First Chapter Reveal: Miracle Man by William R. Leibowitz

Miracle Man 7Title: Miracle Man
Author: William R. Leibowitz
Publisher: Manifesto Media Group
Pages: 428
Genre: Cross-genre Thriller
Format: Paper/Kindle

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REVERED REVILED REMARKABLE

The victim of an unspeakable crime, an infant rises to become a new type of superhero.

Unlike any that have come before him, he is not a fanciful creation of animators, he is real.

So begins the saga of Robert James Austin, the greatest genius in human history. But where did his extraordinary intelligence come from?

As agents of corporate greed vie with rabid anti-Western radicals to destroy him, an obsessive government leader launches a bizarre covert mission to exploit his intellect. Yet Austin’s greatest fear is not of this world.

Aided by two exceptional women, one of whom will become his unlikely lover, Austin struggles against abandonment and betrayal. But the forces that oppose him are more powerful than even he can understand.

First Chapter:

Prologue

A tall figure wearing a black-hooded slicker walked quickly through the night carrying a large garbage bag. His pale face was wet with rain. He had picked a deserted part of town. Old warehouse buildings were being gutted so they could be converted into apartments for non-existent buyers. There were no stores, no restaurants and no people.

“Who’d wanna live in this shit place?” he muttered to himself. Even the nice neighborhoods of this dismal city had more “For Sale” signs than you could count.

Miracle Man Pacific Book AwardsHe was disgusted with himself and disgusted with her, but they were too young to be burdened. Life was already hard enough. He shook his head incredulously. She had been so damn sexy, funny, full of life. Why the hell couldn’t she leave well enough alone? She should have had some control.

He wanted to scream-out down the ugly street, “It’s her fucking fault that I’m in the rain in this crap neighborhood trying to evade the police.”

But he knew he hadn’t tried to slow her down either. He kept giving her the drugs and she kept getting kinkier and kinkier and more dependent on him and that’s how he liked it. She was adventurous and creative beyond her years. Freaky and bizarre. He had been enthralled, amazed. The higher she got, the wilder she was. Nothing was out of bounds. Everything was in the game.

And so, they went farther and farther out there. Together. With the help of the chemicals. They were co-conspirators, co-sponsors of their mutual dissipation. How far they had traveled without ever leaving their cruddy little city. They were so far ahead of all the other kids.

He squinted, and his mind reeled. He tried to remember in what month of their senior year in high school the drugs became more important to her than he was. And in what month did her face start looking so tired, her complexion prefacing the ravages to follow, her breath becoming foul as her teeth and gums deteriorated. And in what month did her need for the drugs outstrip his and her cash resources.

He stopped walking and raised his hooded head to the sky so that the rain would pelt him full-on in the face. He was hoping that somehow this would make him feel absolved. It didn’t. He shuddered as he clutched the shiny black bag, the increasingly cold wet wind blowing hard against him. He didn’t even want to try to figure out how many guys she had sex with for the drugs.

The puddle-ridden deserted street had three large dumpsters on it. One was almost empty. It seemed huge and metallic and didn’t appeal to him. The second was two-thirds full. He peered into it, but was repulsed by the odor, and he was pretty sure he saw the quick moving figures of rodents foraging in the mess. The third was piled above the brim with construction debris.

Holding the plastic bag, he climbed up on the rusty lip of the third dumpster. Stretching forward, he placed the bag on top of some large garbage bags which were just a few feet inside of the dumpster’s rim. As he climbed down, his body looked bent and crooked and his face was ashen. Tears streamed down his cheeks and bounced off his hands. He barely could annunciate, “Please forgive me,” as he shuffled away, head bowed and snot dripping from his nose.

1

Edith and Peter Austin sat stiffly in the worn wooden chairs of Dr. Ronald Draper’s waiting room as if they were being graded on their posture by the receptionist. Edith’s round cherubic face was framed by graying hair that was neatly swept back and pinned. Her dress was a loose fitting simple floral print that she had purchased at a clearance sale at JC Penny. Their four year old son, Bobby, sat between them, his shiny black dress shoes swinging from legs too short to touch the floor. Edith brushed the boy’s long sandy hair away from his light blue eyes that were intensely focused on the blank wall in front of him. Peter, dressed in his construction foreman’s clothes, yawned deeply having been up since five in the morning, his weathered face wrinkled well beyond his years. Looking down at his heavy work boots, he placed his hand firmly on Edith’s knee to quiet her quivering leg. When they were finally shown into Draper’s office, the receptionist signaled that Bobby should stay with her.

Ronald Draper was the Head of the Department of Child Psychology at Mount Sinai Hospital. A short portly man in his late forties, the few remaining strands of his brown hair were caked with pomade and combed straight across his narrow head. His dark eyes appeared abnormally large as a result of the strong lenses in his eye glasses and his short goatee only accentuated his receding chin. Glancing at his wrist watch while he greeted Peter and Edith, Draper motioned for them to take a seat on the chairs facing his cluttered desk. Draper had been referred by Bobby’s pediatrician when Bobby’s condition didn’t improve.

“Describe to me exactly what you’re concerned about,” Draper said.

Edit cleared her throat. “It started about a year ago. At any time, without warning, Bobby will get quiet and withdrawn. Then he’ll go over to his little chair and sit down, or he’ll lie down on the window seat in the living room. He’ll stare directly in front of him as if in a trance and then his lids will close halfway. His body will be motionless. Maybe his eyes will blink occasionally. That’s it. This can go on for as much as forty minutes each time it happens. When visitors to our house have seen it, they thought Bobby was catatonic.”

Draper looked up from the notes he was taking. “When Bobby comes to, do you ask him about it?”

Edith’s hands fidgeted. “Yes. He says, ‘I was just thinking about some things.’ Then, when I ask him what things, he says, ‘those things I’m reading about.’”

Draper’s eyes narrowed. “Did you say, things he was reading about?”

Edith nodded.

“He’s four, correct?”

Edith nodded again and Draper scribbled more notes.

“Do you question him further?”

“I ask him why he gets so quiet and still. I’ve told him it’s real spooky.”

“And how does he respond to that, Mrs. Austin?”

Edith shook her head. “He says he’s just concentrating.”

“And what other issues are there?”

“Bobby always slept much less than other children, even as an infant. And he never took naps. Then, starting about a year ago, almost every night, he has terrible nightmares. He comes running into our bed crying hysterically. He’s so agitated he’ll be shaking and sometimes even wets himself.”

Draper put his pen down and leaned back in his worn leather chair, which squeaked loudly. “And what did your pediatrician, Dr. Stafford, say about all this?”

As Edith was about to reply, Peter squeezed her hand and said, “Dr. Stafford told us not to worry. He said Bobby’s smart and imaginative and bad dreams are common at this age for kids like him. And he said Bobby’s trances are caused by his lack of sleep, that they’re just a sleep substitute—like some kind of ‘waking nap.’ He told us Bobby will outgrow these problems. We thought the time had come to see a specialist.”

Tapping his pen against his folder, Draper asked Edith and Peter to bring Bobby into his office and wait in the reception area so he could speak with the boy alone. “I’m sure we won’t be long,” he said.

His chin resting in his hand, Draper looked at the four year old who sat in front of him with his long hair and piercing light blue eyes. “So, Robert. I understand that you enjoy reading.”

“It’s the passion of my life, Doctor.”

Draper laughed. “The passion of your life. That’s quite a dramatic statement. And what are you reading now?”

“Well, I only like to read non-fiction, particularly, astronomy, physics, math and chemistry. I’ve also just started reading a book called ‘Gray’s Anatomy.’”

“Gray’s Anatomy?” Draper barely covered his mouth as he yawned, recalling how many times he had met with toddlers who supposedly read the New York Times. In his experience, driven parents were usually the ones who caused their kids’ problems. “That’s a book most medical students dread. It seems awfully advanced for a child of your age.” Walking over to his bookcase, Draper stretched to reach the top shelf and pulled down a heavy tome. Blowing the dust off the binding, he said, “So, is this the book that you’ve been reading?”

Bobby smiled. “Yes, that’s it.”

“How did you get a copy?”

“I asked my Dad to get it for me from the library and he did.”

“And why did you want it?”

“I’m curious about the human body.”

“Oh, is that so? Well, let’s have you read for me, and then I’ll ask you some questions about what you read.”

Smiling smugly as he randomly opened to a page in the middle of the book, Draper put the volume down on a table in front of Bobby. Bobby stood on his toes so that he could see the page. The four year old began to read the tiny print fluently, complete with the proper pronunciation of medical Latin terms. His eyes narrowing, Draper scratched his chin. “Ok, Bobby. Now reading words on a page is one thing. But understanding them is quite another. So tell me the meaning of what you just read.”

Bobby gave Draper a dissertation on not only what he had just read, but how it tied it into aspects of the first five chapters of the book which he had read previously on his own. By memory, Bobby also directed Draper to specific pages of the book identifying what diagrams Draper would find that supported what Bobby was saying.

Glassy eyed, Draper stared at the child as he grabbed the book and put it back on the shelf. “Bobby, that was very interesting. Your reading shows real promise. Now let’s do a few puzzles.”

Pulling out a Rubik’s cube from his desk drawer, Draper asked, “Have you ever seen one of these?”

Bobby shook his head. “What is it?”

Draper handed the cube to Bobby and explained the object of the game. “Just explore it. Take your time—there’s no rush.”

Bobby manipulated the cube with his tiny hands as he examined it from varying angles. “I think I get the idea.”

“OK, Bobby—try to solve it.”

Thirty seconds later, Bobby handed the solved puzzle to Draper.

Draper’s eyes widened as he massaged his eyebrows. “I see. Well, let me mix it up really good this time and have you try again.” Twenty seconds after being handed the cube a second time, Bobby was passing it back to Draper solved again. Beginning to perspire, Draper removed his suit jacket.

“Bobby, we’re going to play a little game. I’m going to slowly say a number, and then another number, and another after that—and so forth, and as I call them out I’m going to write them down. When I’m finished, I’m going to ask you to recite back whatever numbers in the list you can remember. Is that clear?

“Sure Doctor,” replied Bobby.

“Ok, here we go”. At approximately one second intervals, Draper intoned, “729; 302; 128; 297; 186; 136; 423; 114; 169; 322; 873; 455; 388; 962; 666; 293; 725; 318; 131; 406.”

Bobby responded immediately with the full list in perfect order. He then asked Draper if he would like to hear it backwards. “Sure, why not,” replied Draper.

By the time Draper tired of this game, he was up to 80 numbers, each comprised of five digits. Bobby didn’t miss a single one. “Can we stop this game now please, Doctor? It’s getting pretty monotonous, don’t you think?”

Draper loosened his tie. He went through his remaining routines of tests and puzzles designed to gauge a person’s level of abstract mathematical reasoning, theoretical problem solving, linguistic nuances, and vocabulary. Rubbing his now oily face in his hands, he said, “Let’s take a break for a few minutes.”

“Why Doctor? I’m not tired.”

“Well, I am.”

Taking Bobby back to the waiting room, Draper apologized to Peter and Edith for the long period during which he had sequestered Bobby.

“Is everything alright, Doctor?” Edith asked.

“Why don’t you take Bobby to the cafeteria for a snack and meet me back here with him in thirty minutes,” Draper replied.

When the Austins returned to Draper’s office, Draper had two of his colleagues with him. He advised Peter and Edith that his associates would assist him in administering a few IQ tests to Bobby.

Peter’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Draper. “What does that have to do with the nightmares and trances, Doctor? We came here for those issues – not to have Bobby’s intelligence tested.”

“Be patient, please, Mr. Austin. Everything is inter-connected. We’re trying to get a complete picture.”

Draper and his associates, one a Ph.D in psychology and the other a Ph.D in education, administered three different types of intelligence tests to Bobby (utilizing abbreviated versions due to time constraints). First, the Slosson Intelligence Test, then the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Revised (WISC-R) and finally, the Stanford-Binet L-M.

By the time the exams were concluded, Draper’s shirt was untucked and perspiration stains protruded from beneath his arms even though the room was cool. He brought Bobby back to the reception area, and took Peter and Edith into a corner of the room, out of Bobby’s earshot. “Your child isn’t normal. Are any of your other children like this?”

First Chapter Reveal: The Unholy by Paul DeBlassie III

The Unholy 7Title: The Unholy
Author: Paul DeBlassie III
Publisher: Sunstone Press
Pages: 200
Language: English
Genre: Psychological/Paranormal Thriller
Format: Paperback/Kindle

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A young curandera, a medicine woman, intent on uncovering the secrets of her past is forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, The Unholy is a novel of destiny as healer and slayer. Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.

First Chapter:

A chilly autumn morning wind swept over the grounds of the Ecclesia Dei Psychiatric Hospital. Claire Sanchez walked along the red brick path to her office in the administration building, where she had worked as director of Mental Health Workers and Natural Therapeutic Services. She stopped for a moment to gaze over the more than two thousand acres of high-mountain desert three miles south of the plaza in the region of Aztlan. Homeland to generations of peoples whose ancestors once crossed the Mesoamerican border to settle what is now the American Southwest, Aztlan was considered by natives to be the axis mundi, navel of the world. Aztlan was the Land of Herons, of the Seven Caves, of the mystic beauty of horizon-to-horizon turquoise blue skies, arid desert mountain air, and great swells of earth like reclining nude goddesses. Aztlan was home to the katsinas, rain spirits, Tlaloc, the lightning god, and the feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl, who unites earth and sky, eternity and the death-defined world.

