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Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter

About the Author

A.L. Bryant was born and raised in St. Petersburg FL. She became interested in writing at an early age; an interest that depending on the circumstance brought punishment (detention for passing out the latest installment of her novella during class) and praise (being chosen for a youth writers conference at the Poynter Institute.) A.L. Bryant gets her inspiration from both her mother and her Great Grandmother. Her mother recently published an inspirational children’s book under a pseudonym and her great grandmother is South Carolina’s first published African-American female author and playwright.

Until recently writing had simply been a pastime for A.L. Bryant who although she attended several writing courses, graduated with a B.A. in International Business. It was shortly after her second job as a Financial Office Manager at a Goodwill correctional facility that she realized she loved writing more than anything else. It would still be some years before she would convert the short story she wrote in college into a novel.

Besides writing, A.L. Bryant loves traveling the world. God has blessed her with the opportunity to visit a total of seven countries. She has studied abroad in Seoul and has traveled throughout Kenya; two locations she researched for her Blessed series. Her dream is to visit every country in the world.

Her latest book is the supernatural Christian thriller horror novel, Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/ALBryantHSW

Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100029069148653

About the Book:

Title: BLESSED: THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
Author: A.L. Bryant
Publisher: HSW Publications LLC
Pages: 279
Genre: Supernatural Christian Thriller/Horror

BOOK BLURB:

On New Year’s Eve 2021 the staff at St. Ann’s Hospital witness a medical miracle when a semi-conscious woman walks into the emergency room. The Jane Doe has been stabbed multiple times and as the staff struggle to keep the woman alive in the end all they can do is stand back and watch as their mysterious patient revives herself.

Glory wakes up in St. Ann’s Hospital gravely injured from an attack she cannot remember. However, her memory loss is no ordinary amnesia and she is no ordinary patient. Much to the shock of the hospital staff Glory heals at three times the rate of an average person. Soon the administration hears of her unique case and waste no time convincing the recovering Glory to be a part of an experiment to discover the origins of her power.

Once outside the comforting walls of the hospital it becomes apparent that healing is just a small portion of Glory’s capabilities. Abilities that to Glory’s distress are becoming increasingly unstable. Deciding that the hospital’s experiments are in vain, Glory embarks on her own Journey to discover the source of her power, unaware that she is a major pawn in a war between two secret organizations.

The two syndicates continue to clash in their fight for control and their battles result in several casualties. The crimes of their warfare surface and draw the attention of Dennis Wilson, a NYPD Detective known for solving his cases in the first forty-eight hours. Dennis follows the trail of bodies out of curiosity. But when his curiosity causes the deaths of his loved ones Detective Dennis becomes obsessed with the case.

In his overzealous attempts to find the murderer Dennis becomes the syndicates’ next target. Now the Detective must run for his life and the only person capable of saving him is the very person he suspects.

Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter is a hybrid of government espionage and supernatural Thriller. This novel is intended for audiences 18+ that seek an edgier outlook on Christian fiction. Blessed: The Prodigal Daughter is the first installment of the Blessed trilogy.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

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Book Excerpt

With a slight hesitation, Glory examined the entrance. Using the corner of her jacket she tested the knob, not overly surprised when the door opened easily. Behind her, she could still hear the muffled sounds of the girl’s sobs. Glory stepped one foot through the door and paused. She turned sideways and looked back out into the yard. With one foot inside the house and one still on the porch, she stared at the girl, whose eyes were as wide as her own. The side of her body that remained outside of the house felt light; she could feel the breeze whip her clothing. She raised her hand and, as expected, it lifted easily. Glory looked down at her other arm, the one in the corridor of the house. Sweat drizzled down her brow as she struggled to lift it.

Making sure to keep her voice light, Glory nodded in the direction of the gate. “Go home, I’ll get Mitch and he’ll call you afterwards.” She waited until the girl nodded reluctantly and disappeared.

Feeling a strong urge to leave, Glory turned as quickly as she could and closed the door behind her. Instant darkness. She pulled out the cell phone Dr. Stephens had helped her purchase shortly after she left the hospital, and turned its flashlight on. She had not paid the bill in a long time, so she had no service, but Glory still kept it charged. The corridor was short, maybe two or three large steps long. A staircase, which dominated the space in the narrow corridor, stood against the left wall. Glory shined the light up the steps trying to determine where they led, but the light’s range was too short.

Examining the staircase carefully to make sure it could hold her weight, Glory began ascending. The house had its own gravity; every step felt like moving through quicksand. By the time she made it to the top, she was winded. She leaned against the wall, shining her light around the area while she rested. She stood in another corridor, much larger than the first one. A solid wall lined one side; several doors, some of them mere centimeters apart, lined the other. She pushed herself away from the wall and walked to the first door, covered her hand with her jacket, turned the knob, and pushed the door. It gave way only slightly before it refused to open any farther. She tried pulling the door, but it could only be opened inward. She pushed one more time, shining a light through the narrow opening to see if she could locate the blockage—silently hoping it wasn’t the boy—but nothing met the light. Frustrated, she moved on to the next door, only to encounter the same problem.

By the sixth one, Glory started to wonder if any of them were meant to open. With each door, she put more strength and effort into her shoulders and arms, desperately trying to force her way through. By the twelfth, she was exhausted. She took a deep breath and shoved her shoulder against it. The door swung open, Glory stumbled two feet, and fell through the hole behind it. She fell through one story of the house into an open room and into the much bigger hole in that room’s floor. She fell through another story and into another room with another hole. She hit hard rock and slid until she landed on her back. Her head hit the floor and her eyes instantly clouded from the impact.

Glory’s breath and sight came back simultaneously. Slowly, she sat up with a grunt as she brought her right hand to her ribs. Not only had her pack survived the fall, but she had managed to hold on to her phone. Standing up, still favoring her left side, Glory began dusting herself off. Her hands shook and she took a deep breath to dispel the effects of the adrenaline still rushing through her body. Turning on the light so she could look around, Glory shifted her feet. Taking a small step forward, she tripped on something, but managed sustain her balance with a small hop to dislodge whatever had caught her foot.

Glory turned the light downward to look at the ground and saw a piece of cloth clinging to her boot. Ruffles—the cloth was filthy, covered in dust and grime, but the ruffles still maintained their shape. Forgetting herself, Glory reached out and ran her fingertips over the cloth, smoothing the dirt away so she could see the color. Her fingertips grew warm and her eyes widened as she realized what she had done. Too late, she snatched her hand away.

“This is so exciting!” A young woman in a blue ball gown tightened her grip on her friend’s arm, her gloved fingers long and delicate. Looking a little less interested, her friend, a tall, thin brunette, pried the girl’s hands from her arm, but her friend only returned them with slightly less bruising force.

“Yes, well, if my father knew I was here, it would be the end of me.”

“That’s what these are for, silly.” The young woman flipped her blonde hair behind her shoulders and tapped her masquerade mask with her folded fan.

“I shouldn’t have let you talk me into this. I have a bad feeling.”

“You are thinking far too much. Now tell me how beautiful I look and then let’s go get some refreshments.”

The brunette stood back and pretended to consider her friend. “You look positively stunning as always, Annabelle. Your dress is lovely; I could never pull off so many ruffles.”

Annabelle waved the last statement away. “Nonsense, Sarah, I’m sure you would look just as lovely in ruffles. I don’t know why you insist on wearing such drab garments.” She looked her friend up and down, a frown on her face as she examined the dark green dress that covered Sarah, from its unfashionably high neckline down to the slightly pointed toes of her boots.

Sarah grimaced. “My father does not agree with today’s fashions. He thinks exposing shoulders, wrists, and cleavage is unseemly.” Trying to distract her friend from her dress, she made a show of looking around. “This is an extremely odd house, isn’t it? Why would he build a staircase directly at the entrance?”

“For that matter, why build a staircase that only goes to the top floor when there are four flights in between?”

“We’ve been here less than an hour and I’m already confused. So many corridors and staircases.”

“And how many rooms are there, anyway? There are doors everywhere you look.” The girls spoke frantically now, their intertwined arms squeezing together as they became more excited.

