Book Bites: Love in Times of War by Uvi Poznansky

The two men passed by my bike, which was the moment I spotted another figure, silhouetted against the sunset, setting her foot on the dock. She wore what was known back then as a cartwheel hat. It was made of red felt, with a long, black ribbon and bow, tied around the crown.
Book Bites: Love in Times of War
Book Bites: Love in Times of War by Uvi Poznansky
I dismounted. From afar I could not read the features of her face, because she turned her head to look at her suitcase, nor could I tell the color of her hair, because it was tucked under the hat. But I figured, I might as well strike a conversation with her, on the far-fetched hope that she might have met Natasha or knew something, anything about her. I could not be sure if this young woman noticed me, not only because the sun was in my eyes but also because of the little veil, giving her an air of mystery, and because of the oversized, stiff brim, sweeping around her head. Its wide line balanced out the new, slimmer look, which was coming into fashion, lately. Unable to deny my curiosity I started walking towards her, squinting. A cloud drifted over across the horizon, shielding the sun, and now I could see: her white and black polka-dotted dress was neatly gathered around the waist by a black linen belt. In the evening breeze, dots were flapping against her hips, dancing around her knees. The fabric was crimped, however, which suggested to me that at the last minute, just before coming ashore, she must have taken the dress out of the suitcase and changed into it, with no time to take care of the creases, to smooth them. I imagined she was eager to look her prettiest for someone, a special someone she was expecting to meet. What’s the matter with you, I asked myself. What game are you playing? A spy? A private investigator? Strangely, the closer I got to her the more pronounced was the thumping of my heart. I quickened my step, crossing through a sudden gust of air, in which I caught not only the smell of the ocean but also a whiff of perfume. Somehow it reminded me of Natasha’s, except that in her case, the only purpose for which she used it was to dab the corner of an envelope, when sending a letter to me. “Hello!” I said, trying to strike a conversation with this stranger. “I heard it was a difficult journey.” Just then, the wind grew stronger. It lifted the hat into a tilt and for just an instant, revealed a glint, the red glint of a curl. At once she caught the brim, set the hat properly back in place—but not before I noticed the rosy blush. Burning suddenly with desire I reached for her hand. Instead of taking it, Natasha wrapped her arms around me, coming into mine. Speechless, I embraced her. “Oh, Lenny,” she said, her voice so soothing, so velvety, just as I remembered it. “Just snuggle up a little closer.” If not for hugging her I would pinch myself. This wasn’t a dream. She was really here, in the flesh. “And yes, you’ve heard right,” she said. “The journey was rough.” “And,” said I, “so much longer than expected.” Through the fabric of her dress I felt her breasts press hard against my body. I had to control myself, had to deny my urge to caress her all over, not only because there were people walking around us but also because of something else: I feared that the intensity of my desire might startle her. Overcome, suddenly, by exhaustion, Natasha stepped out of my embrace and plopped onto her suitcase. “Ma came to say goodbye, “ she said. “I saw her across from me, as we left the shore. She was offering a prayer, tears running down her cheeks. Then, once out to sea, the Germans fired at us.” “Really? What happened?” “The ships, they took up their positions in the convoy and plodded ahead. Straightaway, two of them were lost. One ran aground. The other, suffering from engine trouble, turned back to the harbor. And as for us I thought that was the end.” I shuddered at the thought. “This journey,” said Natasha, “it was more challenging than anything I’ve gone through in the past. Even watching Papa during his last months was easier, in a way, because back then I was on the outside, observing his pain.” I waited for her to continue. After a slight reflection, she added, “I could only guess what was happening to him, I mean, the ways his illness drained his mind, the ways he suffered. But now, I wasn’t an observer. I lived it, Lenny! Everyone on board—including me—was going through the same fear, the same hardship.” I could not help but ask her, “What were you thinking, putting yourself at risk?” In reply, she rose to her feet. “For this very moment,” she said, clinging to me, “I would go through it all over again.” I took a step back, to stress, “Your Mama, she’s beside herself with worry, and as for me—” “You talked to her?” asked Natasha, her eyes twinkling. “Of course you did, how else would you know to wait here for me? She doesn’t get it—” “And neither do I!” “But Lenny, it’s so simple! I missed you—” “That’s no reason, Natasha, for what you’ve done. Why leave home, especially now, when we’re at war? If you love me, keep yourself safe, if only for my sake! Why, why put your life at risk—” “Perhaps,” she said, “I’m not looking for safety! Have you ever thought of that? Perhaps something else is more important to me.” “Like what?” “I can’t continue to depend on others, Lenny, the way I’ve done all my life. This is my time to change, to demand new things of myself, even if they happen to frighten me, even if I’m scared out of my mind.” “Not sure I understand—” “Please try, Lenny.” “What is it you want?” “Just this: to stop leaning on those closest to me.” “You could’ve done that back home, couldn’t you?” “That’s the place where I’m being taken care of, to the point of feeling stuck. Worse than that: suffocated. Someone, usually Mama, drives me to where I need to be. Someone points me to the dressing room, calls me to the stage. I’m nothing more than a mechanical doll. All I do is respond.” “You do much more than that! You excite audiences, Natasha! And to me, you’re an inspiration—” “Yes, you admire the way I play, but in truth music is the only thing for which Papa trained me.” “You’re too critical of yourself,” I said. To which she said, “No, Lenny. I’ve seen him decline, seen him lose his mind, and if—if, like him, I’ll ever lose mine—how in the world will I recover? How will I find my way, when I’ve never developed the skill to do so?” I lowered my head before her. “Never,” I said, “until now.” “Exactly,” said Natasha. “Until now.” And a moment later, blotting the corner of her eye, where a tear was forming, she whispered to me, “Come closer, Lenny, snuggle up, but never, ever let me lean on you.” This has been a sample of Dancing with Air (Volume IV of the Still Life with Memories series) by Uvi Poznansky Two Hearts Unspoken A sample offered by Tamara Ferguson “Marry me, Liz.” Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. Just when she was ready to leave town, Jim was finally willing to make a commitment—now—after dating her for nearly five years? For a moment, Beth was tempted. She was so tired of being a single parent. But then she remembered—being married to Jim probably wouldn’t be much of a help as far as that was concerned either. But she still found herself asking, “What about Kyle?” Jim hesitated. “I’m sure we can find a place for him to live, as long as we both look hard enough?” Oh, yeah, Beth thought, as her heart sank. Too little, too late. The offer had just been too good to be true. After all, there was a pretty good reason she’d decided to break it off with Jim, and start over somewhere new. She wouldn’t be leaving much behind. These last few years had been…well—interesting, would probably be about the closest word she could think of, for describing it. Her son, Kyle, would always be her number one concern, though, and she’d been telling Jim that from the beginning. When the announcement had been made, that their plant would be shutting down within the next six months, Beth had been devastated. Diamont Motors had been operating for around twenty-five years in the Bloomington area, and Elizabeth Bowen had been the head accountant for the company for almost fifteen of those years. But the state of Illinois was going through a major budgetary crisis, and maybe it was time to take a chance, she’d decided, and follow her dreams. Despite the fact that Kyle was mentally impaired, and required regular medication to control his behavior problems, she’d managed to put away a tiny little nest egg for the future. And even the financial assistance she received, for Kyle’s home services and medication, was in jeopardy of being eliminated if the new governor got his way. So she was taking the early retirement package, the company she worked for was offering. Now, hopefully, her house would sell—since she’d purchased a huge fixer-upper in the town of Crystal Rock, located in northwest Wisconsin. Wisconsin was in a little bit better shape financially than Illinois. But the factor that’d swayed her was the new vocational facility that’d been built in Crystal Rock for the mentally and physically impaired. Crystal Visions was getting rave reviews—and Beth had had some pull with the center’s founder. Her cousin, Mike Callahan, was Jake Loughlin’s best friend, and had done all the construction work for the privately owned facility. Jake’s wife, Danielle, had contacted Beth six months ago about beginning the application process for acquiring the funding Kyle needed to enter the program. Beth sighed, meeting Jim’s eyes. He appeared to be anxiously awaiting her answer. “I just don’t think it would work for us, Jim,” she said softly. Jim looked stunned. “But, Liz?” And that was another thing that annoyed her—that stupid nickname of Liz. She couldn’t remember how many times she’d mentioned it to Jim, during the last five years they’d been dating. He never seemed to listen to anything she said. If she hadn’t been such a coward, she would’ve broken it off with him a long time ago. She’d just been lonely, she’d realized, and had wanted some extra companionship, as well as someone to hold her at night sometimes. It was difficult going out with friends because of her situation with her son, but Jim would come over to her house on the weekends to watch baseball or football or basketball, depending on the season. She’d cook and…well—that was about it. Jim would just sit on the couch and watch TV, while he drank a few beers and ate. She and her son would either hang out in the kitchen, since Kyle loved anything to do with food—or go outside, or into the basement, where Kyle would play with his toys. Anything, really, to stay out of Jim’s way. Inwardly, she sighed. Come to think of it, maybe, she was escaping just in time. “We talked about you moving with me to Wisconsin—remember? You said you weren’t interested.” He shrugged. “Well, since I had that job offer from Stan’s Automotive, I thought you’d just like to stay in town, and move in with me.” Jim cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. “After we found somewhere for Kyle to live first, that is.” No way. She was definitely doing the right thing by starting over. She was almost relieved now, when she said to him, “I know it’s a job, Jim. But you’ll barely be making minimum wage, and you won’t have any benefits or a retirement plan, like you’ve had at the car plant.” And Jim already liked to live above his means. He had an expensive truck and owned his house. But, judging by the thick book of payment stubs she’d seen on his desk, the truck wasn’t even close to being paid off. Beth was pretty sure he wasn’t putting any money back into his house. It definitely needed a new roof. He’d never really let her in on the state of his finances, but she had a sneaking suspicion that Jim was gambling a bunch of his money away, too. Beth hesitated. “You know how important it is for me to get Kyle into this vocational program? I have to go north.” “Yeah, I guess. But there’s still gotta be a place, you can get him into, around here. Isn’t there?” She sighed. Nope, Jim never paid any attention to what she had to say—did he? How many times had she mentioned to him, that the waiting list for a facility equipped to handle someone with Kyle’s disabilities was over twenty years in Illinois? Illinois was at the bottom of the ranks when it came to human services—that’s why the governor’s quest to cut the budget for the most vulnerable and dependent individuals in Illinois was basically pretty heartless, as far as Beth was concerned. But enough of that. “No, there isn’t anywhere, Jim. Believe me, I’ve looked into it. I don’t want to live in Bloomington anymore, either.” How many businesses had closed their doors over the last few years? When her dad had been transferred to the main branch of his insurance company here in Bloomington, the town had seemed like it was stuck in the middle of a corn field, when she’d been forced to move here in the eighties. The area had grown and prospered, until all of a sudden the economy had declined because of the state budget crisis, that’d been developing over the last ten years. Although she had a lot of friends here, she’d never really liked this town. It was kind of unbelievable to think that she’d remained here, even after her parents had retired and moved away. “I’m still pretty sure you could find a better job, if you moved somewhere else.” Jim appeared hesitant when he shook his head no. No doubt about it—he was afraid of change. With dark brown hair that was graying at the temples, and warm hazel eyes, Jim wasn’t a bad looking guy. Maybe he wasn’t as thin as he used to be? But, heck, for someone who was approaching fifty, he still looked pretty damned good. But as far as anything special between them? Nah, not really. And there hadn’t been any genuine spark between her and Kyle’s father either. Come to think of it, there’d never really been any special guy in her life. Kind of sad, considering she’d just had her forty-fifth birthday the week before. Jim hadn’t even remembered. And what did that say about their, so called, relationship? Yes, Beth was even more relieved, now, that Jim had decided he wasn’t coming along with her. It saved her the trouble of having to tell him, that she didn’t really want him moving along with her to Crystal Rock, anyway. It’d probably hurt his feelings if she told him so. This has been a sample of Two Hearts Unspoken (Volume II of the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance series) by Tamara Ferguson The Rebel’s Redemption A sample offered by Jacquie Biggar Sergei Barnikov’s lips twisted with derision as he followed the manservant who led him through his client’s expansive home. This type of grandeur seemed ridiculous to him. The servant, dressed in a flowing white tunic and loose pants, bowed him into a large den where Chenglei sat like a plump sultan amid piles of velvet and satin cushions spread upon the parquet floor. “Sergei, my friend, what is it that brings you to my humble abode?” The poor home his favored patron spoke of actually comprised of five thousand feet of opulent Chinese décor, filled with priceless silks and antiques. There were enough riches here to keep his family back in Russia in splendor for the rest of their lives. Soon. Soon he could quit playing these stupid games with this idiot. A lifetime of effort to reach the status he’d achieved within the organization, only to lose it all, thanks to the American. “I come with a request. A favor for a favor, if you will.” He first toed off his shoes, as was customary, before entering the silk-lined room to sink down onto one of the cushions scattered around a low table set on the tiled floor. He had to stifle the groan crawling up his throat, a legacy of the beatings he’d sustained because of Jared Martin. His bosses were not forgiving of mistakes. They’d already warned him to leave the man alone, but he couldn’t. It frustrated him that he had need of the cartel’s services, but this was the only way. “I have a small problem and am in need of your vast resources. In return, I agree to hold your money at my casino. We deal?” He strove to keep his expression impassive. One hint of how important this was to him, and the snake sitting across the table would strike. “Hold on. Not so fast. What is it you ask in return for this most generous offer?” The Mexican-Chinese tone grated on his nerves. Before he could answer a young woman entered the room; eyes cast downward, a tray of fragrant tea and sweets balanced in her delicate hands. She glided silently over to Chenglei’s side of the table, bowed respectfully, and at a signal from him, melted to her knees before setting the china on the round tabletop between them. “Don’t worry, she does not speak the English. She pretty, no? My newest little courtesan. You like?” Sergei eyed her carefully but could detect no sign she understood them. With her eyes downcast and her head bowed, she appeared like an innocent child. A cherry red dress emphasized her smooth and unblemished skin. It wasn’t hard to imagine her in his bed. Her raven’s wing hair twisted in a bun behind her left ear, she bent forward to pass him his tea, and his nostrils flared, inhaling the delicate scent of her perfume. He’d almost dismissed her as one of Chenglei’s toys when she sliced him with an upward glance. Topaz, her