a couple chicken enchiladas. As he piled it in, a rare calm settled over him. He was well into his second beer when Clay walked into the restaurant. Layla saw him first, but Carlos looked up the moment Clay crossed the threshold. As a bodyguard, Carlos’s instincts were flawless.
The thirty-something Canadian smuggler was six feet two, a looker with brown shaggy hair and an easy smile. Though his frame was solid, almost hefty, he moved like a cat. Spotting Layla, he gave a nod as his long strides brought him across the room.
He let his knuckles graze the table as he flashed her a warm smile. “Layla, it’s been a long time. Good to see you again. And this is…”
“Carlos.”
“Carlos, hola. Clay.” The Canadian extended a hand.
Carlos rose from the booth. “A pleasure.” He spoke in Spanish. “I’ll be close by,” he said to Layla.
“Have a seat.” Layla slid over to allow room for Clay. Not much had changed about the northern grower since she last saw him—still that laidback air even though he controlled the lion’s share of Canada’s pot sales.
“Something to eat?” Layla continued in English, though she knew Clay spoke passable Spanish.
He shook his head. “Just a Pacifico.” She gestured toward her beer and the hovering waiter sprung into action.
“Long drive?”
“Not bad. Been waiting long?” Clay asked.
“No.”
They silently watched the waiter set down the bottle of beer and retreat from the room.
“Salud,” said Clay, raising his bottle. “Layla, I’m glad you could meet with me. I’ll get right to the point. I want a partner to move a couple tons of coke to Cancun by air—a regular run. I heard you lost a yacht recently, so a partnership could work out well for both of us.”
How did Lasalle know about the navy seizing their yacht?
“Cocaine…”
“Boats are fine, but flying’s faster and we can carry more. Plus I’m dealing directly with FARC. Gotta hand it to ’em. For a guerrilla army in the Colombian jungle, they know how to run those cocaine fincas. And we can get better prices from them than anyone’s gotten before.”
He took a swig of beer.
“Interesting,” she said without emotion. “How will you manage those good prices?”
“A combined order with you.” He paused and waited for her reaction.
She said nothing.
“The airport manager’s on board,” he said, “Already allowed some of my flights through.”
She leaned back against the worn naugahyde booth, settling into the game of cat and mouse. “What kind of planes?”
“A Gulfstream and a DC-9.”
Layla raised an eyebrow. “Who owns them?”
“A couple guys in Lauderdale run a shield for drug planes by providing American registration to the cartels. It’s complicated—big money down, more than what the plane’s worth. In return these guys maintain the plane registration, and hire Vietnam vets to do the cartel runs.”
She nodded.
“If the plane’s seized, the pilots deny responsibility. These hooked-up guys can reclaim the plane because their corporation holds the lien,” Clay said.
Layla slid forward, placed her elbows on the table and picked at the label on the empty beer bottle in front of her. “How can they do that? Someone must hold the original papers.”
“They disguise ownership by sheep-dipping it—you know, a fake identity—and pass it on to straw owners. It’s a slick process, an old scheme used by the CIA.”
“The CIA? Come on, Clay,” she said with a slight frown. Do I look naïve? She flipped her dark hair over one shoulder. Clay’s gaze shifted to Layla’s long elegant neck.
He caught himself, looked away, and readjusted his long legs under the table before speaking. “These vets couriered traffickers from Colombia to Miami for the CIA. Talk about walking the line. They did time for trafficking, but they’re back, and they’re hotshot pilots.”
“Your shipments came in with no problem?” Layla asked.
“Like I said, I have connections, and the players, they’ve worked it out.”
“Does that include the Gulf Cartel?”
He nodded.
“Hmm. I’ve got to think things through,” Layla said. “When’s your next run?”
“Got a few details to sort out. I hear you’re growing the European market—this’ll get you a lot closer to that trip across the pond.”
Layla gave him a cool smile. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were spying on me.”
“Layla,” Clay said with a chuckle. “I’m just trying to keep up with you.”
She looked at him a second too long before she continued. “Can I get back to you?”
“Sure.” Clay finished off his beer. “Let me know where and when.”
#
Layla and Carlos left Ensenada immediately after the meeting, heading out on the road to Culiacan. Carlos high-powered the black SUV through the moonless night while Layla closed her eyes and imagined the impact of bringing in new business on her own. In a four hundred billion dollar global industry, she could begin to stake out her territory.
“By working with us, FARC will see Clay as a real player,” she confided to Carlos.
“Basta! Always business!” Carlos said, still in a huff.
Layla composed herself before responding. “Yes, it is. Business that allows you to drive a new Escalade, wear expensive suits and five thousand peso boots, and drink Don Julio and Dom Perignon. Let me remind you: My uncle’s in prison and he’s left me in charge. Get used to it!”
She leaned against the window, pulling as far away from Carlos as possible. Always fighting. She turned her attention to the darkness outside. It was a lonely two-lane road, not used much even in the daytime. Though she couldn’t make out the mountains that surrounded them she knew they were there.
They rode in silence, absorbed in separate thoughts. Carlos concentrated on dodging potholes. Layla contemplated moving powder with Clay.
The rules were changing and in this game they all had to stay ahead of the curve. She was anxious to run the idea by El Patrón. But they had a long drive ahead.

Guest Post

Why I Decided to Write Fiction

I write about Mexico, the Maya and the Yucatán. I’ve always loved Mexico. It was my home for 15 years and once I moved there and opened my bookstore, there were just too many untold stories that needed telling.

At first I was cajoled into writing by a publisher who wandered into the shop one day and started quizzing me on various pyramid sites and eventually got around to asking how I ended up there, pretty much the middle of nowhere—a fishing village on the Mexican Caribbean coast. He asked me to write an occasional column about Mexico life for his publication and I obliged. As a former journalist with two non-fiction books under my belt, travel articles were an easy assignment.

But after my last book, I realized I could reach a wider audience by writing fiction, and still discuss big ticket issues. Now, in 2018, I’ve watched the creeping dominance of Mexico cartels for more than a decade. Living in Mexico gave me an insider’s view to the damage being done and the effect the cartels have on every level of society.

