Connections eMagazine August 2021 edition

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Connections eMagazine

August 2020

Message from the Editor The Purpose of this eMagazine is to connect readers and bloggers with authors. This is a FREE eMagazine that is produced quarterly. Our third quarter issue is always a favorite of mine because in this edition we publicize the winners of our annual Reader’s Choice Awards. These are books nominated by readers who love the authors work. There are some great choices this year, so I hope you’ll take the time to look around. “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” — Mark Twain While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe. You’ll receive an automatic email when a new edition is published. Just click the box below and fill out the form. Don’t worry, your information will never be shared or sold.



Wendy H. Jones Wendy is an award winning, international bestselling author. See a sample of her in-depth interview. READ MORE...

Top Ten Finalists 1) Bea and Bee 2) Claron —- E.P. Whipple

3) The Architect 4) Love Rises

5) Cotton Candy

5) Poppy Ogopogo 6) That Pesky Pixie 7) Return to Cheshire Bay

8) A Witchy Mistake

9) Tales of Tucson Writers’ Lives

Free Books

10) All The Deadly Lies

Top 10 Popular Winners

Paige Carter Hot Deals—99 Cents Author Tips and Tricks

Click pictures and images throughout the publication for Additional information

MPSmith Publishing and Connections eMagazine does not endorse any information contained in the articles or advertisements throughout this magazine. All contents Copyright © the individual authors and used with their permission. All rights reserved.

Melanie P. Smith

Ronesa Aveela

Zoey by Keith Guernsey

Hidden Secrets by Chantal Bellehumeur

Mom’s Favorite Reads


In A Pickle by Andy Zach

Melanie P. Smith

C.K. Fyfe


Prague—Historic and Beautiful by Tom Benson


Preserving Apricots by Melanie P. Smith

MPSmith Publishing

Would you like a listing in the next issue of Connections eMagazine? Click here for submission requirements.

Interviewed by Melanie P. Smith Wendy H. Jones is the award winning, international bestselling author of the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries, Cass Claymore Investigates Mysteries, Fergus and Flora Mysteries, Bertie the Buffalo children’s books and the Writing Matters books for writers. She is also a writing and marketing coach and the President of the Scottish Association of Writers. As copy editor for Mom’s, she works hard to ensure content is appropriate and free of grammatical and spelling errors.

Wendy, Tell us a little about yourself? I am the author Wendy H. Jones and I write books to cover you from the cradle to the grave – adult mysteries, young adult mysteries, children’s picture books and non-fiction books for writers. I live in Scotland but before the pandemic could be found all over the world writing and speaking at conferences. Fortunately, my three favourite things to do are reading, writing and travelling, so this is the perfect career for me. Tell us your latest news My latest book is Bertie at the Worldwide Games where Bertie the Buffalo and his friends are off to Tokyo to represent Scotland. Bertie is a baby water buffalo who lives on a buffalo farm in Scotland. When and why did you begin writing? I started writing at about the age of seven and have always loved words. When I travelled around the world, I wrote about what I was doing and where I was. I started writing seriously when I worked in Academia and wrote for academic journals and also textbooks. I turned to writing fiction seven years ago when I was chronically ill with my lungs. I didn’t need much energy to write and could do it sitting down. I’m recovered now but my writing remains.

Have you ever finished reading a book (OR...been intrigued by a synopsis) and wished you could get to know one of the characters a little better? Well, you’re in luck. Bertie took a break from the Worldwide Games to join us for an interview…. Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Bertie: I’m still a baby so I’m not grown up yet. I’m having an amazing childhood as I get to play on the farm every day and go on adventures. What makes Bertie so special? I’m a Scottish Buffalo who loves adventure and I also get to wear a kilt. My clan tartan is Ancient MacLaren the same as the lady who wrote me. I’m also known as Scotland’s very own wee escape artist and have my own twitter account. Tell me about your reputation and how it has impacted your life and your relationship. I’ve got a reputation as a buffalo who likes to have fun. This means everyone wants to hang out with me. I like having adventures with my friends Emma the Emu, Hezzie, Jack, seven and Ari the Alpaca. Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wished you had done differently? I’m a bit young to be having regrets. I’ve enjoyed all my adventures and they’ve taken me places I never know I would go, so I’m glad I had them.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I’m a buffalo who doesn’t grow up, a bit like an animal version of Peter Pan. I would like to see myself starring in my own TV series in 5 years. What are your dreams for the future? To have lots and lots more adventures and keep on running really, really fast. I also want to see myself on screen. If you could go anywhere with one person, who would you take and where would you go?

That’s hard as I love all my friends. I suppose I would like to do a world tour with the lady who wrote me. She’s already taken me on a cruise around the Caribbean and for my own book tour for 8 weeks to several American States. Describe something that happened to you for which you have no explanation. I got invited to the Worldwide Games in Tokyo. Who can explain a wee Scottish Buffalo doing that.

What was the best compliment you have ever received? That my books are so much fun for little ones and that I look cute. If you could go to anyone (living or dead) for advice who would it be and what would you ask? I would ask my friend Ari the Alpaca as she’s been all over the world and has stickers on her suitcase to prove it. She knows everything. I would ask her how she managed to go on so many adventures. Mountains or Beach? Beach as I love water. Will we be seeing more of you in the future or has your story already been told? There’s another adventure being written, and my publishers are excited about it. I’m not allowed to say any more yet. If you could change one thing about the world… what would it be? I would want everyone to be nice to each other. Tell us about your best friend and what makes them so special. My friends are Ari the Alpaca, Jack, Hezzie, Seven and Emma the Emu. They are all special because they all have different talents and they all like having fun and adventures. Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with? Even baby water buffalo are too big to go in an elevator. My stuffed toy doppelganger has been in numerous elevators and would like to meet Hamish McHaggis in one.

Now… Let’s learn more about Wendy. What inspired you to write your first book? To be honest I just had an idea for a book and started writing it. I wrote a blog post saying I was writing it and everyone was so encouraging I just kept going. How did you come up with the title for your last book?

I wanted Bertie and His friends to go on an adventure to the Olympics as they all love running so it was a perfect fit, especially with the Olympics coming up. However, you can’t use the Olympic name without sponsoring them, so I made it the Worldwide Games. What are your current projects? I am writing the next Bertie the Buffalo book, the next Fergus and Flora book and will be publishing the third book in the Writing Matters series in September. This is called Creativity Matters: Find Your passion for Writing and is aimed at writers and anyone interested in writing a book. This is a collaborative project and other authors are contributing chapters. What do you want written on your headstone and why? She brought joy to others. I want to known as someone who brought some happiness into the world.


One final question...Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it? My website can be found at and I am Wendy H. Jones on all online platforms.

Find a more detailed interview on my website. CLICK HERE

Melanie P. Smith — An American, multi-genre author of Paranormal, Criminal Suspense, Police Procedural and Romance novels. Embark on a rollercoaster journey of discovery.

Find more from Author Melanie P. Smith on her website:

Overall Winners This is an annual award. Authors can be nominated by anyone who has read the novel. Books are judged on cover design, character &/or world development, good flow & compelling intro, presentation, and Reader’s Choice. We had a lot of great entries this year and the competition was close. I hope you will take a minute to

check out the winners.

Categories Thriller | Mystery | Horror


Paranormal | Fantasy | Sci-Fi


Children’s Books

Young Adult

Other Fiction

The Connections eMagazine Reader’s Choice Award is open to all independently published authors and their work.

Gold | Silver | Bronze | Finalists

Bea & Bee by Sylva Fae

Gold Medal Children’s Books Informative Intro: Pulls you in from the first sentence. Sweet message about friendship and nature. Character/World Development: Fantastic story, great information with enough action to keep children interested.

Prize: Gold Overall / Gold Children’s Books

Cover Design: Cute, age appropriate and well balanced.

Bea loves tending the flowers in her little back yard but what she’d really like is a pet to care for. The yard is too small for a pet, or is it? When Bea finds Little Bee, she finds the perfect pet for her tiny garden. Can Bea convince Mummy to let her keep a pet bee?

“The illustrations are cheerful, colourful and varied so that the book remains engaging for younger readers throughout the story.”

Silver Medal

Prize: Silver in Overall and Gold in Romance Category

Claron: Siblings O’Rifcan by Katharine E. Hamilton Tossing her belongings into a suitcase and escaping heartbreak seemed like the best idea for Rhea Conners. She’d simply travel across the ocean to visit her grandfather in Ireland and heal. Then she’d come back. Simple. But what she doesn’t expect is to find solace and healing in the form of the O’Rifcan family. One member in particular: Claron.


Claron enjoyed his life farming the land his grandparents gifted him. He lived his life quietly and contentedly, until Rhea arrived. He’d steered clear of relationships and entanglements since his last heartbreak, but something about Roland’s granddaughter twists him up inside. Something about Rhea has him rethinking his life of solitude. Two hearts. One chance. Can Rhea and Claron overcome past hurts to make a new beginning? Intro: Good hook, flows well and draws you into the story immediately Character/World Building: Sweet Romance Draws you into the story and makes you feel like you’re in Ireland Presentation: Professional formatting.

“The romance is slow and sweet “

Cover: Genre specific and fits the story, good contrast and well-balanced

Horror | Thriller | Mystery

Bronze Medal Prize: Bronze in Overall and Gold in Thriller Category

The Architect by Lesley Hayes Six sides to a house. Six sides to a story. Six people linked by fate and family. One of them is dead. Is one of the others a murderer? They all have motives. But is that reason enough to kill? It is September 2020, and Covid has swept the world with devastating consequences. In England, after months of lockdown followed by a cautious loosening of restrictions, friends and family are now allowed to gather if they abide by the government’s 'rule of six'. Ric is an architect, both by profession and by nature. He has invited guests he refers to jokingly as 'the usual suspects' to celebrate his son Noah’s thirtieth birthday. His crazy ex-wife Allegra will be there, and his dependable business partner Jake, together with his nubile girlfriend Eden, and of course Ric’s long-suffering partner, Sally. Secrets and lies and the bitter taste of corruption are items on the menu, and they all have reasons to be suspicious and resentful. Not one of them is exactly who they seem to be. Can anything they say be trusted? Will this be the occasion when one of ‘the usual suspects’ is pushed too far?

Character/World Development: Descriptive and realistic. Makes you feel like you are walking through the building taking in the rooms from the very beginning.

Intro: Great world development. Draws you into the story from the very first page. Cover: Interesting, clean, good contrast and well balanced

Mystery | Thriller | Horror

Young Adult


Fantasy | Paranormal

Children's Books

Other Fiction


Gold Winners by Category

Coming Soon...

Trigger Vigilante Justice Series Book 1

Frustrated by the system they dedicated their lives to, doing their best to fly under the radar, a small group of unlikely heroes set out to stop a killer.


“Perfect. Just perfect beautiful clean love story.”

Tossing her belongings into a suitcase and escaping heartbreak seemed like the best idea for Rhea Conners. She’d simply travel across the ocean to visit her grandfather in Ireland and heal. Then she’d come back. Simple. But what she doesn’t expect is to find solace and healing in the form of the O’Rifcan family. One member in particular: Claron. Cover: Clean, Claron enjoyed his life farming the land his grandparents gifted looks like a fun, him. He lived his life quietly and contentedly, until Rhea arrived. lighthearted He’d steered clear of relationships and entanglements since his romance last heartbreak, but something about Roland’s granddaughter twists him up inside. Something about Rhea has him rethinking his life of solitude.

Two hearts. One chance. Can Rhea and Claron overcome past hurts to make a new beginning?

Intro: Good hook, flows well and draws you into the story immediately Character/World Building: Sweet Romance Draws you into the story and makes you feel This is a sweet, heartwarmlike you’re in Ireland

ing book with a hint of Presentation: Professional formatting. mystery. The faith-based characters are lovable and And who could reCover: Genre specific funny. and fits the story, good sist the antics of Jingles the contrast and well-balanced cat? A great, clean read!

2021 Overall #2 | #2 in Popular Vote | Gold in Romance

Cover: Great balance and contrast. Depicts Romance genre well.

Love Rises by Annie Dyer The first time I saw Anya I was shirtless and holding an axe. It was June, the weather balmy and Anya was beautiful, but that didn’t matter because I was drowning in my own grief.

Anya wasn’t meant to be my saviour. I wasn’t meant to be hers. A perfect summer, an idyllic island, a stream of stolen nights. All bandaids on an open wound. If we were going to live again, she deserved more than the fractured shards of the broken creature I’d become. She deserved love.

“This book was so beautiful, I devoured it! “

Character/World Building: Beautifully written, realistic characters, emotional and engaging Cover: Great contrast, eyecatching, clean lines Intro: Nostalgic opening, descriptive, draws you in from the first sentence. 2021 Overall #4

“Sometimes grief and love are intertwined... this story is not your typical romance novel. ”

Cover: Soft, perfectly fits genre, professional and appealing What better place to start over, than where it all began?

Intro: Interesting and compelling intro. The dilemma — “It was high time I found myself.” Character / World Building: Draws you into the good and the bad of small town living from the very first page.

Lily Baker needs a restart. No job, no boyfriend, and a baby on the way, she takes a break from her fast-paced city life to slow down in the seaside village where she spent her summers growing up, to re-examine her life. Back in Cheshire Bay, memories of her deeply trouble teenage years come flooding back. A face Into: from her past, her neighbour Eric – a hottie with a heart of gold – doesn’t care about Great Intro,seem wellto written andLily’s terrible reputation welcomes her back easy toand read with good flowwith open arms. Could a romantic fling with him be in the cards? The more Lily settles into the beach life, the less she craves the urban hustle, and starts to feel like this is where she belongs. But small towns talk and small towns remember, and Lily’s going to have to deal with her past if she plans on making Cheshire Bay, and Eric, her future. Fans of Rachel Gibson and Jill Shavis will love this sweet and charming story of a straightened out bad girl coming home to her small town on Vancouver Island.

2021 Overall #7

This book has it all. Sun, Surf, hot guy. Redemption! This was a sweet sexy read and I cannot wait for the next book!!

Jealous Hearts by Kaye Dobbie Into: Great Intro, well written and easy to read with good flow. The conflict and struggle is clear from the very beginning.

1838 Sydney is a rough and dangerous place. Bregetta, alone after her mother’s death, falls in love with the serious and charismatic Sergeant Alistair Duncan. He seems to be just in love with her, but outside parties meddle, and they part acrimoniously. A year later and Bregretta has made a new life on the Hawkesbury River. Until Alistair arrives to take up a post there. In the dangerous world of settlers and convicts, who is friend and who is foe? As she and Alistair are drawn together once more, they must decide whether it is worth taking a second chance on happiness.

Cover: Good contrast, appealing colors, good detail

Character / World Development: Good character and world development. You are drawn into the family drama with a backdrop of danger from the very first page.


Intro: Great Start. Pulls you in from the very first page and keeps you interested throughout Character / World Development: The characters are flawed but loveable. Their stories are emotional and compelling

“From Broken to Loved! “

Her shining light will change both our lives.

My life had been on pause since she died. I was still living in the past. Then Sarah showed up. Her gorgeous smile took me back to a time when I felt alive. Slowly I discover our lives had intertwined for a reason. But behind her laugh hides darkness. She’s running from something or someone in her past. I thought I was ready to help her… Crystal Shores is a small-town romance series with recipes made by the characters in the back of the book.

“The chemistry and connection between these two are great and the moments with Kelsey are just precious. Great read and loved the story. “

MV Ellis “ It has it all...drama, bullying, and high intensity relationships”

Sins at St. Josephs Academy St Joseph's Academy. Prestigious. Religious. Rotten as Hell. As soon as I set foot in that place, my dream ticket turned into my worst nightmare. I don't know if I can survive, or even make it out alive. Because of them.

The Fallen

Beautiful. Brutal. Wicked as sin. Five guys with the power of ten, and a burning desire to take me down. They rule the school with cast iron fists, and stone cold hearts. But the more they push me away, the more our destinies intertwine. We’re thrown together by chance, bound by circumstance, and held by desire. Our story is one of lies, revenge, blackmail, and blood. The Fallen won’t be stopped, but nor will I. So in the end, will the mighty be fallen? Sins at St Joseph's Academy is a full new adult romance with bully/enemies-to-lovers/love-hate themes, and may contain triggers for some readers. It is not a standalone, but the first in a running series. This is a reverse harem novel, meaning the main character has more than one love interest.


Ronesa Aveela is “the creative power of two.” Two authors that is. Nelly, the main force behind the work, the creative genius, was born in Bulgaria and moved to the US in the 1990s. She grew up with stories of wild Samodivi, Kikimora, the dragons Zmey and Lamia, Baba Yaga, and much more. Rebecca, her writing partner, was born and raised in the New England area. She has a background in writing and editing, as well as having a love of all things from different cultures. Their writing goal is to make people aware of a culture rich with traditions that date back thousands of years to the ancient Thracians who inhabited parts of Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria, and other Slavic nations.



A desperate plea from a conch begs Theo for help. Can he prevent a catastrophe without losing his own life? It’s been a year since he returned from the mystical land of Dragon Village, and he’s had no word from his dragon father, Zmey. Was the promise to teach Theo about his powers a lie? Has his father abandoned him? Then, Theo discovers that a new menace terrorizes Dragon Village. This time, Theo’s home in the human world is threatened, too. He must learn about his powers on his own and find a way back to defeat his new foe.

If Theo fails, the entire world is doomed. Dragon Village Firebird is a thrilling fantasy in the Dragon Village series. If you like action-packed, suspenseful, coming-of-age books, filled with strange, mythical creatures, you’ll love Dragon Village Firebird.


I grew up in a working-class suburb in Dublin and my Dublin roots and accent have stayed with me, despite living in the neighbouring county of Kildare for over 20 years now. My new home is the very beautiful university town of Maynooth where I live with my darling wife Joanna, her mother and our 3 beloved dogs.

My 3 children are all grown and flown and scattered about this lovely little island of mine and they are all lovely souls, despite my best efforts to corrupt them. I left school at 18 and went straight to work, eventually chasing multiple degrees through the night while I worked in the daytime as my family grew. I have always worked in transport-related businesses and it has kept me travelling constantly. These days I work for one of the world’s top 5 brands, which keeps me very busy. In my 20’s I spent a year living and working in Australia before returning to Ireland and starting my family. I guess you could say I have had 2 lives as I am now married for the second time in my life to a beautiful woman I met way back in the last century. I love to travel and have been lucky enough to see so much of the world over the years. Writing has been part of my life since I was a boy. At the age of seven, I joined a library back in the day when we didn’t have one in our poverty-stricken neighbourhood. I had to take a bus all by my lonesome to get to the library. It was the beginning of my love affair with books. I read a book a day from the age of seven until I was a teenager when sport and girls interfered with my free time. As a teenager, I was sport mad and ultra-competitive. I say as a teenager but I am still the same today. In my first job, I would get up at 6am, cycle 20 miles to work, work until 7pm, cycle home again, wolf down my dinner and go training or at least do a 7 mile run afterwards. Fit as a butcher’s dog I was, but it did have its downside in terms of my creaky body at this age. These days it is a daily walk with my 3 dogs that keeps me fit. It’s like flying a kite on a windy day. I wrote my first book many years ago, one I am currently re-writing with a view to publishing it next year. Life got in the way of my writing and it generally sat on the back burner. It wasn’t until 2015 that I actually physically published my first book, Darkly Wood and since then I have published 4 more and I have 3 currently at different stages of production, which is always the way I do things. I write in my study, which is very cosy, usually with my most loyal canine companion by my side. I write on my laptop, starting every story with the same solid belief that I know where I am going, only

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to be waylaid by my characters. The first draft is always the best fun. I write straight through start to finish, a process that takes as long as it takes depending on time available. Unfortunately, a dice with death a few years back had knock-on effects on my ability to dedicate as much time as I wanted to writing. Added to that, my workload in the corporate sense is quite imposing, so I have small windows left to write these days, all of which I take and I never have writer’s block. Once I finish the first draft, I let it lie for a bit, so I can come back with fresh eyes. As I write one first draft, I am likely also editing or re-writing 2 other stories. I switch between tasks from day to day as I feel the mood take me. Re-drafting can mean as much as 5 re-writes. I may literally decide I have had a better idea halfway through a third edit and the story has to be pretty much re-written. It is not a problem for me though, just part of the process and I don’t get frustrated by my odd machinations. I write daily whether it is a small piece, a blog or an edit, I don’t care if it is ten minutes or an hour, I just insist on the discipline of opening up the laptop and writing. I do curtail my stint to an hour for 2 reasons. One, is my health, as I say I am always overstretched and I have learned that I need to take it easy sometimes and the other is a trick to keep me interested. By stopping in full flow, I am always keen to return to the story, thus keeping my interest in whatever, I am writing.