eyes were that of a tiger. This was no Chinese girl. Upon closer inspection he could see she was tall, too tall for the average Asian woman. He’d heard rumors that Chenglei dealt in human trafficking—here it seemed, was the proof. Something to keep in mind for future business endeavors. Sergei respected the man; their histories were much the same. Despite his name and ancestry, Chenglei was Mexican by birth. Brought up penniless, he’d joined the Sinaloa Cartel at age ten. A ruthless Sicario, he’d worked his way up to one of the top lieutenants who gave the orders, and reaped the benefits. He’d never looked back. Disassociated himself from his blood kin. The Sinaloa were his new family, and they took care of their own. These days Chenglei was the head of El León’s money laundering enterprise. In charge of millions of dollars made in drug trafficking. His job was to filter those sums through legal companies so it became untraceable. Which was how Sergei came to know him. There was nothing like a little gambling to hide a pile of cash. “Da, she will do. Have her brought to me later, I sample.” Other than a slight tensing of her shoulders, which could simply have been from his rough voice, there was no sign she heard. She finished setting out the pastries, and after a deep bow to Chenglei, rose and withdrew as silently as she’d entered. Shrugging off his suspicions, he looked to the older man and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I have heard of your little problem. I have good answer. You help me, I pat your back, no?” “You have still to tell me what it is you need from me.” “I wish to find a man. He…owes me. I have searched. He is not in Vegas. I need him found. You help?” Sergei clenched his fist where it sat on his lap, below the table. He had no wish to let Chenglei know how much this meant to him. The old man was crafty, he hadn’t gotten to where he was by being stupid. Sergei would just have to play his cards close to out-fox him. The Chinese-Mexican sat with fingers steepled, elbows resting on crossed legs and attempted to stare him down, but he would not be cowered by some dirty gang banger, no matter how notorious. His was a greater power—Bratva. Finally Chenglei leaned back on his pillow and laughed, cutting the thick tension that had pervaded the room. “You are a strong man, my friend. We have a deal. So tell me, who is this oh so important person you cannot find?” Satisfaction leapt through Sergei’s body. Soon he would have his revenge and it would be sweet. He’d been angry and frustrated when he’d found out the man had escaped town, but no more. It had been a gamble to include the cartel in this, but now his path was illuminated. Soon he would return to Russia. “His name is Jared. Jared Martin.” ❋ Jared Martin settled for the night with a heavy sigh of relief. Coming home to face his past bothered him more than he cared to admit. He’d only agreed as a favor to his friend, Nick, who’d wanted to surprise his new fiancé with a vacation. After a harrowing ordeal last spring, Sara’s ex-husband was safely behind bars. The two of them needed the time away. They’d managed to find someone to watch her cute kid, Jessica, but the dog had proven to be an issue. Although normally gentle, the retired German shepherd military K-9 could be a handful. A sorrowful whine woke him from a light doze right before a cold nose jabbed his chest under the blanket. “Are you kidding me? I just put you out an hour ago, mutt.” Nick owed him, big time. He cast the downy comforter back and cursed as his feet hit the icy floor. “Come on, pooch, let’s get this over with.” He pulled on an old pair of jeans, grabbed his T-shirt, and followed Jake to the door. He could only shake his head over his own stupidity. This is what life had come to, babysitting a diuretic mutt. But then, he’d always been more of a cat person, with their independent nature and ‘up yours’ attitude. Something like his own. He sighed and shoved bare feet into a worn pair of sneakers before following the animal out. Jared propped a shoulder against a column on the back porch and let the midnight sky grab his attention. In all the years away, he’d never seen a moon as big and beautiful as it was here in Tidal Falls. If he was being honest, the bright lights and excitement of Las Vegas had paled long before the little mishap with the Golden Key casino a few months ago. Although, when the money poured out of those machines and the sprinklers opened up all over the customers—pure poetry. He only wished he could’ve been a fly on the wall that day. Some of his best work, for sure. It was their fault. If the Russian and his security henchmen hadn’t seen fit to rough him up over a little simple card counting, they could have parted ways amicably. He wanted nothing more than to put it all behind him, so he’d been happy to help Nick and get out of the city for a while. It was time he came home anyway, eight years was a long time to stay away. Jared stepped off the back deck and crunched through the newly fallen leaves, whistling for Jake. All that answered him was the rasping hiss of an old barn owl disturbed from his perch. Where the hell? He shook his head and started down the sidewalk, hoping he hadn’t gotten too far. Jared had already learned Jake had a mind of his own earlier in the day when they’d gone for a walk. They’d started out with Jake practically dancing with excitement, stopping to sniff out every other bush. But when Jared turned north at the end of the block intending to stop by his old friend, Ty Garrett’s place, Jake balked and headed off in the opposite direction. “When Nick gets back, I’m having a little chat with him. Puppy obedience school mean anything to you?” As they neared the end of the next block he suddenly got an idea of where Jake might be heading in such an all-fired hurry. Sure enough, the dog detoured into the next alley and headed straight for the back door of the Grits and Grace Café. Damn. Jared had planned to let his mother know he was back in town. He just hadn’t had a chance yet. He could just imagine her surprise. He’d stayed away for years, now here he was back for the second time after only a few months. The smell of fried onions and bacon had his stomach rumbling. Jake stood at attention, eyes trained on the screen door where they could hear the sizzle and hiss of frying and the faint sounds of the morning crowd waiting to chow down. His tail began wagging a second before the back door slammed back on its hinges and out came his mom’s best friend and long-time employee, Susan. She held a large ham bone in one hand while the other reached for a pack of smokes from inside her shirt. “Good morning, Jake. I thought I heard you out here. Look what Grace saved for you, lucky boy.” She held it out and the contrary mutt wrapped gentle teeth around the hank and sank to the ground to feast. Susan caught sight of Jared and let out a squeal he was pretty sure could be heard three states over, before rushing to throw herself into his arms. The remembered scents of coffee, fryer, and smoke from her graying hair made his arms clench her tight. “Jared Matthew Martin, what in the world are you doing hiding out in back alleys? Does your momma know you’re here? She never made a single peep about it. I can’t believe you’re back in town. You look good, a little thin, but good. Your mom’s cooking will fix that soon enough. Well come on, what do you have to say for yourself, cat got your tongue?” He laughed and tightened his arms around her skinny ribs once more before setting her back to get a good look at her. “How can I get a word in edgewise with you blathering on like that?” He ducked and grinned when she gave him a cuff on the shoulder. She looked just the same, a few more lines at the edges of her eyes, maybe a couple of age spots he didn’t recall, but otherwise just the same. “When are you going to let me take you out on the town, Sue. We’d show ‘em how to have a good ol’ time.” “You haven’t changed a bit, you rascal. Still the handsomest devil I know. Biggest charmer too,” she quipped. Her eyes shone with mirth, obviously not buying his blarney. “So really, what are you doing back in our neck of the woods? And why do you have Nick Kelley’s dog, Jake?” Hearing his name, Jake’s ears perked and he looked from one to the other of them as if to say, “See, aren’t you glad I brought you here?” Jared explained he was dog-sitting, and gazed enviously as Sue lit one up before offering him the pack. He shook his head regretfully. “Those things are going to kill you, you know.” She rolled her eyes in reply. “I just arrived yesterday, and haven’t had time yet to call Ma. So no, she wasn’t keeping any secrets from you.” He leaned a little closer and inhaled as her smoke billowed into the air. “Well, you’d better go in and see her now. It won’t be long before she knows you’re here. You know this town.” She winked and gave him a little nudge. Yeah, he did. That was one of the reasons he’d left. Suddenly Jake stood, his focus back on the screen door of the diner. With a joyful yelp he took off running just as two young children came tumbling out the back door. “Susan,” a little tow-headed girl called, “Grace says you better get back in there before she blows a gasket. A big crowd of high school kids just came in.” It was Jessica Sheridan, Sara’s daughter. A young boy followed close behind. Jared remembered her from his trip with Frank to Tidal Falls last spring. When they caught sight of Jake, both kids started chattering like a couple of magpies. “Jake, what are you doing here, boy? Look, Chris, it’s Jake.” Jessica threw her arms around her beloved pet as the boy, Chris, looked on with a wistful smile. “I see that, silly. Hi, Jake. Hi, boy. How you doing, Jake?” He tentatively held out his hand. Jake gave him a big sloppy lick, and a spontaneous giggle erupted from the kid. Jared squinted, and took a closer look at the child. That laugh, it sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. He stood a little shorter than Sara’s daughter, sturdy with reddish-brown hair and a splatter of freckles across his cheeks and nose. When the kid realized there was someone on the other end of Jake’s leash and looked up at him, Jared sucked in a harsh breath. Those eyes. He knew someone with that exact shade of fern green eyes. That giggle…suddenly all the dots connected and his guts tightened up like he’d been sucker-punched. Annie. This has been a sample of The Rebel’s Redemption (Volume II of the Wounded Hearts series) by Jacquie Biggar Broken Wings A sample offered by D.G. Torrens They stood naked in the shimmering cool water. The warm March night was calm and still, unusual for the time of year. The moon shone beams of light onto the vast lake, shadowing the curves of their naked bodies. Neither one said a word as they looked deep into each other’s sad eyes - their united silence saying so much. Angelina did not want to let Joshua go, fearing she would never see him again. Joshua smiled, “I will come back to you. I promise.” Angelina placed her head on his chest while her tears trailed down her reddened cheeks. “I could not bear it if I never saw you again. Please don't go,” she pleaded. “I have no choice. You knew when we met that this would be a possibility, Angelina. I will be back before you know it. This is my duty as a soldier. I have to go, this is what I do.” Angelina fell silent, her heart began to pound and her chest felt like it was closing in - the tightness was suffocating her. All those young men who never made it home alive… She did not want her Joshua to be one of them; however, she also understood that he needed to go along with the rest of his regiment. This knowledge did not make it any easier to bear. She had a bad feeling about this posting in a way she didn’t have with the other one. She just could not shake it off. Joshua had informed Angelina that he was being posted to Afghanistan for a second tour. He had an urge to share his inner fears with her, but he held off, knowing this would make his leaving far harder for Angelina to deal with. This was their last night together and they had decided to spend it down by the lake - their very special place. This was where they had spent their first official date together. The first date had sealed their rare and irrevocable feelings for one another; feelings that could not be denied. They had never looked back. When they were together, it was as if the rest of the world didn't exist and time stood still. Joshua fought his undeniable feelings with all that he had, not wanting to get involved with anyone, knowing he was being posted soon. But the draw was too strong and the fight was over before it began. He was mesmerised by her. Angelina was deep and sensitive, the suffer-in-silence type. He liked that about her. She was unlike anyone he had ever known. She understood him in a way no one else ever had before. Angelina wanted to hold Joshua, never let him go and keep him safe from harm. She held him so tight as if her own life depended on it. “I love you so much. Please come back to me.” She was crying uncontrollably now, her head buried deep in his chest. He took off his ring that had been passed down to him by his grandfather many years before and placed it on her finger. “I promise you when I return, I will make you my wife.” Joshua kissed her gently on the lips. He hated leaving her; he knew this was as hard for her as it was for him. “Joshua, when you’re gone, time stands still until you return to me. I can’t move forward or backward. I can’t sleep because of worrying about you. There are so many soldiers returning home in boxes. Every time I turn on the TV, there is a news item about a young soldier not making it back alive and the families left behind tormented by their grief.” “Last week, there were two soldiers from the West Midlands who were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan headlining the news. What if that happens to you, Josh? I know the loss you suffered on your first tour of Afghanistan; that could so easily have been you. You are my very reason for existing, so you better come back to me. Do you hear me?” Joshua looked into Angelina’s beautiful almond eyes. He wrapped his large arms around her and held Angelina tight. “I love you with all my heart. I promise I will return to you and then I will be back for good. I will not be extending, I promise you. It’s only six months. It will fly by. I promise I will write to you all the time.” Angelina could not stem the tears falling down her cheeks. She could hardly breathe from the fear that this could be the last time she ever saw him alive. Joshua ran his finger slowly over the small scar etched into her right eyebrow. He held her face in the palms of his large hands and kissed it, brushing the tears from her sodden cheeks. He felt her pain. He was feeling it too. No words could take their pain away; it was something they had to endure together until his return. They lay on the bank together side by side with nothing but the glistening stars and the glow from the moon as cover. Their silence was a comfortable one, one that could only be shared by two souls that truly understood each other completely. Angelina turned to Joshua and surveyed him, taking in every inch of him. She searched his face as if discovering him for the first time. Her heart was beating so fast that she feared it would burst. Joshua sensed her anxiety and pulled her to him, “Angelina, we have to go now. I wish I could stay here like this with you but I have just five hours before I have to report in.” He was hurting now, feeling the pull of his heart. He had to be strong for Angelina, and he did not want to make his departure any harder for her than it was already. “Joshua, I want you to write me whenever you can. I want to know how you’re feeling out there and what you are going through. I want to know everything. I need to feel close to you as if I am right there with you. Please promise me you will do that for me?” Joshua held her face in the palm of his hands, his eyes were glistening, “I promise, darling.” He pulled her to him tightly, holding her as if for the last time. They stood up, his hand entwined in hers as they made their way back to his car. Thoughts of Joshua’s last tour in Afghanistan ran amok through his tormented mind. He had something more to fear this time - not making it back to his Angelina. He knew this was a distinct possibility as one in six soldiers were either killed or wounded in action. Bomb disposal experts were in higher demand than ever in Afghanistan, with over one thousand new bombs planted every day. Afghanistan had become an IED war. The large number of bombs was seriously disrupting NATO operations in the country. He now knew how all the other soldiers felt when they had to leave their loved ones behind for such a long time. This was the issue he had avoided for years for this very reason. “You okay, Josh?” “Just thinking, sweetheart. I am fine, don’t worry about me, okay? I just need to know you will be strong for me.” Joshua threw her a pleading look, one that needed no answer. This was going to be the longest time they had spent apart. His first tour of Afghanistan had taken place way before he had met Angelina; he had been deployed there for six months. This time was going to be so different because he had found his