Category Archives: Book Tour

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.

BookCover_LaborsOfAnEpicPunk

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AUTHOR Bio and Links:

AuthorPhoto_LaborsOfAnEpicPunk

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.

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VBT – HEART STOPPING

TourBanner_Heart Stopping copy

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

Teaser_Heart Stopping copy

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)

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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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RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

One randomly drawn commenter via Rafflecopter will receive $15 in Boroughs Bucks.

Enter to win a $10 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

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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.

VBT – RELATIVELY CRAZY

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Relatively Crazy

by Ellen Dye

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GENRE: Women’s Fiction/Romance

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BLURB:

On her fortieth birthday housewife Wanda Jo Ashton is expecting her husband’s standard gift of an E and E from T-that being Elegant and Expensive from Tiffany’s. However, what she gets is the news that her formerly successful, dependable corporate attorney husband is leaving her to pursue the rich life of a kept man. Left with nothing she has no choice but to escape the San Francisco area, with her sixteen-year-old daughter in tow and head toward the mountains of West Virginia and the quirky family she left behind twenty years ago. Here Wanda Jo must carve out a future, complete with career and home in the midst of family feuds, computer phobias and the occasional homebrewing explosion before she finally figures out life can indeed being again at forty.

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EXCERPT

Okay, there is was. Looking no different than twenty-two years ago. A small opening in the woods marked by a gray, metal, utilitarian mailbox and a graveled trail that passed for a driveway in these parts.

I was home. Oh God help me. Please.

I depressed the brake pedal, leaving behind the paved surface and tried not to wince as what sounded like millions of tiny gravel bits pinged against the underside of my car.

The azaleas lining the drive still looked the same. The one at the very end caught my attention, I could have sworn it jiggled. Oh no, it couldn’t be. Surely it was impossible now.

Suddenly the bush jumped in front of the car.

I slammed on the brakes, pinning Olivia to the seat with my outstretched arm. In the fashion of mothers everywhere I was protecting my offspring from flying through the windshield by crushing her windpipe while invoking the Maternal Arm.

I looked toward the hood and the half-dozen bobbing azalea twigs in front. I sat resolved as they rose and wre followed by an old pith helmet and a face which looked a bit older than I’d remembered, although it was hard to tell precisely, given the layers of green and black greasepaint. A body followed, dressed in a set of ancient Army –issued fatigues.

“Gun,” Olivia croaked, pointing.

I simply nodded, there would be plenty of time later for my daughter to find out exactly what was swimming around in the waters of the gene pool from whence she’d sprung.

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

AUTHOR Bio and Links

At the age of nine Ellen Dye decided she was going to be a writer when she found her Aunt Nettie’s trunk of True Confessions magazines and spent untold hours reading the lot, a bag of Munchos potato chips and a frosty RC Cola at her side. Then, being nine, she promptly forgot all about it as she got lost in the pesky business of growing up, And then one very lucky day she spotted a confession magazine on the grocery store shelf and began to tap out her own stories which were a delight to see published. Now she spends her days tapping out her characters’ happily-ever-afters for The Wild Rose Press.

Visit anytime at www.ellendye.com

Ellen is always up for meeting new friends at Ellen Dye Author on Facebook

Amazon sale link

 

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RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

Ellen Dye will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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

 

VBT – ONE TOO

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One Too
by Sherrie Cronin

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GENRE: Sci-fi/Fantasy

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BLURB:

Telepathy creates as many problems as it solves, as most of the members of the secret organization x0 would admit. When new member Lola discovers another group of telepaths with a completely different approach, those problems multiply at the speed of thought.

Soon, Lola’s family and friends are in danger. Lucky for her, she’s not your average budding psychic. Each person with whom she is close has a special gift of their own. That’s good, because it’s going to take every power they possess to keep this other group from succeeding with their plan to eradicate x0.