Annabelle turned to her friend. “Let’s explore the house more.”

Sarah looked over her shoulder. “I don’t know. We haven’t even greeted the host yet. It would be bad manners.”

Annabelle shrugged. “It was bad manners for him not to show himself so he could be greeted.”

Keeping an eye on the group they had been standing with, Annabelle pulled Sarah toward the door, only to stop mid-stride as their path was cut off by a large figure in an expensive dinner jacket and a full porcelain mask.

“Good evening, ladies.”

Annabelle released Sarah’s arm and took a step closer, resting her hand coquettishly on her bosom. “Good evening.” She let the greeting hang in the air. When the man merely nodded, Annabelle tried again.

“I do not recognize you, and since I know everyone in this town except the owner of this fine home, you must be…”

“The owner? That is correct.”

Barely masking her annoyance, Annabelle turned to her companion. “This is…”

The man held up his hand, effectively cutting off the introduction.

“If I wished to know the identity of my guests, then I would not have made this a masquerade ball.”

Flustered by her mistake, Annabelle released a breathy chuckle. “My apologies, I don’t know what I was thinking. We must keep the mystery up.”

The man turned his head to the side as he considered the two ladies. “Do you like mysteries?”

Eager to impress, Annabelle stepped forward. “Yes, I do!”

The man turned to look at Sarah, who hovered in the background, not at all certain she wanted to join in the conversation.

“And what about horrors?”

Taken aback, Annabelle frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Do you like to be frightened?”

Not sure where this was leading, Annabelle glanced at her friend. “I suppose being frightened every once in a while can be thrilling.”

The man nodded slowly as if contemplating her answer. “Do you believe in the supernatural?”

Annabelle laughed. “Do you mean ghosts and goblins? I think it’s nonsense.” She waved a delicate hand. “Stories to scare children.”

“And what of demons?”

Annabelle paused, the smile wiped from her face. “The church tells us that they exist, so I believe in them.”

The man leaned back on his heels and shoved his hands into his pockets. “So do I. I have always been curious, and judging by the turnout of this gathering, I’m not the only curious one.”

While he surveyed his guests, Sarah inched forward and grabbed her friend’s arm.

“Come, Annabelle.” Annabelle ignored her, staring at the man as if mesmerized. Sarah pulled sharply on her arm. “You said you wanted to explore the house.” This time Annabelle looked at her and nodded, allowing Sarah to lead her around the man and toward the door.

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be possessed?” Both girls turned to look back at the man as he spoke. “All the power of the demons and none of the rigid rules of the angels.”

Sarah trembled. “At the expense of our souls and sanity? No, thank you. You can keep your so-called demonic power.” She pulled Annabelle forward and escorted her through the door. Before she could close it behind them, she looked up to see the man looking directly into her eyes for the first time.

“There is only one way to leave this house, and it isn’t the way by which you entered. I doubt you could find the exit even if you stayed here a hundred years.” He turned and headed toward his other guests. “I wish you the best of luck.”

Sarah closed the door. “What an unpleasant man.”

Annabelle shrugged, walking along the corridor, sliding her hand along the wall. “I think he’s fascinating.”

“I think we should leave, Annabelle.”

Annabelle swung around. “I’m not leaving until I’ve explored this house.” When Sarah didn’t make a move to follow, Annabelle turned her mouth down, opened her eyes wide, and lifted her pupils, creating the perfect pout. “Just this one corridor and then I promise we will leave post haste.”

Sarah studied her friend and then nodded. “Just this one corridor and then we’re leaving.”

Annabelle smiled and skipped toward her friend, linking their arms once more.

Trying to take her mind off the eerie darkness of the corridor, Sarah changed the subject. “I wonder what he meant when he said that judging from the turnout, there were a lot of people curious about demons.”

“Oh!” Annabelle swatted the question away. “He was just referring to his invitations.”

Sarah looked over her shoulder. Had she heard something? “What about his invitations?”

“In his invitation, he appealed to those of us who were interested in a thrilling evening. Something about satisfying curiosity about demons in—and these are his words—the demons’ playground.”

“What?” Sarah stopped walking. She stared in Annabelle’s direction, but could barely see her in the dim lighting.

Misinterpreting, Annabelle shrugged. “I know… Who would name their house that?”

Sarah grabbed Annabelle’s shoulders. “Who cares about the name—why did you come? Why are we here?”

Annabelle tried to pry Sarah’s bruising grip from her shoulders. “Calm yourself, Sarah. It’s like taking a ghost tour, there is no need to be—”

Sarah covered Annabelle’s mouth with her hand. “What is that?” The question was rhetorical; the noise was piercing and distinct.

“W-why is everyone screaming?” Annabelle, who had taken Sarah’s hand from her mouth, stared back toward the ballroom. Sarah grabbed her friend and made a move back toward the sound—but more importantly toward the path she hoped would lead to the exit. The girls had only gotten a few feet when the corridor erupted in chaos.

Terrified men and women spilled from the room, tripping over each other in their panic and trampling the people in their way. They didn’t run back the way they came. Instead, they ran toward the two girls, their bodies pressing forward trying to propel themselves farther away from the ballroom. Everything happened so fast that it took Sarah a couple of seconds to react. In that short period of time, the mass of people was almost upon them. Sarah swung around and pushed the startled Annabelle farther into the corridor.

“Get into one of the rooms!” Annabelle grabbed the closest doorknob. She leaned her weight against it. Sarah came to help.

“It won’t open!” Annabelle cried.

“It’s locked?”

“Not locked—just won’t open!”

“Try the next one. Hurry!” Giving up on that door, Sarah followed Annabelle to the next one. She looked over her shoulder to find the crowd less than ten feet from them. Directly behind her friend, she cried out in relief as Annabelle opened the door. But her world came crashing down as she watched her friend disappear in that same second.

Glory sat up sharply. A full minute passed before she stopped gasping and coughing. She had made some progress in controlling the duration of her illusions. Standing, she dusted herself off and picked up her cellphone. From what she could tell, she was underground in a place that resembled a dungeon carved from the rock that the mansion had been built on. It was large and dark. There was no place for light to shine through, so even during the daytime, the room would still be pitch black.

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Spotlight – Shelter Island

Shelter Island banner 2

About the Author

John Paul Tucker

John Paul Tucker holds degrees in Theatre and Theology and has many years experience as an Ontario Certified English Language Teacher, in addition to teaching mime, puppetry and Drama to teens and children. His unique journey has furnished him with an eclectic head of ideas.

He is currently celebrating his 50th article on www.thewriterslessonbook.com, an educational website he created for writers, featuring writing tips and techniques harvested from the books we love to read. He has published poems in the Toronto Sun, Little Trinity Print Magazine and Imago Arts e-magazine. His poem City Sidewalks won first prize in a Toronto wide poetry contest. Two of his short stories, The Crooked Tree and The Debt Collector have each won a prize awarded by The Word Guild and The Prescott Journal respectively. You will find one of his fantasy stories recently published in the popular Hot Apple Cider anthology Christmas with Hot Apple Cider. JP has been busy polishing up The Rooster and the Raven King & The Rise of the Crimson King, Books II & III of The Song of Fridorfold trilogy, pursuing Cary, Clarisse and Gregory on their fantastic adventures.

John Paul is excited to be putting the final touches to his fourth novel, a YA fantasy inspired by the remarkable storyteller, George MacDonald. Gather the latest news about JP’s upcoming novels, enjoy a book trailer, dive into some free stories and poems, contribute some art work, take a peek at some photos, or for no other reason drop by to say hello at his official author website www.johnpaultucker.com.

John’s latest book is the middle grade fantasy adventure, Shelter Island.