soul mate. The very person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He now had someone to miss and this worried him. Being touched by Angelina’s love had changed his perception completely. He knew only a few people experienced this kind of rare love, the passion, the whisper of a thrill, the calling in your heart that takes a hold of you and won’t let you go. The angst that true soul mates suffer once they are apart. He was totally consumed by her. He could not bear the thought of being away from her for so long. During Joshua’s last tour in Afghanistan, he had lost his best friend just two weeks before they were due to return home to England. They had come under enemy attack from insurgents. Four British soldiers were killed after their armoured vehicle was caught in an explosion. Jason was killed instantly and Joshua had never really recovered from the death of his childhood friend. He had watched it all unfold before his eyes like a bad dream. Two further attempts to clear and repair the route had claimed three more casualties. The deep ditch had provided insurgents with the perfect cover to creep along the side of the road and plant the explosives on it. Joshua was in another armoured vehicle a few hundred feet behind. He knew it could just have easily been him and this had been his awakening. He was devastated. On his return to England, he visited Jason’s grieving wife. That was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. She was inconsolable. Her heart was broken and vulnerably displayed before him. He had no words to offer her. He knew a part of her had died with Jason; it was in her sad, lifeless eyes. He had kept up his visits to Chloe for many months following the tragic death of his best friend. He comforted and consoled her until she moved away to the south of England. For a while afterwards, Joshua had been plagued and tormented by nightmares that would have him sitting up all alone in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. He was plagued by the haunting voice of his lifelong friend, calling out for help. This was a bad dream, a twisted nightmare that would not let go and one that gripped him like a vice to this very day. He knew there was nothing he could have done. None of them could have known what was going to happen on that fateful day. Jason’s memorial service was over-flowing with civilians lining the roads in his home town as a mark of respect. This had become a common sight in towns all across Britain since the ten-year war against Afghanistan. Many of the local shops had closed for the duration of the memorial service. This had been Joshua’s seventh memorial service for fallen brothers in the last two years. This had completely changed his outlook on life. He had sworn to himself that he would not get involved with anyone romantically until his term in the British Army was completed. However, he had not figured on Angelina. He had seen too many devastated lovers, wives, mothers and fathers. He hated death and funerals, but he hated wars more than anything. War devastated the innocents. The carnage and devastation that war left behind, and for what? This was a question he was asking himself more often these days. Joshua was already a nine-year veteran of the Army at just 27-years-old; and he’d seen far too much of death that his yearning to see more of life was becoming stronger by the day. He had made up his mind that he would not re-enlist in the army. He had served his country well and now it was his time to live. This was his last posting, and he knew that it was going to be the hardest one. Six long months without Angelina was more painful than anything he’d ever had to endure. Joshua pulled up outside Angelina’s house. He turned off the ignition and climbed out of his car. Angelina was already making her way up the path when she turned to him, “I have something I want you to take with you tomorrow. You have to promise me you will not open it until you arrive at your destination.” Angelina unlocked the door to her small cottage and turned the lights on as she entered the dark hallway. “I cannot stay, Angelina. I have not got much time left, so please come here.” Joshua held out his arms as she walked towards him. He pulled her close and held her tight. He pressed his lips to hers and held on to the moment. Angelina buried her head in his chest and began to sob. “I’m sorry. You know how much I hate our goodbyes.” She handed him an envelope, “Remember, do not open it until you arrive.” He kissed her once more and then headed out of the door. This has been a sample of Broken Wings by D.G. Torrens A Soldier’s Promise A sample offered by Angelica Kate Darby was working hard to get the rows cleaned up in the oversized garden. The weeds needed to be removed, lettuce cut, and some of the beans culled out. She would have some help in a couple of hours from the season staff she had hired, but she liked getting out in the early morning light and tending to the garden on her own. It gave her time to think alone, with nothing but her own thoughts. It was in those quiet moments that she talked to Bryce, and attempted to reconcile her future without him. She missed him as much today as six months ago when THAT letter had been delivered by the uniformed officer and a chaplain. Details about his demise in some war zone thousands of miles away were sketchy, as his mission had been highly classified. The details wouldn’t make her feel any better though. He was forever gone, and would never again hold her in his arms, or see the gorgeous farm that had been their mutual dream. The uniformed officers had offered their thanks on behalf of a grateful nation for his service, and platitudes for his loss. What they hadn’t been able to give her was even a shard of an idea of what she was to do now that he wasn’t ever coming home. They had been high school sweethearts and become engaged before he shipped out the first time. In every fantasy, he had been her Prince Charming, the one who would truly make all her dreams a reality. He wasn’t coming home for their wedding though, and her fairy tale had abruptly ended without the happily ever after. Not one to sit and cry over spilled milk, she carried on with the help of her parents, a growing staff, and a love for the business she was running. She had hired help for the horse training and therapy classes she offered. A farm overseer saw to the bean, lettuce, celery, and strawberry fields, the surplus produce of which she sold to local markets. When Darby was a junior in college, she and her mother had jointly inherited the property from her grandmother that had been in the family for two generations. Right after graduation, she and her parents had put into play the big plans she had for the farm. They had also started planning her wedding to Bryce. For a moment, her sight blurred. It was exactly two weeks until the day that she had planned for so carefully, and as it grew closer, she allowed herself some wallowing. She felt the weight of grief much heavier on her soul in recent days, more than even that original sharp stabbing pain when she had seen the car pull up and knew, even before she heard it, what the news would be. Perhaps she had been numb then. Bryce had known the inherent risks of his job, but from as early as she could remember, he had been devotedly committed to serving his country. Almost as much as the farm was her dream, the military was his, and they had supported each other in equal measure. Even knowing how their story would end, Darby would not have done anything differently. It had been his destiny, and keeping him at home would have been an unhappy unfulfilled existence for him. He was with her now, and had died doing what he loved. In that, he was luckier than a lot of people she knew. As she turned her face to the orange ball of sun on the horizon, she felt Bryce around her. “Gorgeous day,” she said to him. “I miss you today. Just a couple of weeks and I would have been your wife. I hope you are home and happy, and I’m trying every day to be the same,” she whispered. On the whisper of the wind, she swore that she could feel his embrace. She turned and opened her eyes when she heard the car approaching along the drive. It was a newer SUV style, and she didn’t recognize it, which was rare in her small town. She knew everyone, and few visited this early. She stood, shielding her eyes and waiting. ❋ Lane kept his attention on the road ahead of him, as he was unfamiliar with the dirt road they now traveled. He had made the promise months earlier to take this trip. He remembered the moment with clarity as if yesterday, but not for a moment had he been expecting the chip to be called in. He and his wife, Sarah, were making the trek to see Bryce’s fiancée Darby. He had never met the woman, but he felt like he knew her from all the stories that Bryce had told him. He and Bryce, along with Ryker and Jett, had been a close-knit team and had walked through hell together in the service to their country. They had been through so many missions that he had lost count, but that last one was different. Bryce hadn’t made it out alive, and Ryker hadn’t been cleared yet back to active duty after surgery on his arm. Jett and he had been luckier physically, but mentally, the moment that blast had ripped apart his life still constantly played out vividly in his nightmares. He had been the one to bring Bryce’s body home. Ryker and Jett had both been hospitalized and not able to make the trip. He was the only married one of the group, and had needed to hug his wife. To reassure him that somewhere the inhumanity he worked around daily was balanced by the one woman who kept him tethered to his softer side. She was the picture he carried, the reason he fought, and the person he wanted to come home to while Jett and Ryker preferred to remain busy. Bryce had been fortunate to have that same type of connection with Darby, and it was something that had deeply bonded them together. He couldn’t even imagine what Darby was going through, and was grateful that it wasn’t his beloved Sarah having to experience such loss. Sarah tightly squeezed his hand as he put the vehicle in park, pulling him out of his reverie. The farm was exactly as Bryce had described it, complete with a picturesque lovely old farmhouse and well organized gardens. He looked around and saw the horses Bryce had been so proud of, contentedly grazing in deep green fields. He inhaled deeply and took it all in. “It’s going to be okay,” Sarah said. “I know I would have wanted to see one of your friends, and know what happened if it was me. Besides, I’ve never been to this particular amusement park, it should be fun,” she smiled at him. He loved that she truly understood, and that she kept him grounded. Whenever he came back from a difficult mission, she was patient while he took the time to decompress. Sarah had been his high school sweetheart, just as Bryce had been Darby’s. He looked at his wife, and couldn’t fathom how hard it must be for Darby to go on, knowing that Bryce was never coming home. Military spouses, girlfriends, and the like were a special breed. Strong and secure in their ability to carry the weight when the other partner took on serving a higher calling. He was fortunate to have one of the good ones right beside him. Something he wished for Jett and Ryker, who struggled to overcome and process while surrounded only by military bad boys. Darby was walking in their direction. He would recognize her anywhere from the pictures Bryce had repeatedly shown them. She had written nearly every other day when they were deployed, sent little care packages to be shared with the group, and served as Bryce’s strong anchor to life in the States. More than once, he had found Bryce rereading letters from Darby in the dark of night after something had gotten particularly dicey during one of their maneuvers. He slowly exited the vehicle, gripping the packet of letters. He looked at the still unopened one on top, remembering the agreement he had made with Bryce. The contents of that last private letter were completely unknown. He blinked back tears that threatened as Darby finished her trek to him. Standing a few feet apart, she sized him up. “You military?” “Yes ma’am. I’m Lane Grettner and this is my wife Sarah,” he indicated Sarah still sitting in the car. She slowly exited, as if unsure what to do. “Lane?” Darby looked confused, and when her eyes alighted on the letters she rapidly returned her gaze to his face. Her eyes were glistening. “Those are my Bryce’s.” “Yes ma’am. I was asked by him to do him a solid and return them to you, and this one,” he pulled the fresh sealed letter from the top and extended it to her, “was mine to deliver personally. I am so sorry for your loss.” His own tears were making his voice hoarse, and he cleared his throat to gain control. “He was a brother in arms and I miss him every day.” She opened her arms, and he stepped forward. “I miss him so much. Thank you,” she said as her arms encircled him. After a moment, she stepped back and stared down at the envelope. “Do you know what it says? The front says to read it out loud with you.” “Yes ma’am. I don’t know what it says, but he did make me promise a special outing. I’m sure he explains it.” She looked at Sarah and gave a teary smile. Finally returning to the letter, she inhaled sharply and slid her finger through the seal. Pulling the paper slowly out, and unfolding the single sheet. A fresh round of tears spilled over as she saw the familiar scrawl. In a soft voice, she began to read: Dear Darby, If you are reading this, it means that something went wrong. Please don’t focus on that, or let it define you. I loved you enough for an entire lifetime, and will forever be grateful to you for the childhood, dreams, and goals we shared. I need you to promise this will only be a single chapter in a life fully lived, as you promised me that night before I left. In order to force you forward to that future, I’ve made Lane promise to visit you. It has been six months since I went home to the Lord, so it is time. I know you well enough to believe that you are throwing yourself into work at growing the farm and probably haven’t done a fun thing since you got word I was gone. I’m going to request that you get your mom and dad to watch the farm for a day, and take a road trip. I asked Lane to ensure that you go have some fun. You and Lane can swap stories about me. Sarah his beautiful bride and you have a lot in common, so I think you will certainly find something to gab about. Make this a dying wish of mine. Adventure Land was something we always talked about -- taking a day road trip to see, and riding every roller coaster. Sweetheart, take that road trip with Lane and Sarah. I love you and will always watch over you….go have fun you three! Love, Bryce She sat staring at the letter for so long, Lane turned to Sarah who held up her hands in a gesture to indicate patience. When Darby did look up again, she threw herself at him, hugging him so tight that he was short of breath. “Thank you!” This has been a sample of A Soldier’s Promise by Angelica Kate Returning Home by the Sea A sample offered by Traci Hall Captain Brayden Hamilton ate his high protein power bar in four bites then tossed the wrapper into the trash by the canvas door of the D-fac. He peered outside the flap at the charcoal smudged sky, and then checked his MTM titanium watch. It could do everything from tell time to translate languages but he loved it because Zoe had given it to him at Christmas. “Looks like late afternoon, not eight in the morning.” “You want another one?” Major Peters pulled a slim silver package the size of a candy bar from his camo uniform breast pocket. His fellow coalition member was from Great Britain’s Special Ops and had downed three with a cup of coffee. His close-cropped red hair and pale freckled skin reminded Brayden of Prince Harry. “Nothing more until Wednesday, God willing the helo don’t go down, but power bars we got, mate.” Brayden wiped his thumb and finger together to get the apple cinnamon from the protein bar off. “These things stick to your gut. I’ll be good until lunch.” Lately eating was something he did for nutrition, to get by. It was as if the suffering around him had burned out his taste buds and turned everything to ash. Peters joined him in looking out of the long canvas tent toward the blackened sky. “Bastards fight dirty. Setting fire to the oil wells to cause a smokescreen. And the sulfur.” Peters plugged his nose and groaned. “Rotten eggs stuck to me nose hairs.” “I guess when you have no exit plan to survive the war you don’t give a shit about the harm you’re causing to your own lungs.” Brayden pushed past the flap and crossed the six foot wide packed dirt path to the opposite row of tents and stood outside the officer’s “lounge”—an eight by ten canvas square with two desks, two computers and spotty Internet. “I’ve got some correspondence to catch up on,” he said, thinking of the email he’d write to Zoe. The Army doctor had been right about purging what he’d seen—it helped to keep the depression at bay. “Wi-Fi working?” Peters asked. “I thought it was out.” Brayden never sent the emails, but Peters didn’t need to know that. “No biggie. I can send it later. Once we do.” “You tell that pretty wife of yours hello from