Life hasn’t always been easy but I have always made the most of every opportunity and I live a happy, comfortable life. I have been fortunate with the opportunities that were presented to me. Some might call it luck, but I believe hard work is what turned those opportunities into reality and I guess as long as I can get a leg out of bed in the morning, I’ll be doing something productive to keep my busy head quiet. One thing for sure is, as long as I can, I will keep writing because storytelling is in my heart.


Sylva Fae

Intro / Content: Pulls you into the world of dragons from the first sentence. Great message of and embracing and cherishing individual differences.

Bea loves tending the flowers in her little back yard but what she’d really like is a pet to care for. The yard is too small for a pet, or is it? When Bea finds Little Bee, she finds the perfect pet for her tiny garden. Can Bea convince Mummy to let her keep a pet bee?

Character/World Development: Great fantasy with enough action to keep children interested. Prize: Gold in Children’s Books, Gold in Overall Contest

Poppy Ogopogo by Susan Faw

Poppy Ogopogo isn't beautiful like the butterflies that live on the shores of the lake. Their mean laughter makes her sad, so instead she plays with her imaginary friends. One day, the butterflies are swept out into the lake. Will Poppy forgive those who hurt her and become a hero?

Cover: Good color contrast, age appropriate and fits well with story.

Character / World Development: Great intro. Pulls you into the story from the very first page. Great message of growth and change.

#4 “Uplifting and magical and sure to send them off to bed with good thoughts and potential dreams. “

Overall 2021 #5 (tied)

that Pesky Pixie Cover: Good contrast, grabs your attention, Attractive for children

Overall 2021 #6

Illustrations/ Content: Great story, Illustrations are colorful and appealing to children. The book has a great moral message for kids

A lovely collection of stories about the pixie, sure to keep the attention of any child whose own mind tends to wander.

Deep in the heart of Sorrel Wood hides a school for faerie folk. The fearsome Miss Nightshade is the best teacher around, but has she met her match with the pesky pixie antics of Violet Puddle dust? Join Violet and her hedge ogre friend, Bramble Bottomly as they cause magical mayhem.

How to Vanquish a Virus by Paul Ian Cross How to Vanquish a Virus is a funny, fascinating blend of facts, quotes and science stories from the world of health research and science history. In the wake of Covid-19, children and parents are keen to understand – and be reassured about – viruses and other health issues. With over twenty years' experience of scientific research, Dr Paul Ian Cross sets out to answer all the questions we didn't know we needed answering until now. What does a virus look like? How does a virus get passed from person to person? How have viruses changed the world? And who are the men and women who have beaten them? With children leading the revolution, now is the time to understand the importance of making medicines ... and how to vanquish a virus. Any fans of Horrible Histories or Operation Ouch will love this book.


Do Chickens Have Lips? By Deborah Steven Tom is a jolly, clumsy and wonderfully mixed up gnome who lives with his fellow gnomes in their very happy tree home in Raisin House Garden. It is time for the gnomes yearly Cake Sale and Party, an event that every gnome looks forward to. Each has a part to play, including Tom, though his clumsiness may get in the way. In the process he will learn that everyone has special talents, and sometimes, those talents can make even the biggest mix up, better. Activities included.

By Keith Guernsey When our four-footed son Harley went over the Rainbow Bridge in May of last year, Susan and I were heartbroken. He had been the love of our lives for 10 years and he left a tremendous hole in our hearts that we didn't think could ever be filled. After grieving for nine months we started talking about possibly getting another companion. Susan was ready but I still wasn't sure but decided to go along with the process and see where it led us. We realized after sheltering-in-place for so many months that we had grown tired of staring at our computer screens (and each other!) and got serious about finding another companion. Susan spent many hours on the internet searching for a dog that met our requirements (potty trained, house-broken, and fewer than 20 pounds). She found several that we thought would be a nice addition to our home but the time she submitted our application they were already adopted. But then we finally caught a break. She found this adorable little brown and white Chihuahua at the Gwinnett Jail House Dogs Program. Susan submitted our application but again by the time they received it, she too had been adopted. A couple of weeks later Susan received a call from the program, and as it turns there was another dog already in the house and the two dogs did not get along.

So we had a second chance. We made an appointment with Deputy Walker of the Gwinnett Jail House Dogs and agreed to meet him at Society of Humane Friends in Lawrenceville. They filled us in on her past. She was a stray roaming the streets of Cumming, Georgia where she was hit by a car and suffered a broken right rear leg and dislocated hip. Fortunately the wonderful staff at UGA veterinary program was able put her back together and she is now healthy as can be.

We met Yonah (her name at the time) and took to each other right away. The young lady we met with told us it would take us three days to get used each other. It didn't even take three minutes! We rode home, let her out of her carrier and let her roam around the house. She has been a wonderful bundle of joy for the two months she has lived with us. Rambunctious, fun-loving, and the best 10 pound protector dog of all time. The only issue (and it is admittedly a minor one) is she barks loudly and continuously whenever anyone comes to the house. We are working with her constantly to teach her the difference between friend and foe. Every time I walk by her, she constantly rolls on her back and wants her belly rubbed and I am more than happy to oblige! Zoey has been with us for two months and it has been a blast! We are loving every minute of our time together and can't wait to se what the future brings! For more, please visit us on the web at; Keith D. Guernsey —is retired and living on Lake Lanier with his lovely wife Susan and Zoey, his four-footed daughter . Twitter=@thegurns


Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster The Witness Series Book 1

When sixteen-year-old Hannah Sheraton is arrested for the murder of her stepgrandfather, a California Supreme Court justice, her distraught mother turns to once infamous defense attorney, Josie Bates. Now a small town lawyer in Hermosa Beach, Josie wants nothing to do with the case since the gruesome evidence points to Hannah's guilt. When the girl is charged as an adult, Josie can't turn her back

Unacceptable Risk by Kaje Harper

For a hidden shifter, falling in love with a man may be the death of them both.

Simon Conley knows about being an outcast. Born into a secret werewolf pack, he’s the lone gay wolf. The top wolves consider him a perversion, a failure, and a security risk, and any breaches of their code are dealt with violently. So if he can't hide who he is from the man he loves, they may both end up dead.

Seasons of Death by Mariene Mitchell A serial killer is loose in the Smoky Mountains. In the fall of 1969, a backwoods farmer and his wife were murdered by four drunken hunters. The murders were never solved. Now, someone has decided to take revenge by killing one person every season.

About Hana

The Hana Du Rose Mysteries

by KT Bowes

What could be good about an attempted hit and run? That might depend on who watches it happen.

Safe by Sarah Doughty The blows keep coming from all directions as Earthen witch Aisling Green grapples with the aftermath of a tragic day. Feeling her heart shattering over and over as a result is more than she can bear, so she makes a decision that will redefine her future. She must carry unbearable emotional wounds, protect those she loves, and rescue a helpless victim from his would-be murderers — all while facing the looming threat of a powerful new enemy. Aisling’s mere existence has already cost her dearly, but more than ever, the heavy price of her survival is proving to be more than she can bear. Will Aisling find the strength to keep fighting?

If life begins at 40, then Hana’s could be over at 45. She’s got herself a stalker and he’s watching everything she does. What could he possibly want from a widowed admin assistant with no social life? She thinks she’s boring, but someone clearly doesn’t.

Death Comes in the Morning: Nathan Parker Book 1 by Don Bissett Nathan Parker never expected to find a body while hiking in Montana. And he certainly didn’t expect it to disappear. But those events land him in a conspiracy of greed that leads to a rising count of missing people. He is dragged to the brink of death, leaving him no option but to fight to survive.

“Fun magic and suspense mixed with some laughs and sass “ “This book had me hooked and I will be reading more in the series. Author tells a fantastic story - well written.” Overall 2021 #8 Character / World Development: Interesting and detailed descriptions, vivid characters. Cover: Charming and appealing cover — inviting, age appropriate, fits the story well Intro: Great setup for a cozy mystery.

A high school nemesis. A misuse of powers. An Unexpected Consequence. Sixteen-year-old Charley Cooper is furious when her cousin Danu uses her powers to get back at a high school nemesis without considering the consequences. When someone attacks the other girl and she ends up in a coma, Danu becomes the prime suspect. As annoyed as she is at her cousin, Charley doesn't want her to go down for something she didn't do. Even though Charley has never had magical abilities of her own, when she has what she believes is a vision about an attack on Danu, she's forced to investigate. Can she find the guilty party before her cousin pays - one way or another? If you enjoy magic, quirky characters, and small-town mysteries with a touch of romance, you're sure to enjoy A Witchy Mistake!

Bone Dragon by Susan Faw

A vengeful sorceress with a bone to pick. A forbidden love that could cost the throne. And a magical destiny impossible to avoid. Arthur Pendragon, heir apparent to the throne of Camelot, approaches his sixteenth birthday with dread. The chains of his heritage, chafe. He wishes nothing more than to be a regular youth, free to seek and pursue the pleasures of young love. But the object of his affection is a love forbidden by the church, the true power behind the throne of Camelot. With the power to set up future kings and tear them down, Arthur knows that to pursue a love interest with a man will cost him the throne, and possibly his life. When a mysterious object of magic is stolen from a secure vault in the depths of the armoury, Arthur is tasked with hunting down the thief and stopping the horror of it being unleashed on Camelot. A fleshless dragon, constructed entirely of bone, attacks an outlying village and Arthur is sent by his father, King Uther, to investigate the occurrence.

Merlin and Arthur extravaganza. Easy to get into the story and the action and adventure flowed nicely, no dull moments. Can’t wait for the next book. Thoroughly recommend this. Don’t miss it , you’ll be sorry if you do. Intro: Great imagery. Pulls the reader into the story immediately. Character / World Building: Well written and well edited. Detailed and entertaining characters. Compelling and realistic setting.

With the help of a fledgling wizard - a youth no older than himself and a hand-picked group of knights which includes his love interest, Arthur races against time to stop the sorceress who is determined to see Camelot burn. Dive into this Camelot retelling, chock full of political intrigue, magic and wonder!

Cover: Captivating and subtle but interesting

Intro: Thought provoking. Pulls the reader in from the start

Lock Down by Aella Black My superpower? I can't die. You can imagine how much it hurts when they test that out... Phoebe Atkinson has always felt different, but in the typical angsty way most teenagers do. She had no idea just how different until that fateful day she died—and then came back to life.

“Loved the book. I just found a new favorite Author. The action is fast, the characters realistic.”

It appears that sort of thing is frowned upon because Phoebe awakens to find herself locked up in Leavenworth, a notorious prison that now holds teens with supernatural abilities. Behind bars, some are welcoming and others are… not. One group in particular seems determined to make the lives of Phoebe and her new friends as miserable as possible. Although Phoebe’s life before being imprisoned was far from perfect, she wants it back. And she will… if they don’t find a way to kill her first. Regardless, she’s no longer going to stand by and be the rule-follower she’s always been. Look where that got her.

Lock Down is the first book in a young adult urban fantasy trilogy that's full of interesting characters and more than a few villains. The trilogy is complete, so scroll up to one-click your copy today!

by Melissa A. Craven They claim she is Immortal. They say he is her equal, the only one who can match her power. But she’s just a normal girl. Until she isn’t. Allie Carmichael is just your typical socially awkward redhead with a smart-mouth that gets her into trouble—which it does the moment she meets Aidan, the boy next door who looks like trouble with a capital T—complete with tattoos and a mysterious secret. That secret involves Allie in ways she could never imagine. As a latent Immortal power awakens deep Inside her, Allie must learn to navigate a dangerous world of secrets and deceptions, but with Aidan as her equal, she just might make it.


by Michelle Lynn This is not your typical rock star romance. For one, the “rock star” is a rapper. And not just any rapper. Trace is the hottest ticket in the music industry right now, regardless of which definition of ‘hot’ you choose. Taryn Starr is not the girl-next-door who unknowingly meets a celebrity. Known as “America’s Sweetheart,” the reigning country music princess and world-renowned superstar knows exactly who Trace is…or does she? Their worlds collide when the musicians whose paths were never destined to cross are forced by their joint record label to collaborate on a song. The sparks fly and ignite a fire that blazes hotter with every minute they spend together— for better or worse. One thing’s for certain, the two media magnets can’t deny their explosive chemistry, but will life in the spotlight ultimately bring Trace and Taryn together or force them apart?

Hidden Secrets Chantal Bellehumeur is a Canadian author born in 1981. She has 18 published books of various genres as well as numerous short stories, memoirs, poems and articles featured in compilation books, eMagazines, plus a local newspaper. WEBSITE— AMAZON AUTHOR —


While cleaning out the attic of her deceased grandmother's Victorian farmhouse, Alice discovers old letters and diaries she can't help but read. Their romantic and emotional content end up revealing many shocking secrets that lead to a series of questions Alice feels the need to investigate.

Author Chantal Bellehumeour has a gift of pulling the reader into her stories from the first page and keeping them glued on the story until the very last page. I loved the little twists here and there and even though the story of forbidden love is as old as time,the author had placed a surprise at the end of it. Kudos for that!

Excerpt: As Alice slowly scanned the dusty room with her blue eyes, she spotted a small metal chest she had always been curious about. It was just sitting on her dust covered rocking chair, with the bright sunlight shining directly on it like a spotlight. The chest had always been locked, and despite her numerous searches over the years Alice never found the key to open it. She had even asked her grandmother if she knew where the key was once, and simply receiving a shrug as an answer. Her grandmother then told her to ask her horse one day and winked.

The two horseshoes currently sitting on top of the chest reminded Alice of that comment and it made her laugh to herself. Her grandmother had often said odd things. Although she often spoke in solvable riddles, her word puzzles started making less and less sense over the years. Before her grandmother was placed in a home, Alice would sometimes get sent on treasure hunts. Her grandmother would give her written riddles to solve as clues, and Alice would have to find the next one until she located a hidden surprise such as a bag of candies or a chocolate bar. It had kept her entertained.

Snapping out of her pleasant reverie, Alice decided to try picking the integrated lock of the chest to finally find out its mysterious content. She used one of her metal hairpins to do so, not really certain it was actually going to work. When the lock finally budged, allowing the lid to open, Alice let out a sign of satisfaction. She eagerly opened the chest and first saw that something was wrapped up in a white handkerchief. It turned out to be a stack of folded yellowed papers nicely tied together with a thin red ribbon. Attached to the ribbon was a delicately weaved loop the size of a ring, made from what appeared to be very thin twigs. The chest also contained several leatherbound notebooks. She opened one of the crispy books at a random page and discovered that it was an old diary with entries dating back to the year 1937. Alice thought she recognised the neat cursive handwriting on the yellowed pages of the book, and the name inscribed on the front page in bold black letters confirmed that the diary had belonged to her sweet grandmother Agnes. The middle-aged woman felt torn between reading the content of the old diary and respecting her grandmother's privacy. The guilty feeling Alice felt at not instantly returning the intimate book inside the chest didn't last. Her curiosity got the best of her, as usual. She reasoned that since the diary's owner was no longer alive, it was okay to read it. Alice actually waited for a ghostly figure to challenge otherwise, and when her grandmother remained unseen or unheard Alice concluded that she should definitely read it. But, it would have to wait.

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Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 © Melanie P. Smith

Bogus Prosperity Paige pulled into Carmen’s driveway and got as close to the back door as she could. She was halfway around the vehicle when Dax shoved open the passenger door and worked to pull himself to his feet. It took more effort than it should have; but, with Paige’s help, he was finally upright. Paige wrapped an arm around his waist for support as they made their way to the door. Before Paige had a chance to figure out how she would get him inside, the door swung open and Zeus rushed out. “I got this.” “Thanks,” Paige took a step back and Zeus moved into her place.

“I can walk on my own,” Dax grumbled. “Yeah,” Zeus smiled. “I know, just like I could when you brought me back from Mexico. But, I’m here... might as well lend a hand.” Dax bit his tongue and let his friend usher him into the house. It wasn’t the same. He wasn’t anywhere near the condition Zee had been that night when they returned from Mexico. Not even close. But his ankle was fractured, and his ribs were still healing. He’d cracked a couple when he tumbled off the wall and hit the hard dirt below. Funny, the gunshot wound seemed to be the least of his problems. He wasn’t sure that was anything to brag about. “Help me to that chair,” he pointed to a recliner in the living room. “I want to sit up for a while.” Once Zeus got Dax situated, he returned to Paige’s vehicle to help unload all the hospital stuff. “I haven’t figured out how to get Dax Continue Reading Pg. some clothes


This is a continuing storyline. A new episode is published in each issue of the eMagazine - Box sets can be purchased at any eBook store 83

Thriller | Mystery | Horror The Architect by Lesley Hayes Six sides to a house. Six sides to a story. Six people linked by fate and family. One of them is dead. Is one of the others a murderer? They all have motives. But is that reason enough to kill? It is September 2020, and Covid has swept the world with devastating consequences. In England, after months of lockdown followed by a cautious loosening of restrictions, friends and family are now allowed to gather if they abide by the government’s 'rule of six'. Ric is an architect, both by profession and by nature. He has invited guests he refers to jokingly as 'the usual suspects' to celebrate his son Noah’s thirtieth birthday. His crazy ex-wife Allegra will be there, and his dependable business partner Jake, together with his nubile girlfriend Eden, and of course Ric’s long-suffering partner, Sally. Secrets and lies and the bitter taste of corruption are items on the menu, and they all have reasons to be suspicious and resentful. Not one of them is exactly who they seem to be. Can anything they say be trusted? Will this be the occasion when one of ‘the usual suspects’ is pushed too far? Overall # 3

Intro: Great world development. Draws you into the story from the very first page.

Cover: Interesting, clean, good contrast and well balanced

Character/World Development: Descriptive and realistic. Makes you feel like you are walking through the building taking in the rooms from the very beginning.

“Secrets, deceit, jealousy, greed, misfortune, loyalty, love and hate all feature. This is a spellbinding tale that unravels at a sufficient pace to keep the reader hooked.”