The turquoise blue sky arching overhead was an ocean of delight and refreshment for Claire. She enjoyed the sight of eagles as they glided effortlessly across the cloudless expanse, the piñon and aspen trees, with clusters of loping sagebrush dotting the arroyos and mesas, the rolling hills sprinkled with Indian paintbrush, columbine, and cornflower leading the way to the base of the Sagrado Mountains that encircled the city.

Claire glanced at the granite megalith rooted in the middle of the courtyard with an inscription that read, “Dedicated to the Faithful Hispanic and Native Americans of the Ecclesia Dei.” The Ecclesia Dei was a wealthy, centuries-old church in Aztlan that prided itself on charitable care for its members, particularly the natives that populated Ecclesia Dei Hospital. Few, if any, of those admitted due to mental distress were ever discharged from it, remaining ministered to for the rest of their lives. Claire’s passion was to alleviate people’s physical and mental suffering, which she had the chance to do during the last two years at Ecclesia Dei Psychiatric Hospital. The hospital was full, the patient need great, Claire single-minded, intent.

That morning, after her regular four-mile run and shower, Claire had looked into her bedroom mirror and noted that her five-foot-three, one hundred-ten-pound body appeared healthy and strong, inspiring her to get to the hospital to try to help her first patient’s health. On some days, the sadness pervading the hospital seemed overwhelming to he. But when Claire felt most worn out and discouraged she’d remember the reason she had taken this job—her dedication to her people, the natives of Aztlan.

A month prior to her graduation the hospital’s administrator, Karl Himmel, had written to the School of Natural Therapeutics. As there was a shortage of health-care practitioners in Aztlan, especially those qualified to treat psychiatric patients, Himmel hoped the school would assist him in placing suitable practitioners with the hospital. The letter announced an opening for a licensed natural therapist with a background in mental health services to work with Hispanic and Native American patients. This was an unusual combination of skills to request since few natural therapists were trained in psychology, focusing instead on healing the body through massage as the primary course of therapeutic intervention. The fact that Claire had supported herself during her professional training in natural therapeutics by being a mental health worker at the Turquoise County Mental Health Center and also was a mestiza—Hispanic and Native American—prompted her to immediately inquire about the position. Her teachers’ glowing letters of recommendation along with her personal and professional qualifications made her competitive for the position.

Claire anxiously waited a number of weeks before finally hearing from the hospital’s administration. After driving to the hospital to be interviewed by Mr. Himmel, she was promptly offered the job at a higher salary than expected. Although she had been surprised by the immediacy of his decision, she didn’t hesitate to accept his offer, even though her colleagues and teachers had cautioned her about taking on too much too soon. Mr. Himmel had made clear from the outset that the patients in the Ecclesia Dei Psychiatric Hospital were “the worst of the worst,” many dangerously psychotic. But something about their helplessness and hopelessness stirred Claire, making her want to work with them. And this passion and drive had never left her since her first day on the job.

Arriving at the door of the brown stucco building, Claire took one last breath of the crisp mountain air, then opened the door, prepared for the pungent odor of disinfectant that she knew would assault her senses the moment she stepped inside. It never failed to momentarily daze her. Even though she’d been traversing this corridor with its dull green linoleum and sterile white walls every morning five days a week for the past two years, she was never prepared for the stench. Each of the compound’s four pueblo-style structures—the administration building, the locked ward, the open ward, and the cafeteria and gymnasium facility—smelled the same, like an overturned bucket of ammonia and water. After the initial shock, she always had to shake her head and steel herself before moving on down the corridor to her office.

Approaching her office at the end of the hallway, she unlocked her door and stepped inside the room, which, although small, met the requirements of her patients and her own need for privacy. A year after being hired, she’d been promoted to her current position, the chief attending physician, believing she was the perfect employee to bridge the gap between mental health workers and natural therapists. Without hesitation, she had accepted the position since it would permit her to more effectively care for patients. She directed clinicians to engage in more clinical services, to minimize meetings, committees, and bureaucratic dealings. Her leadership skills were noted and respected throughout the hospital.

Claire hung her wool cloak on an antique brass coat rack next to her old pine desk. The scent of piñon, from incense she’d burned the afternoon before, lingered in the air, a soothing scent that she associated with her childhood. Raised in the culture of the medicine women of northern Aztlan, Claire understood the healing properties of natural fragrances such as pine, cedar, piñon, sage, and wild chamomile. To the Aztlan medicine women, the comforting smells of the earth cleansed people and places of bad temper and foul energy. The evils of life, the medicine women taught, often caused the best of people to go down a bad path and need help. Medicine women in this tradition were said to be Women of Lozen—the name of a renowned nineteenth-century Apache woman warrior and healer who had fought with Geronimo and healed with intuition and caring. These healers had helped raise Claire when she had become a huerfana, a child orphaned by a mother’s untimely death.

After pulling the charts for the day from the steel file cabinet in the closet and laying them on her desk, Claire went to the storage bin where she kept sealed bags of yerba buena, the healing tea she offered each of her patients. She had been instructed as a child to give yerba buena to those in need of healing, for the drink of steaming mint leaves settled the stomach and opened the rest of the body to healing.

Opening one of the bags, she inhaled the bouquet of damp earth and mint. As she pressed the herb into a tea strainer, memories of her mother, Lucia, the great woman who had loved her for the first five years of her life before she had been killed, flashed through her mind. Tears welled as Claire remembered her mother placing the delicate leaves into a ceramic pot of boiling water, stroking her head, and telling her that medicine women used the herb to soothe the stomach and heal the nerves but that the true healing came from within the heart. After drinking her mother’s tea, and sharing their dreams and nightmares to ease their burdens, people inevitably left her childhood home looking younger and happier.

Recalling those days also reminded Claire of how she used to nestle close to her mother’s warm body and how helpless she felt when she saw her from a distance being struck without being able to do anything. Shaking her head, she quietly brought herself back to the present, filled a glass decanter from the small sink next to the closet, and in less than five minutes had a steaming pot of water. After dunking the strainer in, she opened the file of her first patient, Elizabeth Gonzales, a severe woman made so by a life riddled with disappointments and secrets. Claire read her notes from the session with Elizabeth two days before, a depressing reminder of how draining Elizabeth could be:

Elizabeth yelled and accused me of being a sellout, a mestiza made white by the “man.” Her hatred was intense. I needed to find a way to help her to talk about her anger and work through it rather than acting it out through outbursts of temper. As I remained calm and listened to her, she eventually stopped yelling and sat quietly for the last five minutes of the session, rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around herself. I was careful not to say anything or make any move to touch her. She would have found either far too threatening. At the end of session, she stood up, glared at me, then, without saying another word, walked out, slamming the door behind her.

Claire closed the file and looked at her watch. Elizabeth was due in five minutes, at 9:00. She was always on time and did not tolerate Claire being even a minute late.

Claire took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and quieted her mind so she could focus on the day’s work ahead. She noticed the unease that came with anticipating Elizabeth’s grating voice and demanding presence, knowing it was a signal that the work with Elizabeth would be demanding. Soon, a mild sense of heat went up her spine to the center of her forehead, the place of the mystic third eye, and into her hands and fingertips. Claire meditated on this feeling, which gradually became stronger, softer, and kindled empathy, an ability to feel what her patients felt, to understand their pain, to help them to heal. She had learned about the mystic third eye as a young child when her mother had taught her to respect the world of invisible realities. After her mother’s death, Claire had continued to learn from the medicine women who had been friends of her mother, one in particular who had assumed responsibility for her care and instructed her well in the art of healing and natural magic.

Seconds later, Claire was startled by a sharp, demanding knock at the door. Silently and slowly, she removed two ceramic tea mugs from a nearby shelf. There was another, more demanding knock accompanied by Elizabeth’s harsh voice saying, “Hurry up, Claire. I know you’re in there. I saw you walk in.”

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” Claire said, smiling as she opened the door and motioned her patient in, grateful for the morning’s brief meditation and its grounding effect. It helped now, as it had many times before, to keep Elizabeth’s grating manner from getting under her skin before the session had even begun. “How are you doing this morning, Elizabeth?” Claire asked, feeling a surge of concern for the woman, who seemed more anxious than usual.

Elizabeth, a brown-skinned woman in her early fifties with shoulder-length graying brown hair and at least a hundred pounds of excess weight, scowled and walked to the massage table, sitting down on the edge. “I don’t want to be here, Claire,” she said, her voice aggressive but also betraying a faint plea for help.

“You don’t want to be here for your session?” asked Claire.

“You know what I mean,” answered Elizabeth, her eyes sharpened with irritation. “I don’t want to be here in the hospital.”

“But you are, Elizabeth. So let’s put your session to good use. Besides having to be here what else is angering you?” Claire inched her way in. She had to be especially sensitive with Elizabeth since she could retreat into silence for sessions on end if she in any way felt pressured. Work with Elizabeth was demanding. A misstep here or there meant therapeutic disaster, at least for a time.

Elizabeth’s countenance darkened as she added, “I don’t want to talk anymore.”

Claire remained quiet, trying to sense what it was in Elizabeth’s voice that concerned her. After a few moments, Claire recognized that Elizabeth’s voice had the quality of a suicidal person standing on a ledge. Softening her own voice, she said, “It’s all right, Elizabeth. We don’t have to talk right now.”

Elizabeth stayed sitting near the end of the massage table as Claire fixed two cups of tea. She put Elizabeth’s on a small wooden stand next to the massage table. The warm glow of the morning’s meditation stayed with Claire as she took a sip of tea and stood near Elizabeth, silently, patiently waiting.

Elizabeth cradled the cup in her hands as she sipped. Claire had just begun to feel settled into the session as Elizabeth finished her tea, set her eyes hard on Claire, and threw a poison dart, in her gravelly voice, asserting, “You are a medicine woman—of Lozen—like your mother, Claire.” The words were hate-filled, meant to wound. Despite the culture in which she had been raised, Claire considered herself a natural therapist not a medicine woman, the distinction a matter of life and death. In her mind, she had long ago made the decision that being a medicine woman like her mother meant exposing herself to evil and injury and, potentially, death. Years ago, when handed the five-foot oak staff that had belonged to her mother, Claire had angrily rejected it, refusing initiation into the way of the medicine woman. Back then, she had often had fearsome memories of being a young child in the forest, an ominous black-cloaked man assaulting her mother, and hearing her mother’s screams—a child’s nightmare.

The words of her adoptive mother, her mother’s closest friend, reverberated in her mind: “You are of Lozen—-a medicine woman. A time may come when only the staff can save you.

Claire’s stomach churned. None of her patients had ever attacked her so personally. She felt the blood draining from her head and a sharp pain shooting through her eyes.

Elizabeth was trying to stop her from asking any more prying questions. “Are you all right, Claire?” she asked after a minute, her tone laced with sarcasm and a sneer on her face, expressions Claire was sad to see.

“You did what you wanted to do, Elizabeth. You shut me down,” Claire replied evenly, holding her gaze. She felt compassion for Elizabeth, realizing that all that she had locked inside of her must be nothing short of terrifying.

Elizabeth didn’t let it go, though, saying, “You are of Lozen just like she was.” This time her sneer was even more etched into the sunbaked lines that streaked across her face.

“I’m a natural therapist, Elizabeth, not a medicine woman,” Claire replied firmly.

“If you say so,” said Elizabeth, snickering as she slipped off her shoes to prepare for her massage.

Despite Claire’s assertion, she continued to feel the assault of having been thought of as a medicine woman, which caused a lingering fear. In her experience, medicine women ended up dead. She was seized by the memory of her mother falling to the ground as quickly as a tall ponderosa struck by lightning. Dread bore into her as though she were a child again. She flashed on the image of an evil man hidden in the darkness of the forest howling and looking her way, his blues eyes cutting through the midnight dark like lasers. Claire shuddered. She hoped Elizabeth hadn’t noticed.

Elizabeth, face down on the massage table, turned and ordered tauntingly, “Well, let’s get on with it. Unless you’re not up to it.”

Claire struggled to keep her professional distance, calming herself by closing her eyes, taking a deep breath, and briskly rubbing her hands together, generating heat in her palms to ensure a warm touch for Elizabeth’s tense and aching body. Elizabeth had regularly complained that her body was racked with unimaginable pain, and Claire had no doubt about this since the muscular tension over her frame seemed like mounds of stone.

Claire felt her mind clearing, energy moving through her hands, and was ready to begin treatment. As her warm hands touched Elizabeth’s back, Elizabeth let out a sigh, an obvious expression of relief. There was no resistance coming from her, no sense of meanness, her tension dissipating by the second. For the next thirty minutes, Claire massaged Elizabeth’s neck, back, and legs, enjoying the silence between them. Silence allowed the patient to drift into a timeless realm and the natural therapist to focus undisturbed so that maximum energy was directed to the healing process.

As she massaged Elizabeth, Claire’s thoughts drifted back to her childhood, when her mother was still alive and the three of them would sit at the kitchen table eating red chile, beans, and warm tortillas. She would listen while Lucia and Elizabeth talked about people in the village, their aches and pains, their rages and fights, and how herbs and their dreams could be used to heal them. Elizabeth had visited regularly, and Claire remembered anticipating with great enthusiasm the conversation she would hear between the two, their words seeping into deep places of her being and their friendship nourishing her.

When Claire had asked her mother why she and Elizabeth spoke so much about so many things, Lucia had explained that because Elizabeth knew the way of the medicine woman they could help each other by discussing their patients who came seeking healing. Lucia had also told Claire that Elizabeth was a seer who knew how to heal through the voices that spoke in the deep mind. This did not seem strange to Claire since from a young age she had experienced both visual and auditory psychic impressions that informed her about people, situations, and problems. Lucia had instructed her to listen to and follow deep feelings and instincts, visions and dreams, for through them she would gain wisdom and guidance during dire times.