me,” Peters said with a teasing wink. Brayden had been Skyping a few times when Peters had walked by which was how Peters and Zoe had cyber-met. “I don’t think so.” He couldn’t joke about Zoe flirting with someone else, not even a pasty Englishman. “Hey, if you see Private Allen, send him to me, would you? I know the guys don’t like the heat from wearing their helmets tight, but protection is a must. I’ve warned him a couple times.” Brayden had six years under his belt, and Peters ten. They’d witnessed horrific disfigurements from the ISIS mode of warfare. Peters gave him a thumbs-up. “Are you heading out to Rifka?” The small village, like the hundreds along the way to Mosul from Baghdad, was full of undetonated bombs. They had to get the Kurdish civilians out to clear the town before going in. It was a job that got harder for Brayden to do. The folks were frightened, they fought the soldiers because they had no place else to go—which was why Brayden had implemented the tent housing for them to stay in until the process was done. Usually took two days, maybe three. He shared the MREs and made sure they had clean water. He buried the bitter memory of a mission gone wrong. “Yeah. Leaving in an hour?” Peters left with a lift of his hand and a swagger down the path toward the plow vehicle used for clearing roads. Ten Humvees, artillery-fire scarred, were parked next to the barbed wire gate. The portable compound was roughly the size of a football field with four crow’s nest lookout points about fifteen feet high in the corners—north, south, east and west. The village of Rifka was one mile east and the only other sign of civilization. Nothing grew here, Brayden noted. The area was rocky, ruined by previous oil fires and decades of environmental warfare. Scrub brush. Desolation. The major turned left toward the area where the soldiers slept and was out of Brayden’s line of vision before Brayden ducked into the tent. Alone, he powered on one of the laptops. Another good thing about writing via email to Zoe was that he could always log in to his private account and save the emails to a folder, no matter what computer he was on. Not sleeping more than a few hours at a time was his normal. Always halfway listening for an attack, prepared to rise swinging in defense of his life. Dreams of failure and loss had followed him into his waking hours and he had to shake it off. He logged on to his email, finding the ZOE folder and opening it up. Brayden stretched his fingers over the keyboard as if preparing to play a concerto. To: Zoe Clark-Hamilton From: Captain Brayden Hamilton Woke up this morning realizing that I might lose you. Really lose you. And it would be my fault for not being a good husband. Talked to the Colonel yesterday about a military without combat—he must have heard something in my voice because he took me aside after dinner (MREs) in the mess hall. He told me that if I was serious, then after we are through here in Mosul then he could check around for me to possibly transfer. He’d give me the recommendation needed to go wherever I want. He said Spain is awesome. Would you come with me, if I asked, to a different country? A peaceful country? Zoe, I feel like I have a very tenuous hold on my perception of the world. Right and wrong. War, not war. You are what matters to me most but I fear that I am poisoning you with the darkness in me. Maybe you don’t want a husband, or this husband? I won’t blame you, Zoe. I just want you to be happpppp—. The reinforced canvas top of the officer’s lounge was blown upward by a sulfurous blast from some sort of mortar fire. Brayden stilled like a panther in the scrub. A second barrage of gunfire sprayed the dirt road in front of the tent, hitting the canvas with a peppering cadence. Brayden leapt from the chair and it fell backward as his hand slipped off the keyboard of the laptop. He pulled his handgun from the holster and strode toward the opening of the tent. Sirens and alarms sounded from each of the four posts. Brayden looked around for the most immediate danger. A third round of gunfire came from the west side of the compound and the sharp shooters returned fire from their elevated position on the crow’s nest. He put his helmet on and waited for quiet before inching around to study the lounge. The officer’s tent had been peeled back like a can of sardines, the top layer dangling over the side, a camouflage tongue. Private Bob Allen rushed toward him, his bootlaces loose which made his boot heels scuff along the dirt. The rest of his uniform was impeccable, including the helmet. Peters must’ve had a talk with the kid already. Allen had Brayden’s M4 in hand as well as his own rifle. He passed it over, safety on. “I figured you might need this, Captain.” Maybe nineteen, Allen had apple cheeks, big baby blues and brows so blond they didn’t count. “Thanks.” Brayden headed for the Humvees, Allen right behind him. Peters sauntered out of the tent that housed the coalition’s group weapons, carrying a duffle bag of ammo, his rifle in the opposite arm. He’d piled rifles, grenades, and RPGs to pack inside the Humvee for Rifka. Scuff, scuff. “Tie your boots, private.” “Yes sir.” The guard on the northern tower shouted down. “Shots fired from the trenches behind the dead trees.” The enemy fought in sporadic surprise attacks. They might be done here, only to pop up and shoot from somewhere else in another hour or two. They were persistent but unable to do lasting damage to the coalition’s compound, even as it moved slowly forward. “I don’t see anybody.” The “enemy” covered themselves in dust. Brayden looked for shadows in the angles of the barren hills. Silhouettes that caught the corner of your eye. He’d learned to never fully trust that the attack was over. ISIS liked to catch a man with his pants down. The waiting was hell on the nerves. Brayden scanned the area outside the compound as he joined Peters and three dozen men by the Humvees. The guard from the south shouted an alarm. “There, by the road!” “Let’s go get them,” Brayden said. Offense felt better than defense. “Give the bastards a taste of some morning M4 in their breakfast,” Peters agreed. His red eyelashes had been singed months ago in an explosion and were just now growing back. “What if it’s a trap?” Private Allen asked. The kid’s eye ticked. “It probably is.” Brayden holstered his handgun and slid the strap of his rifle across his shoulder. “But our vehicles are bigger. Badder. We have more soldiers and more ammo. We’ve got to clear Rifka before we move on to Mosul.” “Private, pay attention,” Peters said, his gaze hard. “We can’t afford to let the enemy regroup behind us, okay? Which means we go through each shithole pile of rubble the Kurds got. We have to dismantle any stash of weapons we find, any threat that could allow those ISIS bastards to rise again. Got it?” Private Allen gulped and shifted his weight, his knuckles white on his rifle. The danger was another part of life to be compartmentalized. Brayden adjusted his rifle strap so it didn’t pull against his neck. “You’ll be fine.” Shots riddled the crow’s nest behind them and the guard returned fire. The sharp tang of gunpowder hung in the air. The gray morning. Smoke-tinged clouds. “I count five,” the guard shouted. “Sneaky bastards.” Brayden had no problem accepting he was at war no matter what the Pentagon said. Shit! The computer. Brayden headed toward the officer’s tent. “Be right back.” “Wait!” Peters called. Already hot-footing it down the dirt path, Brayden never saw the missile blow up behind him. He felt the heat from the explosion at his heels, then had the sensation that he was flying. Not paying attention, asshole, he thought grimly. First rule of survival. He landed hard on the packed dirt, face-down, unable to catch a breath. Panic rushed through his body and he forced himself to take stock through the intense pain pinging each pissed off nerve on his left side. He tasted blood and the jagged edge of a broken tooth against his tongue. Couldn’t move. Stunned, or worse? “Captain?” Private Allen dropped to his knees on the right, in Brayden’s limited line of vision. “Oh, shit. Major, he’s hurt. Bleeding.” The words were muffled but Brayden heard them. Thought of Zoe. Zoe’s tears. Couldn’t cause her pain. Peters grabbed Allen by the back of the jacket and hauled him up. “Get the medic.” He pushed Allen out of Brayden’s view before getting down on hands and knees to peer into Brayden’s face. Peters’ lack of eyelashes made his eyes round, like an owl. “I feel sick,” Brayden said. Tried to say. The strap of his helmet pressed into his cheek as he lay on his side. Blood trickled down his lip. “What the hell were you thinking, old man?” “Zoe.” Peters patted Brayden’s body down, starting at Brayden’s head, the chest, the torso. Legs. He started to turn Brayden over, the look on his face melding into that neutral expression a soldier wore when the news wasn’t so good. Peters stood and Brayden stared at the brown toes of Peters’ boots. “Medic’s coming,” Allen yelled. Brayden attempted to turn his head, but couldn’t. “Come on, Private. Can’t wait. You’re about to learn how we do it here in the desert.” Brayden felt himself being flipped over and agony like he’d never known made him gag. Black spots dotted his vision. Allen’s fear was easy to read as he swallowed convulsively, trying not to look at Brayden’s side. “Put your hand here,” Peters’ instructed, forcing Allen’s attention to where it didn’t want to go. “Like this.” The pressure of Allen’s hand against his hip pulsed and Brayden cried out. Allen didn’t let up. “There’s so much blood,” the kid muttered. “Shut it,” Peters said in a hard voice. “Stay with me, mate.” Peters looked Brayden in the eye, forcing him to be aware. Present. He’d been injured before. Shook it off. This was very different. Brayden wet his lips, the coppery blood sliding down his throat. “Zoe. Don’t tell her I’m hurt, man.” Peters rocked back on his heels. “What the hell?” “Don’t.” Waves of white hot pain threaded through him and he swallowed against the surge. Ice cold followed. “She doesn’t need to know.” Brayden stared into Peters’ face. The guys had an unspoken pact. He’d rather go home in a casket than too broken for life outside the military. Wives and families could never understand the constant pressure of a combat soldier. Peters’ jaw clenched. Allen, kneeling at Brayden’s side, lifted his hand as the medic ran up then dropped to his knees next to the private. Brayden felt the rush of blood pump from his body in an odd pulling sensation. “Put your hand back, private!” Peters shouted. “Jesus. Rookie.” Peters’ clutched Brayden’s shoulder. “You hang in here, understood, mate? I’d hate to have to console your wife.” Brayden knew Peters was teasing, knew his friend was trying to keep his own shit together. “Hurry up, man,” Peters barked at the medic. “Give him something for the pain.” Brayden let his eyes flutter close as whatever the doc shot into his body faded everything toward black. “Zoe.” ❋ Zoe numbly hung up the house phone in the kitchen. Outside the window a half-acre of manicured lawn was surrounded by native palm trees and hibiscus bushes. The pool was shaded by an old oak her dad had rescued from the lumber yard. An 8 by 10 shed painted the same tropical blue as the house took up the left corner. Mitzy and Moe, their two spaniel mixes, tugged a rope between them as her brother Alex put the riding lawn mower away. Large headphones protected his ears. As if he felt her gaze, he looked up toward the kitchen window and lifted a gloved hand in a half-hearted wave. She waved back, but quickly dropped her hand to the counter and turned to hide her face. Dad’s Empire. Looked good on the surface, but it was crumbling. Tears blurred her vision as she focused on the ceramic tile floor. Tan and white squares became a Rorschach blob of beige. “Who was that on the phone?” Grandma Clark asked as she thumped her cane into the kitchen. “Isn’t this your day in the office?” Zoe swallowed and forced a smile. “And good afternoon to you, too, Grandma. I came home early, that’s all.” She wished she’d stayed at work. Why hadn’t he called her cell phone? Had he been planning on leaving a freaking message? She pressed her hands to her stomach as it churned. “Feeling okay? Flu’s going around.” Grandma sat at the kitchen table—a rectangle oak slab with benches that held four folks on each side, and two arm chairs at the ends. She took the helm and rested her cane across her knobby knees, visible in the denim shorts she wore with her pink tank top. “I just have a little bit of a headache.” Zoe pushed two fingers between her brows at the pulsing ache. She’d come home from Clark Electric to grab some Advil after a tense call with the auditor regarding their dad’s taxes. The only reason she’d been here to answer the phone. “Well, who was it?” Zoe went to the cupboard, got down a juice glass, and filled it with water from the refrigerator door. “Brayden.” She hadn’t heard from her husband in months. Zoe pressed the glass to her lower lip and sipped the cool liquid. She’d worried night and day about a call like this. “Brayden?” Grandma got to her feet, pushing the chair back. “Well, now, that’s a surprise.” Turning slowly to face her grandmother, Zoe gripped the glass. Surprise did not quite describe her emotions. “Yes.” “He’s still in Iraq?” Her grandma shuffled her slippered feet across the tile and put a soft hand on Zoe’s wrist. “What’s wrong, Zoe? You’re shaking.” “He’s coming home.” “For a visit?” The glass slid an inch from her grasp. “He’s been injured.” Her grandmother took the glass before it fell to the tile and placed it on the counter. “Oh, honey. How bad?” “He said he’s okay.” But Brayden would say anything to make her feel better. Tell her not to worry. Always thinking he knew what was best. Her grandmother led her to the bench. “Didn’t give you any particulars?” Zoe looked at the platinum wedding band on her left hand and sat down. “Not really.” Why hadn’t she been informed that he’d been hurt? Why was she just now hearing that he’d been wounded? Shouldn’t his wife have made the contact list? Her mind flooded with questions she’d been too shocked to ask when on the phone. “Well, what did he say?” Grandma set Zoe’s water glass on the table. Brayden’s low-toned voice had emerged as a ghost from the past. Communications between them had dwindled to the occasional email and a monthly letter with pictures that read like a promotional brochure for Army Life. Travel, see the world, learn a new skill, embrace the adventure! So busy juggling the business after her dad’s death with keeping the bills paid and the five person household running, Zoe hadn’t allowed her failing marriage to take center stage. Brayden’s words of greeting, as if no time at all had passed, hurt deeply. Hey, Zoe. I’m doing some physical therapy in Cali. Injured bad enough to need rehab and she was just now finding out? “He didn’t say much.” She sipped, then coughed. Her throat was too tight to swallow the thin liquid. I’ve got some time before going back. Wondered if I could see you? Almost two months since his last communication. She watched the military news and knew that something was going on overseas. Why hadn’t he called? Or just come home? His words made him sound like a stranger. How bad had he been hurt? “That’s inconsiderate.” Grandma took her seat at the edge of the table, her elbow as bony as her knees. “He should have let you know. Is he coming here?” “I don’t know. Maybe.” She could call back, but… Anger simmered and Zoe clasped the tangible emotion. Anger had gotten her through high school Spanish though Mrs. Cortez plainly stated she’d preferred teaching Zoe’s more apt older brothers. Anger had gotten her through her apprenticeship as an electrician despite the field being dominated by men. Anger had kept her from bawling at their dad’s funeral while the rest of the family fell apart. “It would be nice to know what’s going on.” Her grandmother reached for a napkin from the center of the table as a coaster for Zoe’s still-full glass of water. “It would.” Zoe was learning to roll with the punches, too. That sometimes there were no answers. No fixes. At 28, her “baby of the family” days were long gone. She could diagnose and fix a faulty line. Rewire a house. Do maintenance calls and answer the phones at Clark Electric. And now that Dad was dead, well—she’d learned to do the accounting, too. Was it any wonder she wasn’t a good wife? She breathed deep to keep the panic at a manageable level. Grandma tapped Zoe on the shoulder. “Hey, are you listening to me?” “Sorry Grandma.” Zoe focused on Grandma’s clear brown eyes and loving face. The silvery purple hair that puffed softly around her ears. “What did you say?” “I said,” she said in a loud, concise tone, “did you tell Brayden that you want a divorce?” “Grandma!” Where was the Advil? This has been a sample of Returning Home by the Sea Volume of By the Sea series by Traci Hall Mademoiselle A sample offered by Suzanne Jenkins Growing up, my goal was to have an exciting life, a life that would surpass the humdrum way we lived when I was a child. Not sure what would lead to this phenomenal life, when I learned to read, the idea that I could be an author wove its way into my brain, shining like a beacon lighting the way for the next