Speaking and reading the language is an immense benefit. If I missed a bit of gossip, Mexican papers provided the back story—they’re newsy but a strange combination of fluff and gore. During my early years in Mexico, locals feared the Russian mafia. That idea may seem quaint, but it was a real thing. That worry fell to the wayside when cartels entered the picture. Primarily centered inland or on the west coast, Cancun’s treasure trove of tourist dollars beckoned. Though relatively safe—as are all major Mexican tourist destinations— a sleeping giant lies nearby. How could I not write about it?
—Jeanine Kitchel, author Wheels Up—A Novel of Cartels, Drugs and Survival

VBT – Memoirs of a Road Warrior

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About the Book
Title: Memoirs of a Road Warrior
Author: Fred Klein
Genre: Humor

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Andrew Livingston, a young, naive college graduate gets a job as a sales engineer for a crazy company. Set in New York in the corporate raider 1980’s this humorous book is a recounting of all the strange history of a high-tech company with an eccentric CEO.
This character gathers together a strange assortment of employees who endeavor to manufacture and sell their products to an equally strange collection of customers. The book tells of their amusing conflicts and experiences throughout the decades.
Follow the company’s encounters with Chinese agents, horse trailers, rocket fuel disasters, con-men, bedbugs, and airplane crashes. Learn how not to run a business!

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Author Bio

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Fred Klein is a new author of his humorous novel MEMOIRS OF A ROAD WARRIOR. He was a sales engineer for 30 years selling scientific instruments throughout North America. He is a private pilot, a drummer in a band, and presently lives with his wife in California. Fred is not a natural comedian but funny things always see to happen around him.

Links

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/
webpage: http://www.humorous-book.com
email: memoirsofaroadwarrior@gmail.com
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fred.klein56232
twitter: https://twitter.com/Author3333
wordpress: www.humorousbook.wordpress.com
Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/81816063

VBT – Labors of an Epic Punk

TourBanner_Labors of an Epic Punk copy

Labors of an Epic Punk
by Mark and Sheri Dursin

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GENRE: YA Fantasy, Myth Retelling

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Teaser_Labors of an Epic Punk

BLURB:

Mac is an epic punk. No wonder: after his dad went off to fight in the Trojan War and never came back, Mac spent his childhood evading his mom’s scumbag suitors—all one-hundred-and-eight of them. Of course, he turned out this way—a moody, friendless sixteen-year-old who blows off work, alienates everyone at school, and pulls pranks. But when he trains a flock of birds to defecate on the headmaster, Mac (short for Telemachus) goes too far. The administrators give him an ultimatum: prove that he’s truly the son of Odysseus by doing something heroic—or get out. A school story that just so happens to take place 3,000 years ago, Labors of an Epic Punk is a tale of friendship and transformation, regret and redemption, and a reminder to us all that even heroes need to survive adolescence.

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EXCERPT

No one on the field that morning had any idea that all Hades was about to break loose.

Well, one person did.

The stands were over-crammed with students, all chirping away about their summer travels, each one trying to out-fabulous the other. But Mac wasn’t talking to any of them. (No surprise there.)  Instead, he just stared at the empty stage in fist-clenching anticipation. For the entire morning, the entire summer, the entire two years he’d wasted at this gods-forsaken school, he’d been waiting for this moment. His moment of glory, of genius. The moment when he’d finally and irretrievably cross The Line— that hard-to-define boundary between tolerable and intolerable. Between a week of detention and expulsion. All he needed was for Headmaster Gurgus to blow on that shell.

Just when he thought he couldn’t wait any longer without throwing up, Mac heard the band play the opening notes to “Yielding Never,” Pieridian Academy’s absurdly overblown fight song. The Opening Ceremonies were officially underway. From his seat high up in the stands, Mac watched intently as the members of the so-called Grand Procession marched onto Garthymedes Field: the entire faculty and staff, wearing shiny red gowns and smiles full of phony reverence; followed by the honored students, also in ritualistic red, condescendingly waving at the crowd; followed by a grotesque, nine-headed Hydra.

Lastly, waddling ten paces behind the Hydra, in all his roly-poly, four-hundred pound glory, was Headmaster Gurgus.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:

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For many years Mark, a high school English teacher, and Sheri, a freelance writer and blogger, wrote independently. No matter the writing project—newspaper articles, retreat talks, college recommendation letters, fan-fiction, blog posts on spirituality or 80s pop songs—they tended to work alone. Separate rooms, separate computers. But raising their twin sons helped them discover an important truth: All Good Things Come in Twos.

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RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY:

Mark and Sheri Dursin will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Author’s choice of topic

When Mark and I visit schools to talk to teen readers, the question we’re asked most often is pretty obvious: How did we become authors? I think a love of writing always starts with a love of reading. The kind of reading that results in a pile of “to be read” books that keeps growing and growing. The kind of reading that keeps you up late into the night, because you need to finish “just one more chapter!”

As kids, Mark and I were exactly those kinds of readers. We both had that experience of falling in love with the world of fiction and the amazing realization that authors could create imaginative stories out of thin air that people would read and love and relate to and talk about.  I was in 8th grade when I first tried doing this. Having joined a brand new club called The Young Authors Club, I wrote my first book, which I called The Garden Party. The story was pretty short and was inspired (more than a little) by my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. But it was a completed book and it was mine.

When I was young, I had this vision for my life of being a full-time author…maybe not a “famous” author, but definitely someone who wrote books for a living. And then I “grew up” and like what happens with so many childhood dreams, I thought of it less and less as my path took me in other directions.

But I never stopped writing.

I know Mark’s story is almost the same as mine. Lots of short stories and half-finished novels written on notebook paper and stuffed in drawers. When we were young, there was no Internet with fanfiction sites, Wattpad, or blogs. Stories remained hidden because there weren’t a lot of ways to share them. So it was easy for our dreams of becoming authors to remain hidden, too. Until we met and got married, and that’s when things changed.  And now here we are…all these years later, finally published authors.

It took a series of leaps for us to get to this point. The first was the lightbulb moment that we had a good idea for a story. And then came the decision to actually start it. Writing takes time and discipline and inspiration all mixed together. The conditions for writing aren’t always ideal and so just getting started is often the first hurdle.

What got Mark and I over this hurdle was our decision to work together. We had both been dragging our feet for so long…having a partner to write with made it fun, exciting, and not so scary or overwhelming.

The second big leap was the decision to publish Labors of an Epic Punk ourselves. It was the most freeing decision we ever made, and it’s how we’re finally able to hold our book in our hands and share it with the world. It took about a year and a small investment of money to go through the indie publishing process.  But we can honestly say it was worth it. We’ll have to keep our day jobs. Very few published authors make enough money to write full-time. And now that anyone can publish their own book, there’s tons of competition out there.  But there’s also tons of inspiration to be found. We’ve met authors who work as teachers, accountants, landscapers, engineers, office managers, EMTs, and lawyers. The common thread that ties us together is that writing is our passion. It’s something we fit into our lives because we love it.