As the massage went on, Claire wondered what tragic experience had turned Elizabeth into the disturbed woman she was today. She had become a woman as different from the one young Claire had known as day was from night. Yet Claire felt cariño for Elizabeth, a deep affection for the woman who, in her right mind, had been her mother’s friend.

Claire moved her fingers over Elizabeth’s neck and said, “You’re finally relaxing.” The effects of the massage were not always so evident. The knotted muscles in Elizabeth’s back that sometimes created grotesque formations seemed like demons that had buried themselves within her. Now it was evident she had less tension and that the real Elizabeth, beneath the anger, was nearer and closer.

Elizabeth sighed and agreed, “Yeah, I guess so.” Her voice had lost its hostility, sounding more like the Elizabeth of Claire’s childhood. Now the closeness between them seemed palpable to Claire.

Wrapped in the warmth of the therapeutic mood, Claire closed her eyes as she continued stroking Elizabeth’s body from head to toe with the tips of her fingers before gently finishing the massage. The ending of a treatment was as important as its beginning, drawing together its healing benefits.

“Feeling better?” Claire asked, sensing the ease and openness in her patient.

Elizabeth hesitated, as though reluctant to break the spell, then said in a hushed tone, “There are things I have to tell you, Claire.” Her voice, even though almost a whisper, still was that of the sincere woman of years past.

Suddenly, images flashed into Claire’s mind of Elizabeth, a few years younger than her present age, screaming with pain as a man cloaked by shadows, a rogue with occult powers sanctified by the masses, forced himself on her, then grazed her face with his fingers, shattering her mind, leaving her desperate and crazed by a long-held secret.

Claire’s heart raced so quickly that her breaths became shallow and every muscle in her body tensed. She felt the room spinning, and she reached out to the edge of the table to steady herself and regain her composure. Elizabeth looked at her, knowingly. Her pallor was ashen gray. All light was gone from her eyes.

At that moment, a howling wind came up. Through the window, Claire saw dust devils swirling outside, their dance frenzied, grit and grime spewing every which way as they crisscrossed an endless expanse of desert. As the window began rattling like a bag of old bones, both women looked up and saw a large black crow perched on the ledge outside. It stared at them, then cawed defiantly, unaffected by the winds.

Elizabeth bolted upright, eyes wide. “I have to go,” she said, fingers trembling as she slipped on her shoes, more frightened than Claire had ever seen her. Claire thought of trying to help her settle down, but held herself back, not wanting to risk upsetting her further.

“What’s wrong?” Claire asked, trying to disguise her own sense of unease. Her words went unanswered.

As Elizabeth reached the door, she glanced back at the window where the crow had been. The wind had died down, and the crow had vanished; yet the dark force of moments past crackled through the atmosphere like sparks of electricity jumping wildly from shorted wires.

The hairs on the back of Claire’s neck stood on end. She clenched her teeth in anticipation of something worse about to happen. A chill swept through the room as if a ghostly presence had made itself known. Involuntarily, Claire shook her head as though waking herself from a bad dream.

“Get out of here while you can, Claire,” Elizabeth stammered. Her eyes were wide as the full moon sitting low across a midnight desert landscape.

“What are you so afraid of, Elizabeth?” Claire asked, moving forward to calm her. “Please, talk to me about what’s going on with you.” Carefully, she placed a hand on her patient’s taut shoulder.

Elizabeth shrugged it away, saying, “Let go of me.” Claire knew that Elizabeth could turn on her, becoming violent.

Still, Claire inched a little closer and said, “Elizabeth, I could help if you’d let me.” But the words seemed futile.

“Help me? Help yourself! Face what is yours to face,” Elizabeth hissed. She yanked the door open then forced it to slam behind her.

Claire stood still for a moment, feeling as if a tornado had swept through the room. Elizabeth’s demand had left her shaken. She drew a deep breath, then went to her desk and picked up her tea, noticing her trembling hands. Turning toward the window, Claire saw a muscular orderly accompanying Elizabeth to the locked ward at the far end of the hospital compound. A flock of crows circled high overhead, seeming to follow the two receding figures. As they arrived at the outer doors of the locked unit, the orderly reached for his keys. The crows circled while the two crossed the threshold of the unit, Elizabeth suddenly pausing, turning, and looking outside, her gaze riveted on the flock of birds.

All but two flew off, disappearing into the piñon-covered hills. The two that remained came to rest on the red brick wall adjacent to the locked unit, their black eyes boring into Elizabeth. She looked panicked then enraged and, shaking a finger at the creatures, yelled something. Her frantic gestures told Claire that she was screeching curses to ward off evil.

Claire took a step back from the window, from the impact of Elizabeth’s rage.

The orderly grabbed Elizabeth roughly by the arm and pulled her inside.

The crows waited, watched, then flew away.

* * * *

Late that afternoon, after a day of report writing and meetings, Claire caught a glimpse of herself in the small mirror hanging over the old porcelain sink in her office. Shocked to see herself looking haggard, her shoulder-length auburn hair disheveled, her usually sparkling brown eyes dull, Claire couldn’t help but think that she appeared twenty-five going on forty-five. The session with Elizabeth had taken its toll. Not for a while had a patient had been that demanding of Claire’s inner resources.

She sensed that there was more to Elizabeth and their therapeutic relationship than she could yet fathom. Claire wanted to help Elizabeth, but there was too much Elizabeth kept locked up inside. And Claire knew that revelations of secrets was the only path to healing.

She bent down over the stained white porcelain sink and splashed cold water on her face. As she straightened up, a fleeting image crossed the mirror, the face of a little girl abandoned in the forest, crying for her mother, angry that she had been taken from her. Claire grasped the lip of the sink and tried to steady herself, forcing herself not to look again at the haunting image.

Soon after, she hurried out of her office, eager for dinner with Francesca, her spiritual guide and foster parent, the person to whom Claire turned during times of crisis. The thought of Francesca’s cozy adobe home nestled in a forest of piñons brought her some peace. She longed to sit and talk to Francesca, her ever-present source of wisdom, guidance, and loving assurance. Since Claire’s childhood, Francesca had always listened to her concerns calmly, from her rocking chair beside the fireplace, the cedar and piñon fire providing warmth and soothing fragrance.

Claire whisked by the night guard at the front of the administration building as images and memories continued to flash through her mind like lightning across a mesa: a funereal pyre; herself at age seven watching the cremation of Alejándra, one of the last medicine women; Francesca touching Claire’s shoulder, whispering, “You are the last in the lineage”; black wings flapping wildly in the night; evil eyes searing aspens and ponderosas; a child, anger buried deep, frozen by fear.

Quickly walking across the gravel parking lot to her car, Claire glanced over at the locked ward and saw Elizabeth’s face in a second-floor window. Motionless, Elizabeth stared at Claire, the windowpane reflecting the desert darkness, lit candles in Elizabeth’s room flickering like spirits on the watch. Yet Elizabeth exuded a familiar sense of warmth and sincerity that seemed to cut through the chilly desert night.

As Elizabeth waved, Claire shuddered, spotting a flock of crows cawing and circling overhead, then flapping their wings erratically and flying at the window, Elizabeth motioning them away to no avail. Finally they left the window, scattering into the night sky, their distant cawing sending an eerie message.

Elizabeth glanced at the window ledge and startled as she noticed, lying there, a white dove, bloodied and dead.

 

 

First Chapter Reveal: My Death: A Personal Guidebook by Jeremy Kagan

My-Death-A-Personal-GuidebookTitle: My Death: A Personal Guidebook
Genre: Spiritual/Self-Help
Author: Jeremy Kagan
Publisher: Balboa Press
Pages: 124
Language: English
Format: eBook

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This is a powerful memoir of a near-death experience. After a Native American sweat lodge, the author loses control of his body and then his life. He begins a passage that leads to a personal hell. He discovers a way to escape and emerges into an amazing exploration of the soul’s journey. In this intense adventure, there are insights into stages of consciousness and encounters of blissful perfection. This spiritual, inspirational book is meant to be an aid to removing the universal fear of the final journey we are all taking.

First Chapter:

I was with a high school buddy who told me that his greatest fear is dying and death. I wanted to comfort him. I thought if I shared my personal experience to that ‘undiscovered country,’ it could relieve some of his anxiety. And that is what I want to do for all those who read this. I’d like to make it easier to navigate where we all are headed.

***** Death is not the end of being.*****

It was the evening of a cold Sunday on the thirteenth day of December in Los Angeles, California, The United States of America, planet earth, the Milky Way. It was the day before my birthday.

My whole body was sweating. Every pore was oozing. I had never been this hot. I could barely breathe. Would I survive?

I was in a sweat lodge. These ‘sweats’ are purification rituals where you join a group of people, often strangers, and you all enter a dark enclosed space that gets very hot.

I had done sweats before. In the darkness I had shared wishes, confronted issues of life and death, and I had sweat. A lot. In these previous sweats, I had been able to deal with the discomfort. Later I learned about an infamous case where people died in a sweat that was improperly prepared, poorly led and overcrowded. I wonder if I would have gone to this particular sweat had I known people died in that one. But you can die anywhere.

Sweats were always a test for me. A lot of my life has been about passing tests.

The test of a sweat is to be present. In the heat. To be honest. In the heat.

I was in one of those transitional phases in life where I figured I might learn something from this kind of uncomfortable encounter. It seemed like a good way to sort some things out. Join in a circle of other humans in the dark. In the heat.

I had been working in the film world as a director and I had a fairly successful career up to then. But I was troubled about my future. Earlier that afternoon, I had attended a party in Topanga Canyon with a friendly crowd of Hollywood movie co-workers and ‘wannabes’ and a number of ‘has-beens.’ It was Christmas time in Los Angeles and it was all good cheer, jingle bells and twinkling palm trees.

At the party I talked about the film project I was working on and others talked about theirs. As the sun started to cast shadows, I knew it was time to move on. I made a circuit through the rooms, saying my goodbyes and thanking my hostess. She wrote a feature I had directed some years back. We liked each other, even though we rarely stayed in contact. That was the way of things for me in the movie business. I would get close to my crew and cast when working on a film. We would become a family; but after the film was done, the relationships would dissolve. If I ran into someone years later, there might be a hug and a few shared memories, and then we would drift away to our separate lives.

I climbed into my white 1981 Avanti and drove off. I liked this car. It was a classic coupe with a sleek design and red interior upholstery. Now I wasn’t a car person and could barely fix a flat tire, but when I saw my first Studebaker, I became a fan. This handsome vehicle was its last iteration. It got a lot of attention on the street. I liked to tell the story of how it was made.

The great industrial designer Raymond Loewy had his associates conceive the car in two weeks. He isolated them in a desert town where they were denied drink and women. The result was an auto that has feminine curves. It was also a car that had saved my life once. A torrential rain had turned Los Angeles streets slippery. I was driving a curved road in Beverly Hills, and suddenly the Avanti went into a 360 degree spin sliding toward a telephone pole on the driver’s side.

This was going to be bad. But to my surprise, the car stopped inches short of crashing. I breathed easier and was very grateful. Whatever and whoever was watching over me had decided not to kill me then. I had heard that you have a number of close calls before your actual death. This was one of mine. There were others.

So here I was now, in my Avanti, driving fast along the Pacific Coast Highway. I was heading into the Malibu Mountains. The route was lonely, full of curves, and sparsely inhabited. I was already late. It was a bad habit of mine back then.

My mind wandered and worried. The other sweats I had done had been strenuous and unpredictable. I’d seen things in the blackness.

Often the heat had been so heavy, I had wanted to leave before the ceremonies were over. In the past I had stayed to avoid the embarrassment of what I thought would be seen as failure. How would I handle this next sweat? Another test.

Thoughts of what might occur in this sweat pre-occupied me. I suddenly realized I was lost.

I had passed the junction for the turn off and gone way too far up the road. I pulled over and switched directions. I headed back down the mountain more slowly, paying attention to where I was.

Would I find the way in? Around the next corner, a small signpost pointed to a narrow dirt road. It read The Wright Land. This was where I was supposed to go.

The Avanti, somewhat of a low rider, wasn’t meant for rough roads. It bumped over the pits and rocks through a narrow passageway that led up a hill. Enormous red boulders threatened to scrape the doors. I bounced around until reaching a crest, which opened up to a large plateau below. In the distance was a dramatic cliff that dropped off into the ocean.

Vehicles were lined up on the grassy field below. Clearly, the other participants had already arrived. I drove down the hill and parked. I got out and hurriedly grabbed some towels from my back seat. The sun had not completely set, so even though late, I knew there was still some time before the ritual would actually begin.

I decided to walk up a little mound next to an unfinished home on the cliff. The structure was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and belonged to his grandchildren who owned the property, hence The Wright Land. On this knoll, the ground was marked out with white stones in the shape of a prayer wheel with its spokes extending in the cardinal directions. I stepped into the circle and sat on the cool ground. I was trying to center and calm myself.

The sun was creating a golden red sky. I tried to slow my breathing. Get peaceful. It didn’t work. I was still a little anxious. I stood up.

I turned, walked down the hill, and passed a lily pond with croaking frogs. I hiked up an incline through red tan sandstone outcropping. Behind these rocks was the sweat lodge.

The structure looked like a sphere cut in half. Created by bending and interweaving branches, it was about six feet high in the center. It was covered with a variety of faded quilts, so that it looked like a big colorful upside down teacup. The coverings are used to keep in the heat and the dark.