Website Address: https://www.johnpaultucker.com

Facebook Address: https://www.facebook.com/johnpaultucker.author/

About the Book:

Title: SHELTER ISLAND
Author: John Paul Tucker
Publisher: Brownridge Publishing
Pages: 224
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure

BOOK BLURB:

Thirteen-year-old Cary and his sister Clarisse must return home every day after school to mind their eight year old brother, Gregory. “It’s a non-negotiable,” insist their work-obsessed parents. There is another problem. Clarisse and Gregory don’t like Cary much, and Cary doesn’t much like anything, especially being tagged with his gummy-fingered little brother. But their troubles are about to grow talons.

While bickering over the contents of a small, intricately embroidered pouch, the siblings unintentionally summon three mail-clad birds, who hasten their three young conscripts to Shelter Island, refuge to a long divided realm hidden from the children’s homeland for hundreds of years. Spotted above enemy territory, the small company is attacked. Clarisse and Gregory escape to the caves of Husgard. Cary’s captors dispatch him to Vangorfold, a centuries old stronghold sworn to Husgard’s destruction. Entangled in a centuries old conflict, the children’s own blur of problems comes into sharp focus, hastening the fortunes, for good or ill, not only of a forgotten civilization of birds, but of the children’s homeland.

Shelter Island 2

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon

Book Excerpt:

Clarisse hovered over the tiny artifact the same way

her parents would have conducted their research. The letters

on the scroll were written in the same spidery golden

threads of the embroidered feather on the pouch.

She hesitated to check a word.

Three fair feathers travellers are,

Bearing friends or foes afar.

Bound together, by bearers three,

Summons three bearers to bear ye.

“It’s a riddle,” said Gregory, his eyebrows climbing with

each new revelation.

“Maybe,” said Clarisse, who had recalled a passage

from a story she had read. “It sounds more like an enchantment.”

Watch the Trailer!

https://youtu.be/s-P0_de7_AY

Book Spotlight – Killing the Rougarou

KILLING THE ROUGAROU by Shawn M. Beasley, Romantic Suspense, 492 pp., $22.88 (paperback) $3.99 (Kindle)

 

Title: KILLING THE ROUGAROU
Author: Shawn M. Beasley
Publisher: iUniverse
Pages: 492
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Author Shawn Beasley captivates readers with the enthralling saga of
two southern families-the Gauthiers from the South Louisiana bayou
country and the Thomases from rural Texas-and the nightmare that will
ultimately touch them both. In her sweeping and richly evocative novel,
Beasley unfolds two remarkable family histories, populated by
unforgettable, deeply human characters, and then rocks their worlds with
tragedy and true horror. A novel that succeeds brilliantly on many
levels, Killing the Rougarou is, at once, moving and terrifying, tense
and thrilling, while capturing the sights, sounds, and vibrant life of
Louisiana’s Cajun country and Brazos County, Texas.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon / iUniverse / B&N

 

Being from South Louisiana, you hear a lot of
folklore. You never actually believe the old tales. You pass the stories on
down to your babies and so on. You never quite believe in them until you meet a
monster. Maybe then, you wonder: Could these stories be true?
 It was the Louisiana State fair in Shreveport, October 13, 1972—Friday the thirteenth, for the
superstitious. The sky was cloudless and the weather perfect for a night out.
The lights from the rides twinkled and it seemed they competed with the stars
in the clear sky with their brightness. It was cool and crisp, the temperature
in the mid-sixties. All that was needed to keep warm tonight was a light
jacket.
 A handsome family of six were enjoying the sights and sounds of
the fair. They had driven up this morning from
Sulphur and would stay at
the Holiday Inn downtown. Matthew Robert Gauthier (pronounced “Go-shay”), the
father of the family, had chosen this hotel because it was rumored the king
himself, Elvis Presley, had stayed here during his Louisiana Hayride days. He
fancied himself to be “the coon-ass Elvis,” and was the only one who did. He
loved to sing and would often sing as loud as he could, mostly off-key. It
drove his family crazy. His wife often joked that Matthew couldn’t sing, so he
had to work in the oilfield. Music had always been in their home and was a big
part of their community.
 Matthew almost always had a big smile on his face and a song on
his lips and so if Matthew was singing, he was dancing. It didn’t matter to him
when or where he performed. He truly loved to dance and sing, and if it
embarrassed his kids, well, that made it even better.
  Matthew and his wife Jessie had been married for just over
sixteen years and he was still crazy about her. They had four children, three
boys and a girl. The baby girl was his world. He loved his boys with all his
heart, but “the Girl” as he called her, wrapped him around her little finger.
She had them all under her spell. As the baby and only girl child, she got away
with everything and usually all her requests were granted. In fact, the fair
had been her idea.
 Louisiana has two state
fairs: one in
Baton Rouge (which they always
went to), and this one in
Shreveport. She learned of the
fair in
Shreveport from school, and
wanted to go up north. As usual, what “the Girl” wanted “the Girl” got! So,
they loaded up the car and would spend their weekend here, in
Shreveport, before returning
south to Choupique Bayou.
 They had been to the exhibitions, looked at the livestock, and
finally made their way to the midway. Tomorrow they would go to the rodeo.
Matthew loved the rodeo: it was where he first met Jessie. A fleeting memory of
that meeting brought a smile to his face.
 Music played through the outdoor speakers that surrounded the
midway. The song playing was “Smoke on the Water” by the band Deep Purple and
was so loud it drowned out the noise from the rides. The smell of hot dogs and
cotton candy was strong near the food trucks parked in a row between the rides
and the games. The games were on both sides of the midway alley and the
carnival barkers yelled for the Gauthier family to try their luck and maybe win
a prize. As they passed through the games, Matthew could sense his boys’
excitement and could barely prevent them from running off to the nearby rides.
The boys were ready to break free from their parents’ supervision and he
enjoyed delaying them. He liked to tease them and it made his day to embarrass
them.
 After he dispensed the rules to his boys as to the when and where
of meeting back up, the boys ran off to enjoy themselves. Matthew called the
boys back to give them each some forgotten money.
 “Come see, boys!” he yelled to the fleeing trio.
 He smiled when he heard them groan. They were worried he might
begin dancing before they could get away. They looked back to see what he could
possibly want. When they turned around, they saw a smiling Matthew as he held
money up for them to see and waved the cash back and forth as if it were a fan.
They grinned back at their father when they realized in their haste to get away
they hadn’t remembered to get money for the rides. Their eyes lit up with
excitement as they each were given twenty dollars from Matthew, and he reminded
them not to be late when they met back up.
 “Don’t make me come and find you,” he warned with a serious look
on his face.
 They laughed at their father and ran off toward the rides,
thankful they missed his dance moves they knew were soon to begin.
 As Matthew, Jessie, and the Girl made their way to the rides for
younger children, Matthew began to dance. Elvis Presley’s hit, “Burning Love”
vibrated through the speakers now and he couldn’t be contained. He grabbed up
his baby girl and adapted his Cajun two-step to the fast beat of the music as
he held his daughter. She laughed while she danced with her daddy and a bright
smile spread across her little face.
 The lights from the rides caught the five-year-old girl’s
attention and twinkled back from her eyes. She was beautiful. She was tiny in
stature.
 “Tiny but mighty,” her daddy would say.
 Her hair was long, auburn, and pulled back in a ponytail. Her skin
was olive-colored and blemish-free. She also had a few light freckles sprinkled
across her nose. She had recently lost her upper-front tooth and lisped when
she talked. She was the spitting image of her mother with one exception: she
had her father’s unusual amber eyes. Amber eyes were also known as wolf eyes,
and as if nature wanted to increase their dramatic effect, they were fringed
with long, dark lashes. Her eyes sparkled brightly and when the dance ended,
she grabbed her daddy’s face and planted a big kiss on his cheek. He put her
down between himself and Jessie and they each grabbed one of her little hands.
 “Come on with your daddy, Girl, the frogs are laughing and time’s
a wasting!”
 They continued on to find the rides for her to enjoy. She was safe
and loved and right where she wanted to be, with her parents. This night at the
fair would be one of the last happy memories she would have with both of them.
This was the night “the music” died in their home. This was the night her
father lost his smile. This was the night she met the rougarou.
#
 He watched them and saw her smile. He knew she secretly smiled for
him. He grew hard as he thought about what he wanted to do to her. She was his.
He would bide his time and follow them. He would take her. They didn’t matter.
It was what she wanted. His breathing grew heavier and his heartbeat
accelerated in anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

Author Shawn Beasley captivates readers with the enthralling saga of

two southern families-the Gauthiers from the South Louisiana bayou
country and the Thomases from rural Texas-and the nightmare that will
ultimately touch them both. In her sweeping and richly evocative novel,
Beasley unfolds two remarkable family histories, populated by
unforgettable, deeply human characters, and then rocks their worlds with
tragedy and true horror. A novel that succeeds brilliantly on many
levels, Killing the Rougarou is, at once, moving and terrifying, tense
and thrilling, while capturing the sights, sounds, and vibrant life of
Louisiana’s Cajun country and Brazos County, Texas.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon / iUniverse / B&N

 

 

 

 

VBT – The Banished Lands

About the Author

Me

Benjamin Mester is native of San Diego but can often be found wandering the woods of northern Minnesota.  He fell in love with language at an early age – the eloquence of poetry or the grandeur of an epic story. Fantasy is his favorite genre, crafting new and magical places of heroism and adventure.  When he isn’t writing, he’s often taking long walks through nature or wondering about his place in the wide world.