VBT – HEART STOPPING

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HEART STOPPING
by L.P. MAXA

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GENRE: Paranormal Romance

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IMPORTANT NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER

Boroughs Publishing Group can’t wait to give you a Xmas gift in July. Join the party:

https://www.facebook.com/events/202551280465596/?active_tab=discussion

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BLURB

LOVE ETERNAL

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Ten years ago Baze Carter fell irrevocably in love and knew he’d found his forever only to have her ripped from his arms, never to be seen again. Broken, and unable to find her, he made a life for himself as a baseball coach at St. Leasing School for Boys. Their secret, hidden for centuries, has been in peril for the past year, and now more than ever, Baze and his pack need to end the evil that plagues them. When Penelope Sutton is discovered bruised and battered lying in the road in front of his home, Baze is elated and murderous in equal measure. Anyone who dare harm his long lost mate will be made to pay, but not before Baze and Pen find their way back to each other.

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EXCERPT

It was dark now; his packmates should be here soon. Which meant his alone time with Penelope was about to become almost nonexistent, so he didn’t want to waste any more of it talking about Franklin. While Jace’s house in the mountains was large, by anyone’s standards, there were about to be eleven people living there— eleven exceptionally nosy and interested people.

“I don’t know what happens next, Pen.” He went and sat back on the edge of the bed, his hands wanting more than anything to touch her soft skin. “My pack—”
“You really have a pack now? A real wolf pack?”

Baze smiled at that. He and his friends were an anomaly in this day and age; real packs were something of the past. “It happened slowly, over time. The four men I coach baseball with at St. Leasing are all shifters. Over the last year they’ve all met and mated. We live in close proximity of each other. We work together, we spend weekends together.” He shrugged. “Eventually we kind of slid into it I guess.”

“You’re the only one without a mate?” She was speaking to him, but she was looking at her lap.

“I have a mate.”

Her eyes flew to his, round and almost sad. “Oh, I didn’t realize—”

“You’re my girl, Penelope. You always have been, and you always will be. You’re my mate.”

She held her hand up, stopping his sappy declaration. “Baze. Look, I can’t sit here and act like I’m not glad that you aren’t bonded with someone else. But you can’t seriously think of me as your mate.”

“Why not? Don’t you still think of me as yours? You aren’t mated. I’d be able to tell. I’d be able to smell him on you.” The thought alone was hard to stomach.

“Are you telling me that you’ve spent the last ten years pining and celibate? You’ve slept alone every night with no one to comfort you but your hand?” she scoffed. “Because it seems to me a hot young baseball coach in a small mountain town would get plenty of play.”

“There have been other women, but they meant nothing. They were a means to an end, nothing more.”

“Be still my heart.” She rolled her eyes.

“You are mine, Penelope. You’re my mate. And as soon as things calm down around here, I am going to bend—”

“Whoa.” She held her hand up again. “I haven’t seen you in ten fucking years, Baze Carter. Don’t for one second think that I am going to let you mount me the second this house goes to sleep.” She shook her head. “I’m not some desperate chick in a small-town bar. It won’t be nearly that easy. History be damned.”

Heart Stoppin (2)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links

LPMaxa_AuthorPhoto

L.P. lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, three rescue dogs, four chickens, two dwarf goats, and one adopted cat. The fish died. She is a full-time writer, and part time business owner. L.P. says she loves to read as much as she loves to write, and reading a good book is her reward after writing one. In her spare time, she fosters puppies for a rescue organization based in Austin.

https://www.lpmaxa.com/
https://www.facebook.com/lpmaxa
https://twitter.com/lpmaxa

Buy links:
http://boroughspublishinggroup.com/books/heart-stopping https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F5N6WGM https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/heart-stopping/id1406272849?mt=11
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/heart-stopping-lp-maxa/1128988658?ean=2940155319047
https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/heart-stopping
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/872284

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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VBT – Circumvent

Circumvent tour banner 2

About the Author

S.K. Derban

Born in the United States, S.K. Derban moved to London within the first three months, and remained in England until the age of five. Her mother was involved with the London Royal Ballet Company, and a great fan of the arts. Even after returning to the United States, S.K. Derban’s life was filled with a love of the theatre and a passion for British murder mysteries.

Her personal travel and missionary adventures also help to transport readers virtually across the globe. S.K. Derban has smuggled Bibles into China, and has been to Israel on seven missionary trips. When writing, she relies on all aspects of her life, from a strong faith in the Lord, to her unique combination of professional experience. The many personal adventures of S.K. Derban are readily apparent as they shine through into her characters. Circumvent is the third mystery novel for writer S.K. Derban.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

About the Book:

Not An Ordinary Woman

Title: CIRCUMVENT
Author: S.K. Derban
Publisher: Touchpoint Press
Genre: Mystery

BOOK BLURB:

Imagine living in a quaint, beach front cottage on the Hawaiian island of Maui. You have an amazing job, combined with the pleasure of working from home. Lunch breaks become a daily picnic on the sand. Dessert is always included because of your marriage to a famous pastry chef. Life could not be any better. Or so it seems… When French born, Nikki Sabine Moueix travels to Hawaii for a special work assignment, her job of writing an article about a famous Swiss pastry chef generates more than a magazine piece. They fall in love, get married, and Nikki becomes Mrs. Ruggiero Delémont.

When another assignment calls for Nikki to spend three weeks in France, Ruggiero’s schedule prevents him from joining her. She travels alone, advancing straight into danger. After a threatening confrontation, Nikki wakes up in a French hospital with no knowledge of her past. When she fails to check in, Ruggiero panics and pushes for an immediate investigation. But as he closes in, Nikki’s new found friend moves her to another city. It becomes a game of hide and seek with Nikki as the prize.

CIRCUMVENT allows readers to form a bond with Nikki as they yearn for her to remember. They will cheer for Ruggiero and his relentless determination to locate his beloved wife. This is a story about two people who never lose their faith in God, and find amazing friends to help them along the way.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon

 

Book Excerpt:

Prologue

Last Monday in October

Lyon, France

Nikki

Outside of the Metro Cordeliers subway station, Nikki descended the cement ramp with plans of hailing a taxi. She towed a duet of stacked, attached suitcases with her right hand, and carried a leather tote on her opposite shoulder. Nikki used her free hand to brush the curls away from her eyes and caught the attention of one particular driver.

The driver leaned against his idling vehicle with one foot casually crossed over his standing leg. Nikki watched him watch her as he adjusted his gray flannel driving beret. When she reached the sidewalk, he spoke.