In front of the lodge was an open round fire pit filled with logs and thirty-six football-sized volcanic rocks. A shallow dirt channel led from this fire pit to the lodge. It’s called the ‘spirit pathway.’ You are not supposed to step over this channel which is as a sacred space for the heated rocks to enter the lodge. You avoid crossing the path to keep the energy flowing. That’s how I understood it. No human interference.

Like many lodges, this one had a small entrance flap. In front of it was a collection of various totems including a carved whale bone, eagle and owl feathers, an indigenous medicine pipe, a Yaqui Indian rosario which is a beaded paper flower necklace, and a reindeer horn from Russia.

Many of these symbols resonated with me. Some recalled my Russian ancestors. I had learned the language while in high school. Much of the culture appealed to me including the authors Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, the music of Tchaikovsky, balalaikas, icons, vodka, lacquer boxes, the revolution and the genius film director and writer Sergei Eisenstein.

He was my inspiration to become a filmmaker. Of course, there were the negative Russian associations as well, like the slaughtering Cossacks and the pogroms persecuting the Jews. This was one of the reasons my grandparents left that country.

The owl feathers also resonated. This bird had been a totem animal for me. An image of an owl had appeared during a previous sweat. My eyes had been open in the darkness of that sweat, and though the space was pitch black, I saw this owl clearly. Later I looked up the owl’s significance in other cultures. In one tradition, it is a messenger from unknown worlds, including the world of the dead, whatever that was.

The totem of a whale bone reminded me of the stunning songs of humpback whales I had heard on a vinyl record back in New York when I was a graduate film student. Their otherworldly deep ocean sounds suggested a hidden knowledge. These giants possessed a long distance communication ability way beyond our comprehension.

All these items – the whale bone, the feathers – had been brought to the sweat by my friend Michael. He had introduced me to these Native American traditions.

I met Michael when I was approached to be the director of an ill-fated movie about a clown who was imprisoned with children in a Nazi concentration camp.

As we exchanged histories, it turned out that a month before, unknown to each other, we had been at the same Yaqui Easter Indian ceremony outside of Tucson where participants wore masks and mixed Catholicism with Indian myths. The theme of that ritual was death and resurrection. We were among the few white people in attendance.

 

 

First Chapter Reveal: I, Walter by Mike Hartner

I, WalterTitle: I, Walter
Author: Mike Hartner
Publisher: Eternity 4 Popsicle Publishing
Pages: 224
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0973356154
ISBN-13: 978-0973356151

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This is the life story of Walter Crofter, an English commoner who ran from home at the age of 11.  After two years living on the street, he ended up on a Merchant Mariners boat in the service of the Crown.

On his first voyage, he rescued a girl from pirates.  A very important girl, who stole his heart before she was returned to her home.

This is the story of his life.  What adventures he had at sea; what took him off the waters, and what happened to him as he lived his life and stayed true to his character.

First Chapter:

“I, Walter Crofter, being of sound mind….”  Bah, this is garbage!  I tossed my quill on the parchment sitting in front of me.  People may question my sanity, but they should hear the whole story before judging me.  I’m sitting here, now, at the age of 67, trying to write this down and figure out how to tell everything.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get it right, though.  Too many secrets to go around.  However, this is my last chance     to offer the truth before I die.  The doctors say it’s malaria, yet I’ll be fine.  Perhaps.     But if the malaria doesn’t kill me, my guilt indeed will.  Maybe if people know the facts surrounding my life, everyone will have a better understanding.

I dipped the tip in the inkwell again, and wrote:

I was born September 2, 1588, and named Walter.  I didn’t belong in this Crofter family, who were storekeepers in London and not farmers as our surname might indicate to those who study this sort of thing.  My parents were courteous and even obsequious to our patrons.  Yet they received little or no respect.  The ladies came to us to buy their groceries or the fabric for their dresses, but as seemly as they comported themselves, and some even called my father ‘friend,’ it was not out of regard for him.  I was forced to run.  Well, “forced” might put too harsh a point on it, like that of a sword, but others can judge for themselves.

By the time I reached the age of 12, I’d found another family that was more     “me”.  They weren’t rich, but they were comfortable.  The parents had several children, including a girl my age who was named Anna.  Within two years, we had come to know each other quite well, and were getting to know each other even better.  Her father caught us getting too close to knowing each other better yet, and showed up at my parents’ house with a musket in his hand, telling them if I ever came near his daughter again, he’d use    it on me–and then on them.

I paused to dip the pen and wipe my brow.  Even though I was wearing a light cotton shirt, it was bloody hot in early August in Cadaques.  My wife, Maria, entered    the room and looked at my perspiring face and what I had just written.  Between fits of laughter, she smiled at me with wide lips and said, “You can’t possibly write this.  You’re not the only boy a doting father ever had to chase away.  Nobody cares about this sort of thing.”

“It will at least give a pulse to this writing,” I replied.  “It’s too boring to say          that I left because I was mismatched with my own family, so much so that I was positive someone had switched me at birth.  Or that I thought I was ready for more in life than what I could find at home.  Nobody would read that, not even me.”

“I agree, so tell the story that really means something.  All of it.”  She sighed softly and placed the parchment she had been reading on the desk in front of me and kissed my cheek.  The gleam in her eyes shed 20 years off her age and reminded me of    a much gentler time.  God, how much I love her.

I said, “Before I met you, I spent my life like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.  I’m just trying to make my story more interesting.”

“I’ve heard the accounts of your life before you met me.  Or I should say found me.  It was anything but boring.  So, if you insist on including in the story lines like those you just wrote, make sure they’re the only ones.  If you don’t, I’ll consider adding my own material.”  She winked.  “You know I’ve had good sources.”

She turned and walked away, laughing loudly as I called after her, “Yes, dear.”

I dipped the quill and put it to parchment again.

In my earliest days, I remember my father, Geoff, being a bit forceful with other people.  I also recall my brother Gerald, nearly five years my senior, and myself being happy.  Or at least as contented as two boys could be who were growing up in the late 1500s in England, and working every day since their seventh birthdays.  It was a time when boys were earning coin as soon as they could lift or carry things.  The money   could never be for themselves, however, but for the parents to help pay the bills.

Father lived as a crofter should.  He was an upright man and sold vegetables off   a cart like his grandfather did, and he also dabbled in selling fine fabric for the ladies of status.

One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my brother came home and got into a heated debate with my father about something.  When I ran to see what was the matter, they hushed around me, so I never got the full gist of the argument.  But whatever it was about, it was serious, and the bickering continued behind my back for five straight days.  When I awoke on the morning of the sixth day, Gerald was no longer at home.  And he never came back.

Soon afterwards, my father lost enthusiasm for his business and became generally passive.  I assumed this was because of Gerald’s leaving, and only on occasion would I see flashes of my dad’s former self.

At the start of my tenth year, our family moved closer to London.  We rented    the bottom floor of a three-story building in which several families lived in the upper floors.  My father said we relocated because he needed to be closer to more business opportunities.  But my mom didn’t believe he’d made the right decision, since he was  now selling food out of a cart and not inside a storefront.  One night, she greeted him at the door when he came home.  She was wearing a frown and a dress that had seen better days.

“Did you bring in any decent money?” she asked him before he had time to take off his coat.

“I told you, it will take some time.  It’s not easy to make good money these days.”

“Especially when you let the ladies walk all over you.”

“I know, I know.  But what am I to do when they aren’t running up to me to buy what I’m selling?”

“You at least bring home some food for us?”  My father had carried in a bag under his arm.

“It’s not much, a few carrots and some celery.”  He handed her the bag.

“What about meat?”

“We’re not ready for meat yet.”

“That’s true enough,” my mother said.  “But you should at least try to feed your family.  Walter’s growing, and so are our other children.”

“Leave me be, woman.  I’m doing the best I can for now.”  He sat in his chair, leaned his head against the wall, and fell asleep.

That same debate played out between my parents for the next two years.  Except for the summer months, when food was plentiful; then the arguments subsided.  But for the rest of the year, especially during the winter, the same discussions about money continued on a daily basis, and they were often quite heated.  I lost two younger siblings during those two years.  One during my tenth winter and the other during my eleventh winter.  Neither of the children was older than six months.  I always suspected hunger    as the primary cause of their deaths.

Just before my twelfth birthday, my father started taking me with him when he went to work.  My closest living sibling was nearly six and not feeling well most of the time, and the family needed the money I could bring in by helping my father, who was bland and wishy-washy, particularly when selling fabrics.  I had no idea what he was like before, but in my mind his lethargy explained why our family was barely making ends meet.  Our lives had become much harder since Gerald left, and part of me blamed him.  I’m going to thrash him if I ever see him again and teach him a lesson about family responsibility.

It took me less than a week to realize that the people my father was dealing with, as with those in Bristol, had no respect for him.  They regularly talked down to him.  Rather than asking the price, they regularly paid what they wanted to pay. And he took it without a quibble.  And when he tried to curry favor, he would never get it.  His customers looked upon him as a whipping board, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

I remember when we got home in the dark after a long day of work in late November, and my mother started in on Dad.

“Well?  Have you got the money for me to buy food tomorrow?”

“A little.  Here.”  He fished a guinea from his pocket.

“A guinea?  That’s it?  That won’t feed us for a day.  You’ve got to start working harder.  With what you earn and what I bring in sewing clothes, we can barely pay the rent, and there is nothing left over to heat this place.  And it’s going to get colder, Geoff.”

“I know, Mildred, I know.  I’m trying as hard as I can.”

“You haven’t worked hard since Sir Walter Raleigh left favor.  You can’t wait for him forever.”

“He’ll get favor back.  And when he does, I’ll be right there helping him.  You’ll see, we’ll be fine again.”

She groaned.  I was aware that this was not the first time my mother had heard this from my father.  It’s great talk from a man trying to get ahead.  But after several years of the same song, it loses its credibility.  She had enjoyed respectability in the early days when my father grabbed the coattails of the then revered Sir Walter Raleigh, and it was hard not having this luxury now.  She hadn’t planned to be satisfied with being a shopkeeper’s wife, and she wasn’t even that, at present.  She changed the subject, not her tone.

“I overheard the ladies gossiping on the street today.  They were talking about seeing Gerald’s likeness on a ‘Wanted’ poster.  A ‘Wanted’ poster, Geoff.  There’s a warrant out for our son’s arrest.  What are we going to do?  What can we do?”

My father stared at the wall.  “Nothing.  He’s an adult.  He’ll have to work it out for himself.”

I watched quietly as my mother cried herself to sleep, her head on my father’s shoulder.  No matter how bad things got, they loved each other and wanted their lives to be better, the way I was often told they were before my birth.  Maybe this is why I wanted to get away from them as soon as I could.

I didn’t usually watch my parents fall asleep.  But, that night I did.  And, after they were sound asleep, I left.  I had no plans.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I just left in middle of what was a dark, chilly night.

I could hear the dogs barking around me as I scurried along the roadside.  It felt as if they were yelping at me and coming towards me.  I began running, faster than I’d ever sprinted in my life, my speed assisted by my sense of fear.  Every time I heard a dog, or an owl, or any other animal, or even my own heavy breathing, my pace increased until I was exhausted and had to stop.  This continued throughout the night until the sky started to lighten and I found a grove of overhanging bushes and crawled inside for some sleep.

I scavenged for food during the day and swiped a few pieces of fruit from merchants along the way.  This became my means of subsistence.  I left a coin when         I could, as I’d pick up an occasional odd job, but I was always out of money.  I also tried begging, and while I did survive on the street, I found life difficult.  Yet for nearly two years I stayed with this vagabond existence before deciding to make my way to the sea.  Too bad my internal compass wasn’t any good.  Turns out I was moving more to the west than to the south.  But before long I was on the shores of Bristol.  And my life changed forever.

First Chapter Reveal: The Magic Crystals by Stephen Hayes

Rock HaulterTitle: Rock Haulter
Author: Stephen Hayes
Format: ebook
Length: 433 pages
Publisher: Stephen Hayes

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The second installment in the Magic Crystals series, immediately following the events of ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’.

The original villain is back, only this time he is on a different mission, taking orders from the evil and cunning Hammerson Sorcerers, and his path will intersect those of John Playman and his friends on Rock Haulter.

A desperate race must ensue, Moran and the powers of the Hammersons against the Chopville teens. The prize will be the most powerful of all the Magic Crystals and a control over the balance of life, but such extraordinary power is heavily protected. There is no guarantee that all will live to see the end.

The danger faced this week will be greater than anything faced in ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’, but that won’t stop the teens from having a good time, as only teenagers can. But beneath all that, a far more serious situation is simmering.

It is only those closest to the Sorcerers who understand how delicate the peace between the Woodwards and Hammersons is, and how quickly that could change.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

Separation

The weekend, at last! Don’t you just love that feeling you get when you wake up on a Saturday morning and realise that you have two days ahead of you where you don’t have to do anything—no dangerous stunts, no school acting as an unimportant sideshow, no nothing. I wasn’t sure at first, during the week, if this weekend was really worth looking forward to, but we had all done enough work to deserve a couple of days off.

The usual procedure in our house on the weekend was to be woken up by the sunlight coming through our window. It would usually wake either me or Peter, and whoever woke up first would wake the other. Well, not this morning; the sun had long since risen but it hadn’t woken either of us. Instead, we received a much more ruthless awakening.

“Up and at it, folks!”

Harry!”

“Wakey, wakey,” came Simon’s loud voice, “hands off snaky.”