Benjamin is the author of The Banished Lands series.

You can visit him on Goodreads.

About the Book:

The Banished Lands

Title: THE BANISHED LANDS (BOOK ONE)
Author: Benjamin Mester
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy

BOOK BLURB:

A kingdom in danger. A prophecy that will change everything. But will they understand it in time? The old world is gone, and barely even histories remain. But something from that time is returning. The closing lines of a farewell poem, written centuries ago by the last great king of the age to his slain wife, might be more than just a poem:

The world and all its light shall fade,
I’ll stay with her beneath the shade
And wait until the world’s remade…

Join us in this epic fantasy adventure as three friends plunge into the great mystery of their age, twelve centuries in the making. A mysterious fog blankets the forest just outside the sleepy town of Suriya. A dark plot unfolds as Durian and his friends discover ties between a strange wanderer and the warlike barbarian kingdom far to the north. Are the mysterious things happening in the forest a prelude to invasion? What happens next will propel Durian and his curious friends into the middle of the oldest riddle in the history of their kingdom, a dozen centuries old.

The Banished Lands series

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon

 

Book Excerpt:

Dismissing hours as they pass

Soft upon the windswept grass.

The hopes of men have come to naught.

Nothing fair for eyes or thought.

For Sheyla lies on golden plain,

Of Cavanah, the fairest slain;

Who met her last and final day

When all was brought to disarray.

Of gladful things now nevermore –

Now bitter wind, now salty shore.

The peaceful world bound to unrest

And darkness looming in the west.

The world and all its light shall fade.

I’ll stay with her beneath the shade

And wait until the world’s remade…

Suriya

The town of Suriya awoke in usual fashion, with thin bands of smoke appearing one by one over the scattered chimney tops, rising to a dawn still flecked with starlight.  Few were stirring this early hour, in this small town in the corner of the kingdom, at the edge of the known world. An autumn wind picked up, pulling at the gray smoke and signaling the discovery of each hidden crevice in the stone cottages with a shriek of cold.

Durian woke to the whistling wind, but his mind was still full of the dream of a woman lying slain in a field.  He thought she was only sleeping, but something kept him from drawing near her. A rider approached, dismounted, and took her into his arms.  The figure pressed her head against his chest, and even from a distance his despair was evident. Then carrying her to his horse, they rode for the horizon.  He’d had this dream once before, and every detail was the same: the woman, the rider, the lingering stab of loss when he woke.

Sleep had almost found him when he snapped back awake – a promise to his best friend, Baron, in mind.  Groaning, Durian pushed himself from bed. Baron was competing in the Sea Games this morning. Though why was beyond him. This was the worst time of year as far as Durian was concerned, with no reprieve from the roving wind that swept up from the south.  With winter at least came snow, piled like a warm blanket against the drafty cottages. But the first heavy snows hadn’t yet fallen and the wind moved as it willed.

Durian ambled to his fireplace and blew slow, hopeful breaths.  But clouds of ash were all that greeted him in return. Reaching for the woodpile beside him, he seized some kindling but hesitated, knowing he’d soon be leaving.  Thob Forest, a two day’s walk westbound, was Suriya’s only source for timber. Abundant as trees were, strange things had been happening there that were keeping the woodsmen at bay.

It brought images of the dream back to mind.  The first time he’d had the dream was just before things in the forest started changing.  Every morning for the last three months, a fog had gathered, remaining throughout the day.  And in the mist were faint hints of perfume and smoke. None knew what caused it.

He glanced to the book lying idle on the mantle, one he’d rummaged through his room to find when the fog first arrived.  Titled Tales of the Prosperous Age, among its grand histories and stories, it contained the farewell poem of King Euthor to his wife, Sheyla – a poem that always touched him.  He’d been struck then, how similar his dream was to the poem and how vivid the images were. It felt connected to the happenings of the forest, but he didn’t know how that could be.

He took the book in hand, remembering fondly how the stories had consumed his imagination as a boy.  All he had wanted then was to go to the capital city, Eulsiphion; wander the great hall and visit the archives to learn whatever he could of the old world.  

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Spotlight – Snickety Dickety Doo

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About the Author

Danica-Lea Larcombe 2

Danica-Lea Larcombe has a B.Sc (Environmental Health), a Grad.Dip in Education and has taken courses in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Photography. She is currently undertaking a thesis in Biodiversity and Human Health, and lives with her Japanese Spitz Bella.

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About the Book

Snickety Dickety Doo

Title: SNICKETY DICKETY DOO
Author: Danica-Lea Larcombe
Publisher: Blurb
Pages: 90
Genre: Children’s Fiction

BOOK BLURB:

George, Fiona and Marni find a tin of bubbles, not just any ordinary bubbles but planets. The planets shrink the children and take them to faraway lands. The children have many exciting adventures and try not to let their secret be discovered.  They learn about different cultures, currencies and languages, and are inspired at school.

In Series Two, George, Marni and Fiona continue their adventures around the world in the planet bubbles. They narrowly escape being killed by some monks in Turkey, find a little companion in Paris and visit royalty in Monaco.

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Book Excerpt:

It wasn’t just a small piece of tin.  Curiosity got the better of her and Marni decided she better keep digging around.  She could see the edges now and it looked like it was a tin box of some sort. Marni suddenly forgot about her wish and dug frantically to get the box out.  It was quite a light box of about medium size. It was not painted and there was no writing on it.

“What on earth could be in it?” Marni wondered.

It had a small padlock but this was rusted and broke off easily.  She opened the lid carefully to find nine individually wrapped balls, or so she thought.  She unwrapped one of the balls to find it was not a ball. In her hand it shone like a bubble, and was soft and tender to touch.  It had little feet and hands and was the colour of the sun.

“Oh my”, Marni whispered, “It has got a face!”  

The bubble’s eyes were closed and the mouth still.  On the other side it had the shape of a door, but there was no door handle.  How odd.

Marni looked at her watch quickly. It was six o’clock which was tea time and her parents would be calling her any minute.  She hastily re-wrapped the ball and closed the tin. She put her secret wish down the hole and filled it up with the dark brown coloured soil.  

Somehow Marni made it back inside the house and into her bedroom without anyone seeing the box.  She could not wait to show it to George and Fiona but it would have to wait until after tea. Her hands and knees were filthy dirty now, and her father questioned her.  

“What have you been doing? You look like a gypsy”.  

“Oh, just helping Fiona in the garden” Marni lied.  

Dinner was always a silent occasion in the Dimond household, and you got your knuckles rapped if you spoke.  Which Fiona did quite often.

Marni wished tea time would hurry up and finish but she had to wait for the compulsory pudding first.  It would either be apple crumble or apple strudel with ice-cream. Her mother baked wonderfully, but never seemed to want to try new recipes.  Now they were all allowed to leave the table because everyone had finished but the dishes still had to be dried and put away after her mother had washed them.  It was the height of the summer and daylight savings time meant that sunset would not be until about 8.30pm.

