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VBT – Room for Grace

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About the Authors

Daniel Kenner

Daniel Kenner rocked out to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” while other infants sang “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” A proud member of Actor’s Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and National Players Tour 60, Daniel was a Presidential Arts Scholar at George Washington University and Scholarship recipient at The British American Drama Academy. Directed the Washington D.C. premier of Sarah Kane’s Crave. Author of the manuscript, Roux. Winner of the Rhode Island Playwriting Festival for his World War II letters home drama, Fields of Sacrifice. Adapted Les Misérables for high school stages.

Maureen Kenner’s heart was in the classroom. For thirty-five years she was a Special Education teacher in the Providence Public Schools. Born and raised in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Maureen graduated from Rhode Island College with a degree in education and later earned a Master’s Degree from Providence College. Maureen was a vital influence at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point, working tirelessly as a mentor for the betterment of all children and their families. Honored with many accolades throughout her career, Maureen was awarded Providence Teacher of the Year in 2003. Living with cancer, as a model patient, Maureen exemplified integrity, courage, grace, and hope. For thirty-one years, through sickness and health, Maureen was the beloved soul mate to the late Jacob “Buddy” Kenner, her intense love recognized in 2016 as a Rhode Island Caregiver of the Year.

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Room for Grace

About the Book:

Title: ROOM FOR GRACE
Author: Daniel Kenner & Maureen Kenner
Publisher: Silver Boot Imprints
Pages: 200
Genre: Memoir & Biography

BOOK BLURB:

Stage 4 cancer for her and a debilitating disease for her husband: life crashed down in an instant. Maureen Kenner found resilience, however, in the lessons she learned from her Special Ed students in Providence, RI. Her students lived with their hearts opened despite struggles of the highest magnitude. Through these students, Maureen gains courage, humor, and the strength of spirit to face her devastating realities, head on. Maureen’s oral history was captured by her son Daniel who tenderly wrought this book out of their recorded conversations. Through anecdotes and hard-earned lessons, Maureen tackles challenge after challenge and reframes daily struggles with a positive outlook allowing her to transcend and conquer mortal fears with dignity and room for grace.

PRAISE:

“Maureen Kenner was one of those people who brightened every room she entered. Thanks to Room for Grace, that light is not extinguished. Although her story shares great sadness, Room for Grace is a book of hope and a celebration of life that sheds Maureen’s light on us all.” — Ann Hood, Author of The Obituary Writer and The Red Thread

“In these pages, you will find a story like no other. Maureen’s story is one of courage and love, a story that will move you to your core.” — David Flink, Chief Empowerment Officer, Eye to Eye

“The piercing light of Maureen’s compassion, love and intelligence, will leave every reader wanting to reach out in the spirit of service and live life to the fullest.” — Annie Lanzillotto, Author of Hard Candy: Caregiving, Mourning, and Stagelight

“Buddy Kenner was a big-hearted teacher, universally beloved by all, a warrior for the arts and their importance in the curriculum. Amazing and unique guy. Read this book.” — Tom Chandler, Rhode Island Poet Laureate Emeritus

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Book Excerpt:

STAGE 4

Mary Poppins was my nurse on Day 6. “Pretend you’re at summer camp,” she joked, encouraging every step I made toward healing and recovery. “We’ve got a whole bunch of activities for you to choose from.”

“But instead of Newcomb and color wars and collecting orange salamanders or dancing to Tommy James and the Shondells,” I said, “today’s activities at the hospital include pain med management, ice chip crunching, and Dammit! Doll whacking…”

“Don’t forget IV pole walking,” she teased. “I always know when you’re coming because your IV pole is the squeakiest.” She tenderly guided me back into bed.

“But instead of early morning skinny dipping,” I said, “someone signed me up for the johnny gown flash mob.”

That really made her laugh. “I wish all my patients worked like you.”

Well, you help make it easy,” I admitted. “I loved sleepaway camp. I’d pack my trunk with stamped stationary and Razzles, pick-up sticks and jacks. And my Magic 8-Ball. My bunkmates and I thought we could predict the future. Go figure. I could never have predicted this.” She wrapped a warm blanket around my feet. “One year,” I continued, “I was the last camper to be picked up and, on the way home, my sisters teased me that my parents wanted to leave me there.”

“That’s one of the reasons I love my job here,” she smiled. “The staff is a family. We’re planning a barbecue together this weekend.”

It was August 2013.

Dr. David Sanfred, our family practitioner, walked into my room at 6:45 a.m. and stood at the end of my hospital bed. “Maureen, we’re getting ready to send you home soon,” he said. And then, “It’s time to talk.”

It was time to face what I’d avoided all week.

“I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s very serious.” Though by our family’s side for many difficult situations, I’d never heard Dr. Sanfred’s tone this methodical. “We thought it was Stage 1 but the cancer metastasized from the colon to your umbilicus and has advanced to Stage 4.”

The hospital symphony went silent. I turned my head and watched the early morning sunlight peek through the window. “Is it curable?”

He gave my hand a soft pat. “No, it is not curable.”

I heard myself gasp.

I was in a panorama shot. I saw Mary Poppins outside the thin curtain share morning notes with the nurse coming on. They whispered, glanced sympathetically in my direction. I struggled for breath and gripped the Dammit! Doll.

“Will I be able to go back to my classroom?”

“No,” he cautioned, “you will not be able to teach right now. But soon. We hope.”

The tears kept coming. Mary Poppins came back into the room. She reached out and hugged me gently, with so much affection I could feel her heart break.

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Pre-Pub Blast – Darkest Before the Dawn

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About the Author

Mike Martin

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

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

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About the Book:

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

Darkest Before the Dawn

BOOK BLURB:

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

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

VBT – Three Brothers

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About the Author

Joerg H. Trauboth

Joerg H. Trauboth (Wikipedia) was born just outside of Berlin in 1943 during an air-raid. He discovered his love for writing early in his career as an officer and was awarded top honors by the General Inspector of the German Bundeswehr. Along the way, he flew over two thousand flight hours as a Weapons Systems Officer and instructor in the Phantom RF4E (in which he survived two critical lightening strikes). After a training in George AFB (CA), Major Joerg H. Trauboth flew the  Phantom F4F  and finally – followed by another conversion training in Cottesmore (UK) –  the Tornado aircrafts. Trauboth became a General Staff Officer in the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces in Hamburg-Blankenese and enrolled as LtCol  in the NATO Defense College in Rome. He has served in the German national operational headquarters as well as in the NATO Headquarters in Brussels as the German representative in the areas of Crisis Management, Operations, and Intelligence.

At the age of fifty, he retired early from his post as a Colonel in the German Air Force to become a Special Risk Consultant at the Control Risk Group in London. He was trained and engaged in negotiating extortion and kidnapping situations in South America and Eastern Europe.