I was sitting up in bed; before I really knew I was awake. It felt like some sort of dream, or more like some sort of nightmare. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes, then looked towards the bedroom door. Harry and Simon had come crashing into the room. Peter was already out of bed and looking around for his socks.

“We’re awake,” he snapped. “What are you two doing here?”

“Early morning wake-up call,” said Simon brightly, “not that it’s early or anything.”

“It’s nine o’clock,” yawned Peter, “and what are you so excited about?”

“A warm day,” I suggested. “Can you two leave so we can change, at least?”

“Nah,” said Harry, shutting the door. “You two haven’t got anything we haven’t seen before—or have you?”

The door banged opened again and James walked in. He was dressed, but looked tired and irritable. Perhaps Harry and Simon had already woken him up.

“Thank you, you two,” he said to them. “These two need a lot of room to change. You’d be surprised.”

“What, unleashing the python, eh?” asked Simon.

“Oh go away,” sighed Peter.

James steered the two of them out of the room. Make no mistake, Harry and Simon had never done that before, and we didn’t appreciate it at all. Harry and Simon didn’t even live with us; they were twins who lived several blocks away, on the other side of the river, but they were both in our class at school. James was the next door neighbour, but it was certainly more normal for him to wake us up.

We had a weird setup at home. Numbers 15 and 16 in Lopher Lane were a little closer to each other than what met the eye from the street. The Playmans lived one side and the Thomases lived on the other, and the two families had built an underground link between the houses, hidden in cupboards under the stairs in each house. That, people called weird, but people who lived in our little country town of Chopville always did strange and very individual things to their houses.

Both our families were quite welcome to cross the tunnel into the other house whenever they liked, so long as it was at an appropriate hour and wasn’t going to wake anyone up. But then again, almost all the bedrooms in both houses were upstairs. On the Playman side, my parents had the closest bedroom to the stairs, then my sister, Nicole. My brother Peter and I shared the next room along the hall. In the Thomas house, the parents of the family, Marge and Charlie, were again closest to the stairs. Felicity and Jessica, who also shared a room, were directly opposite, and James’s room was the next along.

Anyway, Peter and I changed for the day, which was supposed to be quite warm, and went downstairs to meet James and the twins in the family room.

“Should go wake up the girls,” said Simon. “Nicole’s still asleep—I looked in on her on our way to your room.”

“She had her door open,” said Harry. “She’d closed it by the time we were coming back down.”

“You must have woken her as you went past,” said Peter. “No wonder, with your big feet.”

“So what’s doing today, boys?” asked Dad, who was reading the paper at the kitchen table.

“Day at the stretch,” said Simon, “should go down well.”

“And you’re that eager to get yourself wet?” asked Hilda.

Oh, I forgot to mention Hilda and Violet; our grandmother and James’s grandmother respectively, both on our mothers’ sides. It was a bit sad, but out of both families, only two grandparents were still alive. I didn’t know much about most of the others except that both our grandfathers on our fathers’ sides had been blown to pieces in a war about thirty years ago.

“Life goes on, does it not?” Simon said pompously, tapping his forehead in a suggestion of wisdom—or maybe he was just indicating the cuts on his face.

Harry and Simon both had a fair few cuts and bruises on their bodies. Last week’s events had involved all of us getting hurt in a few ways. Harry and Simon had the most physical injuries out of the lot of us, and there had been a lot of us involved. Harry had a nasty cut across the shoulder, Simon looked as though he’d been whipped several times across the face and James had a cut across his forehead, courtesy of a misplaced pine tree. These wounds looked bad but they had all scabbed over in the days since, and would probably be gone in a couple of weeks.

“It’s not that warm yet,” said Marge, who was making some tea for Dad and Charlie. “You sure you want to leave just yet?”

“Might hang around for a bit longer,” said Peter, taking a seat at the table. “So, how was life at the Maivis residence last night?”

“Can’t say it was uneventful,” Harry grinned. “Oh our grandparents tried and tried to stop us coming out today, but Grandpa says he would like to go fishing in his underwear today.”

“Now there’s a sight I hope I never see,” laughed James.

“Fishing in underwear,” I said, shaking my head. “That’ll be disastrous.”

“Hope he’s wearing a shirt,” said Peter.

“I doubt that,” said Harry, shaking his head as well. “It’s this childhood thing he has; apparently he and his dad used to go out on the Jade River in their underwear, and he likes to bring back old sentimental memories. Probably could have picked a better day to do it, though.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Violet, wearing a roguish expression so far out of her character that I was hard put not to burst out laughing.

“The man will get sunburnt,” said Mum, tutting slightly. “What did they say it was going to be today?”

“Low to mid forties in this part of the state,” said Simon. “Dry too, so maybe some bushfires if we’re unlucky. Making up for lost ground after those couple of days, I think.”

“Morning all.”

Felicity and Jessica were now climbing through the cupboard into this house. Neither of them looked irritable as though they had been rudely roused by the twins. In fact, they looked surprised to see Harry and Simon, although Harry and Simon had stayed over here loads of times when they wanted to get away from their grandparents.

“Morning,” Harry said to the pair of them.

“Where’s Nicole?” asked Jessica. “We’re leaving here in fifteen minutes.”

“She’s awake,” said Harry. “We woke her.”

“Did you?” said Marge, frowning.

“Didn’t mean to,” said Harry, shrugging. “Her door was open and all we had to do was walk past. She must be a very light sleeper.”

“You reckon?” said Peter darkly. “Nicole sleeps like a log; dead to the world half the time. Even if you put a smoke alarm in her room and a fire broke out, she’d just sleep on like a log.”

“Only shows how big your feet must be,” I said. “We’ll call you both Thumper from now on.”

Peter and James laughed loudly.

“That’s enough, boys,” said Dad. “Have a look at this.”

He handed his copy of the Chopville Daily Telegraph (the local rag) to James, who scanned the front cover.

“Are we mentioned in here?” he asked, looking at Dad, while the rest of us stared at James.

“What would we be doing in the paper?” asked Peter.

“The front page, it’s all about Moran’s arrest,” said James.

“Three quarters of the whole paper, I think you mean,” grimaced Dad. “Nutters have the whole story wrong; it basically puts it as though Amelia did the whole thing singlehandedly, and Stella Hammerson had apparently hung around to watch. I think Marc and Lucien might have got on the bottom line, though.”

“That’d be right,” said Harry. “So we’re not in there then?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” said James. “Nice picture, but—have a look.”

He held up the paper for us to look at. The headline of the article stretched across the top of the page in large, black letters. Below it was a picture of a tall man, who looked horribly familiar, and was struggling with several police officers.

“When did they take that?” asked Jessica.

“Would have been yesterday,” said Simon, “after he woke up. He couldn’t have done that while he was unconscious.”

James handed the paper back to Dad, who hid himself behind it again.

“Look, it was nice dropping in,” said Harry. “Are we going to get moving yet?”

“Might as well,” said Peter, standing up. “We’re not waiting for anyone, are we?”

“If you want to wait for us,” said Felicity. “We’re meeting Natalie and Lisa down there in about fifteen minutes.”

“So Nicole had better hurry up and get out of bed,” said Jessica.

“In which case, we’ll be hitting the road,” said Simon. “See you later, Mr. And Mrs. Playman and Thomas—and you two,” he added to Hilda and Violet.

“Nice to see you two,” said Dad. “Better behave yourselves.”

“What are we risking?” asked Harry. “Mr. Hall’s not gonna be down at the river—is he?”

“He has no effect outside hours,” I said hopefully.

“He doesn’t have much effect in hours either,” said Peter slyly.

Mr. Hall was our English teacher at school. None of us liked him, and he didn’t like any of us. It was hard to remember how many detentions each of us owed him, but Harry and Simon were in debt for about the next three-and-a-half weeks, and Peter and I owed him a few more as well. One of Peter’s was to go for three hours, while all of Harry and Simon’s went for three hours, and none of us had done anything wrong—well, maybe a little.

“Suppose we’ll see you two down the Stretch,” said Harry to Felicity and Jessica.

“Yeah. If you see Natalie or Lisa down there, tell them we’re waiting for Nicole to get out of bed.”

“We might see you down there too,” said Charlie, looking round his paper. “We’re meeting Rob and Bob down there. They’re working all day and need a little masculine assistance.”

Rob and Bob were friends of the family. They always got around town in their work machinery; hardly ever left them actually. Just last weekend, I’d run into them digging a hole in the depths of the park, though I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone else yet due to the fact that I’d been with Stella Hammerson at the time; and that had been at a time when I’d been the only one who trusted her at all.

I led the way to the front door, the other four following. It looked as though, like last weekend, we were going to spend the whole day down at Hamster’s Stretch Reserve. Whenever someone said ‘The Stretch’, they were referring to a little park situated in the middle of Chopville. Well, I couldn’t honestly say that it really was just a little park; it had a large forest part, plus an opening where the Jade River flowed through. That was normally where we would hang around, at the river. Within the park, there were four footbridges which crossed the river, aside from the rest of the bridges across it in Chopville, and we spent the weekends in summer, when it was warm enough, just finding more adventurous ways of jumping off the bridges, and had sure come up with a few in our time.

“What would Rob and Bob be doing down there?” asked James. “Since when have those two been in the water?”

“Not sure,” I said, and it was true; all I knew was that they were digging a hole, but they themselves weren’t too clear on what it was for.

“Can’t be too important, can it?” said Peter. “They’re probably doing what they usually do: Cut trees down and sell the firewood. Great blokes, screwing over both the local council and the environment at the same time.”

We were already on the street by this point. We turned out of Lopher Lane into Main Street, the main road through Chopville, or as we liked to call it, the trunk of a very tangled tree—that’s what Chopville was like. The five of us walked most of the way to the park in silence, in my case just enjoying the feeling of the sun on my shoulders and the freshness of the already-warm air.

We met Marc and Tommy, a couple more friends a year older than us five, at the gates. They had just been in Grillion’s Canteen, which was located right outside the park. It was a clever place to do business in the summer; not so clever in the winter, but since he was still here after twenty-eight years, he had to be doing something right.

“Morning, you two,” said Simon brightly. “How’s things?”

“Pretty good,” said Marc cheerfully. “You guys going swimming today?”

“Yep,” grinned Harry. “You gonna join us?”

“I can for a while; I’m pretty well protected at the moment.”

“He’s got his secret weapon with him,” said Tommy conspiratorially.

“So have we,” said Harry, “but I doubt we’ll need to use them.”

“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying—”

“Probably,” Harry cut Peter off.

So the now-seven of us entered Hamster’s Stretch Reserve, which was pretty quiet until we reached the clearing. Many people, young and old, were jumping off the bridges (about a full second of plummeting from the foot bridges to the water) and doing all sorts of stunts as they went. People were already rowing their boats out into the centre of the river for a day of fishing.

“Everyone’s making the most of this weather,” I said. “Not sure if it’ll go cold again.”

“It’d be funny if the weather went cold when people are in the river,” said Peter. “It’d freeze up and trap ’em all.”

“We’d better make sure you’re in there when it happens then,” said Harry darkly.

We made for the nearest bridge, but spun around when a call sounded from the gates. Jessica, Felicity and Nicole had arrived. They had either run the whole way or only been a couple of minutes behind us.

“Are you three staying for the day?” asked Tommy.

“Probably,” said Jessica, smiling at Tommy, “it’s perfect weather for it; it’s already pretty warm.”

“Is anyone else coming?” asked Marc.

“Natalie and Lisa should be around here somewhere,” said Felicity, looking past us at the two nearest bridges, to see if Natalie and Lisa were anywhere nearby. “Perhaps those girls from your class are here somewhere too.”

I had a quick glance around the river, but couldn’t see anyone who might join us. I did spot Ather Hignat and Ugine Wilwog, but they would only join us to give us trouble. If our school years had gifted us with any fair-dinkum enemies, Hignat and Wilwog were it; Hignat never missed an opportunity to taunt, and Wilwog was, if you’ll pardon the expression, built like a brick shithouse.

“We were just about to go get wet,” said Harry. “You wanna join us?”

“No one here wants to get wet with you, Harry,” said Peter, grinning wickedly at him.

“Unless it’s in the river,” said Jessica. “As long as you promise not to distort my meaning, let’s do it.”

We all laughed as we continued our path up on to the bridge from which we usually jumped.

“Oh Harry, Simon,” said James, pointing almost straight down into the river. “There he is.”

Harry and Simon hung themselves over the side of the bridge to get a good view of their grandfather. He was sitting sprawled over the top of an inflatable ring that had been tied by rope to a shrub on the bank nearby, sunbaking topless, and talking casually to his wrinkled friend who I didn’t recognise.

“I’m gonna be sick,” said Harry, closing his eyes tightly.

“Where are we supposed to jump with those two ready to break our fall?” said Simon irritably.

“Guess we’ll have to move further out,” said Peter a little nervously. We always preferred to jump reasonably close to the banks; it was only adults, bigger kids and stupid kids who jumped in the centre, but it looked as though we were about to join that club. None of us wanted to pick another bridge, and none of us wanted to jump off the other side; that would put the sun in our eyes all morning.

We all lined up on the side of the bridge, now a good distance from the bank and the figures close to it, and prepared to jump in unison, except for Peter. Peter wasn’t fond of jumping in the river; he would do it eventually, and he could swim just fine, but it usually took a few of us tossing him overboard to get him going. It had become a regular game over the years. Now he stood off to the side and began to count us in, but before he could reach one…

“Do you guys need a count in?”

