Uncaged Book Reviews

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hank you to all the great reads this month! I read so many great books, that I don’t remember having a month with so many 4.5-5 star books! The authors are making my job easy.

January has come and gone and Uncaged is coming up with anoth-er promotion. For every full page ad or better, a FREE social media ad will be made to match the ad inside Uncaged Book Reviews for authors to promote on all social media channels. We will be continuing with the “Buy 2, Get 1” promotion we’ve been running. It really does help from a marketing standpoint, to have an advertisment run three months in a row - to repeat in the readers mind. You don’t just see a commercial on TV one time and remember it, right? So we will continue to try and provide the best bang for your buck and get the most eyes we can on your work. Uncaged is supported through advertisements, but the prices will not increase in 2020. See page 12 for details on both promotions. Feature author openings are available now until June 2020, so if authors have a book that is releasing this year, give me a shout and we will see what we can do - most of these spots fill up pretty quickly - to don’t be afraid to contact me.

me at Cyrene@UncagedBooks.com Uncaged still has an opening in our blog review group. If you have a blog and you review books and would like to get more exposure for your reviews, then shoot me an email. The only requirement is to review 4 books minimum although you can certainly do more. The magazine has a new monthly section for authors and their pets! Each month, the Featured Authors will be highlighted with their furry pals in a section separate from their feature slot. You will also get a bit of insight into my life as I feature one each month of my own. Enjoy the February 2020 issue of Uncaged Book Reviews and have a great year!

Unfortunately, Tier 2 review requests will remain closed until further notice. That review Tier is only open to Feature Authors at this time. Uncaged is always open to bringing on new reviewers, so if you’d like to get books for free in exchange for an honest review, please email

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Issue 43 | February 2020

contents featureauthors Kristina Rienzi 14 scifi thriller 22

Judith Sterling


Helen Harper


Amanda Mariel

52 62 82


urban fantasy

Steven Deighan horror

catchup 26 Brooke May

Brooke gives us a glimpse of her new shifter romance, Call of the Alpha

time travel/medieval

86 CiCi Cordelia

This talented team is back to tell us more about 2020 and their latest release, Healing Emily’s Heart

historical regency

Tracy Sumner

historical regency

Amy Sevan



Anne Under Seige by Jude Knight

urban fantasy

Amber Daulton romantic suspense


Chris Kelsey


Jeffrey Carver

historical crime thriller

science fiction

authors and their pets




10 46

4 7 114 124 128

Philip Chidi Njemanze MD Igbo mediators of Yahweh Culture of Life

Tamara Hughes once Upon a masquerade

Note from the Editor Contributors|Swaps Uncaged Reviews Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Uncaged’s Feature Authors introduce you to their devoted writing buddies, and the devotion goes both ways. Issue 43 | February 2020 |


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Philip Chidi njemanze md

groups of the white skin and blues eyes of all other people in Africa, Europe, America and Asia.

In this current space we live in and even in the outer space, Igbo presence has been detected to have existed. I will present to the reader a logical argument by way of examples that Igbo is the language of God. I will also show how fundamental errors were made in the world knowledge system including in the mistranslation of the Bible (Igbo language: iboibe Eli, meaning ‘mediaIgbo Mediators of tors and witnesses of the Most High God’; related Yahweh Culture of Life term: Torah; Igbo language: atụOrieọha, meanPhilip Chidi Njemanze MD ing ‘instructions of Almighty God to the people’) Religious Literature because of the lack of deep understanding of the ancient Igbo language. In ancient Igbo lanIgbo Mediators of Yahweh Culguage, only consonants were written so that readture of Life is a book that talks about the history, culture, and ers fill-in the vowels if they know how to read life of the first peoples that helped bring about Egyptian hieroglyphs or Hebrew scripts. Howcultural and technological development—the ever, these consonants would be wrongly vowelIgbo people. ized by Western scholars to yield an entirely new language that defies comprehension. To this day, Excerpt there is no real understanding of the meaning of many words used in science, technology, religion, This book describes the very beginning of arts, and culture. written language in ancient Igbo, the ‘mother language of all world languages’, and teaches This book presents the background for underthe reader to read hieroglyphics for the first standing of the fundamental religious concepts time in modern times. According to the sci- rooted in Igbo language in Ancient Egypt, Anence of genetics, human origin started from cient Greece, and Ancient Latin Europe. The the Maternal Eve L0 gene super-group. The Igbo (Igbo language: Igbo, meaning ‘to mediIgbo people were the first with the “Semite” ate’) have the religious concept of the Trinity genetic haplogroup L1-gene dating its origin (Igbo language: Atọrị n’ OtuYa, meaning ‘Three from about 150,000 - 240,000 years, then the in One God Almighty’). There is God the Father, Southern Sudanese with the haplogroup L2- Ya, best described in Igbo language (Oweri diagene from about 100,000 - 150,000 years be- lect) as Oziri, meaning ‘the One Who sends’. The fore all other black Africans with the haplo- latter was mistransliterated as Osiris by Western group L3-gene from 70,000 - 100,000 years. Egyptologists. God is also called in Igbo lanAbout 7000-8500 years a mutation of the L3 guage (Oweri dialect), Orie. The latter is written haplogroup gave rise to the M and N haplo- as a consonant ‘R’ and was wrongly vowelized

Igbo Mediators of Yahweh Culture of Life

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by Western Egyptologists as ‘Ra’. The word G-o-d (Igbo language: ỌgọDị, meaning ‘Eternal Divine Mercy’) has Igbo language etymology. Some call God, Dei (Igbo language: Ọ Dị, meaning ‘Eternal’). Others in Eastern Europe call God, Bog (Igbo language: bụỌgọ, meaning ‘He is Divine Mercy’). God the Son, who is described as the WORD (Igbo language: iwuOrie e du, meaning ‘the laws of God Almighty, that guides’). He is the response of God to the call of humanity for a deliverer (Igbo language: Orisa, a synthesis of: Orie ị sa, meaning ‘God’s answer’), usually expressed in full as IhoOrisa (Igbo language: IhoOrie ị sa, meaning ‘the Divine Light of God’s response’). Western Egyptologists mistransliterated it as Horus. God the Son is also known as LORD (Igbo language: OluOrie e du, meaning ‘the Voice of God who leads’). He is also called Wisdom (Igbo language: iwuOse e du ama, meaning ‘the laws of Almighty God, that lead intelligently’), wrongly pronounced in Igbo language as Amadiọha (Igbo language: Ama e du ọha, meaning ‘the Divine Wisdom that leads the people’). God the Son is the One that was sacrificed (Igbo language: Nwa a tụụrụChineke, meaning ‘the Child that was sacrificed to God the Creator’). However, because of lack of understanding of the Igbo object form (what you can draw) writing where phonemes from a word provide phonetic clues for the subject expression (what you really want to say), God the Son is to this day incorrectly called the Lamb of God (Igbo language: nwaatụrụChineke, meaning ‘the Lamb of God’). There is then, God the Holy Spirit (Latin: Spiritus; Igbo language: Ose a paruatụọsa; meaning ‘God that brings the advice to the people’).

The latter was mistransliterated by Western Egyptologists as PTAH (Igbo language: a paruatụIho, meaning ‘brings the advice of the Divine Light’). The reader would appreciate the linguistic problems that led to a confusion in the understanding of religion to this day. This book empowers the reader to decipher the truth! Prince Dr. Philip Njemanze, MD, is a professor of medicine, a renowned neuroscientist and an ancient history enthusiast that his thirst for knowledge has prompted him to further his education from medical school in Russia, postgraduate in University of Munich, University of London Guy’s Hospital, and Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. He went on to be selected by NASA to study the brain in space, wherein he developed areas of cognitive neuroscience and neurocardiology. He decoded the reading of ancient Igbo pictographic language and the Egyptian hieroglyphics in his book series Igbo Mediators of Yahweh Culture of Life. He is of royalty, being a prince in the Njemanze Royal Dynasty, of the Owerri Ancient Kingdom.

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Issue 43 | February 2020 |


feature authors

scifi | time travel | urban fantasy

Kristina Rienzi

Judith Sterling

helen Harper



ristina Rienzi is a Jersey Shore-based new adult thriller author and certified professional coach. An introvert who dreams beyond big, Kristina encourages others (and herself) to embrace the unknown through her stories. When she’s not writing, Kristina is spoiling her baby girl, wrangling her two fur-babies, watching the Hallmark Channel, singing (and dancing) to Yacht Rock Radio, or rooting for the West Virginia University Mountaineers. She believes in all things paranormal, a closet full of designer bags, the Law of Attraction, aliens, angels, and the value of a graduate degree in psychology. Her debut audiobook, Among Us was featured on Audible’s ACX University and chosen as an Audible Editors Select pick.

stay Connected 14 | UncagedBooks.com


Uncaged welcomes Kristina Rienzi Uncaged: Can you tell readers more about your book, Among Us? Among Us is a new adult science fiction-based government conspiracy thriller set at the Jersey Shore. The main character, Marci Simon, lives a double life. She’s a conservative English professor by day and a controversial alien blogger by night. The story centers on a classified document that collides her opposing worlds in an explosive revelation of deadly secrets. Marci is forced to embark on an unstoppable quest to expose the truth, but is unprepared to battle the secret government agency hunting her down, determined to silence her forever.

ite who is forced to move back to her mysterious seaside hometown of Tidal Falls. There, she faces her tragic past and unwittingly unleashes a deadly centuries-old curse intent on total destruction. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Hands down, Stephen King. He’s brilliant and I’d love to pick his brain on writing and life. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Absolutely! Isn’t that the fun of being a writer? At least it is for me. When it happens, it’s magic. That’s

Among Us is my debut audiobook. It was featured on Audible’s ACX University 2018 and is an Audible Editors Select pick in the thriller category for 2019.

Uncaged: You also have a series running, The Ensouled Series, can you tell readers more about that series? How many books are planned for this series or is it open-ended? The Ensouled Series (Choosing Evil and Breaking Evil) follows a Jersey Shore girl, Serafina Murano as she struggles with a paranormal identity crisis. Dark, deadly secrets and gut-wrenching betrayal haunting her since childhood unfolds over the two stories. Serafina is faced with impossible decisions and must ultimately decide who is the worse enemy: evil or humanity. Her choices will change her, and perhaps the world, forever. The series is technically open-ended. However, I’ve started a third book and I hope to finish and publish it at some point soon. Uncaged: What are you working on now that you can tell us about? I’m currently writing a new adult paranormal thriller, Unleash the Wicked, set in a fictional town at the Jersey Shore. It follows Mitzi Everson, a Manhattan socialIssue 43 | February 2020 |



when you know you’re in the zone. Your writing is ON and you keep typing until your fingertips get sore. Let it flow! Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? 16 | UncagedBooks.com

I’m lucky to live a few miles from the beach. In summer, I look forward to grabbing my beach chair and plopping it in the sand where my feet can touch the water – that’s my favorite way to relax. I also enjoy time on my couch, with a fire going, wine in hand and a great story (book or TV) being told.

Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? My definition of success as an author is simply finishing a manuscript. That’s it. That’s enough for me. That’s the goal I chase book after book: to type THE END. A shiny new story, with my name on the cover, finished! Sweet success! That’s what keeps me going word after word, page after page, book after book. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I love ALL books. However, lately, I’m obsessed with the audiobook world. Having my stories Among Us (Sci-Fi government conspiracy thriller) and Winter Road (Home-for-the-holidays domestic thriller) available on Audible reignited my love for listening to a book. I’ll always have thousands of books on my Kindle, and far too many physical books on shelves, but my go to storyteller of late is audio. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Know that your dreams, no matter how wild, ARE possible. And the only person who has the power to make them happen is YOU! Time is the most precious gift we have, and I’m beyond grateful for the readers who spend their time with my stories. I love to connect with readers! Please come find me at my home on the web, which links to my social media hangouts: https://www.KristinaRienzi.com.


Enjoy an excerpt from Among Us

Among Us Kristina Rienzi SciFi Thriller Danger lurks in the unknown… Marci Simon lives a double life: conservative English professor by day, and controversial alien blogger by night. But when a classified document lands in her lap, her two worlds collide in an explosive revelation of shocking and deadly secrets. Despite imminent danger at every twist, Marci embarks on an unstoppable quest to expose the terrifying truth. Only she never anticipated the entangled nebula of dark lies, nor the neverending wormhole the government would spiral through to silence her forever. Knowledge can kill. And Marci knows too much. With global security at risk, no one can be trusted. To debunk the stratosphere of deceit, Marci races at the speed of light to escape the grips of the clandestine Extraterrestrial Security Agency (ESA) hunting her before she vanishes like all the others. But Marci is unique. Despite being the ESA’s prime target, she’s also the skeleton key to the deadliest truth in the history of the universe. The nightmare is real, and it’s only just begun. Marci must take a nefarious leap of faith before her options, and her breaths, evaporate into a black hole for all eternity.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Chapter 1 1968

Six foot four with a buzz cut and two stars on his shoulder, Major General Lou Rollins hopped into the mud-covered all-terrain vehicle. Strapped with every weapon and tool a military man on an alien hunt might need, he revved the crappy government engine. Easterly wind lifted pinpricks of rain droplets left behind from last night’s rainstorm. They found their home on Lou’s face. No waiting for them to evaporate. Passivity was for civilians. He shook the spit-like water off and hocked a loogie to send a message. Don’t mess with an armed man on a badass far out mission. Lieutenant General Dowd’s leathery face flashed before Lou’s mind’s eye. He grunted. An invisible scar where Army-career-suicide had pressed the barrel of an M14 to his temple niggled at him. His credibility was about to bleed out on the side of Highway 35. And it was worth every AB+ pint. Lou unrolled the coffee stained map from the passenger’s seat. He pulled it taut until the wrinkles disappeared. Sliding the tactical flashlight from his belt, he turned the illumination on. Thin paper appeared translucent against the darkness. He traced his finger along the route from where he was to where he needed to be. His sense of direction was stellar. Lou was a human compass, reading the stars to find his way at night. The map verified his hunch. Due west. He crumbled the sheet and tossed it on the floor. No stinking wood fibers would make a bit of a difference. It was time to trust his gut. And the universe. He pressed the gas and plodded along the uneven land. If evidence of those bastards existed, he’d damn sure be the one to find it. He didn’t give a rat’s ass if it was those little gray men. Shit. He’d take anything inhuman with or without a heartbeat, whether they had hearts or not. He meant anything. The green kind. The reptile kind. The insect kind. The kind he hadn’t yet imagined. Not because he was crazy. But because 18 | UncagedBooks.com

they existed. Any quantum physicist worth his PhD would agree. Tonight was Lou’s one shot to prove to those pompous assholes whose butt cheeks were sewn together that they didn’t corner the market on intelligent life in the universe. Not a chance in holy Hell. White-knuckling the steering handles, Lou slammed his size twelve boot on the gas pedal. His two front tires barely jumped before landing back on the marshy ground with a splash. Mission-poppinga-wheelie-for-kicks had failed. The damn UFO had crashed in the worst possible spot—three miles from the ocean, knee deep in the wetlands after an East Cost deluge bordering on a tsunami. His pulse quickened. Sure as shit…a futuristic, disc-shaped invader belonging on the other side of the universe could be taking a nap in his backyard. The urge to yell Yee Haw nearly took over. He threw his shoulders back instead. No mountain man here. Strictly highbrow Army all the way. Although his deviant shadow self disagreed. Lou strategically maneuvered the military vehicle through the thick molasses of a terrain at sloth speed. He was getting nowhere fast. Soggy soil devoured what was left of the tread on his oversized tires. He rose and sank along with the ATV as if he was driving over a wet sponge. The topography betrayed him big-time. He punched the dash. Speed. Force. Anything was better than trudging through sloshy territory. He hit the pedal to the floor, pushing the ATV to its breaking point. Instead of gaining ground, the driver’s side tire hit a log buried below the quicksand-like dirt. For a split second, the vehicle skidded into a fishtail. The back tires swung out just enough behind Lou to halfdump him into the mess below. He hung onto the side of the truck like a monkey in a tree. Heaving his torso back up to the wheel, the massive bicep he’d grown in the weight room came in handy. He struck the side of the road pig with his boot as clumps of earth propelled into the darkness. Back upright and focused, the nervous rush had him seeing stars. Lou blinked a few times until his vision cleared. A puffed out chest later, he regained control of the hunk of metal and rubber. Squelching

| KRISTInA RIEnZI | over the landscape, he closed in on his bull’s-eye inch by inch. When he’d gone about one hundred feet, he slowed to stop. Gangs of crickets cried aloud in a cacophony of distant chirps. Squirrels scampered frantically through the trees. They weren’t running away from the quad. Adrenaline rushed Lou’s veins. Closer than he’d ever been to a possible otherworldly object, he lifted the night vision binoculars to his eyes. The moonlight glinted off a spark of silver shrouded by oversized trunks and branches. Was it a plane or a spaceship? He couldn’t tell. Only a sliver of the crash site was visible through the dense wood. No wings protruded. No tail lifted from the darkness. No lights. No sounds. No gases, flames, or screams. He caught a glimpse of the only observable section from his vantage point. A curve like a bubble, possibly a disc, was like nothing he’d ever seen on a plane—be it private, commercial, military or otherwise. Lou’s mouth went dry. He swallowed to create natural saliva but his tongue was like a dehydrated prune. What the hell was he thinking refusing to take a partner on this mission? He had no idea what he was up against. Damn cocky ego refused company. He wanted all the credit, army suicide or not. If he was the smart armed forces leader he’d been trained to be, he would have acquiesced. Maybe Dowd had the answer already. Lou was just his fool. He shrugged off his discontent, inhaled the moist air, and jerked the side-byside around a group of trees. Turning left toward the moonbeam’s only reflective target, for the first time in his life, he hoped he didn’t see what he wanted to see most. As Lou got closer to confronting the object face to face, his stomach clenched. If someone, or something, was inside the craft and alive, he’d really drop a load in his pants this time. Ego was his bitch. To suspect aliens exist was one thing. To find proof was another. To experience their existence would be life-changing. The radio beeped and Lou silenced it. The last thing he needed was an unexpected signal, or an unannounced voice coming through the speaker, to declare his arrival on the path of extraterrestrial danger.

The faster he debunked the weather balloon, the better off he’d be. His final trek to the otherworldly object was a blur. When he arrived, he shut off the engine. Thick woods wrapped him in an eerie blanket of silent darkness. Soundlessness defied all logic. Fear of the unknown hung in the air like a curtain. Lou wouldn’t speak. Whatever was out there might hear him. He fell back in his seat. No longer standing, he drew in a breath as if it were his last. It might be. Lou narrowed and widened his eyes in rapid succession. His vision couldn’t be trusted. Or could it? Awe and fear swirled inside his gut like a marble rye. An honestto-God illusion stared back at him. Mouth agape in wonder; he reached for his radio without breaking his stare on the thing that couldn’t exist. But did.


Issue 43 | February 2020 |


JUdITh sTERLIng Uncaged welcomes Judith Sterling Uncaged: Your latest release, Night of the Owl is the fourth book in a series. Can you tell readers more about the series? How many books are you planning for this series?

udith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Whether penning medieval romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) or young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), her favorite themes include true love, destiny, time travel, healing, redemption, and finding the hidden magic which exists all around us. She loves to share that magic with readers and whisk them far away from their troubles, particularly to locations in the British Isles.


Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.

stay Connected

The Novels of Ravenwood are medieval romances with a supernatural twist set in 12th-century northern England. They’re all related but can stand alone, and I’m writing the fifth and final book, Return of the Raven, now. The first three take place only in the medieval period—AD 1101-1102 to be exact—but Books Four and Five feature modern characters who travel back in time to fulfill their destinies with characters from the first three. Uncaged: I read that you live in Salem, Massachusetts and you work in The Witch House – which is an original historical house from the witch trial days. Is this a busy attraction? What do you do there? Does the rumor of Salem being a strange area to be in around Halloween have any truth to it? Yes, I’m a tour guide at The Witch House, which is the 17th-century home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the 9 judges during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Honestly, it feels like a second home to me. As the only structure in town (that you can visit) with direct ties to the trials, it’s one of Salem’s top destinations. During the month of October, particularly on the weekends, tourists might wait up to two hours to enter the house. No doubt some people find Salem strange, but the month-long Haunted Happenings celebration can be a lot of fun. We have so much more history (maritime, literary, etc.) than just the witch trials. My husband works at another local historic site, The House of the Seven Gables, so October is our busiest time of year.


Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can 22 | UncagedBooks.com

tell us about? Besides writing Return of the Raven, I’m preparing for the upcoming release of The Sword Unsheathed, the third book in my young adult paranormal fantasy series, Guardians of Erin. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? It’s a tough choice, but there are three for sure! (1) Jane Austen because Pride and Prejudice has held a special place in my heart since high school. (2) Nathaniel Hawthorne because I’ve always felt drawn to him. I walk the same streets and frequent some of the same buildings he did, and I might help him feel a little better about his ancestor, John Hathorne (another of the witch trials judges), by dispelling rumors that were prevalent

even in the 1800s. (3) Bram Stoker, whose greatgrandnephew was part of Salem’s Haunted Happenings a few years ago. I would’ve loved to tag along with Bram when he roamed the ruins of Killarney’s Muckross Abbey at night. It’s one of my favorite haunts in Ireland, too, which is why I’ve set a few scenes there in my YA books. Uncated: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Yes! Even though I create detailed outlines for my books and series before writing them, my characters still surprise me.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

man whose passions mirror her own. Can she sacrifice ambition for a love she never sought?

I enjoy reading. Of course! I also love hanging out with my husband and our 15-year-old twin boys. We watch a lot of classic movies together and travel to historic sites whenever we can. We’ve done paranormal investigations at some of the sites as well.

Hugh, Lord Seacrest confounds all who know him. He refuses to marry without a meeting of minds and hearts, and no lady has even approached his ideal… until Ardyth. But she’s an odd one, with unique skills, shocking habits, and total conviction she needs no man. She also harbors secrets, and in the midst of rumors, plots, and murder, trust is fragile.

Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Making as many readers happy as possible. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Physical books every time! Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’m grateful for your love and support and hope my stories give you a fun, safe, and positive place to escape your worries. You can find me at my website, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, and The Captivating Quill.

Enjoy an excerpt from night of the Owl Night of the Owl Judith Sterling Time Travel/Medieval PhD student Ardyth Nightshade has renounced men and pursues her twentiethcentury career with single-minded focus. When fate whisks her to medieval England, she meets her match in a 24 | UncagedBooks.com

A woman outside of her time. A man ahead of his. They must take a leap of faith to forge a bond that will shape history. Excerpt Ardyth looked from one tunnel entrance to the next, and then the next. The ledge in front of them was substantial. It ran along the rock wall to the right, all the way to the mouth of the cave, winding around it to continue along the outer cliff. Again, she pointed. “Where does that lead?” “Shouldn’t you be doffing your clothes?” Her eyes narrowed. “In other words, you don’t intend to answer my question.” He grinned. “Clever, aren’t you?” She returned his smile. “I like to think so.” “If you’re stalling because you cannot swim— ” “Oh, I can swim.” She could hardly wait to feel the cool water on her skin. He folded his arms, and his intense, gray eyes held a dare. “Then show me.” “Hold this.” She handed him the folded smock. Get ready to eat crow, buddy! Quickly, she removed her boots, hose, and tunics. When only her thin, white chemise remained, she stole a peek at her skeptical host. He stared at her bare feet. She sighed. “I know. My feet are hardly attractive. In fact, I’ve always thought my toes resemble…” He raised his eyebrows. “What?” Astronauts. But I can’t tell you that. “Nothing.” His eyebrows settled again, but the orbs beneath them seemed to glow with a new light. “I beg

| JUDITH STERLInG | to differ with your opinion. Your feet are quite… lovely.” She almost laughed, until heat flooded her cheeks. I’m blushing? “Thank you,” she muttered. With an inward groan, she started toward the water. For crying out loud! He only complimented your feet. Your pale, crazy, NASA-evoking feet. Get a grip! The ocean breeze caught the hem of her smock as she stepped into the surf. Foamy water—colder than she would’ve liked—enveloped her feet. Thank God for the heat of the sun! But this was the closest she’d come to a bath in days, and she was determined to prove her skills to the man who underestimated her at every turn. She waded forward, and the brisk, undulating water swallowed her calves, knees, thighs, and hips. “Lady Ardyth!” She turned. Her dry smock in his hands, Hugh stood with feet well apart on the wet sand. “You needn’t prove your courage further!” he called above the lapping, swishing voice of the sea. “Come back before—” “Courage isn’t the point! Swimming is!” The level of the surrounding water lowered to her thighs, signaling a coming wave. She turned just as it crested and dove headfirst into it. Completely submerged in the chill, rushing water, she headed left and allowed herself to rise to the surface. She swam freestyle for several strokes, then flipped onto her back and floated with abandon. After a minute or two, she flipped over, and swam in the opposite direction. Then she stood with the water at her ribs, waited for the next wave, and indulged in bodysurfing, which carried her with a whoosh back toward shore. Satisfied, she straightened, knee-deep in the water. Her wet chemise clung to her frame, and she knew Lord Seacrest was getting a lordly eyeful. Her nipples were rock-hard from the cold. She rolled her eyes toward the bright, blue sky. My kingdom for a bra! And throw in a pair of underwear, too! But both articles of clothing were back at Nihtscua and not likely to appear anytime soon. For the first time since plunging into the surf, she regarded Hugh. Eyes wide, her dry smock clutched in his hands, he stood as if frozen. Only his gaze moved,

traveling from her breasts to the apex of her thighs. She pulled the smock away from her flesh as best she could and advanced toward him, stopping an arm’s length away. “I told you I could swim.” He blinked. Then his full, sensual lips curled into a smile. “Indeed, you did.” “And?” “And what?” “You’ve doubted me twice already. Perhaps you owe me an apology.” His eyes widened, then relaxed. “Perhaps I do. Pray…forgive me.” The words couldn’t have come easily, and the fact he’d said them made her grin. “I forgive you. This time. But I ask respectfully that you not underestimate me again.” For two seconds, he hesitated. “ʼTis a reasonable request, and I shall endeavor to honor it.” He gave her a quizzical look. Then he shook his head and chuckled. “Is there anything you cannot do?” She thought for a moment. “I’ve never ridden aside. If I’m going to ride something, I spread my legs.” The instant the words left her mouth, she cringed inside. Good God. That came out all wrong! Humor curved his lips, but his eyes smoldered. Did his thoughts mirror hers? He took a step closer, and his masculine aura invaded her personal space. “Tell me more.”

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| BROOKE MAY | Uncaged welcomes back Brooke May Uncaged: Your latest release, Call of the Alpha, releases January 30 and is book two of The Powder River Pack series. Can you tell readers more about the series? This series is a werewolf romance series, each is a standalone and will be able to read in any order the reader would like. It’s set in a fictional Wyoming town where each member of the pack finds his mate. Call of the Alpha is the alpha finding his mate in a wildlife biologist. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I have three more releases for this year. May will be the next one and will be the fourth book in my Moto X series, Bottoming Out. It will be the best friends to my couple from the other books. Uncaged: You are attending the Wild Deadwood Reads convention in June. Have you attended before? What are you looking forward to the most? Yes, I attended the first two years. This year, I’m bringing my sons along for a small family vacation. I’m looking forward to exploring Deadwood with them and getting to meet more readers and authors as well as reconnect with ones I already know.


omance author Brooke May spends her days writing whatever her overactive imagination has brewed up and her evenings reading while she works alongside her mom. Telling stories is second natural to her, from a young age she has told anyone who would listen what she had thought up. Now, a mom of two, she splits her time writing, playing with her kids, and of course, hiking, hunting, fishing, and fourwheeling in her beloved Bighorn Mountains.

brookemayauthor.weebly.com Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Enjoy an excerpt from call of the Alpha Call of the Alpha Brooke May Shifter Romance Rylie Press’s hard work has paid off. Life and opportunity has led her back to her hometown and to a man who is going to change everything. Career focused and excited for the prospects it holds, Rylie isn’t expecting feelings her biologist mind can’t comprehend. She can’t fight her attraction to the massive Mason Fischer. Single dad and alpha of the Powder River Pack, Mason hasn’t had luck with finding his mate and thought he was in no rush. That is, until the scent of Rylie draws him out of his office to the dance floor of his bar. His wolf craves her, he wants to love her. Rylie is his fate, despite her lack of knowledge of his kind. He will do anything to have her, even if it means going up against his biggest adversary; Rylie. He has secrets but does she want the answers that may shatter the feelings she is quickly accepting? Excerpt A little-known fact about werewolves, other than the lack of a general knowledge of their existence is that if you are lucky, you will find a woman made just for you. You keep her by your side for the rest of your life, protect her at all costs, and she will soothe the beast as well as humble the man. She will also keep your secrets; never letting the outside world know what you truly are in her own way of protecting you. That’s what I am. A werewolf. A creature bound to the full moon. I am not an immortal creature or contain the ability to change whenever I feel like. I do not turn into a wolf; I would be a shifter if I did and not a werewolf. I am a monster in every sense of the word. 28 | UncagedBooks.com

The people who created the movie Van Helsing were onto something when they made their werewolves. We are beasts; varying in coloration and patterns on our fur and we keep out of sight of humans who would harm us, but we don’t actually look like a wolf. While our bodies are slaved to moon, we do have the ability to change when it is absolutely necessary. Alphas have the ability far greater and stronger than other werewolves and that is just what I am. I am the newly appointed alpha of the Powder River Pack in Northern Wyoming. My dad, Tom, had decided to step down seven months ago and handed the pack over to me. My world is filled with other men like me; my dad, brother, and friends all are members of my pack. There are no female werewolves. Females remain human no matter what while sons of a werewolf will be just like their father. We aren’t the only pack in our small part of Wyoming, but there is plenty of room for the two packs to coexist relatively peacefully. That apple cart has been upset in the last year and I am only half of the blame for it. I am now becoming a father to a child who’s mother is not my mate. If I would have listened to my wolf side, we wouldn’t be in this mess, but no, I thought for once I would be smarter than instinct, that the wolf would not overpower me as a man.


fter teaching English literature in the UK, Japan and Malaysia, Helen Harper left behind the world of education following the worldwide success of her Blood Destiny series of books. She is a professional member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and writes full time, thanking her lucky stars every day that’s she lucky enough to do so!