The former Colonel, eager to start making money on his own soon founded the Trauboth Risk Management company. He received a startup award and quickly made a reputation for himself internationally as an top-notch crisis manager in Europe. During his time as CEO, he conceptualized crisis prevention strategies for a number of European companies and employed a 24-hour task force to protect them from product tampering, product recalls, kidnappings, and image crises. He was also a co-founder and the first president of the European Crisis Management Academy in Vienna and wrote a standard reference book on the subject of crisis management for companies at risk of threat.

Today Joerg H. Trauboth is an author, filmmaker with more than 75.000 youtube clicks, and an enthusiastic Grumman Tiger pilot. (See this latest night flight-video here. And if you want to know who his favorite Co-Pilot is, have a look here.)  The crisis manager and active pilot has served as the European Director and President of the US – based international American Yankee Pilots Organization.

His advice on crisis management is continually sought after and he is present as expert in radio and television interviews regarding his opinion on  international crisis situations.

Joerg H. Trauboth has been  53 years married with Martina. They have two sons, three grandchildren, and both live near Bonn, Germany. In addition, Trauboth voluntarily contributes his expertise to the Crisis Invention Team of the German Federal Foreign Office in Bonn and reads from his fiction and non fiction books on readers’ tours followed by discussions with his readers about the dramatically changing world.

Joerg’s latest book is the thriller, Three Brothers.

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About the Book:

Title: THREE BROTHERS
Author: Joerg H. Trauboth
Publisher: Ratio Books
Pages: 581
Genre: Thriller

Three Brothers

BOOK BLURB:

Marc Anderson and his two commando brothers Thomas and Tim are highly respected elite soldiers in the secretive German Commando Special Forces, the KSK. Together with the American Navy Seals, they successfully rescue the crew of a downed American F-15 tactical fighter jet in the Hindu Kusch Mountains under a barrage of heavy fire from the Taliban. However, their next mission – in Northern Iraq – to save two German hostages taken captive by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ends in disaster for the three brothers in arms. The perfectly laid-out strategy of Operation Eagle is betrayed, causes Marc, Thomas, and Tim to narrowly escape death. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) starts the hunt for the informant.

The devoted commando brothers decide to leave the KSK and start a new career together as security advisors with a family-owned company based in Cologne. But the terrorist activities of ISIS continue to determine their fate. The brothers are faced with one of their greatest challenges when ISIS kidnaps company heir Johannes Ericson and his partner Karina Marie. Moreover, the terrorists demand a ransom and extort the German government to immediately suspend its military intervention in the fight against ISIS. It is a race against time to save the couple from assassination.

Joerg H. Trauboth has written more than just an exhilarating novel. Three Brothers unites the current omnipresent threat of terrorism with the author’s first-hand experience as a crisis manager and a military and terrorism expert. The result is an unrivaled political thriller. In this gripping novel, Trauboth foretells possible scenarios for our society in light of the rise of radical Islamic terrorism. Read the full chapter 1 here …

Three Brothers is the English translation of the successful German thriller Drei Brüder (ratio-books), highly appreciated by thousands of readers, as well as military organizations and government officials alike. Jörg H. Trauboth’s storytelling skills can be compared to those of Tom Clancy and similar authors as James Patterson. The German version of the novel will also soon be available as an audio book.

Drei Brüder has been translated into English by (US native) Leanne Cvetan.

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Book Excerpt:

Afghanistan

For the last five hours, a group of six men have been trudging through the dark, barren landscape of the vast Hindu Kush Mountains. The distant howling of a lone wolf accompanies them as does the cold wind, but the men don’t seem to feel the sting.One of them stops abruptly. Marc Anderson, captain of the German KSK Special Forces Commando, raises his hand to his neck and decisively whispers into his throat mic.

“George, I see her. The nose of the aircraft is at eleven o’clock, the tail at two.”

George, the short, wiry Navy Seal One squad leader from Ohio, folds down the night vision lens mounted on his helmet.

For whatever reason, the fighter jet did not explode, but the debris is still smoldering.

“Copy that, I’ll inform Bagram Air Base.” “Charlie Force from Echo Force – over.” “Echo Team – go ahead – over.”

“We found the jet – now searching for the crew – over.” “Roger Echo Team – we’re waiting for your response – over.”

As unorthodox as it is, the Navy Seals insisted on having German elite soldier Marc Anderson with them on the mission. He is one of the few soldiers who knows the area, located deep in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, better than anyone else on account of a number of earlier missions in the region. At only 27 years old, the tall, slender soldier from the southern German town of Calw has already achieved legendary status among the American and British Special Forces. Together with the Navy Seals, he has succeeded in rescuing and retrieving American soldiers from behind enemy lines, securing himself a formidable reputation as both a leader and a team player.

But Anderson refused to do the job on his own: “Only if I can take my commando brothers with me,” he told the commanders at Bagram Air Base. “Only with Thomas and Tim.”

“OK, Marc, agreed.”

The Seals know full well what “Band of Brothers” means. Elite soldiers throughout all the Special Armed Forces are not just comrades, they are brothers. On this mission – the search for a U.S. fighter jet gone missing along with its crew – the Seals have three German brothers. Nationalities play no role, however, only professionalism and unconditional trust. Marc also agreed to the mission since he and George have worked well together on previous missions.

Echo Force, made up of U.S. Seals One, Two, Three, and the German KSK soldiers Marc, Thomas, and Tim, had parachuted in during night. They chose a landing site six and a half miles from the F-15E Strike Eagle’s last known position in the hope of not being discovered by the Taliban. There were no exact coordinates of the crash site. What’s worse, they weren’t able to receive any location transmission from the crew. The pilot had only managed to transmit “No engine – Mayday – May- day – Bailing out!” at the last minute as they lost altitude.  A hasty final message, nothing more. Everything seems to have happened very quickly. The crew must have needed to abandon the aircraft immediately, there would have been no time for discussion.

After a successful landing, they spent the next five hours systematically scouring the possible search site of twelve square miles at almost ten thousand feet altitude.

Marc was a true pathfinder in this unwieldy and perilous terrain. The Americans trusted him whole-heartedly, and with good reason, as he proved once again. He immediately found the wreckage of the F-15 in the pitch-dark of night and undetected in this hostile territory. They operate meticulously together, as though they have done this a million times before: Marc out in front, checking the terrain, giving signals, the other five men following, step for step, crouched down, secure, silent. The stillness of the dark magnifies every word and any misstep on the gravel is a potential giveaway for the Taliban.

While George now relays the coordinates to the American intervention force standing by, Marc scans the crash site with his telescope. The F-15 was not shot down but crashed due to technical problems. That seemed clear. However, the crash would have been heard all throughout the Hindu Kush Mountains. It was very possible that the Taliban has already taken the crew captive and were now waiting for the Navy Seals. That’s how it typically happened at least.

“Thomas, please report.” “Left is clear.”

“Tim?”

“Right is clear.”

Slowly, and securing all sides, the spotter team moves toward the crash site.

“I’ll take it from here, Marc.”

“Okay, George, you’re in command.”

George leads the troop within 300 yards of the wreckage. The aircraft’s nose and cockpit are stuck in the ground like a giant arrow. Bent, but incredibly, still intact.

And exactly right there where there’s that tiny patch of earth, he thinks to himself.