Cotton Candy by L.M. Kimblin Cover: Interesting, clean and good contrast.

Presentation: Professionally edited, No obvious typos, excellent grammar, formatting and overall presentation #1 Popular Vote Overall # 5 (tied)

Character/World Development: Great character development. From the first page you understand the main character’s life is challenging and difficult but she works hard to do good and help others.

All the Deadly Lies by Marian Lanouette

Intro: Compelling, great flow, draws you into the mystery immediately.

Homicide detective Jake Carrington takes murder personally… The victim was bludgeoned, stripped, and left for dead. Shanna Wagner deserves justice—and there’s no better cop than Lieutenant Jake Carrington to find her killer. The brutality of the crime reminds Jake of his sister’s murder seventeen years ago, and the remorseless man responsible, now up for parole. Then another woman is killed—and Jake goes dangerously close to the edge. He’ll have to face his personal demons and focus his formidable skills if he hopes to stop a vicious murderer from striking again—and hold on to his career, and his life . . .

”Thrill Ride from First Page to Last The murder plot is engrossing, realistic and left me on the edge of my seat with all its wild twists and turns. “

Character Development: Exciting characters, page turner from the very start

Overall # 10

Finalists Rat Tales by P.A. Rudders Had your rabies shots yet? The rats are loose! Rat Tales. Twenty-four 'rat' themed short stories, and the first book in a three-book collection, The Creature Tales.

Many of the stories here are traditional blood and gore filled horror, but several venture slightly into the realms of science fiction and the supernatural.

***This suspenseful adventure, full of mysterious threats and military romance is perfect for fans of fast-paced storylines and cliffhangers*** Raelyn Bell defies her father’s wishes by investigating the truth of her mother’s death. But if she keeps snooping, it could sever the fragile relationship with the only parent she has left.

Meanwhile, Army Specialist Kody Walsh’s obeys questionable orders that lead him straight to Raelyn. "Love at first sight" doesn't mean it'll be an easy journey. If Kody aids in her quest, it could mean game over for his career. If Raelyn stops searching for answers, she'll never learn the truth about her mother. As the two cut through layers of lies, threats, explosions, ambushes, and stalkers, their bond grows stronger. But the dangers prove worse than they ever feared. Can they see this adventure through without losing their lives— and each other?

In a Pickle

From the short story collection: ‘Oops! Tales of the Zombie Turkey Apocalypse’ Now, what was he going to do? His boss just told him to double the productivity of Vegan Inc's pickle strain they used for their Kilwowski Pickle brand. That was completely impossible.

But keeping his job required it. He was the low man on the genetic engineering totem pole at Vegan Inc., the last one hired and the first one to be fired if another recession hit. He couldn't think. He couldn't face this. So he cruised the internet. "The origin of Zombie turkeys? I didn't know they'd found that. Hmm, a Midley Beacon exclusive, the foremost zombie news source," he read to himself. Zombie turkeys had ravaged Illinois and the US at Thanksgiving. Thankfully they hadn't hit near Terre Haute where he lived. He skimmed the article rapidly. Corn All, one of their agribusiness rivals, had genetically modified their corn to fight off corn disease. The genetic modification would adapt to the disease at a cellular level, and neutralize it by copying the DNA from the disease organism, whether fungal or bacteria. When wild turkeys ate the corn, it modified the E Coli in their gut, creating the zombie turkey bacteria, e coli gallopavo. That got into the turkeys' bloodstream and made them zombies, able to regenerate any lost or damaged body part, even bringing turkeys back from the dead. What caught his eye was the reproduction rate: zombie cells reproduced every twenty minutes. Could that work for pickles? Why not try? He read the article more carefully and found it sourced from a Dr. Edwin Galloway of the Northwestern Poultry Institute. He followed the link to Dr. Galloway's original paper. There it was. The whole DNA sequence of Corn-All's modification and the zombie turkey bacteria, e coli gallopavo. Now, he just needed to get a sample. Nothing like going to the source.

He called Dr. Galloway. "Hello? Dr. Galloway? This is Brice Butterworth with Vegan Inc." "Hello, Mr. Butterworth. How can I help you?" "I read your paper on E Coli Gallopavo, and I'd like to test it on various vegetables. Could I get a sample?" "I can send you a sample, but the bacteria only affects turkeys, not plants." "But Corn-all used the sequence in corn." "Yes, but the zombie effect only showed up in turkeys. E Coli is an animal-specific bacteria." "No other animals?" "We only tested turkeys, pigs, chickens, and cows." "I'll test some other animals." "All right. I'll send you some of the bacteria and some of the Corn-all corn. Let me know what you find out." "Will do. Make it a next day shipment. Vegan Inc will pay. We're under a time crunch."

"I'll ship it today." "Thanks so much! This may help solve a problem for me." "Great! Let me know your results. Be sure to give the Poultry Institute of Northwestern credit." "You've got it. Bye." Brice spent the rest of the day thinking about how to get the zombie growth bacteria to grow in the pickles. Maybe he could genetically engineer them so they appeared to be turkeys to the bacteria? That would be a kind of chimera, a hybrid, between turkey and cucumber. He went out and bought a pair of live turkeys from eTurkey, the online turkey delivery service. They too would be delivered tomorrow. He created his project plan. He'd try to insert turkey DNA into the cucumber genome and then infect it with the zombie turkey virus. That'd double the growth rate of cucumbers, easily! The turkeys, bacteria, and corn arrived the next morning. First, he ensured the zombie bacteria worked. He injected the bacteria into the two birds and watched their eyes turn red. That was the first sign of zombiism.

He had already moved them from standard chickenwire pens to the Zombie Turkey Farmers of America (ZTFA) approved steel cages. They couldn't defeat the quarter-inch steel bars, but they kept trying. They'd peck at them until they were bloody. Then they'd pause and heal and try again. So that's what Dr. Galloway meant when he wrote that the zombie bacteria caused increased aggression.

Using the Vegan Inc. lab's waldo, he extracted fresh blood from turkeys and separated out fresh E Coli Galipavo bacteria. The turkeys pecked at the mechanical hands, to no avail. He injected the ECG into living cucumbers at various stages of growth. No effect. No surprise. Now for the second branch of his research. Even though a cucumbers DNA was far simpler than a human's he had thousands of sites where he might splice it in. He picked the ten likeliest and planted twenty chimera seeds. Only half even sprouted. He tested them with the ECG bacteria. Failure. He tried ten different DNA sites each day to make his 'turkeycumber' as he called the chimera. After a month of failure, he gave up. He had to try something else. Scanning the internet for inspiration, Brice read the Midley Beacon again. The headline 'Zombie Squirrel caught on video' leapt out at him. He read, "The hawk nabbed the squirrel, as hawks normally do, but in midair, the squirrel revived, ripped open the hawk's belly, bit off its leg, and fell a hundred feet to the ground, where it scampered away unharmed. It was captured on drone video." That's it! He'd try some other animals and see if they'd turn zombie. First, he made a squirrelcumber. No effect. Then a cowcumber. Failure. Then a deercumber. Nothing. Another month down the drain. His boss, Wilma O'Reilly stopped by. "Hi Brice, how's it going?" That meant 'had he doubled the cucumber growth rate yet.' "Success is just around the corner," he lied. He knew what to say to get her off his back. "That's great! So you'll have this solved in another month?" That meant she didn't believe his lie. "Maybe a month and a half. Or two." He had no clue when he'd solve it. "Fantastic! That's a commitment to have something by June, then. Right?"

"Uh, right." She had him nailed to a wall. He had three months to solve this and he was no closer than when he started.

"Wonderful. When you succeed, you'll easily pay for the money you've spent on the research. Oh, and by the way. If you can't solve this problem, we'll have to let you go in the mid -year budget cuts. But I'm sure you'll solve it." She smiled brightly at him and walked away. Ugh. Now what? His mind was blank. He filled it up with social media. A tweet on a hummingbird picture led him to an article about them. Fastest metabolism of all animals. Insectivores as well as herbivores. Huh. They were like turkeys. They were like turkeys on speed! Why not? Brice thought. What have I got to lose—besides my job? Could he buy hummingbirds on Amazon? Nope. Not legal, since they're migratory birds. But he could become a hummingbird rehabber. He already had a biology degree, as well as a masters in recombinant DNA. Brice volunteered at the nearest bird rehab center. They were delighted to have him. He nursed several birds back to health, bound broken legs and wings. He also extracted some hummingbird blood and sequenced its genome. He brought one hummingbird back to the lab instead of releasing it to the wild. He fed it Corn -all GMO grain and studied its droppings for any E Coli. Yes! It produced the zombie bacteria too, just like turkeys. He sprayed the zombie e coli (ZEC) at the bird. Soon its eyes turned red. It rammed the birdcage, faster and faster, bending the bars. It was a zombie. Brice extracted its blood and put it in a cage of bulletproof glass. It settled down, slurping up the nectar from the feeder, eating twice as much as usual. Higher metabolism was another sign of zombiism. No time to waste. He had only one week left until June. Over the next two days, he spliced the zombie hummingbird DNA into the three hundred spots he'd found on the cucumbers DNA and planted them all.

Only one came up. He injected the hummingbird's zombie bacteria into it. It began to grow even as he watched it, flowering. He hand pollinated it and by the time he left for home, he had twelve full-grown cucumbers. Success! Brice could hardly wait for the next day. The cucumber plant filled the lab when he got in, covered with flowers. He pollinated hundreds of them. Then Brice pickled his twelve cucumbers. Now they just had to pass the taste test. It'd be a week before they were ready. Brice took the brine solution and sprayed his zombie hummingbird with it. As everyone knew, five months after the zombie turkey apocalypse, salt water was the most effective way of eliminating zombiism. He watched the bird until its red eyes turned to black. Then he let it go back to the wild. "Thanks, little guy," he murmured. While he waited for the pickling to complete, he picked hundreds of cucumbers. He tested their seed to ensure the hummingcumber chimera bred true. It did. The second generation grew just as fast. The rest of them he canned in brine.

The next Monday, Brice tasted the pickles. They were a beautiful light green on the inside. They tasted heavenly, better than any pickle he'd ever tasted before. Brice called Wilma into the lab. "Hi, Wilma. These are the results of my research." "Wow! What do you have, a hundred quarts of pickles? How long did that take?" "That's a week's growth, from one cucumber plant. I've got a couple more plants growing, but we need to transplant them to a field. We'll have to harvest them daily." “How? I've never seen anything like this!"

"I made one difficult genetic modification. I made a chimera, combining a cucumber with a hummingbird. I then infected it with the zombie bacteria." "That's insane! What made you try that?" "I wanted the cucumbers to grow as fast as the zombies do." "Brilliant. You're promoted to a senior researcher, right now." Brice proudly watched the fields of zombie cucumbers grow and harvested daily all that summer. If left unharvested for a day, the cucumbers would turn iridescent green, like a ruby -throated hummingbird. These colorful vegetables became even more popular than the plain zombie hummingbird pickles. One morning, overlooking a beautiful field of jewel-like green, Brice noticed a waving motion. Walking into the field, he saw the cucumber wriggling on the ground. The wriggling became waving, and then flapping. Each cucumber grew a pair of flapping iridescent emerald wings. In one motion, the entire field of cucumbers rose in a sparkling green murmuration from the ground. With his mouth agape, Brice watched the glittering vegetable cloud head south. After it was out of sight, Brice looked around the bedraggled field. Not one opalescent pickle remained. "Hi Wilma, I've got some bad news," he said into his phone. “What's that Brice?" "The pickles have migrated south." "What? I have a connection problem. I thought you said, 'the pickles have migrated south'." "Yes, that's right. Apparently, the hummingbird DNA is more powerful than I thought. Their migration instinct has been spliced into the pickles." "You realize that field is worth over a million dollars. You've got to get it back." "Calm down. I have a plan." "What's that?" "The pickle hummingbirds will probably instinctively migrate to Mexico, like regular hummingbirds."

"Get going then. We need you to capture those flying pickles!" "I'm leaving today." Brice arrived in Mexico City that night. He read the news and tracked the pickles by the news reports and Instagram photos and Twitter gifs. Louisiana. Texas. Reynosa Mexico. Xalapa. Where was that? The picture from Twitter showed iridescent pickles with wings nesting by the thousands in the trees. He found Xalapa on the eastern side of the Mexican Rockies. He rented a truck, loaded it with the supplies he had shipped with him, and headed there. Brice drove to the grove of trees where the zombie cucumbers nested. He started the power washer in the back of his truck and headed to the trees, dragging his hose. He sprayed a jet of salt water over the cucumbers in trees, killing their zombie bacteria. They dropped to the ground by the thousands and tens of thousands. Brice then hired local farm workers to place them in jars filled with brine. He had enough for a whole semi. He didn't catch all the escaped cucumbers, but he had enough to make up for the lost harvest. After that, Vegan Inc prevented the pickles from developing to the winged stage. But enough escaped Brice, that they became part of the annual pickle migration from Mexico to the US. People captured thousands each year along the Mississippi migration route. Some people felt the wild zombie pickles tasted better than the domestic, farm-raised ones. Vegan Inc. took advantage of this and built canning factories in Mexico near the pickle nesting sites. Vegan Inc. even sold their iridescent wings separately as a pickled delicacy. This became their most profitable item. Until they dried the wings and sold them as earrings.

This story is set just after my first book Zombie Turkeys. I got the idea for flying pickles while joking with my daughter Tori. When I picked her up to take her somewhere, I'd say, 'Watch out for the flying pickles as you go into the car. It's the season for their annual migration.' From that, we built up a whole life cycle for flying pickles. Naturally, it had to be my short story collection.

C.K. Fyfe has always enjoyed a good mystery. Fyfe’s childhood love of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys led to a grown-up love of writing cozy mysteries with quirky, funny, and kindhearted characters. Fyfe lives in “The Wolverine State.” Much like wolverines, Fyfe’s villains have vicious dispositions, but the clever sleuths know how to tame their foes’ tempers.



For Laura, house-sitting at an old Victorian mansion seems the perfect job. However, little does she know that the house holds an abundance of secrets, including a mysterious book that’s much more than it seems. When the owners’ cat goes missing, Laura accepts help from an unlikely source to find the feline. But in doing so, has she crossed the line between fantasy and reality?

Spooky but in a fun way, this was an interesting little read that kept my interest piqued throughout. The characters were interesting, the playful cat was fun, and the mystery was entertaining.

Prague - Historic and Beautiful by Tom Benson ‘Good King Wenceslas looked out …’, and he still does—across Wenceslas Square. High on a plinth, he sits astride his charger, pennant steadied in hand, and looking … well, like a royal warrior. I must admit the term ‘square’ in this case is a loose description because the feature is actually an oblong. Along both sides of the large area are hotels, retail units and usually, hundreds of visitors. The central section is wide and apart from small ornate garden areas, it contains beer stalls, hot-snack stalls, open air cafes, and several other places of interest to the passing trade. On my visit to the capital of the Czech Republic a few years ago, I noted several things in rapid succession. These were: the architecture, the cleanliness of the streets, the availability and regularity of public transport; and the sense of history which I absorbed as I walked around. Other aspects which were to impress me during my week-long stay were the friendliness of the locals, and the hospitality and tourism sectors. The bars and eateries are a healthy mix of the old and the new, but they have certain factors in common. Whether it was a snack on the go, or a three-course meal in a restaurant resplendent in its Baroque style, the food and service were exceptional. Like many European cities, Prague boasts a rich and varied history with many of its sons and daughters finding fame. King Wenceslas monument

You may have heard of the artist - Alphonse Mucha, classical composer - Antonin Dvorak, modern composer - Jan Hammer, long-distance runner - Emil Zatopek, model - Eva Herzigova, politician Madeline Albright, and, of course, tennis stars - Ivan Lendl, and Martina Navratilova. I could write individual articles on several of the tourist attractions but among my favourites were: the Mucha Museum, the Rudolfinum, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, Cafe Imperial, and the Prague Castle and Hradcany, the latter being effectively the site of what was once the original town. Within the walls, among other attractions are St Vitus Cathedral, and the Golden Lane. Apart from several wide streets boasting abundant international retailers, there are tourism gems throughout the city. The larger-than-life statues featured along both sides of Charles Bridge are a magnet. From early morning until late in the evening there are people on the wide, traffic-free crossing. I saw a couple fresh from a wedding ceremony posing with various statues across the bridge—the bride, stunning in her white dress being meticulously prepared for each photo. Municipal House, the most prominent Art Nouveau building is worth seeing, and attached at one side, although in stark contrast, is the black and foreboding Powder Gate; having been one of thirteen entrances into the Old Town district in the 11th century. For a while in the 17th century century the dark and prominent tower was used for storing gunpowder—hence the name. Charles Bridge, with backdrop of St Vitus and Hradcany

St Vitus Cathedral with its distinctive twin spires stands within the old town on the west side of the River Vitara, overlooking the modern city, on the east side. A full day within the walls enables the visitor to see much of what is on offer.

Golden Lane

The Golden Lane piqued my interest. In the 16th century the tiny houses were accommodation for the castle guards, and in the next century, the narrow passageway was taken over by the goldsmiths. In contrast, by the 19th century it was a slum area. These days, the lane is a museum—a popular tourist attraction. A highlight of my visit was attending a classical matinee in the Rudolfinum. I wandered around, appreciating the opulence of the building for an hour before taking my seat in the upper stalls. I was captivated as I watched and listened to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra playing music composed by Antonin Dvorak. For some visitors, Prague is famous for its red roofs, ornate architecture, original Pilsener beers, and some of its well-known citizens. While enthralled by all of those things, I used much of my time researching for Czech Mate, an espionage thriller that I wrote in the months following my return to the UK. I’ve attempted here, to give a flavour of this beautiful, historic city, and I would highly recommend a visit. * A link to Czech Mate on my author website:

Tom Benson

Tom Benson is a creative writer who has published novels, novellas, short story anthologies and a series of five poetry anthologies. He started his writing career in 2007, but in his words, “By then, I had learned enough about people and life to make my writing credible.” Find More from Tom Benson...

Website: Blog:

Czech Mate Bryce Crawford is handed a small package left to him by his recently deceased father. At first, the contents seem insignificant, but they open up a world of mystery and intrigue for the artist. A trip to Prague becomes a matter of life and death as Bryce becomes entangled in a web of lies and deceit. His parents died only months apart, but doubt overshadows the circumstances in both cases.

Will Bryce determine who he can trust and will he find out the truth about his parents’ deaths? Will he solve the mystery set by his father from beyond the grave?

What a story. The variety and complexity of the well-written characters held my attention throughout, and the storyline had so many twists and turns that I just had to keep reading. At the beginning, I thought what a nice character Bryce was, but then I realised he was much more complex, and surprisingly brutal when he had to be. I liked unexpectedness of that. The scenes in Prague were so descriptive that if I ever visit there, I am sure it will seem familiar. It was an unpredictable, amazing adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Brilliant read

Was drawn into the plot from the beginning of the book, and could not put it down until finished, the descriptions of locations were so good that I felt I could actually see them



Character/World Building: Great “Wonderful story! Definitely recommend “

character development from the beginning. You immediately feel like you understand the challenges of a strange new world, new family and the struggle to succeed.