A few of us jumped, and Nicole and Tommy both lost their balance and had to grab on to Peter, who was nearest, for support. The result was our number on the side of the bridge being reduced by three. We turned to see Lisa running towards us, and Natalie was taking the bridge at a jog behind her, and for several seconds I found myself unable to take my eyes off her bikini-clad form. Natalie and Lisa were good friends of Nicole, Felicity and Jessica, and since we all usually hung out together, had become friends of ours as well.

“Well done, Lisa,” said James happily. “Two of our jumpers are gone thanks to you, so you and Nat will just have to take their places.”

“And Peter was already counting us in,” added Simon.

“Peter? Where’s Peter?” asked Lisa, stopping short of Marc, who was on the end of the line.

You bloody wankers!” Peter’s voice shouted as Nicole and Tommy started swimming towards the bank again.

“There’s your answer, Lis,” I said, laughing slightly. “Looks like we won’t need to throw him in after all. So, should we jump now?”

“Yeah!”

So the nine of us lined up along the side of the bridge, ready to jump off, watching and waiting for Nicole and Tommy. By the time they had joined us, Peter was still on the southern bank.

“Should we wait for our count-in boy?” asked Harry.

“We’ve been waiting all day,” complained James.

“The day’s only young, my friend,” said Simon in a passable imitation of wisdom, tapping his forehead again.

“I’m coming!” shouted Peter, running up the hill at top speed towards the bridge. He reached us within a minute, panting heavily. “Next time, just nail my feet to the bridge so maybe I’ll be able to resist certain people ripping me off.”

“You’re talking about Nicole and Tommy, Pete,” said Harry. “Their weight would be enough to rip you off your ankles, I’m sure.”

“Oh shut up.”

“So should we jump?” asked James impatiently.

“Yes,” said Simon, “’cause I’ll be jumping on my own if there’s another interruption.”

“You do that,” I agreed, “’cause here come Katie and Sophie.”

“Bloody hell,” said James, exasperated. “There’s gonna be about fifty of us by the time we start jumping, the way things are going.”

Katie and Sophie were two girls from our class at school who we’d had very little to do with up until about a week earlier. They had been dragged into the drama of the previous week by virtue of being Harry and Simon’s girlfriends respectively. A bit embarrassing, considering we always made fun of the twins for not being popular with the women, and now they’d got themselves one each before the rest of us could score anything. Not really surprising though; they were both better looking and more confident with girls than Peter, James or I were.

“We’re just about to jump,” said Peter, “or at least these guys are. You two gonna join them?”

“You’ve already jumped, by the look of it,” said Sophie to Peter.

“You make it sound like I had a choice.”

We prepared to jump for the third time, but were once again interrupted. Four boys, who had been about to jump off the other side before spotting Harry and Simon’s grandfather below, asked if they could join us; Craig Hardy, David Rockson, Daniel Dasher and Liam Stammerus. We accepted them willingly enough, given that we were fairly familiar with them from school, and three of them we knew from soccer (Harry, Simon, Peter and I all played soccer in the local under sixteens team).

“I don’t wanna think how big this bomb is going to be,” I said shakily. “We are bombing, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “How many of us are there now? Not counting Peter, since he’s not jumping.”

“About seventeen,” said Tommy, counting around.

“Wait for us!”

“Twenty,” muttered Marc as Erica, Kylie and Serena came running onto the bridge to join us. They, like Katie and Sophie, had become involved with us just in time to help us against Marc’s father the previous week; though unlike Katie and Sophie, they weren’t dating any of us, despite the fact that Erica was very smitten with James, and he and Peter were each fond of Kylie and Serena respectively. Serena and Erica were fairly new in town; Kylie had been first to befriend them, and somehow the three had been absorbed into our larger group.

“Okay,” said Peter as the three girls appended themselves on the furthest end of the line from where I was.

“I’m not jumping, so on three—”

“I don’t even wanna think how many joints we’ve had today, you know,” David interrupted, and a few of us laughed.

“If there’s another interruption,” said Simon warningly, “then I’ll—I’ll—”

“Throw yourself off a bridge?” suggested Sophie.

“Er, yeah, that sounds okay,” Simon muttered.

Then finally, at long last, we jumped. We fell for a long second as usual, before hitting the water at roughly the same time. I only heard something deafening just before my sense of sound was completely lost under the water. When I had managed to get my head above water and had rubbed my eyes, people started poking their heads up here and there, rubbing their eyes and staring around. As the current pulled us away from the bridge, I distinctly saw that many people on the other side of it looked rather angry.

I swam alone to the bank and climbed, dripping, onto it. By this stage, it looked as though everyone was up.

Some of them were now following me towards the bank.

“Yo, John!” Peter called from up on the bridge, “Up here!”

I jumped up and ran, with the little strength I had left in me after swimming against the current, up the hill and onto the bridge to join Peter. Tommy caught up with me just as I reached him.

“What did it look like?” he asked.

“Pretty damn good,” said Peter enthusiastically. “It had a sort of ripple effect, and it spread diagonally from where you hit. Come see.”

Apart from the nearest boats on the river, which were all carrying some water now, the only proof of what we’d done was the annoyed looks many people were throwing in our direction. This included Harry and Simon’s grandfather; he had been dry before we’d jumped, but he wasn’t dry anymore. As we watched, more of the group of nearly two dozen began piling back onto the bridge.

“We’re the most unpopular people here now,” said David happily. “Let’s go sit down for a while.”

“Are you mad!” exclaimed several of us.

“It’s only—what is the time anyway?” asked Harry.

“Not even eleven yet,” said Serena. “Let’s jump again.”

“I’m gonna jump with you this time,” said Peter. “I’m already cold and wet; too late to back out.”

A few of us laughed as all twenty-one of us lined up on the other side of the bridge again. James counted us in this time, then we all went for it. For once, I was one of the last people to surface. By the time I got my head out of the water, just about everyone was shouting. Everyone around me who’d jumped, and loads of people around us were furious.

“The second time you’ve splashed us all unwillingly, how dare you!”

“But we were willing!” shouted Harry, though it looked as though he was finding it very hard not to laugh.

“You ought to keep an eye on the calm waters,” said Simon, “cause there ain’t much of it ’round here.”

“Don’t get smart with me, kiddo!”

“It’s all in the name of fun!”

“Have fun in another river next time!”

“There are none!”

“Find one! We’re trying to enjoy ourselves here!”

“Find another river to do it in. Maybe a river of excrement would be suitable since you don’t seem to like water!”

“It’s a free country!”

Exactly!”

“Let’s just move,” said several people impatiently.

So we swam across to the opposite bank from where we had come in and sat up on it. Well most people did; a few people, including me, jumped back in the water and held on to the side of the bank to stay with the group.

“This is pretty good,” said Marc, who was in the water next to Daniel, “don’t mind getting back into the swing of normal life.”

“Tell me about it,” said Tommy, who was on Marc’s other side.

“At least as normal as it’s possible for things to be in this place,” said Daniel.

It was hard to tell whether Daniel had any idea exactly what Marc and Tommy meant, but even if not, he still had his reasons. Chopville was not the same as any other country town around here, nothing like any of them. It wasn’t so much its infrastructure (well, sort of), but more the people living in it, and what they did to parts of it. Marc, for instance, lived in a house which has the appearance of an outside toilet; lonesome on a block of land on the down-side of the street, but the house itself was very large underground. It even had a network of tunnels below and around it. That wasn’t the strangest thing of all, however.

“It wasn’t that strange,” said David. “Well—okay, a bit, like the weather going weird, and the Sorcerers going funny earlier in the week, but that sorted itself out.”

“Not that it’s our business what happens with them,” added Liam.

“You’d be surprised,” said Marc softly, “how much we had to do with the weather and the Sorcerers, and all.”

David, Liam and Craig laughed.

“Come off it, Marc,” said Liam. “You’re just like the rest of us; you’re a normal person. You’re not like those stupid Sorcerers. You know they’ll all be going to hell—the Lord doesn’t look too kindly on people like them.”

“He’s telling the truth,” said Sophie crossly. “Marc knows what he’s talking about.”

Liam and Craig had to look up at her, since they were in the water, and she was on the bank between David and Simon.

“What do you mean? He—how—”

“It’s a long story,” sighed Katie.

“That’s what a person says when they want to get out of telling it,” said Craig. “Can’t you think of any decent tale to fit the situation?”

“I’ve got a killer tale for you,” said Peter coldly, “but you won’t really understand it unless you read through some of the stuff Lisa and Natalie collected from the magic display last Monday.”

“Maybe if you hang around us a bit more over the next few weeks,” suggested Marc.

“Is that how long it’ll take to explain?”

“No,” said Marc, “but my brother, you know Lucien?”

“Who, the vice-captain at school?” asked David.

“Yeah, he said that a lot more will happen—worse stuff, once the Sorcerers get back.”

“Get back? Where’d they go?” asked Craig. “I just heard they got their magic back yesterday and turned the weather back to normal. I didn’t hear about them going on a holiday.”

“Four of them went to undo the damage they did, or at least the damage his dad did,” said Tommy, tapping Marc on the head and causing both of them to lose their grip on the bank.

“Was that your dad in the paper this morning?” asked David, staring down at Marc. “It said the man’s surname was Moran.”

“That’s him.”

“It said he would probably cop several consecutive life sentences,” said Liam.

“Will he?”

“Thank God for that.”

“He deserves it.”

“Sure he does,” said Liam sceptically. “It also said his two children were in police custody and have to be found new homes.”

“We are?” said Marc, blinking. “Well that’s news to me. Lucien and I have been at home the whole time—no calls at all. I guess it’ll be okay though, as long as I don’t have to leave Chopville.”

“I can ask my parents,” said Tommy. “They’ve got to know you a bit.”

“Wow! Okay, thanks man,” said Marc.

“Can I just get back to the Sorcerers for a moment,” said Liam. “Your brother, Marc, how does he know this about them?”

“Oh, he’s got links,” said Marc simply.

“Very reliable connections,” said Harry. “It’s largely thanks to his intelligence that half of us are even here.”

“What? You mean he could order to have us banished or something?” asked Liam stupidly; a few of us had to laugh.

“He is pretty smart,” said Daniel, “at least from what I’ve heard. Probably responsible too considering they made him vice-captain.”

“Instead of captain,” added David. “Nothing against him, but really—”

“I’d like to see you as vice-captain,” snarled Peter.

“I reckon I might have a fair chance at it in a few years,” said David heatedly.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Liam, giving David a get-a-hold-of-yourself look. “All we’re saying is you can’t take all the credit for catching that maniac, Marc, it’s—”

“But it’s the truth!” shouted Tommy. “Marc did most of the work!”

“Oh, well, most of the work,” said David, staring furiously down at the pair of them, “it was your dad, remember. How eager you must be to land your own father in prison (he snorted); what evidence is there that you were even there?”

“Amelia and Stella,” said Simon, “whenever they get back.”

“Look, let’s just give it a rest, shall we,” said Serena irritably.

“Come on,” said Craig, “I’ve got no idea what to believe any more. Let the man speak.”

“I’m not saying anything here,” said Marc flatly, “Not now, I’m too exhausted; there’s too much to tell.”

“And you wouldn’t understand anyway,” said Peter. “You’ve got to see Lisa’s documents first, that’s what prodded us in the right direction.”

“But look how many of you there are here,” said Liam, staring around at us all. “Surely, between you all, you can tell some of it. What’re we supposed to believe? If it’s not how the paper said it is, don’t you think we all deserve to know why we nearly died last week?”

“Get a hold of yourself,” snapped Harry.

I have!” shouted Liam, contradicting himself completely.

It was an odd feeling, one that was both good and bad at the same time, and one that would last me for the rest of my life. It was hard to define exactly, but it felt like a sort of separation, where those of us who had been involved in the magical events of the previous week had developed an almost unbreakable bond, while the group at large had been seemingly isolated from those around us. Even that didn’t feel like a great description for it, but that was all I could come up with at the time. As it turned out, Craig, David, Liam and Daniel would soon enough be part of that bond.

“Listen here, all four of you,” said Felicity. “We don’t mind telling you later, but right now we’re trying to enjoy ourselves.”

“There’s plenty of time for storytelling,” added Natalie.

“Until we’re told, that’s how we’re going to think of it,” said David, “nothing more than a story.”

“If that’s how you want to think, then you might as well get walking,” said Peter furiously. “Go on, get moving.”

David, Liam and Craig looked at each other.

“See you then,” said David, staring around at everyone beside him, then down at Liam, Craig and Daniel.

“You three coming?”

“Yes,” said Liam, climbing out of the water and pushing Sophie out of the way.

“Well, you guys were pretty fun to hang around with,” said Craig. “We might come back for another jumping session later.”

“Don’t even think about joining our super bomb,” said James.

“Fine then,” snapped Craig, and he joined Liam and David up on the bridge a minute later, leaving the rest of the group in silence for a moment. Daniel, who was still in the water, looked up at the three on the bridge, shrugged, and stayed where he was.

“Super bomb?” Simon repeated, grinning at James. “Is that like, ‘weapons of mass wetness’? I ought to trademark that one.”

First Chapter Reveal: The Controlled by Becky Komant

The ControlledTitle: The Controlled
Author: Becky Komant
Publisher: BK Press
Pages: 292
Language: English
ISBN-10: 099181150X
ISBN-13: 978-0991811502

Purchase at AMAZON

Sarah Ruiz thought she had it all – until someone entered her life who was hell-bent on destroying her.