“Can you see anyone in the cockpit?” asks Marc.

“Negative, can’t see anything through the glass, but the canopy is missing.”

“Thomas and Tim – the two of you to the wreckage and report back. The rest of you wait here,” whispers George into his throat mic.

The two Germans start to move. Just like the old comedians Ole and Axel, or like Laurel and Hardy, Marc thinks. Thomas, a tall, strapping blonde, built like the Hulk. Next to him, Tim, also in excellent physical shape, only considerably shorter and, who with his signature black goatee, looks like an Afghan.

They cautiously approach the front section of the wreckage on both sides. The rest of the group tensely watches every move their two German brothers make. It is absolutely silent, save for that wolf. The cold wind that tirelessly blows in this region goes completely unnoticed as they all lie on the ground and watch. The night is not just dark, it is black. Pitch-black. No stars shine, no light reflects off the ground. Barren cliffs, a few shrubs, no trees at this altitude. They see only whatever appears in their night vision devices. The little bit of light available is electronically magnified as a green image of the area. They are used to this artificial picture.

“Option one:” says George, “they are still strapped to their seats and then it’ll be a mess. Option two: one of them is still there and the other managed to get out. Or option three: they both made it out.”

“The only question is, why they aren’t answering,” Marc whispers in George’s direction. George whispers back, “which means option one.”

Thomas and Tim reach the nose.

“Thomas on Seal One: no one in the cockpit, ejector seats missing, the crew ejected.”

“Understood, good news, do you see their papers?” They shine a light inside.

From the distance, the three Navy Seals and Marc are blinded as the light from the two KSK soldiers flash in their goggles like bright strike of lightening.

“Maps and a kneeboard,” reports Tim.

“Okay, take that with you. Thomas, you prepare an explosive.”

First Sergeant Thomas Heinrich, a six-foot tall ball of muscle and the explosives expert takes off his 80-pound knapsack which belongs to his profile as though it has grown attached to his back. His comrades have only ever seen him with either a heavy bag or on a bench press. And always with a combat knife under his pillow.

While he lays the explosive, his shorter friend Tim secures the immediate area surrounding the jet. Neither of them speaks a word to the other. They don’t need to. They know each other better than any old married couple. That’s also the reason George sent them to the wreckage site.

In less than four minutes, Thomas prepares the cockpit with explosives for remote ignition.

“Finished, George.”

“OK men, now slowly retreat.”

A few minutes later, the group is complete again. Six men, two nations, one team.

They hide between some boulders and use their night vision devices to establish any other possible reference points. Cliffs, ridges, gaps. Where could the parachutes be? And the ejector seats? At least the seats are big enough to spot, if they are here.

George waves to Marc to come over. “What do you suggest?”

“According to the radar, the F-15 was flying on an easterly course. That means we need to look for the men to the west. The weapon systems operator shot himself out first, so we should be able to find him to the west of the wreckage, but the pilot should be here closer to it.”

George nods in agreement. The person in the rear always activates his seat first, otherwise he runs the risk of getting hit by the seat of man before him.

Marc refers to the digital map with a scale of 1:50,000. Mountains, rivers, nothing else. To these westerners, the unforgiving, cold Hindu Kush Mountain range is a barren and alien landscape.

“I think we should go this way” “Okay, boy scout, you take over.” “Affirmative.”

These standard procedures are the pre-requisites of a functioning team. One man takes the lead and the others confirm. It is the case in the cockpit and is no different in Team Echo Force, currently led by Marc Anderson.

He speaks softly to the group.

“Seals One, Two, and Three, you take the left side. Thomas, Tim, and I will take the right. I will be in the middle. Keep a distance of no more than 30 meters between you. Everyone has contact with his neighbor.”

They disperse.

“In position,” each of them confirms one after the other. They now stand in a line of approximately 160 yards across. Each one by on his own, but they can each see the soldier on either side of them. Their brothers in times of crisis.

Marc looks at his compass, 270 degrees. They start to move. After thirty minutes they reach a long, narrow ridge.

“Down,” Marc radios quietly to the others. They lay flat on the ground. Marc slowly pushes himself against a bare cliff. He lifts his head, weighed down by a heavy helmet, ever so slightly to get an overview. In front of him is an open area with large, round boulders and steep cliffs, interspersed with deep cracks that he can barely make out in the almost non-existent light of night. The white glow he sees above it through his night vision device is the snow at twenty thousand feet.

Marc laboriously searches the area. Nothing. No ejector seat, no parachute. Only this sea of rocks and sparse vegetation. A wretched green world of artificial reality through the lenses of his night vision device.

“We can’t take the straight path, Gentlemen. There is a rift two hundred meters in. The end of the road.”

The group continues westward, securing the way as they go. George suddenly stops.

“Do you hear that, Marc?”

Their radios give off a faint screeching that intensifies and then fades again.

“The distress signal, George! Gentlemen, we have contact!” The troop knows that this is the signal pilots activate upon ejecting and is only transmitted for a few minutes per hour.

“Five minutes past each full hour, that’s right, just as we discussed. That’s our man, George!”

“What’s the bearing, Marc?”

“Eleven o’clock. The source is pretty damn quiet. He must be lightyears away.”

The men of Echo Force can feel their pulse quickening. They’ve made contact with one of the crew! They keep formation and continue their search. They still do not have the location coordinates. Unexpectedly, they are forced to stop. A dark and terrifying 25-feet-wide abyss stretches out before them, like a hungry, open mouth.

The tone of the distress signal abruptly increases its shrill intensity from one second to the next.

Startled, George turns down the volume. “He must be right here.”

“Tim to Marc, I see a parachute in the opening, about 20 meters down.”

“Everyone, round up – go to Tim,” Marc whispers into his mic. “George, you take over!

“Affirmative!”

They crawl over to him, very close to edge of the rift, and shine a light down. They can see something that doesn’t belong there. The remnants of a parachute hanging from the ledges of two cliffs. The laser device measures 23 meters.

There is something else. George gasps as he recognizes it in the green light. Not that someone is hanging lifelessly from the shreds of the parachute, but the never-ending emptiness that continues below. George knows at once it will be a challenge getting that poor guy out of there without him falling completely into the abyss.

“But is he okay?”

He shines his light at the figure. “Are you okay down there?”

“Are you Americans?” answers a weak voice from the depths.

George beams. He’s alive!

“Yes, my friend, we will fly down from Heaven and get you out of there.”

“It’s about damn time! I’m freezing my ass off here!”

He seems to be all right, George thinks and calls into the cavern:

“Did you have to pick this one to fall into?”

“I love rifts, but even this is a bit too big for me!” George proudly looks over to Marc.

“That is one cool dude hanging there. Talks like a real Texan. Let’s get him out!”

George looks at his team. He would likely need two soldiers down there. One to secure against any further falling and the other for the recovery. Navy Seal One knows that Tim and Thomas have the most experience in these kinds of rappelling situations, thus, the German friends are called to take over once again.

“Tim and Thomas, start the descent.”