‘Tis the Season for Vampires! When the days grow shorter and dusk comes earlier, we may spend our time decorating with holly and mistletoe, drinking cider, and playing in the snow. But the creatures who stalk the night are in their element—and while visions of sugarplums dance in our heads, they're lurking in the shadows, knowing there's nothing so delicious as a vampire's kiss. All Isom could think about was blood. He could smell it everywhere. This new existence was a daily struggle. One that he was not sure he would survive. With the Christmas season coming to early 20th Century Boston, Isom finds himself alone. With only the remnant memories of his past life as a prodigy violinist, this new vampire must strive to adapt to his new immortal existence. Though, this isn't easy. A series of unfortunate circumstances places him in the position of being drawn to the perfect prey. Can he overcome his darkest desire on Christmas Eve?

A Pawn of Fate By Joe Quackenboss

Darkness is rising across the lands of A’rth as an ancient power seeks to claim humanity and return it to the void between worlds. From vast forests and snowy vales to burning sands and red mountains, A PAWN OF FATE follows three teens through their battles to save A’rth and its people. Patrice, a newly trained wielder of majiks, searches for the truth behind grim visions that reveal his past, present, and future; all while battling the addiction of his great power and the revelation that the world is far different than he ever imagined. Rhayna, a young noblewoman, faces great change that alters her life forever as her eyes open to the majiks of an ancient past; she must choose whether to accept that power, or become just another mundane lady at court. Tumas, the prince and twin brother of Patrice, must abandon love, forced into the most brutal war of his time, and is made to face his fears and insecurities of leadership; he must overcome terrible nightmares and forge ahead to unite his people.

Intro: Great flow, action-packed and intriguing

Character / World Development: Draws you into a world of ancient magic and intrigue

Together Patrice, Rhayna, and Tumas must unlock the mysteries of A’rth, and uncover the key to salvation. Unknown forces strive to drive them apart; for alone they would bring about the Void, and an end to all things. “Such a great read. once you get started its hard to put down.” “I highly recommend this book it’s an exciting adventure and definitely worth the read. “

Hunter’s Moon By J. Molly B.C.

“Absolutely loved this book! It is beautiful and dark and gets you ready for the next one! Simply and intricately amazing! “ “A story so deep with characters so well developed that it's hard not to think the author has insight into a realm the rest of us can only dream of. “

A grey tale wrapped around the phases of the Moon. The naked truth about perception aligned with the journey of a Solitary Witch who prefers to fly on her own terms.

Mia discovers a matrix of eclectic Witches who bend the Rede and its laws. Within this surreal odyssey, she hones her unique traits and learns to fly against the grain. The realms within this book are about truth and perception, with a plethora of imbedded messages for the reader to discover. All Will be revealed.

Intro: Good hook, compelling descriptions

that draw you in right from the beginning

Character/World Building: Descriptive

fantasy world that pulls you into the story and the world immediately

Reliance by Paul McMurrough Cover: Interesting & professional Development: Great Sci-Fi, compelling intro An eruption on the Sun leaves the Earth powerless, but is it a temporary inconvenience or the start of a spiral into anarchy? Belfast Professor Martin Monroe knows the answers, but once branded a conspiracy nut, he struggles to get anyone to listen to his warnings of the impending disaster. His only friend, Simon Wilson, still coming to terms with the loss of his wife, is the only person who will listen. Fighting against bureaucracy and her own lack of confidence, Government Communications officer Lisa Keenan struggles to get the word out. Despite the protests of her colleagues, she enlists the help of the professor.

Young Fae by AnnaMarie Gardner What if you find out your whole life has been a lie? Coming of age is supposed to be about the discovery of one's self, but this is a whole new discovery. Asha comes to learn who she really is by facing obstacles and hurdles as she comes to learn magic is really amongst us. Intro: Intriguing beginning. You can’t tell if this is just a young adult adjusting to life changes or if there is actually a real change occurring that she doesn’t understand.

It’s apricot season here in Utah. I love the sweet, juicy taste of fresh apricots, but once they ripen, their lifespan is fairly short. There’s no way my husband and I can eat all of the fruit our tree produces before it goes bad. As you can see from the pictures, we had a bumper crop this year. I hate waste; so, the solution became obvious almost immediately — preserve them. My husband had the same idea and began picking the ripe fruit to produce a fresh batch of apricot wine. You may have read his article ‘Summer Wine’ that was published in our 1st Quarter magazine this year. If not, follow the link below and check it out, there’s a ton of great information and easy to follow directions. connections-emagazine-1st-quarter-2021/page/36

Once that project was complete, I set out to make an old family treat — apricot syrup. This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s easy and delicious. As an added bonus, once preserved, the syrupy liquid lasts for years. We use it on pancakes, waffles, and crepes. It’s a great substitute for maple syrup and — for a special treat — you can add a couple of scoops to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. You can also mix it with frosting, or even add it to your cake batter before baking. People will wonder what that mystery ingredient is that gives your dessert such a unique taste. I used the leftover apricots to make apricot nectar and let a family member pick the rest for apricot jam.

My tree was already established when I purchased my home. I won’t tell you how long ago that was; but I will tell you, apricots trees can last a hundred years — in the right climate —if cared for properly.

Fun fact… Did you know apricot trees have such beautiful blooms in the spring, they are considered one of the most ornamental fruit trees in the world?

Apricots are extremely nutritious and low in calories. They can help prevent liver damage, improve your eye sight, and protect skin from harmful UV damage. They are also high in fiber and help maintain a healthy digestive system.

Great source of Potassium

Preserving and processing the syrup —is actually pretty easy.

Obviously, the first step is to harvest the fruit. You want to select apricots that are sweet. The fruit is best when it is firm (with a little give) and ripe. If you are picking the fruit yourself, the apricots should separate easily from the twigs — or the tree limbs. Green fruit is definitely not ripe. Try to pick apricots that are vibrant orange with a red blush. Now that you have your apricots picked, wash them thoroughly, break them open and discard the pit inside. Make sure the raw fruit is cleaned. Place it in a bucket of cold water to prevent browning. I have a fruit juicer, so the next step is extremely simple. Turn it on and feed the fruit through the machine. The fruit will separate from the skins for you. The excess will slide out one side and the puree flows easily out of the other side — into the catch basin. Make sure you produce enough puree to make at least one batch.

Apricot Syrup

I typically double the recipe, which will make approximately 18 pints of syrup.

If you don’t have a juicing machine, don’t worry. You can still process your fruit. It just takes a little extra time. Fill a large stock pot with 5 cups of water and 10 cups of apricots (halved with pits removed) Let it simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until apricots are really soft and broken down. Run the apricots through a sieve, push fruit through with a spoon. Collect the puree in a large bowl. If you want to include the skin in your syrup, scoop out the heated fruit and puree in a blender until well mixed.

MIX — 4 cups apricot puree 3-4 cups sugar (adjust for desired sweetness) 3 TBSP Lemon Juice 1 cup water (**optional. Add 1/2 cup then continue adding slowly until you reach desired thickness. Using the apricot skin will require additional water) Combine all of the ingredients listed above into large pan (see image above) Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes — stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Pour into canning jars, place bottles in canning pot (see image to the right), bring water to a boil making sure the entire jar (including lids) are covered completely. Process, remove jars, and cool.

Process Times Pints - 15 minutes | Quarts - 20 minutes.

As you can see from the image above, apricot nectar is very similar to apricot syrup. You should process the puree the same as you do for syrup. Once you have the puree, you’re ready to make the nectar. Remember, if you decide to include the skin it will require additional water. You can also substitute Splenda for the sugar. This allows you to measure the sweetener cup for cup but you will still want to experiment to determine your preferred level of sweetness. Avoid using saccharin, which turns bitter when processed or Aspartame, which will lose its sweetening power during processing. Another option is to process without the sugar and add your favorite sweetener after the bottle is open — before serving.

Apricot Nectar

Melanie P. Smith is an American, multi-genre author of Paranormal, Criminal Suspense, Police Procedural and Romance novels. If you’re looking for a story you can’t put down, one that will keep you guessing as you embark on a rollercoaster journey of discovery, you should visit her website…

Ingredients — 4 Quarts apricot puree

6 Cups water (1 1/2 Cup per Quart of puree) 2-4 Cups Sugar (1/2 to 1 Cup per Quart of puree, depending on desired sweetness) 12 TBSP Lemon Juice (3 TBSP per Quart of puree) Mix all of the ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Pour (while hot) into sterilized canning bottles. Process in hot water bath (canner) making sure the bottles and the lids are completely covered with water. Ideally, you want 1-inch of water above the top of the bottle. Boil 20 minutes for Quarts, 15 minutes for Pints.

Nectar can be mixed with some ginger ale or lemonade/ lime soda. It is also delicious over ice on it's own, or simply dilute it with water until you reach your desired thickness. Or, you can mix it with orange juice. Nectar is also great as a base for meat glazes.

Non-Fiction Kisses From Sardinia by Laurie Pillia Laurie Henry is referred to as an “all-American girl”: an exceptional student raised in central Ohio by hard-working, conservative Christian parents. When she learns a secret about her past, she rebels as only a teenage girl can, marries the proverbial “bad boy”, and has his baby. Just how is it, then, that this struggling single mother on food stamps goes from teary-eyed desperation on the beaches of Emerald Isle, North Carolina, to the verdant green hills of THE “Emerald Isle”? How does she go from the nightlife of Dayton to dancing in the clubs of Temple Bar? How does she go from serving plates of eggplant parmesan in the Buckeye State to being served delicacies on the island of Sardinia? How does the girl in sweats go from hoodies to Hermes? Kisses from Sardinia has all the makings of a novel, but it’s a true story—a story of chance, romance, and happenstance that every woman, young or old, should read and thus be inspired. Laurie’s tale of adventure will awaken young readers, both male and female, to their potentials no matter their circumstances, and also remind parents of impetuous daughters that it’s best to leave them to their dreams…they just might come true beyond anyone’s imagination.

This book kept my attention start to finish. Wellwritten and optimistic, Laurie’s story will inspire one to keep their faith in the worst of times.

Jaykishan Hariharbhai Kapdi This book is organized into three parts. •

Part one addresses the musical terms generally used in vocal & instrumental Indian music.

Part two addresses the musical terms generally used in the Indian rhythm.

Part three covers a spiritual emancipation through music &“Nad-Shashtra” (Acoustic).

“This is a very comprehensive and structured guide for those wishing to learn about Indian music. The information is detailed and complex, yet it is laid out in simple to follow tables. This book is ideal as a reference manual.”

Searching for “It” is author Ken Ludmer’s Homeric odyssey that takes us from post-war New York City through the cafés of Beat Generation Greenwich Village, across America to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond. The road warrior therapist talks to us in tales of adventure, stories of transition and pathos, and includes observations on the human condition—all seen through the eyes of a therapist. Each chapter is an in-depth conversation, one of those rare encounters that some of us are lucky to have had on our journeys. It’s as if we are the ones seated at the bistro table, suddenly conversing over coffee with a strangely perceptive wayfarer. Ludmer’s voice has the connectivity of Buscaglia and the humor of Perelman. You are advised to settle into your comfy couch for some at-home reading therapy. Be prepared to ponder and laugh often—but keep the box of tissues handy.

Ludmer's accounts of his experiences both in his travels and in his work as a family therapist are engaging and thought-provoking. His insights and observations into what drives people make us look inward in search of that unspoken yearning that gnaws at our insides, driving us into the world to seek that singular adventure that provides us with what we all want: the ultimate answer. Compelling Topic. Entertaining accounts and personal stories of adventure, observations and exploration

Unearned Grief by Kevin Garrard Ellison, Sr.

Grief is something that can not be avoided. During a lifetime, it will be experienced on various levels. How we respond when it attacks determines our mental outcome. In this book, the author, Kevin Gerrard Ellison, Sr. shares his journey from grief to pain, from healing to wholeness.

Cover: Good contrast, appealing colors, attention grabbing Intro: “The Hearts Journey from Pain to Peace” The book opens with a clear, concise introduction to a difficult topic. At some point in our life, we will all experience the pain and grief that follows the death of a loved one. This book starts with compassion and understand then guides the reader through a journey of growth and understanding.



The Chilling Spree by LS Sygnet Helen Eriksson finds herself baffled by what initially appears to be a rather open-andshut investigation, but is anything but when her presumed hate crime motive is decimated by two victims who don't in any way fit the original profile. Or do they?.

Sexy Lexy by Kate Moore After writing a self-help book encouraging fitness through sex, Lexy Clark escapes to a Brigadoon-like Northern California town where she discovers no one can entirely avoid the past - and if everyone could meet a man like Sam Worth, they may not want to. (Library Journal Top Pick!)

All items on Sale at time of publication, however prices are subject to change and may not be permanently reduced

Beneath the Cracks Darkwater Bay Series by LS Sygnet

Helen Eriksson's desperation grows to keep her secrets buried while trying to help local police solve a series of unexplained deaths.

Heart’s Desire by Ingrid Fitzgerald On New York City’s abandoned, forbidden North Brother Island, the At 15, Charity is tricked into marriage. Her new husband abandons her to his northernmost estate and forgets her for the next ten years. Julian, angered at having been forced to marry, plays the bachelor until he learns of a new servant at Shepridge End. The need for this servant shows that his child bride isn't done with her tricks. With murder on his mind, he goes to confront his unwanted wife.

Dark Grid by David Waldron In the wake of a devastating solar event, the likes of which hasn't been seen since 1859, the electrical grids of the entire planet have shorted out. One small group strikes out on their own and is allowed to attach themselves to the local National Guard. With no communication with higher authority, the group relocates to Natchez Trace State Park for the duration of the crisis.

The Legend of Oescienne—The Beginning Book 2 by Jenna Elizabeth Johnson Twelve years have passed since Jahrra arrived in Oescienne and became the responsibility of the old Korli dragon Hroombra; yet much can happen in twelve years. So far, Jahrra's life has been filled with adventure, danger, friendship and even loss. Despite what she has learned in school and what she has learned from life, she has no idea that she is, in fact, human . . .

Sun, sex and satire. If you were conscious during the eighties, well at least some of the time, into music, hot women, flaunting the law and raucous drug-fuelled love sprees, then these tales might just tickle your tastebuds. A hot and spicy, melodrama under scorching skies, based on fact, crammed with hilarity and pathos, that will beg the question why did you never do this yourself?

Cover: Simple and clean, eye-catching and grabs your attention.

Characters: Characters are colorful and interesting and draws you in from the very first paragraph

Intro: Riveting and mysterious. The story begins by describing a couple of employees and a difficult boss — something anyone who has ever held a job — and job — will understand. Overall 2021 #9

”Gangsters, Sex, Drugs, Rock-n-Roll, and the occasional Mullet! If you lived through the the 80's or are just a fan of small town mobsters, skinny ties, good music, and bad hair choices... you'll love this book! “

Shirley Burly And the Stick of Wood

*** This year, there were two amazing books that tied for the Silver Award in the General Fiction category.

By Scott Pixello

Meet Shirley: thirteen, half-Turkish, a little overweight and obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. Oh yes, and she’s just been told she's 'on the spectrum.' Together with sidekicks Monty, Napoleon and Jasper, she starts a crime-fighting blog, aimed at her obsessive online fans, called ‘Dear Stalker…’ She’s a different kind of detective with a different skill set. She's about to surprise lots of people, including herself. And still be home in time for tea. Cover: Mysterious, simple and instantly recognized as a detective novel.

“This little story made me smile … It's about acceptance… And overcoming barriers and labels… A father who never gives up on his child … and a little girl who defies the odds .. Shirley Burley amateur sleuth, little adventurer. “

Intro: Clever start. There was something wrong and “It all started with carrots.” Development: This is a combination of Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew with a little humor thrown in for entertainment and flow.

Silver Winner — tied

By Onia Fox *** This is our second Silver Award in the General Fiction category ***

I really enjoyed this book, it was well thought out and fabulously written, I was hooked from the beginning to the end. Great characters, you really felt you were there with them throughout. It was naughty and definitely not for the faint-hearted. A great lockdown read, very relatable. Loved it!

Author’s Note About This Book: Covid Blues And Twos is an erotic novel with adult content and is not suitable for children, the fainthearted and my inlaws. Jessica Taylor is thankful to be in a happy, stable and secure marriage, as the dark clouds of Coronavirus roll-in from the near continent. She came to her husband with baggage, she thought now safely stowed away, and was surprised to receive a message from her old, but still burning, flame - as was her husband. The three reluctantly embark on a lustful rollercoaster of memories, anxiety and hope, along with the dog. Covid Blues and Twos is a sequel to the internationally bestselling ‘Listless In Turkey’, a romp with Jessica Taylor through Europe and Asia Minor, as yet to be published, or written. Have a glass of Prosecco handy, Jessica’s favourite tipple, and invite Alexa to play along to the soundtrack of Jessica’s adventure. And try not to judge. Author’s Note About The Author – Onia Fox: Nobody is who they seem, but everyone is who they are. Onia would love to hear your complimentary thoughts.

Silver Winner — tied Popular Vote 2021 # 3

Jo Kearns has breast cancer. While juggling her job, her boyfriend and the cancer, she discovers that her home has been invaded by Tracey, her tumour in insidious human form. Jo’s diary tells the story of her battle to evict the malignant Tracey from her house and the disease from her body.Based on Estelle Maher’s own cancer journey, this book is at times hilarious, at times poignant, but always unflinchingly honest and inspiring.

Beautifully written book about such a difficult subject. It’s laugh out loud funny, it’s emotional, it’s heartwarming and very honest. Love, friendships, humour, joy and fear, best book I’ve read in a long tine - its a must read!

How can you say you have enjoyed a book about the character’s rollercoaster ride of experiencing the traumatic

diagnosis of Breast cancer. But I so did - the author deals with the subject with such humour and honesty and would help anyone going though this journey. Although it’s fiction it is based on the author’s own cancer experience so it feels real. Cleverly written as a year long diary it captures you from page 1. And it’s more than this journey it’s a love story and about how friendships (and a generous dose of Fizz) helped Jo find inner strength to fight this life changing battle. A must read it will inspire you.

As part of this competition we have a public voting section. Readers are given an opportunity to vote for their favorite book among the finalists. This year the winners were from three different categories. Gold went to Cotton Candy from the Mystery Genre. Silver is awarded to Claron: The Siblings O’Rifcan, a Romance entry. And Our Bronze winner is Covid Blues & Twos , a fictional novel. The top 10 Popular Winners for 2021... 1) Cotton Candy b y L.M. Kimblin 2) Claron: The Siblings O’Rafcan by Katharine E. Hamilton 3) Covid Blues and Twos by Onia Fox 4) That Pesky Pixie by Sylva Fae 5) Bea and Bee by Sylva Fae 6) The Return to Cheshire Bay by HM Shander

7) Love Rises by Annie Dyer 8) The Architect by Lesley Hayes 9) Rat Tales by PA Rudders 10) Treasure of Indian Music by Jaykishan Kapdi

Selected by dedicated Readers voting for their favorite Finalists

Cotton Candy


by L.M. Kimblin

by Katharine E. Hamilton

Covid Blues And Twos by Onia Fox

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door

opens to allowin more light.” – Vera Nazarian

The web is a wonderful tool. There’s instant access to a wealth of knowledge on any topic - including Self-Publishing. Here are a few examples to help authors along the way. Click links for full article

4 Tips for Writing Dialogue Writing dialogue is an important skill for writers. Unnatural dialogue will immediately turn off your readers and they will put your book down and find another one. We don’t speak like we write. Here are some tips for improving your writing.