fifteen years. At night, I’d lay awake long after my sisters had fallen asleep, imagining the place where I’d write. A romantic space, far more suited for reading than actual work, it could be a garret, the kind Josephine had in Little Women or Laura Wilder’s cabin in the woods. Our old house in the suburbs had an attic, but the only way to access it was through a hole in the cedar closet ceiling, so its occupation took place only in my dreams where I’d arrange imaginary book piles as I fell asleep. I recently came across my old childhood copy of Little Women. It’s a cheap, dime store purchase I’d made with money saved from my allowance for helping my mother around the house. Even with the cardboard cover peeling off, finding it was like buried treasure unearthed as I held it in my hands. Slowly turning the pages, I came across the date and my signature in cursive, the round, childish, neatly made letters carefully transcribed. In a fantasy I’d pretended to interview Louisa May Alcott long dead by that date, and thinking about the sweet child I was, already loving books and reading, brought tears to my eyes. After I grew out of the writing in the garret fantasy, my sisters introduced me to Mademoiselle Magazine, and that changed everything. Like a girl possessed, my obsession with the stories I read in the magazine grew. ❋ It took five years, but I finally graduated from college, landing the dream job. I hoped against hope being employed would be enough to satisfy my mother. Unfortunately, though I’d found the job, my mother believed that not having found a husband constituted a failure. During those five years, self-imposed isolation bred more distance between me and my classmates than if we’d been in different schools. All through college, Mother harped at me. The phone in the hallway would ring, and I’d freeze, closing my eyes, praying to God it wasn’t her calling. Then the dreaded tap at my door. “It’s your mother again,” a dorm mate would announce, rolling her eyeballs. Reluctantly, I’d go to the phone. “Hi, mom,” I’d say, looking at the ceiling. “Do you have a date this weekend?” she’d ask, not wasting words. “No,” I’d say. “I’m packing to come home.” “Oh, don’t do that,” she’d complain. “Stay at school. And not in your dorm.” “There’s nothing to do here,” I’d say. “The other girls are coming home, and I want to come home, too.” “You’re not trying hard enough to meet new people. If you keep coming home every weekend, if you refuse invitations, you’ll never make any friends.” What she meant was I’d never meet my husband. The truth was I didn’t want to make friends. Invitations to join in weekend fun stopped after I refused enough during my freshman year. It was a relief; I liked being alone while I was at school. I felt the few who actually persisted in befriending me sought me out the way a scientist looks for an unusual specimen, like they were either taking pity on me, or needed my presence to boost their own sagging self-confidence. To add to the stress, by the end of my freshmen year, the major which my mother had picked for me just didn’t fit; elementary education. Going along with her plan was the path of least resistance; easier than fighting her to get my own way. The reasoning for pursuing a teaching degree, she’d explained, was so that when I had kids of my own, I would be off work when they were off from school. My sisters had listened to the propaganda, and because I respected them, I gave in to her, as well. “What makes you so sure I’ll have kids?” I’d replied. In spite of what she said, I was never going to be tied down with kids. Kids were not in the plan. Not where I was headed. My mother’s life revolved around us kids, sacrificing her life, and I wasn’t letting that happen to me. “Everyone we know has children,” she said, maddeningly. Giving the curriculum a try, after a year, I was sure teaching wasn’t for me. If I had to spend one more day with other elementary education majors, people who really wanted to be there and could see that I was a fraud, I’d kill myself. Unless I rebelled and chose the career path I’d dreamed about, I was giving in to misery. The prospect of following that dream, of having an exciting life gave me the strength to defend myself, to stand up to my mother. When I told my mother what I intended on doing, she had a fit. “You’ll waste a whole year!” she cried, pulling her hair. “What will you do instead?” “Journalism,” I said without hesitation. “I want to write.” Dumbfounded, my mother didn’t understand the concept of taking a class to learn to write. No one in our family did anything like write. We have teachers, nurses, even a chef. But write? It was as obscure as if I’d said I was going to school to be an artist. “How can they teach you to write? You either got it or you don’t,” she said, mumbling. “Your father would die if he wasn’t already gone. It’s a blessing he isn’t here to see you ruin your life, Alev hashalom.” Those words really hurt. But in all fairness to my mother, she hadn’t been privy to my childhood fantasy. One of the ways social anxiety manifested itself in my youth was an abhorrence of displeasing my mother, so I avoided sharing most intense feelings with her or my sisters. My sisters knew what I longed for because their observations led to questions that were more like badgering, and eventually I’d share my deepest longings with them. ❋ I felt my birth had been a disappointment to my parents; my name, Philipa the best indication. My father’s name was Philip. They’d obviously wanted a boy after four girls, and when my mom had another girl, they made up that derivative. We aren’t Italian; then it might’ve made sense. So I was Philipa Weiner. The name alone was enough to give chase. I was hunted down like a rat in elementary school, bullied because of the name and my red hair. “My goal is getting you through a school year without having your books stolen or your glasses broken,” my mother lamented, determined to get me to graduation at any cost. “Poor Pipi,” my oldest sister, Martha lovingly said. “I wish I could protect you.” “We’ll take care of her,” Lynne and Ida chorused. “As long as we’re there, no one will mess with Pipi Wiener!” The bullying continued through elementary and junior high, however. My sisters couldn’t be with me every second of the day, and the moment I was left alone, it would begin again. Hair pulling wasn’t the worst of it; my mother insisted we wear dresses and skirts to school, although other girls were wearing pants by then. A favorite target was pulling on my skirts so I was unable to get away. Looking back, I believe it was during this time I developed my love of track. In junior high, the bullies had to catch me in order to harm me, and no one was fast enough. Protecting myself had become an exhausting priority. By the time high school started, I knew that the safest place for me would be home, behind locked doors. Visualizing hoards of zombie-like creatures chasing me, I begged my mother to homeschool me, a controversial undertaking in those days, but she wouldn’t do it. “You’ll be fine,” she said, trying to be positive, but not convincing me, placing the blame for the attacks on me, the victim. “Just relax. You invite those bad children to torment you by the way you act. ” Stunned at her blame the victim mentality, my sisters Ida and Lynne became even more protective of me. Today, my behavior would be classified as social anxiety disorder, but back then, I was just called shy. After all the worry and concern, high school turned out to be shocking, but in a good way. A big city school in the center of an upper-middle class community, all the little junior high schools from the surrounding areas melded into one. Definitely the little fish in a gigantic ocean, I felt surprisingly safe there, a place where I could hide from bullies in the vast sea of students. The sisters set the routine for us to follow together; walking to school, having lunch, and until after school sports started up for me, walking home. If their protection was needed, at least during those times I’d be safe. The confusing hallways and throng of humanity pressing in on the first day were overwhelming. Walking me to my homeroom, they hovered over me as long as they could before insisting that I go into the classroom. Finding my desk, I turned to see them leaning in the door making sure I was okay, rousing the curiosity of my classmates. After lunch, my sisters and I parted again, them wishing me well. Walking to my next class, I stared down at the floor with my hair hanging over my face, hugging the wall. “Boy, you sure are pretty.” Instead of continuing on, I swung around to see who the speaker was, the red creeping up my neck onto my cheeks. On the very first day of school, the boy who would end up being my best friend sought me out to boldly say what no one had said before. Up to this time, I had only been teased, or worse. But when I saw his face, I knew he was sincere, his eyes kind. Sticking his hand out for me to shake, the gesture caught me off guard. “I’m Wax,” he said. “Walter Spencer, but everyone calls me Wax.” Scrutinizing him out of the corner of my eye, I couldn’t be sure of his motive. Was he teasing me? His delivery was as nerdy as mine would have been, but because he was so handsome, it just didn’t ring true. “You’re Philipa?” Timidly, I nodded my head. Avoiding his hand, shoving mine into the folds of my skirt, he thrust it out a little further, pumping it in the air until he was interrupted. “Wax!” a boy yelled from the stairwell. “You comin’ or not?” I turned to look at the boy and saw he wasn’t alone; there were three or four of them, his posse, looking down on us. Not with derision at all; just curious. Wax didn’t take his eyes off me, waving away his friends. “I’ll be right there,” he mumbled, staring into my eyes. Putting his hand out again, I reluctantly took it to shake, but he didn’t shake right away, cradling my hand in his. Cool and dry, the feel of his skin shocked me, expecting his hand to be hot and sweaty like the hands of boys who tried to grab the volleyball away from me in gym. His cool hand cooled off my entire arm, I could feel the coolness traveling from his fingertips up my arm until my entire body was cool, and the little hairs on my face and arms started to rise up. I stifled a giggle as a body rush spread through me from my head to my feet, unlike anything I had ever felt before. “I live around the block from you, did you know that?” he asked softly. I shook my head, trying to remember who lived on the street I passed daily, could see from my bedroom window in the autumn after all the leaves had fallen. “Can I walk home with you tonight? I mean after school.” Still recovering from his touch, I had to regroup, pondering what walking home with him would mean. My mother, like a vulture roosted on the back steps, waiting for me and my sisters to come home from school. If she saw me with a boy; oh God, what a thought. “I can walk home with you as long as my mother doesn’t see us,” I replied. “She’ll embarrass you.” What I meant was she’d embarrass me, but Wax laughed out loud. “I can handle your mother, trust me,” he said, with more confidence than I’d ever had. “She’s just watching out for her daughter.” Bending down to my ear, his breath warm on my neck, and in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear him, Wax whispered, “You’re worth watching out for.” I wanted to melt into a puddle, just collapse right there on the floor of the high school hallway. Then reason set in. Not trusting him yet, I didn’t know him. What if he was setting me up? I’d been the target many times in the past, some charming boy pretending to be nice and then letting me have it when I least expected it. Memories reminded me to use care; destroyed homework papers, a stolen book bag, and the worst, a dead robin in my lunch sack, I’d trusted the wrong boys enough to be more than cautious. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said uncertainly, wanting to agree, but fear stopping me. “Can I let you know after school? I have to think about it.” Deciding to find my sisters, I’d ask their opinion, the two people on earth I did trust. I was in ninth grade; Lynne was in tenth and Ida in twelfth. They’d know what to do. While he looked at me curiously, I wondered what Wax Spencer thought of me now, sorry I made such a big deal out of an invitation to walk home from school. “I’ll be waiting right here,” he said. “If you show up, fine. If not, my feelings will be hurt.” Smiling at me, his teeth were very white but the left eyetooth sort of overlapped, giving him a very young grin like a little boy. I had to fight not to smile too broadly because his face made me happy as it always would, his beautiful eyes sincere and hopeful, never taking their gaze off me. “Okay, maybe I’ll see you later,” I said, straight-faced. Moving away from him, I headed to class, awkward as usual, hoping my skirt wasn’t tucked in my butt, or caught in my tights. Giving up to pride, I turned to look behind me and he was still there, a subtle smile on his face. Waving, he mouthed later. With my books clutched to my chest, stumbling a little, I walked to class with Wax looking after me. Before the end of the day, I got similar responses from my sisters. Ida said I’d better walk home with Wax or she’d do something that would really embarrass me, and I knew she was capable of it. Lynne said she thought it would do me good to get to know Wax. Always the romantic, Lynne had the future in mind. “There is a dance almost every quarter. If you make a boy-friend, not a boyfriend necessarily,” and here she inserted quotation marks with her fingers, “but a boy slash friend, you’ll have a date for every dance. Pipi, you’ll never be alone on national holidays. Yes, walk home with him. How does he look to you, anyway?” Lynne was more superficial then she liked to let on. I pulled her aside. “Swear you won’t repeat this,” I said sternly. “The others will crucify me.” She crossed her heart. “Swear, cross my heart, hope to die.” “He’s gorgeous,” I said, sighing. “I can’t believe he even talked to me.” Lynne slapped my arm playfully. “Stop putting yourself down, Pipi. You’re pretty ravishing yourself.” I shook her off and started walking backwards toward my class. “Okay, I’ll walk with him. Can you and Ida get home and distract mom?” I asked. “Yes, that’s a great idea!” she asked, slapping her leg. “Don’t want mom hanging around, no we don’t!” Laughing, Lynne took off toward her own class. I thought for a second how lonely it was going to be when they both graduated, away at college and I’d be at school, alone. I had a few years with my sisters though, so I wasn’t going to worry about their absence yet. The afternoon dragged by with two last classes. In art class, sitting next to the class clown, and spending an hour trying not to get in trouble, my head down, resting on my crossed arms on the desk, hiding the tears which rolled down my face from laughing so hard, completely inappropriate. And the final, sleepy hour in creative writing which would have been wonderful if the teacher had cared about teaching us. I fought to stay awake because it was the one subject I was really interested in. Instead, the girl who sat next to me taught me how to put eyeliner on the bottom lid, and I did her eyebrows for her. Finally, at three sharp the bell rung. My heart started beating like a drum; I could feel it in my throat, the anticipation of seeing Wax and what the walk home with him might bring looming ahead. Taking my time getting back to the staircase, he’d said after school, so that meant I could go to my locker first and get my book bag. If he thought I wasn’t coming and left for home, that would be fate. What if he didn’t intend on showing up? What if he was simply teasing me? Well, I would find out soon enough, trying not to succumb to disappointment before the fact. Once I got to my locker, I nervously dawdled in my obsessive way, methodically pulling out the books I needed for homework, systematically filling a book bag. Then I took an extra minute to organize my already neat locker, stalling for time. All books were new, notebooks and sharpened pencils and pens neatly arranged. Having a clean locker and new books at the beginning of the year was instrumental to my mental health. Part of me was excited about what the twenty minute walk home might bring, and part dreaded it; I didn’t make small talk easily. What would we say to each other? When it was impossible for me to loiter at my locker any longer, I turned to walk toward the staircase and almost ran headfirst into Wax. “So, are you dragging your feet?” he asked, smiling down at me. “I’m getting my books,” I answered, knowing it sounded ridiculous. Putting his hand out, he pointed to my book bag. “I’ll carry that,” he said, authoritative. “That’s okay,” I said nervously. “I can manage.” Taking the strap, he gently pulled it off my shoulder. I gave in and shrugged it off. Slinging it over his shoulder, he placed his free hand on my upper back, but this time unlike the handshake, his unexpected touch made me cringe. We walked toward the exit door with the edge of his pointer finger along the collar of my blouse. It didn’t feel right, and I wanted to shake him off, but it seemed disrespectful. Our first moments together were mixed; feeling invaded and yet not wanting to insult him because I was grateful for his interest. Fortunately, he didn’t leave his hand there long, taking it off when my shoulders were squeezed almost up to my ears. Trying to rationalize why he did it, I thought maybe it was a gesture of intent; like let’s move in this direction. Or of possession. His buddies stood on the other side of the door throwing the book of one of the less fortunate up in the air, laughing and acting childish. “Jeesh!” he said. “What a bunch of idiots.” They were my words too; I just didn’t say them out loud. Except for the grace of God, I’d be the unfortunate victim of the book toss. “Aren’t they your friends?” I asked. It was a stupid question, because it was clear they were, and I felt he may have taken it as an admonishment that he could have such silly friends. But he wasn’t defensive at all. “Yes, unfortunately,” he said, chuckling.