“Bonsoir, mademoiselle,” he said in French. “I am Philippe Golmard, absolutely the best taxi driver in all of Lyon.” He side stepped to open the rear car door.

“This is your lucky night, beautiful mademoiselle. I am available and at your complete service.”

Nikki’s delicate shoulders quivered as she chuckled softly. Frenchmen, she thought. They will never change. “Merci beaucoup,” she spoke the language flawlessly. “Your offer is hard to resist.” With slim fingers, she adjusted the strap of her black tote and continued her explanation, “But my hotel is so very close, and after sitting for such a long time, I need to stretch my legs.”

“But, mademoiselle, even by such high French standards your beauty leaves me breathless. It is not good for you to walk alone.”

“You are very kind, but I am not going far.”

“If you are staying at the Grand Boscolo, I can have you there in two minutes. Then, you can stretch your legs without carrying the weight of your bags.”

With a polite, but dismissive motion of her hand, Nikki smiled at his perseverance. Fortunately, she was extremely familiar with the many one-way streets and pedestrian-only areas. With or without luggage, walking would be the fastest way to go. She renounced his offer with a turn of her head. “Merci, but perhaps another time,” she murmured while continuing by.

As Nikki rounded the corner of the first street, a gentle breeze blew several strands of her long, free-flowing hair. The curly wisps tickled her nose until a row of trees diverted the current’s path. She followed the natural windbreak as the street curved away from the direction of her hotel. Nikki had a passion for shopping but was purposefully avoiding the busy pedestrian area. Instead, she opted to walk around, knowing an attempt to navigate through the crowds while carting her luggage would only cause a delay. Besides, she thought. I will need two free hands to do any real shopping damage.  Nikki’s facial expression loudly announced her mischievous expectation of spending her first full day hitting the French stores. Work would come soon enough.

Finally, she made the necessary left turn and began negotiating the downward slope of a quiet side street. Nikki never expected her route to be completely void of people, and yet, surprisingly her neck hairs bristled when she heard footsteps from behind. While keeping her pace constant, she quickly glanced over her right shoulder and spotted a man who looked vaguely familiar. I know him from somewhere, Nikki thought. Still not certain, and feeling a strange vulnerability, she increased her stride and continued pressing ahead. From the sound of his footsteps, Nikki could tell the man had also sped and was gaining on her. Fear galvanized her when she suddenly heard him break into a run.

Nikki gathered her inner strength, then stopped, and turned to confront the man. She focused on his features and finally remembered. “It’s you! You’re from Maui,” she accused. “You drove my airport shuttle. What are you doing here in France, and why are you following me?”

“I, uh.” The man’s clouded eyes darted nervously in their sockets. “We gave you the wrong bag,” he responded anxiously.

“What do you mean? I don’t understand.” Nikki looked down at her bags and instantly recognized her custom brass identification tags. With a creased forehead, her dark eyebrows dipped inwardly. “What is really going on here?” she demanded.

The man stepped closer. “Look, lady, I—”

Nikki instinctively moved backward. “Get away from me!” she shouted. “Dear, God!” Nikki screamed for help as his thick palm closed around the lower carrying handle of her rolling, ground suitcase.

“Just give me the bag,” the man growled between clenched teeth.

Making the instant decision to give up the suitcase and relinquish a few clothes, Nikki immediately released her grip on the rolling handle. But, as she attempted to run away, Nikki’s arm jerked painfully backward.

The man continued to tug at the suitcase, forcing her feet to slide toward him along the cement walkway. “Let go!” he insisted.

“I can’t!” she screamed. “My bracelet is caught!”

With one powerful yank, the man tore the bag from Nikki’s outstretched arm causing her to lose balance. Blinding pain shot through her system as Nikki’s head smacked against the concrete sidewalk. She moaned softly while straining to see through the rapidly collecting haze. Nikki’s eyelids continued to flutter as the gray turned to black, and she slipped from consciousness.

VBT – At Shutter Speed

AT SHUTTER SPEED by Rebecca Burrell,
Women’s Fiction,
353 pp.,
$10.71 (Paperback)
$4.99 (Kindle)

 

Title: AT SHUTTER SPEED

Author: Rebecca Burrell

Publisher: Cranesbill Press

Pages: 381

Genre: Women’s Fiction

In the click of a shutter, #Resistance becomes more than just a hashtag.Pass the bar exam. Convince someone—anyone—in the Egyptian government
to admit they’ve imprisoned your husband. Don’t lose your mind. For
fledgling human rights attorney Leah Cahill, the past six months have
been a trial by fire, ever since Matty, a respected but troubled war
photojournalist, disappeared during a crackdown in Cairo.

Leah, the daughter of a civil rights icon, grew up wanting to change
the world; Matty was the one who showed her she could. Though frustrated
by the US government’s new fondness for dictators, she persists, until a
leaked email reveals a crumbling democracy far closer to home.

Risking her own freedom, she gains proof Matty’s being detained at a
U.S. ‘black site’, stemming from his work covering the refugee crisis in
Syria. Armed with his photo archives, Leah plunges into their past
together, a love story spanning three continents. She uncovers secrets
involving Matty’s missionary childhood, her own refugee caseload, and
the only story the deeply principled reporter ever agreed to bury. It’s
what got him captured—and what might still get him killed. With Leah’s
last chance to save him slipping away, Matty’s biggest secret may be one
he’s willing to die to protect.

Order Your Copy!

 

 