Helen has always been a book lover, devouring science fiction and fantasy tales when she was a child growing up in Scotland. She currently lives in Devon in the UK with far too many cats – not to mention the dragons, fairies, demons, wizards and vampires that seem to keep appearing from nowhere.

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Uncaged welcomes Helen Harper Uncaged: Can you tell us more about your series, How To Be The Best Damn Faery Godmother In The World (Or Die Trying)? Even though, they’re the ones with all the power, the fairy godmothers in old stories are never the heroines! I figured it was about time that they had a voice and I love the idea that there’s an office of fairy godmothers somewhere who are working flat out to grant wishes. Unfortunately, however, the office in this series is not a happy place, for all sorts of reasons. Think of it as The Office meets Mean Girls meets Cinderella. And then some! Uncaged: You write mainly in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. Where do you get your ideas for your stories?

I love the escapism of urban fantasy but the part that makes it enjoyable for me is that it’s rooted in real life. Usually there’s something from the real world that will set off a series of ideas for me – for example, I’m from Scotland originally and was brought up in a town that’s at the start of the imaginary line between the Highlands and the Lowlands. That sparked an idea about a series of books called Highland Magic, where the Lowlands are overrun by demons and only the Highlands are free. Or then there’s The Lazy Girl’s Guide To Magic, which came about from a chat with a friend where we agreed that we’d be useless in any ‘heroic’ situation because we’re both just too lazy at heart! Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m just about to begin a brand new series about a police officer who is murdered. She then wakes up

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in a morgue without any injuries – and realises that she’s just as magical as the vampires and werewolves she’s been hunting. But she has no idea who killed her or why and she’s determined to find out. I love starting a new series when everything is shiny and fun and all the kinks and details still have to be worked out!

Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began?

Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why?

Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

Jane Austen! I’d love to talk to her about what it was like to write back then – and to see her face when she found out that her books and characters are still very much celebrated today. JRR Tolkien as well – I had a tutor at university who’d been taught herself by Tolkien at Oxford University and I’m still jealous all these years later!

I have a crazy dog and we spend a lot of time tramping up hills, through muddy forests and along various beaches. I suffer from a serious case of itchy feet as well so I’m often travelling to new places. I’m very lucky to be able to live the life that I do.

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ALL the time! I’m a pantser, not a plotter so they are constantly surprising me. It’s much more fun for me to write that way and have no idea what’s going to happen next or what they’re going to do.

| HELEn HARPER | Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? The happiest and the most successful I’ve ever felt as an author was the very first time a stranger left me a book review. The high that someone I didn’t know had read something I’d written was indescribable.

Enjoy an excerpt from Wishful Thinking Wishful Thinking Helen Harper Urban Fantasy

Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Ebooks! I’m a voracious reader and I love being able to carry around a thousand books in my little handbag! Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thank you. Every day you make my dreams come true and I could never have imagined that I’d be able to write full time. It sounds cheesy as hell but I mean it from the bottom of my heart - you guys are the best.

Muddled magic. Missing faeries. She’s having one spell of a day at work... Saffron Sawyer has ambition by the bucketload and magic at her fingertips. When she lands a position at the esteemed Office of Faery Godmothers, she thinks all her dreams have come true. But it’s not all glitter and glass slippers, especially with emerald eyed Jasper, the Devil’s Advocate, who is looming over everything. And when Saffron learns that other faery godmothers have been going missing, she realises that she might just be in over her head. Wishful Thinking is the first book in the refreshingly original How To Be The Best Damn Faery Godmother in the World (or Die Trying) urban fantasy series. If you love determined heroines, enchanting spins on old tales, and clever twists and turns, then you’ll love Helen Harper’s captivating story. Excerpt Chapter One The monster was bloody massive. Despite the soupy fog surrounding us, his features were still clear. His angry red eyes glowed, almost laser sharp in their intensity, while his green skin glistened wetly in the drizzle. He opened his mouth, jaws yawning wide. The roar which ensued just Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | after was in equal measures ferocious and terrifying. I beamed proudly. The bolder of my three trainees raised his hand. Normally, I wouldn’t countenance questions in the middle of a client session. For now, however, I’d allow it. I had a few seconds to spare and I was feeling generous. I nodded towards him. ‘Yes?’ He swallowed. ‘Isn’t it rather derivative? I mean, giving him green skin and all. It’s not very original.’ The kid deserved to go to the top of the class. I snapped my fingers at him. ‘Exactly! It’s not supposed to be innovative. You have to ensure that you are creating something which is connected in some way to reality. If you stray too far and let your imagination run riot, then you run the risk of either at worst turning your client psychotically crazy or at best making him completely dismiss your conjuration and forget about what he’s seen.’ I pointed at the hunched over figure in the doorway. ‘If he can believe that his own mind created that monster, then you’ll have more success in your endeavours.’ ‘I thought that as dope faeries we are supposed to give them the best trip possible.’ ‘We are.’ I explained further. ‘And the best trip possible is the one that your client can believe in. To a certain extent anyway. You can’t give them more than their own minds can cope with. When Duncan Smith here properly sobers up, he’ll believe that the mushrooms he ate were fantastic. He’ll think that he hallucinated a monster akin to the Incredible Hulk because last week he saw part of the film when he sneaked into the local cinema. He’ll be more inclined to have mushrooms again, instead of progressing to harder substances which will only lead to his eventual demise. And,’ I gestured to his expression, ‘he’ll continue to enjoy himself.’ All three trainees stared at Duncan’s glazed expression. His mouth was indeed curved up into a goofy smile, with his tongue lolling out happily. The trail of drool curling down from his bottom lip was somewhat off-putting but fairly par for 34 | UncagedBooks.com

the course. ‘Is the boogeyman coming?’ Duncan whispered. I knelt down next to his ear. ‘The boogeyman is here, Duncan.’ ‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘The other one. The real one.’ ‘What’s he talking about?’ asked Sarah, the only female out of the three of them. I shrugged. ‘Probably a previous hallucination which he’s confusing with this one.’ I held my index finger up to my mouth, indicating that they should stop talking. ‘Now be quiet. You can’t leave your conjurations alone for too long or…’ I didn’t manage to finish speaking. The green monster, irritated at being left on its own, snarled loudly and stomped forward, shoving me out of the way. The thing didn’t realise its own strength. I went flying, smacking with a painful thud into a nearby brick wall. While I picked myself up, feeling somewhat dazed, the monster lunged for Duncan, grabbing him by the collar and hefting him up. ‘What do we do?’ Sarah screamed. I dragged myself up to my feet. ‘Stay back,’ I said calmly. ‘That’s what you do.’ I raised my right hand up into the air and twirled my dope faery wand three times. Initially, nothing seemed to happen. Then, however, there was a scuttling sound. The three trainees drew back. That was a wise decision. The scuttling sound grew louder and louder until it was almost a deafening roar. While the green monster craned its head down, prepared to quite happily gnaw on Duncan’s exposed neck, from the shadows, hundreds of tiny creatures suddenly appeared. Each one was about the size of my thumb and each one was charging towards the monster. Some wore kilts; some wore suits of armour; some were completely naked. They all carried weapons, however, and they were all directed at Duncan’s monster. Within scant seconds they swarmed up its body, engulfing it until it was no longer visible. Duncan fell to the ground, landing badly on his side. I winced. He’d have an inexplicably painful bruise when he woke up tomorrow morning. I rubbed at my spine. He wasn’t the only one.

| HELEn HARPER | I raised my hand once again and twirled it anticlockwise this time. The tiny army vanished. A split second later so did the monster. I shook out my hair, brushed off the dirt from my t-shirt, and turned to my cowering trio. ‘So,’ I said with a smile, ‘what can you learn from that episode? Dean?’ He ran a shaky hand through his hair and blinked at me. ‘Er … stay on your guard at all times?’ I nodded. ‘Yes. What else?’ Sarah swallowed. ‘Keep a close rein on your incantations.’ ‘Yes.’ I cast a glance at Duncan. Mild confusion was reflected in his face but he didn’t appear unduly perturbed by his near brush with death. ‘Although you can easily control whatever you conjure up, if you become distracted then disaster can ensue.’ My tone darkened. ‘Make no mistake. Serious injury and even death can and does occur. We are already dealing with vulnerable clients. The last thing you want to do is make their lives worse than they already are.’ I stepped out of the shadows so that Duncan would finally notice my presence, and knelt down in front of him. ‘How are you feeling, Duncan?’ I asked softly. His dilated pupils fixed on me. ‘Good.’ He frowned. ‘Great, in fact.’ He stared at me more closely. ‘Do I know you?’ ‘I’m a friend,’ I told him. ‘Ah.’ He bobbed his head in understanding. ‘Did you see the monster too?’ ‘I did.’ I smiled at him. ‘It was pretty scary.’ ‘I wasn’t scared,’ he quickly declared. ‘Monsters don’t scare me.’ I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Good for you. I’ll see you around.’ ‘Be careful,’ he muttered. ‘You don’t want to get hurt.’ He lifted his feet, using them to push himself against the wall. Then he began to fumble in his pockets for a cigarette. I left him to it. My work, at least as far as Duncan was concerned, was done for now. ‘What happens,’ Sarah asked, ‘if he does move onto more potent drugs? Will he still be your client then?’ ‘Yes.’ I sighed. ‘But the hallucinations I create will

affect him more deeply. It will become harder to maintain control over his moments of lucidity. Some clients manage to pull back from that. Some don’t. You can nudge them towards the right path but you can’t choose it for them.’ I touched my chest. ‘That sort of motivation has to come from within.’ All three of the trainees looked rather dubious. Dean’s colour still hadn’t returned to his cheeks. It wasn’t easy starting out. They’d learn soon enough though. ‘Will he remember us?’ Dean asked. I shook my head. ‘The memory magic covers you as well as me. He won’t remember a thing.’ All three of them looked relieved at that. They were clearly still nervous about their new jobs. I smiled sympathetically. ‘It’s not glamorous being a dope faery,’ I told them. ‘A lot of other faeries in other professions will look down on you. But make no mistake about it. You are giving some small amount of joy to your clients. What they then do with that afterwards is up to them.’ ‘He doesn’t look very joyful,’ Dean pointed out. That was the trouble with specialised language, I reflected. Unless you were in the loop, it rarely made sense. ‘When I say joy in this context,’ I said, ‘I’m actually referring to a number of possible emotions. All positive and all with the potential to lead to genuine joy, as you understand it.’ I thought a little more about it before continuing, choosing my words carefully so that my three students would grasp my actual meaning. ‘In Duncan’s case it’s about bravery. He’s too scared to pick himself up and move on from the trauma that put him in this position. I’ve been working with him for months to build up his confidence. Last year he wouldn’t have been able to cope with a monster such as the one I just conjured up. It’s taken a lot to get him to this point. Being a dope faery isn’t only about giving your clients happy drug dreams. It’s about giving them the tools they might need to survive beyond this existence.’ I waved a hand around to illustrate my point. ‘It’s a lot more complex than I’d realised,’ Sarah said, as much to herself as to anyone else. Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | ‘You’ll grasp the ins and outs more quickly than you think,’ I told her. Then I smiled at them all. ‘Let’s head home to Colchester and clock off. You can spend the evening remembering that, no matter what anyone else tells you, this is a great job and you’ll gain immense satisfaction from it.’ *** ‘I hate my job.’ I gazed morosely into my beer. ‘Three hours I’ve spent in crappy rain with crappy clients and crappy trainees.’ I gestured towards my hair. ‘You do realise that no amount of conditioner is going to calm down this frizz now, right?’ Harry grinned at me. ‘I think the frizz kind of suits you.’ ‘Piss off.’ ‘I’m telling the truth. It makes you look like a poodle.’ I looked up from my drink and stared at him. ‘A very cute poodle,’ he said. I snorted. Most other faeries were blessed with perfect locks and unblemished skin. I, on the other hand, had the sort of hair which wouldn’t look out of place on a circus clown and I was prone to repeated acne break outs. No-one ever said life was fair. ‘Anyway,’ Harry said, ‘you’re ridiculously good at your job. You take it seriously and you help out lots of people. Very few of your clients have died from overdoses.’ He paused. ‘You won employee of the month three times in a row! So stop whinging about it. You’re just having a bad day.’ ‘More like a bad year,’ I muttered. I took a swig of my drink and sighed. ‘Alright. I don’t really hate my job. I’m just bored as hell.’ ‘Isn’t that why your boss has been giving you all those trainees?’ Harry asked. ‘To keep you on your toes?’ I grimaced. ‘Jacob is trying to keep me busy. I’m sure he thinks that I want his job. The last thing I want, however, is more sodding dope faery paperwork. I don’t want to be sat behind a desk. I want to be out there,’ I gestured aimlessly in front 36 | UncagedBooks.com

of me, ‘helping people.’ Not to mention being the best dope faery there was. That went without saying. ‘You do help people.’ Harry scratched at an old scab on the back of his hand. ‘And at least you don’t have to hang around waiting for it to rain like I do. This dry spell we’ve been having is driving me nuts. I’ve not been able to create any decent rainbows since April. And even then I was told the last one I made wasn’t good enough because my blues were too insipid. Blues by their very nature are insipid!’ I gave him a commiserative look. ‘You’ve still not been given the London contract then?’ ‘No.’ He grunted in irritation. ‘The dippy twins have it instead. And that’s only because their uncle is Philip Vasterson.’ My mouth curved into a sympathetic smile. ‘Remember when we were students and we created FAN? We should never have abandoned it.’ ‘We didn’t have much choice in the matter,’ Harry reminded me. ‘ Besides, ‘Faeries Against Nepotism was never going to gain any traction when all the powers that be enjoy their position because of that very nepotism. We were young and optimistic and now we’re tired and over-worked. This is how it will be until we retire, draw our pensions and then drop dead immediately after.’ His eyes danced. ‘So we should forget about our jobs and just party harder.’ He clinked his glass against mine and drained it dry. ‘Let’s do shots. Then clubbing. And maybe a kebab before a quick vomit into the nearest drain.’ I smirked. ‘That’s very tempting. But I’ve been called into for an early meeting tomorrow. I have no idea what Jacob wants but I reckon I’ll need a clear head. Especially if he’s going to call me out for making that client last walk into the lake last week. He doesn’t realise that it was a carefully planned operation designed to help my boy get over his fear of water. If he thinks that he can give me an official warning for almost drowning the man then he’s got another thing coming.’ ‘You go, girl.’ He nudged me. ‘You see? You do care about your job.’ ‘Of course I care about it.’ I sighed. ‘I’m still bored though.’ ‘Only one shot then. Vodka.’

| HELEn HARPER | I couldn’t deny that I was tempted. I shook my head firmly. ‘No. There have been whispers that there’s a new task force being created to deal with people who are taking that synthetic drug that’s recently come onto the streets. I think it’s called Wings.’ I shrugged. ‘Anyway, if it does come about I want to be the one to head it up. I’ve got the experience and the expertise.’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Not to mention the ambition.’ This was a conversation we’d had many times. ‘Why have dreams if you’re not willing to work to achieve them?’ ‘Saffron, your dream isn’t to head up the Wings task force.’ My mouth twisted. ‘No, it’s not. But right now it’s about all I’ve got that’s achievable.’ I leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. ‘I’ll see you later.’ ‘Count on it.’ *** Jacob wasn’t a bad boss. In fact, I rather respected and admired him. He ran a tight ship and didn’t take fools gladly. Admittedly, he had a disturbing penchant for implementing new initiatives from his various middle management training courses with unbridled enthusiasm, regardless of whether they were smart ideas or not. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fault him for possessing the same ardent desire to do well that I did. I simply wished I had more opportunities to shine. Modesty aside, it was all very well being a big fish in a small pond but I was quickly running out of room. ‘Take a seat, Saffron.’ Jacob pointed at the chair in front of his desk. ‘Thank you for coming in so early. I know you had a busy day yesterday.’ ‘It wasn’t too bad.’ ‘Your trainees were impressed. You’ve done a good job of firing them up. Not ever faery wants to come to this department. We can always count on you to show the newbies what things are really like. The magic you weave with them as well as with your clients is nothing short of wonderful. Complex tapestries shot

with gold. That’s what you do.’ I frowned at him. Jacob wasn’t normally prone to flowery language. Neither did he tend towards effusive compliments. Something was definitely up. ‘I do what I’ve been told to do,’ I said slowly. ‘And you do it very well. Lots of other dope faeries look up to you.’ His expression was remarkably earnest. That had me worried. ‘Alright,’ I said, ‘enough already. What’s this actually about?’ His nose wrinkled. ‘This department was never your first choice.’ ‘No.’ ‘You applied to the luck faeries, I believe?’ I nodded. I was growing more suspicious by the second. ‘And the dream faeries?’ ‘Yes. What of it?’ Jacob ignored my question. ‘On three occasions, you also applied to the faery godmothers. You were not long listed.’ I tilted my head. ‘Is this your attempt to tell me that I was lucky to get any kind of job at all?’ His gaze was steady. ‘No. It’s my attempt to tell you that we saw your potential even if the other departments did not. You do good work here, Maisie. If you remain on this trajectory, you could head up the entire department one day.’ There was definitely a ‘but’ coming. I folded my arms. Jacob sighed. ‘An opening has come up in another department. They have suggested that you would be a good fit. They would like to interview you.’ I stared at him. ‘Me?’ He sniffed. ‘It’s far from ideal. You’ll go right back down to the bottom of the heap. You’ll have all sorts of new things to learn and you’ll be considerably older than any of the other new starts. It might seem appealing but you have to remember that not all that glitters is gold.’ ‘Which department?’ I asked. ‘Just because somewhere has a good reputation doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to be an amazing place to work. And just because they’ve Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | asked for you to attend an interview doesn’t mean that you’ll get the position.’ ‘Jacob, which department?’ His mouth moved and the words came out but for some strange reason I couldn’t actually hear him. What he said did not compute. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t catch that. Which department?’ He remained calm but there was an odd glint in his eye. ‘The same one you applied to three times. The supposed top of the faery tree.’ A hint of sourness coloured his tone. ‘The faery godmothers?’ I asked stupidly. ‘The faery godmothers have asked for me?’ ‘You don’t have to do it,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to attend the interview.’ I was already on my feet. ‘When?’ I asked, my blood fizzing in delight at the very thought. ‘Where?’ Jacob’s mouth tightened. ‘Their Assistant Director would like to talk to you as soon as possible. In fact she’s waiting outside. She’ll interview you here. You don’t have to use the Metafora to transport yourself to their building. She is,’ Jacob added darkly, ‘a remarkably humourless person.’ My feet were already propelling me towards the door. Why hadn’t I put on smarter clothes this morning? Damn it. There was no time to go and change. I didn’t want to give the faery godmothers the chance to change their mind. They’d asked for me. For me. This might turn out to be the best day of my entire life. ‘Thank you, Jacob! Thank you so much!’ ‘You don’t have to take the job,’ he called out once again after me. I barely heard him. Sometimes wishes really did come true. My mum would never believe this. Neither would Harry. Frankly, right now, neither did I.

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amanda maRIEL SA Today Bestselling author Amanda Mariel dreams of days gone by when life moved at a slower pace. She enjoys taking pen to paper and exploring historical time periods through her imagination and the written word. When she is not writing she can be found reading, crocheting, traveling, practicing her photography skills, or spending time with her family.


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Welcome Amanda Mariel Uncaged: You have had a very busy 2019, and you are not slowing down at all in 2020! You have two new releases in January with co-writer Dawn Brower. Can you tell readers more about how that collaboration came about? Dawn Brower and I have often worked together. When we started talking about an idea for heroines who do unusual things-fence, racehorses, run gaming hells-we knew we had to write it! As we talked about the possibilities, we decided it would be fun to write the series together, and so we did. What we planned as a four-book series has turned into eight books, with the final two releasing in early February. Uncaged: You also have collaborated on several new box sets coming out in 2020. Can you tell readers more about them? Oh Yes! 2020 is going to be an exciting and busy year! I am leading 5 box sets to release in February, May, August, September, and November 2020. The first two, Mad About Dukes and A May Day to Remember, are on preorder now! All of them are Regency/Victorian collaborations, including 6-9 authors, and two of them will be all-new material. In addition to the sets, I have 5 new books planned to release in 2020. Uncaged: I’m almost afraid to ask this, but what are you working on next that you can tell us about? I am currently finishing up Believe in Love, my January 21, 2020 release. It is book 5 in the Scandal Meets Love Series we talked about above. This one features Lady Brooke, who is a card shark and a horsewoman. “Lady Brooke Linwood never could have guessed what would happen after she saved the Earl of Templeton from a cutthroat in the ally behind Fortuna’s Parlor.” It is a blast to write!! After Believe in Love is completed, I will be starting work on book three in my A Rogue’s Kiss series, Issue 43 | February 2020 |


wealth of knowledge. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? For sure! They have a way of running wild despite my best-laid plans. It is not at all unusual to be writing and have the character insist on doing something other than what was planned. It sounds weird, but they really do take on a life all their own. When it happens, the author has no choice but to go along for the ride. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working?

His Perfect Hellion. A fun Regency with a little spice, and the final book in that series. His Perfect Hellion is also on preorder and releases in March of 2020. After that, I will be writing my novella for one of the new material box sets, then diving into a secret connected worlds project with several other fabulously talented authors. In the meantime, I am also working on having my books translated into French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Many of them already are. And I also have audiobooks in the works. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Johanna Lindsey would be my top pick. She is one hundred percent responsible for my love of Historical Romance, and I can only imagine she’d be a 42 | UncagedBooks.com

I’m not sure I know what the word relax means. LOL. I have two teenagers, two cats, and a 5-year-old stepson. When I am not writing, they are ALL demanding my attention. By the time bedtime rolls around, I am usually exhausted too. On the rare occasions that I find time for me, I like to design cover art. I have a FaceBook page, Mandy Koehler Designs, where I post my covers. Art is very relaxing for me. I also like to crochet-though it takes me years to make a blanket! Reading will always be a passion, and I love audiobooks. I also like to bake because it is both relaxing and an activity the kiddos can join me in. Traveling-especially to historical spots, is also a passion. I am going to Williamsburg, Virginia, in March and cannot wait! Bonus, I will be traveling with Dawn Brower then enjoying the Romancing Williamsburg Regency House Party with several other author pals and readers. It is sure to be a great time and hopefully a bit relaxing. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Who doesn’t want to see their books on store shelves and make heaps of money? Maybe even see their novel turned into a TV show or movie? I think that is the holy grail of an author’s success, however, to me, I don’t need all of that. Success is writing stories I love and having readers/fans who love them too. As long as I have readers, I will keep writing and consider myself a success.

| AMAnDA MARIEL | Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? All three! I love to curl up with a paperback when I’m the only one home and have free time to read. EBooks are so convenient and easy to get-instant gratification with one click-that I have an enormous TBR pile. And audiobooks are so easy to listen to. I love how I can enjoy a story while I do my administrative work or clean the house. I often listen to an audiobook or read an ebook at bedtime to help me unwind. I cannot tell you how many times I woke up tangled in my headphones because I drifted off while listening. LOL. Please tell me I am not the only one who does this! Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thank you! I think thank you is the number one thing I like to say to fans because, without them, I would have no reason to write. They allow me to do what I love and bring me so much joy with their reviews and personal communications. My fans are AMAZING! I can be followed on FaceBook, Twitter, Good Reads, BookBub, Amazon, and Instagram, as well as via my website and newsletter.

Enjoy an excerpt from Forever in Your Arms Forever in Your Arms Amanda Mariel Historical Regency Can a scoundrel not also be a gentleman? A chance encounter… Finding herself in a rogue’s arms was the last thing Lady Phoebe Summerville imagined would happen while she was perched in the branches of a tree. Startled at her willingness while in the mystery man’s arms, she deter-

mined to forget him and return to Yorkshire. Little did she know, they would meet again. An undeniable attraction… Graham Markham, Duke of Fairfax, knew better than to trifle with a debutante. Yet he found himself unable to refrain where Lady Phoebe was concerned. The woman created a desire in him that could not be ignored. A passion, that much to his dismay, did not cease when her family demanded he marry her. A love that won’t be denied… Sickened at the notion that his past would bring shame and hurt to Phoebe, Graham does all in his power to end their engagement. Equally determined, Phoebe refuses to beg off and sets out to win the dukes heart. Unbeknownst to her, she already has. It is the very reason Graham wishes to protect her. Can true love be denied? Or will Phoebe and Graham embrace their hearts desire come what may? Excerpt Graham stared up at the woman perched like a curious little bird in flowing skirts. What the devil was she doing in the tree? And who was the lovely creature? He held out a hand as though he could reach her. “Allow me to help you down.” The woman did not reply but continued to stare back at him, her face shielded behind a plume of white feathers. His curiosity grew more with each beat of his heart. Who was the woman? A guest from the ball no doubt, but what was her name? And why was she stashed away in a tree? “What are you doing up there?” he asked. She wriggled on the branch. “Go away. Forget you saw me, and I shall do the same.” “I cannot leave you up there. For all I know, you’re stuck. A gentleman does not abandon a lady in need.” Even through the darkness he saw Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | her eyes spark with annoyance, or was it anger? Either way it amused him. “I am not in need of anything you have to offer. If you are a gentleman, you will leave me alone as I’ve asked you to do.” “Prove that you are not in need of rescue and I shall.” She peered down at him. “I have no reason to prove anything.” “Oh, but you do.” He stepped back, his gaze moving to the branches. He looked back up as he grasped a branch. She watched in horror as he hefted himself into the tree. “Stop,” she called from her perch. “I’ll come down on my own.” Graham fought the urge to continue his climb and dropped back to the ground, his gaze trained on the woman who now ascended the trees limbs. He should not give a damn about her reasons for being up there, but for some reason found himself beyond curious. After all, t wasn’t everyday one found a lady in a tree. The chit’s sharp tongue combined with her having paid witness to his little tryst with Lady Mulholland made her all the more intriguing. It would nag on his mind if he did not discover her reason for being up there. Besides, he preferred unraveling mysteries to dancing at balls. He folded his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels. The woman slowly climbed down, sending him nervous glances with each movement. The closer she came, the more of her features he could make out. Graham took a step toward the tree, ready to catch her if she slipped. When the moons glow caste her in soft light, his gaze moved to drink in her trim ankles as they played peek-a-boo with her skirts. Before long, he gained a nice view of her rounded behind and wellshaped hips. She was a lovely creature indeed. He shifted his stance in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure rising behind his trousers. Heavens, the site of her was wreaking havoc on him. He had to touch her—hold her—mold his 44 | UncagedBooks.com

hands to her body. As she drew nearer, he reached up and took her by the waist. In one swift motion, he had her feet placed safely on the ground, her chest mere inches from his. She glared at him, her hazel eyes surrounded with white plumes, quite striking in their intensity. “Why did you do that?” she demanded. “It was the gentlemanly thing to do.” He smirked. “I told you I was capable of getting myself down.” She placed her hands on her hips, but did not step back. “And let us stop pretending you are anything other than a scoundrel.” “Can a scoundrel not also be a gentleman?” “No.” Her eyes narrowed. “Good evening.” She bobbed her head, then spun on her heels, and began marching away. “Wait.” Graham hurried after her, his pulse erratic. “Why were you in that tree?” She pivoted back, her curls bouncing. “Not that it is any of your business, but I was hiding from another of your ilk.” He brought his hand to his chest. “You wound me.” “My apologies.” She took a series of hurried steps. Undeterred by her obvious desire to flee, Graham strode toward her. “Your tone in no way matches your words. You should work on lying if it’s a practice you plan to engage in.” He grinned when she whirled back around to glare at him. She released a frustrated breath. “Very well, if it is the truth you wish for, then you shall have it.” She balled her fists at her sides. “You are the most vexing man I have ever had occasion to speak with, and I have no desire to further our acquaintance.” “Vexing, how?” He gave a roguish grin—one that widened when her lips twitched upward in the semblance of a smile. She could behave as angry as she wished, but her reaction gave her away. The mystery lady was enjoying their verbal exchange as much as he was. She angled her head, her dark curls shining in the moon’s glow. “What were you doing with a married woman?” Ah, so the vixen wanted to turn the inquisition on him. Graham drew closer to her, and lowered his voice as if to convey a secret. “What do you think we

| AMAnDA MARIEL | were doing?” Her back stiffened, and she averted her gaze for a heartbeat. “I’m quite certain I wouldn’t know,” she said her voice low, almost a whisper. “Then allow me to demonstrate.” Graham leaned in, capturing her mouth with his. To his surprise, she yielded to him. Her body pressed against his as he slanted his lips over hers. Desperate to taste her, he slid his tongue along the crease of her warm lips, and she rewarded him with a husky moan. Graham took the opportunity to slip his tongue into her mouth, deepening their kiss. The tart-tongued minx tasted every bit as sweet as she looked. What’s more, she met his ardor head on. Her breasts pressed to his chest and arms around his shoulders. She accepted all he was offering, her actions begging for more. He obliged, devouring the honeyed recesses of her mouth. She threaded her fingers into the hair at his nape while she conducted her own exploration, greedily taking of him as she generously gave of herself. He cupped her bottom, pulling her closer as he enjoyed the treat she was bestowing on him. Had he ever tasted anything sweeter? The woman was driving him to distraction. A stranger. A vixen he’d found in a tree. And perhaps the most desirable woman he’d ever held. She slid a hand down his back and released a pleasure-filled whimper. His desire to posses her intensified, and he slid one hand around to cup her full breast. She arched into him, her kiss growing more frantic. Who the devil was this sweet little thing in his arms? He didn’t know anything about her and yet, he found himself ravishing her as though he were a hungry lion and she a tempting gazelle. This sort of behavior often led men to the parson’s noose. His head cleared at the terrifying notion, yet he continued to kiss her, to touch her. What the hell was he doing risking so much for a tempting skirt? Bloody hell, but it would not do—no matter how much he wanted her. He had to stop this madness. Had to discover her identity before he went further.