“George, Fiona, come into my room.  I have something to show you” Marni said.  “Quickly then” grumbled George. “I want to finish my hut”.  

“Ooh what is it?” asked Fiona.  

Spotlight – Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

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About the Author

Evy Journey

Evy Journey, SPR (Self Publishing Review) Independent Woman Author awardee, is a writer, a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse who, wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Her latest book is Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.

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About the Book

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

Title: SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THOSE LIES
Author: Evy Journey
Publisher: Sojourney Books
Pages: 200
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Crime

BOOK BLURB:

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Can the lessons Gina learned from her mother about cooking and life help her survive and thrive in this other world of privilege, pleasure, and menace?

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Praise:

By Lee Broom on December 24, 2017

Format: Kindle Edition

Powerful book! I feel like this story was one that I will have on my mind for a while. Gina is a gourmet chef, and her life is centered around her food and her dreams of owning her own restaurant. She recently got out of a relationship, not wanting to commit because of her passion for her job. Then a charming rich playboy notices her and won’t stop sending her roses. It’s an interesting story that has some crazy twists when jealous women come out of the woodwork. Gina doesn’t want to have a relationship so she ignores Leon’s attentions. Then she meets an intense homicide detective named Brent who catches her heart, but numerous events keep them apart. It’s a compelling story with quite a few ups and downs and sometimes I wanted to say to these people, “What is wrong with you people? Can’t you just admit you love each other and live your life happy already?!” I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.

 

Book Excerpt:

Prologue

I’m alive. I’m dead. I’m in-between. In that limbo where my vital signs hover just above death. I rise above my body and look down on it, lying on a gurney. Hospital staff are rushing me along the brightly-lit hallway to the operating room. One of them holds an oxygen mask on my face. Another, a bag of intravenous fluid connected to my veins by a tube.

I’m not ready to die yet. These good people anxious to rescue me don’t know that my resolve is the only thing that is keeping me alive. No, I’m not ready to die—I’ve only just begun to live. I have yet to prove to myself, to the world, that I have what it takes to prevail.

My family—now on their way to the hospital—doesn’t know yet exactly what happened to me. And except for one detective, neither do the police. I see him now by the foot of the gurney, keeping pace with the nurses. He’s scowling, his lips pressed into a grim line.

A tall, taut, and solitary man, he has deep-set gray eyes clouded by too many images of violent death and a lower lip that hangs perpetually open in disgust or despair. So much darkness he has already seen in his thirty odd years in this world. He needs to piece together the facts that constitute the attempt on my life, events that may have led to it, and various fragments of my past to understand what brought me to this point.

The first time I met him, I fell in love with him. There was something primal about him, some paternal, animalistic instinct to save hurt or fallen victims. Like me, maybe. It gave him power and it made him irresistible to me.

But fate is fickle. It teases. It entices. One day, something quite ordinary happens to you. Yet, you sense that that ordinary something can change your life. Not necessarily for something better, but for something new. Fate is dangling before you the promise of a world that, before then, was totally out of your reach. How can you not seize it?

Now, of course, I see the end of that promise. And it’s not where I want to be.

It’s tragic, don’t you think, that the end of that promise should be right here on a gurney, with me fighting for my life? It certainly is not what I hoped for.

How could it end this way? I embraced life, took chances, but half-dead on this gurney, I wonder: Am I paying with my life? But, like I said. I’m not ready to die yet.

 

Spotlight – Love Hack

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About the Author

Kimberly Dean

When taking the Myers-Briggs personality test in high school, Kimberly Dean was rated as an INFJ (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). This result sent her into a panic, because there were no career paths recommended for the personality type. Fortunately, it turned out to be well suited to a writing career. Since receiving that dismal outlook, Kimberly has become an award-winning author of romance and erotica. She enjoys the freedom and creativity allowed in writing romance, especially with all the interesting cross-genres that have been exploding on the scene.  When not writing, she enjoys movies, sports, traveling, music, and sunshine.

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About the Book

Love Hack

Title: LOVE HACK
Author: Kimberly Dean
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 180
Genre: Romantic Suspense

BOOK BLURB:

Security analyst Spencer Weiler is excited when he lands a job at Afire Industries. The responsibility is daunting, but nowhere near as exhilarating as working with Josie Johnson, the pretty program manager in charge. Spencer lusts after her, but knows that she only sees him as a work friend. He needs to make himself over if he’s going to have a shot with her.

Josie is all too aware of the cute computer geek watching over her. He was tempting before, but with his newfound muscles and sexy haircut, he’s suddenly an irresistible stud. She makes the first move and is stunned to learn that her hot IT guy is just as studious in the sack. Their affair turns hot and heavy, but Josie has broken her rule about dating coworkers once before. It didn’t end well. When her ex returns and posts scandalous pictures of her on the Internet, it’s not Spencer’s muscles that she needs. She needs a hacker.

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Book Excerpt:

Chapter One

As far as work settings went, Spencer supposed the place would do. Yeah, understatement of the year. He looked around the open bay of Afire Industries and tried not to drool. It was a developer’s dream: pods of desks for teams, comfy seating areas for private thinking, top-notch equipment, and cool technology on which to work. The downtown location in Seattle was prime, within walking distance of restaurants, bars, the waterfront, and even the Space Needle. Not that he was geeking out about the opportunity or anything…

Okay, he was geeking out, but it was only natural. He was a software geek. Hell, he was the King of Software Geeks.

“We’re glad to have you onboard,” his new boss, Luke McAllister, said. “Your background in software security is just what we need.”

No kidding. Afire was recovering from a major hack. It had been all over the news. From what Spencer knew about the situation, it hadn’t been a sophisticated attack. The hackers had come through the Internet of Things, which had been left unsecured. A total oversight and totally preventable. “I think I can help you guys out.”

A company this big and this advanced in the tech field? Heads had rolled as a result of the breach, but it had also opened up an opportunity for him to do what he did best. Security was Spencer’s game. What had impressed him most about the situation had been Afire’s response. Contrary to prevailing advice from government and law enforcement officials, Afire had not only closed the hole, they’d gone after their attackers—and they’d taken them down.

This was the kind of place where he wanted to work.

“We’re not ‘you guys’ anymore,” Luke said. “You’re one of us now, ‘a fireman.’ Come on. Let me show you around the place.”

Spencer hopped to his feet, automatically swiping up the MacBook he’d been assigned. He liked this guy, Luke. He wasn’t a normal software guy. In fact, he was pretty up-front about the fact that he was just learning the basics of coding. What McAllister did know, inside and out, was security in general: defensive measures, weakness analysis, perpetrator psychology… Rumor was that he’d worked for the Secret Service before turning to the private sector. What Spencer liked most, though, was that his new boss seemed to let people play to their strengths.

And he was cool as hell: tough, muscled, and badass.

“These three pods are where the security group is located.” Luke nodded, and the developers who weren’t heads-down coding nodded back.

Spencer recognized a few people from his interview and gave a wave.

“We have flexible hours, and you’re free to work from home when you feel the need. If things get hot, though, I’d prefer everyone be onsite so we can ‘war room’ the situation.”

“Not a problem,” Spencer said. That was pretty normal in the industry. He’d be working onsite until he got up to speed on everything.

He followed Luke when he turned down a hallway. The layout of the converted fish cannery was open and airy, but the security team was somewhat secluded around a corner. He was okay with that. Managers thought open-bay setups encouraged collaboration, but to Spencer, they just got loud. He preferred to work on his own when possible. As he’d often been told, he was a “deep thinker.”

“The restrooms are down there on the left. Here’s the grab ’n go area. Take whatever you want to eat or drink. The Green Team just prefers you use the recyclable bowl you were given. It should be on your desk.”

Recycled bowls for snacking, a T-shirt with the company fire emblem, plus a baseball hat, a mousepad, and a backpack to match. Afire didn’t skimp on the swag—although Spencer knew it was free advertising to have the company’s employees going around Seattle dressed like walking Afire billboards.