Sarah Ruiz is a business owner, a fitness trainer and a mom.  Married to the ever-so-charming and wealthy Alex Ruiz, Sarah appears to have the perfect life.  But behind closed doors, he revealed a side of himself that destroyed her love for him.  With five beautiful children and unable to leave her situation, Sarah knows she must make changes.

Sarah’s journey to freedom take a turn when a man, Gabe Benoit, promises to help her.  Thus starts a whirlwind of romance, intrigue, seduction, blackmail and manipulation.  No matter which way Sarah turns, she is backed into a corner before she can even realize it.  When she finally has promise of a better future, she must use every ounce of her strength to work her way through the web of lies and find truth on her journey to independence.

First Chapter:

Beginnings

Sarah bit her lip to keep from moaning. As the elevator rose, the motion of Alex’s hand got faster and faster. As soon as the doors had closed, Sarah felt his hand slide underneath her skirt. The bellhop’s back was to them, and he didn’t notice as Alex cupped her from behind and let the tips of his fingers stroke her.

As soon as she saw The James Hotel, Sarah was overwhelmed with excitement of not only a fabulous New York holiday but also a lifetime of taking trips like this with her dashing husband. People treated him like royalty. Whether it was his striking Cuban good looks or the aura that surrounded him, he commanded attention, without having to say a word. Now, as he worked magic between her legs, she knew he had command over her, too.

When the elevator came to a halt at the top floor where The Presidential Suite awaited them, he removed his hand as quickly as he had inserted it, leaving her wet and ready to do anything and everything he wanted.

The bellhop left the luggage cart outside the door and tipped his cap to Alex, who handed him a folded bill. The door had a numbered lock, and Alex quickly punched in the code. Sarah was dying to have a peek inside.

“Wow!” she said softly as she looked around. In the center of the room, a large leather sofa faced a lit fireplace. A white shag throw rug sprawled on the floor in front of it. Large, red floor pillows beckoned her to come and stretch out in front of the flame.

A door to the left was slightly open, and Sarah guessed that was the way to the bedroom. To the right was a bar and kitchenette. She lay down in front of the fireplace on one of the pillows while Alex brought in the bags. He peeked briefly into the bedroom and then came and stood over her.

“Oh no you don’t. Come with me this way,” he said. He reached down, grabbed her hand and brought her to her feet.

“Can’t we lay in front of the fire?” Sarah asked. Despite her attraction to the plush carpet and warm blaze, she allowed him to lead her into the bedroom.

Sitting on top of the thick satin comforter was a woman in a see-through purple and black negligee. The lace didn’t quite cover the tops of her thighs, and her long, dark hair fell behind her on a pillow. Her legs were quite long. She had them extended and crossed at the ankle. She sat with her back against the headboard and casually sipped a glass of champagne.

A tray perched next to the bed held two more champagne glasses, a large bowl of raspberries, a dish of fresh whipped cream, and the most luscious chocolate mousse Sarah had ever seen.

Sarah glanced at it all, then looked back at the woman in their bed. Her bed. Shit! Sarah could see her pussy. What the hell is this? she wondered.

“Hello, Victoria,” Alex said.

Victoria smiled and raised her champagne glass in a toast. “Hi, Alex. Hi, Sarah,” she said.

“Who is this?” Sarah looked at Alex. Her confusion turned into a scowl on her beautiful face.

“This is your surprise,” Alex said with a Cheshire Cat grin.

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Alex turned to Sarah. He grabbed the front of her blouse and ripped it open. He put one hand behind her head and pulled her face to his. He kissed her hard.

Sarah, her desire for him already hot from the elevator ride, kissed him back. Then she pulled away.

“Wait. What is this?” she asked again.

“This,” Alex said eagerly as he removed his pants, “is going to be amazing.”

His cock was sticking straight up already. He reached again for Sarah. “Baby, make love to me with Victoria here. Let her help us have a great time.”

He kissed Sarah’s neck and shoulders. She tried to process this. He wanted them all to make love?

“I thought we already had a great time together,” Sarah said.

Alex lifted his face to her and looked her in the eye. He cradled her face between his hands and kissed the tip of her nose.

“Of course we do, baby, but this is an experience that will take our fucking to the next level. I promise, you’ll love it. We’ll be gentle with you, won’t we, Vic?”

Sarah let her eyes wander to the bed, where Victoria still sipped her champagne. What were they going to do? She wondered if anyone she knew had done this kind of thing before. Is this how rich people live?

Sarah looked back at Alex. “Is this what you want?”

Alex laughed softly. “Oh, baby, you have no idea. Do this with me. You’re so sexy.”

Sarah’s head was a little fuzzy from the wine she had enjoyed on the plane. She said, “I’ll be right back,” and went back into the living room of the suite. She walked over to the bar and grabbed a bottle of Jack from the shelf. She twisted off the plastic cap and took a long swig. It burned her throat as she swallowed. She caught her reflection in a mirror above the bar.

“You can do this,” she said to herself. “He is your husband. This is what he wants, so it must be OK.” She wasn’t convinced that it was OK, but her pep talk and the booze gave her the strength to see what awaited her in the bedroom.

Alex was lying naked on the bed next to Victoria. They were close, but not touching one another. Sarah still wore her ripped-open blouse and skirt.

“Strip for me, baby,” Alex said.

Sarah slowly removed her blouse and freed her breasts from the constraint of her bra. She slid her skirt and panties down together. She had no self-consciousness about her body—but she could feel Alex’s eyes burning with passion as he looked at her fresh Brazilian wax.

“You’re beautiful,” he said. “Come here.”

She crawled onto the bed from the foot and slowly made her way toward him, avoiding Victoria’s legs. Victoria got up from the bed and picked up the bowl of raspberries.

“You’re going to let me have my way with you, right?” Alex said. It wasn’t really a question.

Sarah nodded. She had a lump in her throat and was quite sure she couldn’t speak.

Alex flipped her over so she was on her back, lying sideways across the bed. Her head was near where Victoria stood.

Victoria picked up one of the raspberries and dipped it in the whipped cream. She placed it lightly on one of Sarah’s nipples and gently traced the dark circle, leaving a trail of white. The raspberry was cold, and Sarah sucked in her breath. The feeling was amazingly sensual. Victoria dipped the raspberry again and repeated the process on the other breast. She looked Sarah in the eye and licked the raspberry before putting it into her own mouth.

Then she took another raspberry between her fingers and, with the touch of a feather, traced Sarah’s lips. She pushed the berry into Sarah’s mouth and let her finger slip briefly inside, too. Almost involuntarily, Sarah sucked on the woman’s finger.

Am I really doing this? she wondered.

Alex held his cock and began to stroke himself. Victoria leaned over and began to lick the whipped cream from Sarah’s nipples. Sarah lay there, not sure what to do next.

As if reading her mind, Alex said, “Put your hands on Victoria’s back.”

Sarah raised her arms and placed them onto Victoria’s back, and ever so softly moved her hands across the material.

They stayed like that for a minute, with Victoria licking and sucking Sarah’s nipples—until Alex said, “My turn, ladies,” and climbed onto the bed. Victoria stood up and poured herself more champagne.

Alex placed his hands on Sarah’s hips and lifted her on top of his cock, which was harder and longer than Sarah ever remembered it being. Sarah straddled him and slowly slid down.

“Stay right there, baby,” he said to Sarah. Victoria was waiting patiently, having removed her lingerie. He reached up and took Victoria’s hand, inviting her to join them. Without hesitation she placed her legs on either side of Alex’s head and lowered herself onto his hungry tongue.

Sarah and Victoria were now eye to eye, facing each other atop Sarah’s husband.

This is fucked up, Sarah thought.

She arched a suspicious eyebrow at Victoria, who simply smiled back at her. It wasn’t a challenge—she actually looked like a kind woman. That thought made Sarah give her head a shake, and she closed her eyes. She began to rotate her hips in large, leisurely circles on top of Alex, pressing herself hard onto him as she moved. Gyrating like this always brought her to orgasm, and there was no way she was going to go through this night and not allow herself that pleasure.

At some point they shifted positions and Sarah once again found herself supine. Alex was on top of her, driving his hard cock into her with the force of a jackhammer. Victoria went back to playing with Sarah’s breasts, taking breaks to pour champagne into Sarah’s mouth from time to time. Sarah appreciated the fact that Victoria did not try to climb on top of her face the way she had done to Alex. Sarah had no desire to go there.

Victoria delicately placed two raspberries into Sarah’s mouth and whispered, “Don’t eat them.”

She then covered Sarah’s mouth with her own. Using her tongue, she tried to take the raspberries back. They began a wet, slurpy game and, as the champagne and Jack Daniel’s kicked in, Sarah soon found herself in a tantalizing blur of sex and lips and breasts and bodies.

They continued for what seemed like hours. Sarah fought to keep her eyes open as exhaustion overtook her. She vaguely recalled Victoria getting out of the bed and retrieving clothes from a small duffel bag. The last thing Sarah remembered before drifting off to sleep was seeing Victoria pick up a wad of cash from the dresser as she exited the room.

The next morning, Sarah’s head ached with the throb of a hangover—the kind of hangover in which you wonder if the memories flashing through your mind are really of yourself or from a movie you once saw.

Alex was still asleep. She lay there for a full twenty minutes after waking, not wanting to move so he didn’t stir. She slowly got out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom. She felt sticky and dirty. The showerhead was strong, and as she lathered the soap over her body her head began to clear and questions flooded her mind.

How many times had Alex and Victoria been together?

Was she a… prostitute?

Most frightening to her was, Is this what married couples do?

She didn’t like the sadness that permeated her insides or the idea that her love wasn’t enough for him. He said it himself: “Let her help us have a great time.”

She brushed her teeth and studied herself in the mirror. Did she look different now that she was experienced in threesome sex? She didn’t think so. If anything, she looked too young and innocent to know so much about what happens behind the closed doors of The Presidential Suite in New York.

She could hear Alex talking to someone and prayed to God that Victoria wasn’t back. She strained her ears and mercifully heard the hotel room door close and the voices stop. She left the bathroom.

“So did you have fun?” Alex asked her. He offered her a cup of coffee from the food cart brought up by room service.

“Um, did you have fun?” she asked right back.

“Oh, yes. I love you so much. Thank you for being open. I hope it was good for you,” Alex said. He untied his robe and she could see his manhood sticking up again, ready for another round. She felt awful. Yet she wanted to make him happy.

“Alex, why did you marry me?” Sarah asked.

“Why would you ask that?” he said. He took her coffee from her and guided her to the bed. He laid her backward tenderly, one hand behind her head as the other slid up into her robe and came to rest in the space between her breasts.

“I love you,” he said, as his mouth engulfed her own. He kissed her long and hard, languidly moving his tongue around her mouth as his hand massaged her chest.

She kissed him back, feeling her own desire for him grow. She allowed him to remove her robe, and his own, and they spent a long morning making love over every inch of the king-sized bed.

Sarah traced her finger along Alex’s chest, resting and thinking about Victoria.

“Have you ever done that before?” she asked.

“Done what? Made love? Of course,” he joked.

“No. I meant, with two other women.”

“Once,” he said. “It was a long time ago.”

“Did you enjoy it then?” Sarah asked, although she figured she knew the answer.

“Actually it was the worst night of my life,” Alex confessed.

“Why?”

“It was the night my mother died,” he said. Sarah was quiet. The air was heavy, and she felt his body stiffen.

“Would you tell me what happened?” she finally asked.

“One night, I was out at a club and picked up a couple of women. I was eighteen, had a lot of money, we had been drinking, and I actually recall very little of what went on in the back of my car.” Alex began.

“Was this in Cuba?” Sarah asked.

“Yes. I arrived home feeling like a champion. But when I walked in the kitchen, my mother was in a heap on the floor. I rushed to her side. ‘Mama, what happened? What is it?’ I asked. She leaned into me and sobbed. She was out of control. I just held her. I didn’t know what else to do. Then I heard my father’s voice.

“‘It’s Tomas,’ he said.

“‘What do you mean? Papa, what happened?’ I asked him.

“Papa stood and motioned for me to follow. I stood up, but Mama grabbed my leg and dug her nails into my skin.

“She screamed at me, ‘Please do not let them hurt Tomas. Please.’

“‘Why would they hurt Tomas?’ I asked her, but she didn’t answer.

“‘Alejandro! Vamos!’ Papa yelled. He was so angry.”

Sarah glanced at his face. She could tell that the memory of his father’s anger still stung. His eyes were focused out the window, perhaps picturing the scene he carried in his head.

“I looked back at Mama, who was face down on the kitchen floor. I wanted to stay with her, but knew I had to go with my father.

“We got into the car drove into the night. Papa didn’t say a word. My stomach shriveled when I recognized where we were going. There was a car waiting. It was night, but I knew the two men who were standing on the cliff. There was a third figure kneeling between them. He had a black cloth sack over his head, and as we approached I recognized the shirt the man was wearing. It was my brother Tomas.”

Alex paused again and Sarah held her breath, not wanting to move for fear he would stop telling the story. Alex coughed lightly then continued.

“I looked at Papa. I am sure my eyes glowed with fear. Papa shook his finger at me, ‘Not a word,’ he said.

“‘But, Papa,’ I whispered.

“Papa turned to me and grabbed the front of my shirt. He shook me hard. ‘Tomas stole one million American dollars from the cartel. They caught him trying to escape. You and I are here to witness what must take place. We cannot fight it or else all of us will be brought to the same end. Do you hear me? You, me, your sisters, your other brothers, Mama. All of us. He has shamed us all and we must comply. Not. A. Word.’

“I saw something I had never seen before in my father. Terror. I hated him in that moment. I hated what was coming. I hated the powerlessness to save my brother’s life. My father worked for the cartel. There was nothing we could do. The rest was a blur to me.