Why Publish A Large Print Edition of Your Book? Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn and author of over 30 fiction and nonfiction books explains why publishing a large print edition is a good idea and some of the things you need to consider.

Common Nouns: Meaning and Examples What are common nouns and when should you use them? The noun—one of the most essential elements of the English language—makes up the largest class of words in this and most other languages as well. A common noun is a generic class of beings, places, or things. Follow the link to learn more...

Self-Publishing 101: A Step-by-Step Guide to Sharing Your Idea With the World More and more authors are choosing to self-publish their own books rather than rely on the traditional publishing process. There are benefits to both routes and authors should make that decision based on their skills and comfort with self-promotion. Read more...

13 Mistakes First-Time Romance Authors Make Are you a first-time romance author feeling overwhelmed with everything required to publish your book? Take a deep breath, grab your favorite beverage, and heed the advice of these romance authors willing to share the mistakes they made when starting out...

Bogus Prosperity without the guys knowing, but I’ll work something out. In the meantime, I’ll loan him a few t-shirts and some PJ’s. You doing okay?” “I’m fine,” Paige sighed. “He’s grumpy. I wish you luck with that one, he’s not used to being laid up for more than a day.” “I can handle Hamilton,” Zeus shrugged. “What’s the word on our favorite General?” “I actually need to head out,” Paige glanced at her watch. “He wants to have a quick meeting before I drop him at the airport. He’s arranged for another private flight back, but we’re running out of time.” “Go,” Zeus gave her a little push. “I’ve got this. I’ll get Dax settled and let Carmen know about the meeting. How many should we expect?”

“Me, Nathan, Jericho and Sean for now,” Paige decided. “I know where you stand, Zeus but we have to be sure.” “I get it,” Zeus grumbled. “I don’t like it, but I get it.”

***** Paige was halfway across her front yard when she was stopped by Hawk calling her name. The tone of his voice told her he was not happy. “Can I help you with something?” she asked. Hawk took another step forward, deliberately crowding her space. “You shut me out,” he said angrily. “The hospital won’t tell me a thing. They said I have to talk to Zeus.” “What does that have to do with me?” Paige didn’t react to the looming figure; he was trying to intimidate her. It wasn’t going to work. “It has everything to do with you,” Hawk growled. “Zeus isn’t answering his phone. Where is Dax? He’s not in his room. Did they move him to a new room? A care center? Has his condition changed?” “All questions you will have to take up with Zeus,” Paige took a step backward. “Now, if you’ll excuse me... I’m in a hurry.” She turned and made it to the front door before Hawk responded. 84

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “You’re breaking up our team,” Hawk accused. “If Dax survives this, he won’t like what you’re doing. You might want to think about that.” Paige stepped inside and almost collided with Nathan.

“Ignore him,” Nathan said in greeting. “He’s used to being in control. He’s not used to someone like you, and he sees his team slipping away from him. How is Dax this morning?” “Grumpy,” Paige sighed. “How are we going to get you out of here without them seeing you?” “Oh, I don’t think we’ll have to wait long,” Nathan smiled. “Blaze Hawthorn is not a patient man. See, he’s already headed back home.” Paige glanced out the window and saw that Hawk was already approaching Dax’s front porch. “I’m going to pull the car down the driveway,” Paige decided. “The house will block their view and we can load up your luggage and hit the road before any of them notice I’m leaving again.” Within minutes, Paige was back on the road with Nathan sitting in the passenger’s seat. She had tried to talk him into hunkering down, out of sight, in the back seat; but he refused. Apparently, that was not dignified enough for General Porter. Men! Sometimes she just wanted to throttle them.

***** The group was gathered in Carmen’s living room discussing the situation, catching Dax up on everything that had happened since his injury, and listening to the details about his capture and imprisonment. “So,” Zeus said, disappointed. “There’s no chance you mistook Vato’s voice? There’s not even the slightest chance it was someone else?” “Someone that knows me well enough to give Nassar direction? You know, ‘he won’t break... abduct someone he cares about, and he’ll talk.’ Who else sounds like Vato that would know that?” 85

Bogus Prosperity “I still say there has to be another explanation,” Zeus insisted. “I know it looks bad, but we’ve all done things that look bad. Didn’t mean we betrayed the team. Vato struggled after Maverick died, more than the rest of us. But, that’s just because they were so close. He would never join up with Nassar... a known terrorist. He hates them more than we do, they killed his best friend. There has to be another explanation.” “Find it, then.” Nathan glanced at his watch; he was running out of time. “Look into your friend, clear him, convince us he’s still one of the good guys.” “Maybe I will,” Zeus grumbled. “Okay,” Dax began. He was abruptly interrupted by loud pounding on the front door. “Looks like the team is invading,” Carmen sighed. “What do we do?” “We can’t ignore them,” Sean decided. “They looked pissed. I think they’ll just storm the door.” “Let them in,” Dax decided. “Now’s as good a time as any to confront them head-on.” “Are you sure you’re ready?” Paige asked, concerned. “I’m ready,” Dax gave Sean a nod. Sean slid the door open, then stepped back to let the group inside. “Zeus,” Hawk bellowed before he spotted Dax. His eyes grew wide, but he recovered quickly. “Dax, what’s going on here?” “I was having a meeting,” Dax said casually. “Apparently, you needed something. From the looks of things, it must be urgent. Please, by all means, take the floor.” Hawk took Dax’s cold stare like a punch to the gut. Had Paige Carter already turned their lifelong friend against them? Had Dax picked sides, and it wasn’t the team? He didn’t understand what was going on here. “I’m glad you’re okay.” Hawk began. “It would have been nice if someone had called us. We’re here for you, after all.” Ken was across the room in a matter of seconds. “Man is it good to see you,” he pulled Dax into a huge bear hug. “We’ve all been worried sick.” Dax smiled at his friend. He hadn’t really believed Ken was in on the deception; but 86

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 everyone had to be vetted, just in case. From Ken’s greeting, Dax was sure he could be taken off the list. “Paige said you had to return to Nephi on some family emergency. Everything okay?” Ken frowned, “Yeah, I think so.” “Are Jaimie and the boys okay?” “Oh, yeah. They’re fine,” Wooley said quickly. “It’s my mom. She was shopping and someone shoved her while she was on the escalator. She went down hard and had to have her hip replaced. The surgery went really well but her recovery is slower than it should be. She needs constant care and with the boys and all... well, Jaimie was having a hard time managing. I thought since you were...” “I understand,” Dax smiled at his friend. “Glad to hear the old lady is okay. She’s strong and resilient. I’m sure she’ll be up and around soon. Don’t stay on my account if you need to get back...” “No,” Wooley shook his head. “I need to be here for you, at least for a few days.” “Alright, just be sure to take off if you need to. I’m fine now and family comes first.” Dax glanced up and saw Jeeves had moved in behind Ken. “Jeeves.” “Hey, Dax.” Jeeves wasn’t sure what to say. Things were strained within the team and he didn’t like it. “I’m told you saved my life... a couple times,” Dax held out a hand. “Thanks for that.” Jeeves stepped forward and pulled Dax into a hug. “No thanks necessary. We’ve been through too much for too many years. It goes without saying. I just wish we’d gotten there sooner and avoided the stint in the hospital altogether. I could have done without the coma as well.” Dax laughed. “Yeah, you and me both. Thanks for coming out on such short notice. As usual, Zee went off the rails instead of sticking to the plan.” “You needed the team,” Hawk began just as the door flew open and Thor walked in. “You’re...oh, man. Welcome back,” Thor crossed the room, yanked Dax out of his chair and nearly off his feet. He stood there for several seconds, just holding on as if his life depended on it. 87

Bogus Prosperity Hawk cleared his throat and Thor set Dax back into the chair. “Sorry,” Thor took a step back. “I’m sorry boss, but it’s so good to see you. How come nobody called me?” He swung around and glared at Hawk. “You should have called.” “I would have,” Hawk focused on Dax. “If I’d known.” “You didn’t know?” Thor looked back at Dax in confusion. “Where have you been, Thor?” Dax asked in response. “Zee said you just took off.” “Oh,” Thor glanced around but his gaze stopped when it landed on Nathan Porter. “Can’t tell you that. It’s... classified.” Dax frowned at the reaction Thor had to Porter. What was that all about?

“Paige,” Hawk said coldly. “I need a minute with my team and our commander. Do you mind escorting... your group of friends outside for a few minutes?” “That’s up to him,” Paige motioned to Dax. The two men stared at each other for several seconds. Hawk was clearly challenging Dax and his leadership. “No, Paige and the rest of these guys stay. Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of them.” “This is team business,” Hawk protested. “We don’t discuss team business in the presence of civilians.” “Last I checked,” Nathan responded. “You retired. Guess that makes you one of us civilians.” “I wasn’t referring to you, sir,” Hawk backpedaled. “It would be an honor to have you join us.” “If he stays, I’m leaving,” Thor cut in. Nathan narrowed his eyes at the large man. “I don’t believe we’ve officially met, Mr. Baxter. And yet, you seem to have some sort of complaint you’d like to lodge. Is this a personal attack or a professional one?” “No complaint,” Thor shrugged. “Just won’t talk if you’re in the room.” “Why is that?” Dax cut in. 88

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “I’m done here,” Thor turned and headed for the door. “Thor, we need an answer,” Hawk tried. Thor just kept walking. He made it to the door, swung it open and disappeared. “Does somebody want to tell me what that was all about?” Dax demanded. “I don’t think any of us knows,” Hawk stared at the closed door, then focused on Porter. “Do you know?” “Not a clue,” Nathan stood. “But, on that note... I have a plane to catch. Paige, you ready to head out?” “Yeah,” Paige glanced at Jericho, who had been terribly quiet throughout this entire ordeal. “I think the meeting is over if you want to bolt. We’ll continue this at a later date.” “I’m coming, too,” Sean put in. “I’ve got plans.” Carmen gave Paige a panicked look. The last thing she wanted was to be left alone with a bunch of hot-headed soldiers. “Carmen, why don’t you come with us?” Paige offered. “I’m sure Nathan wouldn’t mind, and you can say your goodbyes in private.” “Good idea,” Carmen grabbed a jacket and the three of them left the room.

***** “Tell me I’m wrong, Dax,” Hawk said as soon as Paige and her friends had left. “Because from where I’m sitting it looks like you’re taking sides and it’s not ours.” “I’m curious,” Dax settled back in his chair. “Why are there sides, Hawk? Paige and Zee live here, in Manti. They’re important to me. Zee and Carmen were there when Nassar burst into my house and held me hostage. Paige is an officer of the law. It’s her job... her obligation to find and rescue me. She would have done that even if we weren’t dating. So, why exactly have you drawn a line in the sand and shut out the locals?” “It’s the way we work, you know that.” 89

Bogus Prosperity “It’s the way we used to work,” Dax corrected. “And we didn’t have a choice. Those missions were top secret. This mission, locating me? There was nothing top secret about it.” “Looks pretty secret to me,” Hawk glared at Dax, then focused his anger on Zeus. “Did you plan to tell us at all? How long were you going to let us think Dax was dead before you filled us in?” “Don’t take your anger out on Zee,” Dax ordered. “He did what I told him to do.” “Yeah?” Hawk dropped onto the couch. “And does that include having Carmen run backgrounds on the team, their financials? And...” “And everything,” Dax finished. “Yes, it does. I find it interesting that you are so upset that Carmen ran a deep check on you, when you did the exact same thing on Paige, Carmen, Jericho and even Porter. I’m not sure what you thought you’d find on him. His information is more protected than ours.” “That’s different,” Hawk insisted. “How?” “Because we always do a check,” Hawk said defensively. “We need to know who we’re working with; if they can be trusted. You know that.”

“I do,” Dax let that sink in. “Which is why I asked Carmen to do a more thorough check on you.” “That’s BS and you know it,” Hawk jumped to his feet. “Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me you don’t trust your team? After everything we’ve been through? Years of honor, integrity and... Brotherhood thrown out the window for what? A woman?” “No,” Dax was having a hard time holding back his temper. “For trust and... respect.” “I don’t even know what that means,” Hawk stomped to the door. “But you should remember this... it was us... this team that came running when Zeus put out the call. We dropped everything to save you. We didn’t hesitate, we didn’t even stop to think about it. We just came. Can you say the same for them? People you barely know. I’m done with this. Have a nice life, Dax.” Hawk threw open the door, slammed it behind him, and stomped down the stairs. 90

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 The room remained silent for several seconds. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” Jeeves also stood. “If that’s okay, I’d like to come back and check on you tomorrow. You look tired, I think you should try to get some rest.”

“Thanks, Giles.” Dax rarely used his teammate’s real names, but he wanted a closer connection with Jeeves today. And, if he came back the following day, maybe Dax could rule him out as well. He wanted to rule them all out, but his gut told him if Vato was involved... other members of the team could be as well. Ken waited until Jeeves was gone before he spoke. “Can you tell me why?” Dax studied Ken for a long time before he responded. “I have reason to believe I’ve been betrayed by someone close to me. No, that’s not right. I know I’ve been betrayed by someone close to me. I’ve been betrayed by someone I would have trusted with my life. Have trusted with my life. Someone on my own team. This team. Now, I need to know if he’s acting alone or if more of you are involved. I don’t like it, but I don’t have a choice.” “You can’t seriously believe any of us were involved,” Ken began. “You think we set you up? That one of us helped that monster do this to you?” “I know Vato did,” Dax told him. “And, I know you haven’t been in touch with him for months. I also know, because I had Carmen check, that he called you and me while we were in Mexico rescuing Zee.” “He called me, too.” Zeus was sick about all of this. “Tried to reach me several times, but I was a little preoccupied... you know, rotting away in a cell, getting beat on just for kicks. Didn’t get the message until I got back, and he was long gone.” “Jamie told me he called when I got back; but, by then he had already been deployed,” Ken provided. “I figured he’d get back in touch when his tour was over. I sort of wondered if he volunteered for this one. He’s been having a hard time lately. With all of us gone, he’s even more lost than before. I think he feels abandoned by all of us... especially now that Maverick’s gone.” “I know,” Dax sighed. “But, that’s no reason to turn.” “How can you be sure he did?” Ken pushed. “I mean, pissed off and abandoned is one thing; but, this... I’m having a hard time believing he’s involved.” 91

Bogus Prosperity “I’m sure, because I heard it with my own ears,” Dax sat back in frustration. “He called Nassar during one of our sessions. Told him torturing me to death wouldn’t work. I’d just hold out to prove I was the better man or some nonsense. He suggested Nassar kidnap someone important to me if he wanted answers.”

Ken dropped onto the couch in shock. “There has to be another explanation. Dax, there has to be.” “I also know, Thor is in regular contact with Vato,” Dax continued. “Now you suspect Thor?” Ken ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “That man dropped everything, even went to Mexico to help me deliver Williams to Mo....” he trailed off and Dax knew there was more, something Ken didn’t want to say. “And...” “I just remembered something, but it doesn’t mean anything. I know it doesn’t mean a thing,” Ken insisted. “Tell me,” Dax ordered. “Williams wouldn’t talk,” Ken began. “He didn’t say a word with me and Thor in the helicopter. Mo took Thor with him to the safe house where he started to interrogate Williams. They left me at the village to guard the chopper. That’s when I left and met up with Ramin Trevils.” “You did what?” Dax barked. “You met with Trevils, alone? After what he did to Zee?” “Because of what happened to Zeus,” Ken corrected. “It was safe, probably the safest trip I ever took if you get right down to it. He couldn’t risk anything happening to me because of what happened to Zeus.” “I agree,” Zeus added. “Oh, good. You agree.” “It’s done, Dax. Let it go,” Zeus said softly. “Fine, continue.” “On our way back, Mo called,” Ken picked up where he left off. “Said Williams was starting to talk. I just thought it was strange at the time, and it hit me again when you said Thor is 92

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 working with Vato. Williams wouldn’t talk when Thor was there, but as soon as he was alone with Mo, he sang. I just assumed it was because Mo used... well, tactics that we would never approve of.” “And that’s probably the reason,” Zeus insisted. “Don’t condemn Thor on that. We have no idea how Mo got the guy to talk.” “And then Thor shot Nassar,” Dax concluded. “Seems like a good way to make sure you’re not discovered. And what was the deal with Thor and Porter?” “That was strange,” Ken agreed. “I’ve never seen Thor like that before.” “Yeah, me either,” Dax focused on Zee. “Don’t look at me,” Zeus barked. “I don’t believe Thor or Vato betrayed you. I think there’s an explanation. And if you took my advice and just talked to them, you’d probably hear what it is.” “So,” Ken said hesitantly. “When you’re finished investigating me and decide I can be trusted again, will you let me know? I’m on your side Dax, and I’d like to be on your team. This thing is big and if we don’t stop it... I’m worried nobody will.” “You’re cleared,” Dax said. “I want to clear all of you, but I have to do this my way. Can you live with that?”

“I trust you,” Ken stood. “Now, I’m going to head back and see if I can talk Hawk down. Give him some time, I think he’s just feeling betrayed. I can understand where he’s coming from. I wasn’t only shocked when I walked in and saw you here, I was hurt. We’ve always trusted each other, risked our lives for each other, and Hawk’s... well, if I had to guess, he’s also hurt that you didn’t come to him.” “I know,” Dax sighed. “And, I would have. But I’m having a hard time understanding why he’s treating Paige and the rest of these guys like they’re the enemy.”

“Dax,” Ken shook his head. “It was easy for you. I think you’d been preparing yourself to leave since the moment you signed up. The rest of us...well, we all felt a little lost once we got out. The real world, it’s not the same as the corp. Hawk is still trying to find his place and what happened here tonight, well it hit him harder than the rest of us because it’s all he knows. And, I think what you did was a condemnation of sorts. You hurt him, in his mind you betrayed him. He got sucker punched and he never saw it coming.” 93

Bogus Prosperity “You don’t think he’s involved?” “I know he’s not,” Ken shrugged. “But that’s something you have to figure out for yourself. I’m sure hearing Vato call Nassar while you were being tortured by the monster was its own kind of sucker punch. I tend to lean the same direction as Zeus. I think there’s an explanation, but it’s going to be hard to get as long as Vato’s in Iraq.”