Chapter One
Crackups and Crackdowns
Cairo, Egypt
In  a split second, Matty can tell you a story.
With a click of
the shutter, he captures a life—beginning, middle, or end. His photos tell
tales, expose truths, open worlds. If journalism is a dying profession, I’ve
been watching it kill my husband for years. But at the same time, it’s keeping
us alive.
A sea of
humanity undulates through Tahrir Square, respiring with simmering fervor.
Sirens have been blaring since evening prayers, punctuated by dull explosions
from police-fired smoke bombs. Casualties, mostly students, litter the streets.
Their luckier peers are staunching head wounds with T-shirts and flushing each
other’s eyes with Maalox cocktails. Hissing canisters snake through the gardens
near the Egyptian Museum. Masked protestors hurl them back. Death to the
dictator, death to the regime!
The
museum’s been closed for ages. No one in the immediate vicinity gives a damn
about antiquities, so I’ve got a front row seat in the Grand Saloon between a
statue of Amenhotep and an arched window facing the square. The air tastes
flinty, like gunpowder. Pinpricks of fire are creeping down my throat from the
gas. In theory, I’m studying, but you can’t exactly study in the middle of a
crackdown.
“Dear me,
Leah.” A bespectacled face pops up beside Amenhotep—the curator, Yusef Hafez.
In his cream linen suit, with a perma-smell of aged vanilla and musk, he’s
something of an antiquity himself. “He hasn’t returned?”
“Soon, I’m
sure,” I say. Though I’m not. Matty is somewhere in the chaos outside. Which
means he has his eye to the lens, so he’ll be the last to notice when the
police don their masks for another round. It means he’ll come home coughing,
clothes reeking of smoke, on a rush that’ll keep him from sleeping for weeks.
Weeks he’ll spend restless, wandering from room to room because he keeps
imagining the smell of tear gas. Where he’ll lose ten pounds because he’ll
forget to eat. Where he’ll catch one whiff of a Lucky Strike or diesel fumes
and it’ll be as if someone opened a window to some long ago and far away hell.
It means being locked in a constant state of vigilance, watching for signs, so
I can run to the icebox for the frozen orange I keep in there, because
sometimes, something cold and fragrant can bring him back before it gets worse.
It means
he’ll be unfocused and get lost doing simple things, then pick fights with me
over stupid crap because it’s easier than letting me help. But then he’ll
finish the story and—poof— he’ll be himself again, the guy who holds me close
and promises me that someday, the world will be what we both desperately want
it to be. It’s our thing. We’re broke and spend our lives dodging bullets or
sleeping under the stars, and time was, I wouldn’t have traded it for the
world. He’s the adrenaline junkie. These days, I just hang on at the fringe.
It wasn’t
always this way—I spent my twenties as a humanitarian aid worker in Sudan and
Uganda. The short version is that I got spooked, left the field, and went running
for law school. Now I stay behind while he takes crazy risks. I should be out
there too, but when one’s husband has been killing himself to put one through
law school, one has no excuse for failing the bar exam. At least not twice.
“It was
kind of you to let us stay here,” I say to Yusef, blinking as the dots swim on
my practice test. Hours ago, as the clashes intensified, the government
declared all foreign journalists ‘purveyors of fake news’, the new favorite
epithet of authoritarian regimes everywhere. After they yanked our hotel
permit, Yusef, an old friend of Matty’s, offered us a spare room in the
basement.
Jowls
turned down, he strokes the bristles of his beard. “You may need to make other
arrangements. The museum is at risk. The Night Hotel has been set ablaze.”
Outside, a
flickering orange glow lights the square. I tuck my study guide behind me, then
stand on pins-and-needles legs for a better look. Even the palm trees are in
flames. There goes the best fourteen-dollar-a-night hotel in Cairo. “When did
that happen?”
“Some time
ago.”
Students
dance in front of the burning building, bare seconds before being swept away by
police water cannons. “They could put it out if they wanted,” I say. “Guess
it’s more fun to squirt protestors.”
“This is Egypt.”
Frustration courses through Yusef’s voice. “We say ‘God will take care of it’.
Then we do nothing.”
The last
time we’d been in Cairo was during the 2011 revolution, and so much has
changed. Shop windows once filled with honeyed cakes and risqué clothes are
burned and boarded. Once, students danced on the rooftops, because where else
would you go when the world tipped on its head? Now, if you dare go outside,
you watch the rooftops for the glint of a sniper rifle sight. Revolution isn’t
binary, it isn’t an endpoint, it’s a fluid state of mind, and Egypt’s has been
dark for years.
“Maybe
that’s what the people outside are trying to change.”
It’s not
that I think arson is a good way to solve problems, but I grew up with a giant
of the civil rights era telling my bedtime stories. What’s happening outside
goes beyond buildings and things. Matty’s photos of sheet-wrapped corpses prove
it.
Yusef
clings to the crimson ropes around the colossus, contemplating his world, the
hieroglyphs of Isis, the soaring majesty of Horus, the gold in Tut’s death
mask. “Egypt’s greatest treasure is her history. In their anger, youth forget
such things. They forget the past contains the answers.”
To me,
it’s simple. These clashes are rooted in three things: power, money, and sex,
which are pretty much all that people ever fight about anyhow. The men in power
have all the money, and this being Egypt, they’re damned determined to control
the sex, too. No one under thirty has a job, which means they can’t get
married, which means they can’t get laid. So instead, shit gets lit on fire.
Someone—a
teenage girl—slams the window, crazing the glass. A dozen cops in riot gear
give chase, shields and batons raised. We will be free, she screams at
them in Arabic, scampering into the crowd. The police start beating everyone
near her.
I toss the
world of contracts and torts aside. The way I should’ve done four years and a
shit-ton of money ago. “That’s it.”
Yusef eyes
his mummies. “Where are you going?”
“Out.” I
wrap a scarf around my face, then make sure the long skirt I’m wearing covers
my ankles. ‘Out’ is where people need help. ‘Out’ is where the old Leah would
be. “I’m not doing any good sitting here.”
“Your
husband will not like if you leave.”
Too
damn bad.
I snap a pair
of swimming goggles on my forehead. Yusef’s been hovering all night. I figure
Matty asked him to babysit, which is ironic for any number of reasons.
“Probably not.”
Maybe I
look like a bug-eyed Calamity Jane, but my dad, the Honorable Dale Atkins,
Esq., would be ashamed if his daughter sat on her ass while thugs in riot gear
form ranks across Tahrir Square.
While I’m
doing the one-foot hop with my sneaker, my phone dings. Twice.
Stay put Leah
And get away from the goddamn window
I peer
outside. A line of armored vehicles stretches to the cornice at the Nile end of
the square. Matty is perched on the wall of the lotus pond, wearing faded jeans