“I saw the men fling Tomas from the top of the cliff.

“I saw the Cuban night pass by as I stared out the window on the drive home.

“But then, the worst of all, I saw my mother’s lifeless body, hanging from the rafter in the kitchen when we got home.”

Alex stopped speaking. Sarah sat up and looked at him.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She knew those two words couldn’t possibly be enough.

Alex pursed his lips and shook off his emotions. “I left Cuba, determined to start a new life here. One that wasn’t controlled by anyone.”

Sarah wiped her eyes with the edge of the sheet. She noticed Alex’s eyes were dry. The clouded look passed and he reached for her again. “I never told anyone that story,” he said.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said softly, stroking his cheek. She didn’t like the threesome and the way she felt inside as she thought about it, but she had a surge of compassion for this man she married. She sensed that he had been through much more than he told her, and she hoped it would work itself out in time.

The raw sexual pull between Sarah and Alex was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The animalistic hunger that seeped from him made her desire and fear him at the same time. He was insatiable in bed—always wanting more. She’d never known any man who could get so hard so quickly, and every night she fell asleep spent.

Feelings of shame from the encounter with Victoria lingered. Just when she thought they were gone, she’d recall something that happened that night with a pang in her heart. And if the memories didn’t come back on their own, Alex was sure to relive it for her.

“Oh, baby, remember how great it felt to have me pound your pussy while Victoria licked your hot breasts?” he would ask gruffly while they were in bed. It jarred her from any pleasure she might have been feeling and instantly draped a shroud over her heart.

The third time he brought it up, she happened to be looking at his face as he said it. His eyes were closed, and his mouth twisted into a grimace. Sarah realized he was saying that for his own benefit—to draw himself back to that moment in that room—and the thought turned her stomach. Who was he thinking about when he came inside of me?

She tried to be the perfect wife. She wanted him to see that she could fix the wounds his brother’s betrayal had seared onto his heart. A natural first step, she thought, was to begin a family of their own. She loved children and knew that once he had his own little ones who needed him he’d feel complete.

Three months into her pregnancy with Enrico (or Eric, as they called him), her hopes for a utopian life hit a brick wall. Sarah went up to Fort Lauderdale to shop for baby clothes. She hadn’t told Alex where she was going, hoping to surprise him with the cutest little football jersey ever made. Alex, however, didn’t find it cute.

When she got home, she found him in the kitchen, pacing. He fumed that she had gone out for the day without telling him where she was going.

He raised his voice, yelled some things at her in Spanish, and before she could process the magnitude of his anger, she felt the crack of the back of his hand across her soft cheek. She sank down to her knees on the tile of their perfect kitchen. She raised her eyes to him, one hand holding her cheek and the other protectively on her stomach. The look on his face frightened her so much, she thought she would vomit.

Then she did vomit.

She remained on her hands and knees. He didn’t move, except to inch backward from the puddle. She stared at her fingers as he spat the words for the first time: “You have nothing without me. ”

She continued to stare at her hands, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. “Why would you do that to me?” she wondered aloud.

“This is my house. If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.” He turned on his heel and left for the evening.

He didn’t bring up Fort Lauderdale again, but that incident was the beginning of a new pattern. Each time Sarah caught a glimpse of the life she dreamed of, cruel words and an occasional backhand buried her dream deeper and deeper into the Miami sand.

Following one such instance, she mentioned leaving him. His laughter was laced with hatred.

“Really? And just where would you go?” He shook his head, laughed again, and went out to one of his clubs. She felt like a child who threatened to run away.

The birth of Enrico brought them together for a time. Alex took great pride in his new son, and Sarah and Enrico were inseparable. His smile filled her with such happiness that before long she was pregnant again. The rest of the kids came closely together—four pregnancies, five children. Her final pregnancy delivered twins, a boy and a girl.

Sarah’s life became all about juggling children and managing Alex’s moods. She came to recognize when Alex’s demeanor was darkening and would be on alert against sending him over the edge. Even so, Alex’s harsh words and rough nature pervaded even the parts of their relationship that were supposed to be the most gentle and intimate.

One morning, shortly after the twins turned two, Alex told her to pack a bag.

“Why?” Sarah asked.

“We’ve got tickets to see Holyfield fight Bates tomorrow night in Dallas. We’re taking a private jet with some business associates of mine. I need you to look real nice. Go get a dress.”

She grabbed her purse and car keys and headed for The Chanel Store. She made a couple of selections and took them to the fitting room.

The first dress was an exquisite one-shoulder gown that fell above her knees. The silk hugged her curves perfectly. Lead-colored sequins twinkled like stars across her body.

Any woman would have been damn proud to carry her figure, but Sarah placed a hand on her stomach and sighed. It wasn’t as tight as it used to be. Head tilted, she stared at her arms, her legs. She turned to see how she looked from behind. She leaned in close and studied the face of the woman whose eyes looked back at her.

“Dammit!” she said finally to the woman in the mirror. One word came to mind. Tired. Her body, her eyes, even her hair, looked tired.

Later in life, Sarah would recall that moment with startling clarity. The moment she knew that if things were ever going to be different, something needed to change. Alex was a good provider—actually, he was a great provider—for his family. When he was calm, they had seemingly normal, fun family times. Yet the volatility of his personality and the disgust she felt each time he brought up the threesome stayed with her. Tenderness had melted away from their lovemaking and she felt dirty after each time. His crude sexual remarks weighed on her soul like sandbags and were starting to noticeably wear on her physical appearance.

“No more,” Sarah said to herself. She knew then that she was not going to be one of those moms who used her kids as an excuse for why her body and life weren’t how they should be. That wasn’t fair to the kids or to herself. She knew what she needed to do, and she was determined that nothing would stand in her way.

That weekend, Divine Providence gave her plan an opening. One of the guys traveling with them was a fitness trainer.

“Can you train me?” she asked him outright, after they had chatted for a while.

“Excuse me?” he said with surprise. “You want to start training?”

“No, I am going to start training. I need a coach. Would you train me?”

“All right,” he said cautiously. “When do you want to begin?”

“As soon as we get home,” she said. “I’m not waiting any longer.

The decision to put less energy into trying to make Alex happy, and more toward training and to her children, ignited her spirit. She knew she would get her body in incredible shape and use her nutrition knowledge to begin her own business, one that would eventually support herself and the kids.

Her muscles remembered well the form they had before her pregnancies, and it wasn’t long before she was in extraordinary condition.

She trained with the guy from the fight for a few months, then left him for someone who was a better fit with her own philosophies toward fitness. She believed strongly in getting fit using a combination of natural ingredients, clean eating habits, and hard work. With encouragement from friends at the gym, she began competing in fitness modeling competitions. Certifications in personal training and sports nutrition allowed her to formally start training clients herself, and she developed a small, but impressive private client base that included a few professional athletes.

Alex was enthusiastic about her training and showed her off to his friends and business connections. Alex saw her achievements as his success. Behind closed doors, he took every opportunity to remind her that without him she wouldn’t be able to afford the trainer, the trips to competitions, or the gym that he had built at their home so that she could see clients. He also continued to take every opportunity to make her feel like nothing more than a sex object—at his beck and call whenever he got hard, which was constantly.

The more clients she gained, the more she knew she could not risk her industry reputation by having Alex throw her out. She was caged.

 

First Chapter Reveal: Gem City Gypsy by Kristin Kuhns Alexandre

Gem City GypsyTitle: Gem City Gypsy
Genre: New Adult Fiction
Author: Kristin Kuhns Alexandre
Publisher: Sisterhood Publications
Pages: 158
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1940016029
ISBN-13: 978-1940016023

Purchase at AMAZON

When you read “Gem City Gypsy” you must conceptualize a whole world.

Gypsies.

Socialites.

The Wright Brothers.

The KKK.

Industrialization leading to WWI.

So many vivid elements. The story is about a gypsy girl who must leap over bodies to survive the sinking Lusitania and escape murderous Germans who kill her mentor in Ireland. She later returns to her hometown, recreated as a wealthy woman trying to meld into the upper class.  Neci Star captures our imagination and heart as she claws her way out of one class and into the abyss of another.

Chapter One

She didn’t like the way he looked at her.

Nineteen-year-old Neci Stans scurried around the small cottage, tidying things that looked out of place, and trying not to make eye contact with Graham Moore. She tried to pretend he didn’t make her nervous or self-conscious, because she knew that was exactly what he was trying to do.

He gave her looks. Those looks. Neci had seen gazes like this before, from men just like Graham Moore. Perhaps she was even used to them. She knew what they meant; what they wanted. But unlike other times in her life, Neci felt safe; protected.

She knew this was because of Lord Pool, and how he treated her. The whole reason she was here, safe, and living in Kinsale, Ireland, was because of Lord Pool. She owed him everything. He’d rescued her from more than death, when they both survived the sinking of the Lusitania after it was torpedoed by a German sub. He’d rescued her from a life she didn’t want to live, teaching her to be a proper young lady, to speak correctly; dress correctly; act correctly.

She’d already been on her way, traveling with the Hubbards–as a maidservant–on the Lusitania to what she was sure was a new life and bigger and better things. Things didn’t end up the way she planned. While at first it was terrifying, the end result was even better than she could have planned. Neci was no longer just a “wild gypsy” girl. She had become a proper lady. It was all she had ever wanted.

Lord Pool lost his family in the horrible event. He watched them die, and was helpless to save them. Then an explosion knocked him overboard and he awoke on a small fishing boat to find Neci caring for him.

Neci knew she’d become a substitute for his lost wife and daughter. But she didn’t mind, or care. She was all he had, and he was there to help her achieve her dreams. She had him and her beloved dog, Theda, and they took the place of her family back in the States.

For the past two years they had lived peacefully in Kinsale, Ireland. Neci had escaped the gypsy camp—a rather dramatic escape,  she thought ironically, remember her time floating in the water escaping the sinking Lusitania–and now she had learned the finer things in life from the elegant, refined, and kind-hearted Lord Pool. Graham Moore wasn’t going to change that, even though she was pretty sure he wanted to do just that.

She didn’t care what she had to do. This man she did not trust, with his quick tongue and his fiery eyes, had an agenda. Even though he was ruggedly handsome, despite the horrible war trench scar that ran from his left eye to his chin. It made him look very dangerous, which was appropriate, because Neci knew he was not to be trusted. She could sense it. She had, after all, been born a gypsy girl with a gypsy heart.

“He was in love with my daughter,” Lord Pool had explained one evening soon after Graham arrived, and after he had retired for the evening and Neci was left alone with her mentor. “That is why I allowed him to come visit. He and I have her in common. I never really considered him appropriate for Nelly, as it seemed he was more interested in the family estate and the family money more than my lovely daughter.”

“So why let him stay? And why did he come now?” Neci asked.

“I let him stay because seeing him brings a little bit of her back,” Lord Pool explained gently. “It’s not much, but it’s all I have. And I suppose he thinks he will inherit from me now that I have no family left.”

“But that’s a horrible thing to do,” Neci had proclaimed. “To just show up so he can get in your good graces and inherit your money.” She wanted to cry out, “But you have me,” even though she knew this was not appropriate. She bit her lip to keep from talking.

Lord Pool only laughed. He looked upon Neci as an innocent. She knew this.

“Don’t you worry, Neci. I am a smart man, and I know people. Graham Moore will not be getting any money from me.”

But what could he get–or try to get–from Neci?

She didn’t dare tell Lord Pool about the night before, when Graham had followed her into her bedroom, long after Lord Pool had retired for the evening.

“I beg your pardon,” she said. “What are you doing in here?”

“Just came in for a little visit,” he said, a devilish grin edging up the corners of his sensual mouth.

“This isn’t proper, and you know it. Please leave my quarters.”

“Proper? Let’s be honest, here, Neci,” he said, moving toward her. She backed away until she was trapped by the wall, and could go no further. He continued to advance toward her. “Proper? You’re anything but proper. Underneath that exterior, I sense a hunger in you. A wildness. You’re no lady. You’re a wild girl…no, not a girl. You’re a wild woman.”

He pushed his body up against hers, and she could feel his desire, pressing through his trousers, hard. Strange emotions raced through her.  She didn’t like Graham. Not at all. She sensed he was greedy and selfish, but he was a handsome man with a fine physique. Neci didn’t like the way her body reacted. It seemed a betrayal of all she had been through and struggled to learn.

“I know you want it,” he said, bending forward toward her. He reached a hand up to raise her chin, tilting her head backward until her lips were almost perfectly aligned with his, the back of her head against the wall. “I can see the desire in your eyes.”

Neci shivered and tried to push him away. “I am a lady,” she said vehemently. “If I scream, Lord Pool will hear and come throw you out.”

“But you won’t scream, will you Neci? Because I would tell him that you lured me in here. Tried to seduce me. And who would he believe? You? Or me? I think we both know the answer to that.”

He leaned in closer, and his lips grazed hers. All sorts of fireworks went off inside her stomach, and Neci wanted to scream at her body for the betrayal. She did not like Graham. She did not want to react to him.

“I. Will. Scream,” she whispered.

“Yes, of course you will.” He took his right hand off her chin and moved it to her breasts, running his hand across first the right, then the left, then cupping the firmness of the right one, touching her in a place that no man had ever touched.

He tried to push aside the material covering her breasts, and he stepped back. Neci took advantage of the temporary distance between them and raised her knee hard, connecting with his groin.

Graham went to the ground, quickly retreating into a fetal position, groaning in pain, and she quickly moved around him and out the door.