Graham fought through the passion she’d stirred within him and pulled back. “What’s your name?” She stared up at him wide-eyed, her lips swollen from his kiss. “It doesn’t matter,” she answered in a husky whisper. He nipped at her throat. “It does if I plan to make love to you.”


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showcase Tamara Hughes Once Upon a Masquerade Once Upon a Masquerade Tamara Hughes

A Prince Charming meets his match… Self-made shipping magnate, Christopher Black first spies Rebecca Bailey at a masquerade ball and is captivated by her refreshing naiveté and sparkling beauty. She’s a stark contrast to the hollow behavior of the ton and the guile of his former fiancée, but the closer he gets to her secrets, the farther she pushes him away. A Cinderella with a secret…

Excerpt Rebecca stood in the center of the room, reluctant to climb into bed as though confident he wanted her there. He’d already rejected her once this night. She didn’t think she could withstand another. From the light of the candle, she spied a chair in the corner near the window. Before she could act on that thought, Christopher muttered, “Come to the bed. I won’t touch you. I’m too tired, even if I wanted to.” She almost laughed. He believed she feared he would take advantage. In truth, her body craved his touch. His bare chest, muscular even in rest, glowed golden in the candlelight. That broad expanse enticed her to run her hands over his smooth skin, to feel the intense heat she knew to be there. Rebecca wished she could change his mind about her. Frankly, as exhausted as she was, with her nerves on edge, the chair would be her best option. She headed in that direction. Before she could sit, Christopher’s eyes snapped open. “I think it would be best if I slept between you and the door in case your attacker is still out there.”

Rebecca is drawn to the charismatic Christopher from the first, but she cannot risk him discovering that she is really a housemaid impersonating an heiress. Her father’s life depends on it.

She’d known he didn’t believe her. But his open ridicule infuriated her. “If my attacker didn’t light the candle, then who did?”

A Happily Ever After that could never be…

How could that be possible? “You saw yourself Mary wasn’t there.”

When Christopher’s investigation of the murder of his best friend leads him straight to Rebecca, he fears his ingénue may be a femme fatale in disguise. Now he must decide if he can trust the woman he’s come to love, or if her secrets will be his downfall.

He blew out a gust of air. “You or your maid.”

“Maybe she returned and left again.” “To go where?” she argued. He lifted his hands and let them drop to his sides. “To be safe, I brought you here, did I not?” For the love of… She should march back to her own room out of spite. Of course, even if she managed to gather her courage and attempt it, his warped sense of

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honor would demand he stop her, despite the fact that he thought the risk minimal. The chair definitely had some merit. She spread her skirts, prepared to sit. The bed creaked as Christopher leaned up on one elbow. “Either you bring yourself over here or I’ll come get you,” he threatened, and by the look on his face he would be none too gentle if she made him go to the trouble. An evil thought flashed through her mind. She should trouble him. She was tired of being pushed around by the likes of him. He’d deemed himself her protector and now believed he could rule her every move. At her rebellious look, his gaze darkened, daring her to tempt him. She sank onto the chair and tensed.


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TRACY SUMNER & Banksy Okay, this story is a bit of a doozy. I volunteer for a local animal shelter (county) and a kitten came in about 3 years ago. He’d been spraypainted. A homeless man found him at a dumpster. and he has this compulsion about spray-painting everything he owned gold. You get the drift. The kitten’s condition was pretty bad -- missing hair from the paint, lost one eye, not walking. I was given him with a 50/50 edict. May not make it. Well, he’s a demanding, slightly obese, affectinate wonder! And we named him Banksy, after the graffiti artist. ;) Dressed for Christmas. Much to his dismay.


My Lola Love! We lost her on August 4th, only two days after we brought my daughter home from the hospital. It was such an emotional time, but I’m so grateful she met (and kissed!) our baby girl. I’ve had dogs all my life, but Lola was a special fur baby. She was my little soul-mate dog. She understood me like no other animal ever did. She loved people with all her heart and was such a sweetie. Lola taught me all about unconditional love with her whole-body-wag greeting and pawsto-cheek kiss. That saying, “When I needed a hand, I found your paw” was all Lola to me. She was always there for me and with me, beyond a dog. A true best friend. I’ll love and miss her until we meet again over the Rainbow Bridge.

CHRIS KELSEY & Kiki My yellow lab Kiki was the best dog in the world, I don’t care what anyone else says. She was rambunctious and funny and crazy and loving and she was a puppy every day of the twelve years my family were blessed to have her. She died this past September and we miss her very much, but she lives on as the character of “Dizzy,” Emmett Hardy’s faithful companion in my books, Where the Hurt Is, and Butcherville.

AMBER DAULTON & Darby, Pepper & Sox I adore cats. Right now, my husband Greg and I have three furbabbies—Darby, Pepper, and Sox. Darby (boy) and Pepper (girl) are best friends. They get along great and will bath each other constantly. They’re both 7 years old, maybe four months apart. Sox (boy) is the newest member of the family. He 48 | UncagedBooks.com

A U T H O RS A N D T H E I R P E TS Pets and companions come in many shapes and sizes. From furry to feathered to hairy and scaley - there is a place for all of them. Authors have a special relationship with their pets - whether they remind them to get up and take a break or they inspire their writing. Meet the critters that share their love and devotion to Uncaged Feature Authors.

was a stray that started hanging around the house about a year ago. He wouldn’t go away, so Greg and I adopted him. He’s somewhere between 2-5 years old (we’ve measured his approximate age by his teeth and fur condition), but he acts like a playful 1-year-old. So we are averaging his age at 3. Anyway, Darby and Pepper don’t like Sox, but they’re slowly coming around to him. At least there’s no more fighting. Only jealous hissing now and then. Hopefully, the tension will ease more as time goes on. After all, if another stray cat comes around and won’t leave, a fourth baby will be added to the family.

AMANDA MARIEL & Ezra & Puff I have two cats: Ezra, my big maincoon who I often affectionately call my big mouth baby. And Puff, an American Long haired muttsy, who I like to call Bubba. They are my best buddies. Ezra can usually be found lying on my desk or at my feet. He likes to be close, while Puff likes to cuddle. It is not unusual to find Puff sleeping on my lap while I type or snuggled on my chest as I read. My big boy is eight years old, and my little Puffer is eight months old.

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HELEN HARPER & Lara Croft, Marlowe, Mavis + 1 I’ve got three cats and one dog – all of which come from Malaysia where I used to live (and where sadly there’s a large stray population). Pictured below are Lara Croft the cat, who unfortunately lost her tail after breaking it during an adventure, and Marlowe the dog, who has never met a stranger’s picnic hamper he’s not attempted to pilfer a sandwich from. He’s almost five years old, but I have no clue how old any of the cats are as they were all adults when they came to me. Cats are very good at spotting a soft touch and then insinuating themselves into your life! They also make excellent alarm clocks…

CYRENE & Daisy, Poppy & Bucky I have a mob of pets. Mainly because I seem to like them more than most people, at least that’s what my family says. I will feature one each month - and you can get a small peek into the life I lead on a small farm.

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I have 3 troublemakers that are known to most people as goats. Although I love the trio, I would caution people to make sure they are ready if they want goats. 1) They climb on anything, and I do mean ANYTHING. Including cars - if you think hail damages a car, mother nature has nothing on a goat. 2) They are escape artists. They can jump high and slip through holes in the fence that you didn’t think a toy poodle could get through. 3) They are actually pretty picky eaters. Only the best of your garden will do and contrary to popular myth, they will not eat tin cans or your laundry, although if you have laundry on the line close enough, they may yank it down and trample on it. I got my first two goats, Poppy and Daisy when I lost one of my horses a few years ago, for company for my remaining horse. It worked, my horse loved the goats, but when I bought the goats, the seller didn’t tell me that Poppy had one “on board.” Low and behold, Bucky was born on the coldest day of the year. We rushed him into the house, dried him off and warmed him up, and for 2 weeks he lived in the house with us making trips daily to see his mom for feeding and bonding - until he was strong enough to stay in the barn. I named him Bucky, after Bucky Barnes - the Winter Soldier since he was born and made it through the coldest time of the year. Even though that horse has crossed the rainbow bridge that I had originally got the goats for, the three horses I have now get along with them fine.


My husband and I own a dog training business to pay the bills, so even outside of work, my life is pretty heavily revolved around dogs. I have two Leonbergers who are certified therapy dogs through Go Team Therapy, Crisis, and Airport dogs. We visit lots of different places, such as schools and shelters, to spread some puppy love.

JEFFREY CARVER & Captain Jack, Moonlight & McDuff My dog, Captain Jack, is a border collie mix, exact recipe unknown. He’s a total character. We also have my mother-in-law’s dog living with us, and she’s a sweet terrier of unknown provenance named McDuff—or, as I call her, Duff-duff. Our cat Moonlight departed this world just a couple of months ago, at nearly 21, but she was a stalwart member of the family and did not go gently into the night, not at all. Can you tell I like animals? Captain Jack is a gatekeeper, a bridge troll. If there’s a passageway where people need to walk in the house, he will pile up his cushions and block the way until you pay your toll.

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TRaCY sUmnER other or that great novel she simply must read. FUN FACT Tracy wrote part of To Seduce a Rogue in a hostel in Taipei, Taiwan and Tides of Love while living in Paris, in a building George Sand occupied on Rue de Seine.

s t ay C onnec t ed


racy’s story telling career began when she picked up a copy of LaVyrle Spencer’s Vows on a college beach trip. A couple of degrees (BA, Journalism-MA, Media Arts) and a thousand romance novels later, she decided to try her hand at writing a southern version of the perfect love story. With a great deal of luck and more than a bit of perseverance, she sold her first novel to Kensington Publishing. Tracy has been awarded the National Reader’s Choice, HOLT Medallion, the Write Touch and the Beacon - with finalist nominations in the HOLT Medallion, Heart of Romance, Rising Stars and Reader’s Choice. Her books have been translated into German, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. She lives in the south, but after spending a few years in NYC, considers herself a New Yorker at heart. She loves hearing from readers about why she tends to pit her hero and heroine against each 52 | UncagedBooks.com

tracy-sumner.com Uncaged welcomes Tracy Sumner Uncaged: You have a new book releasing on February 18, called The Lady is Trouble. Can you tell readers more about this book? This is the first in a series, how many books are planned for the series? The Lady is Trouble is a book I had in my mind for YEARS! There’s a scene I don’t actually show in the book (though it is mentioned) that I can still see that was the start of the book for me. (The hero and heroine meeting as children.) The Lady is Trouble is a bit of a departure for me because so far I’ve only published historical romances set in the south. Trouble is set in England AND features magical realism (think supernatural activities that were actually very popular in the Victorian era). It tells the story of Julian Alexander, Viscount Beauchamp, and Lady Piper

Scott -- soulmates who find a second chance at love, mostly due to Piper’s stubborn conviction that they are destined to be together. Julian has the gift of sight and Piper is a healer. He has sworn to protect her but not love her--and the love story rolls from there. My books are fairly high heat (steamy) and aside from the mystical slant, it’s a true Victorian romance. Trouble is the first in the League of Lords series, which will run five books (maybe one of those being a holiday novella) unless I’m loving the characters and it runs more! I’m already hard at work on the next in the series, Finn Alexander’s love story. Supposedly the most gorgeous man in England, so there is that. ;) Uncaged: What inspired you to write in the historical romance genre? Oh, boy. I started reading romance in college and the first I picked up was a historical. I called them the Lords & Ladies books. I just loved them and still do (I’m a huge reader of the genre -- check out my Bookbub, that’s only from like the last 1.5 years!) So, when I decided to write (I was a journalism major, so writing no far off from what I wanted to do), I started a historical. But I’m southern, even though at that time I lived in New York City, so I set them there. I love the deep south settings. Small town, etc! Uncaged: Several of your books are already in audio format. Is that a long process to turn the book into audio? Has it been well received by readers/listeners? Yes, audiobooks are just booming! I’ve released three so far (The Garrett Brothers series) with three more coming up by March (including The Lady is Trouble). All can be found on Audible or my website www.tracysumner.com. I’ve worked with two narrators -- and reviews are great so far. I’m just happy to reach readers in any way. It’s a love of the genre thing for me. And... it’s a new world out there for writers. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about?

Lords series. Still percolating about the title. He’s gorgeous, intelligent, sensitive (but alpha when he needs to be) and a mindreader. ;) Yes, really. Of course he falls for the only person whose mind he can’t read. And...he’s the bastard of a viscount, so life is complicated. I love him already! Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Hard question. Good question. I’ve met so many romance authors at conferences -- not sure who to include there. But I love my brethren. Aside from romance... Margaret Mitchell, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, Jane Austen, Nora Ephron, Lawrence Kasdan (okay some of these are bleeding into screenwriters, I know!), John Hughes. The list could go on forever.

I’m working on the second book in the League of Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? This is one of the most interesting things about writing. YES. For me, the character’s personality comes out on the page. I have a way I thought I’d write a scene but it doesn’t fit who the character has become. Uncaged:What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Again, I’m a HUGE reader of the romance genre. Historical and contemporary. (I actually have a contemporary, small-town, slow burn/high heat series out with my agent -- and we shall see where that goes. So I write/read both.) I love, love, love yoga and snowboard when I can. Indie film. Travel. Concerts. Theatre. I’m a breast cancer survivor, too, so I say: live life. Dream big. Uncagee: What does success as an author look like to you? Well, that may have changed over the years. I started out with Kensington in the big NYC publishing swirl, and...I’ve grown up a bit since then. I really just want to write my books and have readers read them (and hopefully enjoy them). ;) Success would be not letting the negative aspects (and there are to anything in life) impede forward progress. I think anyone who writes is COMPELLED to do so. I am. Success = happiness. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I love the feel of a physical book in my hand. However, as my eyesight had taken a hit (this happens at 40 people!), the backlight on my Kindle is a Godsend. ;) And I’m just sticking my toe into audiobooks -- producing and listening to. (Although I used to listen to audiobooks a few years ago -when I got them at the library. But not recently as much…) 54 | UncagedBooks.com

| TRAcY SUMnER | Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Thanks for the support! And please get in touch with any comments/questions/feedback. ;) I’m accessible. Romance rocks!

Enjoy an excerpt from The Lady is Trouble The Lady is Trouble Tracy Sumner Historical Regency Releases Feb. 18 In the first in Tracy Sumner’s captivating League of Lord series, mysticism in Victorian England is the setting for a captivating love affair . . . What’s a rebellious woman to do when the man she’s meant for doesn’t believe in love? After three years of waiting for Julian Alexander to realize they are destined to be together, Lady Piper Scott takes matters into her own hands. Because her gift as a healer has never done anything but distance her from the most principled man in England. A meaningless diversion as a medium, all done to gain a certain wandering viscount’s attention, backfires. As most endeavors have for a woman known in the ton as Scandalous Scott. What’s a reluctant viscount to do when the woman he can’t have becomes the woman he can’t live without? Julian Alexander, Lord Beauchamp, battled his way from the lowliest slum to assume his title. He carries not only a turbulent past, but a mystical gift that separates him from society. Honorable to his core, he is committed to protecting a community of outcasts with abilities like his own. He has no time, no place, for love. Or repeatedly Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | rescuing the most outrageous, beguiling woman he’s ever known. Even if she needs his protection most—and he desires her above all others. Seduction, intrigue and desire lead to an explosive passion… Julian vowed to shield Piper from the deadly foes seeking to possess her powerful gift. Although he needs her help in controlling his own, the mix could be deadly. Soon what was once a simple agreement to work together becomes enchantingly complex as they surrender to a timeless love… Excerpt There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music. John Keats Chapter One London, 1865 Allowing the lady to lure him into her carriage had been a brilliant idea. Julian Alexander stared at a spider crack in the ceiling of his Mayfair townhome and wondered when he might start to believe it. He could presume encountering a former lover outside Hatchards on an otherwise lonely evening was a fortuitous event if there weren’t the niggling—familiar—pinch of regret the moment his cock settled. A faint sense of having erred, gone off the path and into a twilight woodland where one could be easily lost. As lost as he’d felt stepping into her dimly lit carriage. Julian watched Marianne wrap herself in his silk dressing gown, her chatter lulling him into a state of satiated distraction. Only the first and third word of each sentence filtering through, he found the conversation definitively complete. Earl, garden, tryst, scandal. Titles and the men who held them occupied her undivided interest. Each day spent investigating a riddle that had no solution. Was not, in fact, worth the attention she devoted 56 | UncagedBooks.com

to it. In all fairness, Julian could not judge. His mystical gift separated him from a normal existence and made the world he’d been born into at times unrecognizable. Out of a sense of duty, he played the part of the gentleman for the solitary purpose of propping up the viscountcy, adhering to society’s rules while struggling to preserve his secrets and the secrets of those he protected. Of course, he tendered his title when it benefited himself or the League. But a barony would have profited as well and knocked him down a notch, perhaps enough to slip beneath the waves and be carried from view. He closed his eyes and let the waves crash over him. Then Marianne mucked it up by kicking the door to the past wide open. He rose to his elbow, knocking the counterpane aside. Dragging his hand through his hair, he asked, “Repeat that, will you?” Alarm vibrated through his belly, like swimming in the sea and realizing a massive wave crested behind you. No, it couldn’t be. “Come again?” Marianne’s gaze settled where the sheet hung low on his hips. “So, you were listening.” She reached to touch, a stroke on air. Licked her lips in the event he didn’t register her appreciation. “Jules, with you, I never know.” He slid high in the bed, suppressing his annoyance. Jules. He’d asked her to refrain from calling him that. Too. Many. Memories. “Marianne, the clairvoyant?” Her smile grew luminous, her delight underscoring the scant attention he offered. Without trying to be a disdainful cad, it seemed he was precisely that. “Oh, darling, it was the most farcical evening! Ashcroft arranged for a fortune teller to entertain, and you know him. For a duke, he pushes the boundaries of propriety while always staying within the limit.” She leaned in, clutching the lapels of his dressing gown to her bosom. “I heard there was absinthe served to the men. Why, the festivities were enough to make a stuffed bird laugh!” Julian hummed low in his throat and rose from the bed. He didn’t know but could imagine. Hell’s teeth, he thought and reached for his clothes, which lay in a tidy pile next to the chiffonier. Taken off without haste, neatly folded.

| TRAcY SUMnER | He frowned. How little had he wanted this encounter? “I didn’t glean any outrageous tidbit about my future. Though I tried.” She lifted a delicate shoulder beneath silk. “More the delight just being there.” He buttoned his shirt, slipped his braces over his shoulders. “You mentioned the woman had an unusual accent.” Marianne crossed the room, slippers striking the floor in an eager rhythm. “It was dark, too dark to see anything. Very mysterious. Madame wore a veil, and there was candlelight. The ideal setting. Although Ashcroft seemed oddly anxious the entire evening, adding nothing to our merriment.” At Julian’s impatient look, she rushed on, “Madame’s accent came out on one word. She sounded almost...” She twirled her hand in a languid circle, finger pointed toward the plaster ceiling rose. “Ad-ver-tise-ment. That’s what she called the sheet she handed me. She sounded, can you imagine, American? Would that not be a vulgar surprise?” She laughed it away, swept beneath the Aubusson at her feet. “Although I’m sure I misheard. Doubtless, an upstart trying to hide cockney.” Julian’s fingers twitched, missing a button on his waistcoat. He moved too forcefully across the room as she took a stumbling step back. “Where is it?” He drew a breath laced with the scent of Marianne’s perfume and the acrid aroma rolling in the open window. Soot, sewage. That damned river. Christ, he hated London. “The advertisement.” He extended his hand, controlling the tremor that wanted to travel from his fingers to his heart. Could. Not. Be. Piper was tucked away in Gloucestershire. Under armed guard. Protected. Safe. Their enemies had been searching for her since she’d arrived from New York all those years ago. But they wouldn’t look in Gloucestershire. She knew this. He’d cautioned her more times than he could count. Had been advising her for years, it seemed. Marianne regarded him through eyes the color of fresh cow dung. “Why, darling, I fear I’ve not seen you react…to anything. Appetites fed but the heart untouched.” She waved away her discomfiture and a statement she likely wished she’d kept to herself. Turning in a crimson whirl, she moved to rifle through the reticle sitting atop the chaise lounge, one just the

shade of emerald eyes Julian had tried with little success to forget. “Lucky for you, I saved it. As proof, I experienced such an evening. Who would believe otherwise?” Julian flexed his fingers, preparing for the transmission. His gift didn’t marry well with a lack of sleep. Touching an object and being pulled into the otherworld of someone who had touched it previously was brutal enough. Stepping into that world when exhausted was reckless and allowed the experience to control him. Maybe it wasn’t Piper, and this endeavor would be nothing more than supernatural experimentation. He’d sent Finn to visit her last month. Or had it been May? A headache moved to the base of his skull. Lifting his hand to his brow, he pressed hard. Blast it, had they not visited since the spring? Marianne thrust the advertisement at him, and he hesitated. Taking time to notice she’d only secured an ear bob, and it dangled there without a partner, bouncing as she did. Her lips canted, though he’d bet a half-sovereign the smile would disappear if she fathomed the source of his reluctance. If she had any idea who he truly was and how his gift of sight forever separated them, she would run screaming into the misty night. “If you’re interested, Julian, and I’m shocked you are, Madame DuPre is doing a reading tonight. The address is listed.” His breath seized. Madame DuPre. The name conjured forgotten summers of youth. Running through fields of grass so tall the blades hit his thigh; swimming in shallow lakes on moonlit nights; climbing trees until he was breathless surveying all that fell below. Laughter and foolishness—even love by some arcane definition—on a scale he and Piper could no longer afford. Julian huffed a sigh and grabbed the sheet before he could think better of it. Or stop himself, which he would not, because it appeared Piper had jumped off another goddamn ledge. And he was her rescuer. Her caretaker. Her warden. I’m going to throttle her, was all he managed as he Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | crushed the foolscap in his hand and stepped into the otherworld. Shadow and candlelight bathed the room. The curious combination of burnt ashes, spice, and lilac. Piper was settled over a desk, her gown as golden as the Kingcup scattered along Harbingdon’s riverbank each spring. Moonlight carved a path along the floor and Julian followed the dazzling footpath of silvery blue. The walls surrounding her were covered in tattered wallpaper, peeling at the ceiling and seams. The furniture was scuffed, the rug threadbare. The dwelling was nothing like Finn’s description of the modest but opulent manor in Gloucestershire. His heart thumped desperately against his breastbone. She was more vivid than any model he’d ever painted, and he had tried to recreate her, a thousand strokes of brush to canvas. Her vibrancy eluded him. Stumbling back, he tried to step out of the trance. It was a problem lately that he had trouble doing so. The otherworld had a voracious claim on him. Through eyes drawn to slits, he observed Marianne’s lips moving, but he was too entrenched in another space and time to respond. Too entrenched in her. Independent of his gift, Piper Scott had a stronger hold over him than any woman could ever hope to have. Muttering a harsh oath, he dropped the advertisement like it burnt his skin and the image of Piper spiraled away, water down a drain. Forcing him from the room with the tattered wallpaper and the girl he’d sworn to protect with his life but never touch again to preserve hers. The woman for whom he hungered. Dear God, Piper, what have you done? He was through the door and into the hallway before another breath had passed, ducking as a vase accompanied Marianne’s shriek of rage. # She could only determine events had gotten out of control rather quickly. Piper lifted her veil as she stumbled along the smoke-filled hallway, drawing a breath tasting of 58 | UncagedBooks.com

charred wood and scorched velvet. Baron Audley’s aura had been so startling. An unusual shade: darker than lime, lighter than moss. Jealousy? Envy? Questions she would have asked had she not shifted rather suddenly in her excitement, bumping the table and sending the candlestick to the floor. She should have known better than to use such a tall taper, but they were very atmospheric. Now the modest parlor in the hotel where she’d held her readings was ablaze for the second time in one week. Both could not be due to her negligence, could they? She tripped over a crease in the runner and halted in place. Was this the way out? She focused on calming her mind and placed her hand on the wall to steady herself. The wallpaper felt a bit sticky, and though she realized time was limited, her mind returned to the Baron’s aura. Determining the emotion associated with the color took deliberation; it was not a simple process. She needed her research journals, which were upstairs in her room. Damnation. The papers would be of little use if she burned to a crisp trying to retrieve them. A strip of light marked the floor at the end of the hallway. Piper’s lungs stung, her vision graying as she dashed toward the exit. This would win the grand prize as her worst blunder yet. Frankly, dying would be the easier option. Because surviving this debacle to find herself, Lady Elizabeth Piper Scott, daughter of a viscount and granddaughter to an earl, exposed as a clairvoyant would be bleaker than any previous error in judgment. And Julian… Julian would, quite truthfully, kill her. She could admit to fleeing Gloucestershire to gain his attention. She’d not had contact in months. Four, at least. Running hadn’t worried her, even with the danger to her person, because Julian, the most prudent man she’d ever known, would eventually find her. Before their enemies, she trusted. Naming herself Madame DuPre was like waving a cape before a bull. And although he wouldn’t believe it, posing as a clairvoyant was for her research. For the most part. The other reason was loneliness, which she would

| TRAcY SUMnER | never, ever admit to feeling. Not when Julian had enforced their separation after explaining why hiding in Gloucestershire was the most judicious plan for her protection. Always choices provided for her protection, not her happiness, until she became so disheartened and experienced that little jab of rebelliousness that made her do silly things. She nodded her head—go with research when he asks why you did it—and shoved against the door at the end of the hallway with all her strength. The garden was spring-lovely and blessedly vacant, moonlight splashing the brick path she dropped to her knees upon. There was a shout from inside the hotel, the screech of windows being raised to invite fresh air. She coughed and hung her head, bowing close to the ground, brick biting into her palms. No matter how hard she tried to contain it, chaos followed her as closely as a beloved family pet. The polished Wellington entered her vision before she sensed his presence. A knee hit the ground beside her, fingers skimming her cheek and lifting her face into the light. She felt the veil being slipped free. Thought scattered as she curled into the contact. Forever since anyone had touched her with even the slightest regard. All at once, she felt as diaphanous as the smoke surrounding her, dissolving in his arms. “We have to leave this place.” His hand tensed, fingers trembling against her jaw. “Open your eyes, Piper.” Julian’s voice. Rich, deep, captivating. To look in his eyes would break the spell. Disappointment. Censure. Evasion. His aura, however, would be magnificent. He swore beneath his breath and lifted her into his arms. “A mistake,” she whispered, her cheek settling against fine wool with a sigh of surrender. “The papers. My research.” As he strode through the garden, she breathed, dismissing smoke and summoning Julian. He was surprisingly luminous, the feel, sound, and scent of him. Memories swirled, years and years of them. She couldn’t shake the calm that settled over her, the completeness. How utterly foolish. Nothing had changed in her heart.