and a flak vest, a checkered scarf over his mouth and nose. With his
wheat-colored hair and dishwater-grey eyes, he’s the kind of guy who stands out
in any crowd, but it’s really damn obvious here.
It’s
different for me—my Mom’s French and my Dad’s roots are Igbo, which makes
guessing my race some weird game show for strangers, who seem to think I’m
either Mediterranean, Hispanic, or ‘wow, for a white girl, you can really tan’.
The good news is that at this time of year, I can pass for a local in Cairo.
The bad news is that the secret police are out in force, so nobody’s safe out
there tonight.
I dial
Matty’s mobile, to remind him to cover his head, but then shots start popping
and he hits the deck. The crowd scatters. He scrambles away, and I hang up,
fast.
Banging my
temple with the phone, I watch him scurry into an alley behind the museum. My
mobile rings a few seconds later.
“Hey,
babe.” His breathing is labored. “How’s the studying?”
“Are you
okay?”
“Far as
you know.”
A wiggle
of relief hits my belly. “Butthead. I’m coming out.”
The crowd
sounds go quiet. “Leah, it’s bad. There’s nothing you can do.” He sounds
defeated, which is never a good sign.
 “Is anyone with you?”
“Reuters
has a couple stringers out here. Or maybe they’re AP. Not sure they know
either.”
“Not what
I meant.” Matty’s parents were missionaries who dragged him from one
godforsaken hotspot to the next, and it messed him up pretty good. What I care
about is whether he’s working with someone who knows him. Knows what his mind
can do to him when things are ‘bad’. Which they have been. For months, ever
since he got injured on his last job in Syria. On the outside, he’s still
healing, but something worse is eating him from the inside, something he won’t
talk about. Which isn’t exactly unusual, but it’s never been this bad for so
long. We’re doing our best to smile through the pain and pretend everything is
getting better. It’s killing me that it’s not.
In the
background, I hear a wolf whistle. “Cahill, is that your wife? Man, I had no
idea she had tits like that.”
Matty
swears. “Christ, Sal.”
Saleh is
Yusef’s son, a producer for CNN’s Africa desk, and I can guess what he’s
looking at. A normal guy would carry a wedding photo. Maybe a vacation snap.
Something that involves, say, clothes, but this is a photo of me that Matty
took the first night we made love. Like…right after, and he’s been
schlepping it around ever since.
He comes
back on the line. “Sorry.”
“Since
when are you showing that to people?”
“I wasn’t,
Leah, I just…needed to see it, okay?” His voice sounds distant. Sad.
 “Matty, come home. You can have the real
thing.”
He
exhales. “God, you have no idea. As soon as things calm down, I’m yours.”
“Hope
that’s a promise.”
“It is.”
He coughs, away from the receiver. “How’s your stomach? Did that tea I brought
help?”
It’s a
loaded question. The water in Egypt never agrees with me, and as far as he
knows, that’s all it is. The two pregnancy tests I took before we came agreed,
and then there’s the get-it-while-you-still-can-because-fuck-the-patriarchy IUD
I had put in after the election. None of which does a damn thing to explain why
I can’t even remember the last time I had a period. Or make me feel any less
jumbled up inside.
“Yeah,
better,” I finally say.
“Liar.” He
pauses. “How about I scrounge up some of that honey candy you like?”
All I need
is him. Screw that. I need him to be him—the guy who lets me help when
he’s messed up, not the one who shuts me out and keeps secrets, who feels like
he’s one bad day from giving up. Because from the minute we landed, my body has
been doing its damnedest to convince me those stupid pregnancy tests were
wrong. “I’m okay.”
Water jets
sweep the crowd. The line of black uniforms holds. Fresh volleys of smoke burst
forth. “Hey listen,” he says, “rumor has it the government is shutting down the
internet. Can you get to my website?”
Matty,
who’s a freelance journalist these days, likes to joke that he got kicked out
of the Fourth Estate and into a trailer park. We met at an Iraq War protest,
and even then, the news orgs were refusing to print some of the photos he
took—too controversial, or they didn’t fit the narrative somebody wanted to
spin. His blog is his voice, in all its raw, unfiltered glory.
“It’s been
loading like a ninety-year-old turtle with a piano on its back,” I say, waking
the tablet beside me. Truth told, I’ve been paying more attention to that than
my review books.
Mizaru’s
Window
, reads the site’s
header. The letters twine around a graphic of the Three Wise Monkeys—See No
Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, a copy of one tattooed on his arm. All I
know is it was some kind of farewell screw-you to his dad.
“Check
your flights while you’re at it,” he says.
Originally,
they were ‘our’ flights, but one of us is in the middle of documenting a war
and the other has the bar exam in four days. “They’re looking for observers
down in Suez. The military says eleven dead, but Amnesty thinks it’s higher.
Maybe we should—”
“No.”
“I could
fly out tomor—”
“I’m not
going to be the reason you miss that damn test again.”
Okay, so I
didn’t exactly fail the bar the first time. Long story. This time, I have a job
waiting for me in DC, which I have to take if we have any hope of paying
back my loans. It’s immigration law instead of human rights, which means diving
into a system I know nothing about, which I’m only doing because the way things
are going at home, it feels as if I have to. Except taking it means an office
instead of the front lines, which comes with the guilty reminder of the moment
I walked away. When we started out, Matty and I were a team, and deep down, I’m
scared to admit those days are gone forever. But something has to change.
Yesterday,
before we left to come here, I found him naked on the beach by my parents’
house—in February, no less—throwing sheaves of story notes and photos onto a
campfire he’d started. High as a kite to boot. Once he’d sobered up, I told him
that unless he got his act together, he wasn’t coming with me to DC. In
hindsight, getting on a plane with him to Cairo wasn’t the best way to convince
him I’m serious about leaving, but I was terrified of what might happen if I
didn’t. If there’s a baby involved, I can’t bear to think what it means.
Maybe my
stomach…thing…is just stress. People who accidentally get pregnant don’t have
to take the bar, or soul-sucking law jobs. They get to dress up their baby
girls in frilly outfits and drink Starbucks all day, don’t they?
Right
Leah. Keep telling yourself that.
“I got a
one-ninety-one on my practice Bar today,” I say. “Finished in under two hours.
With a twenty-minute Angry Birds break.”
“Funny
that your staunch opposition to the death penalty stops with cartoon pigs.”
“The evil
green porkers deserve it.” And like he’s any different. “You realize two
hundred is perfect?”
“I heard
you,” he replies. “I’m sure the Egyptian military will be impressed if they
decide to detain you for a few weeks.”
Or
Borders and Customs.
Sighing,
I click refresh. “You realize I’m going to make a shitty lawyer if I can’t even
negotiate with you.”
“You only
suck at negotiating when you’re wrong.”