***** Paige had just settled in behind her desk the following morning when a call came in. Clerk at the Top Stop had a suspicious hundred and thought it might be fake. Easy call, if it turned out to be counterfeit, she’d just call in the Secret Service. When she exited the building, she nearly collided with Agent Sean Wilkens. “Hey,” Sean said in greeting. “Just the woman I came to see.” “In the mood for a road trip?” Paige asked. “I got a call.” “Sure,” Sean pivoted and followed Paige to her patrol car. “What’s the call?” “Possible fake hundred,” she told him as she shifted into gear and left the lot. “Should be quick and easy. If the bill’s legit, I’ll just short-form it. If the calls legit, I’ll confiscate the bill and call in the Service to take over. What brings you out this morning?” “I thought I’d let you know Nathan made it back to DC in one piece,” Sean adjusted the seat to get more comfortable. “Apparently, he hit the ground running. I got the official letter this morning confirming my suspension has been lifted and I am officially assigned to Nathan Porter’s committee until further notice. It was crystal clear and drafted by the director himself. I work for Porter, answer to Porter, get my assignments from Porter, and I am only subject to disciplinary action initiated by Porter or the director himself. Rickman was a little put off by the entire thing, but I guess he’ll get over it... eventually.” “Nathan said he’d get it resolved, looks like he kept his word,” Paige glanced at Sean as she pulled into the parking lot of the local Top Stop. “You look worried.” “A little,” Sean admitted. “Word is going to get around. I don’t want a rep, you know. I don’t want people thinking I have an in with the top dog. And, the last thing I need is for Rickman to think I’m getting some sort of special treatment. Once I’m reassigned back to 94

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 the Bureau, he’ll be relentless in making sure I know my place.” “Yeah,” Paige exited the car and waited for Sean to join her. “He’s a lot like Grey that way. And the only way to get Carmen out of the doghouse was to transfer her to Porter. Rickman might see this as the same sort of deal and take it out on you.” She smiled at him before entering the store. “But I have faith in you. I’m sure you can take it.” “But, do I want to?” “What does that mean? You’re not thinking of quitting, are you?” “No,” Sean assured her. “But I might have to request a transfer if it gets too difficult. Rickman can hold me back if he wants to. I love my current assignment; the location is perfect; and I get to spend time with my sister and her kid — more than I ever thought I could.”

“But we’re talking about your career and you have to do what’s best for you and hope your family understands.” “Exactly,” Sean knew Paige would understand. Paige took a minute to glance around the store before approaching the clerk. There were a couple patrons browsing the aisles, but nobody that looked like a threat. “You called in a suspicious bill?” “Yeah,” the clerk pulled an envelope from under the counter. “I also pulled the tape... our surveillance video. I thought you might need it to identify the woman that brought this in.” Paige slipped on gloves before gripping the edge of the bill and holding it up to the light. It was a good replica of the original. Not perfect, but good enough it would pass most cashiers. “Good eye,” Paige focused on the woman behind the counter. “What made you think it was a fake?” “At first, it was the woman,” the clerk began. “She was a little off. It’s hard to explain; but she was impatient, tried to rush me through — you know. That only made me work slower. I thought maybe she had a partner in the store and was trying to distract me while they bolted with some merchandise. When I realized she was alone, I studied the bill a little closer. It looked okay... almost. I don’t know what it was about that bill that tipped me off, but something didn’t look right. When I asked her for ID, she argued with me. Said she was paying in cash and wanted to know why I needed it. When I insisted, she took off. Left her stuff on the counter and just split in a huff. I really hope that thing is counterfeit or I’m going 95

Bogus Prosperity to be in deep with my boss. He says I’m not... accommodating enough with the customers. I guess I challenge them too frequently. But nobody steals nothing on my watch.” Paige smiled at the bad grammar. “It’s a fake.”

“So, now what?” “Now, I take the bill and the video and call in the Secret Service. Counterfeiting is their jurisdiction. I’ll just need your name and personal information for the report. Shouldn’t take long. You might hear from an agent in the next couple days, but other than that... you did your civic duty and you can go back to business as usual.” “Alright, the name is Mandy. Mandy Johansen,” the clerk... Mandy, relaxed. After giving Paige the necessary information, she went back to helping customers. “Do you think I need to call my boss?” “That’s probably a good idea,” Paige decided. “If they tried here once, they might try again with a different employee. Your boss might want to warn the rest of the crew to be on the lookout for fakes.” “Okay,” Mandy sighed. “He won’t be happy that I’m bothering him, but I guess it’s the right thing to do.” “Good luck with that,” Paige gave her a friendly smile. “And, here’s my card if you... or he, has any questions.” Paige and Sean left the building and headed straight for the police car. “You in a hurry?” Paige asked once they were situated and back on the road. “That depends,” Sean said with a grin. “On why?” Paige rolled her eyes. “Meaning, if I want your help with the Secret Service, you’re busy. If it’s something interesting, you have time.” “Exactly,” Sean grinned. “Just before that call came in,” Paige sobered. “I got the packet on Brian’s murder, from Chicago. I thought if you had time, we could go through it together. You might catch something I miss. Two sets of eyes are always better than one.” 96

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “I’ve got time,” Sean said immediately. “Plus, that’s legit. I can report to the good general that I’ve been working the case all day. But I thought the gun running was out of New Orleans. How does a murdered cop from Chicago connect?” “Brian worked in Chicago,” Paige agreed. “He was killed on duty, but Carmen found a bunch of stuff about guns being shipped illegally out of New Orleans. It’s all connected somehow. I just haven’t figured out all the details, yet. Thanks for sticking around to help,” Paige sighed. “I didn’t know Brian well, but I met him once and he was important to Carmen. I have to warn you, this might get a little...” “Emotionally draining?” Sean provided. “I know, especially after the incident with Dax. Just another good reason for me to stay and help.”

***** Hawk watched as Paige walked to her police car and drove away. It was early, he thought Dax might still be out on the back porch enjoying his coffee. He had waited, impatiently, knowing she’d be headed out to work to start her day. That meant she’d be gone for several hours. Plenty of time to hash this out and get things back on track... if Dax was willing to cooperate. He made his way across the backyard and paused at the foot of the stairs. He spotted Dax immediately. His old friend was watching him intently. “Can I join you?” Dax shrugged and pointed to an empty chair. Hawk settled in next to Dax, considering his opening carefully. At least, Dax had relocated and was staying with Paige now instead of Carmen. “First, I want to apologize for yesterday. I was taken by surprise at first, then...” he paused and sighed. He wasn’t sure the best way to continue. “Then you got offended and you became defensive,” Dax offered. He understood and if Hawk wasn’t part of this, he knew he’d regret what he had to do. But he did have to do it and he hoped, when it was all said and done, his friend would forgive him... if there was anything to forgive. “Pretty much,” Hawk was watching Dax. “Anyway, I slept on it and I guess you have a point. But I think I do, too.” Dax smiled. “That’s your idea of an apology?” 97

Bogus Prosperity “Dax,” Hawk gritted his teeth and pushed down the anger that was starting to boil inside him. “Any chance we can forget what happened last night and start over?” “Sure,” Dax watched Hawk closely. He knew the man, almost better than he knew himself. If Hawk was involved with Vato, he’d see the signs. This impromptu meeting had presented the perfect opportunity for Dax to do a little interrogating of his own. “I don’t understand all the secrecy,” Hawk began. “I want to. I trust you, so I know you had a reason, I just can’t figure what it is.” “You know me,” Dax began. “Probably better than anyone else on the team. Except for Zee. So, you know I had my reasons. You say you trust me. Do you trust me enough to answer some questions?” Hawk studied Dax for several seconds. At first, he felt defensive and betrayed... the same as he did the previous evening. Then, he saw something in his leader’s eyes. Pain, not physical pain but raw emotion. Something Dax never let show. Something he rarely felt. There was more to this story. And if Hawk knew anything about Dax, he knew the guy never did anything without a good reason. Someone had betrayed them. “I’ll answer any question you have for me on one condition.” “Which is?” “Once you’re finished,” Hawk leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. “Once you trust me again. When you know, without a doubt that I’m not involved in whatever it is you discovered, you tell me who it was.” “Who what was?” Dax realized Hawk knew him too well. He had figured it out already. He knew Dax had discovered a spy in their ranks. He just hoped Hawk wasn’t involved because if he was... Dax had just lost the element of surprise and everything just got a little more difficult. “We can talk about that later,” Hawk pushed that aside. “Ask away.” He didn’t like being interrogated this way, but he’d do it. He’d accommodate Dax because his friend was suffering and because they needed to get back on track if they were going to solve this mystery and stop the bad guys. “First,” Dax considered. “Zee said after Nassar and Williams arrested me, he called you.” “He did,” Hawk settled back in the chair again. 98

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “And you dropped everything and flew out that same day?” “I contacted the guys and we all flew out, yes.” “Do you have a job?” Dax wondered. Ken’s words had stuck with Dax and he wondered what Hawk was doing to adjust to civilian life since he left the Rangers. “You’re wondering if I’m drifting, a man without a purpose?” “Something like that,” Dax evaded. “I’d have to say I am drifting, in some ways. But I’m not lost. I’m not looking for some higher purpose. I’m just taking my time. When I settle in somewhere, I want to know I made the right choice.” “So, no job then?” Dax knew Hawk had done a couple jobs for Brent while he was visiting Florida. He just wondered if the guy would admit it. And, who else he’d worked for since he’d come home. “I spent some time down in Sarasota,” Hawk shrugged. “Did a couple missions for Brent. Mostly I just pick up odd jobs here and there. Pays the rent until I decide where I want to land.” “You hook up with any of the others?” Dax hoped the question sounded casual. “Maybe freelance with other Rangers on the side?” “Other than this mission?” Hawk focused on Dax. “No.” “You have to know there’s a reason I’m asking,” Dax decided to give a little. “So, other than Brent you spend any time with the other guys on the team?” “No,” Hawk said again. “Bucket and Solo are still in. I did a couple missions with the two of them before I got out; but we don’t seem to have a lot in common these days. I met Solo while he was on leave... five, maybe six months ago. We met up, had a beer and immediately realized it was a bad idea. He wanted to talk about the job and couldn’t, I didn’t really want to hear it, anyway. I haven’t heard from him since.” “Jeeves? Wooley? Thor?” “Not until this mission,” Hawk said soberly. “We basically went our separate ways. I thought about looking them up, eventually. I was headed west anyway, and I heard what 99

Bogus Prosperity happened to Zeus down in Mexico. Thought I’d drop in and see how he was. Thought maybe you and I could catch up as well. Clearly, my plans changed and I’m here, now. I called those guys in because you were in trouble. You’ve saved our hides more times than anyone can count. It was a no-brainer... for all of us.”

Dax let that pass. None of them would ever forget the past, but nostalgia wouldn’t stop him from weeding out any traitors he had on his team. “What about Vato? You talk to him since that last mission?” “Yeah,” Hawk shifted and crossed one ankle over his knee. Dax watched the movement and knew his friend just became uncomfortable. “How’d that go?” “Not well,” Hawk confessed. “He apparently blames me for Maverick’s death.” “What?” Dax asked, surprised. “If anyone is to blame, it’s me. That man died saving my life.” “Which is why Vato blames me,” he said softly. “We got into it, nearly ended in a physical altercation. I walked away, but it wasn’t easy. That man accused me of being a coward.” Dax settled back in his chair and shifted. His broken ankle was starting to ache. So, Hawk and Vato had a falling out. “You want to move inside?” Hawk offered. “Might help to elevate it, I can help you to the recliner if you want.” Dax was about to decline but decided Hawk was right, elevating his ankle might make the throbbing stop. “Sure, and thanks.” Once they were situated in the living room, Hawk picked up where he left off. “Vato seems to believe I neglected my duties. He said I should have been the one to go in that night. He’s probably right. I was your second, it was my responsibility. I would have, I hope you know that. Maverick just beat me to it.” “I’ve never blamed you for what happened that night and I never will,” Dax said immediately. “You shouldn’t blame yourself, either. We knew it was dangerous going in. We knew there was a chance none of us would make it out. I accepted that risk when I ordered you guys to go ahead. You accepted it when you stepped in as leader in my absence. We 100

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 rescued our victim and destroyed the compound. The mission was considered a success, even with the loss. I...” “Dax, it wasn’t your fault either,” Hawk pointed out. “Maverick stepped up but each and every one of us would have done the same. Like you said, the mission was dangerous, and we all knew going in we might not make it back home.” “Vato doesn’t really blame you,” Dax decided. “He just needs a villain and he’s convinced himself it’s you.” “Doesn’t matter,” Hawk shrugged. Clearly, it did matter. “So,” Dax considered. “You and Vato aren’t on speaking terms these days?” “Not at the moment, no.” “I already knew that,” Dax admitted. “Like I said, Carmen ran everything.” “Dax, can you tell me if this has something to do with Vato?” Hawk asked. “I know it has to be one of us, something happened that made you question your team. The only thing that would do that... after all these years, is if one of us betrayed you somehow. Was it Vato?” “Vato is involved,” Dax admitted. He was pretty sure Hawk had cleared his name this morning, but he still needed answers.

“So,” Hawk frowned. “I’m not in the clear yet. Have you crossed any of us off the list? I’m guessing Zeus passed the test early on. What about me, Jeeves and Ken? Never mind, don’t answer that.” Hawk stood and began searching for a pen and some paper. “What are you doing?” “Does that cop of yours keep a pad of paper around here anywhere?” “In the top drawer of that table over there,” he pointed to the corner of the room.

Hawk scribbled something onto the pad then tore off the sheet and held it out for Dax. “What is that?” “The number goes to a burner,” Hawk said soberly. “Only my parents and my sister have that number. The other is the account number to my secret stash. An account in the Caymans. I live... frugally. Everything is dumped into that account. I opened it years ago. My 101

Bogus Prosperity personal retirement account, I guess you could say. The jobs I did for Brent gave me the funds to give it a bump. There’s not a lot, but I can account for every penny.” Dax took the information and shoved it into his pocket. As extensive as Carmen’s background had been... both pieces of information hadn’t been discovered. “Why are you giving these to me?” “Let’s call it... a good faith effort. That’s me cooperating with your investigation,” Hawk decided. “I firmly believe the only way we are going to win this thing, is if we are all on the same team. Something has jeopardized your trust in our team... your team. I need you to clear my name as soon as possible so we can get back to work. I don’t have anything to hide, Dax. You can trust me... like I trust you. The sooner you realize that, the sooner we can start working together instead of against each other.” “And, if I told you Vato went dark?” “I’d be shocked,” Hawk said honestly. “And I’d want to know what makes you so sure he’s working against you.” “He called Nassar,” Dax told him. Sometime in the past hour he realized keeping that knowledge to himself was futile. It was also impossible. He’d told too many people; the rest of the team would know before the day was over. “The prick was breaking my fingers, trying to get me to talk, when the phone rang. He put it on speaker while he cleaned up. I heard Vato’s voice loud and clear.” “On purpose?” Hawk considered. “You know he did that on purpose. It was a mind-game. He was trying to break you. You do know that, right?” “Doesn’t matter,” Dax focused on Hawk. “It didn’t work. I escaped, Nassar is dead, and I learned Vato was involved. All-in-all, I’d say we’re the ones ahead on that one.” “What exactly did Vato say?” Hawk was surprised at the information, but not convinced. “Did he reveal anything that would tell you what their plan is?” “You’re not going to argue with me?” Dax asked. “Not going to tell me I have it all wrong?” “Do you?” “No,” Dax sighed. “I know what I heard. It’s just...” 102

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “Everyone else has argued Vato’s case,” Hawk provided. “Exactly,” Dax ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I know Vato is involved in this. I heard him. I would recognize that voice anywhere. Still, I was beginning to question myself. I got the same response from every one of my guys — Not Vato.” “Except me,” Hawk frowned. “I wonder, does that help clear my name... or make me more suspicious?” “Good question,” Dax smiled. “Are you comfortable telling me what he said? Maybe we could talk it through like we used to.” “He said some nonsense about the torture,” Dax admitted. “He said Nassar was fighting a losing battle. Some garbage about me resisting just to show him I’m the bigger man. He suggested Nassar kidnap someone I care about and said I’d talk to save a loved one.” Hawk frowned. “But that’s not true, and Vato knows it.” “You don’t think I’d cooperate if Nassar had Paige?” “No,” Hawk said confidently. “You’d get pissed. You’d work even harder to escape with Paige, but you would never give up any Intel. Not even to save Paige from being tortured. I have no doubt about that, Dax. Vato knows that, too. He gave Nassar bad Intel. The question we need to answer is why.” “And what’s your answer?” Dax asked. He had more doubts now about Vato’s involvement than he’d had before. It was one thing to defend Vato because he was a friend and a teammate. It was entirely different to question his involvement because of his actions. And that’s exactly what Hawk just did. Dax hadn’t worked it through that far. Hawk was right, he would never have answered Nassar’s questions, not even if he brought in someone Dax cared about. That tactic would only make him more determined to get free... and to make Nassar pay for his crimes. Vato knew that. Hawk stood and began to pace. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “On the surface, the evidence is too strong to dismiss. Vato’s got a distinctive voice. Which I believe is the reason Nassar took the call on speaker in the first place. He wanted you to know a friend had betrayed you. He was trying to break you. And, just like when I walked into that house last night and saw you sitting there... hearing that conversation must have been a sucker 103

Bogus Prosperity punch. A blow you’ve been struggling to deal with ever since. But Vato’s motives have to be analyzed. He gave bad advice to Nassar. Is that because he wanted Nassar dead? Maybe to take his place? Does it mean he’s on our side and was buying you time to escape? Trying to motivate you? Or was he sending you a message? This is actually something I can look into if you’ll let me. Take that info, run the financials, check the phone records, do what you have to do to clear me. Then, let me help.” “Go ahead and look into it now,” Dax decided. “I’ll give this to Carmen, but you need to know this doesn’t clear you. If you have one burner we didn’t find, you could have more. And there’s still the question of Thor.” “I think you should consider one more possibility,” Hawk faced Dax. “Someone very powerful is trying to break up the team. They used Keaton from the FBI to go after Sean. The ATF has been hassling Walters. Wooley’s mother was mysteriously shoved down the escalator. And, Thor has been disappearing on top-secret personal missions for weeks. What if it’s all a setup? What if this is just another way for our enemy to split us up? Divide and conquer.” “Could be,” Dax agreed. “But it still doesn’t explain why Vato called a known terrorist and how he knew I had been captured and was being tortured when he’s deployed at the moment. I also don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Ahmed came here from Iraq at the same time Vato is working in Iraq. It’s all connected and we both know it.” “I agree,” Hawk sighed. “And, no matter our differences, I don’t want to believe Vato is involved in this. The evidence is strong, but we don’t know enough. I’ll let you know what I find. We can go from there. Let me know when I make it back on the honorable soldier list. I’m looking forward to working with you on this. It’s one of the things I miss the most. You, our friendship, is one of the things that I miss the most. I hope one day soon, you will believe that.” Dax sat, silently analyzing the conversation he had with Hawk long after the man left the house. His gut was telling him his long-time comrade was telling the truth. But, could he trust his gut? He also realized Hawk was the only member of the team that had reacted from an analytical standpoint rather than an emotional one when he learned of Vato’s involvement. He smiled. That was the reason Hawk made such a good Army Ranger... and a leader. If Dax were going to be honest with himself, he had to admit he too had been looking at the situation through emotion, rather than logic. Did that exonerate Hawk, or 104

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 prove his guilt? That was still one question Dax couldn’t answer. But he knew someone who might be able to. The one person he knew he could trust... he’d talk to Paige when she got home from work. Maybe, she’d have some insight. Otherwise, he was back to square one, and that was one place he didn’t want to be. In the meantime, he’d call Carmen and relay the new Intel.