“It’s pretty hard to break away from people you went to kindergarten with.” I didn’t think it was hard at all, but kept quiet. We walked side by side, not touching. The place where his hand had touched me still burned. Reaching up, I rubbed my neck, pulling the collar over it. Air on my skin mimicked where his hand had been, distracting, and I recognize now, provocative. It was only September. The city pools were still open on the weekends, yet it felt like fall already. I looked up at the blue, blue sky and a few, white clouds zoomed across space. Soon the sky would turn gray, autumn rain an ominous prelude to winter. If I didn’t watch it, depression would blanket me, my regular companion for this time of year. “How’d you know my name?” I asked, slowing down my pace which had the tendency to be frantic. The question wasn’t planned, I thought it and the words popped out of my mouth, sounding a lot more confident than I felt. “Everyone knows Philipa,” he said, stopping. Frowning, my inadequacy prevented me from hearing the admiration, almost reverence in his voice. “How?” I asked, dreading the answer. “Oh, wait. The kids from my old school, right?” I was suddenly embarrassed. The bullies from junior high were the only human beings in the high school, besides my sisters and their friends, who knew my name. I could just imagine what they had said about me, and a heatwave of shame flowed over me. I thought I could benefit from more of the cooling touch our earlier handshake provided, but he wasn’t reading my mind. “No, not the younger kids; I mean Ida and Lynne’s friends. We’ve been waiting for you,” he said, his voice soft and kind. “Beautiful Philipa, with her lovely red hair.” Stunned, I looked up at his sincere face, his eyes beautiful, large liquid-brown spheres. My reflection in his right iris mesmerized me, desiring to close my own eyes, to remember what that looked like, burning it into my memory forever. “I wanted to be the first to get to you, before the wolves started to circle,” he said. Not familiar with that reference, it sounded ominous and negative. We walked down Outer Drive toward my house, me silent, listening to him talk. The majestic old oak trees shaded our path as we walked, Wax chatting, the drone of his voice comforting. The sense that he only took his eyes off me long enough to keep from tripping drowned out the awareness of everything else. I don’t remember much of what was actually said on that first walk, but I was captivated. I looked up; we were almost to my house. Soon, the leaves would turn color and fall to the sidewalk. I imagined walking on the leaves, crunching them under my feet. The weather would grow colder and colder, and snow would fall. The thought of having to wear boots and mittens and a heavy overcoat on a warm day like this seemed impossible. I wondered if we would still be walking together in the snow. “Let’s stop here,” I said when we got to the corner, hoping my mother wasn’t waiting with her eagle eye. He’d said he lived around the block from me. Again, the idea that I’d lived within shouting distance of him all my life was inconceivable. All I had to do was cross the alley, walk through my backyard and I was home. Reality ended the hypnotic walk. I didn’t see my mother waiting, so Ida and Lynne had been successful. “Thank you for walking me home.” I cringed, the words sounded so corny and anticlimactic from what I was really feeling, but he seemed to like it. “You are very welcome, Philipa. Thank you for allowing me to walk with you. Will you meet me here tomorrow morning at eight sharp?” Asking to walk me back to school must mean I didn’t do anything to repel him. I’d replay every single word spoken for the next eight hours, paranoia destroying the bit of self-confidence his attention had given me. In contrast, my heart did a little flip. I wondered how long the night would be now, having that to look forward to; having to wait to see him again. “Okay, I guess I could do that.” Wincing, I didn’t mean to sound nonchalant, but he didn’t seem to take it that way, replied how glad he was. “That’s great, I’m so glad,” he said. Handing over my book bag, he put his hand out again. As I placed mine upon his, the same, wonderful feeling traveled over me, that cool electrical charge that elevated the hairs on my arms and cheeks. So happy, the feeling cured the burning of my neck where he’d touched me earlier. Wondering if the sensation traveled between us from me back to him, I smiled but couldn’t make eye contact. I was speechless. We stood facing each other for the longest time, holding hands. “Good bye, Philipa,” he finally whispered. Taking all the strength I had, I looked up to see if he was really speaking, afraid of what I might read in his eyes. Shockingly, he looked happy. “Bye, Wax,” I answered, looking down at the ground again. Letting go of my hand as he backed off, he gripped my fingers, releasing them little by little, searching my eyes while he smiled, pleased. I didn’t move, my hand still hanging in the air. Watching him walk away, his long legs and broad shoulders stirred something in me that made me uncomfortable, and I quickly turned away, letting myself through the gate which led to our backyard and safety. Closing the gate, relief passed over me, but residual anxiety would make it impossible for me to fully relax, thinking about Wax. More self-conscious then I’d thought I’d be, it really was just a walk home, I was making so much out of it. Worrying that my mother would be peering out the window, ready with a thousand questions, I forced myself to forget about Wax and what his physicality was doing to me, and concentrated on our family garden instead. The vegetable garden my mother planted behind the kitchen every spring was almost finished. Everything about the garden spoke of love and family to me. It was a group effort; no one was immune from tending it. Meals often revolved around bounty from my mother’s garden. Nurturing a few late tomato plants, her winter squashes, cabbages and beets were still growing, ready to be harvested at any time. A prehistoric vine, a hybrid volunteer from last year, birthed gigantic pumpkin-like squashes; only instead of orange they were pine green, their huge leaves beginning that telltale whither that announces the beginning of autumn. Among the flowers still blooming were zinnias in a profusion of color, some of the foliage starting to whither like that vine, and giant sunflowers, planted for the birds. Marigolds and geraniums blossomed, hardy to the first frost. Off to the side my mother had placed new containers of mums, seemingly taunting those summer flowers which struggled to stay on. In a few weeks, she’d ask us to pull up the spent annuals so she could set the mums in their place. It made me sad, yanking up the flowers. There were always a few last buds. I’d cut them off and force them to bloom in a glass of water in my bedroom. Fall was just depressing. This year, Wax Spencer had come to rescue me. The thought stunned me, stopping me in my tracks. I’d never looked for anyone to do anything for me. This was a dangerous first, prepping me for disappointment if I wasn’t careful. At the door, my mother appeared, standing on the other side of the screen wearing an old jungle fatigue shirt of my dad’s over pressed pants and a blouse. “The garden is almost done,” she sighed, reading my mind. “I hate this time of year.” “I know, I do, too. It’s so sad. I’m going to save seeds from your flowers, for next year,” I said, hoping to make her happy. “How’d you know to do that?” she asked, frowning. “School,” I answered. Everything came from school. “Where are the girls?” We referred to each other as the girls. The two oldest, Martha and Angela were away at school. We’d all go to the same, state supported school that was our mother’s alma mater, where our father studied, as well. Everyone knew they’d met there when my dad was attending, paid for by the US Air Force and the GI Bill, and the rest was history. Ida was going next fall with the others. Then it would just be me and Lynne at the high school. My sisters were what I thought of as dynamic in the extreme. I once told Ida she was the most dynamic woman I knew. She snickered. “I grew up with the name Ida Wiener. You don’t become a shrinking violet with that following you around.” Having a strange name didn’t affect me in a positive way. I avoided having to say it out loud whenever possible. I foolishly blamed my name for most of my struggles. Now, with Wax in the picture, it didn’t seem like such a liability. I remembered the way he said it, with a question mark at the end. You’re Philipa? My mother held the door open while we talked about the garden. I could smell beef cooking. “What’s for dinner?” I asked stupidly as I walked into the kitchen. “Pot roast, potatoes and carrots, the carrots from the garden. Good fall meal. You gotta lotta homework?” My mother may have lived in the Midwest since going to college, but she still talked like she just sprung from Brooklyn. “I have a ton of homework. I’m starving.” She held out her hand for my book bag. “Get a snack. We gotta a while before the roast is done.” Putting the book bag down on a kitchen chair, she pointed to the fruit bowl. I could hear laughter coming down the staircase in the living room as my sisters came in with their homework. Both had changed out of their school clothes. Ida had on pajama bottoms and Lynne wore jeans. “Mom, can we do our homework down here?” Ida asked pointing to the kitchen table. We usually studied up in our rooms or if it didn’t require much concentration, in front of the TV. “Yes, I guess so,” she answered. “What’s going on? You girls ready to gang up on me?” Turning to the sink, she resumed peeling potatoes while we pulled chairs out around the table. “Mom, we wouldn’t gang up, promise,” Lynne answered. “We just want to be together.” “You never answered me, Philipa,” my mother asked, ignoring Lynne. “How’d today go for you? First day in high school!” “How was it?” my sisters chorused, winking at me. “It was very nice! I’m surprised. I expected it to be much harder.” “Well, that may come in time. Don’t get lazy,” my mother said. “I won’t. Can we do our homework here?” I repeated Ida’s question. A nice, new habit for all three of us to sit around the big oak table in the breakfast room while mother fixed dinner, doing our homework together. I might actually get it done quickly this way. “I guess so,” she repeated, distracted. Taking an apple out of a big bowl of fruit she kept for us on the counter, I started pulling books out of my bag, while my sisters settled down for an afternoon of group homework. This has been a sample of Mademoiselle by Suzanne Jenkins Genteel Secrets A sample offered by S.R. Mallery Hannah watched the birds for several minutes before turning to her new park bench companion. “And what about you, Mr. Neely? Tell me something about your life.” He noticed how her hand had crept over toward his, narrowing the space between them. “I would really like to know, James,” she said. Soft, melodious, her mention of his name felt like a caress. He cleared his throat and began telling her about his hard life growing up in the Five Points section of New York. How the nasty treatment he received in school growing up was because of being an Irish immigrant and his studying medicine was simply out of loyalty to his mother’s wishes. Her “I’m so sorry,” was spoken with such tenderness, it was all he could do not to reach out and pull her to him. Instead, he asked her to tell him all about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because not only he was genuinely interested, but also to distract him from what he really wanted––to kiss her. Like tiny ink blots bleeding outward, two rose circles began to spread across her cheeks as she began her verbal assessment of the famous book. Articulate, impassioned, upon hearing her he was convinced she could stand up in front of the entire nation with these explanations and surely capture entire cities in her wake. As she proceeded to talk, he hesitantly inched his fingers closer to her, as if casually stroking the bench, hoping to reach out and touch her hand resting on the bench between them. Not knowing what to expect, he didn’t dare breathe when he saw her hand stir toward his. Slowly, tentatively, their fingers drifted toward each other as her chest rose and fell in a visible flutter, and his breath suddenly became belabored. When their fingers finally touched, it jolted through him like the time he reached into a rat hole in Five Points, and felt the sharp sting of those tiny teeth nibbling at his hand. He shook his head. Rats? Ridiculous. Breathing more easily now, he curled his large hand over her small one as a sense of belonging washed over him. It seemed as if he had come ‘home.’ She must have felt it as well. She shifted her body closer to him, enabling their hands to intertwine more tightly together. There was no talking now, just holding onto each other as the afternoon air chilled, foreshadowing the nip of evening. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her swivel her head casually toward the western edge of the park, and following her gaze, he spied two indistinguishable female figures, one thin, the other stout, like two anamorphic shapes against a darkening background. “That’s my cousin and my aunt,” she said abruptly. “I have to leave.” Withdrawing her hand, she put her book into her satchel and stood up. “So soon?” He jumped up, his face flushed with disappointment. Her brows furrowed as she began to move away. He stopped her with his hand on her arm. “Please, may I see you again? Tomorrow, if possible?” He measured those perfect lips as she gave her response. “Yes, I shall try. Hopefully so.” She, too, looked disappointed, but now she was moving away, leaving him with just the back skirt of her dress swaying from side to side, the swish of her petticoats, and the rustle of her hoopskirt knocking against her thighs. Smaller and smaller she appeared, until she matched those tiny figures far out in the distance. He came to the park the very next day. And the next, and for a week afterward. But she never returned and soon, he was left with only this one good memory amidst all his painful ones. This has been a sample of Genteel Secrets by S.R. Mallery When Sailors Play A sample offered by Susan Ricci “When my friends and I joined the Navy in 1968, we didn’t think about dying. We only wanted to conquer the enemy. More importantly, we hoped by becoming enlisted men, we’d have a better chance of scoring a grand slam with our sweeties,” Keynote Speaker Michael Burke told the other veterans gathered inside the VFW hall. After the guffaws petered out, he continued his tale. “If it hadn’t been for the fact that my brother Troy was barely nineteen-years old when he was drafted into the Army in November of 1966, I probably would have continued on my merry way. In those days, as you may recall, public outcry from our generation was that our government withdraw our troops from Vietnam, and my view was no different.” He paused as grunts of affirmation rippled through his audience. “However, once someone dear to your heart becomes a casualty of war, a guy’s opinion of what war and patriotism stands for changes him forever.” Michael took a sip of water and mumbled, “Excuse me.” He quickly left the podium amidst a hearty applause, teary eyed and overwhelmed. As he sat huddled in a corner of the VFW hall, his eyes searched for Ellie, knowing she was somewhere in the crowd. Ah, there – there she was, as beautiful as the first time he’d set eyes on her when they were kids. Her once long, golden hair was now styled in a chin length bob and tinted a gentle blonde, enhancing the allure of her middle years. Her figure had retained its youthful loveliness, even after three children. For this occasion, she wore a navy-blue sheath with cap sleeves, and a corsage with red, white, and blue ribbons. A single red rose held the place of honor, smack right in the middle of the delicate confection. He watched his wife approach him. Her expression was fraught with concern, which helped alleviate some of his melancholy. Although Ellie wore little makeup, she was easily the prettiest woman in the room. His heart swelled with pride and gratitude that she belonged to him, in spite of the scars that greeted him in the mirror each day. Again, he wondered why Ellie had stayed with