BookCover_OneToo

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EXCERPT

On the last day of the year, Violeta woke to the bright, cloudless blue of a dry, cool day calling to her to come out for a walk. Her days of hiking through the woods were over, but a quick drive would take her to a park she knew and to short paths that were well maintained. Her mother helped her prepare for the little outing, happy to see her troubled daughter making the effort to get out.

It was true that the tourists were everywhere this time of year. She should have guessed that they would fill the park on a beautiful day. She didn’t used to mind them; the money from their pockets had helped pay to feed and educate her and had kept her well dressed in judo gis throughout her growing years. But walking in crowds was more stressful now, and when she saw tight-knit throngs as she got out of her car, she considered turning around. Pretend you’re going for a walk in New York, she told herself.

She had walked for about fifteen minutes when her body started to let her know that a rest would be good, followed by a return to the car. Very well. She looked around for a bench. Not many people had found their way to this corner of the grounds, but the few that had were occupying every seat within view.

Some might have made room for her if she asked, but it still hurt to see the look of pity common on the faces of those who accommodated her. No, she could sit on the ground.

Unfortunately, neither getting down nor back up was going to be particularly graceful in her case, so she hunted for a place that was out of view. If she could manage to walk about 50 yards through that grass without falling, she could climb up over the hill to the left. Taking each step with care, she set out for her private spot.

She hadn’t quite cleared the hill when it became obvious what was on the other side. A small fence marked the edge of the city park. Behind it, a six-foot-wide trench discouraged leaving the grounds, as did the numerous No Trespassing signs in seven languages. But the real showstopper was the eight-foot-tall cinderblock wall just past that and its additional two feet of barbed wire on top.

Nobody in Ushuaia, ever, had been that concerned about intruders. Violeta was willing to bet that this was Warren Moore’s new business complex. No wonder the whole town was talking about it.

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AUTHOR Bio and Links

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Sherrie grew up in Western Kansas thinking that there was no place in the universe more fascinating than outer space. After her mother vetoed astronaut as a career ambition, she went on to study journalism and physics in hopes of becoming a science writer.

She published her first science fiction short story long ago, and then waited a lot of tables while she looked for inspiration for the next story. When it finally came, it declared to her that it had to be whole book, nothing less. One night, while digesting this disturbing piece of news, she drank way too many shots of ouzo with her boyfriend. She woke up thirty-one years later demanding to know what was going on.

The boyfriend, who she had apparently long since married, asked her to calm down and explained that in a fit of practicality she had gone back to school and gotten a degree in geophysics and had spent the last 28 years interpreting seismic data in the oil industry. The good news, according to Mr. Cronin, was that she had found it at least mildly entertaining and ridiculously well-paying The bad news was that the two of them had still managed to spend almost all of the money.

Apparently she was now Mrs. Cronin, and the further good news was that they had produced three wonderful children whom they loved dearly, even though to be honest that is where a lot of the money had gone. Even better news was that Mr. Cronin turned out to be a warm-hearted, encouraging sort who was happy to see her awake and ready to write. “It’s about time,” were his exact words.

Sherrie Cronin discovered that over the ensuing decades Sally Ride had already managed to become the first woman in space and apparently had done a fine job of it. No one, however, had written the book that had been in Sherrie’s head for decades. The only problem was, the book informed her sternly that it had now grown into a six book collection. Sherrie decided that she better start writing it before it got any longer. She’s been wide awake ever since, and writing away.

PRE-PURCHASE BUY LINKS FOR $2.99 FOR THIS BOOK:

https://www.amazon.com/One-Too-Ascending-Sherrie-Cronin-ebook/dp/B077NYTNSJ
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-too-sherrie-cronin/1127552938
https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/one-too

Author Social Media Links
Twitter: @cinnabar01
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Number46Ascending
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5805814.Sherrie_Cronin
Amazon: www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Cronin/e/B007FRMO9Q
Blog: 46ascending.org/

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RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

Sherrie will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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

VBT – How Not to Succeed in Hollywood

How Not to Succeed in Hollywood banner

About the Author

Marissa Thomas

Marissa Thomas left her home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to pursue her dream of acting in Hollywood. Without industry contacts, she had to educate herself about the business. In How Not to Succeed in Hollywood, Marissa shares her experiences, both good and bad.