***** Sean and Paige had been going over the new file on Detective Brian Stewart for nearly two hours when a stranger in a black suit walked through the front door. The man approached Margie’s desk, had a brief conversation, and then made a beeline for Paige. She knew the instant Sean saw the fed. He visibly stiffened and his features became hard and unfriendly. She was about to ask him about it when the stranger spoke. “Sean Wilkens,” the guy practically sneered. “Figures I’d find you here. I heard about your trouble; it was only a matter of time before you got yourself fired. Looks like the Bureau finally realized their mistake. You should never have been hired in the first place but finally, your days are numbered. Who’s the phony now? I admit, you lasted longer than I thought you would. But we both knew, eventually, the sham would be up; and you’d show everyone just how inept you truly are. Let me guess, you’re here hoping the locals can use another incompetent, washed-out agent on their team.” Paige jumped to her feet, but Sean placed a hand on her arm to stop her. “I assume you’re here to pick up the evidence Paige recovered this morning. I’d watch myself if I were you, Ray. She’s out of your league. One misstep and you’ll realize just how far.” Paige remained standing. Her gaze followed Sean’s angry form as he made his way across the room and shoved open the front door. The instant he disappeared, she turned to glare at the newcomer. “I’m going to need to see your credentials.” She dropped back onto her chair in an act of defiance. She wouldn’t say what she was thinking, she still believed in professional courtesy; but if the man didn’t leave soon... she just might change her philosophy on that one. “You’re going to want to be more selective,” the agent warned as he held out his credentials. “You know, do a better job of picking your friends.”


Bogus Prosperity “Agent White,” Paige glanced at the Secret Service seal. “I highly suggest you keep this visit professional. Here’s your evidence.” She held out a bag that contained the hundreddollar bill and the video disc. “Good luck,” she said casually as she flipped open the file she’d been reading — a clear signal the discussion was over. “I’m going to need your report as well,” Agent White said angrily. “Margie can pull that for you,” Paige didn’t look up. “Just request a law enforcement copy on your way out.” “Deputy Carter,” Ray fumed. “It’s been a long day already and I still have to drive back to Salt Lake this evening. There’s no reason for you to be this difficult. We both know you could just pull up the report and print it from your desk. You wouldn’t want me to complain to your boss, tell him you were less than... cooperative, would you?” Paige was already in the process of doing just that. Anything to get this annoying man out of her sight. She clicked print then focused on the man that had just ruined her day. “Go ahead, but I doubt talking to Sheriff Walters will get you the results you’re looking for. However, I suspect if I called your supervisor... I just might get the results I’m after.” The man stepped forward until he was looming over Paige’s desk. He was obviously angry but before he had a chance to speak, Gage seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“Paige, you okay?” Deputy Clayton asked, placing his large body between Paige and the stranger. “Sure,” Paige smiled. Ray White wasn’t quite so cocky with Gage nearby. “Agent White was just leaving.” She reached behind her desk, snatched the report off the printer, and shoved it toward White. “Agent?” Gage asked. “What agency? You’re not acting like a law enforcement official.” “Secret Service,” Ray said absently as he grabbed the report and turned to leave. “Oh,” Gage glanced at Paige. “Did you call him?” “Yeah,” Paige sighed. “I got a call this morning at the Top Stop. Turns out some woman passed a hundred. It was fake.” “And he’s here to collect the bill?” 106

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “I’ll be in touch if I need anything else,” White said, clearly uninterested in the exchange. “Yeah,” Paige focused on Ray White. “Now he’s leaving. Probably has some dignitary he needs to babysit. You know, some guy that has zero chance of running into danger. Agent Ray White is a very important man with a very important job. See ya, or not.” Gage frowned. “Before you go, can you take this too?” Gage held out an evidence bag. “I was just about to call you guys.” “You caught another one?” Paige frowned. “Two in one day? The counterfeiters must be here, in town. But are they visiting or are they residents?” “That’s the question,” Gage continued to watch his friend and the agent. He hadn’t felt this much tension between two officers since... well, Havilland started working here.

“Meet me at the bank,” White demanded. “I need you to go through every hundred-dollar bill they have to see if the perpetrator has circulated others.” Gage started glancing around the room. His movements were exaggerated and obvious. “What are you looking for?” White demanded. “The other Secret Service agent,” Gage said flatly. “I’m the only agent here, you idiot,” White growled. “We need to get to the bank.” “Well, you see,” Gage settled into his chair. “There’s the rub. I’m afraid I don’t work for you, Agent White. And neither does she,” Gage pointed his thumb in Paige’s direction. “So, unless there’s a mouse somewhere in the room that takes orders from the feds... we’re a little busy. And counterfeiting... well, that’s not our jurisdiction. We’ve fulfilled our obligation. We turned the evidence over to you. If you don’t know where the bank is, I’m sure Margie can give you the address. If you ask really nice, she might even jot down directions.”

White’s face turned an unhealthy shade of pink. Paige was about to address the man when Sheriff Walters stepped into the building. He glanced around the room and frowned when Agent White headed his way. “Are you in charge here?” White demanded. “Last time I checked,” Jericho focused on his deputies. 107

Bogus Prosperity “Well,” White held out his business card. “I’d like to make a formal complaint.” “In regard to… who?” “Those two,” he motioned backwards. “Deputy Carter and...well, I don’t know that man’s name.” “For?” Jericho asked. “Refusing to cooperate with my investigation,” White said immediately. “Paige?” “Go ahead, take his complaint,” she smiled at White. “I have one of my own to lodge. It shouldn’t take long. I’ll be here when you’re finished.” “You are not seriously calling my supervisor on this?” White spun around to face Paige. “On what grounds.” Paige stood and smiled. She rattled off three policy numbers and waited. It didn’t take long. “I’m withdrawing that complaint,” White fumed. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do at the bank. Of all the places I could have been sent today, I landed in hick-town USA. I don’t have time to deal with Sheriff Jed Clampett and his two hillbilly deputies; Elly May and Jethro the buffoon,” he mumbled on his way out the door. “Do I need to know what that was about?” Jericho asked, watching the agent disappear out the door. Paige couldn’t help herself, she laughed out loud. “What’s wrong Sheriff Jed? Possum stew giving you indigestion?” Gage smiled. “Maybe a good long swim in the ceee-ment pond will settle your stomach.”

“The two of you jokers getting back to work will settle me just fine,” Jericho grumbled. “Is that something I need to worry about?” “Maybe,” Paige sobered. “I haven’t figured him out yet.” “What did you threaten him with?” Jericho finally asked, curiosity getting the better of him. 108

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “Just a couple of rarely used codes that he violated, and he knew it,” Paige shrugged. “They have to do with professional conduct and how federal agents interact with their fellow law enforcement officials. Now he’s been warned, and he knows I have pull with his boss. Peter Elliott and I go way back. It’s the reason Agent White was sent here so quickly. And knowing Peter, he told Ray to play nice.” “Somehow,” Gage put in. “I don’t think he got the message.” Jericho frowned. “I’ll let you know if he complains, Jer,” Margie added. “But that man was rude and unprofessional from the minute he stepped through that door. What he said to Sean Wilkens...” “Sean was here?” Jericho asked.

“Yeah,” Paige moved forward. “The file came in from Chicago. We were working on it together. Then, White came in and insulted Sean right off the bat, said he was inept and a fraud. He was practically tapping out a happy dance right in front of my desk. Sean handled it, better than we did, actually. He just left and I got to deal with Agent A-hole. But those two have history, I’d bet my career on that.” “Why is he here?” Jericho pressed. “Oh, sorry.” Gage grabbed his report from his desk and handed it to his boss. “I confiscated a fake hundred. I came back to the office to call the Secret Service and found White looming over Paige like he was going to hit her or something. That’s when I found out Paige got one this morning, too.” “You sure you don’t want to file that complaint, Paige?” Jericho studied his deputy. “I’m sure,” Paige shrugged that off. “But I think we have a counterfeiter in the area. I know it’s not our problem, which is why Officer Friendly is over at the bank sifting through hundreds; but I think we need to send out an alert. Let the rest of the crew know to be on the lookout just in case.” “I agree,” Jericho turned to Margie. “Will you take care of that and make sure Susie’s aware so she can handle the calls on the night shift?” “I’ll take care of it,” Margie assured him. 109

Bogus Prosperity “Now,” Jericho focused on Gage. “I need the two of you to play nice with the federal agent. But I want to know if he gets out of line. Paige, you might have pull with his boss, but a call from me will hold more weight in the end.” “I don’t think that’s going to be necessary,” Paige assured him. “I can handle White. And, I saw his reaction when he thought I was really going to call his boss. That man is on thin ice and my knowledge of their procedure worries him. If Gage can resist his urge to body slam the insulting prick, we’ll get through this just fine.” “I’m not making any promises, but I’ll do my best.” Gage glanced at Jericho before he made his way back to his desk. Margie answered the phone and frowned. “Hold please,” she said politely before putting the call on hold. “We have another one. This time it’s over at Fred’s Sports Grill. Trina will be waiting for you.” “I’ll go,” Gage grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. “And I’ll inform our federal agent he has another possible crime to deal with,” Paige sighed, grabbed her jacket and headed for her car. “Margie,” Jericho continued to frown as his two deputies bailed from the building. “Call the local motels and hotels, tell them to be on the lookout for fake bills. If this is a visitor, they have to stay somewhere.” “And if it’s a local?” Margie asked. “Then we have a bigger problem,” Jericho admitted. “Because they are going to be harder to find.” “Paige got some grainy video from the Top Stop,” Margie informed him. “The quality is terrible, but I didn’t recognize her. That doesn’t mean much, they could be new to the area.” “Let’s start looking,” Jericho turned to leave then mumbled under his breath, “The sooner we get rid of the fed, the better.” Margie smiled, picked up the call to tell Trina Deputy Clayton was on his way, then started making phone calls to the local businesses. She’d also prepare a quick press release. Jericho might want to notify the locals, but Agent White was technically in charge. He’d be the one to make the final call on that one. In any event, they’d be ready. 110

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 ***** Paige stepped through the front door, dropped her gear and settled into the recliner unwilling to move another inch. She glanced up and saw Dax watching her. “You okay?” he asked. “Rough day,” she straightened to study him more closely. “You look a little worn out yourself. Everything okay?” “There was something I wanted to run by you, but tell me about your day first,” Dax patted the couch next to where he was sitting, inviting Paige to join him. Paige sighed, stood and made her way to the couch. She practically dropped to the surface and snuggled in next to Dax. They sat there for several minutes before Dax prompted her to talk. Paige sighed and straightened. “It’s nothing really,” she began. “Just... well, I got a call this morning. Possible fake hundred at the Top Stop. On my way out, I ran into Sean. He was headed in to tell me he’s officially cleared to return to work and Nathan made it back to Washington okay. We verified the bill was a phony and I called the Secret Service. Sean and I headed back to the office. The complete report on Brian’s murder in Chicago came in; so, we were hard at work, going through the details, when this Secret Service guy marches in and starts insulting Sean — who took it, but left mad. I can’t find him. He’s not returning my calls, his sister has no idea where he is, and...” “And you’re worried about your friend,” Dax said in understanding. “I’m sure he’s okay. If the guy pounced the moment he arrived, they must have history.” “That’s what I think, too,” Paige frowned. “And he probably just needed some time alone. That’s how Sean deals with things. First, he stews alone. Then, he confides in someone he trusts. I just hope he doesn’t stew too long because that guy is not worth it.” “Sounds like he got under your skin, too.” “Once Sean left, he insulted me, then called Gage an idiot,” Paige smiled. “And somehow... he lives?” “Then he insulted Manti, called it hick-town USA, and said Jericho is Sheriff Jed Clampett. I’ve been crowned Ellie May and Gage, apparently, is Jethro the buffoon.” 111

Bogus Prosperity “He better hope he doesn’t have to work with you again,” Dax concluded. “Oh, he does. Because we were discussing the situation with Jericho when we got another bad bill. Someone used a fake fifty to pay for dinner at Fred’s.” Paige sighed. “And I got to deal with Agent A-hole all over again,” “No wonder you look beat,” Dax shifted her slightly so he could rub her shoulders. “Do you think they’re local or tourists?” “No idea,” Paige said softly. “But I was surprised they’re passing hundreds and fifties. Usually, counterfeiters only cloak one type of bill. They must have access to sophisticated equipment to pull this off.” “You’ll figure it out,” Dax said confidently. “You always do.” “Not always,” Paige disagreed. But if she had to deal with Mr. Congeniality, she wanted to at least catch the bad guys. It only seemed fair. “Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about?” Dax walked her through his conversation with Hawk that morning. She stopped him a couple times to ask questions but mostly just listened. When Dax was finished, he waited anxiously for her assessment. “Before I say anything,” Paige said carefully. “Am I discussing this with you as a police officer, a team member, or your girlfriend?” “All of the above,” Dax said impatiently. “I just want your take, Paige. Right now, you are the only person I know I can trust completely.” “Okay,” she turned to look him in the eyes. “I don’t think Hawk is involved. I never have. We don’t exactly get along and I think he’s an arrogant... overly confident jerk, but he’s not dirty. And yes, I know this Vato guy was a member of your team, and anything is possible... I’m just not convinced Hawk’s involved. I worked with him... as much as he’d let me. I saw how desperate he was to find you. If he knew where you were... he deserves an Oscar. My gut says he’s on your side. I think he always will be.” “Okay,” Dax let out a relieved breath. “My gut says the same, but I’m just not sure I can trust my gut at the moment.” 112

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “Then I’ll trust it,” Paige leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss. “I know this Vato thing has you turned upside-down. I’m sorry for that, but you have good instincts. You need to find a way to trust yourself again. They tried to take you out for a reason, and I think it was because you’re the only one that can figure this all out. They’re afraid of you. We can use that, but you have start trusting yourself again.” “It’s not that easy,” Dax looked away. “Vato was mine, now he’s working against me. I just can’t reconcile any of this.” “Hawk has a good point,” Paige pressed. “I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but he’s right. Vato lied. Is it possible he hasn’t turned against you? Is it possible he was trying to save you, trying to give you a reprieve, time to escape?” “I’ve considered that all day,” Dax told her. “That’s about the only thing I’ve had on my mind since Hawk left this morning.” “And?” “And I still don’t know,” Dax admitted. “If he’s not involved, that message wasn’t just a stall tactic, though. I’m sure of that. If he’s not there willingly, I think they have someone important to him. It would explain why Thor keeps disappearing. It would also explain why Vato tried to reach me, Ken and especially Zee before he shipped out.” “Because Zee is an extraction guy,” Paige said in understanding. “But he was tied up... literally. Locked up in prison in Mexico. Makes sense, but can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” Dax said immediately. “What does your gut say?” Paige waited. “Does this scenario feel accurate or does it feel like you’re grasping at straws because you want him to be one of the good guys?” “I told you, I don’t trust my gut.” “But I do,” Paige insisted. “What is it telling you?” “I honestly don’t know,” Dax admitted. “I guess it’s telling me I need to find Thor. He’s the only one that has the answers and he’s disappeared completely.” “Hawk doesn’t know where he went?” “Nope,” Dax shook his head. “Thor has gone completely off the grid and that worries me.” 113

Bogus Prosperity “What are you going to do?” “I doubt I’ll need to do anything,” Dax shifted in frustration. “Zee wants to go after him. He thinks, with Carmen’s help, he’ll be able to find Thor and get the answers we need.”

“He wants Carmen to go with him?” “No,” Dax answered. “Carmen will stay here. Zee will just phone in, tell her what he needs and have her run it from her place.” “It sounds like it might be a good idea,” Paige decided. “What don’t you like about it?” “If anyone can talk Thor down, it’s Zee,” Dax began. “Those two are tight. Zee is probably the only one that could get answers from Thor about Porter and his immediate distrust. He might even get Thor to explain his mysterious trips.” “But?” “But what if Thor is involved?” Dax barked. “What if both Vato and Thor are working for the enemy? Zee will be alone and vulnerable because he wants to trust them. His faith in those two could be the weakness they will exploit.” “I think Zeus and Thor are close,” Paige said slowly. “I saw them together. Even if Thor was involved, I don’t believe he would ever harm Zeus. He’s big and can be scary, but underneath it all... I think he’s just a big teddy bear. Especially, when it comes to his team.” “So, you trust Thor?” Dax asked, seriously. “I’m leaning that way,” Paige evaded. “But?” Dax parroted her earlier question. Paige smiled. “But leaving all of a sudden, all the mysterious trips, they worry me. He hasn’t told anyone what he’s doing or how to find him and he’s hiding something. I don’t know what. I couldn’t begin to tell you if it has something to do with Reynolds and his band of thugs; but I do think it has something to do with your team. Maybe Vato, maybe not. I don’t have enough information to venture a guess. The way he immediately went after Nathan was also strange. And, whatever caused that... it’s new. He didn’t act that way when we were searching for you and Thor knew Nathan was involved.” “Maybe Vato told him something,” Dax said absently. “They’re in constant contact. Maybe 114

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 the distrust is Vato’s doing.” “Maybe,” Paige shrugged. “Maybe not. That’s just speculation until you talk to Thor. You know I don’t deal in speculation.”

“I know,” Dax brushed a finger over her lips. “That’s why I needed to talk to you. Sorry to dump this on you after such a long, complicated day.” “I don’t mind,” Paige hesitated but decided to continue. “Dax, will you answer something for me and be completely honest?” “I’m always honest with you, Paige.” “Does your hesitance to clear Hawk have anything to do with the way he treats me? Because I don’t need you to protect me from your friends. He can be a jerk at times, and I know he was inside making fun of me when I was out in your driveway collecting dirt particles to analyze. But that’s all separate from this. He didn’t know me, and he didn’t like me. I can live with that. I can’t live with it, if you’re shutting him out as punishment for the way he treated me.” Dax didn’t answer for several minutes. “I thought you said you’d answer honestly,” Paige prompted. “I will,” Dax pulled Paige close. “As soon as I figure out what the answer is. I want to say no, absolutely not. But I guess deep down, I know it has played a part. How much? I can’t answer that, yet. It shouldn’t influence my feelings at all. But I care about you. I expect my men to accept that. I expect them to treat you with respect. Things would have been different; Hawk wouldn’t see you as a threat... if you had met under different circumstances. I don’t think I’ve forgiven him for the way he’s been treating you. Does that play a part in my... outlook on the situation? I think maybe it has.” “Then you have to set that aside,” Paige insisted. “Because Hawk and I... we’ll find a way to work through this. You have to let us do that on our own and you can’t punish him for not liking your girlfriend. It’s not fair and you, Dax Hamilton, are always fair.” “I’ll think about it,” Dax shifted to stand. “I promise. But right now, I’m starved. Dean brought takeout from Dirk’s. You ready to eat?” “Absolutely,” Paige jumped to her feet. “Beyond ready.” 115

Bogus Prosperity ***** The next afternoon, Paige was sitting at her desk plotting the information she had gathered on the counterfeiters on a digital map. She had dates and times when the bills were passed as well as locations plotted when Sean walked through the front door. Paige remained silent, watching her friend as he made his way to her desk and settled into her visitor’s chair. She waited for him to speak first, knowing the slightest thing could make him withdraw. “Sorry about yesterday,” he began. “I guess you’ve figured out by now Ray White and I have history. A complicated, contentious history.” “I gathered,” Paige straightened and settled into her chair. “You should probably know he’s still in town. We had another report of fake bills at Fred’s and Gage retrieved another one just after we seized the one at the Top Stop.” “Thanks, but I’m good now,” Sean insisted. “Ray won’t get to me again.” “Because?” Paige asked. “Because he’s a bully, a loud-mouthed bully, but nothing more than an annoyance. I don’t need his approval and we both know I’m not on the verge of getting fired. That alone will drive him crazy. I can live with that.” “You want to talk about it?” “Not really,” Sean sighed. “But you deserve to know. I’m afraid he’s going to take his frustration out on you. He’s figured out we’re friends by now and he won’t let up until he leaves. I’m sorry for that, too.” “That’s not your fault, Sean.”