A few moments later, the inseparable team descend into the darkness of the rift. The Navy Seals secure them from above. Marc and George direct light into the chasm to allow the two as much orientation as possible. But the light is quickly lost in the dark. They need to be careful not to touch the parachute or the straps. Still, the descent lasts less than sixty seconds.

“We have him,” radios Tim.

The Texan is hanging freely. Completely unhindered. There is nothing there he could have grabbed onto to slow down his fall. One false move and the shreds of his parachute would flatter behind him as he fell to his death at the bottom of this seemingly bottomless pit.

Once he had stopped falling, he cautiously reached for his flashlight with a haunting suspicion. A sharp pain in his upper right arm. What was wrong? He touched his shoulder with his right hand.

Intense pain.

Fear.

No false moves!

It took him a while until he finally got hold of his flashlight. What he saw underneath terrified him. He saw nothing.

The beam of light did not allow him to even faintly guess at the depth of the chasm below. It was like the secret entrance to Nirvana. Was it 50 meters, 1000 meters? He would try banging against the wall a few times and then…

Oh, my God…

He shined the light upward. The parachute seemed to be caught pretty good between two sections of rock. He had only gradually been able to convince himself that he can trust the anchoring above him. He talked to his parachute, gently begging it with loving words to hold strong. Something clipped his head. And again. A number of times.

Bats?

Doesn’t matter, don’t move! This damn pain. The cold.

His torso felt like it was dying off under the tension of the straps. Would his rescuers even hear his distress signal?

As he looked up through the narrow window-like opening to the sky and saw a few stars, he started to find hope. They had practiced a rescue mission behind enemy lines a number of times. He knew that the CSAR team must be on their way. And here they are! Thank God! They were able to locate him in this godforsaken rift.

“Nice to meet you!” Tim calls to him and grabs his straps to latch him on to his own. But the Texan can only stare at Tim, whose fuzzy, black goatee sprouts out over the chin strap of his helmet.

“You are not an American, you’re a Taliban!” Tim laughs.

“No, I am your friend Tim from the German Mountain Rescue Team!”

The American looked dubiously at Tim’s face.

Then Thomas joins in. “And I am Thomas, old friend! You can call me Tom, but just for today. Nice place you got here.”

“I’m going to free you now from the parachute,” says the suspected Taliban, “and then I’ll hook you to the elevator going up. Hold on to me. Are you ready?”

The American nods.

He jolts downward and lets out a scream so loud it must have woken up all of Hindu Kush.

“Fuck, something’s wrong with my shoulder, watch out.”

The burly Texan clings to Tim’s slender frame, his face is twisted in pain.

“Thomas on George, dislocated or broken right shoulder. No blood.”

Tim grabs him by the hips and uses his feet and back to repel off the walls of the cavern.

“Let’s go, Cowboy! Bringing you up to mama!”

The three arrive at the top only a few moments later. As Echo Force secures the area behind them, George and Marc welcome the rescued man.

“I’m George, Navy Seal. You are among friends. Are you the pilot or the weapon systems operator?”

“Les Miller, WSO. Have you found my pilot Buddy already?”

“Negative. How much time was there between you each ejecting?

“Two seconds at the most.”

George thought for a moment. Buddy was not at the wreckage, at least not in a direct line with Les.

“Then Buddy must be here in the vicinity. We need to search again.”

“Charlie Force from Echo Force. We have Les.” “Copy that, Echo Force – we are standing by.” “Can you run, Les?”

“How fast do you think you could run after having your balls crushed for the past seven hours?” He casts an eye at Tim: “Watch your Taliban there, I don’t trust him!”

He then pulls a clump of something out of his pocket and gives it to his new friend from the German Mountain Rescue Team.

“What is it?” “Chocolate, Taliban!”

“How’s your shoulder, Les? Do you think you need a shot?”

“Depends on what you plan to do with me. I certainly can’t crawl on the ground.”

Buddy McAllen is not far away. In fact, they almost trip over his ejector seat. The wind fills his parachute, causing it to pull away from the long, slender body of the American pilot and then deflate again. Buddy is shaking. The right side of his head along with his short blond hair is covered in blood. George sees a large dark stain on Buddy’s olive-green flight suit just above his right hip and, underneath him, a rather large pool of dried blood on the ground.

“That doesn’t look good,” George signals to Marc, “he must have hit against that sharp rock in the dark.”

“Buddy, can you hear me?” George jiggles him. Thomas takes a water bottle out of his knapsack and carefully pours a fine trickle of water over his neck. The American does not move. Marc smacks him gently on the cheek and tries talking to him.

“Buddy, we are your friends, can you hear me, you are almost home. I will just take a look at that leg.”

“Charlie Force from Echo Team. We have Buddy – need a medic – ASAP!”

George reads off the coordinates from his mobile GPS and waits for confirmation.

“It’s our lucky day, boys! We have both men, secure radio communication, and Charlie Force will be here in fifteen minutes.”

He looks at Buddy, who is badly hurt, then adds: “But we’ve got a real bad situation here.”

The troop is highly-visible from the front. There is no natural protection. Behind them is a hill with an unobstructed view of them from above. Buddy is sitting out in the open, propped up against a large rock as though he were a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s a miracle he hasn’t been discovered already.

The rest of the squad lays flat on the ground while Thomas attends to Buddy’s wounds. He inspects the deep wound on Buddy’s thigh, dresses it with a compression bandage, and wraps him in a thermal foil blanket. He’s lost a lot of blood and could suffer a circulatory collapse. Thomas is a medic, but Buddy needs more than Thomas has in his first-aid kit.

“His pulse is very low, George.”

“Buddy, don’t fall asleep. What is your wife’s name?” George asks.

Buddy opens his eyes slowly. For the first time. “Linda…my girlfriend.”

“Where does Linda live, Buddy?” “New Jersey.”

George’s face lights up. Buddy is pale, moaning, and breathing heavily.

“Tell her that I love her,” he whispers.

“You can tell her that yourself when you see her at Bagram, Buddy, do you hear? What do you think about that, Buddy? Buddy, say something!”

Buddy looks at George with blank eyes. His lips start to make a shape. George put his ear to Buddy’s mouth.

“Les…is he okay?”

George waves WSO Les to come to him. “Keep him awake, Les, and encourage him.” Les’ brawny stature leans over his pilot.

“Buddy, man, don’t give up, Linda needs you. I need you in our fucking F-15. You aren’t going to leave me hanging, are you, Buddy? How do you want your hamburger when we get back to Bagram, Buddy? How about a big Texas burger with cheese and peppers and Mexican toppings? Do you want mustard on it, or ketchup?”

Buddy opens his eyes again slightly and softly smiles. After all, Les, whom he has been flying with for the past six months just described his absolute favorite dish.

Then his eyes close again. Thomas and Marc nod to each other. His condition is critical. Buddy must get an IV within the next thirty minutes, or that’ll be the end of it.

Tim’s green goggles wander over the horizon from right to left, left to right.

“We are not in a good location, not good at all.”