When everything had changed in his. “You have no idea how much rests on my protecting you,” he hissed in her ear, rage vibrating from him like ripples from a pebble tossed in a pond. On an oath, his arms shifted, bringing her closer. She crumpled into him, his heat warming her to the depths of her soul. This was all Julian, a gridwork of contrasts. Resentment and tenderness, irritation and concern. He wanted the lines clearly drawn when they were muddled, every last one of them. “You have no idea,” he repeated. Actually, she had quite a fine idea. Other little girls had gone to sleep listening to stories of fairies and princesses, gods and knights, towers rising amidst fields of lavender. Her stories had been filled with mystics and the supernatural, magical gifts that set her apart. And those who sought to use those gifts to destroy her.


Issue 43 | February 2020 |



amY s E va n my Sevan has been writing about angels, demons and other super natural stuff for a very long time. In the meantime, she’s bartended, taught piano lessons, earned her stockbroker’s license, and built a dog training business. The spirit of Detroit holds a certain forbidden magic she’s drawn to, so, she usually writes about those two things. Magic and Detroit.


She’s a member of Detroit Working Writers and Greater Detroit Romance Writers. Sarah Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency represents her. Amy has a supportive husband and a home with enough creatures shedding at any given moment to knit a blanket. If she knitted. Which she doesn’t.

stay Co n n e c te d


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Uncaged welcomes Amy Sevan Uncaged: Can you tell readers more about your Rise series? The Rise series has been in my head for a long, long time in one form or another. I wrote as a teenager, completing my first ‘novel’ at around twelve or thirteen. Predictably, it was horrible. However, the seeds of my heroine, Sydney, are in that book. Like Syd, my first heroine was psychic and asked to take on way more responsibility than she’s ready for. If I’ve done my job right (write?) the Rise series is quick-paced, dark and gritty, sexy and keeps the reader guessing. Uncaged: The third book in the series releases in 2020, how many books are planned for the series? Do people need to read them in order? For myself, I’m a bit militaristic about reading a series in order, even if the books are standalone. So I’m going to say the best opportunity for maximum enjoyment comes from reading the books in order. There is a sequence of events in the series, building up as the story goes along. There are some bits of information that have been written into book one that haven’t fully come to fruition yet. But if you happened to pick up Curse of Ashes (book two) before Pledge of Ashes, it wouldn’t be the end of the world and you should be able to understand what’s happening. As far as how many books are planned, I do have an idea how the series ends, but I’m not 100% on how many books it will take to get there. Uncaged: What are you working on now that you can tell us about? I’m editing Fallen From Ashes right now, book three in the Rise series. And if things go according to my master plan, I’ll be editing a fantasy romance which will go out on submission through my agency later in the year. I’d also love to draft book four of the Rise series this year. But the creative process can be less than linear sometimes, so we’ll see! Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? I love J.R. Ward. I’ve gone to several of her signings and she’d be a riot to talk with and learn from. I’m a big advocate for women and what we’re capable of, so I’d like to have time with some of the first and most significant women authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austin, or Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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| FEATURE AUTHOR | Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? All the time! The irony is, many times what they come up with—seemingly organically while I’m writing—is better than what I’d planned for them.

So many times, I just go with it :) Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Well, relax is an interesting word…I do Krav Maga. Many people don’t really know what that is, but in a nutshell, it’s martial arts on steroids aimed at defending yourself. If the Krav instructor is doing their job, a class is the furthest thing from relaxing, but I love it. Other than that, my husband and I own a dog training business to pay the bills, so even outside of work, my life is pretty heavily revolved around dogs. I have two Leonbergers who are certified therapy dogs through Go Team Therapy, Crisis, and Airport dogs. We visit lots of different places, such as schools and shelters, to spread some puppy love. When I’m truly in ‘off’ mode, I’m curled up under a blanket, a warm beverage nearby, snuggling my old pitbull mix, lost inside a good book. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Since I published Pledge in January of 2019, lots of people have been asking me about sales. Honestly? The absolute, hands-down, best thing about being an author is having someone say to me that they’ve enjoyed one of my books. Maybe I’m just still new at this published author stuff, but so much work and effort have gone into the writing of the books, it feels like the most satisfying kind of success to be able to connect with readers who love what I’ve written. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? Depends on what I’m reading. Nonfiction for me is largely audio. Fiction, I’m going to lean toward the physical book, always. But I do have both a Nook and a Kindle, and I do read on those devices from time to time, usually when traveling. If I know I’m going to need more than four or five books and I’ll need some packing

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| AMY SEVAn | space for other mandatory things…like clothes…then the Kindle comes with. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? As I said earlier, I love hearing from people who have read the books. I’m accessible via email at amy@ amysevan.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/ amysevanbooks. I do also have a twitter handle @ amysevanbooks, but I spend hardly any time on that platform. Reach out! I’d love to chat books.

Enjoy an excerpt from Pledge of Ashes Pledge of Ashes Amy Sevan Urban Fantasy There’s no twelve-step program for recovering psychics, but Detroit mechanic Sydney Hoven has been working hard on her supernatural sobriety. Too bad Hell didn’t get the memo. When Syd meets Devon on her first night back out, she doesn’t have to be psychic to see ‘really bad idea’ written all over his stunningly gorgeous face. He says an Archangel wants her protected. But why? When one of Lucifer’s lieutenants is sent to kill Sydney, the demon might be too strong for even Devon and the angelic forces he represents. With no true allies, Syd must stand on her own, destroy the demon, and claim her power. Otherwise, staying supernaturally sober might just kill her. ~~ Pledge of Ashes is the first book in the Rise romantic urban fantasy series that features angels and demons, men who have no business looking that good, and a heroine who is learning to wield incredible power.

Excerpt Detroit came alive under the cover of darkness. Noisy clubbers laughed raucously, eardeadening bass pounded from cars with twentyfour-inch rims, and thick steam billowed from the sewer grates. Syd slammed the door of her cab and glanced around. Damn straight she took someone else’s ride. Like she’d risk door dings on the GTO? That’s a firm no. The Dive, looking exactly as the name would imply, leered at her with its crumbling concrete and prison-style windows, the electronic music reverbing through her chest even as she stood outside. Her booted feet seemed content to plant themselves on the broken pavement, but she couldn’t stay out here forever. In seconds, the October chill had already worked through her cropped leather jacket. Feeling the buzz in her back pocket, Syd pulled out her phone. Nina’s text was pleading. Still coming, right? I’m @ the bar. Syd stared a moment more and put the phone away. So here she was. Attempting the friend thing. Syd rolled her shoulders. She closed her eyes and drew her mental wall around her, thick like a shield. If she were the praying type, now would be the time. Instead, she shook out her hands and willed her feet forward. The club’s scarred oak door was cold in her grip. She pulled and was assaulted by the beating sounds, alcoholic vapor, and the sensual movement of sexabout-to-happen on the dance floor. Syd pushed forward, jostling as little as possible, but making slow progress nonetheless. A waitress with a skimpy outfit and bored expression split the crowd, and Syd made use of the trail she left. A shiver of apprehension traveled through her, and she stalled, losing her path. People brushed at her from all sides, and her breath hitched. She double-checked the lock on her mind, defied the warning bells in her head. Syd wouldn’t stand up Nina for some weird psychic social anxiety. She’d said she’d go out, and she would. Step by step, inch by inch, her intuition, the part of herself she understood least, fought her. She glanced down at her deep-red polished nails with a bit of grease around the edges that wouldn’t come out for anything. Man, she wished Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | she had stayed in the garage with her GTO. The car was a puzzle. Parts had specific places, and when you put them back just right, wonderful things happened. You went fast. Sometimes fast enough to forget. One more step and the crowd cleared. Nina sat at the bar, leather-clad legs crossed as she laughed. Her friend’s attention riveted on the man sitting next to her at the bar. Syd’s intuition roared forth, itching inside her skull like locusts, cementing her to the spot. Catching sight of Syd, Nina’s eyes brightened, and she smiled. Nina waved. “Syd! You actually came.” Syd focused entirely on her breath, pushing her intuition to the back of her head, locked behind the wall she’d worked so hard to build. Deep breath in. Out. The feeling of insects crawling in her head receded. She blinked. She could do this, she could totally do— “You must be Sydney.” A shiver that had everything to do with sweaty bedsheets and reckless abandon traveled her body. That voice. Goosebumps flew down her arms, her cropped leather jacket no protection. She shifted her eyes several inches to the right. Dark espresso hair, long enough to wave across his forehead. Like a master sculptor had created the work of a lifetime, his angular cheekbones cut a hard line. It fit the symmetry of his stubbled jaw perfectly. Broad shoulders, lean and muscular. Syd swallowed. Her eyes traveled over him, drinking him in. Sweet Jesus. His eyes glowed an ice blue in the darkened bar. He stood, Syd’s head tipped back, and she followed those eyes. He was a big man, nearly a foot taller than her five-foot-five. He straightened a leather jacket that would probably cost her an entire month’s pay. Gorgeous and loaded. His lips tipped into a devastating smile, as if he knew the direction of her thoughts and liked it. “Call me Syd,” She didn’t smile back. He was too…perfect. And her abilities still screamed at her. The din in her head was deafening. “Only my mother called me Sydney.” “I’m definitely not your mother.” He extended a hand. “Devon.” The moment broke, hammer-to-glass 66 | UncagedBooks.com

style. The invitation for skin to skin contact felt like a threat. She was too on edge, her mental wall already straining. It made no sense, but she’d learned to trust it. She put both hands in her back pockets. Nina cleared her throat and hopped off the bar stool, standing between them. “Um, Syd has a…a thing, about touching strange people.” Devon’s laugh erupted from his throat, deep, full, and unconcerned. “Strange?” “No. No. I mean—” Nina’s face fell. She glanced over at Syd for backup. Syd couldn’t place ground zero for the feeling, but she was beyond uncomfortable. Something about this man fired everything psychic in her into hyper-vigilance mode. She’d never felt anything like it. Swallowing, she could admit she’d never seen anything like him, either. “No offense taken. I’ve been called far worse.” Devon reached around to grab a tumbler of ambercolored liquid from the bar. Because she was actively developing a pretext to ditch him and—let’s not lie—avoiding the intensity of his eyes, Syd focused on his tumbler as he reached. It slid across the bar the last four inches, coming to rest in his hand. What the hell— Suddenly Devon’s shoulders pulled straight, and he gazed toward the door. “Ladies, excuse me.” Without waiting for any indication of assent, he strode between them. The crowd did a Red Sea imitation, parting for him even before he required it. Keeping one eye on him, Syd said, “Let’s go dance—or whatever we’re supposed to do.” “Wha—” Nina breathed, her eyes locked on the direction Devon had gone. Syd raised an eyebrow. “Starstruck fangirl is not a good look on you.” “Hey!” Nina punched Syd lightly in the shoulder. Syd glanced at Devon’s retreating back. “Maybe we should find a different bar?” Nina pulled a small compact out of her purse along with some gloss, fluffed her pretty blonde waves. Ignoring her comment completely, Nina spoke to the compact. “Tell me he’s not the hottest thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t believe he’s here alone. He was totally into you. Forgot all about me as soon as you walked up.” Her tone was all light, teasing. “Bitch.”

| AMY SEVAn | He was mind-bendingly sexy—Syd couldn’t argue. Bringing back the memory of Devon made her tingly all over again. “He seems…” She wanted to say dangerous. But the only reasoning she had for her feeling wasn’t a reason at all. It was all her intuition, the doorway to her psychic senses. It was easier to lock them away than to learn her limits. Easier and safer. Nina stopped primping and grinned at Syd. “Hey, I’m not even mad. You need a good night out more than I do. I formally bequeath him to you.” She waved her hand with an exaggerated flourish. “Consider it a damn fine ‘thank you’ for coming out tonight.” Syd glanced back the way Devon had gone. She knew, unequivocally, no one owned that man.



Amysevan.com Issue 43 | February 2020 |


short story

historical romance

Anne Under Seige by Jude Knight


Anne Under Seige © Jude Knight A heavy frost killed all the new seedlings. Anne had planted them too early, of course, gambling on the mild weather continuing, but her luck was out. No surprises, there, since luck had deserted her little family last quarter day, when a thief accosted them on the way back from market day at Brimstead, and stole their few pieces of jewellery and all their money. He’d been scared off by a passing carter, or it could have been worse. That’s what Aunt Hester said. Today, she’d said the same thing about the ruin of the garden. “At least you have sufficient seed to plant again. It could be worse.” ‘It could be worse’ was Aunt Hester’s response to all the troubles that had beset them for more than seven years, and Anne wanted to scream back ‘it could be better!’ She wouldn’t. She owed Aunt Hester far too much to upset the dear woman. But why could they not have some good luck for a change, instead of the endless succession of setbacks that plagued them? Aunt Hester took Star off into the forest to look for something to add to their lunch. Even this early in the Spring, they might find some early strawberries or perhaps a squirrel’s forgotten store of acorns. This quarter, they had been forced to all sorts of shifts to survive, even trapping the earl’s rabbits, which was technically poaching, but the earl never came near Hickle and didn’t have to know. Trapping the earl’s rabbits was better than eating the hens whose eggs they would depend on when the lay started after the winter’s lull. As Anne counted the few coins her small family had left, she reflected that it wasn’t really poaching. The earl owed them those meals. He owed them — or Star, at least — far more than a rabbit or two. The coins hadn’t miraculously multiplied since she’d counted them yesterday. How would they ever survive until next quarter day, a full five weeks away? They could do without, as they had done before. The forest and their stores provided food. Not much in 70 | UncagedBooks.com

variety or quantity, but enough. As well as rabbits and acorns, the forest also provided wood to burn, for warmth and cooking. And if most of the castle in which they lived was crumbling into dust, at least the tower she and Aunt Hester had taken for their own was sturdy enough. Anne looked around their home with some satisfaction. They lived mostly in this ground floor room, with the big fireplace in one corner and furnishings they’d recovered from elsewhere or made. They’d carted the big wooden table in from what must once have been the castle kitchen. It had bench seats made out of tree trunks that she and Aunt Hester had sawn to shape themselves, learning the craft of it even while doing the work. The mismatched easy chairs had been reclaimed from villagers who were throwing them out, and re-covered in a patchwork of material made from scraps bought for a few pennies at the Brimstead market when they went in to collect Anne’s quarterly allowance from the solicitor who managed the money reserved for her dowry, paying her only the pin money that had long ago seemed a wealth. She frowned at an old grievance. Back before Papa’s death, all the household and clothing accounts went to him, and Anne’s only purchases were books and ribbons. Now, the same money had to feed and clothe three of them. Again, she surveyed the room. They managed, and with some elegance. Their old dresses, once worn to rags, were transformed into bright rugs for the floors, and Aunt Hester had knitted oddments of wool, likewise purchased at the market, into rugs to wrap around them against the drafts when they sat together in the evening. A ladder led to the next floor, which they’d divided in two with a wall made of withies and cob, so that Anne and Star could have a bedroom, and Hester another. They were warm, and safe, and comfortable. Yes. It could be worse. *** “Then take the castle down,” Edward said. “Raze it to the ground.” He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. They must be nearly at the end, surely? He’d been shut in with his new steward for three days, and

| JUDE KnIGHT | would give his left arm for a good gallop in the clean air. He’d give an arm, a leg, and his eye teeth not to be earl, and therefore responsible for solving all these problems. Not that he blamed the poor steward. Mitcham had been trying for ten years to get Edward’s brother to make decisions about his properties and investments, and the wait after John’s death had made things worse. Edward had, of course, sold out and headed home as soon as the news reached him, but it took nine weeks, even so. Mitcham must have been at his wits end. Mitcham had gone on talking, and Edward hadn’t been listening. Something about ladies. Edward sighed. John’s ‘ladies’ were legion, and Edward had no doubt he’d find a list of troubles with ladies even longer than the one he was currently working his way through. “I’m sorry,” Edward said. “I lost focus for a moment, Mitcham. Would you mind repeating that?” Mitcham showed no sign of impatience. “What do you wish us to do with the ladies, my lord?” Edward’s expression must have shown he had no idea what Mitcham was talking about, because he added, “The ladies who live in the castle; or, rather, in the remaining corner tower, which is relatively sound.” Edward massaged his temples with his fingers. Perhaps Mitcham would make more sense if Edward didn’t have such an evil headache. “In the castle tower,” he repeated. “Ladies.” Mitcham nodded. “Yes, sir. The Misses Cleghorn.” The Cleghorns? John let Margaret Cleghorn live in his castle? Of course. How convenient for him to have his mistress half an hour’s ride away. Edward took a deep breath, rather than hurl the first thing that came to hand across the room. It had been nearly eight years since he’d arrived home early to find his betrothed cavorting naked with his brother, but for a moment, the same rage choked him. It had driven him out the door, into a recruiting office for the local cavalry regiment, and across the world, but he’d thought it long since dead. Mitcham was still talking. “They have lived there since before I came to be steward. Er...” Mitcham looked down at his hand, spreading it out and examining it as if it held the solution to the mysteries of the universe. He opened his mouth and then closed

it again. “Spit it out, Mitcham,” Edward advised. “His lordship— the former earl— er, your brother said to leave them alone, sir. ‘Leave them alone and don’t bother me about them again,’ he said.” Mitcham began sorting through the folders into which he’d pasted the rare correspondence from his former master. “I have the letter here, my lord.” Something was incongruent. Why would John keep Margaret here, in Staffordshire? “I thought you said the former Lord Hicklestone spent all of his time in London.” “I believe he did, sir. Certainly, in all of my time as steward, he never came to Hickle or to Farley Hall. I posted down to London twice, when the press of urgent matters...” Mitcham trailed off. Edward could imagine John’s reaction to his steward’s unexpected arrival. “I’m surprised you’ve stuck with us for so long, Mitcham. You’ve done the best you can for the estate, and I’m grateful. We’ll see it right between us.” Mitcham blushed. “Thank you, my lord.” In the next breath, he proved his worth by returning to the point Edward was trying to forget. “What am I to do about the Misses Cleghorn, sir?” Margaret. Edward never wanted to see her again, but he couldn’t ignore the possibility that John had made her promises. Not marriage, of course, not John, and nothing written down. Did he send for Margaret to come to London? Edward probed at the thought, and it was like pushing at a diseased tooth after it had been pulled: an absence where he had expected pain. “I’ll visit the ladies and find out their arrangement with my brother,” he promised Mitcham. “Shelve the demolition until I have a chance to investigate. Now. What else do you have for me?” *** Aunt Hester and Star arrived back with a basket full of mushrooms, a bag of acorns, a few early strawberries, and a week’s worth of gossip courtesy of the innkeeper’s wife, whom they’d met coming back through the village of Hickle, which sprawled across the valley on one side of the castle. “Mama,” Star said, her words tumbling over one another in her eagerness to share the news before Aunt Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| SHORT STORY | Hester, “the Hardwick’s sow has had twenty-six piglets, Mary Andrews is going to marry Matthew Wright, the blacksmith’s son, and the earl has come home to Farley Hall.” Edward was home? Anne shot an anguished glance at Aunt Hester, who nodded, her face sober. Star prattled on, oblivious to the silent messages passing between Anne and her aunt. Don’t panic, Aunt Hester’s eyes said. “In the storm,” Star announced, “lightning struck the Parker’s barn, but no one was hurt.” “Lord Hicklestone has been here for several days, and has been meeting each day with Mr Mitcham,” Aunt Hester told Anne. Anne took a deep breath. Then he hadn’t come for Star, or to throw them out of the castle, or both. At least, not yet. At seven and a half, Star found the twenty-six piglets far more interesting than the rest of the news. “Can I go to see the piglets?” she begged. Anne pulled her mind out of a vortex of worry to focus on her child. “Perhaps later this afternoon, after you have finished your lessons. Now run and wash your face and hands and get up to the table. The soup is nearly ready. And I’ve made fresh acorn bread to have with it.” Star pulled a face at the thought off acorn bread, but trudged obediently to the corner where a jug of warm water waited by a wash bowl. Anne bit her lip. How long would it be until he came? *** With the promise of piglets, Star settled quickly to her work, and by mid-afternoon she and Aunt Hester had taken the steep back path down the hill to the Hardwick’s farm. Anne carried a pile of mending out into the sunlight, settling on the bench seat that overlooked the main path up the hill to the half-tumbled arch that once topped the castle gates. Not that she could keep Lord Hicklestone from his own land, but at least she would see his approach. She rehearsed the coming conversation a dozen different ways. In some, he began by apologising for his many sins against her sister and her family. In others, he was as arrogantly uncaring as his brother, the former earl. Given the way Edward — his lord72 | UncagedBooks.com

ship — had abandoned them without a word, that was far more likely. Her head was so full of the earl that the appearance of a buggy at the bottom of the hill took her by surprise. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of an explanation that put the dashing young lord she remembered into such an unfashionable vehicle. But when the passenger climbed down, and began the long trudge towards her, all was explained. That portly figure could never be Edward Grantham. He might have gone to fat in eight years, for all she knew, but he could not have shrunk six inches. Besides, she was reasonably certain that she recognised the mule in the buggy’s traces. The visitor stopped to look up, giving her a good view of his face and confirming her suspicions. Sir Clarence Cleghorn. Her cousin Clarence — a very distant cousin, as he’d reminded her while turning her, Aunt Hester, and the baby out of their home after he inherited from Anne’s father. What was he doing here? She didn’t have to wait long to find out. After three pauses to rest on his way up the slope, Clarence puffed his way to the top, stopping again to mop his red face with a large handkerchief, already damp from previous uses. “‘Tis no wonder you have no suitors, Cousin Anne,” he complained. “That path!” He shook his head then lowered himself, without asking, to sit beside her on the bench. “Well, I’m here to amend that, and you’re a prize worth a bit of a climb.” He was sitting too close, his thigh pressing against Anne’s leg, and she withdrew to the end of the bench, looking pointedly at the black armband sewn to one sleeve. “My deepest sympathies for your loss, Sir Clarence,” she told him. Clarence dabbed at dry eyes with his handkerchief. “Ah yes. A tragedy, dear cousin. My only son. Perfectly formed, you know, but it was not to be. It breaks my heart. Still, I am hoping to come about, with your help, Anne.” The man had barely spoken to her in seven years and thought to come courting? His wife and new-born son were barely a month in their grave! Anne’s breath hitched at the thought, remembering Margaret. Clarence was leering at Anne’s chest, horrid man. Anne lifted her mending to cover the perfectly mod-

| JUDE KnIGHT | est bodice of her dress and he jerked his eyes up. “I should have been more patient,” he confided. “I see that now. You were very young, and grieving your father. Of course, you could not see I only wanted what was best for you. I dare say you have regretted your refusal many times.” He nodded, agreeing with his own conclusion. Not even once. Manners constrained Anne from telling the truth, so she said nothing. Not when her cousin declared that he would do his duty despite her smeared reputation, but that she’d need to get rid of the base-born brat before the wedding. Not when he convinced her father’s lawyer not to increase her allowance or give her access to any of her capital. Not when he married a girl from the town he’d lived in before he inherited from her father. Not when she saw poor timid Lady Clarence following several steps behind him into the squire’s box in the church. Not when one daughter followed another, year after year while Lady Clarence grew thinner and more silent. However hungry and cold she and Aunt Hester might be, however hard the work of surviving another winter, it could not possibly be as bad as sharing a house, a bed, and a life with this man. Even had he not been fat, bald, and thirty years her senior, he was pompous, domineering, and stupid. To keep from saying so, she put her mending down and stood. “Can I offer you a drink of water, Sir Clarence?” “Indeed, Anne. Indeed. That would be delightful.” He began to hoist himself to his feet. “Please stay there. I will not be above a moment.” She was in the little alcove they used as a larder, ladling water from a bucket into a cup, when Clarence came up behind her. “This is a terrible place. I had no idea. That the daughter of a man such as your father should be reduced to these straits, and all for stubbornness.” “You should not be inside, Sir Clarence.” She handed him the mug. “It is not proper for us to be alone.” He accepted the mug but waved off her objection. “Such constraints are loosened for those who are betrothed, my dear.” “We are not betrothed, Sir Clarence, nor are we going to be.” He chuckled. “Of course, of course. You want a proposal in due form. You ladies. I know how it is. These

romantic notions. Genevieve, the previous Lady Clarence, was just the same. Very well, Anne. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife? There. Now it is done. How about a kiss?” *** A buggy was parked at the bottom of the hill. The boy in charge lay half asleep under a tree. He and the mule lifted their heads when Edward stopped to ask, “Is your mistress visiting at the castle?” “Me master,” the boy said. Edward waited, but the boy didn’t add a name. A male caller was no surprise. Margaret used to attract callers like blossoms full of nectar attracted bees. Eight years had worked quite a change if she was down to the kind of man who drove a buggy. Edward set the horse to the hill path, remembering the suitors who flocked to court the squire’s beautiful daughter. He and his brother had been just two of a dozen, all the eligible bachelors of the local gentry vying for a word of favour from the loveliest maiden in the district. When he’d won her hand, he thought himself the king of the world, for once chosen instead of his older, wealthier, more charming and titled brother. He’d basked in his status for four weeks, before it all crashed down. The castle ruins were much as he remembered them. The Granthams had lived here since their Norman ancestor arrived in the train of the Conqueror, but the castle was mostly torn down during their absence in France with the Stuarts. On the restoration of Charles II, the new Lord Hicklestone was rewarded for his loyalty with an earldom and an heiress. Instead of spending his good fortune on such an old-fashioned heap of stone, the new Lord Hicklestone made his home on the other side of the village of Hickle, at his wife’s manor of Farley Hall, and the castle had been left to crumble. Edward found a shady spot for his horse, tethering it by a trough and cranking the pump at one end to provide it with water. He’d filled it a bare inch when he heard a shout of pain from inside the walls. “You witch!” a man’s voice roared. “You stuck me!” “Stay back!” A female, the sound shrill with fear. Edward’s legs were in motion before his brain had caught up. However little he owed Margaret, he Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| SHORT STORY | couldn’t stand by while a woman was being abused. “I’ve come here to make a respectable woman of you, dammit!” Edward came to a stop by the door, unable to resist the temptation to listen to the woman’s reply. “I’ve refused your offer, Sir Clarence. Please take yourself off.” Sir Clarence Cleghorn, presumably, the local squire. What was he doing proposing marriage? According to Mitcham, the man had just buried a wife. Cleghorn was not taking his dismissal in good part. “Is it the little girl? Is that it? I suppose I could let you keep the little bastard. If the new earl won’t take charge of her.” Why should Edward take charge of her? “My refusal has nothing to do with Estelle. I don’t like you, cousin. And I have no wish to be your broodmare. Please leave my house.” In the next moment, she gave a shriek, and Edward threw open the door. Cleghorn had the woman by the wrist, holding it high to prevent her from defending herself with the needle she brandished. His other arm was around her waist, and she was twisting her face away to avoid his lips. She wasn’t Margaret, though she had something of the look of her. Margaret had been lushly built and fair as moonlight. This woman was a darkhaired sylph, slender as a reed, though curved in all the right places. “Get your hands off that woman,” Edward commanded, but Cleghorn did not comply. He cast a glance over his shoulder and said, “Miss Cleghorn is my betrothed. Go away.” “Liar!” Miss Cleghorn struggled to free herself. Not Margaret, and definitely not Miss Hester Cleghorn, Margaret’s aunt. This must be Anne, the little sister. If he’d thought about her at all, he’d assumed the younger girl had grown up and married. Cleghorn clutched Miss Cleghorn tighter, and Edward saw red. Little Anne. She’d been a shy wee thing, often hanging around the edges of the merry crowd that courted Margaret but saying little. He’d rescued her kitten once, when it had climbed a tree. Edward grabbed Cleghorn by the arm that held Anne and squeezed till the man let go, then spun him around and punched him in the nose. Something crunched beneath his knuckles and Cleghorn dropped. 74 | UncagedBooks.com