The cursor
keeps spinning. “They must’ve pulled the plug.”
He curses.
“The US producer must be having a fit. He wanted a live feed ready as soon as
Jake Tapper finished feeding some White House Nazi his own nutsack.”
“Which
one?”
“I can’t
keep them straight. The dude who looks like his mother fucked a lightbulb.”
That’s
my Matty.
“I bet Jake
Tapper would tell me to stay.”
“Don’t get
me in the middle of your unholy crush on JT.” His voice grows muffled. “Hey
listen, let me go take care of some things, then I’ll come find you.”
“Will you
be long?”
“I’m
staring at a nekkid picture of my gorgeous wife. Part of me is.”
“I happen
to like that part. Try not to get it shot off.”
Even the
happiest couples have secrets. When we met, I saw him as this exotic world
traveler—born in Brazil, he spoke five languages. He grew up in places like
Mozambique and Iraq; I’m an attorney’s daughter from P-town, Massachusetts,
who’d dreamed of seeing the things he’d seen, and yet to realize they’d nearly
killed him. He says he fell in love with me because I proved to him the world
could change. I fell in love with him because he showed me what had to.
Billows of
sweet, noxious smoke cloud the air as I slip out of the rear service door,
needing to see for myself that he’s okay. The goggles and my scarf protect me,
though I can’t stay out long. His silhouette is visible through the haze. Head
tilted a little to the left, elbow raised, camera ready. I’d know it anywhere.
I’ve
always loved watching him work, getting to look through his photos at the end
of a day. Matty has this desperate search for humanity, but he sees it in things
that are fleeting and hard to find. He lives in the infinitesimal space between
the best and worst of human nature, and some days, the camera is all that keeps
it from crashing down on him. Even in the worst situations, he manages to find
some shred of hope. Dignity. But it’s rare to see him this at peace while he’s
doing it, and I can’t help but wonder what’s changed.
Near the
American University, students hold vigil beside a stone church which is set up
as a makeshift field hospital. Mourners gather around a lifeless body,
surrounded by others who form a solidarity wall, protecting them from the riot
troops. Matty moves to an alcove by the front gate, transfixed by something on
his camera LCD.
All he
wants is one photo that changes the world. Nobody but journalists and history
buffs remember who took the Kim Phuc photo, the naked girl running from her
napalmed village, but it altered the course of the war. Nobody remembers who
got the shot of the guy staring down the tanks in Tiananmen Square, but the
world still wonders what happened to him. It took a while before I understood
why Matty lets life take so much from him. He rejected the life his parents
led, but parts stuck with him nonetheless. The need to see justice done, to
give a voice to the voiceless. He keeps searching for that one seismic photo
because it’s the only way he’ll ever figure out how to live with himself.
A woman
with a dark, shiny braid comes over to Matty. Thirtyish, she’s dressed in a
loose olive pants and a black tunic, with a rose print scarf over her hair, an
Assyrian-style cross around her neck, and a downcast expression on her face. A
few words pass between them. He opens the memory slot on his camera and gives
her the card, which she reluctantly accepts. After that, he draws her into an
embrace, planting a tender kiss on her forehead.
Just like
that, I can’t breathe.
 At the same moment, she glances across the
square to where I’m standing, and a flicker of recognition lights her eyes.
Matty notices me then too, and freezes. I catch a musky smell, a man’s smell,
and I realize someone is standing behind me.
Before I
can even turn, the man slides into the crowd. Western clothes. Dark, flowing
hair, and a pair of silver sunglasses perched on his head, though I can’t see
his face. He circles the mourners like a great cat guarding a kill. Or stalking
the next.
His
expression flits between bemusement and rage, the latter directed at the woman
with Matty, who’s now kneeling in prayer inside the circle. “Come out, whore,”
he taunts. “Do you think I can’t see you?”
Her gaze
lifts. The fear is gone, replaced with anger and grief. She shifts off her
knees and exits the circle, towards a young father and son standing at the
gate. The boy, ragged and rail-thin, holds out a shaggy brown mongoose, which
hops onto her shoulder.
The father
steps protectively in front of his son. “Leave us in peace. We have beaten you.
You lost.” His accent is Syrian, not Egyptian, which likely explains the
haunted look on his kid’s face. “You have no power over us now. Or this woman.”
With a
bemused smirk, the jerk flicks ash from his cigarette. “This is the thanks I
get? Perhaps I should not be surprised.” He flashes a knife. “Offer her a place
to sleep and she’ll fuck you too.”
The
mourners break up in a chorus of peace-be-with-yous and as-Salamu Alaykums.
The jerk shoves the father aside, then lunges for the woman. A pop-pop- pop comes
from the rooftops. The crowd screams and scatters. And then my idiot husband
goes and tackles the jerk.
Matty
barely dodges the knife on the first swing. On the second, the mongoose leaps,
sinking its teeth into the man’s neck. The knife clatters to the pavement, and
the mongoose prances away, chittering triumphantly.
The woman
grabs the boy by the hand and runs down an alley. The jerk gut-punches Matty,
shoving him off. Inaudible words pass between them. Matty gapes at me,
white-faced and startled. Grinning, the jerk flips his knife, then stalks off
after the others.
Matty is
slow to get up, clutching his ribs, which got broken six months ago during an
airstrike in Syria. I run over and help him out of the line of fire. “You’re
hurt.”
He’s got
this lost, anguished expression on his face, sweat mixed with ash, greasy black
smudges running from temple to chin. “She’s just someone I know, Leah—that
guy…”
Mixed with
the pain, there’s guilt, and I’m not sure I want to know where it came from, so
I replace the lens cap. “It’s fine, you can tell me later.”
The crowd
swells as we make for the safety of the museum. Smoke and flames leap through
the roof of the building across the alley. “I told you to stay put,” he
grouses, as a tank rumbles past.
“You know
me better than that.” I stab Yusef’s spare key into the service entrance door.
“What were you thinking, going after that guy?”
“I was
having another goddamn flashback, okay?” He squeezes his eyes shut. “Can we not
talk about it?”
Something
hits me hard, deep in the stomach. We’ve spent half our marriage dealing with
his flashbacks. It’s not why he did it.
“Fine,” I
say, struggling to figure out what he’s not telling me. Which seems to be how I
spend most of my time these days. “Then let’s talk about her.”
He peels
the goggles off my head, hands coming to rest on my face. His skin feels raw,
about a million degrees. “Stop looking at me like that.” He walks me into the
darkness of the unlit entryway. “You know I’m no cheat. She’s a source. A
friend.”
What I
want him to say is why the ‘friend’ with the jealous eyes and curvy figure was
acting  if she knows me. Why he was