him all these years. He prayed it was because of love. He remembered it all as if it were yesterday… ❋ November 1966 Since Troy and I were closer than most siblings, saying goodbye when he left for boot camp proved difficult. “I’m gonna miss you, bro,” I bravely declared on the day of his departure, a quivering lip belying my feigned composure. “Aw, don’t be such a wet rag,” Troy said with a good-natured punch to my bicep. “I guarantee my two years will fly by, and then I’ll be back to torture you again.” In spite of my sorrow, I chuckled at his choice of words. My big brother was ever my protector because, when we were younger, I sure needed one. Troy was one of those lucky guys with a build like that statue I saw in Greek mythology stories named Adonis. Six foot three inches of perfection and a good half a foot taller than me, his dark brown hair was cut short, as was the style of the times. Troy’s hazel eyes always sparkled with friendly cheerfulness. I felt proud to be his brother and looked up to him, physically and emotionally. If ever there were two opposites, it was us. I was that thin kid with long, wavy brown hair everyone picked on. My blue eyes boasted lashes thick enough to make girls sigh with envy, making me fresh meat for schoolyard bullies. Grammar school kids can be awful rotten bastards, but the worst of them kept their distance whenever Troy was around. If I was mocked within his hearing, he could glare them down without having to raise a fist. The times when I was caught alone were the worst. As those miserable memories of being called runt-butt or a queer resurfaced, I quickly sent them to the memory cemetery. I wasn’t going to let them wreck my time with Troy leaving so soon. “Nah, you’ve never tortured me,” I replied with a smile. “I would’ve had my skinny butt kicked around the block a zillion times when we were kids, if it weren’t for you.” “Yeah, well, look at you now,” Troy said fondly. “All grown up and muscular to boot. You’re far out, man, and no sissy boy. Just keep up with your baseball practice and use that upper cut I taught you, if needed.” He smiled slyly then. “Don’t pay any attention to the parents when they get too nutty about the war, either,” he advised. “Just shine them on.” “Easy for you to say,” I grumbled. “You won’t have to sit here, and listen to mom and dad complaining what a pain in the neck the President is, about his foreign policies.” “True enough,” my brother agreed. “Dad’s face heats up to boiling every time he reads the newspaper. ‘That Lyndon Johnson and his advisors are real jackasses,’” Troy mimicked in our father’s booming voice. “Well, the parents have some justification about that. They’re worried you’ll eventually get sent to Vietnam.” “So what if I do?” He scoffed. “The Viet Cong wouldn’t dare touch a hair on my groovy, handsome head. Besides, after the Army, I’ll be able to get a good job and find me a nice girl, like your Ellie.” The horn honked from the car where our folks waited. “Come on, Troy, move it, or else you’ll miss your train,” Dad shouted from his window. “Amtrak out of Poughkeepsie to Penn waits for nobody, not even you, lug head.” Troy and I embraced. “Gotta go, so stay cool,” he told me. “Study up, and start applying to colleges right away. You have a gift and you’d better take advantage of it. I don’t want to come back here and boot your skinny ass for procrastinating.” He stepped back, picked up his suitcase, and gave me a jaunty salute. “See you around, kid.” As the car pulled away, I wished I’d gone with them. Then my mind conjured up the evil image of that advanced algebra book sitting on my desk. I had to nail a mid-term exam the next morning, in order to pull an A. I sighed. That darn test even took precedence over seeing my forever sweetheart Ellie Roberts. I saw her in my mind’s eye and welled up. Just couldn’t help it. Unsure if my emotional overload was due to Troy’s departure, missing Ellie, or a combination of both, I forced myself to man up. A smile replaced my melancholy. Picturing my girl could do that to a guy. Ellie’s hair glowed like pure gold, and her completion was pink and flawless. Her eyes were the color of the sky on a bright sunny day, and sparkled with joy whenever we were together. Blessed with a kind temperament, she was the most popular girl in our class, rendering me proud and content. She wore conservative clothing and never flaunted herself like some of the other girls did, although she was the prettiest of them all. When Ellie agreed to go steady with me, I became the luckiest guy on the planet. I often thanked God for my good fortune and prayed she’d stick with me forever. There were many guys in school having so much more to offer than me, a baseball player hoping for a college scholarship. “Being seventeen and in love has its perks, but not tonight,” I muttered, climbing the stairs to my room. ❋ Troy completed his eight weeks of basic training, and returned home on leave after New Years in 1967. Boot camp had shaped my brother into a finely tuned, fighting machine. His posture was more erect than ever, his muscular build more pronounced. I was sure a quarter could bounce right off the six-pack he now possessed. His cropped hair did nothing to alter his good looks – actually the buzz cut suited him better than before. Troy looked amazing, and true to his word, he tortured me very well. Gone were his protective days of our youth. We were young men, and while I worked out every day, Troy’s capabilities had become much fiercer than mine. Darn guy could get me in a chokehold before I could draw a breath. Mom and Dad were in awe of his physical achievements. Me? Not so much. Although he deviled me with the new maneuvers he’d been taught at boot camp, I knew my brother cared enough to throw complex challenges my way, should I ever get bullied in the future. ❋ God bless Ellie. The night before Troy was due to report for duty, her gentle presence managed to keep our family’s dinner discussion from turning into an all out disaster. Which was one of the many reasons I loved her. “So, son, I guess it will be a while before we can all be together again,” our dad remarked, while Mom carried a huge platter of fried chicken and a bowl of mashed taters to the table. “I know. This week’s gone by so fast,” he said, grabbing a drumstick as Mom walked past him with the chicken. “Crazy as it seems, I’m glad to be going back to Fort Dix. It’s so close to home. What a lucky break.” Dad leaned back in his chair, a proud smile on his face. “When will they start with the aptitude testing?” he asked. “Probably after my two weeks of cleaning latrines,” he said with a wink. “I’m hoping to learn more about mechanical engineering. I think it would be super cool to work on tanks and souped up jeeps, stuff like that.” Mom’s smile turned into an expression of concern. “Doesn’t the Army use the majority of those things in Vietnam?” Troy pulled a patient expression. “Yes, of course they do, and they’re military vehicles, not things, Ma. Someone’s gotta make sure they’re in fine working order, right?” Our father, the accountant, blew a sigh. He’d led a peaceful existence all his life, and only now, when his oldest son became eligible for the draft had he begun to pay attention to the Vietnam War. My gut told me he hoped Troy would be interested in learning a duty that would keep him confined to office work. “What kinds of vehicles are you referring to?” Dad asked. “I’m a tad out of my element here. I know something about tanks, but that’s about it.” My brother’s face beamed with excitement. “Dad, there’s so many types of military vehicles the armed forces use, it boggles my mind. There’re utility trucks, armored personnel carriers, you name it we got it! I could repair reconnaissance vehicles forever, and if I excel at this occupation as much as I think, I might re-enlist for another two years.” Mom and Dad jumped to their feet. “Now, just wait a second, son,” Dad yelled. “You’d said you’d get a good job once you’ve served your time, and settle down with a nice girl, like Michael’s Ellie here.” “Darn straight,” shouted Mom. “I’m not looking forward to having my son in harm’s way, any more than absolutely necessary! Dear me, Troy, you can’t possibly be considering this.” Troy threw his napkin on the table, folded his arms and frowned. “Listen up, folks,” he snapped. “I love tinkering with machines and vehicles, and if it’s in a foreign land, so be it. Anyway, it’s my future, not yours.” Ellie and I exchanged worried glances. With our dinner table about to turn into a battleground, she gently cleared her throat. “Excuse me,” she said softly, “but may we please take a break from the war talk for a minute? I have some better news.” Although the parents were fond of my girl, I chuckled when their jaws dropped with surprise at her delicate, but firm interruption. “What’s your news, Ellie?” Mom said graciously, as she sat back down and nodded at Dad to do the same. “Michael’s been offered scholarships to four colleges, all in one day,” she announced. “His studies have paid off, and I’m real proud of him.” “Well done, son,” said my father with a grin. “Does this have anything to do with that pitching arm of yours?” I nodded, feeling a little weird conveying such news, with Troy’s future on the line. “Remember last year, when those college talent scouts were visiting my high school during the baseball season?” I asked. “Yep,” Dad replied with a chuckle. “You were as nervous as an ant on a hot tin can.” “That’s for sure, Pop. When Troy left for boot camp, he promised to kick my butt if I didn’t study hard, and pursue my baseball gift.” Taking Ellie’s hand in mine, I gently squeezed it. “If it wasn’t for Troy’s confidence in me and Ellie’s faithful devotion these past few years, I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard to step up to the mound,” I finished with a grin, hoping the parents understood my pun. “See, when a person has that kind of back up, success naturally follows.” I glanced at my family. To my surprise, the parents, Troy, and best of all, Ellie, were beaming as if they were impressed with my accomplishments. My self-confidence soared, as I carefully selected my next words. “All of us need to support Troy’s choices, whether we like them, or not,” I said. “He told me when he left for boot camp I have a gift, and to make sure I take advantage of it. He wasn’t wrong.” Everyone nodded. “We owe Troy the same respect. He’s rethinking his future goals, those that will make him happiest,” I said. “I’m not worried if he gets sent overseas, and neither should you. After all, he warned me the Viet Cong would not dare harm a hair on his groovy handsome head.” Laughter echoed through out the dining room. Taking advantage of the happy moment, I placed my arm around Ellie’s shoulder. “My scholarship awards aren’t the only good news we got going on. My sweetie also received a scholarship today.” Troy abandoned his chicken and eyed Ellie with friendly interest. “What’ going on, future sis-in-law?” My girl blushed. “Ellie’s been notified she can begin Duchess Community College’s nursing program the September after graduation, and it won’t cost her parents a penny,” I said. “She’s received a scholarship, too.” Troy and the parents applauded, shouting, “Good for you! Good for you!” Ellie stood up and shook hands with each member of my family. “Thank you, everyone,” she said. “I’m so pleased I have such awesome support.” I wanted to kiss her, but decided to save that for later, when we didn’t have an audience. Mom chimed in. “Hurry up and finish this chicken before it either attacks you, or starts scratching around my table for worms. I won’t be responsible for the consequences,” she declared, wiping her hands on her apron, moved by all the positive tidings she’d heard this night. Troy grinned and held up a wing. “Here’s to Mom,” he saluted with the chicken. “May you always retain the gift of gab, and never lose your fried chicken recipe.” This has been a sample of Lovin’ Those Navy Games by Susan Jean Ricci About Uvi Poznansky Author of Dancing with Air Uvi Poznansky is a California-based author, poet and artist. Her writing and her art are tightly coupled. “I paint with my pen,” she says, “and write with my paintbrush.” She received a Fellowship grant and a Teaching Assistantship from the Architecture department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she earned her M.A. in Architecture. Then, taking a sharp turn in her education, she earned her M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. Uvi writes across a variety of genres: Apart from Love, My Own Voice and The White Piano (literary fiction), The Music of Us and Dancing with Air (romance), Rise to Power, A Peek at Bathsheba, and The Edge of Revolt ((historical fiction), A Favorite Son (biblical fiction), Home (poetry), Twisted (horror), Now I Am Paper and Jess and Wiggle (children’s books.) Find her Books, ask to get them Autographed, and subscribe to her Newsletter. Follow her on these sites: •Blog •Amazon Author Page •Amazon Author Page UK •Goodreads Author Page •Goodreads group: The Creative Spark with Uvi Poznansky. •Twitter •Google+ •Pinterest •Facebook Still Life with Memories (All the volumes in the entire series) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, kobo My Own Voice (Volume I of Still Life with Memories) 978-0984993215 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes The White Piano (Volume II of Still Life with Memories) 978-1517049447 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes The Music of Us (Volume III of Still Life with Memories) 978-0-9849932-9-1 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible Dancing with Air (Volume IV of Still Life with Memories) 978-1536896534 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes Apart from Love (Volume I and II of Still Life with Memories, woven together) 978-0984993208 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible The David Chronicles (Volume I, II, and III) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple,Kobo, Smashwords Rise to Power (Volume I of The David Chronicles) 978-0-9849932-4-6 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible A Peek at Bathsheba (Volume II of The David Chronicles) 978-0-9849932-7-7 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible The Edge of Revolt (Volume III of The David Chronicles) 978-0-9849932-8-4 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: Fighting Goliath (Volume IV of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: Fall of a Giant (Volume V of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: Rise to Power (Volume VI of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: A Peek at Bathsheba (Volume VII of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: The Edge of Revolt (Volume VIII of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Inspired by Art: The Last Concubine (Volume IX of The David Chronicles: an art book) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords A Favorite Son 978-0-9849932-5-3 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible Twisted 978-0984993260 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: iTunes, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible Home 978-09849932-3-9 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible Jess and Wiggle 978-1494920968 Paperback: Amazon Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Now I Am Paper 978-1494919429 Paperback: Amazon, Barnes&Noble Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords About Tamara Ferguson Author of Two Hearts Unspoken Tamara Ferguson is the multi-award winning, #1 international bestselling author of the Tales of the Dragonfly Romance Suspense Series, the Kissed By Fate Series, and the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance Series. Her wounded warrior romances, Two Hearts Unspoken. Two Hearts Surrendered, and Two Hearts Undone have all become WINNERS at the 2016 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards; with Two Hearts Unspoken earning the Silver Medal in Military Fiction Two Hearts’ Christmas Wish, the fourth story in the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance series, has just been released. Presently, Tamara’s working on Emergence, the third Tales of the Dragonfly novel, and a novella for the next installment of Wedding Pets and Kisses, featuring stories by award winning, bestselling, and USA Today authors. Follow her on these sites: •Blog Tammy's Dragonfly •Website •Twitter •Facebook •Google+ •Goodreads •LinkedIn •Kissed By Fate •Kissed by Fate (home page) That Unforgettable Kiss (Volume I of Kissed by Fate) 978-1508957539 Ebook: Kindle, Apple, Kobo Paperback: Amazon, B&N Tales of the Dragonfly: In Tandem 978-1449514945 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Tales of the Dragonfly: In Flight 978-1449987961 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Two Hearts Surrendered (Volume I of the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance series) 978-1522864059 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Two Hearts Unspoken (Volume II of the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance series) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords Two Hearts Undone (Volume III of the Two Hearts Wounded Warrior Romance series) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo About Jacquie Biggar Author of The Rebel’s Redemption Jacquie Biggar is a bestselling author of Romantic Suspense who loves to write about tough, alpha males who know what they want. That is until they're gob-smacked by heroines who are strong, contemporary women willing to show them what they really need is love. She is the author of the popular Wounded Hearts series and has just started a new series in paranormal suspense, Mended Souls. She has been blessed with a long, happy marriage and enjoys writing romance novels that end with happily-ever-afters. Jacquie lives in paradise along the west coast of Canada with her family and loves reading, writing, and flower gardening. She swears she can't function without coffee, preferably at the beach with her sweetheart. :) Jacquie loves to hear from readers all over the world. She says, “From the time I was twelve years old, I knew I wanted to be a writer. That year I wrote a short story called Count Daffodil for my English Assignment. It garnered me an A and was read aloud through the school's loudspeaker system. Needless to say, after that I was hooked. I grew up, got married, raised a family and left my writing urges to simmer in the background unattended. I owned and operated a successful diner in my hometown for a number of wonderful years. Now I'm ready to take up the writing reins and see how far I can travel. I expect it to be an exciting, new journey and would be honored to have your company along the way.” Follow her on these sites: •Website •Facebook •Twitter •Google+ •Goodreads •Newsletter •BookBub Page •Pinterest •Amazon author page Tidal Falls (Volume I of the Wounded Hearts series) 978-0993881428 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N The Rebel’s Redemption (Volume II of the Wounded Hearts series) 978-0993881435 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Twilight Encore (Volume III of the Wounded Hearts series) 978-0993881466 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N The Sheriff Meets His Match (Volume IV of the Wounded Hearts series) 978-1988126005 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Summer Lovin’ (Volume V of the Wounded Hearts series) Ebook: Kindle The Guardian (Volume I of the Mended Souls series) 978-1988126043 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N About D.G. Torrens Author of Broken Wings D.G. Torrens is the author of twelve books including best selling Amelia's Story and the sequel Amelia's Destiny. This is a heart rendering true story that the author wrote for her daughter. D.G is a mother/writer/blogger who has a dream to inspire as many people as possible through her story. To show those with little hope that dreams can come true. Born in England, passionate about writing, D.G. Torrens is married with a six-year-old daughter. Her first book, "Amelia's Story" has inspired people all over the world."Amelia's Destiny" her second book is the sequel and completes her story. D.G is a prolific writer and in 2013, her works were recognised by BBC Radio WM, where she gave a live interview on air in the BBC studios in Birmingham UK. Later that year DG gave a second live interview for BBC Radio WM. A quote by D.G. Torrens: “If you close your eyes, you can be anywhere you wish to be.” D.G. Torrens lives by the motto, “The child first and foremost.” Follow her on these sites: •Website •Facebook •Twitter •Goodreads •Amazon author page The Poppy Fields Book #1 (Volume I of The Poppy Fields Trilogy) 978-1502489357 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon The Poppy Fields Book #2 (Volume II of The Poppy Fields Trilogy) 78-1503204119 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon The Poppy Fields Book #3 (Volume III of The Poppy Fields Trilogy) 978-1533305107 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Tears of Endurance #1 (Romantic Drama) 978-1499748949 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Whispers from Heaven #2 (Romantic Drama) 978-1500136864 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Broken Wings (Contemporary Military Romance) 978-1499725483 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon A Soldier's Fear (Contemporary Military Romance) 978-1502454133 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Amelia's Story (Book #1) (Autobiography) 978-1499646788 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Amelia's Destiny (Book #2) (Autobiography) Ebook: Kindle Military Boots (War Anthology) 978-1499748994 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Heart and Mind (Contemporary Poetry) 978-1514272862 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon About Angelica Kate Author of A Soldier’s Promise Angelica Kate (pen name for Angela K. Naff) writes contemporary and inspirational romances primarily, but occasionally likes to dabble in other genres. She is a lifetime scribbler who has always enjoyed writing as a release from the reality of life. In 2014 in keeping a promise to a friend that has since passed she published her first book Loving Abby through Amazon's self-publishing tool and was bit by the bug. The feedback both positive and negative continues to propel her to hone her writing chops, and she still reads every review (even those that require a glass of wine to stomach). In October 2015 Angelica's family relocated from Stillwater, Oklahoma to the beaches of Sarasota, Florida. She is hoping that the change of scenery will keep her creative processes churning out new ideas. When she isn't writing Angelica is spending time with her husband, two daughters, extended family or friends or on the road pursuing her quest for new adventures to write about in her next book. Angelica like to hear from anyone who has a question, feedback or just in general has something to share. Follow her on these sites: •Twitter •Facebook •Website and blog •Goodreads •Email •Amazon Author Page A Soldiers Promise (Volume I of Soldier’s Pact) 978-1503351059 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes A Soldier’s Oath (Volume II of Soldier’s Pact) 978-1514692417 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes A Soldier’s Vow (Volume III of Soldier’s Pact) 978-1515360810 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes About Traci Hall Author of Returning Home by the Sea With an impressive bibliography in an array of genres, USA Today bestselling author Traci Hall has garnered a notable fan base. She pens stories guaranteed to touch the heart while transporting the reader to another time and place. Her belief in happily ever after shines through, whether it's a romantic glimpse into history or a love affair for today. Follow her on these sites: •Website •Facebook •Twitter •Amazon Author Page Ambrosia by the Sea (Volume I of By the Sea series) 978-0985993450 Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo Paperback: Amazon Karma by the Sea (Volume II of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Puppy Love by the Sea (Volume III of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Masquerade by the Sea (Volume IV of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Holiday by the Sea (Volume V of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Festival by the Sea (Volume VI of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Dancing by the Sea (Volume VII of By the Sea series) Ebook: Kindle Forever by the Sea (Volume VIII of By the Sea series) Blue Christmas by the Sea (Volume IX of By the Sea series) Returning Home by the Sea ( Volume IX of By the Sea series) Crimson Gold (Spokan Falls series) 978-0985993436 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Silver Sky (Spokan Falls series) 978-0985993443 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Her Wiccan, Wiccan Ways (Rhiannon Godfrey series) Paperback: Amazon Something Wiccan this Way Comes (Rhiannon Godfrey series) 978-1605044057 Paperback: Amazon Wiccan Cool (Rhiannon Godfrey series) 978-1605046112 Paperback: Amazon Wiccan Wishes (Rhiannon Godfrey series) Ebook: Kindle Wiccan Chalice (Rhiannon Godfrey series) 978-0985993405 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Wiccan Dream (Rhiannon Godfrey series) Ebook: Kindle Love’s Magic (Boadicea series) Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Beauty’s Curse (Boadicea series) 978-1933836560 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Boadicea’s Legacy (Boadicea series) 978-1605420783 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon Violet (Queen’s Guard series) Ebook: Kindle Peony (Queen’s Guard series) Ebook: Kindle Rose (Queen’s Guard series) Ebook: Kindle About Suzanne Jenkins Author of Mademoiselle Suzanne Jenkins writes contemporary fiction, a reflection of American fantasy but with historical reality. Pam of Babylon books consistently rank in the Top 100 Best Sellers in American Drama. A second series, The Greektown Stories, includes The Greeks of Beaubien Street, The Princess of Greektown, Christmas in Greektown and A Greektown Wedding. Stand alone novels include Someone Like You, Alice's Summertime Adventure, The Savant of Chelsea, Slow Dancing, The Liberation of Ravenna Morton and Atlas of Women. Burn District, Jenkins new sci/fi series, follows an American family as they flee from political insanity to save their lives in the Arizona Desert. Her short story, Vapor appeared in Willow Review, Spring 2013. A retired operating room nurse, Jenkins divides her time between the west Michigan lakeshore, the Brandywine River Valley, and the mountains of Southern California. Follow her on these sites: •Amazon •Twitter •Facebook •Blog •Website Mademoiselle Ebook: Kindle Perfect for Him Ebook: Apple, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords Slow Dancing Ebook: Kindle The Liberation of Ravenna Morton 978-1500199074 Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Apple Pam of Babylon (Volume I of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Apple, Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo Don’t You Forget About Me (Volume II of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Apple, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords Dream Lover (Volume III of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Apple, Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo Prayers for the Dying (Volume III of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Kindle Family Dynamics (Volume IV of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Kindle The Tao of Pam (Volume V of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Kindle In Memoriam (Volume VI of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Kindle We’re Just Friends (Short Story Prequel to Soulmates) Ebook: Kindle Soulmates (Volume VII of the Pam of Babylon series) Paperback: Amazon, B&N Ebook: Kindle Save the Date (Volume IX of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle Julie Hsu (Short story prequel to volume X of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle I’ll Always Love You (Volume X of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle A Good Beach Day Ebook: Free on Author’s website Beach Spirits (Volume XI of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle South Shore Romance (Volume XII of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle Meet Me at the Beach (Volume XIII of the Pam of Babylon series) Ebook: Kindle Atlas of Women Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords About S.R. Mallery Author of Genteel Secrets S.R. Mallery has been labeled nothing short of 'eclectic'. In her words: Now, please understand, I have always scoffed at astrology pickup lines such as, “What sign are you, baby?” and I would never base my entire future on astrology, but recently, I was flabbergasted to read the following list of astrological traits which explained so much of whom I am. According to this list, Geminis are socially outgoing, adjustable, restless, creative, sometimes unable to pay attention to details, good with their hands, easily distracted, anxious, humorous, and love to share. Suggested careers for this sign include writer, teacher, inventor, and craftsperson. Now, go check out my bio: Wildly eclectic, I’ve worn a myriad of hats in my life. I started out as a classical/pop singer/composer. Next, I moved on to the professional world of production art and calligraphy. After that, came a long career as an award-winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/reading instructor. By the time I started writing my first story, I was a middle-aged English teacher, in a twenty-year marriage, with two teenage children. I couldn't be stopped. Before I had my first book published, my flash fiction short stories (See Tales To Count On) had already been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. When I was a professional quilter, I had several non-fiction quilt articles published through Traditional Quiltworks and Quilt World. What readers are saying about S.R. Mallery's books: “A master storyteller has been at work, and this marvelous piece of writing is the result.” ~ Thomas Baker Thomas on Unexpected Gifts. “Honestly, I haven't read a book this unique in quite some time.” ~ John H. Byk on Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads “Mallery is an extremely talented writer. Her style lures the reader; you actually become a part of her tapestry of expression.” ~ Melinda Hines on Tales to Count On. The Dolan Girls “was so enjoyable. At times rollicking, at times poignant, but always authentic, well researched and a beautifully told story. Highest recommendation. Five stars.” - B. Nelson Sarah loves to hear from fans and readers. Follow her on these sites: •Facebook •Twitter •Website •eNovel Authors at Work •Pinterest •Amazon author page Genteel Secrets Ebook: Kindle, Kobo The Dolan Girls 978-1519695246 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Unexpected Gifts 978-1511944250 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Sewing Can be Dangerous 978-1511944250 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N Audiobook: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Audible, iTunes Tales to Count On 978-1507623909 Ebook: Kindle Paperback: Amazon, B&N About Susan Jean Ricci Author of Lovin’ Those Navy Games Susan Jean Ricci and her husband Joe live in a lovely New Jersey town near the sea. Together they have seven children and ten grandchildren. An award-winning, internationally read, From Women’s Pens author and humorist, Susan is best known for her series of works titled Cindy's Crusades that includes two novels, Dinosaurs and Cherry Stems and The Sugar Ticket, the short chronicle Twilight and Chickadees, and a collection of short stories titled Heart Marks the Spot. Susan's novel Dinosaurs and Cherry Stems is a Multi Award winner, earning a Bronze in the Global EBooks Contest for Romance/Erotica, and a Bronze in the Readers Favorite Contest for Humor. Dinosaurs was also a finalist in the Independent Author Network contest for Outstanding First Novel. Other awards include stories in the Writer's Digest 78th Annual Writer's Contest and the Philadelphia Writer's Conference. Her short stories A Super Sandy Christmas and Two Miracles for Christmas appear in Annie Acorns 2014 Christmas Treasury, and are also sold as stand alones. Her short story The Christmas Cardinal appeared in Annie Acorns 2015 Christmas Treasury and can also be purchased separately. A Valentine's Day to Remember can be read as a stand alone short, or can be found in Annie Acorns 2015 Valentine's Day Treasury. Her latest romance Falling For Niagara can be purchased separately, and is also included in Annie Acorns 2016 Romance Treasury. Susan is currently penning a new series of Blush novellas. My Sexy Chef is the first novella in the Chef series, followed by the sequel Chaos in the Kitchen. The third novella in this series is called Turning Up the Heat and will be published later this year. Find her on these sites: •Blog •Facebook •Twitter •Goodreads •Amazon Author Page When Sailors Play Ebook: Kindle Dinosaurs and Cherry Stems (Volume I of Cindy’s Crusades) 978-1479294602 Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords Paperback: Amazon The Sugar Ticket 978-1493599370 (Volume II of Cindy’s Crusades) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple Paperback: Amazon Falling for Niagara (A Cindy’s Crusades story) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo Twilights and Chickadees (Volume XXI of Cindy’s Crusades) Ebook: Kindle, Nook Two Miracles for Christmas (Volume L of Cindy’s Crusades) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple A Valentine’s Day to Remember (Volume LI of Cindy’s Crusades) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple The Blind Seer (A Cindy’s Crusades story) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo My Sexy Chef Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple Chaos in the Kitchen (My Sexy Chef story) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo A Super Sandy Christmas (Volume I of Susan Jean Ricci’s Christmas Shorts) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple The Christmas Cardinal (Volume II of Susan Jean Ricci’s Christmas Shorts) Ebook: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple Heart Marks the Spot (Three short stories) Ebook: Kindle

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