“We can’t move,” whispers Marc, “Charlie Force is expecting us to be at these coordinates.” Marc additionally scans the area which appears more like the ugly landscape of an alien planet through the infra-red residual light amplifier.

Marc is not interested in the regular green hue of his night vision device. He is looking for a glaring green, the white of clothing, and black. People.

“Oh man, we are not in a good location, not at all. Like sitting ducks,” Tim repeats himself.

Marc shivers.

“Taliban at ten o’clock!”

In the telescope he could see  the outline of a group of  men approaching. Five, six? They seem to be searching for something and were gradually coming closer.

The faint lull of voices could be heard through the hazy early morning sunrise.

“Charlie Force – Tangos in the area,” George radios quietly to the approaching troop.

“Roger – Five minutes to go – Stay where you are.”

The Echo Force lies as flat on the ground as possible, partially protected by a handful of small boulders. Thomas pulls Buddy down, he groans loudly. It can start at any minute. The Americans are individually equipped with rapid-fire weapons from the Navy Seals’ secret weapons arsenal, the Germans with G 36KA2s. Encounters with the enemy are practiced a thousand times. But it still causes their blood to race through their veins, and their pulse to increase, the adrenaline runs high.

George sees one of the Afghans throw his arm in the air. A sign?

Now loud shouts. More Afghans!

George contemplates when it’s the right time. “Fire only at my command!”

He doesn’t like long-distance fighting. The others don’t either. They all nod to their leader.

“Two tangos at three o’clock, behind the rock, thirty yards,” Seal Two radios.

“Okay, I have him.”

“Four tangos at ten…,” adds Seal Three.

Suddenly, the cracking sound of a missile being shot from a rocket-propelled grenade breaks the silence. It misses Echo Team by only a few feet. George studies the situation. That was close. Really close! A moment later, Taliban fighters abandon their concealment positions and charge the men.

“FIRE!”

The elite soldiers systematically take aim at each individual enemy fighter.

Bull’s eye! A direct hit!

Dark, black blotches appear in Marc’s night vision goggles 20 meters out.

Blood. Blood is black. Aim. POP!

Tango at three o’clock! The information is conveyed through hand signals and head movements.

Precision shots.

Short drumfire. The casings rattle out the right side like a waterfall.

Targets to the front, on the side, upright, crouching, jumping.

Just like in the training room. Only now with short screams. The team acts with clockwork precision.

The distance between them and the enemy fighters is becoming shorter and shorter. There are too many, many too many…

“Gentlemen, they want us use up all our ammunition,” Marc says. But a guy like Marc always has enough.

He, along with Tim and Thomas, are regarded as best sharp shooters in Calw, the hometown of the German Special Forces. And he never wastes magazine cartridges with sustained fire. Even if thirty men were attacking him. That would cause his G36 to overheat and lose accuracy.

Marc does not like inaccuracy.

One of the Taliban kneels against the side of a rock. He’s looking for a target. Through his night filter 80 attachment, Marc only sees the warhead of the bazooka. An ugly, spiked, green tube. About a hundred yards out.

Short artillery fire from the bar magazine. Directly to the head. The Afghan whirls through the air. In the green visor, black blotches. His head is gone.

George nods to him.

He knows that killing people is a very disconcerting legal problem for the Germans. Germans do not shoot to kill suspects. But this is a fight for survival! The rules of engagement are fulfilled – and they are alone among themselves.

Buddy groans and tries to sit upright. Thomas forces him back down.

“He needs an IV, George, or he’s gonna die!”

“Tell him he’ll be on his way home to Linda in five minutes.” Shots scream over their heads.

“Did you hear that, Buddy? We’re gonna be on our way in a few minutes, just hold on. Linda’s waiting for you.”

George and his two Seals fire to the front, the Germans cover the hill behind them.

They are surrounded. It’s getting pretty damn close!

George feels fear creeping up inside of him that his troop won’t make it out of this goldfish bowl. He has no solution. They need help immediately.

“CHARLIE FORCE – ECHO TEAM IS UNDER HEAVY FIRE!” “ROGER ECHO TEAM – WE ARE…”

The sentence gets swallowed by noise. The sound of a helicopter! The most beautiful noise an elite soldier can  ask for in a desperate situation. From out of nowhere, two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters appear in the sky over the valley. They are rather more heard than seen. Air-to-ground missiles whoosh out of the missile pods on either side of the helicopters at the small groups of Taliban fighters, followed by bursts of fire from the 30-millimeter aircraft cannon. George’s anxiety from a moment ago instantly disappears now that his fire-spewing dragons have arrived. Special night vision sensor, target acquisition system – don’t look directly at it or you’ll go blind!

A new roar of thunderous noise.

The long silhouette of a monster appears and comes closer. The Chinook transport helicopter hovers heavily some feet above the ground. Rattling bullet fire percolates from the behemoth. Fifty life-saving yards away from the elite soldiers. Each yard is one too many! There are still too many Taliban. The pull of the tandem rotors kicks up stones and dirt in the air.

Why always these huge machines? Marc wonders, I hope this works out.

The leviathan lowers itself to the ground, first landing on its rear wheels, then the front.

It hits the ground, bounces, and finally comes to a halt on the lightly sloping, rocky ground. Charlie Force troops immediately jump out of the Chinook equipped with their night vision devices.

They kneel on one leg and take aim.

The Apaches rotate toward the target like remote-controlled robots to provide Echo Force cover from the fire.

Marc flips onto his back and assesses the situation for the forces. Next comes the most dangerous endeavor among all this pandemonium for them and the helicopters as this is a potentially perfect opportunity for an extraordinary ball of fire from only one of the Taliban rocket launchers.

The three Seals carry Les and Buddy, who in the meantime has lost consciousness, to the Chinook amidst the fire from the Apache helicopters.

Mission accomplished.

The medic rushes to Buddy with an IV and oxygen mask in hand. Buddy now has a chance of survival. Hopefully.

One of the Americans outfitted with a wire waves hectically at the door of the Chinook.

“GET IN, GET IN!”

“TIM, TANGO BEHIND YOU!”

Marc can’t help him. His brother is standing directly in the line of fire.

As sprightly as a cat, Tim shoots from the hip. The Taliban throws up his arms as he falls to the ground. His AK-47 flies into the air like some grotesque circus act.

“Thanks, Marc.”

Tangos on all sides. Echo Force runs, bent over, toward the helicopters.

Look, assess, shoot, new magazine, go!

Each of them secures a radius of sixty degrees.

Six times sixty. No sector is left unsecured. One for all and all for one.

Only more ten yards to the Chinook.

Charlie Force and Navy Seals One and Two are in and give cover to George and the three Germans, with assistance from the two death machines hovering nearby.

Thomas kneels down under the protection of the helicopter and activates the mobile device. In the distance they hear a massive explosive and the entire valley quakes. The echo reverberates for a long time as though the entire Hindu Kush is about to burst.

Mission accomplished.

Anything that was hidden must be destroyed now. The U.S. jet fighter would be reduced to only a heap of metal shards.