In addition to writing, Marissa is a licensed hair stylist. She also enjoys painting and produced the artwork for the cover of How Not to Succeed in Hollywood.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

About the Book

How Not to Succeed in Hollywood

Title: HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD
Author: Marissa Thompson
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 436
Genre: Humor/Fiction

BOOK BLURB:

In HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD, Marissa Thomas offers readers an inside view of one young woman’s journey to fulfill her dream of becoming an actor. The personal and humorous story of Lisa reveals the often difficult and inspiring process of navigating the entertainment industry.

The acting bug bit Lisa during her first elementary school talent show. After receiving positive reviews for her performance from her fellow students and impressed parents alike, Lisa basked in the high she felt from being on stage. She ventured further into the acting world as a teenager when she enrolled in a twelve-week acting program. Although plagued with some doubt about her potential to become an actor, the experience reignited the spark that had originally lead her down the road of performance.

HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD follows the staggered path that Lisa took on her journey to achieve her acting dream. Her love for acting expanded when Lisa entered college and began auditioning for plays produced by the theater department. Reassured by the exhilaration she felt while acting, Lisa made the decision to leave her home and move to Hollywood to pursue her passion, but first she had to tie up a few loose ends. After a whirlwind romance with a fellow student, Lisa found herself moving into her own apartment while juggling school and work, as well as taking the steps to fill out her acting resume. A car accident that resulted in serious physical injuries led to a slowdown in her momentum. However, Lisa’s best friend, Mike, who already had a solid plan to move to Hollywood, gave her the encouragement she needed to overcome multiple obstacles so that she could move forward with her goal.

Marissa wrote HOW NOT TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD to give “anyone curious about Hollywood culture another point of view from someone coming from a completely different world, aka the Midwest, taking the plunge, and immersing herself in a new life.” Marissa says the book is “the story of my life. I can’t tell anyone any surefire methods of getting cast for your dream project. I’m just sharing my life experience. Anyone with a relentless dream has to find sanity in the limbo between a self-motivated fantasy career and the harshness of having to survive real life in the process. We’re all human, and sometimes all you can do is laugh. Set a goal, and break a leg.”

 

ORDER YOUR COPY:

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Book Excerpt:

“I’m glad you get to come to opening night of the play,” I said to my boyfriend, casually, while we started digging into our boxed dinner.

“I know. I’m glad, too.  You’ve been working hard, and it seems pretty important to you,” he replied.

“It is. We’ve all been working on it for months,” I reminded him.

“Well, is it because you’ve been spending all this time on it, or is it because it’s something you really want to do?” he asked.

It seemed like a very obvious question. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Why do we put all the time and effort into projects like this? Projects that don’t provide a paycheck, cause us to rearrange our schedules, and even add stress due to the unwritten requirement to provide a quality performance. He really made me think. It wasn’t even a conscious decision on my part. I welcomed the chaos of the production into my life. The answer to his question was as obvious as the soy sauce on the egg rolls.

My mind started to wander. I almost felt like I was becoming a part of an actors’ anonymous group and professing my addiction. My name is Lisa, and I’m an actress. I could picture the scene:  Beautiful people sitting in a circle, each of them with a monologue in hand. And everyone waiting his or her turn to speak about the repercussions, good and bad, that the industry has had their lives. It was like a support group, to help each other through the bad auditions, drop hints about where to find the legit ones, and tips on how to nail them. Who knew how true that statement was? After a brief moment of fantasy, I was back to reality.

“I do. I really want to do it.” I turned back to my food and continued eating. “It’s something I want to pursue.” It felt good to say it out loud, and to admit it to myself.

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