Edward stood over him. “The lady said ‘no’,” he said. Cleghorn struggled up onto his elbows. “She’s no lady,” he scoffed. “If it wasn’t for her dowry...” Edward pulled him up by his neckcloth and punched him again. “The door, please, Miss Cleghorn,” he asked. She gave the two men a wide berth, scurrying around to open the door he’d slammed behind him. Edward twisted Cleghorn’s arm up behind his back and propelled him out the door, across the courtyard, and through the ruined arch. With a shove, he sent the man the first few yards down the path. Safely out of reach, Cleghorn turned. “You haven’t heard the last of this, Lord Hicklestone, assaulting me.” “By all means make a complaint to the closest magistrate,” Edward told him, “and I will report how you invaded a lady’s home and assaulted her.” Cleghorn opened his mouth. Edward took a step towards him, clenching his fists. Cleghorn thought better of what he was about to say, and set off down the hill. Anne had followed them out, her fine eyes flashing scorn as she watched her cousin leave. No wonder Cleghorn wanted her. Edward was fighting his own entirely inappropriate response. “A large dowry, I take it?” he asked. Margaret’s had been 10,000 pounds. If Anne’s was the same, why was she not married? Ah. The child Cleghorn had mentioned. She had, presumably, followed her sister’s path. Surely John hadn’t ruined both Cleghorn sisters? He would have, of course. John thought of nothing but his own pleasures. A pity. She had been a sweet wee girl. “Large enough. Clarence thinks it should have been his. You didn’t come here to talk to me about my dowry, Lord Hicklestone. I am grateful for your intervention, but I would like you to state your business.” “My business. Yes. Well. May I sit down?” Edward gestured towards the bench. Sitting would help him disguise his body’s enthusiasm for getting to know her better. This was Margaret’s little sister, for crying out loud! He forced himself to remember the scene that had sent him fleeing England: his betrothed, her eyes shut in ecstasy while his brother pounded into her. Sure enough, the thought helped to shrivel his interest. However lovely she looked, however ladylike

she appeared, Anne was of the same blood as the deceitful bitch that had ruined his life. “Yes, of course.” Anne nodded. Edward took a moment to remember the question, but when she took a seat at one end the bench, he sat at the other. She was certainly more direct than her sister, no subtle hints, no flirting glances. He would do her the courtesy of being direct in return. “I came to let you know that I plan to complete the demolition of the castle. It is not a safe place to live, Miss Cleghorn, so you and your sister will need to make other arrangements.” Her jaw dropped as she stared at him. The colour drained from her face then flooded back in. “Make other arrangements? You mean to throw us out?” She blinked rapidly. Were those tears? Edward shifted uneasily. “It is not safe,” he repeated. She lifted her chin, and her voice was cold when she said. “We have lived here more than seven years, Lord Hicklestone. None of us have been injured.” Her glare was so potent, he almost looked down at his chest to see if his coat was smouldering. The rumble and thud of a falling rock on the other side of the wall strengthened his determination. “Nevertheless, I could not reconcile it with my conscience to allow you to continue to put yourself in danger, Miss Cleghorn.” For some reason, that sent her fury up another notch. “You and your conscience ignored us for many years, sir, and we have managed just fine without you. Or your brother.” What the hell did that mean? “I did not know the condition of the castle or that you lived here. Not until this morning.” His own temper flared. Why was he defending himself to her? She was living rent free on his land! But hold on. Perhaps she could not afford to move? He needed more information. Mitcham was not able to answer his questions, and he’d ridden over without asking anyone else. How long had they lived here? Why did John allow it? And now another one. Who had fathered Anne’s daughter? What promises had John made to them – promises he had no intention of keeping, probably, but Edward was not such a louse. “I will give you four weeks to find other accommodation,” he conceded. Four weeks to find out their story.

| JUDE KnIGHT | Four weeks to discover something that would relieve him of his irrational conviction that Miss Cleghorn was as innocent as she pretended, and the answer to dreams he thought long turned to dust. *** Anne hoped her loathing for the earl showed in her eyes. Edward might have saved her from Cleghorn. He might once have been the embodiment of chivalry and grace to the young child she had been, the only youth in Margaret’s platoon of suitors who gave any attention to the schoolroom miss who haunted the edges of the crowd. He might be more handsome than any man ought to be, with a look in his eyes that made her want to melt. But he had proved himself callous and uncaring, and she’d do well to remember it. Far below, Clarence climbed into the driver’s seat of his buggy, relegating the boy to the back. He whipped the mule, but it ignored him, taking its own sweet time about getting underway. “A donkey driving a mule,” Hicklestone murmured, the chuckle in his tone inviting her to share the joke. She turned away before he could see her smile. She would not let him charm her. “Very well. You have given me your ultimatum. Now go.” He stood, but he didn’t take his leave. “I would like to tell your sister myself.” Anne looked at him then. “That would be difficult, Lord Hicklestone. She is more than seven years in her grave.” Her scowl must have been potent, because Edward took a step back, but he recovered quickly. “My sympathies, Miss Cleghorn. I had my own troubles with Margaret, but I would not have wished her dead.” “Really?” Anne could hear her voice growing shrill. “Your concern was not evident when you abandoned her without a single word; when you publicly shamed her by running away; when you ruined her, and the rest of the family with her. My sister died of a broken heart. My father, too. Your wishes are clearly not as potent as your actions, Lord Hicklestone.” He even looked handsome when he was bewildered. How could he possibly be oblivious to the impact of his desertion? “Miss Cleghorn…” he began, but before he could finish the sentence, Star skipped toIssue 43 | February 2020 |


| SHORT STORY | wards them, talking flat out. “Mama, I held a…” Star trailed off on seeing Edward. “I beg your pardon, sir. I did not know Mama had a visitor.” Anne stood, fighting the urge to put Star behind her. He wouldn’t want her. He had no right to her. Aunt Hester rounded the corner of the castle, puffing slightly. The climb up the steep narrow path behind the ruins had clearly tired her. Anne saw the falter in her step when she recognized Edward, but she kept coming. Anne barely spared Aunt Hester a glance, unable to take her eyes of Edward. Edward’s eyes narrowed as he intently examined Star’s face. He could not mistake the resemblance. Aunt Hester curtsey was shallow and her voice cold. “Lord Hicklestone.” Like Anne, she had thought Margaret preferred the older brother, and had been relieved when she chose the younger. Fools that they were, they thought Edward kinder and more trustworthy. Edward wrenched his eyes from Star and bowed in return. “Miss Cleghorn. It has been a long time.” He challenged Anne with his eyes. “Will you introduce me to your… daughter?” Dear Lord. Anne could not faint now. “Lord Hicklestone, may I present Miss Estelle Cleghorn.” Star curtseyed beautifully as she had been taught. “Have you ever heard of a sow having 26 piglets, Lord Hicklestone?” she asked, oblivious to the emotions swirling around her. “No, Miss Estelle, I have not.” “Well, the Hardwick’s sow did, and I have been to see them. Hardwick is having to move them to other sows, and I was allowed to carry one!” Edward had crouched down so his head was on the same level as Star’s. “How exciting,” he said, sounding as if he meant it. “I must see this phenomenon for myself. Do the Hardwicks live nearby?” Star pointed back in the direction she’d come. “Just on the other side of Hickle,” she explained. “Are you from Hickle, Lord Hicklestone? Because you have the same name.” Aunt Hester squeezed Anne’s hand, then turned to the child. “Come and wash up, darling. It shall soon be time for supper.” Star heaved a large sigh. “I always have to wash,” 76 | UncagedBooks.com

she mourned. “Even when something interesting is happening.” “Now, Star,” Anne warned, and — apart from another hearty sigh — Star went without protest. “She is Margaret’s,” Edward said. It was not a question. Anne’s response was a fierce hiss. “She is mine now.” “And John’s,” he continued, without acknowledging her challenge. That stopped her. He was denying responsibility? She shook her head. “Yours.” “No, Anne. That’s not possible. I never touched her — she wouldn’t allow me even a kiss, and I’d not have taken more. She was to be my wife!” His eyes held only truth, and her heart accepted it while her brain was still trying to argue. She sank back onto the bench, her legs unwilling to hold her. “Did she tell you the child was mine?” The indignation in his voice would have convinced her if she had not already accepted his claim. “She would not tell us who the father was. But she was betrothed to you. She would not have…” Anne was measuring Edward’s certainty against the events of that dreadful time. Edward had disappeared overnight. A few days later, the earl had left for London and never returned. Margaret had seemed unconcerned at first, but then one morning, they woke up to find her gone. She’d left a note: “I have gone to London. I must talk to him. I love you all.” She returned three weeks later, pale and silent. She said little; only that she was with child and the father refused to wed her. And four months later she gave birth to Star, turned her face to the wall, and died. “It was the earl all along,” Anne said. Another thought struck her, and she reached out a hand to clasp Edward’s. “Dear Heavens, Edward. She must have known she was with child when she accepted your proposal! Poor Margaret. How she must have suffered.” *** Anne had called him Edward, as she used to when he expected to become her brother. He sat beside her, still holding her hand. It felt right in his, as if it belonged. In all his anger and hurt pride, he had not realized that Margaret, too, was a victim in all this. A victim

of John’s selfishness, and his own, he had to admit. He’d always blamed Margaret equally with John, and had not given Anne or Hester a single thought. At least he could explain his reasons, even if there was no excuse for his actions. “I came home a day early and found Margaret and John in the folly together,” he told Anne. “Together?” She frowned and then the frown cleared as her eyes widened. “Oh. You mean ‘together’.” She blushed. Edward wondered how far the blush went and had to fight the urge to check. She didn’t notice. “How dreadful, Edward. How could she? I am so sorry. All these years, I have been blaming you…” “Shall we make a bargain?” Edward asked. Suddenly, he could see the solution to his problem with the castle and the unexpected complication of a surprise niece. “Let us forget the past and start again? Miss Cleghorn, I have a difficulty that I hope you will consent to assist me with. My castle is crumbling and presents a danger to anyone nearby. Why, a wall could crumble and topple down the hill onto Farmer Hardwick’s piglets! Yet the tenants in the castle need a place to live, and I feel honour bound to give it to them. I also just found out I have a niece for whom I am responsible—” Anne tried to pull her hand from his but he held on tight and continued talking, “—jointly with her lovely aunt, who has raised her since she was born. Miss Cleghorn, would you help me solve both my problems? Will you move into Farley Hall, where I can get to know my niece and give her the lifestyle she is entitled to, as a member of my family? Of course, Miss Hester Cleghorn would need to come as chaperone.” “And what are your intentions towards my niece, Lord Hicklestone?” Miss Cleghorn the elder was frowning at him from the gateway, little Estelle beside her. “I will treat your niece with every respect, Miss Cleghorn,” he promised. The respect due to a woman he was courting, he silently amended, which — if he was fortunate — would include kissing. She would need time to get to know him again, but he had seen enough for his own mind to be made up. She had faced terrible trials with dignity and courage, and retained the kindness and humour he remembered from when she was a child.

| JUDE KnIGHT | Add to that his physical reaction to her, and Edward was convinced. Marrying the older sister would have been a terrible mistake; marrying this one would be a dream come true. “Then you had better stay for supper,” Miss Cleghorn declared. She turned and ushered Estelle back into the courtyard, saying over her shoulder, “you can let go of her hand now.” Anne looked up into his eyes, and whatever she saw there caused her to blush further. Greatly daring, afraid he was rushing his fences, Edward said, “I would like the right to hold this hand forever more, Anne.” She lowered her lashes, but she did not remove her hand, and a moment later she raised her candid eyes to his. “I will consider it, Edward.” So, he tucked her hand into his elbow, put his own over it, and they went in to supper. *** Four weeks later, the villages of Hickle and Farley, gentry and common folk all shoulder to shoulder, crammed into St Chad’s church in Hickle to see their earl marry. The ceremony went off mostly without a hitch, except that the daughter of the happy couple let go of the ribbon (a deep vibrant pink to match her new frock) by which she held her pet piglet, and the little fellow made a bolt for the door, followed by Miss Estelle and most of the local children. The congregation, as they trooped out onto the village green to enjoy a feast and toast the newly -weds, agreed that this had added something special to the flavour of the day. “One of the famous Hardwick litter, so a local piglet, which is quite appropriate. She’s the squire’s daughter, you see. Not this squire,” the innkeeper’s wife explained to a visiting friend. “A waste of gruel, that man, and he hasn’t dared show his face at the wedding, not with the way he treated dear Lady Hicklestone. No, she was the daughter of the former squire, and a sweeter man never breathed. Why, just look at the way he supported his daughter. Not this daughter, who is a respectable woman, as anyone knows who has lived here this past eight years. And now she is a countess! Just think.” Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| SHORT STORY | Anne, who was walking behind the two women at that moment, looked up at her new husband, her eyes dancing. Edward raised a brow and she shook her head, pulling him away from the gossipers. “I do not care what they say,” she told him. “It could be worse. Most of them are kind, and those who are not are miserable people who want other people to be as unhappy as they are.” “They won’t say anything unkind about you to me,” Edward growled, clearly ready to march into battle to defend Anne and her reputation.” “What a pity you are having the castle demolished,” Anne teased. “We could pull up the drawbridge and defend ourselves from all comers.” “I quite like the idea of having my new wife all to myself, with everyone else locked out.” Edward had a glint in his eye that promised some of the pleasurable experiences to which he had been introducing her in the weeks since she consented to his courtship. Tonight he would complete the act, he had promised. She gave a delighted shudder at the thought, and pressed closer to his side. “That’s it, Anne,” he said. “There’s only so much a man can stand. We’re leaving. And don’t tell me it could be worse, for I am determined it will be better.” He waggled his eyebrows, attempting a leer. “Much better.” The carriage was waiting by the inn, and with a wave to Aunt Hester and a blown kiss to Star, who was trying to keep her piglet from the food tables, they were off. “And to think,” Anne said, when she surfaced briefly from a long kiss that managed to both satisfy and inflame, “only four weeks ago, I was prepared to live in that tower forever, and throw you off it if you tried to prevent me. Edward? Where is the carriage going? He has turned the wrong way.” Edward smiled. “I have a surprise for you, my love. Will you shut your eyes so you don’t see it too soon?” Obediently, Anne closed her eyes, and Edward bent to kiss her once more so that she lost track of time and did not even think of peeking to spoil the surprise. The carriage stopped, and Edward leapt for the door before the footman could open it. Anne stepped down, looking around her, her eyes widening. “It is the castle,” she said. She took a few paces for78 | UncagedBooks.com

ward. “You’ve had most of it pulled down, but not all.” “We’ve kept the sturdiest walls to form shelter for the gardens.” Edward was beaming. “Edward, most of the tower is still there.” He nodded. “The lower floors were sound, as you said four weeks ago. We were able to save the next one up, and we’ve reroofed the structure there. Lady Hicklestone, this is your wedding present. Your tower. Your gardens.” Anne turned in a full circle, her smile even broader than Edward’s. The footman had clambered back up onto the carriage, and the coachman gave the horses the signal to pull away. “You said you would like to spend tonight in the castle,” Edward reminded her. “Only the tower, but if that will do, my wife, our bed, our luggage, and our food await us within. Will it do?” A touch of anxiety in his voice tempted her to tease him. “It could be worse, I suppose,” she said, but she couldn’t hold the mournful tone, and finished on a giggle. Edward pulled her into his arms for another kiss. “It could hardly be better,” she admitted. Edward swept her into his arms and headed towards the tower. “On the contrary, Lady Hicklestone, it is about to get a great deal better.”

The End Copyright ©Jude Knight Published with Permission https://judeknightauthor.com/

feature authors

romantic suspense | crime thriller | scifi

amber Daulton

Chris Kelsey

Jeffrey Carver

amBER d a U LT o n Please welcome Amber Daulton Uncaged: Can you tell readers more about Arresting Mason? Is this planned on being a part of a series? I originally wrote this book for a bad boy anthology call, but by the time I was done, I had exceeded the max word count and still wanted to add more scenes. So I forgot all about the anthology and kept revising this story until I was finally happy with it. It’s now book one in the Arresting Onyx series.

mber Daulton is the author of the romantic-suspense series Arresting Onyx and several standalone novellas. Her books are published through The Wild Rose Press and Books to Go Now, and are available in ebook, print on demand, audio, and foreign language formats.


Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and four demanding cats.

stay Co n n e c te d

For how I came up with the plot, I must thank my subconscious since I dreamed about it. For days after, I kept thinking about the hero, the heroine, and her brother, and the characters wouldn’t leave me in peace until I wrote out a rough plotline. Though I changed quite a bit as I put the dream down on paper (or rather computer), the main premise remained the same. Uncaged: You’ve also written in a few other genres including western romance and time travel. What inspires you to write in the different genres? I love writing in subgenres that I enjoy reading. Most of my story ideas and plots come from my dreams, and those dreams are pretty wild and imaginative, taking place in various settings and time periods. In order to gear up for writing something a little different from my norm, which is romantic suspense, I read any book I can get my hands on that is in the subgenre I’m planning to write. Uncaged: What are you working on now that you can tell us about?

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The second installment in the Arresting Onyx series should hopefully be out in late 2020. Arresting Jeremiah follows hardnosed parole officer Jim Borden and

his obsession Calista Barlow as they stick their noses where they don’t belong and fall deep into the trouble with the criminal organization known as Onyx. I’m currently revising book three, Arresting Benjamin, which should hopefully be released in 2021 or later. This sexy, dirty-talking romantic suspense series spans five books with a standalone HEA for each rough-andtumble hero and their spunky heroines. The first book, Arresting Mason, is already published. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Jane Austen. I would love to know her thoughts about feminism (how things have and have not changed from her time) and the differences between writing styles and grammar from her time and now. I definitely admire her. A woman writing and becoming a published author back in the early 1800s was scandalous and almost unheard of. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Hmmm. That’s a tough question. I’m a plotter, so I plot in great detail before I begin a story. Sometimes, though, a character takes over and does whatever he or she wants. The biggest thing I can think of is in my Arresting Onyx series. There’s a character who is a criminal but turns out to be a good guy, down deep. When I first started plotting this series and developing this character—who shall be unnamed to prevent spoilers—he was a villain all the way. Now, I can’t imagine him being anything but a sexy bad boy stuck in a bad situation. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? Reading, playing with cats, gardening, and bingewatching TV shows with my hubby. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you?

Success is different for everyone. For me, I feel accomplished when I read a great review for one of my stories, or a critical review that was instructive but also kind. I enjoy it when readers share my publishing news and talk about my stories. I always feel honored when a blog host (like you) invites me to their site or newsletter for an interview. My dream is to make it on a best-seller list. Fingers crossed that it will happen someday. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I prefer print books because I love the smell and holding them in my hands, but they’re more expensive and takes up so much room in my office. I have probably a hundred or so print books while I have over a thousand ebooks. I don’t listen to audiobooks much, and I need to remedy that. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I love hearing from readers and fans, and I’m currently accepting new members on my street team. You can sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/ groups/572204316296198/

Enjoy an excerpt from Arresting Mason Arresting Mason Amber Daulton Romantic Suspense/ Mafia Once you’re in a prison gang, you’re in it for life. That’s what Mason Harding thought until the boss accepted his resignation. After the State releases him on parole, a sexy divorcée behind the wheel of a car almost ends his life Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | quicker than a shank. His chance encounter with Mia Eddison results in a night of passion, but her brother—his parole officer—catches them together and doesn’t approve. Mia falls hard for the cocky ex-con, but not because of his chiseled body. She vows to break through his walls and discover his secrets, but never expects those secrets to threaten her life. When members of an organized crime ring kidnap Mia to force Mason’s return to the gang, he goes up against an old friend to save the woman he loves. Will his sacrifice be enough or will everything fall apart in a blaze of gunfire? Excerpt Mia scowled at her brother as he headed up the stairwell, and she used her body to block his entrance into her home. Jim didn’t seem to notice her tense body language and pushed her aside to enter. “Good morning.” He hugged her with one arm and frowned at the hardwoods. “There’s something sticky on the floor.” He scraped his shoes over it a few times and headed toward the kitchen. “What’s for breakfast?” “Why are you here?” Mia shut the door, grabbed the towel she’d left on the sofa, and used it to cover the evidence of her desire on the floor. The last thing she needed was for her brother to realize what that sticky substance was. Her gaze darted toward the telephone and answering machine combo in the living room and back to Jim as he picked up the pancake mix. The U-shaped kitchen occupied one half of the loft’s airy floor plan, and she could see into the kitchen through a gap between the upper and lower cabinets. “You know to call first. I don’t have any messages on the machine, and I doubt you called my cell phone.” “I’m in the neighborhood to see a parolee for an unexpected visit—well, unexpected for him—but I thought I’d stop by to see you first.” Jim sat the box aside and opened the fridge door. “You have any more blueberry muffins?” “No, you cleaned me out the last time you showed 84 | UncagedBooks.com

up unannounced.” She crossed her arms and glanced at the closed bedroom door. “Jim, you need to leave.” She’d rather shave her legs without aloe-infused shaving cream or live a whole month without a hairdryer than introduce her parole officer brother to her parolee—boyfriend, perhaps?—the day after the best sex of her life. Talk about awkward. “What’s the rush? I haven’t seen you in a few days.” He grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and rubbed it on his polo shirt to shine the fruit before he sank his teeth in. “Why are you so uppity?” “I’m in a bathrobe, Jim, and you’re irritating the crap out of me. I have plans today and need to get going.” “I bought you that robe for Christmas last year. It’s nice to know you use it.” He glanced at the food on the marble countertop. “Looks to me like you were about to fix breakfast. Pancakes are fine since you’re out of muffins.” Her blood pressure rose. She wrapped her hand around Jim’s arm and dragged him out of the kitchen as a noise resonated from the bedroom. “Wait a minute. What was that?” “Just rats. Come on.” Mia jerked on his arm again, but he refused to budge. Jim shook off her hand, took a step toward the bedroom, and stilled. “Oh God, there’s a man in there. No wonder you want me to leave.” He scowled at the splotches on her neck as though he just noticed them. “That’s very professional. What will all those snooty ladies say tomorrow after you open the store?” She clasped her neck. “Leave, Jim. I don’t want you to ruin this.” “Fine, I’ll go.” He patted the gun he always wore beneath his loose blazer. “Don’t worry. I won’t have a problem with him as long as he’s not Evan.” She doubted that. Evan was blond, gorgeous, and an up-and-coming photographer with a great body. Jim hated him on sight. Mason, a tattooed ex-con who worked at a garage, wouldn’t stand a chance unless Mia buttered Jim up first. “Just to be sure.” Mia grabbed her brother’s arm again. “We can meet for lunch tomorrow and I’ll tell you about him.” A door creaked open behind her, and she whipped her gaze toward the bedroom just as Jim did.

| AMBER DAULTOn | Mason paused in the doorway, dressed in his jeans and wrinkled dress shirt. The shirt hung open and revealed his sexy snake tattoo. His eyes widened like saucers. “What the hell?” Jim dropped the apple on the floor and jerked free from Mia’s hold. A dark glower morphed his face into a mask of anger, and he leveled that hate-ridden stare on her new lover. “Mason Harding. What the fuck are you doing here?” Mason folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe. His lips sealed together in a thin line as his right cheek twitched. Tension palpitated so strong between the men she feared the windows and light bulbs would shatter at any moment. “How do you know him, Jim?” Mia swiped damp strands of hair behind her ears, a little afraid to know the answer. Her brother spun toward her and fisted his hands. “He’s one of my parolees.” Oh God, no. She covered her mouth with her hands. I’m gonna throw up.


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Catching Up with CiCi Cordelia Uncaged: Collectively, and separately, what is coming up next for both of you?

sometime in 2020. We usually work for a solid three days or so and always manage to get a lot of writing and plotting completed, in between the fun stuff. ::grin::

Cheryl, here: I recently dug out a paranormal manuscript I started five years ago and hope to have it completed by the end of the summer. I’m also plotting out a new romantic suspense for my Hero series that I hope to have done by the end of the year. So, busy busy. Char, here: I am finishing up a full standalone novel, Made For Each Other, and should have it out on release within the next three months. Collectively as CiCi, we are working on a thriller standalone, Haunt Season, and also the second installment in our DUSTIN LOVERS Series, Roping Her In. Uncaged: Are we going to see more from The Brides of Little Creede series in the future? CiCi, here: Of course! We just released a Christmas novella that has a short Brides of Little Creede holiday story, along with individual stories by both Cheryl and Char. You can pick it up here: https://www.amazon. com/Forever-Yours-This-Christmas-Trio-ebook/dp/ B082PXXJ3D Cheryl was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and all proceeds from the Christmas novella will go to breast cancer research through 2020. Uncaged: Are you planning on attending any in-person events or conventions in 2020? Cheryl, here: Due to my health, I’m cutting back on conferences this year. But Char and I do plan to attend the InD’Scribe conference in Peoria in October since CiCi’s novel, The Substitute Wife, Book 1 in the BRIDES OF LITTLE CREEDE Series, took first place in the Historical category last year. Word is the 2019 winners will be presenters in 2020. Char, here: Cheryl and I are also planning at least one writing retreat together, maybe two if we can swing it,


heryl is a multi-published award-winning author. She writes Romantic Suspense and Sexy Contemporary Novels. She also co-writes Steamy Contemporary and Historical Western Romance under the penname CiCi Cordelia with her BFF, Char Chaffin. She enjoys novels with fast-paced action and steamy romance, protective alpha men and strong heroines. She belongs to several writing groups, including Romance Writers of America, Wisconsin Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime.


har is multi-published in several genres; romances filled with family, rich characters, and engaging plots. For her, it all comes back to the love. A displaced Alaskan, Char travels extensively, and lives in several places throughout the year: summers in Fairbanks, Alaska, winters in the South Texas Coastal Bend, and in-between places of wherever sounds like fun. Joining her in this life-fest is hubby Don, a retired Air Force man with a love of Fifties rock n’ roll and a passion for hot, classic cars. Between them they Issue 43 | February 2020 |


have three children and four grandchildren, all scattered to the far corners of the country. Char can also be found under the penname of CiCi Cordelia, with her writing partner and BFF, Cheryl Yeko. As CiCi they are an award-winning duo who pen Western Historical, Steamy Contemporary, and of late, Suspenseful Thrillers.

God, how could he not have noticed . . . even when she wore those button-up things with long sleeves. All that pretty, silky flesh. Yeah, he’d noticed all right, and definitely approved. She wasn’t a beauty, nothing like the girls he’d gone for and messed around with before. His tastes went more toward hot blondes with a mane of gorgeous hair, big blue eyes, and generous breasts.


Emily wasn’t like those girls, yet there was just something about her.

Healing Emily’s Heart CiCi Cordelia Contemporary Romance The night before Cole Jacobs left town for college and a football scholarship, Emily gave him her innocence in the back seat of his Camaro. The hours of passion they shared resulted in heartbreak for Emily, and six years later she’s still recovering from the consequences of her actions. Cole didn’t see what was right in front of him when he blew out of town after sleeping with the sweetest girl he’d ever met. Now a pro football star, returning to his hometown for a promo event at his old high school, he comes face to face with Emily Patterson . . . and soon realizes that in one reckless night, he’d ruined her life. Can two people connected by tragedy overcome their past and find love? Excerpt Whispering Pines, Colorado Then In the cramped back seat of his Chevy Camaro, Cole Jacobs slipped his hands up the front of Emily Patterson’s cotton blouse on a search for the soft, creamy skin he’d been noticing lately. 88 | UncagedBooks.com

Dark curls framed her heart-shaped face, and her wide eyes were an odd shade of gray; kind of stormy looking and deep. She didn’t bother with makeup or perfume. She never wore anything remotely feminine, not even in the summertime. Emily was short. Thin. No obvious cleavage. He didn’t think she’d even developed enough boob to stick in a bra. She had something, though; something he hadn’t found with the spoiled-snotty cheerleaders he usually dated. Emily was sweet. Too sweet for a guy like him. When she looked at him with those big eyes, so full of invitation, he couldn’t seem to resist. He nuzzled her ear and she shivered, her breath speeding up. Damn, she smelled good. Like honey and flowers. When he flicked his tongue against her neck to see if she tasted just as sweet, his body lit with desire. Hell yeah, she does. In the dark back seat, Cole couldn’t see much but he sure could feel. And under her boyish shirt and loose, gap-waist jeans she wore, Emily’s body was melt-inyour-mouth soft and warm. What she didn’t have in curves, she made up for in other ways. So responsive. How long had it been since a girl had shivered because he brushed a kiss over her ear? I want her.

c h ri s kel s ey Uncaged welcomes Chris Kelsey Uncaged: You are releasing the 2nd book in the Emmett Hardy Mystery series, called Butcherville. Can you tell readers more about this series? How many books are you planning for the series?


hris Kelsey was born in Maine and raised in Oklahoma, the son of a jazz saxophonist and school librarian. He was educated in public schools, received his Bachelor Degree in Music Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and his Masters in Music from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He moved to New York City in his mid 20s and embarked on a career in jazz. He’s played in many of the city’s top jazz venues and performed at major jazz festivals. He’s recorded approximately 20 albums as a leader, including 2013’s Chris Kelsey and What I Say: The Electric Miles Project, which won an Independent Music Award for Best Tribute Album. Kelsey began his writing career as a music critic, working for most of the major jazz publications in the US, including Jazz Times, Jazziz, Cadence, The All Music Guide, and many other magazines and Web sites. His first novel, Where the Hurt Is, was published in 2018 by Black Rose Writing and won that year’s Pencraft Award for Best Fiction Book. His second novel, Butcherville, was published in January, 2020 by Black Rose Writing. Kelsey currently lives in Dutchess County, NY, with his wife Lisa. In addition to writing and playing music, he’s Director of Instrumental Music at the Trinity-Pawling School.