“HURRY UP, HURRY UP!” one of the Americans was still waiting in the door of the Chinook, wildly waving his arm. The giant monster is in danger. It wouldn’t be the first time soldiers had to be left behind.

Tim and Thomas make it in with a powerful leap, George and Seal One are right on their tails.

Marc is still on the ground. As always. First his troops, then him.

The monstrous helicopter starts to ascend. George waves to him in desperation.

Marc throws his weapon over his shoulder and sprints to the door, George grabs hold of his arm and pulls him in. Half hanging in the doorway,  Marc shoots his last rounds  of ammunition in the direction of the muzzle flash from the ground.

The three helicopters with Echo Force and the rescued F-15 crew disappear through the hazy valley.

Seal One proudly slaps his German friend on the shoulder from behind in acknowledgment.

Marc Anderson is currently at the zenith of his career, albeit unaware that his biggest challenge still lies ahead of him and that his luck as an elite soldier has now, as of today, just run out.

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 – Taking Control: Rick’s Story

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About the Author

Morgan Malone

Morgan Malone is the pen name of a retired lawyer who turned in her judicial robes to write romantic memoir and sexy contemporary romance, which always features silver foxes and the independent women who tame them.

Morgan fell in love with romantic heroes after reading her mother’s first edition of “Gone with the Wind” when she was 12 years old. Rhett Butler became the standard by which she measured all men. Some have met the mark, most have failed to even come close and one or two surpassed even Rhett’s dark and dangerous allure.

Morgan lives near Saratoga Springs, NY with her beloved chocolate Lab. She can be found on occasion drinking margaritas and dancing at local hostelries, but look for her most often in independent book stores and the library, searching for her next great love in tales of romance, history, adventure and lust. When she can’t find the perfect man, she retreats to her upstairs office and creates him, body and soul, for her pleasure and for yours. Remember: love, like wine, gets better with age.

Her recent novel is the contemporary romance, Taking Control: Rick’s Story.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

About the Book

Title: TAKING CONTROL: RICK’S STORY
Author: Morgan Malone
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 170
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Taking Control Rick's Story

BOOK BLURB:

Summer on the Jersey Shore and all Rick Sheridan wants is some solitude at his beach house. Then he spots a lean, leggy blonde coming out of the surf and his plans are shot to hell. And the dangerous looking knife strapped to her arm tells him this is no damsel in distress. As a not-so retired Marine, at 51, Rick’s learned that nothing is for certain, plans can spin out of control and shit happens.

Wounded and weary from one too many wars, Britt Capshaw thought a summer at the Shore, hanging out in her family’s beach cottage, would help her heal. And figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Out of the military, disillusioned and distrustful of any two-legged male, Britt’s one love is Alex, the yellow Labrador retriever she rescued from Afghanistan.

Rick and Britt are immediately attracted to one another, but after years in combat, they are wary of letting down their guard, of giving up control. The summer heats up and fireworks are flying between them even after the Fourth of July. But, ghosts from their pasts haunt them and finally bring them face to face with some dark secrets that may destroy the fragile trust they’ve built.

Can Britt trust Rick with her dangerous past? Will Rick be able to let go of the rigid control he needs to keep Britt and himself safe from more heartbreak? These two brave souls fight against surrendering their hearts and finally finding love. Who will win?

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Amazon

Book Excerpt

He stood before the French doors to the deck, with a large mug of steaming black brew cradled in his hands, letting its warmth take away some of the chill that had surrounded him for the last several months. I’m freezing. And it’s not the air-conditioning. It’s my damn frozen heart. Rick pushed the doors open, letting the heat of the sun and the smell of the ocean sweep into his house. He stepped outside, breathing deep, relaxing just a little. Yeah. This is what I need. A summer at the Shore, a few projects, and plenty of quiet—then I’ll be back to my old self. Chuckling as he mentally reminded himself of just how “old” his self was, Rick raised the cup to take a long sip of coffee.

He saw the figure emerging from the waves almost directly in front of his cottage at the same moment he heard the loud barking of a nearby dog.

What the hell?

She was a modern-day Botticelli’s Venus, with the waves foaming around her legs. Long, long legs, lean and tan, disappeared into a bright blue bikini bottom, just visible under the blue and white swim T-shirt that covered a long, muscular torso. Her arms were raised, her hands brushed back sodden strands of platinum blond hair. A swim mask dangled from her left elbow, dropping down into her hand as she lowered her arms. When she stepped from the surf, the woman gave an all-over body shake, drops of ocean water flying off her, glistening for an instant like diamonds in the early morning sun. Then she dropped to her knees so suddenly that Rick lurched forward, splashing coffee as he looked down for a place to leave the heavy mug before he rushed to her aid.

He needn’t have bothered. From the deck of the cottage to his left, a huge yellow dog was bounding down the wooden stairs two at a time in a mad dash to the woman. She stretched out her arms to the animal just before the happy hound collided into her, rolling her into the sand. The woman’s laugh floated on the ocean breeze. Rick straightened, still grasping his cup of coffee and stepped back into the shadows cast over his deck by the second-floor balcony. From his vantage point, he watched the woman ruffle the dog’s fur, the animal prancing and shaking in spasms of pure pleasure. When had he ever experienced such unfettered joy? Rick couldn’t remember. A long, long time ago…maybe.

Who was she? The owners of the cottage next door were an older couple who spent half the year in Florida and half the year on the Shore. Could she be a granddaughter or niece? Or had the couple decided to rent this year? Rick made a mental note to contact his property manager who handled many of the shore homes and make inquiries. He had not planned on having to deal with a stranger; he just wanted some peace and quiet.

The woman and dog were walking up from the water’s edge. Rick eased toward the open doors of his living room, thinking to disappear into the shadows. He just didn’t feel like an early morning encounter with anyone, certainly not the mermaid with those incredible legs who was ambling slowly in his general direction. He stopped suddenly when something caught the corner of his eye. A glint of sunlight on metal. He reached for his pistol, but his waistband was empty. Damn. What is that woman doing with a diving knife strapped to her right bicep? Who the hell is she?

VBT – Miss Behave

Miss Behave banner

About the Author

Traci Highland

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

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | BOOKBUB

About the Book

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

Miss Behave

BOOK BLURB:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amazon

Book Excerpt

Dear Miss Behave,

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

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

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

Sincerely,

-Agape at the AquaPark

Dear Agape,

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

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

Sincerely,

Miss Behave

VBT – Mortal Foe

Mortal Foe banner

MORTAL FOE by Marty Roppelt, SupernaturalThriller, 213 pp., $14.99 (paperback) $4.99 (Kindle)

 

Title: MORTAL FOE

Author: Marty Roppelt

Publisher: Dragon Breath Press

Pages: 213

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

A picture is worth a thousand words… But what if that image can only bee
seen through the lens of one camera? What is the snapshot can only be
seen by a select few? What if the photo has its origins in the pit of
Hell? What is that face belongs to an enemy bent on destruction? This is
Buddy Cullen’s fate when he first dreams of his grandfather’s death and
then inherits his grandfather’s antique camera and captures an image
that haunts him and seeks his death. Can Buddy survive the curse that he
sarcastically dubs “Popcorn”—a curse that no one wants to believe
exists and stalks the city of Cleveland, beginning with its baseball
team—a mortal foe?