But shoot, they could dress him up and send him down the runway if this was what he got in return.

He tried not to smile too broadly as they continued their tour. He’d come from a company that specialized in security, but he felt like he’d just made it to the big leagues. It wasn’t just the perks. He was excited to get out on the front lines. The security firm’s customers had been other software companies. Here, he’d be protecting consumers directly. It was a challenge he looked forward to, because, honestly, he needed some new challenges. Things had been getting too easy for him at his old job. Easy and boring.

“Our customer success team is over there. They work with clients directly, helping them through any problems they might encounter. If you need someone who knows our applications inside and out, talk to them.” Luke kept moving until they were at the back of the building. “Down here is the gym.”

Spencer gave it a cursory glance. The assortment of workout machines looked shiny and top of the line, but what did he know? It wasn’t a perk he was likely to use.

“Towel service is provided. I can show you how to use the programmable locks on the lockers, if you’d like.”

“I think I can figure that out,” Spencer said dryly.

Luke sent him a sidelong look and laughed. “Yeah, I suppose you can.”

Clapping a heavy hand on his shoulder, Spencer’s boss turned him back in the direction they’d come. “The cafeteria is open for breakfast and lunch. The team is planning to eat as a group today to welcome you.”

“Cool,” Spencer said. He liked Christopher Chen, the guy who sat at the desk next to him, but he hadn’t gotten to spend much time with anyone else.

Not that he was a social butterfly, but those were his people. Luke was a bit intimidating. He was the kind of guy who probably knew all about working out in gyms, fishing, football, and women. Spencer suspected he’d have more things to talk about with Christopher and the other developers.

“Okay, this is really where I want to take you,” Luke said as he opened a door to a covered walkway leading out of the main Afire building. “This is the way to our small business accelerator. It’s managed by Afire, but space is rented by entrepreneurs trying to get new tech companies off the ground.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Spencer followed his boss to the smaller building next door, but stopped when Luke turned with his hand on the door’s push-bar.

“It’s also where the hack came in.”

Okay, now Spencer’s interest was piqued. “One of the entrepreneurs let them in?”

“No, we let them in. We own and manage the facilities and shared equipment. The small companies here just rent space. The hack came in through the Internet of Things, which we should have secured for everyone. The hacker was then able to breach the firewall between Start ’er Up and Afire’s networks. That’s top-secret info that nobody outside of our team needs to know.”

Spencer nodded. That little tidbit hadn’t been in any of the news reports. It also made it more understandable how such an infiltration had occurred.

Luke pushed open the glass door at the end of the walkway, and the hydraulic closer let out a whoosh. Soft chatter filtered through the air.

“Welcome to Start ’er Up,” Luke said.

Spencer looked around the place with interest. The tech world and startups went hand in hand, although he’d always worked in established businesses. Along with being a deep thinker, he was an old soul. The idea of going out on his own was tempting, but he knew the risks involved with that. Perks were one thing, but he wasn’t blinded by them. Company stability, health insurance, and a 401(k) match were more important to him.

Although this could be a cool way to keep tabs on cutting-edge stuff…

“I’m assigning this place to you,” Luke said.

What? Spencer stood a little straighter. Wow. Talk about a shot in the arm. “Okay.”

“I had a consultant go through everything. She assures me that everything is secure now, but I’d like a second opinion. I’d also like to bring the responsibility in house.”

“Yes, sir. I can do that.” Spencer nodded with confidence as he looked around the space. He spotted printers, routers, and even an old fax machine… all potential infiltration points if somebody wanted to get in via the Internet of Things, much less the Wi-Fi that all these companies no doubt shared.

His brain began churning. Damn, he was getting more and more excited about this job, but he didn’t want to come off like a goober.

Luke turned into one of the few offices in the smaller building. “First things first, I’d like to introduce you to Josie. She manages Start ’er Up. You two will be working closely.”

Spencer took one step in the room, and his brain jammed. Crumpled-paper-in-the-bowels-of-a-printer kind of jam. One moment his brain was firing on all cylinders, excited about the new assignment, and the next, it froze and his body went a little haywire. Girl. Beautiful girl. Strawberry blonde. Green eyes. Pretty smile. Pink lips… And a tight body. Oh, hell. Don’t look there.

“Josie, this is Spencer Weiler, our new security hire. He’s the one who’s going to take point on Start ’er Up’s security situation from here on out.”

The girl… woman… gorgeous woman looked at him and blinked those big green eyes. “Oh! Hi there. It’s nice to meet you.”

She looked at him expectantly, but that paper jam was in there good, gunking up any thought processes Spencer might have once had. “Hi-lo,” he said.

Oh, crap. That wasn’t right.

“Hell. I mean hell-o.” One of her eyebrows rose, and he thought he saw a dimple in her cheek deepen. Damn, this should not be that difficult. “Hi,” he said on a rough exhale.

“Hi, Spencer.” Okay, she was smiling at him. Laughing, really. No, not laughing. There was empathy there. “First days are tough, aren’t they?”

He nodded, his tongue feeling twice its size inside his mouth. Yeah, first day. They’d go with that. She did not need to know about the boner that he was suddenly sporting. She didn’t need to know that was why no blood or oxygen was making it to the head atop his neck.

She held out a hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Not as glad as he was. Not even close.

He took her hand and shifted the Mac he was still carrying so it hid the front of his jeans. Her skin felt like silk. Warm, smooth silk.

He couldn’t stop staring at her. Honest to God, she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

“I still feel so bad about the hack,” she said. “I didn’t even know you could hack equipment like that.”

“Josie,” Luke said. “We’ve talked about this.”

“I know,” she said, sighing heavily, “but I’m responsible for this place. I should have done something to stop it from happening.”

Spencer frowned. “You know how to change the password on a R-4200 router?”

“Uh… no,” she said with a blush. Her gaze went quickly to her desk, where he’d seen the piece of equipment. “But I should know that’s something that needs to be done.”

“It’s not even in the owner’s manual.” He shrugged, hoping the gesture showed reassurance.

Was it hot in here? He stuck his hand in his front jeans pocket to keep from fanning himself like a ninny, but winced. Tight. Jeans too tight. He pulled his hand back out quickly and wrapped his fingers around the shield of his Mac.

“Really?” The lines on the angel’s face smoothed. “Oh, that makes me feel better. I’m the program manager around here. There’s a lot to keep track of.”

“The rock star manager of all managers,” another female inserted.

Spencer glanced to the door. Okay, smoking-hot brunette at nine o’clock. Was there something in the water over here? His glance bounced off her right back to Josie.

“This the newb?” the visitor asked.

Luke nodded. “Spencer, this is Kylie Grant. Kylie, this is Spencer Weiler.”

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

The brunette looked at Luke. “I got this place locked down, you know.”

He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. The guy’s forearms bulged like Popeye’s, and the woman took notice. Spencer caught the reaction and quickly let his gaze skim over Josie. She wasn’t eyeing his manly boss, so much as fighting a smile watching the other two people in the room squabble.

“Security over here is Afire’s responsibility,” Luke said.

“Uh huh.” Kylie pushed her hair over her shoulder and cocked her head.

“Now,” Luke said in resignation. “We’re watching it more closely now, and Spencer is in charge of that.”

Spencer felt the brunette’s gaze rake over him. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the way he was clutching his Mac. He forced his fingers to relax, but he didn’t move it. No way, no how.

“Where did you work before this?” she asked.

“Samson Security.”

“Nice.” She drummed her fingers against her thigh. “What do you think of facial-recognition authentication?”

“Not dependable enough.”

“Pattern recognition?”

He shook his head. “Better than alphanumeric, but still a pain. Fingerprints are the way to go for top-level security and ease of use.”

“Hm,” she muttered. She swung her hand out, gesturing like Vanna White. “What do you think of the place? From a developer’s point of view?”

“Good space, a little loud.” He squinted at the sunlight bouncing off Elliott Bay through the front windows. That was something to mark on the calendar. The sun was out in Seattle, and he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world. Whom he’d like to get back to… if he could communicate with her… Hell, why was his brain connecting to his mouth with this brunette bombshell but not the redhead?