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The Hardy series is set primarily in the fictional small rural town of Burr, Oklahoma, located in the also fictional Tilghman County in the western part of the state. The first book in the series, Where the Hurt Is, is placed in 1965. The events in the second book occur about a year-and-a-half later; the action moves a couple of miles north to an even smaller town, Butcherville, which is the title of the book. Emmett Hardy is Burr’s chief of police. He’s Oklahoman to the core, a Burr native who feels a strong attachment to his hometown, but is also a bit of a misfit. His mother, an accomplished pianist, passed down to him her love of jazz and literature, which—in a place where football and country & western are kings—make Emmett a kind of an oddball. One thing he does have in common with the local male population is his fondness for strong drink, which becomes an issue over time. The ‘60s were a time of cultural and political transition everywhere in the U.S., and the kinds of crimes Emmett confronts reflect those changes. I’ve planned the first three books as a kind of narrative arc lasting from 1965 through 1967, but I intend to take Emmett at least into the ‘70s and beyond.


Uncaged: You are also a professional musician along with being an author. How do the two professions help/hinder each other? The only hindrance is that when I’m doing one, I can’t

do the other. I also teach music. It’s very structured; there are specific hours every day when that’s what I do. The rest of my time (outside of spending time with my family, which is my number one priority), I split between writing and making music. Maybe if I only did one or the other, I’d write more books or make more records. On the other hand, doing both is a great hedge against burn-out. If I get tired of doing one, I do the other. It’s a net positive, overall. The varied experiences feed my creativity. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? I’m about fifty pages into the third book in the series. The working title is A Very Bad Thing, but I expect that to change. It picks up where Butcherville leaves off by resolving—or maybe I should say addressing—an issue that’s left hanging at the end of that book. I can’t tell you what that is, but you’ll know after you read Butcherville.

into the kind of man he is. Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? Mark Twain would be number one. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is my favorite book of all time. In some ways, Twain’s my biggest influence. Right now I’m reading Savage Art, a biography of Jim Thompson written by Robert Polito. Thompson was a fellow Okie and he set many of his crime novels there, along with Texas and Nebraska. He had a much harder life than I have, and It’s reflected in his work; he’s deeply skeptical of human nature—not

The third book features many of the same characters from the first two, although some of their circumstances have changed, not least Emmett’s. It deals with a cold case—a very cold case—and how its effects are felt many years later. Hardy family secrets play a significant role. I don’t see it as an ending, but it will tie up some things, and hopefully provide insight on what made Emmett Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | unlike Twain, come to think of it—while I tend to have a more hopeful outlook. But I love the way he writes, his grit, and how he captures something essential about people from that part of the country. The Swedish husband-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö would be up there, as well. I read their Martin Beck series around the time I began Where the Hurt Is. Cormac McCarthy would have to be on the list, too, but good luck in tracking him down. Larry McMurtry writes so evocatively about the Southwest, and with such heart. I always finish his books in a state of awe. Of course, it would be great to sit down with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and just listen. Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? My characters constantly surprise me. I know that might sound weird, since they are ultimately products of my imagination. But sometimes when I’m on a roll, they get ahead of me; they’ll do something that, as I’m typing, I’ll say to myself, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” The climax of Where the Hurt Is was like that. That just sprung onto the page almost like I was watching it happen. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I’m not really much for relaxing. If I’m not teaching, I’m writing, and if I’m not teaching or writing, I’m composing or playing music. I spend most of whatever downtime I have reading. In the summer I do watch major league baseball on television, if you consider the New York Mets a major league baseball team. Even then, I’m usually practicing saxophone during the game.

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Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? I think it would mean being able to write what I want to write without having to worry about all the externals. I don’t need to be rich, and I especially don’t need to be famous, but I’d like to have a broad and loyal readership. If I have that, I think good things will follow. I have a fantasy about living on a lake and writing on my own dock, or in a screened-in porch with a view of the water, surrounded by trees and mountains. I do my best writing outside. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I suppose I prefer actual books, but I wish I didn’t, because I have so many they’re threatening to crowd me out of my house. On the one hand, I’d really like to get to the point where I’m reading everything on my Kindle as a way of conserving space and maybe resources. On the other hand, I’ll never be able to break the habit of visiting every used book store I come across and coming out with a bagful. I just love the physical object too much to go all-ebook. I love audiobooks, as well. I listen to them in the car, especially on long drives. Also when I mow the lawn. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? I’d like to give them my most heartfelt thanks. I’m constantly humbled and amazed when people get in touch with and tell me how much the enjoyed my first book and how they can’t wait for the next. It’s a good feeling to know people are receptive—not just to my stories, but my ideas, and even my world view. It gives me hope for the future of the values I’m trying to express.

Enjoy an excerpt from Butcherville Butcherville Chris Kelsey Historical Thriller/Crime The residents of tiny Butcherville, Oklahoma love their God-given freedoms so much, they refuse to hire their own police force. When they need a cop, they just call Emmett Hardy, police chief of Burr, the closest neighboring town. Whether it’s to break up a fight, dissuade an angry good ol’ boy from hunting rabbits with an M-16, or eject an unruly patron from Butcherville’s combination strip joint/bookstore, Emmett’s always glad to oblige … that is, until a local business owner’s lust for money and power results in a deadly shootout and multiple kidnappings. Suddenly, Emmett’s good intentions are fraught with dangerous consequences. Besieged by friend and foe alike, and sabotaged by a fondness for drink that’s starting to affect his work, Emmett is the last man standing between a community of honest people trying to do their best with what little they have, and an evil that threatens not only their jobs and homes, but their very lives. Excerpt Prologue If I had to cite one quality that defines where I live (that would be Burr, Oklahoma, population 1,276—down from 1,280 after we sent two father & son pairs of miscreants to the state penitentiary in McAlester last year), it would be the natural inclination of my fellow citizens to do the direct opposite of anything a person in authority says, regardless of whether or not it’s in their best interests. President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself could drop a hint to

| cHRIS KELSEY | one of our farmers that it would be a good idea to water his crops. More likely than not, the farmer’d flip LBJ the bird and piss all over his own soybeans or sorghum or whatever it is he grows just to be contrary. He might even invite over the neighbors and let them join in. Anyone who pretends to understand anything about us Oklahomans knows we can be mulish and self-reliant, sometimes ridiculously so. Nobody—and I mean nobody—tells an Okie what to do. I reckon to an outsider, our nature might seem a little hypocritical, since, after all, if our ancestors hadn’t been willing to accept a government handout (or two or three), the state we know as Oklahoma might instead be called Sequoyah, and a majority of its citizens would comprise descendants of men named Geronimo and Standing Bear and Black Kettle. That wouldn’t do at all. Nah, this wonderful land of black gold and waving wheat and championship football teams was gifted to us on the cheap by the boys in Washington D.C. on behalf of the much-tread-upon and lied-to American Indian, and it cannot be convincingly argued otherwise. Indeed, our representatives’ generosity didn’t end with the gift of pilfered real estate. Back in the Dirty ‘30s, a good number of farmers swallowed their pride and accepted a share of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal money, or what was left of it after the sitting governor got his cut. I don’t mean to suggest they weren’t right to take the cash. It hardly rained a drop for almost a decade and the wind didn’t stop blowing just because the ground was parched and turned to dust. Most of what few crops managed to poke through got eaten by grasshoppers and jackrabbits. Nah, those fellas accepted help because they had no choice. They had mouths to feed. But now it’s 1966, and the big money brought here by oil and gas interests has rendered memories short and Oklahomans cocky. That noted bootstrap-puller and shantytown-inspirer Herbert Hoover coined a name for the attitude that Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | infects our state. He called it “rugged individualism,” which means if we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it our way or not at all. I’m not stretching things much when I say a lot of folks these days would rather quench their thirst with Drano than admit the boys in Washington or Oklahoma City know what’s best for them. Our lizard-brained politicians know that, which is why they’ve made appealing to a general distrust of government into an art form. Any candidate who can convince voters that he only wants to get elected so he can tear things down from the inside can write his own ticket. Some people love the sound of that bull crap so much that—whether out of stubbornness, meanness, or a lack of common sense—they’re happy to look the other way while the fella saying it picks their pockets. I believe the most common descriptive phrase is: “Cut off your nose to spite your face.” Would-be nose-less bastards like that inhabit every corner of this state. It’s a part of who we are, for better or for worse. Here in Tilghman County, however, a few miles north of Burr in a town called Butcherville, we’ve got ourselves an especially peculiar concentration of that sadly unendangered species. Butcherville’s founding fathers believed that man is endowed by his creator with an inalienable right to do whatever he damn well pleases and to hell with anyone who tries to tell him otherwise. Feel like adding a second floor to your outhouse? Be my guest, although I’d advise you to take an umbrella or at least wear a hat when you go do your business. Got an urge to paint your ding-dong orange and drive a tractor naked past a schoolyard of first-graders? Enjoy the ride, buddy. No true-blue Butchervillian would dream of spoiling your fun. Just don’t forget the Coppertone. All in all, it’s probably good that most lack ambition and are inclined to settle for milder forms of rebellion, such as parking broken-down cars and tractors in their yards for years at a time. Watching discarded and disabled machinery fall prey to the elements is a favorite local spectator 94 | UncagedBooks.com

sport. To be fair, there is a subset of Butcherville residents who enjoy such challenging pursuits as hunting squirrels with machine guns and fishing for bass with hand grenades. Drinking copious amounts of Schlitz while operating farm equipment is about the safest thing they do. From the laziest to the craziest, however, the most important thing is: no one tells them they can’t. It’s no surprise that Butcherville doesn’t have a police department, since by-and-large nothing short of murder or horse-thievery will get you put away. On the other hand, some laws of God and Oklahoma still apply there, same as they do other places. Do something like tie a person up, tape a burlap sack over his head, and run him over with a pickup, you’ll answer to someone. In Butcherville, more often than not, t h a t someone is me. My name is Emmett Hardy. I carry a badge. And a flask of Old Grand-Dad bourbon in my glove compartment, for reasons that will become apparent, if they haven’t already.



effrey A. Carver is the author of eighteen science fiction novels, including the recently published two-parter, The Reefs of Time and Crucible of Time—Books 5 and 6 in the ongoing series The Chaos Chronicles. Also popular are his Star Rigger stories, including Dragons in the Stars, Dragon Rigger, and the Nebula finalist Eternity’s End. For a change of pace, he also wrote Battlestar Galactica, a novelization of the critically acclaimed television miniseries. His short stories have been gathered into ebook collections, as well. His work ranges from hard SF to fantastic space opera. His greatest love remains character, story, and a healthy sense of wonder. Carver has taught writing in a variety of settings, from educational television to conferences for young writers to Odyssey to MIT to his own workshops. Visit his free guide for aspiring authors of all ages at www.writesf. com. For more about the author and his blog Pushing a Snake Up a Hill, visit www.starrigger.net. His books and short fiction are widely available in print and ebook, and increasingly, in audiobook as well. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the highly-regarded author cooperative Book View Café. Originally a native of Huron, Ohio, he has lived for many years in the Boston area.

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Please welcome Jeffrey Carver Uncaged: In September of 2019, you released the latest book in The Chaos Chronicles series, and also a “part two” continuation from book five. Can you tell readers more about this series? Is this an open-ended series or is there a set number of books planned? The plan now is for a total of seven books in the series. This last year saw Books 5-6, which is slightly misleading, because they are a single long story, told across two volumes. It started as The Reefs of Time, but when I realized it was too long for one book, the second half became Crucible of Time. The Chaos Chronicles has been a long-term project, to say the least. I wrote the first three books in the mid-90s, with three more planned. Then I detoured to write Eternity’s End, which is set in my Star Rigger universe. Partly I needed the change, and partly I had a contract that needed fulfilling. I had a great time with that, and it got short-listed for the Nebula, but it took years longer than I expected. (I’m a slow writer and I write long stories.) By the time I got back to the Chaos books, the trail had grown cold. I was like Gandalf trying to pick up the trail of Gollum. The next was Sunborn, and that was an ambitious effort, telling the very personal stories of a few individuals, set against cosmic forces that could easily have overwhelmed them. With Reefs and Crucible, I continued the cosmic theme, but with my company divided and scattered across space and time. For various reasons, this took me eleven years. If you want to talk about good ways to advance a career, this wasn’t it! But the story had to be told, and unfortunately, in its own time. I’m very excited about the final result, by the way. Now I’m feeling my way into the last book of the series, The Masters of Shipworld. Uncaged: What inspired you to write, especially in the science fiction genre? Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | I dunno, that’s like asking what inspired me to breathe. I’ve loved science fiction from my earliest reading as a kid, and it’s still what brings me the greatest inspiration. You get to duel with dragons and dance with the gods, and explore the universe, all in one go! I’m very much in the traditional camp in the sense that I find our future in space to be tremendously exciting, despite all the disappointments (such as going to the moon, and then not bothering to go back for over fifty years). I can get as depressed about the state of humanity as the next guy, or girl, or other; but fundamentally I remain an optimist. And optimism is what SF does best. Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about? That would be the final Chaos book, The Masters of Shipworld. Oh, I have other things percolating (not all SF!), but I don’t like to talk about projects that are still only vaporware. I’m afraid they might stay that way! Uncaged: Past or present, which authors would you love to sit and have lunch with and why? There are so many! Tolkien! Luke the historian of the New Testament (the stories I bet he could tell)! Terry Pratchett (first to apologize for not reading any of his stuff while he was alive, and second to tell him how much I’m enjoying his books now, as narrated for audio by Stephen Briggs). Steven Spielberg. Those are a few whom I never had the chance to meet. Through the SF world, of course, I’ve been blessed to have had lunch with any number of contemporary writers I admire and enjoy, ranging from Jane Yolen to Joe Haldeman to Linda Nagata to Robert Sawyer to Rosemary Kirstein and Ann Zeddies, and many more. And new writers! I’ve love to get to know some of the newer voices. Sometimes I get to lend a helping hand, via workshops, and it’s tremendously rewarding to see what emerges from the minds of new voices.

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Uncaged: Have any of your characters ever done something that you didn’t intend when you began? Well, Charlie the noncorporeal quarx died and was then reborn, and kept doing this over and over. I don’t think I saw that coming. Also, in the new book, a pandimensional gokat named Bria does something extremely important that I had no clue about when I introduced her as a pet traveling on a ship. She also, all on her own, decided to disarm tense situations with strange soldiers by making their weapons disappear into a neighboring dimension. Uncaged: What are some things you like to do to relax when you aren’t writing or working? I love spending time with my family. Talking, laughing, watching our favorite shows. I’ve made a minor

| JEFFREY cARVER | hobby of collecting movies on DVD, with my nowanachronistic Panasonic DVD recorder. I bike with my dog on our great recreational bike trail (just outside Boston). I love rollerblading and riding my moped, an old Slovenian-made Tomos that I bought in nonrunning condition and got to work. My most favorite thing is something I don’t get to do anymore, because it’s too expensive: flying for recreation. I am a licensed pilot, but owning my own plane has remained a dream. Also, I was given a gorgeous Celestron telescope for my birthday last year, and I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but I’m itching to. Uncaged: What does success as an author look like to you? Hearing from readers who have really enjoyed and been touched by my work. There’s honestly nothing better as an author. Of course, I’d like to make a good income from my writing, too. But bottom line? Lifting the hearts of readers is as good as it gets. Uncaged: Do you prefer ebooks, audiobooks or physical books? I love my library of tree-books, but for daily reading, there’s nothing better than ebooks or audiobooks. I can take out my phone and read for a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and have a huge selection of titles at any given moment. I have become a huge fan of audiobooks, ever since discovering that I can listen to books while I walk the dogs! And I can download them from the library if I don’t want to buy them! And they don’t get dusty. Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you? Please give my books a try! I hope you like them! I work hard to make that happen! And I’d love to hear from you. You can read my blog or sign up for my newsletter at starrigger.net. You can also keep up with me on Facebook.

Uncaged: Say, Jeff, have you been in any earthquakes lately? Now that you mention it—and how did you know?—yes. I was in Ponce, Puerto Rico when the 6.4 and 5.0 magnitude quakes hit, centered not far away. You can read my account on my blog (see above), but it was scary as hell. Those people, who are still living with it, need a break!

Enjoy an excerpt from The Reefs of Time The Reefs of Time Jeffrey Carver SciFi The starstream is beautiful. But beauty turns deadly when an ancient AI bent on destruction uses it to travel uptime, to humanity’s future. The Mindaru are dead. Or so exiled-Earthman John Bandicut and his alien companions believe, after their intervention to save the Orion Nebula and surrounding worlds. But now a part of this ancient and malicious AI colony is swarming toward the present from its birthplace deep in the past. Their opening: a temporal disturbance in the starstream, a hyperspatial thoroughfare used by myriad civilizations. The disturbance emanates from the planetary defenses of nearby Karellia, whose people know nothing of the starstream or the galaxy-threatening Mindaru. Only Bandicut and his friends have the knowledge and experience to act. But when several of the company go missing, he and Li-Jared must team with the pandimensional Ruall and her gokat—the oddest aliens Bandicut has met since the shadow-people—and journey to Karellia to Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | find a way to cut off the timestream. Meanwhile, on Shipworld, the “missing” Ik meets another human of Earth—a former lover of Bandicut’s—and embarks with her on a perilous mission far back into deep time, seeking a way to stop the Mindaru at their source. Excerpt PROLOGUE ONE In the Starstream A RIVER OF light, a ribbon of tortured space, the starstream was a new feature in the galaxy by any cosmological standard. A mere human-century old, it had been created by Humanity and Humanity’s galactic friends, or perhaps not so much created as jiggered into being. It was sentient tinkering that had triggered the fusion of three cosmological objects: two black holes and one cosmic hyperstring. The hyperstring, a longline flaw in space-time, was by good fortune already anchored at one end by the star-gobbling black hole at the center of the galaxy. It was the other end that was the object of Humanity’s engineering, which was to trap it like a dinosaur in tar in the black hole left by the collapse of a star called Betelgeuse. The starstream twanged and hummed like a harp string. Stretched between the two black holes, it spanned two thirds of the radius of the galaxy. That alone would have been a glorious achievement; but it was useful as well as interesting. It formed a perfect n-space transport system, speeding starships toward myriad new frontiers. In the century since its creation, it had become a major thoroughfare for interstellar commerce and migration, involving dozens of races and hundreds of worlds. From the inside of the starstream, it was a luminous pipeline, seeming to extend forever. From the outside, it was practically invisible. The creation of the starstream was not without conflict or loss of life—a price that continued to be paid long after its creation. It was discovered and used by others, as well as its creators. And not just the Throgs, who killed worlds and millions of people before they were stopped (an action in which I

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played a small part)— but by others, even more dangerous. Things out of not just deep space, but deep time. And that was when the worst of the trouble began. Intelligent and malicious dust that devoured, reports whispered. Things that destroyed minds, murmured others. Things that were terrifyingly like other adversaries galactic humanity had faced, but maybe worse, and with more to follow. Eventually the rumors and reports traveled all the way out to Shipworld, beyond the outermost edge of the galaxy. On Shipworld, the governing bodies took such reports very seriously. Some sort of action would have to be taken, for the protection of inhabited worlds everywhere. I was a part of that action, too. There is much to tell about it, and about related matters. I will do my best to make it all clear . . . starting with another and completely different introduction. —Jeaves, an AI currently residing on Shipworld PROLOGUE TWO Karellia KARELLIA: WORLD OF beautiful, perilous sky. The planet Karellia was a cerulean and white and earthred gemstone—pretty enough as inhabited worlds went, bearing significant areas of arid terrain, forest, and maroon fungal plains. Less than a fourth of the planet’s surface was ocean, so the blue regions were relatively small and scattered. Still, rich underground water reserves blessed the world with verdant fields and forests, from the tropics to the colder climate zones. Even the deserts were host to abundant ecologies. But none of these things accounted for the name given to the world by its inhabitants. Karellia: world of beautiful, perilous sky. Karellia’s sky was alive; the world was cradled by a terrible, fire-breathing dragon. Its mother star and all of the star’s planets were bound in by a nebula of awesome and terrible energy, a nebula called Heart of Fire, that continuously sleeted the entire planetary system with charged particles and a billow of soft radiation. Around Karellia itself, a tight, fiery belt of trapped particles glowed and danced with an even brighter auroral display—a display that threatened death to any living thing that dared enter its realm. Beneath the Belt, under that draconic gaze, lived the

| JEFFREY cARVER | denizens of Karellia, sheltered from the astral storm by the same planetary magnetic field that held the Belt in place. From Karellia, the Belt was a halo that arched like a vast, misty cathedral ceiling over the curvature of the planet. In daytime it sparkled almost gaily in reds and golds; at night it glowed in ghostly shades of cyan and scarlet, its beauty belying its perilous nature. No one living entered the Belt. But of late, there was something new in the sky, even more perilous. Something not caused by nature: Asteroids, flung down from the stars. *** Whatever initial uncertainty there had been about the source of the asteroids—thirty years now since the first—had been erased by the tracing back of the rocks’ trajectories. A planet circling Karellia’s sun’s binary companion—barely glimpsed through the intervening dust and plasma—had been discovered only a few decades before the first attack. A few old robotic probes to the planet and its system had gone missing. But that planet was unquestionably the source of the asteroids. Some enemy on that planet wished Karellia ill, and was hurling dangerously large rocks at its neighbor. The Karellians didn’t know why, but they did know that the attacks were threatening their very survival. *** Karellia lacked long-range space travel—the radiation was simply too horrendous—but its scientists were shrewd, and they had conceived a planetary defense. It was effective, for now. But for how much longer? Attempts at communication had failed. Following years of debate, a consensus emerged that perhaps it was time to take the fight to the other—whoever the other was. A fleet of offensive weapons now orbited Karellia: a deadly array of sixty-four deep-space rockets, all bearing thermonuclear warheads—ready to launch at the Ocellet’s command. The Belt and the Heart of Fire might keep the Karellians from taking the fight to the enemy in person; but these well-shielded rockets just might get through, just might put an end to the falling asteroids. Or they might start an even larger conflagration. The Karellian leader with her finger on the trigger was deeply mindful of the uncertainty over that prediction. For that reason if no other, the missiles remained in check. But for how much longer should she hold back a retaliatory strike?

Meanwhile, the planetary defense held, its invisible glitter unlike any other defense in the known galaxy. CHAPTER 1 In the Triton Ice, 207 Sp. (2176 C.E.) DAKOTA BANDICUT PEERED to the left and to the right, forward and backward, through the windows of the passenger transport as it crawled across the icy surface of Triton. She had come four and a half billion kilometers to see this, and she did not want to miss a thing. After almost an hour, the transport ground to a halt. Scott, the tour guide, announced their arrival on site from the front of the van, and the half dozen passengers, all clad in silver spacesuits, began crowding toward the door. Stepping with feathery lightness onto the icy surface of Neptune’s moon, kilometers from the mining base, Dakota felt a shiver inside her spacesuit—not from the cryogenic cold, which she couldn’t feel at all, but from the personal momentousness of what she was about to see. For years, she had been hoping to visit this place. Now that she was here, she didn’t know what to expect, or how to feel—or even, in any rational sense, why she was here. But now that the moment had arrived, she felt . . . awed, uncertain, and a little afraid. Afraid? It’s silly to feel afraid, she thought. You’re just going to see an empty cavern that hundreds of other people have seen. What’s there to be afraid of? And yet, the butterflies in her stomach weren’t going away—and she had this still, expectant feeling that something special might be about to happen. Gonna feel pretty silly when it turns out to be nothing much, and you walk away with a few pix of a hole in the ground. As last out of the van, she had to sidestep around a few people to see anything. But there it was: the place where humanity, for the first and only time, had encountered an alien intelligence. That alone is worth some chills, isn’t it? “Can we do a quick comm check, please, before anyone moves away from the crawler?” That was Scott trying to keep everyone—all six people—corralled next to the vehicle for a moment. “Aimee here.” “Joe.” “Misha.” When everyone else had spoken, Dakota said her own name, so softly she doubted anyone could have heard it; so she repeated Issue 43 | February 2020 |


| FEATURE AUTHOR | it. Satisfied, Scott waved them forward. Dakota’s heart beat even faster as she stepped ahead of the others to cross the thirty meters to the edge of the cavern. Triton’s surface was the color of dirty ice, with a bit of orange and brown seasoned into the mix. The sun, low in the sky, was little more than a bright star against blackness, while the blue crescent of Neptune hung like a shield behind her right shoulder. Daylight out here at the edge of the solar system looked more like dark twilight; but amplified by the circuitry in her suit visor, it allowed enough illumination for safe walking. As she approached the cavern opening, the underground lights flared into view, forcing the amp in her visor to dial back for comfort. Dakota paused a moment at the top of the long ramp down into the cavern. The bank of floodlights at the bottom shone on the spot where the translator had once stood. The translator. Dakota knew it only from holos and from Julie Stone’s descriptions. It looked to the eye like an impossible assemblage of squirming balls, black and silver and constantly in motion, balanced like a perpetually spinning top. The pix couldn’t reveal its powers, but her Uncle John’s friend Julie had told her in her long-distance holos: It is an astounding intelligence; it can speak in my mind; it can drive spaceships at impossible speeds; it is so alien. That was twelve years ago, when Dakota herself was twelve, and thought she’d be stuck on Earth for the rest of her life. But in those twelve years, Dakota Bandicut had worked and studied doggedly, and with some major strokes of luck, had made it into the space services and been hired to pilot survey drones in Neptune’s atmosphere—much like her uncle, John Bandicut, who had arrived here as a survey pilot. It was Uncle John who had been selected by the alien translator for first contact. And when he had gone—died, everyone said—saving the Earth from a comet, a few people said—stealing a spaceship in a psychotic breakdown, others said—the translator had picked Julie Stone for its next contact. Officially, that hadn’t worked out too well, either. While en route to Earth with the translator, Julie had hared off with the translator on another crazy mission. Just like Uncle John, Julie had claimed she was saving the Earth from a menace no one else

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could see. The last anyone had heard from either Julie or the translator, they’d been hurtling straight into the sun, supposedly with some dangerous object in their grip. Were they both crazy? Dakota didn’t think so. But whatever the truth, Uncle John and Julie and the translator were gone. Dakota blinked and forced the thought out of her mind. While she’d been standing motionless in reflection, several other members of the tour party had started down the ramp. She stirred back into movement. At the foot of the ramp was a well-trod cavern. There wasn’t all that much to see, though the play of floodlights on the blue-white ice was beautiful to look at. The cavern itself was a space that the translator had apparently carved out at some point while it sat here for millions of years of hibernation, awaiting humanity’s arrival. Dakota swung left and right, looking around in the now-open-topped cavity. Someone—Misha—was asking Scott if alien alloys had been found in the ice near the translator. As Scott answered, Dakota tuned out, because she already knew there were no alloy deposits of any note found here, although significant traces had been found elsewhere in the region around the mining encampment. The translator had apparently used the metal alloys, somehow linking together all of the deposits scattered around the moon into an antenna for its surveillance of human activity around the solar system. By which means it had identified John Bandicut and drawn him toward the fateful discovery. Dakota thought, half seriously, that it wouldn’t surprise her to hear voices in this cavern—the voices of long-dead aliens, or maybe the voices of her uncle and his girlfriend. Or maybe that other alien thing that had joined Uncle John—what he had called in his message to Julie a quarx. She heard no voices, though, except those of the tour group. Scott was still answering questions, and now was leading them in a straggling group to the exact spot where the translator supposedly had once been stuck in the ice. Dakota, rather than following, felt an inexplicable compulsion to crouch down and probe a little farther back into the cavern space, where the ceiling got lower. Was she looking for something in particular? She had no idea. She just felt somehow that the spot over there had been well scoured over; but here, just maybe, she would find some lingering evidence of an alien intelligence. Crouching lower, she scratched at the ice with her

| JEFFREY cARVER | gloved fingertips, feeling perhaps the slightest hint of cold coming through the thermal protection. Her touch left a thin imprint. She scratched again, imagining that she might expose . . . what? A vein of alien alloy? Silly. Except, at that moment, something sparkled in the ice, and—Ow!—she felt a sharp pinch in her right wrist, as though a rubber band had snapped her. She rubbed her wrist, puzzled. An instant later, she saw another glint and felt a similar pinch in her left wrist. What the hell? Backing up and straightening, she raised her hands and examined her wrists. There was nothing to see; the silver exterior of her spacesuit looked as it always had. She rubbed her right wrist with her left hand, though, because it still tingled. Damn. Did that translator leave little stingers lying around for people who poked around too much? A heartbeat later, she froze. The translator had put tiny stones in the wrists of both her uncle and Julie. Translator-stones, Julie had called them. Stones with extraordinary and peculiar powers. Dakota’s heart pounded furiously; she suddenly found it hard to think. *Hello, Dakota Bandicut. Do we have your name right?* Dakota made a choking sound, which carried on the suit radio, and brought a call of concern from the group leader. “Is everyone all right?” “Yes. Yes—sorry!” Dakota said. “I’m fine.” Fine? Her thoughts were whirling. Get a grip, girl. What had she just heard? A voice. In her mind. Just like Julie. Just like Uncle John. Oh damn. Oh damn oh damn oh damn! She didn’t know exactly what she had hoped for, coming here. Some closure, some understanding. Not stones from the translator. The translator was gone. Twelve years gone. This was not possible. She felt a soft stirring somewhere inside her skull. Then she heard the voice again: *Is it really so bad?* She pawed at the sides of her space helmet, shaking her head. What’s happening to me? After a moment, she dropped her hands to her sides and stood still, trying not to clench her fists. She didn’t want the others in the cavern to think she was having a breakdown. Did any of them know she was John Bandicut’s niece? They might. Should she tell them? Tell them what? That she, too, was hearing alien voices in her head? *Please don’t.* /What? Who are you? What are you?/ She was so rat-

tled, the noise of her own thoughts was hard to distinguish from the voice. *We are daughter-stones of the translator. We have joined with you, as our sister-stones joined with Julie Stone and John Bandicut. Please don’t be alarmed.* Dakota closed her eyes. Please don’t be alarmed? She repeated the words to herself. Don’t be alarmed. She was plenty alarmed. /How can you expect me not to be alarmed?/ she thought. *We will not harm you. We may, under some circumstances, be able to aid you.* Dakota took a slow, careful breath. Two of the others were looking in her direction, but all she could see was shiny faceplates. She was trying to parse what the stones had said to her. /Exactly how,/ she thought with great deliberation, /might you aid me?/ *That remains to be seen,* the stones said. *We may be able to help you open doors of opportunity, Dakota Bandicut.* /Doors of opportunity?/ *We believe your future will take you to the stars.* That jolted her. She hardly knew how to respond. / To the stars?/ *And sooner than you might think.* To that she could only stand in dumb, shivering silence. Filled with both awe and apprehension, she gazed up at the black dome of space that crowned this desolate moon at the solar system’s edge, and wondered what sort of turn her life had just taken.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


fang-FREAKIN-tastic reviews

feature author

Steven Deighan

sTEvEn dEIghan


teve Deighan is the author of the noughties’ collections, A Dead Calmness, Things From The Past, and Stages of Undress, and the graphic book, Feels Like Stephen King. His supernatural-horror novel, the trademarktitled Bethany Chiller, will be released soon from Dreaming Big Publications, in the USA. His 3D horror comic book, The Party, is based on his 1999 national UK award-winning story. It can be purchased on the UK eBay website. He hopes one day it will reach an international audience. Submit Horror is his fourth collection, and the last quarter-piece to complete that short fiction circle. He occasionally works on illustrated projects with a number of UK artists. He lives in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, with his partner and their children.