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Excerpt:

My eyes snap open wide.
A shadow faces me from beyond the
foot of my bed. I shiver, holding my breath. The tall, bulky intruder seems
oblivious. My sleep-hazy mind tells me to lie still. I’ll make myself smaller
that way, so the invader won’t see me.
I’m making myself small…
My brain stirs slowly. A minute
passes, then a few more. My eyes take their time adjusting to the darkness.
Across the room, the sinister hulk takes the shape of my antique cherry-wood
armoire.
My girlfriend, Kelly, lies next to
me, undisturbed. She faces away. Her chest rises and falls with each breath,
her body radiating warmth.
I don’t move. Dread still freezes
me in place. A voice in my head, my own voice, whispers a warning to me. The
warning is so primal it would wear a bearskin if it had a life of its own.
Don’t show the darkness any
fear, any weakness.
A familiar neon green beacon, my
alarm clock, demands my attention. A quarter past midnight. The glow helps me shake off the drowsy
panic. My eyes scan familiar, dark shapes around me—the armoire
, the
dresser, the doors to my closet and to the hallway, the rumpled down comforter
covering my girlfriend.
Despite the need for rest, my eyes
won’t stay closed. This irritates me. The frustration of not being able to
sleep keeps me awake even longer. I can deal with the frustration. But I can’t
shake this sense of dread.
A dream. Just a weird, stupid
dream
.
The clock’s digits change without
remorse, mocking and exasperating me. Twelve
forty-seven, eight, nine… Tomorrow won’t be good. I risk coming off
like a yawning zombie. Twelve fifty-five… I consider pummeling my pillow. My
legs swing out of bed instead. The cold of the hardwood floor against my bare
feet chases away the last of my drowsiness.
I amble into the kitchen. Sitting
in silence in its cradle on the kitchen counter is my cordless phone. My eyes
lock on the handset. An urge brews up to call someone close to me, but who
should I call? My mom, my dad? Neither of them would answer at his hour, for
different reasons, and neither should, of course. Now I expect the phone cradle
to light up and ring, as my roused senses try to decipher the dream that woke
me, that somehow signaled to me something is wrong…
A dream has me waiting at a
ridiculous hour for a phone call from someone in my family.
I grumble to myself. “This is
nuts.”
The opened refrigerator bathes me
in a sudden glare. Unguided hands fumble past paper bags and Styrofoam
containers of restaurant leftovers. I finally find a bottle of beer. My fingers
close around the long neck, I twist off the cap, and take a swig. The light
cord of the ceiling fan dangles near my head. I ignore it. Something about the
darkness is important. Not comforting, but…
But what?
Raising a cigarette to my lips, I
open the window a few inches, then sit at the table. My old Zippo lighter’s top
pops open with a metallic clink, the flint makes a quick, scraping rasp, and
the flame whooshes to life. I cringe. Did the noises rouse my neighbors from
their own troubled sleep?
My gaze wanders past the flame.
Don’t show the darkness any
fear.
Darkness dominated the kitchen only
a moment ago. This flame, this puny, solitary sliver of light defeats the
darkness. My Zippo can’t signal ships at sea. My ‘fridge probably could. Both
lights can expose shadowy shapes, however, and the night cannot overcome either
light. The only thing that can extinguish the light is me.
Don’t show it any weakness.
I light my cigarette and kill the
glow of the Zippo.
“Join you?” A voice,
half-awake, issues from the doorway behind me. I hope I didn’t jump too high.
“Sure. Beer?”
“No. You can fire up a smoke
for me, though. Thanks.”
Kelly glides past. A wisp of
vanilla, musk and flowers, Chantilly, her favorite perfume, follows her. She
sits opposite me and takes the lit cigarette I offer. “Should I turn on
the light?”
“If you like.”
She keeps her seat, apparently
liking the darkness better.
I jerk my chin toward the open
window. “You want me to turn the heat up?”
“I’ve got my robe on.”
I chuckle. My own total nakedness
doesn’t concern me. Kelly, on the other hand, wears her gauzy emerald green
“robe” only, untied. She might as well be naked, too. I understand,
of course. The sheer silk garment’s function was never to keep the wearer warm,
but to light a fire in someone else.
Kelly toys with her cigarette,
rolling it between her thumb and fingers. “Worried about tomorrow?”
“About my department head?
He’s audited my classes before.”
“So, why the stress?”
“Im that transparent?”
Her laugh drips playful sarcasm.
“You light up every hour and a half when you’re awake. You only smoke more
at a bar, when you’re bored, or when you’re stressed. We’re not at a bar. And
when I do things right you’re definitely not bored.” She leans over the
table. Her lips pucker into her best Marilyn Monroe pout. “Didn’t I do
things right tonight?”
“Oh, yeah.”
Several hours ago, Kelly left her
Downtown Cleveland office after work to meet me at an upscale bistro on the
west bank of the Cuyahoga River. A glass each of Chianti Classico turned into a
whole bottle. She asked after glass three if I could spend the night with her.
I toyed with the idea. After a few minutes, though, I finally decided to beg
off.
But Kelly doesn’t often take long
to get what she wants from me. Tonight was no exception. The wine shot straight
to my head. The low lights hid the dainty foot that nudged and rubbed my calf
under the table. The aromas of Italian cooking mingled with Chantilly in an
irresistible wave of sensuality. We passed on dessert. Kelly promised something
much more stimulating at my apartment.
Now she sits back in triumph,
blowing two perfect smoke rings toward the ceiling. “So, this is
stress.”
“Yes and no,” I mumble.
“Nightmare?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m surprised.”
“Why?”
“It’s just a dream. You’re a
bright college professor…”
“Journalism, not psychology.
Who said I put stock in that stuff, anyway? I woke up, that’s all.”
“What did you dream
about?”
“Funny. Now that I’m awake, I
don’t remember much.”
Why did I just lie to her?
The truth is I remember every
detail. The odd nightmare burned itself into my consciousness like a glowing
cattle brand.
In the nightmare, my grandfather,
photographer Jimmy Cullen, pulled a photo print off the wire that runs the
length of his basement darkroom. Grandpop—I’ve always called him that—held the
photo as far from his face as possible. His eyes widened. His ruddy complexion
drained of all color. His lips quivered. He acted as if he’d been handed a live
hand grenade.
“Grandpop?” My tongue
lolled in my mouth with Novocained sluggishness. “What is it?”
 A sudden wind blew. Dried fallen leaves
scraped across the pavement outside. Our heads snapped in unison toward the
sound. The basement’s bare cinderblock walls gave the place a fortress’s
ambiance, but they didn’t blot out the rattle of dead leaves. Grandpop stared
for a long moment. He froze as if expecting the walls to give way to the
leaves, or to worse. The still house seemed to invite the whispery sounds of
death inside and embrace them.
Grandpop spoke. But like a badly
dubbed foreign movie, the words his mouth formed didn’t match the words that
came out. “Alone tonight… Darn it, Maureen… doggone kids’ Halloween
dance…”
Grandpop plopped down on a tall
stool at his work table, exhausted by his outburst. A complaint? The words, the
whining and grousing, were out of character. I had no response for him, which
is also unlike me.
“No Grandma?” Invisible
marbles rolled around inside my mouth.
Grandpop blinked hard, jumping as