“It’s nice, although a bit bright,” he said.

Kylie straightened as if he’d jabbed her with a stick. “He’ll do.”

“Nice to have your approval,” Luke said dryly.

She lifted an eyebrow. “You know you want it.”

Josie cleared her throat. “They date,” she said.

Good. That meant one less guy Spencer had to be concerned about. A scary thought hit him, and his gaze snapped to her desk. He was relieved when he didn’t see photographs of a husband or boyfriend.

“Are we still going to Ivar’s for dinner tonight?” Kylie asked.

“Yeah,” Luke said. “How late are you going to be?”

“I can go anytime. Just pick me up when you’re ready.”

Was that a gleam in his boss’s steely gaze? Spencer watched for hints, pointers even. The guy obviously had game, and he could use some help in that area. Like, pronto.

Spencer shot another glance at Josie. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. That paper jam in his head just wasn’t letting loose. Did he even have a shot? She seemed so normal—no, so outstanding—and he was a computer geek. His kind didn’t have the best track records with women. What was his next step? Was he going to make a play? How did one do that?

He didn’t even know what a play was, not with someone like her.

“Anyway,” Luke said. “Now that we have approval from the boss, I’d like you two to work together to map out a plan. Spencer, you know the security piece. Josie, you know how Start ’er Up works. We can’t lock it down too tightly, because we have a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs using this place. We’re here to help them, not shut them out.”

Spencer nodded. “Got it.”

“Josie can introduce you around and get you situated.”

Spencer nodded again. It was the one form of communication he had that seemed to be working. His brain was now stuck on the fact that he’d be spending a lot of time with her. It thrilled him and terrified him all at once.

“Any questions?” Luke said.

So, so many. Spencer shook his head.

Josie walked to her desk and opened a day planner the size of War and Peace. “When would you like to start, Spencer?”

Oh, God. He was even turned on by the way she said his name.

“Nuuhhhh.” He cleared his throat. “Now?”

She blinked. “Uh, okay.”

She moved some papers aside on her desk, but Luke stepped forward. “Whoa, boy. Slow ’er down.”

Josie giggled, and Spencer nearly died.

“I thought we were supposed to Start ’er Up,” she teased.

Spencer snorted. Literally, the most ungraceful sound in the world came out of his mouth, and Josie laughed harder.

Luke looked back and forth between the two of them. “Geek humor. Great.”

He tilted his head toward the door. “We’re not finished with his onboarding,” he said. “Put something on his calendar for tomorrow or later. Whatever works for you.”

“Okay.” Josie trailed her finger down the open page. “If you don’t need me now, I guess I’ll head down to the gym.”

Heat washed through Spencer when she turned toward him and laced her fingers together. “See you tomorrow.”

He nodded roughly. “Tmrro.”

Damn it.

“All right. Sounds like a plan.” Luke started out the door. “Let’s go back to my office.”

Spencer somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other to follow him. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Josie’s green gaze one last time. “Buh.”

Oh, hell and tarnation.

“Bye,” she said with a little wave that made his erection nearly burst right through the zipper of his jeans.

Spencer hoped to God he wasn’t walking funny as he followed Luke back through the walkway into Afire. Once the door closed behind them, some of his brain function returned. It was a proximity affliction, apparently.

This was a problem.

The woman put his brain on the fritz. He liked her. One step inside that door, and he’d wanted her. At the very least, he had to work with her, but she wasn’t a typical tech female. Luke’s girlfriend, Kylie, wasn’t either, but he could talk to her. But Josie?

Spencer narrowed his eyes on Luke as he sank down into the chair behind his desk. Wait a minute. Luke had somehow made the crossover from normal guy to geek girl—although Kylie was unlike any geek girl Spencer had ever met. Surely, he could take hints from their relationship and reverse-engineer it.

His brain started to whir; he was onto something here. He could hack this.

“So… that’s the gist of the job. Now, for your development plan.” Luke swiveled in his chair toward his laptop. “Everybody hates coming up with these, but Afire likes to keep its employees learning. You don’t have to come up with a full-blown plan now, but start thinking about an area where you’d like to develop more skills.”

“You mean in security?”

Luke shrugged, his heavy shoulders bunching. “Not necessarily. It can be pretty much anything. Rafi is taking some public-speaking courses to help with his presentations. Christopher is shadowing our customer success people to learn how our customers approach things. So think about it. What’s something you’re interested in learning more about?”

That was easy—the redhead next door.

Although when Luke said “anything,” Spencer doubted she was included.

He tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair. There was more than one way to hack a password.

“Stress can be a problem for me,” he said. It was the truth. “Sometimes I can get too deep in a problem and forget to take care of myself.”

Honesty there.

“Okay,” Luke said.

“And not to brag or anything, but I could teach most of the courses on security.”

Luke’s chair squeaked when he sat back. An evaluating look had settled onto his face. It was all jagged corners and tough-guy handsome. Spencer tried not to squirm as Luke looked him over. He could afford to put on some muscle like McAllister.

“The gym,” he said. It came to him like the flash of a light bulb. “I’d like to get more comfortable there, maybe establish a workout routine. You know, to get out of my head.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed, and Spencer rushed to make sense of the request before Luke made it to the truth. Although with the way his mouth started to tug at the corners, it might already be too late.

“Would you be open to training me?” Spencer asked.

Luke’s chin snapped up a fraction of an inch. Okay, he hadn’t been expecting that.

“Well, I am down there usually once a day,” Luke said, “and I wouldn’t mind a training partner. What’s your normal workout routine now?”

Routine? “I play a lot of disc golf in the summer. Does that count?”

The frown he got in return didn’t help.

“What’s that?” Luke asked.

Spencer ran a hand through his hair. “Frisbee golf.”

Damn, that didn’t sound tough at all.

But Luke nodded in approval. “There’s cardio with that.”

“Yeah, and I can run.” Spencer flexed. “I just need to… you know… beef up.”

Women were into that, from what he’d heard.

He flinched when Luke leaned forward and braced his elbows against the desk. “Let me get this straight. One of my security guys wants to enter… the gym.”

Spencer swallowed hard. He might as well have said the Twilight Zone. Did he want to become a gym rat? No. But did he want a shot with Josie? “Yes.”

He fought to hold his ground as Luke watched him. The guy could read the truth. He had eyes like lasers and a brain that was nearly as sharp.

“Okay, strength training it is.” Luke turned to his computer and filled out the development form. “We’ll start tomorrow morning before you go over to help Josie with Start ’er Up.”

“Tomorrow,” Spencer agreed. Before his brain went wonky again.

Man, he hoped this worked.

* * *

“So what did you think of him?”

Josie glanced up from her gym bag to the door. Shoot, Kylie was back. Josie returned her attention to her bag and zipped the compartment shut. She should have just run to the locker room and checked to see if she’d remembered to bring shampoo. “Who? Spencer?”

“No, Luke,” her friend said dryly.

Josie sighed. “I don’t know. He’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“That’s a ringing endorsement.”

Okay, that hadn’t been fair. The new guy was better than fine—and maybe he had the security chops, too. “If you and Luke feel he’s the right guy, I’m sure he is.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Giving up, Josie dropped the strap of the bag and slumped down into her chair. “I just can’t help feeling like it’s punishment for screwing up, like he’s being assigned to watch over my shoulder.”

“Screwing up?” Kylie closed the door behind her and walked over to settle her hip against the desk. “What did you do wrong?”

Oh, just about everything. Josie had gone over the whole cycle of events in her head so many times, it was like it was on constant replay. “I should have noticed the change in the lighting. I missed that completely. Even when you told me, I didn’t dig into it.”

Kylie frowned. “But you let me. And how would you have known that was evidence of a hack? I didn’t until I started poking around in the smart building control system, which you gave me access to, following proper protocol. Have I thanked you for that, by the way? If you hadn’t added me as an administrator, Luke never would have listened to me. I’d probably still be talking with lawyers today.”