Tell us about your latest book. Hi, my name is Steve Deighan and I’m the author of Submit Horror, and the coming-soon, trademarkedtitled, supernatural novel, the eponymous Bethany Chiller®. What could be described as Carrie meets The Exorcist (but in no way supersedes either!) my tale is relayed to the reader from our teenage protagonist’s view. It’s got all the ingredients of a good versus evil tale, and is described as quasi-religious (yes, I’ve taken liberties!) For now, however, I’ll warm you up with my fourth collection, Submit Horror. With this book, I’ve taken the “best” of my stories over the last 10 years, through which I’ve suffered 2 near-fatal hospitalisations, and seeing a mix of my tales published overseas. Who are your favorite authors? Stephen King, Clive Barker, Nick Cutter, and James Herbert. There are too many to list, but those guys take up much of the space on my shelves in the office! What advice do you have for other writers?

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Unfortunately, nothing that’s not been said before. I’d love to come up with some creative spark that inspires

a generation, but the best I’ve got in my pocket would be to keep at it, please. Try King’s suggestion of 1,000 words per day; even half of that if you’re struggling. Bounce between the tales you’re writing–the novels/ stories you’re reading–and don’t pigeonhole yourself. Believe in yourself, too, because at the end of the day, that’s where your strength lies. A couple of other writers I know have claimed they’ve resigned themselves to knowing that their work won’t get far (I don’t believe that!), so if they’re reading this, come on guys! Your support and friendship got me here. Also, guys, know your markets! Be confident in what you’re writing and know who you’re aiming it at. Be realistic and honest in your approach to your reading audience. Plus, one famous 1980’s splatterpunk horror writer gave me this advice: “No one is more interested in your success than you. Thanks, Craig.” What’s the hardest thing about being a writer? Rejection! Rejection! Rejection! I suppose for those in the know, there was only the need to mention it once (for other lucky S.O.B.s, never at all) because for a long amount of time that’s all that’s going to fill up your inbox. It certainly did mine! It’s no lie: you must consider spending evening after evening sending out those DEAR EDITOR/AGENT mailings, and spend the days in the weeks ahead reading THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUBMISSION, BUT… Unfortunately, those will be common, but listen: if you’re on that road and you’re pounding the tarmac hard, you will get that response you’re searching for. Don’t let go of the desire to be heard–to be read. It’s going to be tedious and disheartening, but like a decent postman it will deliver on time. Unless you’re one of the lucky S.O.B.s I mentioned moments ago… How long did it take you to write your book? It was most of 2019 to put the file together, but the stories had written themselves in the decade before its release. For this publication, I went with PublishNation in the UK. I had already prepped most of the manuscript; they just needed to fix the formatting for the e-readers, Kindles, etc. In fact, if you visit their website, there is a testimonial up from myself, basically

| ScOTT M. BAKER | announcing what a great, helpful group they were. Where can a reader purchase your book? Amazon, most likely. Copies have been sent out to some prominent reviewers, so please look up their take on it. But don’t let their opinion decide for you! (that sounds counter-productive, right?!). What I mean is, read it for yourself, see if my writing is worth investing your time in. I don’t ‘deserve’ it just because the book’s out there but give me a try. I know from experience I’m not to everyone’s liking, and I can accept that. Who inspires you? My inhouse family. For they have stuck by me through everything, good and bad. And, truthfully, I’ve may not have deserved it on some occasions, but their unwavering love and support is enough for me to continue for as long as I can, and to be the best I can be. With that unshakeable, domiciliary resolution, why wouldn’t it? Also, the good-many indie horror creators out there, who are making their own marks. Go get ’em, you lot! Do you have another work in progress? Tell us about it. I have started 2 other books which are going to need time to wring themselves out. I’m also reworking my past horror graphic novel scripts, so if any potential artists are reading… Have you written other books? Where can readers purchase them? There are copies of my older material flying around. These were several small press/indie publications that helped set the groundwork. Some of them are bad (I’m holding my hands up; I’m to blame!) and I can only describe some of these publications as good examples of bad writing. Give me that, and you might just enjoy them! The promise is there…

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What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?

awake. I’m saying, I’ll hurt you if you stay.” Then cue that hair-raising, skin-tingling music!!

Whilst I’m not totally clued-up on self- over traditional-publishing, the print-on-demand model works well for the obvious reasons. For creators like myself, we like to retain control over almost every aspect of our ‘product’; it’s ours, so unless someone wishes to join or completely move in and subsidise everything, the result will be exactly the way I want it.

One other favourite, would be Steve McQueen in The Towering inferno: “I’m gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until someone asks us… how to build them.” Tears in my eyes, every viewing! What is your biggest pet peeve?

Who or what inspired you to become a writer? Myself, I guess! I mean, I picked up books whenever I went to car boot sales as a child, and those were either 1980’s film novelisations, or Stephen King door stoppers; and reading through those took me to places I could only imagine were real (Castle Rock? Derry!?). Knowing writing horror stories allowed one to ‘act out’ the good vs evil tales that they had festering in their mind (or, was something they/I had wished to be a part of) just seemed like a cool idea. I could emulate these writers’ stories; make up these people then do what I wanted with them. They could face and stare down unkillable foes; save the planet from choleric aliens in their UFOs; decide on the fate of the world–stuff that you would never find happening in real life, but guys like King and Skipp and Spector were showing me another reality where it could. What are you currently reading? I’ve not long finished The Deep by Nick Cutter, and I’m about to start his next, Little Heaven. I demolished the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz (loved the film adaptation); and this’ll throw ya, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. What is your favorite line from a movie? Too many to mention, guys! But, if I had to pick one, it would be Seth Brundle’s line in The Fly: “I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is 108 | UncagedBooks.com

Used to have a lot, but life’s too short to harbour– wait a minute! Stupid sayings like that annoy the hell out of me! Just roll with it– damn! There’s another! Listen, don’t waste your time on pet peeves. Someone doesn’t like your work, send it elsewhere. Someone doesn’t like you, meet somebody else; make new friends. Just don’t stop being you. But know who you are, as a writer and human being. You’ll find those two entities are usually not that far apart.

Enjoy an excerpt from: Submit Horror Submit Horror Stephen Deighan Horror Fiction comes and goes in droves, but one thing is constant: remembering the feelings that bind us to the words. 14 stories within these pages each urge you to face the imminent terror and dismay of their unfortunate and cruel situations. From eerie clown-children to blood-draining aliens – including the pre-cursor to his forthcoming supernatural horror novel, Bethany Chiller® – this is Steven Deighan giving us a glimpse into an unforgiving world that’s harshly fragmented and frequented by the unmerited and unworldly. These tales are the culmination of a decade filled

| STEVEn DEIGHAn | with real-life trials and tribulations found, perhaps, only in [his] horror fiction. Excerpt AUGUSTE (THE DARK) Sarah maintained a friendly attitude throughout the phone interview; it later occurred to her that maybe some of the questions were thin attempts at getting to know who she was, and what she liked. But the job description was clear: Children’s entertainer required, one night only. £££. Sarah had experience with her nieces and nephews; had worked voluntarily in nurseries and local playgroups; she had also read Lord of the Flies– essayed it in that year’s Higher English–but 21st Century children weren’t all feral and parent-hungry. They were content with their computer games, skilfully crafting mines and fighting evil via vigilante bat-men. In this electronic hive, they secreted happiness. It was October 30th, and it was late evening. Soon after the call, Sarah recalled the moment she spotted the advert on the cafe notice board. There was a hand-drawn map beside the text that revealed the location of the premises–an area Sarah knew well. This made her feel more at ease, for it was a prominent cul-de-sac where she suspected the residents there spoke of crime as only a myth. On a dark Halloween night, nothing could go wrong there. The ad-owner had asked a handful of nonobtrusive questions before lingering on the personal side of what she liked to wear, and what colours she preferred. This, he quipped, was merely to do with the design and fitting of the costume itself: a prerequisite of the job. She stated–for Halloween’s sake–anything in blue or red, and in a 10-12, max. The ad-owner seemed pleased and confident that the outfit he had would be more than adequate for the entertainment his children sought. At quarter to ten, Sarah called it a night, preparing for her bed after her bath. Anything in blue. She lay awake for most of the next hour, as outside a full moon made of the sky its lighted stage and stole into her room in a yawning blue-white glow.

Shadows fidgeted in the corners as the phone call conversation resurfaced; and as she slipped gaily into sleep, she heard the distant ringing of bells when she dreamt the words: Or red. *** “Clowns.” That’s what the shopkeeper said. “You got a fear of them? Everybody has a fear of clowns.” Sarah pressed the key lock on her phone before pocketing the device. She had been texting a friend. “Clowns? No, not really. They’re more funny than anything, I think.” “Hmm. Well, they unnerve me. It’s their eyes: sad, big, like saucers; and their mouths, always smiling. Always happy, they are.” The small man tallied up Sarah’s items, took her money, and handed over her change. “There’s an event on tonight,” he informed her, nodding toward the window. There was an A4 poster of a Halloween party at the local community centre. “You’re more than welcome. Fancy dress, if you can. But no clowns!” Sarah took her bag off the counter. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got prior commitments. Maybe if I’m home early I’ll stop by. Thanks.” She took off moments after; the shopkeeper watched her pass by the window. Realising he was alone in the shop, a shiver giggled through him. “Funnier than anything,” he whispered, and shuddered. *** Beep, beep! The clown on Sarah’s TV was flipflopping his way through the staged street; a rosered horn, a squirting flower, and a long, multicoloured handkerchief snaking out of his breast pocket were all the apparel he needed to make the studio audience laugh. Sarah’s taxi arrived at 8pm. The house, her destination, was only fifteen minutes away. The sun was dripping into the west as night stole the opIssue 43 | February 2020 |


portunity to pounce. She paid the fare, exited the vehicle, and strode up the path to the ad-owner’s house. The garden, bathed in early black shadow, was cut neatly; several figurines lay dispersed: Buddha, and a couple of laughing gnomes. The doorbell chimed and Sarah heard the echoing of footsteps approach the other side of the door. It opened to reveal a startlingly pretty woman, dressed in draping evening wear. She had big, beautiful gold earrings that hung low at her shoulders; a pendant around her neck with runic markings caught Sarah’s eye just as the light from the hallway flashed on it. “Sarah?” the woman asked lightly, as if surprised that the girl had arrived. The girl smiled in acknowledgement. “Yes.” “Please, do come in. We’ve been waiting for you.” The woman stepped aside and motioned Sarah in. Inside was an example of elegant decorum to Sarah’s eyes, with portraits of noteworthy figures, to exquisite Oriental-marked vases and other fine china. This was an antique dealer’s dream, she mused. “Come this way,” instructed the woman. “I am Mrs. Sterling. My children are expecting you. We have something arranged for you to wear. I hope you don’t mind dressing up for this occasion, but I understand you knew that already.” “Yes, the man explained it to me over the phone,” Sarah told her, eyeing up more expensive niceties as they walked. “Was that your husband?” “My husband?” repeated Mrs. Sterling. “Yes, him. Anyway, Charles and Kayla have had their dinner, and by the time supper rolls around we envisage your role will have been fulfilled. It really is a huge relief that you have supplied yourself this evening, Sarah. Halloween has been a focal part in our family for generations, and what better way this year to share it than with a newcomer to our tradition!” “I’m really grateful, Mrs. Sterling,” said Sarah. “I used to take my nieces and nephews out trick-ortreating. Sometimes we played indoor games so I’m sure my experiences with them will benefit us tonight.” 110 | UncagedBooks.com

“I hope so, too.” Mrs. Sterling stopped at a door last on the left. “At this moment the children are preparing the room for you; may I ask that you enter here to accommodate yourself with the costume we have?” Sarah allowed herself to enter a lit, small box-room after Mrs. Sterling ushered her in. There was a floral fragrance radiating in here, and a wardrobe olderlooking than age standing in the farthest corner like a heavy, silent monster. “When you are done please make your way through there”–Mrs. Sterling pointed to another door down the hall–“and we’ll begin this year’s festivities.” Sarah didn’t wish to interrupt with talk of payment; instead she walked further into the room as the door closed behind her. Ahead of her the wardrobe creaked–an audible invite to inspect its innards, she mused, again. The thick handles were warm to the touch, surprisingly. Her small fingers curled around them moments before she bit her bottom lip and pulled. The dust was thick at the bottom of the wardrobe, as if someone had shaken it off the hanging object some time before. It lay undisturbed, settled. Inside hung a carnival-style costume, silky, with twisting tassels dangling from the upper arms. To Sarah it looked funny in its lack of colour, in its vague design. She inspected further, gently twisting the fabric round; there was a tag sewn on, and in fading ink read Auguste. It meant nothing to her. She patted the costume down, swatting any dust that remained. It was then she noticed where the floral smell emanated from. It was coming from the clownlike costume. Had it been washed prior to her arrival? Prior to the phone call? Probably. It would have been unhygienic otherwise, assuming it had been stored in the wardrobe awhile. Sarah couldn’t see Mrs. Sterling, with her expensive runic necklace and styled hair, dealing with unwashed clothing. She pulled it from the hanger, surprised at its overall length and light weight. It was a one-piece with a zip at the middle that pulled upward until it approached the neck area; thin cuffs ruffled at the end of the long sleeves, while the long legs of the suit appeared as stilts to Sarah. She had never seen a clown costume like this before. It was as if it had been poached di-

| STEVEn DEIGHAn | rectly from a silent horror movie. Glancing around, she realised there were no mirrors. She would have to suit herself up without seeing the complete effect. Outside, night had arrived, and the orange streetlamps shone through the window. Sarah perked herself up and begun slipping into the costume, careful as to not rip it. The bagginess of the lower half enabled her to slide her jeaned legs easily in; she left on her jumper, however, for it was beginning to get a bit nippy in the room. Perhaps it cost a fortune to heat such a mansion? With this extra layer Sarah wouldn’t mind. It was on. The zip stopped in its tracks under her chin; she was as snug as a bug! Or, as a clown… in a gown! She laughed a little at the thought. Tonight was the night of the year to induce madness, after all. Leaning left and right, almost swaying, Sarah felt at ease within the costume. Under the light from the bulb in the centre of the room, it looked dark red; when she hopped to the window and stood in the orange glare the suit looked darker. Opening the door, Sarah resisted the urge to call out. Mrs. Sterling had only said for her to leave the room and enter the door down the hallway. She started to walk, then found she had developed the urge to tiptoe, almost comically. Perhaps the children would be less surprised if they saw her before her grand entrance. She decided to keep quiet. Neither Mrs. Sterling nor her husband was anywhere to be seen. Sarah looked down the hallway, to the left and right, but no sign of either adult reached her eyes or ears. Just then, she heard someone whispering from behind the wall; she moved in closer and strained her hearing. “Is she ready?” the male voice said, audio flattened by the wall. “She is dressing up now,” said the female (Mrs. Sterling?). “It won’t be long until we have her frightened out of her wits! It’s always easier when they’re girls. Remember that last one? She was tough. I didn’t think she’d make it out…” Sarah’s eyes widened in horror as she pulled away from the wall, horrified. What was going on? Suddenly she wanted out, to run from the hallway and bolt out the front door before they knew she had heard–before they knew she was ready.

It must be a joke! She tried to reassure herself, convince herself that it was a misunderstanding. She pressed her head lightly against the wall and listened again. “This has to be the last time,” said the man. “That outfit surely won’t last another year.” The woman seemed to agree. “Yes, I think you’re right. I mean, it is getting kind of funny, now.” Sarah had heard enough. She turned away, preparing to quickly march out of the house when she found her way blocked by two youngsters–only, they didn’t look like children. They were–dare she say it–clowns!? Two miniature figures with snow-white make-up and red U-shaped mouths that smiled at her. From under their small hats red hair fluffed out above their ears, like an angry cloud caught under a candle extinguisher. One of the children pointed at her. “Auguste, don’t go! You’re our entertainment for tonight!” Sarah backed away, nearly losing her footing on the trouser legs that took her until now to notice were dragging underneath her. “I can’t stay!” she mouthed, near whispered. The children moved in. Just then, hands pressed against her back and shoulders, as if sensing the poor girl was about to fall. “Sarah! Wherever are you off to?” When the girl turned, she realised to whom the two pairs of hands belonged: Mrs. Sterling, and her husband. They too, were dressed as clowns, only their makeup was different, deliberately smeared and frenzied. With their motley-patterned hats and their hands gloved in black, their outfits long and splattered with the brightest colours, they moved forward to reach her with eager, unrelenting arms; and Sarah’s shrieking and screaming tore through the house and began the fun of the night.

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R E v I E W s 11 4







Uncaged Reviews The Dark One: Dark Knight Kathryn Le Veque Medieval Romance 1486 A.D. – Fresh from his treacherous turning of the tides against Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth, Sir Gaston de Russe’s reputation is dark and dirty. Those loyal to Richard hate him and those loyal to Henry Tudor fear him. He is, after all, The Dark One.

Uncaged Review: Honestly, I’m not sure I can give this book the justice it deserves from a review. It’s that epic. Before I get into that, I will say this made me want to go back and re-read Dark Moon, which is the book that comes after this one in the series that I had already read. That’s one of the best things about this author and her different series, you can read them in any order and not be lost. Now, on to this review. It’s hard to know where to begin, this book has a lot of information in it. And even though it is around 700 pages, there is not a lot of fat in the book. This is truly a masterpiece. The action sequences, many instances of danger but many more of laughter and love. There is also talk of past rapes and abuses – just as a word of warning. Our main hero in this book is Gaston, the most feared knight in all the realm and the author does not hold back with Gaston. He’s earned his reputation and you get to witness it pretty quickly in the book. Remington is the beautiful wife of Guy Stoneley, who is kept in jail by crimes against the crown. Guy raped and abused Remington and her younger sisters for 9 years, so they never knew the tenderness and love of a man, only pain and hate. Gaston is given Mt. Holyoake, Stoneley’s castle and fortress by the King as both a reward and to keep the peace in the region. Remington, her sis114 | UncagedBooks.com

ters and the staff are still living at Mt. Holyoake and don’t know if they will be able to continue to live in their home, or be kicked out by the Dark One. Remington is caught off guard by Gaston, seeing him for more than his reputation, and when the bond begins to form between Gaston and Remington – it will be a hard, hard road to their HEA. I cried several times reading this, but I also clapped and squealed. There was even a time I wanted to jump in the book and slit someone’s throat myself, well maybe more than once. Kathryn Le Veque pulls her readers into the story – you never feel like you are only reading, it’s one of her magical abilities. I can’t really go into this book, it would take longer and more room than designated for reviews and I could never do the book the honor it truly deserves. As long as Kathryn Le Veque keeps writing…I’ll keep reading. Reviewed by Cyrene

Shadow Hunter B.R. Kingslover Urban Fantasy When my magic manifested at puberty, my parents sold me to the Illuminati. The Order of the Illuminati trained me as an assassin, spy, and thief. But when they sent me to steal a magical artifact that reveals Truth in all things, I discovered that I was working for the Dark and not the Light. The Illuminati trained me well, and paid the ultimate price for their deception. Thousands of miles away, I landed a job in a quirky little bar. But the scattered remnants of the Order still strive for world domination, and no one leaves the Illuminati alive.

Uncaged Review: Erin was trained as a Hunter by Dark mages, known as the Illuminati from the time she was 14. After learning of their deception, she wiped most of them out and left to find a new life for herself, thousands of miles away. But there are still members of the Illuminati scattered around. As she lands in a town, she takes a job at a bar/grill as a bartender. The bar is for supernaturals and Erin begins to know what friendship is in the mish mash band of people she meets. As much as Erin tries to keep things on the down low and secret, bad things seem to find her. This book has some good action scenes, some great secondary characters and Erin is a wise-cracking heroine and the book sets a great pace. It does not leave off on a cliffhanger, but does set up nicely for book two. Reviewed by Cyrene

Gracie’s Time Christine Potter Time Travel/YA October, 1962 It’s almost Halloween, but something a lot scarier than ghosts is on everyone’s mind: nuclear war. After President Kennedy’s speech to the nation about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Grace Ingraham overhears her parents’ plans to keep her safe. She’ll be sent off to live with a wealthy uncle—in the nineteenth century. Uncaged Review: Gracie Ingraham comes from a family of Travelers—time travelers. Except she’s never actually seen her parents travel. They just talked about when they had. In October 1962, Gracie is a normal teenager living in New York. With the threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, Gracie’s parents decide to send her back in time to her uncle in 1890. Except something goes awry and Gracie finds herself forward instead of backward, and suddenly plunked into 2018. Gracie is taken in by fellow Travelers Claire and Amp, a kindly couple who help her navigate the strange new world. She meets Dylan. The fast attraction and slow romance between Gracie and Dylan is sweet, and organic. Music and culture play strong roles in 2018. Gracie soon learns she can unwittingly travel through time, which brings new elements of danger her parents never expected. While entertaining, this story is not a romance in the sense of a happily for now or happily ever after. Gracie and Dylan are both teens, so a serious commitment would be out of place, but a few dates and a couple kisses are reasonable. Also, there was no conflict between them. Gracie travels, Dylan does not. Their easy acceptance of that short-changed any conflict that could have been between them. This is a fantastic blend of Young adult, time travel, and suspense. Readers who enjoyed Ms. Potter’s previous three books in the series will recognize some familiar Travelers making guest appearances. This is the fourth book in the Bean Books series. Reviewed by Ryan Jo

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Uncaged Reviews Dark Blood Nikki Hayes Urban Fantasy I’m Natasha. Friends call me Tash. The world calls me troublemaker. No one knows I possess a deadly magic. It was supposed to be a simple surveillance job, just like the zillion others I had run for my toughguy benefactor, Tobias. An hour into it, I’m sitting with a dead body after barely surviving a warlock’s rampage.

Uncaged Review: As the first book in a series, I see a lot of potential in this story. This is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic book that has a virus called the Scourge that wiped out half the population and messed with the DNA of many others and a magical world is born. What a great concept, but it has its flaws. The world building needed work, it’s not clear about a lot of stuff, and the reader has to piece it together little by little to make a broader view. This is told in Tasha’s point of view, which limits us to seeing through her eyes and she really needs to take better ownership of herself, and quit putting so much pity and blame on herself. That was rife throughout the book, and I really just wanted to choke her at times to make her see herself more clearly. I think if the book hadn’t been in her POV only, it would have given the reader a better clarity and the author really needs to get Tash out of her self-loathing attitude and give the readers a stronger minded heroine. The action sequences were terrific, and I liked the magic that was presented in them. The evil that they fight, is pure evil, and the author did a good job not backing away from it. I am definitely looking forward to the next outing. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Calla’s Summer Fantasy Amber Daulton Erotic Short Calla Lansky needed help at playing the field. She scheduled two dates for the same night at her favorite seafood restaurant, and she owed her shocked boyfriends an explanation. To her surprise, Nathan Risley and Sam Tomlin handled the awkward situation like pros and happily agreed to her ultimate fantasy: a ménage à trois. After the hottest night of her life, Calla faced the ultimate decision. Should she commit to the one man who secretly loved her all along, or keep her options open and indulge in her summer fantasy again and again? Uncaged Review: This is a quick read, an erotic short story with a bit of substance. Calla has become so busy at work she doesn’t realize she’s booked dinner with both men she’s been seeing at the same time, but before she can escape, they both show up. But the awkward situation turns into a hot threesome. But the next morning, one of her men confesses his love for her – and the question is, will she find what has been missing in her life or go on to keep having the fun she’s been having? Even though this is short, you get a pretty good sense of who these characters are, which is saying a lot in such a small amount of space. This is a hot story – but there is nothing weird or over the top – just two hot men and a beautiful woman marking off an item on a bucket list. Reviewed by Cyrene

Blood & Ash Deborah Wilde

Third Eye Blind Nikki Landis

Urban Fantasy


Cold-blooded kidnappers. Long-lost magic. When things get serious, she goes full Sherlock. Ashira Cohen takes pride in being the only female private investigator in Vancouver. With her skills, her missing persons case should be a piece of

The Third Eye is blind ...

cake. She wasn’t counting on getting bashed in the skull, revealing a hidden tattoo and supernatural powers she shouldn’t possess.

Uncaged Review: The last time I read a book from this author, is the Nava Katz series, and I was looking forward to the new series – and the author did not disappoint. Her trademark snarky characters are here in this new series, and really – the only similarities besides this author’s wonderful sense of humor and sarcasm, is that this story also has some of the Jewish mythology tied into it, as did the Nava Katz. After that, I see the similarities end. The action sequences are well thought out and original, and secondary characters are well tuned. What I really didn’t like is the romance, if that’s what you call it. When there is romance in a book, I want a solid couple. They don’t have to be perfect, and it can be a slow dance, but the romance between Ash and Levi was really frustrating when it could be smoldering. Maybe that’s because of Ash’s mistrust or Levi’s ego, but somewhere along the line they need to let that crap go. As for the world building and background of some characters, even the main ones, I think it could have been better there. We got the story from mostly Ash’s point of view, so it limits us a bit and it keeps readers in the dark longer than I’d like. I think we will learn more about this world as these books develop, and I’m definitely staying on this train. Reviewed by Cyrene

Roman English has struck again and now I have no choice but to seek him out and end his brutal attack against the witches of Salem. When our ability to see into the future is compromised, I trust in an unlikely duo to reach Hell and confront Roman. The depths of the Underworld reveal much more than I’m prepared for. I’m confronted with the real enemy. Shocking revelations lead me down a dark path of no return.