though he’d been electrically shocked. He jammed the print into a large manila
envelope that already bulged with something else inside. The package bore a
number written in green ink: nine-eight-five-nine.
Grandpop rose from his stool, a
barstool I recognized from my dad’s Downtown tavern. He strode toward the
walk-in closet at the back of the darkroom. He muttered at the envelope as he
passed me.
“Caught you again, didn’t
I?”
“Caught who?” My voice
changed. I sounded like a Munchkin from Oz.
Grandpop disappeared into the
closet, leaving me in the darkroom alone. I couldn’t bring myself to move. My
curiosity was the kind a child suffers when he’s told never, ever to do a
certain thing. The curious kid in me wanted to see what was going on. The adult
in me feared for life and limb. My fear rooted me to the spot.
A “pop” and loss of light
announced the death of one of the darkroom’s two light bulbs.
“I don’t spook so
easily,” Grandpop hollered.
A car cruised up the driveway. The
engine’s hum filtered through the fortress walls. The side door to the kitchen
creaked open and banged closed.
We were no longer alone.
My heart raced, my joints froze. I
wanted to run. My muscles fought against me. Stark terror turned my feet to
lead. Footsteps headed our way from the basement stairs.
“Jimmy?” my grandmother,
Maureen, called.
My heart slowed but I still
couldn’t move, despite my relief.
Grandpop met Grandma in the doorway
and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“How’s my Lass?”
“Missed you.” She
scrunched her face into a silly expression, a kind of mock pout,
uncharacteristic for her. “Atlanta? The Series?”
“Too much traffic. The Indians
lost. Missed you, too.”
They held each other, their embrace
a subtle dance. The surviving forty-watt bulb above us threw weird shadows into
the corners of the darkroom. The sounds of our breathing, and the scraping,
rustling leaves grew louder in the otherwise silent murk.
Grandma pulled away, cackling.
“Cup of hot chocolate and a ghost story for you?”
I almost laughed out loud at her
bizarre behavior.
“Nah,” Grandpop said.
“I’m going to bed.”
Grandpop answered in a
melodramatic, fearful tone. “Just a couple more things to do. Then we’ll
be together again.”
His stony expression was the
lawyer’s before a murder trial, or the soldier’s on his way to deadly combat.
His demeanor only made his words to Grandma more jarring, more frightful to me.
They kissed. Grandma wheeled and
left the darkroom. We heard the groan of well-worn wooden stairs, first to the
kitchen, then further above to the bedroom of their old colonial-style home.
Grandpop settled again on his stool. He reached across his work table for his
Kodak Medalist 620, the camera he used since his enlistment in the Navy two
generations ago.
Every once in a while, a dream
becomes so surreal that, despite still being asleep, some distant part of the
brain announces “This is a dream!” I remember the exact moment, a
sort of “out-of-body” experience. I became Grandpop. I sat on his
stool and held his camera, but I was still an observer, too, watching myself
play his part. I gripped the antique as if shaking a frail old friend’s hand. This
friend accompanied me—him—through everything from the best of times to the most
harrowing hell.
No more experiences would be shared
and captured on film. A hot, sharp pain ripped up my left arm. A giant fist
squeezed my chest and I gasped in vain for breath. My mind raced away from the
Medalist 620 to my grandmother lying in bed, likely dozing while trying to read
a book. She would wake, sensing Grandpop was still in the house, and yet gone.
She would find him here later. Sadness engulfed me.
I’m sorry, Lass…
I slumped to the work table. As
Grandpop, I wanted my last thoughts on earth to be of Grandma, to take the
memory of my gentle, devoted wife’s face with me on my way to meet God. But my
last glance caught a shadow that was not Grandma’s, moving toward me from beyond
the darkroom doorway.
Then I woke to the strange shadow
at the foot of my bed…
“Yeah, I’ve had that happen
before. It’s so frustrating.”
Kelly’s voice, from behind the
glowing cigarette tip, jars me back to the waking present. I shake the
nightmare out of my head.
“Had what happen?”
“Dreamed something and then
forgotten it only a couple of minutes after waking up. Frustrating.”
“Yeah.”
Kelly takes a drag from the
cigarette and stabs the ash tray with it. She shoves her chair aside, composes
herself, and glides back around the table, tracing her finger up my bare arm.
Her nail scratches a light reddish trail on my skin.
“Know the best way to get rid
of frustration, Buddy Cullen?”
“Tell me.”
“Showing’s better than
telling.”
I crush my own cigarette out and
glance at the phone. Nothing happens, of course. The phone’s not going to ring
tonight. Not for this. I rise and lay foolish superstition aside. A colleague
at Case Western Reserve University, a science professor, once assured me that
to attach meaning to dreams is unscientific, a bogus exercise. Dreams, he
theorized, might be nothing more than a mash of random thoughts and memories.
Kelly breezes ahead of me, tugging
me by my hand. Her urgency mounts. My gaze consumes her. The wispy robe
caresses her perfect form. Her cat-graceful step entrances me. She pirouettes,
sits on the edge of the bed, and leans back, pulling me down toward her.
Ghosts and demons and other
unexplainable things lose their fascination. I lie far less gracefully beside
Kelly. Her lips explore the base of my neck, but I still keep one ear cocked
toward the phone. She nips lightly at my ear lobe, with a deep-throated
chuckle. In a few short moments, she commands my full attention…
The phone rings. I gasp, irritated
by the interruption. I’m dismayed, too. I know what the call is about.
“I have to get that.”
“No, you don’t.” Kelly
tangles her fingers in my hair and pulls my face back down toward hers.
“That’s why God gave us answering machines.”
I’m conflicted, keyed up but
powerless, able to break free but unwilling to try. The machine answers the
call, the phone stops ringing. I feel Kelly’s smile in the darkness as her lips
brush against mine. I lose myself in her, lose every part of myself.
Every part, that is, except the
faraway corner of my mind that wonders if Grandma just woke from the same
nightmare, and found Grandpop dead in his darkroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Marty Roppelt was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. His original
profession was acting on stage, in local commercials and training films
and in film. This means that he has experienced life through a wide
variety of day and night jobs, from barista to waiter and bartender to
security guard, amongst many others. He lives in Illinois with his wife,
Becky, and their eccentric cat, Fritz.

Mortal Foe is his debut novel.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

 

 

 

VBT – Wheels Up

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About the Author

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

Jeanine Kitchel

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

About the Book

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

Wheels Up

BOOK BLURB

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

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Book Excerpt

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

Guest Post

Why I Decided to Write Fiction

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

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

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

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

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