“Yes, but that was a security violation, in and of itself. You weren’t officially associated with Afire. I should have been fired for that alone.”

“Hey, I’m a consultant. I’ve even got a badge to show it.”

Josie hit her friend with a look. “After the fact.”

“You just beat Luke to the paperwork.”

Josie fiddled with the pen holder on her desk. Afire liked to promote itself as a paperless company, but there was just something about pen and paper that made her feel more organized. She had pens in every color under the sun, and her day planner was jammed with Post-it notes to expand on the rainbow. That was her strength—organization and communication. She kept this place running as its program manager. She helped people network and find collaborators. She put together training sessions for new businesses on how to keep their books, market their products, and find venture capital. She kept metrics on their member companies’ progress, she reviewed startup applications for membership, and she even made the coffee.

But with all that she did, she knew that the Start ’er Up program was not key to Afire’s success. It didn’t make money. Every once in a while, a technology company might have something her bosses would be interested in licensing or even outright purchasing, but Start ’er Up’s mission was to support the entrepreneurship culture in Seattle. It was a community service.

Yet that community service had nearly brought Afire down.

She banged her pen holder against her desk, and two pens jumped out. “Why did that hack have to come through this place?”

Kylie frowned. “Did you ever stop to think how lucky we were that it did?”

“Excuse me?” Another pen, a purple one, fell out when Josie tried to shove the other two back in. She rarely got angry. She was an upbeat person, but she didn’t need coddling.

“Do you think something like that ever would have been noticed or investigated over in Afire? A lighting glitch? Especially with Steven Ayers at the security helm?”

Josie winced. She hadn’t realized how self-centered she was being. Steven Ayers had been the top security guy on Luke’s team. Smug, misogynistic, and highly overrated, he’d been fired for not detecting the hack of Afire’s network—and he’d come after Kylie for revenge.

Reaching past her growing pile of spilled pens, Josie caught her friend’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think of that.”

“Those hackers could have done a lot more damage if we hadn’t caught them when we did. Luke isn’t assigning Spencer to Start ’er Up because he doesn’t trust you. He’s giving you the support you’ve always needed.” Kylie pushed her hair back and gave a little sniff. “Even if I had it handled.”

Josie rolled her eyes. Okay, they both had some personal hang-ups with the new situation. “You’ve got enough on your plate with your web design company and… whatever else it is that you do.”

Her friend clammed up real quick at that.

Kylie leaned forward and changed the subject. “So, give me the truth. What did you think of Mr. Chatty Cat?”

Talk about turning the tables. The direct look in her friend’s eyes made Josie blush, but she pretended not to know what Kylie was talking about. “The two of you communicated just fine.”

“Yes, but I’m one of his kind. You aren’t.”

Josie busied herself with straightening up her pens. “I understood what he was trying to say.”

Kylie’s grin turned into a smile. “I bet you did.”

“We’ll know better tomorrow if we can work together.”

“Josie, the words he managed to get out around you weren’t even English.”

“So he’s a little shy.” Shy, observant, tall, and sexy, in an awkward sort of way. Those dark puppy-dog eyes had made Josie melt when she’d first locked gazes with him. She pointed a pen at the brunette interrogating her. Enough of this. “What did you think?”

Kylie shrugged. “He’s kinda cute, if you go for that type of thing.”

“I meant for the security job!”

She laughed. “He’s solid. Technically, he’s really good. I checked him out before Luke made the offer.”

Josie’s jaw dropped. “Then why are you asking me?”

“Because it’s what you think that matters. He can be a security genius, but if you don’t like working with him, just say the word.”

“Oh, come on. Give him a chance.”

“So you like him?”

Josie began fiddling with her gym bag again. Kylie just wasn’t going to let up on this. “He is kind of cute, I guess, with that shaggy hair and dark eyes.”

“Too wiry for my taste.”

“Lanky,” Josie said. In a Ramones T-shirt, he’d been like all the other tech guys walking around, but his backside had been rather nice as she’d watched him walk out the door. He was tall, too. She’d had to tilt her head back a little to talk to him. She’d kind of liked that. And he had shoulders to match, even if he didn’t fill out the T-shirt as well as the jeans.

“I guess he is at the opposite side of the spectrum from Nolan,” Kylie said. “That’s a plus.”

Nolan. At the mention of her ex-boyfriend, Josie’s stomach went from buoyant to a ball of lead. Okay, it was her turn to clam up. She looped the long strap of her gym bag over her shoulder and stood. “I just agreed that Spencer is cute. That doesn’t mean I’m going to date him.”

She wasn’t ready to get back into that scene yet.

The humor left Kylie’s eyes. “Is Nolan still giving you problems?”

“No. Just a late-night text here and there.” Josie rounded her desk. She really did need to get to the gym if she was going to get a workout in.

Kylie put her arm over the doorway. “What does he want?”

Josie ducked underneath the barrier and scooted through. “To get back together.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Kylie followed her down the hallway. “You’re not—”

“No.” Absolutely not.

“Good.” Kylie’s fists relaxed at her sides. “Cute and lanky might be a good thing after all.”

“Spencer’s just for work.” They were in the covered walkway now, leading over to Afire. Josie swiped her badge through the reader at the door to the main building. Kylie didn’t have her consultant’s badge on her, so this was where Josie could make her great escape. When the reader’s light turned green, she put her shoulder into the door and pushed it open. “I’m too busy for another boyfriend right now.”

Busy trying to make sure Afire was still invested in Start ’er Up and her job was secure.

The door clanked shut behind her, ending the conversation and making the lead ball inside Josie’s stomach heavier. Maybe Spencer could help her understand security better, but anything beyond that was out of the question. She needed to concentrate on her career while she still had it.

 

Book Spotlight – The ABCs of Living Green

The ABCs of Living Green banner

About the Author

Theresa A. McKeown

Theresa McKeown spent over two decades in the entertainment arena before embracing her true passion of writing children’s books. After producing hundreds of hours of television for a host of cable and network outlets, Theresa is now on the path of what she considers her highest calling.

Theresa and her sisters have created “The ABC’s of Everything, LLC”, a family endeavor solely focused on publishing several series of children’s books, digital content, and educational curriculums.  All will be written and produced with an awareness of the true possibilities that children of the 21st century can realize.  

As an author, Theresa is dedicated to estimating rather than underestimating the wisdom of children. Her philosophy is that kids are fully adept at understanding nuance and meaning and it’s not necessary to talk down to them.  She is dedicated to creating a new paradigm in the children’s book world by introducing work that fully embraces the insightfulness, perception and unlimited intellectual potential of today’s youth.

Her books are meant to plant the seeds of education and awareness early in a child’s development, knowing full well that children will ultimately blossom into the best versions of who they are meant to be.

In her role as producer, Theresa traveled worldwide, filming from locations as diverse as the White House, NORAD, the Pentagon, FBI headquarters, maximum-security prisons and from the top of the World Trade Center.  Along the way she “tail-hooked” onto an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, yachted through South America with jet setters and chased bad guys with the LAPD in a helicopter. She survived both OJ Simpson trials, shot live from heart of the LA Riots and drove through a wall of flames during the Laguna fires.  Yet, with a background like this, building a community to celebrate children promises to be the most exciting adventure of all.

As George Elliot once said, “It’s never too late to become who you might have been”.

…Words this author has taken to heart.

 

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About the Book

The ABCs of Living Green 2

Title: THE ABCS OF LIVING GREEN
Author: Theresa A McKeown
Publisher: The ABCs of Everything, LLC
Pages: 56
Genre: Picture/poetry book for children and tweens

BOOK BLURB:

“The ABCs of Living Green” completes the ABC trilogy of picture books focused on raising happy, healthy, conscious children in body, mind and spirit. Written from the voice of Mother Earth, every letter of the alphabet and corresponding word gives readers a multitude of fun ways to be mindful not only of the planet we all share, but of the people with whom we share it. A book that focuses on the beauty and fulfillment of stepping up and doing our part in taking care of the environment and each other, “The ABCs of Living Green” is truly a book for the enlightened child of the 21st century.

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