Uncaged Review: This is the 4th episode in a 13 book series. Each book is novella length, but don’t let that fool you, there is a lot of story packed into these episodes. This time out, Cassie and the witches are blinded from their Third Eye blessing. Cassie decides she must confront Roman in Hell, and to do it without her putting her Cosan in danger. But there will be consequences that no one, including the reader will see coming. I won’t go into the plot, but how the author manages to ramp up the danger and the entire plotline as she does is truly a gift. This story just keeps climbing. Be warned that this is a reverse harem book and there is graphic sex. But it’s not the main part of the story, there is also graphic violence – but it’s added in a way that makes sense to the story. Looking forward to the next episode. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Uncaged Reviews Billionaire Bachelor: Omar Eve Black Contemporary Romance

Winter Reina Torres Shifter Romance

A billionaire Crown Prince of a wealthy kingdom, Omar is left with few freedoms in life. With his whole life dictated, Omar refuses to let the king dictate whom he marries, too. Determined to show his father the error of his manipulations, he hires the Diamond Bridal Agency to find him a completely unsuitable American wife. The worse the better, so finding a woman who is the gold-digging daughter of a con man is perfect.

Aaron Winter has waited for nearly two decades to claim his mate and now he has his chance. He’s going to do everything he can to convince Celeste that she’s the only one for him… and his bear. He’s had two dreams in his life: Turning Mystic Mountain Resort into a getaway for shape shifters and to have Celeste at his side. The town is excited as nearly all the residents are shifters themselves.

Uncaged Review: My first read by this author, and I really enjoyed this book. Rose, needing a new beginning after her no-good father ruined her life, she applies to a bridal agency ad to marry a billionaire. When she gets the call to hear she’s been chosen, she is given no other information than where to meet him, no name, not anything. So when she maxes out her remaining credit cards to get to New York to the hotel she’ll meet and marry her husband-to-be, she has no idea what she’s heading in for. Little does she know, she’s marrying a Crown Prince, and he’s only using her to get back at his father’s manipulations on his life.

Uncaged Review: It’s somewhat refreshing to read a romance for a middle aged couple. Most of the romances are stuck in the 35 and under crowd, and a lot of them not quite hitting 30. So it’s nice to see an author give just as much credence to Aaron and Celeste.

When the first begins, I was pretty disgusted with how Omar was treating Rose. That he couldn’t see his best friend, Ariana’s calculating actions and believed her – made me believe for all his worldly knowledge, he was quite stupid to the ways of women. Omar does come through, eventually – and I really liked the pacing of this book. Even though it was a normal length book to today’s standards, it went quickly – always a good sign, although it did feel a bit rushed toward the end. This is a fun, sexy, Cinderella type fantasy, and a fun read. Reviewed by Cyrene

The author takes her time with this romance and allows it to brew – she doesn’t just jump off the deep end and toss the couple into the sack right away- she gives them both the time they need. But there are secrets, Celeste has no idea that Aaron is a bear shifter, and what happened with her ex-husband? And what is Mystic Mountain? You’ll have to read the book, and it’s a good solid start to this series. I would have liked to have seen the bear make an appearance a bit more, but that is definitely a minor grievance. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Aaron has watched over and patiently waited for Celeste as she raises her kids, helping out and just being available to her family after her ex-husband beat her and ran off years ago. Now her twin children have grown up and are off to college, and Aaron finally makes his move.

Christmas at Ruby’s Ranch Rhonda Frankhouser Holiday Western Romance This year the Ruby’s Ranch family will celebrate Christmas together for the first time in two decades. It’s the miracle Ruby MacCallister prayed for since the day her mother inexplicably disappeared, splitting the family apart. When an anonymous gift arrives on the doorstep a few weeks before the big holiday, a very pregnant Ruby, finds herself enmeshed in the intrigue surrounding Granny Rube’s death again. Will Ruby’s holiday wishes come true, or will family secrets devastate their happy reunion?

Uncaged Review: What a nice addition to this series, with Ruby starting all new traditions at Ruby’s Ranch, with her new daughter, husband and entire growing family. If you’ve been following this series, this is a nice interlude and a great feel-good story that you shouldn’t miss. A little fun, a little mystery and even a couple revelations that this author is good with. And we need to know about this mysterious gift that arrived….so there has to be more, right? Right? Reviewed by Cyrene

The Moon L.A. McGinnis Fantasy Romance How do you kill a monster? Find a bigger monster. My life’s become a nightmare. Literally. Every night I fall asleep, and every night he comes.

Uncaged Review: The second installment in The Banished Gods series brings us Fenrir & Celine’s story. The overall main arc that runs through the series is still ongoing, and I would caution anyone to read this series in order – as the story builds upon each book and you may get a bit lost, or at least not get the full background on this story if you go rogue and read out of order. The characters that we met in book one are all present, and there are a few new arrivals. Celine is an abnormally gifted student with a very dark and ugly past. When she sleeps, she is yanked into the Otherworld by a dark being whom overloads her mind with codes and symbols that she must write down as soon as she awakens. During one of these excursions – she meets Fen, a place he goes to try to keep his sanity – but when he finds a girl in this place, everything changes. I loved this couple, maybe even more thank Loki and Morgane in book one – although they are here also. Celine is stronger than even she knows, and she holds a major key to this crisis, as long as Odin doesn’t kill her first. This is a group of warriors, and think along the lines of The Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian or the Black Dagger Brotherhood, as all the warriors live in the same compound and go out and fight the evil in the streets. There were a few grammar issues but they did not detract from the story. Easily recommended. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Uncaged Reviews Midnight Winges Ariele Sieling Fairy Tales/SciFi In El’s fantasies, she pilots a fighter jet for the intergalactic fleet. In reality, she’s a mechanic whose social grid ranking guarantees she’ll never advance beyond the lowest grunt work, and a slave in all but name to her cruel and self-centered stepmother and stepsisters. The most she can hope for is a few stolen moments of happiness practicing on her sisters’ flight simulators, or talking to the mysterious stranger she met on an illicit night of stargazing. Uncaged Review: A SciFi retelling of Cinderella. I’ve read a lot of different fairy tale re-imagined stories, and I think this is the first time I’ve read one that is set more in the SciFi genre which is fun and original, and maybe taken a little bit from the love of video games. The biggest thing I have with Cinderella stories is that the heroine is always downtrodden by her step family and it’s hard to read about how badly they are treated. When El meets a stranger in the greenhouse after sneaking out at night, knowing nothing can ever come of it because of her life and her low social standing. But the Cinderella part of this story is told with a competition (instead of a ball)– to find more pilots for the fleet, and . El is quite good at the simulators, helping get her step-sisters better scores. Playing was always an escape from her slave-like life. She’s been ordered by her stepmother to not go, but her friends step in and help her attend. I won’t tell more of the plot, it’s an easy read and well-paced. Fun story. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Highland Spirit Elizabeth Rose Medieval Romance A Second Chance for Romance! When Highland warrior, Ethan MacKeefe approaches the haunted Blackbriar Castle looking for his dog, he is faced with a ghost from his past. In the tower window he sees the face of Alana, his betrothed who left him at the altar and disappeared years ago.

Uncaged Review: A great tale by Elizabeth Rose, and I’ve said it before, this author shines in this genre. She never breaks character – and I often wonder if she slips up in real life with the ancient speech and it wanders into her normal everyday conversations. This one starts a bit different than most, the hero and heroine are about to marry, and the heroine, Alana is tricked and kidnapped along with her family by smugglers looking for a treasure that they believe her and her family know where it is. Ethan, believes she left him at the altar, and Alana is told by the smugglers that they killed Ethan. The smugglers take them to Blackbriar Castle, with the history of being haunted and kept for years. I won’t give more away, but I like the direction that the author went with this one, and the characters are likeable. I never got a great handle on Ethan, but he is loyal and protective of Alana even though he felt she betrayed him, their love had never died. Good read with their HEA. Reviewed by Cyrene

Forever in Your Arms Amanda Mariel

Seven Wishes Serena Akeroyd

Victorian Historical Romance

Paranormal Romance

Can a scoundrel not also be a gentleman?

Caelum: an Academy built to protect people like Eve. Who they can’t protect her from? Its own student body.

A chance encounter… Finding herself in a rogue’s arms was the last thing Lady Phoebe Summerville imagined would happen while she was perched in the branches of a tree. Startled at her willingness while in the mystery man’s arms, she determined to forget him and return to Yorkshire. Little did she know, they would meet again.

Uncaged Review: This novella is a great way to spend an afternoon. Lady Phoebe is discovered not once, but twice in a tree – the first two times she meets Graham. First time she is trying to lose a boring suitor at a masked ball, and the second time is to try and rescue her kitten. After the first meeting, Graham, who is a known rogue and bachelor, and after helping Lady Phoebe from the tree, he can’t get the mysterious woman out of his mind. And when he decides to go to the country for some time away, little does he know he would meet Phoebe again, in another tree, but this time with no mask. When they are caught in a compromising position, her family demands he marries her. But Graham has a sorted past, and tries to get Phoebe to break the engagement for her own well being. But Phoebe is stronger than she seems… I really liked the strength that the author gave to Phoebe, and her stubbornness. Sometimes it was a bit overdone, but all-in-all she was a delight. Graham was the perfect foil for her and I liked the length of this book. It wasn’t overdrawn out and was a nice distraction for a couple hours. I would definitely read more from this author. Reviewed by Cyrene

The threat of death isn’t new to Eve, but when she’s given the chance to escape her past, she prays her future will be brighter.

Uncaged Review: This book was completely different than anything I’ve read before, and I do read heavily in this genre. When I sat down with this book, I had no expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I got hooked in pretty quickly. This is probably setting up as a reverse harem in the future installments, and it does end on a cliffhanger – although all the books in the trilogy were released together, so it doesn’t matter quite as much. Part of the fun of the book, is watching Eve learn about everything from TVs to microwaves and all the different foods she never ate before. When she is taken in by the academy and removed from the horrible cult that she was in, she finally learns what has been plaguing her and why she has been having such harsh mood swings. In this world, each of the Chosen are born with 7 souls – and when they become teens, the souls start to manifest. The dominant soul at the age of 21 will be what each of the Chosen become. This book does have religious undertones, but it’s not preachy. This is not a young adult book, language, violence and talks of graphic sex takes it straight to a mature audience. I enjoyed the book and think it’s just going to get better, so I’m definitely on board for the series. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Uncaged Reviews Cowboys at Coconuts Beth Carter Contemporary Romance

Secret Valentine Cherry Christensen Inspirational Holiday Romance

“Kiss me. I’ll explain later.” Grinning, the cowboy tipped his hat. “Yes, ma’am.”

Professor Hannah Wagganer spends her days teaching history, and her nights dating Glen Arbor’s new mail carrier, Jasper Morgan. Not only does he spark Hannah’s heart, but he has become best friends with her cat,

Two worlds collide when a wealthy New York socialite plants a kiss on an unsuspecting cowboy. His ancient pickup is a far cry from her personal limo and Cheri Van Buren’s more accustomed to the Big Apple than Soggy Bottoms, his farm. Uncaged Review: So we are back with the Coconuts gang, and it’s always a fun time. This time out we learn a lot more about Cheri – which I personally was hoping for, but it also left me on the fence with several situations going on. This is a great series that keeps me highly engaged the whole time – quite a feat for me considering it’s a clean contemporary romance (not in my go-to wheel house). I love this group of ladies, and want them as my best friends. I want to hang out at Coconuts with them. This book is well paced and draws the reader in quickly. There is a lot going on in this book, keeping track of everyone’s lives, almost too much. I didn’t laugh as much in this installment as I have in the past, but I know I was smiling quite often. There is a couple plot issues, and one was Cheri telling Cole that she’d call him and didn’t give him her number and a few pages later, she was excited for her date after Cole called. I disregarded it easily enough, but it’s not something I normally see with this author. Also there were several things going on that weren’t resolved in the different aspects of their lives and of course it sets up well for the next book although I would rather not see some things drawn out too long. All in all, this is a fantastic series, and contemporary romance lovers will enjoy the fun and hijinks of this group of ladies, and you’ll want to meet up at Coconuts too. Reviewed by Cyrene

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Uncaged Review: The first time we met this group was in the Christmas book, Secret Angel and we are back for Valentine’s Day. This is a shorter book, easily read in a couple hours, and a snow storm in Glen Arbor has half the town out of power. When Hannah and Bree have to stay at the cottage with Jasper and Dylan, Jasper seems distant and Hannah worries that her romance is over. On top of that, several things are going wrong around town, but suddenly there seems to be solutions coming in. Who’s the Secret Angel for Valentine’s? This is a very short and sweet book and has a lot of the focus around church and the potluck dinner. I truly enjoy this author’s writing style and her storytelling ability, even though I’m not religious and I do enjoy the steamier books. Sometimes it’s just a nice change of pace to read a sweet book. And the author has a great way of bringing the reader along with her Reviewed by Cyrene

Beyond the Veil Jeannie Wycherley Occult/Horror Adam was desperate… …and he hated himself for what he was about to do. Would it be worth it? Being a detective wasn’t always easy, but he loved the life. Investigating the murder of his ex-wife, though, made this case unusual. They may not have parted on the best of terms, but the killer needed to be found. Now Adam has a suspect with the worst alibi he’s ever heard.

Uncaged Review: Well, for all that is unholy. This is definitely one of a kind – and it’s a good one. This book is a really good mystery, paranormal and with a bit of spooky to get your blood pumping. I wouldn’t suggest reading it at night, not because of it being scary, but it may keep you awake reading and it does have a way of getting your adrenaline pumping. It may be a bit scary for some, and it may get me watching my back more when I’m out at night, but the author does a great job with the characters and draws you into this story quickly and completely. This book will have you question the “ever after,” and what if you don’t want to “go to the light?” Well, you’ll find out when Abelia comes around… Great world building, great mystery, fantastic cast of characters and a few good scares. Perfect recipe for a true page turner book. Even if paranormal or occult isn’t normally your reading genre, the tangled mystery in this book is worth the leap. This is my first read by this author, but definitely won’t be the last. Reviewed by Cyrene

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Wicked as They Come Delilah S. Dawson Paranormal Romance First in a steampunk-tinged paranormal romance series in which a woman is transported to a world filled with vampires and magic. When nurse Tish Everett forced open the pesky but lovely locket she found at an estate sale, she had no idea she was answering the call of Criminy Stain, from the far off land of Sang. He’d cast a spell for her, but when she’s transported right to him, she’s not so sure she’s ready to be under the spell of another man. (It didn’t go so well last time with controlling, abusive, domineering Jeff.) If only Criminy wasn’t so deliciously rakish….

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This book caught me really off guard. I wasn’t convinced I would really enjoy it, but I was pleasantly surprised. I loved it! Wicked As They Come is unique and creative. Its characters are intense and the main male character sound smokin’ hot. This author has taken the vampire myth and changed it up until you can barely recognize it. This book takes place in a land called Sang, which is like earth, but a tad bit different. The animals are all sort of vampire type creatures and are somewhat terrifying. Criminy Stain is the type of character that just when you start to hate him, you fall in love with him instead. You don’t even realize it’s happening. I would recommend this book to anyone who is

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looking for a different vampire book that’s filled with creativity and romance that isn’t sickeningly sweet, but more raw than that. It has steampunk type attributes to it, but isn’t overwhelming in that sense.

Limerence Claire C. Riley Paranormal Romance One vampire’s obsession will destroy her world. After a chance encounter with Mr Breckt- the mysterious new owner of The Island, Mia’s thoughts are constantly consumed with the handsome and powerful stranger. But there is much more to her fixation of him than she realizes.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Wow. I did not expect this book. It totally threw me for a loop. Actually, a few loops. I read the synopsis and an excerpt a bit before I had the chance to actually get down to reading it, so naturally, I forgot a few things. Boy, did I forget a “few” things! This isn’t your typical “rich, attractive, mysterious guy moves into a small town into a mansion where the previous owner has an equally mysterious past, only for our heroine to find out the rich guy is a vampire and they fall madly in love and live happily ever after.” This is soooo not that book. It is way more than I originally thought it would be, and I can’t tell

you how nice it was to read something so unique. Mia and her landscaper fiancée are living their lives. She’s an art professor at a nearby college, and he is in the landscaping business. When a mysterious rich guy moves into the mansion located on what is called “the Island”, things get interesting. Oliver is one of the men working on redesigning the gardens for the new owner who wants everything pretty much ripped up out of the ground. When Mia comes to the house to bring Oliver his forgotten lunch, Mr. Breckt makes his presence known. He immediately starts to flex his supernatural douchebaghood muscles and is practically humping Mia’s leg right in front of Oliver. Mia doesn’t understand what is going on, but she feels some kind of emotional pull towards Mr. Breckt, to which neither Mia nor Oliver is overly excited about. This story really tests their relationship and the concepts that true love can overcome anything.

acted towards Mia, my husband would have torn him to shreds. I was caught off guard because what I thought would be part of the climax of the story, actually occurs about halfway through, so I had no idea what the end of the book would bring me. And holy crap did the ending get me. So essentially, I would really recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a different kind of vampire book or a dark paranormal romance. The sex is minimal, and there is some violence, but not so graphic it would turn a reader away. There are some serious stalker-like situations, so if that is something that bothers you, I probably wouldn’t fully recommend it, but maybe check it out and see how it progresses before you decide if it’s too much for you or not.

In some ways this book was scary. Not jump out behind the curtains scary, but get into your head scary. For someone to feel irrational emotions and feelings towards someone they barely know, while they know in their heart that they love another, would make me pretty nervous. I guess it would be like being under some kind of nasty love spell where you think about someone you don’t have feelings for so much that it starts to make you crazy. Mr. Breckt is straight up a stalker. Seriously. The guy really creeped me out. From the very beginning, he didn’t seem like one of those vampires that have redeeming qualities that are just waiting to be realized by the leading lady and her love. This dude is crazy. He is obsessed with Mia and he really doesn’t seem to even try to hide it or make it look like he is doing anything other than being a crazy-ass stalker. If some guy acted towards me the way Mr. Breckt

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Fang-Freakin-Tastic Reviews Legally Undead Margo Bond Collins Paranormal Romance A reluctant vampire hunter, stalking New York City as only a scorned bride can. Elle Dupree has her life all figured out: first a wedding, then her PhD, then swank faculty parties where she’ll serve wine and cheese and introduce people to her husband the lawyer. But those plans disintegrate when she walks in on a vampire sucking the blood from her fiancé, Greg. Horrified, she screams and runs - not away from the vampire, but toward it, brandishing a wooden letter opener.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: Legally Undead is Fang Freakin’ Tastic. I’m not even trying to be funny here people. The main character, Elle, is likable and I really felt for her when everything started falling apart. She adapts to situations well and has a sense of humor. I really like Elle. She goes through so much in such a short time, that she could have just fallen apart, but instead she handles her business and does what she needs to get the answers she is looking for. This book is full of action and intrigue. Elle is recruited to be a vampire hunter after she comes home to find her Fiancée being bitten by a vampire in her living room and immediately stakes the vampire. The next thing you know, Greg’s body is gone, and that just opens up a whole lot of questions she wants answers to. She doesn’t seem to want to do it, but she really is cut out for the job. She comes to it honestly though. She

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doesn’t have any superpowers or extra senses; she’s just a normal chick that wanted to live a normal life. Elle is realistic in that even after she discovers the vampire underworld, her life goes on. She still has responsibilities that she has to take care of. The earth doesn’t stop spinning just bc she suddenly discovers vampires. I like that the vampires in this book aren’t the good guys. Many vampire books that I have read lately focus so much on the romanticism of the idea of vampires that it’s often forgotten that they are parasites who live off the lifeblood of another. Most of them anyway. There’s nothing sweet about these vamps, and I’m ok with that. Margo Bond Collins has become one of my favorite authors. Legally Undead is a great series to start with if you like vampires, vampire hunters, and women on a mission to solve a mystery.

Red Eye: Complete Season One Riley & Constant Post-Apocalyptic When a red-eye flight from London to Los Angeles brings two strangers together, they have no idea that it’s the end of the bloody world! Rose, a British runaway, is ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Her hopes are high, her funds are low, and nothing is going to rain on her parade. Except maybe the apocalypse! Sam is an American ballerina on her way home from a hellish vacation. She’s tired of culture, tired of traveling, and seriously tired of men. She can’t wait to get home. That is until everyone turns into flesh-eating zombies! Neither woman expects their exhausting overnight flight to devolve into bloody carnage of terror and mayhem. But when you’re over 30,000 feet in the air and there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide…what else can you do but team up with as many survivors as possible and try to stay alive?*Start this epic zombie apocalypse thriller written by USA Today Bestseller Claire C. Riley and Victoria Cage Author Eli Constant.

Fang-Freakin-Tastic Review: This series has had me on the edge of my seat from one episode to the next. With each episode, I’ve grown more and more attached to the characters, both the ones I love as well as the ones I hate.

Rose is English, so some of her phrases are a little different that what we are used to hearing here, but it’s easy to get the gist of what she’s saying. Her dynamic with Sam is great. They both seem like the kind of person I would appreciate having in my own life. They have complex, yet relatable back stories that are revealed a little more in each episode. Nolan and Barrett. I have no idea what to think of these guys. I’m pretty sure Nolan has grown on me, but the jury is still out on Barrett. I just can’t quite figure him out. One thing I really love about this series is how personal it feels. I have a family. A husband and 3 kids. So, in every zombie book I read, I relate the story to how I would respond in my own life in that situation. Rose and Sam don’t have kids, but they acquire their own family of sorts. They are protective. They think about more than just themselves most of the time. To me, that is one thing that can create a great character that I can relate to. Someone who thinks in similar ways to how I think and that sort of thing. This truly is a great series and I cannot wait to see where it goes next.

From the first scenes in this series, I was hooked. I mean, HOOKED. I love zombie stories and these are 2 of my favorite zombie authors, so them coming together to write a story is like a dream come true for me. I’m glad it released when it did though, because if it had released a week or two earlier, I never would have flown across the country from Florida for a book event in Oregon. No way would you have gotten me onto a plane after those first few scenes.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Deception McKensie Stewart Mystery Detective Oliver Hall vows to find the person who killed his wife, Sophia and partner, Dakota Rose. His informal investigation takes him to Charlotte, North Carolina where his daughter, Angela Hall is investigating a case of her own. They quickly discover Kyndall, the mother of Brendon Graham, the Senator for the State of Pennsylvania, may be involved in both cases. Amy’s Review: Better than the first I absolutely loved the first book, Shattered. A reader doesn’t need to read Shattered to read Deception, but I highly recommend it. A reader should be able to enjoy both, and get to know the characters. Stewart’s writing has grown and I like her writing style. Her storytelling is unique to her, and I love the details of the present and backstories for many of the characters. The story has several plots that are all interconnected. Stewart writes her stories in third-person, and present tense, an interesting choice of storytelling. The plot is indeed character driven, and each character is very developed. The Readers learn more about the returning characters from Shattered. There are also new characters that add to the story. Kyndall is still my favorite character, filled with flaws, manipulations and deception. I also like the introduction of Eliza, and her connection with Sebastian. Magnificent story! Well-done, very welldone, McKensie Stewart. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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Camp Lake John A. Heldt Time Travel Romance Phoenix, Spring 1983. For the Carsons, five siblings from the present day, it has come down to this. Find the parents they have chased through time for more than two years or go home and resume their lives without them. While Adam and Greg remain in Arizona and Natalie searches the country for leads, Cody and Caitlin travel to a summer camp in Maine, where their mother and father met as counselors. The twins, now 19, hope to intercept the older versions of their parents even as they work beside the younger ones. Amy’s Review: Magnificent story Heldt pens a remarkable story in the reported conclusion, Camp Lake, of the Carson Chronicles. I really enjoyed this story, and it probably was one of my favorites. Heldt has a great storytelling writing style that brings his stories to life. A leap back to 1983, and the continual search for their parents, sets the story for Camp Lake. Heldt writes well, with wonderfully developed characters that fit whatever time they arrive in. I like how Heldt can balance humor with heartache, and throw obstacles at his characters. It’s another one of Heldt’s great works. If this is the conclusion, I will miss the Carsons. I look forward to reading more by this author. This read is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Annapurna Circuit Trek Ankur Mutreja Travelogue When Vietnam War veteran David Collier returns to Boston from his tour of combat duty, he soon falls into hellish suffering caused by a newly discovered war-related psychological ailment known as PostVietnam War Syndrome.But what Collier doesn’t know is that he’s also been overtaken by The Curse of Morpheus – an ancient force for evil that was reawakened by a hideous war crime which the heroic soldier did his best to prevent Amy’s Review: Majestically beautiful Mutreja pens a wondrous romance with nature. It’s an absolutely beautiful read, as the author is able to express the memories and how his mind is drawn to wherever the traveler visits. It’s an marvelous motivation, and even inspiration, as the experiences of the beauty leaps off the pages. An inspiring trek, of the Annapurna Circuit, where at one point, in Manang, the author’s trek was more on foot than in a vehicle. I look forward to reading more by this author. This read is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Catch a Falling Star Leah Downing Mystery In Book One of The Shooting Stars Series, Catch a Falling Star, bestselling author Leah Downing introduces Lauren St. Germain, a Federal Investigator accused of assisting the Taliban in a homeland terrorist attack targeting her husband. Amy’s Review:Beautifully complicated Downing pens a wonderful first story in Catch a Falling Star. I’ve read Downing’s second story in the Shooting Stars Series. This one introduces the series, and maybe I should read them in order, but I enjoyed this just as much as the second book. Downing is a great writer, and can definitely tell a story. This story is intense and raw, and complicated, as life is when it throws terrorism and mystery in the mix. I like Downing’s writing style, and how the story brings the characters together, which have a lot of depth. I look forward to reading more by this author. This read is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Mid-Heaven Ken Kuhlken Christian Coming of Age Midheaven, Ken Kuhlken’s first novel, was originally published by Viking Press. The haunting story, set in and around the exquisite Lake Tahoe basin, is told through the mind of a precocious seventeen-yearold torn between her quest for God and her love for a man.

Amy’s Review: Grand Read Kuhlken pens a grand story in Midheaven. I have read this author’s work before, and was not disappointed in this wondrous story. This story takes the reader back to the early ‘70s, and brings Jodi to life. It’s one of those stories that stay with you, and keep the reader turning the pages. The characters were well developed and engaging. The story was very unpredictable. This story was filled with plot twists and turns. The author’s technique of creating interesting characters and great plotlines is a gift. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

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The Angel’s Trumpet James Musgrave Crime Thriller Attorney Clara Foltz’s California legal team is chosen by President Grover Cleveland to defend a mulatto sufragette who has assassinated his Supreme Court nominee, Justice Marshal Owens. When her client is found dead in the jail cell, the hunt begins for the killer.

Amy’s Review: Magnificently thrilling Musgrave pens a remarkable story in The Angel’s Trumpet. I’ve been honored to be able to enjoy this author’s Portia of the Pacific Mysteries series. This one is book 4. This story is a credit to the series, and of course, it’s written well. The characters just fit within the story and bring 1887 to life. I love a good historical novel, and this brings a lot more than just probable history, it brings a thrilling and original storyline that keeps this reader, hooked. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Twine Dorriah Rogers Memoir

The Silence of Kings Samuel Perin Steampunk

Composed from a collection of haunting and colorful memories, Twine chronicles the dark journey of a broken family spanning generations. Sliding effortlessly between past and present, this is the story of Dorriah Burke—a girl raised among California avocados and a bewildering array of dysfunctional family members.

A young man named Leo Gryffl rediscovers an old family heirloom that goes on to change his world forever. The heirloom that he discovers sends him down a dark, whimsical, and sinister rabbit hole that leads him on a path of adventure, self-discovery, and insanity.

Amy’s Review: Magnificent narrative Rogers pens a wonderful narrative of memoirs in Twine. This is the first book of Rogers’ that I’ve read, and I enjoyed this page turner. The narrative of the life of Dorriah comes alive, and is quite raw, witty and in some ways, intense. The trials and tribulations are just part of the story, and the characters, dare I say, are very memorable and not easily forgotten. This memoir is blunt, and frankly, very frank. A wonderful journey of life that is shared with the readers. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is a definite recommendation by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews

Amy’s Review: Dark and dystopian, a great blend Perin pens a great story in The Silence of Kings. It’s the first book in the series, and the way the story is told, it makes this reader look forward of more to come. The author has a knack for telling a story, with the plot so intense, mixed with dark fantasy and dystopian worlds. The characters have a lot of depth and lead the storyline, and how they are impacted by their world. The story is written in a good pace for this type of story. I look forward to reading more by this author. This book is definitely recommended by Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews.

Issue 43 | February 2020 |


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