comforting her. I’d settle for some hint of why she’s in trouble in the first
place, but if she’s a source, with Matty, that’s the end of it. I know he’s no
cheat, sure, but he’s never been as secretive and self-destructive and just
plain messed up as he’s been the last few months either.
I want to
blurt out I think I’m pregnant, but the words won’t come. I’ve seen too
much of the world to want to bring a child into it, and any time it’s come up,
he jokes that his brain should be donated to science, not inflicted on another
generation. Kids were never in our plan. But here we are, and I need him to
tell me he’ll find a way to crawl out from whatever he’s under, that he’ll do
it for me and the baby because he loves us. Yet I love him enough to know it’s
not that simple.
The basement
smells of must. A strange, sweet salt tickles my nose. Down here, it’s a maze
of painted metal boxes and shelves, filled with dusty artifacts collected god
knows when. He’s wandering between them, lost and unfocused, so I take his
camera and set it on a nearby crate. “Matty, where are we?”
He blinks,
scanning around. “Cairo, right?”
Anxious, I
step between his knees, resting my forehead on his, but when I move my hand to
his arm, he flinches. My hand comes away warm and sticky. I grab his wrist and
pull up his sleeve, revealing a two-inch dig right below the monkey tattoo on
his biceps. I know it’s from a bullet, which is bad enough, but he’s written
his name and my cell phone number in thick, permanent marker on his arm.
Suddenly I’m fighting tears.
“Hey, ssh,
ssh,” he says. “It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. I’m here, right?”
Over our
years together, I’ve watched him bury a dozen friends, sometimes nothing more
than memories in empty coffins. I’ve been stuck half a world away when the
internet discovers the latest video of some fuckwit beheading a journalist.
Worry isn’t a choice, it’s something that tattooed itself onto my heart long
ago.
“C’mon,
tough guy. You and I have a date with the first aid kit.”
He buries
his face in my neck and slips his hands under my skirt, cupping my rear. “Leah,
I don’t need a damn Band-Aid. I need you.”
His kiss
swallows the night, deep, wet, and lingering. He wants me to let this go, but
we both know I can’t. “What’s wrong?” I say, caressing his temple. “Are you in
trouble?”
“Nothing a
good lawyer couldn’t handle.” He nudges my knees apart with his hip, shucking
his T-shirt. “Though I’ve got something else for her to handle instead.”
I count
the scars on his torso, making sure there are no new ones. Darfur above his
left hip, Kirkuk across his left pec, Aleppo all down his right side. “You’re
burning up.”
“Can’t
help it.” He lifts my top over my head. “Is this okay?”
He asks,
because once, someone didn’t. It’s not something I think about much these days.
“It is if you tell me what’s going on.”
A kiss, a
nibble, a caress of my hip. “I’m making love to my wife.” He peels down the cup
of my bra, flicking his tongue over my nipple. “Who should know I’m completely
mad about her.”
“Completely
mad about something.” I say, surrendering in a swirl of emotion, dust, and our
own tangled history. Fine, I need him too.
But then
comes a commotion upstairs. Smashing glass, running footsteps. Bitter, angry
shouts. Looters. Yusef’s muffled shouts rise above the fray.
Matty’s
weight drops onto me. With a groan of frustration, he rolls off, contemplating
the ceiling. “He’s about to get himself killed over some clay pot, isn’t he?”
As he
buttons his jeans, I sit up. “Where’s my skirt?”
Leaning
over for a quick kiss, he snags his shirt. “Stay. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
I snag it
back, draping it over my breasts. “Seriously—what’s got you so spooked?”
He stops,
wiping sweat from his forehead. “I don’t even know where to start.”
Does that
mean he knows? I bite my lip. “For starters, you could tell me how you
feel about it.”
His brow
furrows. “Are we talking about the same thing?”
I can’t
make myself say it, so I put my hand over my midsection. His jaw goes slack,
and a rush of breath escapes from his lungs. “God, Leah, I—”
There’s
another crash, a scream. Eyes closed, he kisses my forehead. “I love you, but
right now I am scared to death. I’ll be right back. Then we’ll talk. I swear.”
Scared to
death is better than I expected. “Okay. Go.”
As the
sound of his footsteps fades, I slip on his shirt, and while I’m buttoning it
up, I notice he didn’t take his camera. Given that it’s his sixth appendage,
it’s odd. Not to mention the frustrated way he tossed it onto his bag. As if
he’s tired of it ruling his life.
When I
turn it on, an error comes up on the display, and that’s when I remember him
passing the card to that woman.
Who is
she? What did she want with it?
The
looting upstairs reaches a fever-pitch. Ear-splitting scrapes, floor-shaking
thuds, triumphant shouts. It’s either looters or a herd of zebras dancing Swan
Lake
.
My phone
buzzes. Matty’s number comes up on the display. I hit answer. “Hey, where are
you?”
“Out,” he
says, breathing heavily. “Needed a smoke.”
Everything
inside me goes cold. We have a code phrase. In case something ever goes bad.
That was it.
Adrenaline
puts a tremor in my hands. My legs. My pulse poundsin my ears, loud enough I
can hear it. Forcing down the panic, I try to remember the questions we worked
out, the ones we agreed to use if someone could be listening. “Could you get
some ibuprofen while you’re out?” Can you get away?
Muffled
sirens, people shouting. “Stores are closed, babe.”
My legs go
weak. “Matty—”
“Check my
bag,” he says. “Side pocket. Should be some in there.”
I dive on
his old green duffel, hands trembling. The pocket is empty, but the lining is
ripped. Inside, I find a Brazilian passport in my name. He has dual
citizenship—there are places he goes where being American is a bad idea—but if
I have it too, it’s news to me.
“What’s
going on? Where did this come from?”
“I got
your back, baby.”
“Is this
about—?”
“Stop.” A
rush of breath comes out of the receiver. “You don’t know anything. I haven’t
told you a thing, right?”
“Matty
please…”
Echoing
sounds, like footsteps off an alley. More than one pair. “Say it, Leah.”
“Would I
be asking if you had?”
He drops
his voice low. “Listen to me. Put on my sweats. Tie the biggest goddamn knot in
the waist you can because there are gangs out here who will make you regret it
if you don’t. Then get your ass to the embass—”
A low pi-too
sound, like gas escaping in a rush. He gasps and drops the phone. My
heart stops. “Matty, say something, please.”
When he
picks it up again, his voice is slurred. “I love you—you know that, right?”
I lose it.
“You’re supposed to come home, Matty. You promised you’d always come home.”
“No choice,” he
murmurs again. “You’re the only home I ever knew.
In her own fictional world, Rebecca Burrell is a secret Vatican spy, a
flight nurse swooping over the frozen battlefields of Korea, or a
journalist en-route to cover the latest world crisis. In real life,
she’s a scientist in the medical field. She lives in Massachusetts with
her family, two seriously weird cats, and a dog who’s convinced they’re
taunting him.

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