“And still... I’m sorry for it,” Sean stood, doctored a cup of coffee and returned to Paige’s chair. “Ray and I went to college together. We were never friends, more like rivals. We both knew we wanted to work for the FBI when we graduated, which meant we ended up in the same classes more often than not. He’s competitive but lazy. He wanted the best grade, wanted to beat my scores, to show me up, but he wasn’t willing to put in the time.”


Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “And you aced everything you ever tried,” Paige smiled. “That had to drive him nuts.” “It did,” Sean admitted. “At first, I felt bad, but not bad enough to relax my own personal standard. Later, I decided it was on him. He wasn’t willing to work for what he wanted. He just thought it should be handed to him. It didn’t take long to realize he was born into money. His parents were rich and gave him everything from the moment he was born. Not rolling in it, but enough that he was spoiled. He was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it... with very little effort.” Paige stared at Sean in wide-eyed shock. “He’s the one.” “Yeah,” Sean said softly. “He’s the guy that stole my girl just to prove he could. Then, after he was sure I would never forgive her, he dumped her... again, to prove some twisted point. He ruined both of our lives and I let him.” “Sean,” Paige stood and moved her chair around the desk next to his. “You told me the story. We talked about this... we talked it to death. Lisa made a choice; clearly the wrong one. But, she’s not a victim in this. You are the only victim. And I still believe, if she truly was the one, if she was in love with you the way you loved her, she never would have cheated with that man in the first place. You’re holding onto a fantasy and it's holding you back. Until you let her go, you will never be able to move on. I thought you had finally put the heartache and the pain of betrayal behind you.”

“I thought I had,” Sean sighed. “Then Ray White walked into your office and it all came rushing back. I hate him with every fiber of my being. I hate everything about him. I hate the way he treats people; I hate his arrogance, I hate...” Paige smiled. “I get the idea. And, for the record, I feel the same way. Even without the history.” “What did he do?” Paige smiled. “For starters, he called Gage an idiot. Then, he called Jericho Sheriff Jed Clampett. You should have seen his face,” Paige laughed out loud. “And you?” “I’m Ellie Mae, of course.” “What else?” Sean pressed. “I know you, and that’s not enough.” 117

Bogus Prosperity “It doesn’t matter, Sean,” Page brushed that off. “Because I don’t care what he thinks. It didn’t take long to realize that. He’s insecure, especially when you’re around. And, he’s afraid of me. I called Peter yesterday. Elliott’s your good friend and Ray White’s supervisor. We have nothing to worry about. Agent Hateful has been put in his place and he’s running scared.” “Be careful, Paige,” Sean warned. “That’s when he’s the most lethal.” “I wish I had known,” Paige said in answer. “I wish I knew exactly who he was the instant he stepped through those doors. I was far too kind to him yesterday. I don’t think I’ll make that mistake again.” “Let it go,” Sean requested. “He’s not worth it.”

Paige shrugged. “It’s up to him, really. But, after what he did to you... he better watch his step.” “Paige,” Sean said more forcefully. “So, you want to help with the phony money case? Or, should we pull the murder back out and finish that up?” “I’ll let you choose,” Sean decided.

“Then I pick money,” Paige flashed a mischievous smile. “I can’t wait to see Agent White’s face when two inept FBI washed-outs solve his mystery and arrest the bad guys before he does.” “I should say no,” Sean smiled back. “But I have to admit, I’m going to enjoy this.” “Then let’s get started,” Paige moved her chair back around the desk. “Before I show you what I’ve been working on, I have one more question.” “Shoot,” Sean said absently as he studied the map Paige was creating. “You said both of you knew you were going to be FBI agents. But he works for the Secret Service. How come?” Sean grinned. “He tested at the Bureau, he applied at the same time I did. He was rejected, I got hired. Just another reason he hates me and wants to see me fail.” 118

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “So, he just gave up and decided he’d rather be an overpaid babysitter?” “You might get away with calling them that with Peter Elliott, he has a sense of humor. But, go there with White and he’ll blow a gasket,” Sean warned.

“Good to know,” Paige was still grinning. “But, seriously…he just gave up his dream because he failed once?” “Yeah,” Sean shrugged. “That’s the way he works. He’s always been like that... well, he was like that in college, anyway.” “Then he never would have made it as an agent,” Paige concluded. “I wonder how he’s survived all this time in the Service.” “He’s smart,” Sean drug his chair around the desk. “Don’t underestimate him. Just because he’s lazy, doesn’t mean he’s stupid.” “I don’t know,” Paige pulled out a notepad. “He did tell Gage he was an idiot. I’m surprised he lived after that one.” “Can we get to work and stop talking about White?” Sean asked. “He’s already taken up more of my time that I’d like.” “Sure,” Paige grabbed a pen and started tapping the pad. “We’ll get Gage to help as soon as he stops in. Between the three of us, we’re bound to come up with something to follow.” ***** Dax stepped into the bakery and paused to enjoy the amazing aroma of freshly baked goods. He loved it here. Loved the smells, loved pretty much everything they baked. His mouth began to water as the sweet smell of sugar and chocolate flooded his senses. He was glad he’d reneged on his promise to stay home. Paige was not going to be happy with him, but she was hovering. And, he had to do something to show her he was capable of living his life again. He moved forward to scan the large display case when Chelsea rushed toward him. “Hey, Dax. I was wondering if you could look at something for me. Maybe, I don’t know, tell me what you think and if I should call the police.” 119

Bogus Prosperity “What’s going on?” Dax immediately surveyed the open floor plan. When he didn’t see an immediate threat, he relaxed. “Does it have something to do with that table you blocked off?” “Nothing serious,” Chelsea assured him. “It’s just... well, a customer paid with a fifty-dollar bill; and when I went to put it in the safe, I thought it looked strange. I thought maybe you could look at it and we could decide if it was worth calling the cops.” “Go get the bill,” Dax pulled out his phone. “I’m calling Paige. Someone has been passing fake bills around town. I’m afraid you’re going to be out the fifty. She’s going to need it for evidence.” “I understand,” Chelsea sighed. “Which is why I blocked off that table. It was busy at the time, mostly takeout orders. The woman approached the counter, said she was in a hurry and handed me the fifty. She said something about keep the change and the two of them left. I was surprised, the bill couldn’t have been more than thirty and that was a huge tip. But they looked like tourists and sometimes we get wealthy customers who are generous. I took care of the line and then grabbed the fifty to drop it in the safe. That’s when I really looked at it. I’m not sure why, but it looks... off. Maybe the color, or it’s missing something. Anyway, that’s when I realized I was probably out fifty bucks. I also remembered they were sitting at that table and I hadn’t had a chance to clear it yet. As you can see, they ordered coffee. I was hoping maybe the police could get prints or something. Maybe if they arrest the couple, I could get restitution. I’m not out much. Just, you know, the thirty but it’s early in the season and money is tight.” “Quick thinking,” Dax grinned. Chelsea may have just provided the lead Paige was looking for. “Dax,” Paige said in answer. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” “Paige,” Dax scolded. “We talked about this. Just because I called, it doesn’t mean I’ve fallen’ and I can’t get up.” “Then you’re okay?” “I’m fine,” Dax said through gritted teeth. This overprotective crap had to stop. “But I need a cop. You available?” “Then you’re not fine.” 120

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “I am, but Chelsea... here at the bakery, needs a cop,” he corrected. “She was passed a fifty this morning, and she thinks it was your counterfeiters.” “Then why did she call you?” “She didn’t call me, I’m here.” “What?” Paige jumped to her feet. “We agreed you wouldn’t leave the house for at least two more days. What are you doing at the bakery?” “Getting an oil change,” Dax said sarcastically. “Dax,” Paige fumed. “Paige,” Dax parroted her tone.

“I’m on my way,” Paige grabbed her jacket then realized Gage and Sean were watching her intently. “We have another fake bill at the bakery. Dax is there waiting with Chelsea. Apparently, donuts are more important than his personal well-being.” Sean laughed. “I’d say donuts are pretty good for one’s personal well-being. You want a back?” Paige paused to study Gage. “Someone has to call White.” “You take Sean, hook up with Dax and see what you have. I’ll track down White and meet you there.” “I owe you for this one,” Paige said sincerely. “Sorry.” “Not accepted,” Gage smiled. “I’ll collect one day, and this favor is going to be huge.”


Paige stepped into the bakery and glanced around. She spotted Dax sitting casually at a table sipping coffee and munching on baked goods. She did her best to set aside her anger and approached him. “Try harder,” Dax said in greeting. “What?” Paige asked, confused. 121

Bogus Prosperity “You don’t like that I had the nerve to venture out in the big bad world alone. You think I disobeyed your order, which I did because I don’t take orders from anyone. So, you’re mad but you’re trying not to let it show. You’re on a professional call and this is personal. You’re going to need to try harder. Your mad is showing.”

“Dax,” Paige warned. “Paige,” Dax returned. “I can’t do this right now,” Paige said in frustration. Dax retrieved a cane and used it to stand. Before Paige knew it was coming, he wrapped an arm around her waist, yanked her against him and planted a deep, seductive kiss on her lips.

Paige was lost in the moment... for about a second. Then, she pushed away and took a step back. “Dax Hamilton!” “Yes, Paige,” Dax was grinning. “I can’t begin to tell you how inappropriate that was,” she inhaled deeply. “I’m on an official call.” “I know,” Dax casually settled back in his seat. “I called you. Before you get started, I assume that fed of yours is on his way, so you don’t have much time. Chelsea blocked off that table over there,” he pointed to the corner. “Because it’s where the couple was sitting. If you can’t get fingerprints off the mugs, you might be able to get DNA.” Paige was now smiling. “Thanks, I’ll deal with you later... when I get home. Do you need a ride?” “No,” Dax sipped his coffee. “I drove.” Paige opened her mouth to chastise him, quickly shut it again, turned, and walked away. She knew she was being excessive, but she couldn’t help herself. Dax had spent over two months in a coma. He was still healing. But, now that he was awake, he wanted to act like none of that had happened. She couldn’t do it. She cared too much. Her instinct was to hover even if it drove the man crazy.



Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “I found your bad guys,” Sean said, dropping two packets on Paige’s desk. Gage pushed to his feet and joined them. “Shirley and Joseph Wilmoth,” Paige read. “And lookie here... they both have warrants for their arrest.” “Check fraud,” Gage observed. “Looks like they upped their game a bit.” “True,” Paige agreed. “But fraud is fraud. Counterfeiting isn’t much of a stretch when you think about it. It’s kind of the next big step.” “Do we have to tell White?” Gage asked. “Yes,” Sean said immediately. “It’s his case and if it were anyone else, they’d be here working with us right now.” “True,” Paige said slowly. “But I already told him we may have prints. He blew me off. Said I was chasing unicorns, and he’d drop by later this afternoon to check in and see if I had any real leads to follow. I’m inclined to wait.” “I told him not to underestimate you,” Sean sighed. “That man never could take advice from anyone. We’ll do this your way. I’m not even here, remember.” “Let’s get Margie to help us,” Paige jumped to her feet. “We need the names of every guest in every hotel here in town. If they’re not on the guest list, we’re screwed.” “Yeah,” Gage said. “Because they’re into fraud, which means they probably have fake ID’s.” “Exactly,” Paige began to pace. “Maybe, we should send photos with the request for the lists. Let the hotels know if they pass the fake bills at their fine establishments, they’re out the money. Might get them to cooperate.” “I’ll get Margie,” Gage stood. “She can contact the motels, hotels, B&B’s and cabin rentals in the area. Then, I think we should split up. Print off a bunch of photos and we can take them to the restaurants, gas stations, anywhere we think they might drop in. If we spread the word and provide photos, the entire town will be looking for these guys. We’ll catch them, our community is awesome that way. The instant they’re spotted, we’ll get a call.”


Bogus Prosperity “Good idea,” Paige glanced at Sean. “You in?” “Yeah, let’s print off those photos and get started.” “Here,” Paige held the rap sheets out to Gage. “Give those to Margie, when White shows up, she can give him what we found. Where he goes from there is up to him.” “Good idea,” Gage took the papers. “Then he can’t say we impeded.” Paige pulled up each photo, pasted them into one document with limited details and printed off a hundred copies. If they needed more, she’d stop in at the copy store and see if they were willing to donate to the local PD. Once each of them had a large stack, they fanned out to cover the entire town. Before they finished tonight, their two perps wouldn’t be able to go to a public bathroom without being spotted and reported. Paige had a good feeling about this, and if she was right... they’d have their dynamic duo behind bars before the weekend. It was late when Paige stepped through her front door. She glanced around the room and spotted Dax in the recliner. He looked upset. Had something new happened? “You okay? And, yes... I know you’re tired of me asking. But... well, you just look upset. Did something happen today?” She moved forward and settled onto the couch. “Zee left,” Dax rubbed a hand over his face. “I have a bad feeling about this, but he wouldn’t listen. He’s off to track Thor down and physically drag him back here if necessary.” “We sort of knew that was coming,” Paige pushed backward and crossed her legs in an attempt to get comfortable. “He’s been threatening this ever since Thor took off.” “I know,” Dax barked. “Don’t you think I know my men?” “Don’t take this out on me just because I’m handy,” Paige warned. “Of course, you know your men. I’m just saying you couldn’t stop it and you know that. You’ve known it the entire time you were trying to convince him to stay.” “I did,” Dax sighed. “Sorry. I’m just... I should have gone with him.” “But you couldn’t and that frustrates you,” Paige said in understanding. “But you said yourself... Thor and Zeus are close. Thor won’t hurt him. You have to believe that.”


Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “But, what about the others?” Dax was restless and he couldn’t ignore the feeling that Zeus was walking into a trap. “I told him to take Hawk, but he refused. He said we needed him here. But this is insane. Zee should not be out there, risking his life, all alone.” “What if we do this?” Paige straightened her legs and moved closer to Dax. “Zeus is going to stay in touch with Carmen. He promised he would, plus he’s going to need her help. I’ll talk to Carmen and if she senses he’s in trouble... you and I will head out immediately and join him. That will give you a few more days to recover and I’ll let Jericho know I may need to head out with little notice.” “You would do that?” “In a second,” Paige assured him. “And in the meantime, try to have faith in Zeus. He’s good at what he does.”

“I know,” Dax conceded. “But I can’t help worrying.” “Now you know how I feel,” Paige grinned. “But I’m working on it. I know you’re not helpless and I think, because of my own fears, I’ve been treating you like you are. I’ll try to do better. I’ll try to trust you to know what you’re doing if you’ll do the same. Trust Zeus. He’ll call if he runs into trouble and he’s tough. You know that, look at what he survived in Mexico. If they couldn’t break him, Reynolds and his group won’t be able to, either. We’ll be there, the second he needs us... we’ll be there to help.”

Dax pushed himself up until he was standing. The process was slow, but Paige realized he was doing better already. Maybe going out was good for him after all. “I have dinner in the kitchen. I’m sure you’re hungry. You’re getting in late, did Chelsea’s lead pan out?” “We got prints,” Paige followed him into the kitchen. “Sean tracked them to a married couple that’s wanted for fraud. Now, we just have to find them.” “And the Secret Service guy?” “He thinks I’m hunting unicorns,” Paige smiled. “I really can’t stand that guy and I can’t wait to move in and steal his glory out from under his nose. He’s going to blow when Sean and I arrest his suspects. And, I know his boss. Peter and I worked together on a project in Washington a few years back. Agent Elliott has very little tolerance for bloviating and pomposity. He expects hard work and results. Ray White is going to have to do some fast talking on this one, especially if I’m able to make the arrest instead of him.” 125

Bogus Prosperity “And that’s what you’re hoping for?” “More than you know,” Paige settled in at the kitchen table. “I think there’s more to the story than his constant jibes and insults,” Dax settled in across from her. Paige filled her plate, then began to tell Dax the story of Sean Wilkens, a girl named Lisa Conlin and Ray White... a rival with a mean streak and no boundaries.

***** “Paige,” Margie called out. “Nancy, over at the Yardley says a couple just checked in that match your photos. They’re using the names Ember and Grady Schoell. She said the woman just booked an afternoon spa treatment and paid with a hundred.” “Tell her we’re on our way,” Paige got a nod from Gage as he jumped to his feet and joined her at the front door. “Hey, Nancy,” Gage said in greeting. “What room?” “They’re in the Sunshine Room,” Nancy held out a key. “Just up the stairs and to the left.”

“First door?” Paige asked. “Right,” Nancy bit her lip, worry written all over her face. “Do me a favor,” Gage moved toward the stairs. “Keep the rest of the guests occupied down here. We don’t want anyone coming up behind us.” “I can do that,” Nancy bit down on her bottom lip a little harder. Paige was nearly at the top of the stairs when a movement caught her eye at the front door. She motioned for Sean to join them, then continued down the hallway. Once she reached the door, she whispered instructions to Gage. “I’m going to knock, tell her there’s a problem with her spa appointment and ask her to schedule a new time. You stand over there to the side. Once I get her out of the room, you and Sean can go in and take care of her husband.” 126

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “Sean?” Gage asked, just before the agent rounded the corner and joined the large deputy. Paige gave them a nod before she briskly knocked on the closed door. “We don’t want to be disturbed,” Shirley Wilmoth, Ember at the moment, called out. “I’m sorry to bother you, Mrs. Schoell,” Paige called out. “But I’m afraid we doubled booked your spa appointment and I’m going to need to find a new time that will work for you. One of the other guests already scheduled that spot yesterday. I’m afraid Brook forgot to put it in the book. I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience....” The door flew open and an angry woman stood in the opening. She had her hands on her hips and was clearly prepared to argue. Paige didn’t give her the chance. Within seconds, the woman was spun around and pinned against the wall. Before Shirley Wilmoth knew what was happening, she was cuffed and shoved to the side so Sean and Gage could go after her husband. Paige heard a commotion and guessed the man... Joseph Wilmoth... must have resisted. She peeked around the corner and saw Gage marching the man toward the door. “Trouble?” “Naw,” Gage grinned. “Piece of cake.” “You tackled him, didn’t you?” Gage didn’t answer, but his grin grew wider. “I’ll deal with these two, you should probably help Sean secure all that evidence. They’ve got stacks of fresh bills spread all over the second bed.” He shook his head as he grabbed the woman’s arm and marched the couple down the stairs. Paige stepped into the room and studied the scene, then she pulled out her phone and dialed her boss. “How can I help you, Paige?” Jericho answered. She ran him through the situation and asked how he wanted to handle the Secret Service. “We’re going to need a warrant for a thorough search. I’m sure the equipment is somewhere in this room. And, White will need to be notified although I’m more inclined to call Elliott and let him know we have his suspects in custody without his man’s assistance or cooperation.”


Bogus Prosperity “Let me handle the call up north,” Jericho offered. “And, I’ll call Tolman. He should probably be in the loop on this one even though he won’t be the one filing charges.” “In the meantime,” Paige added. “Sean and I will package up the evidence that’s sitting out in plain sight. They have to have at least a hundred thousand neatly piled on the bed.” “Sounds like a plan.” It was less than ten minutes later when Paige’s phone began to ring. She glanced at the display and smiled. “Bank of deception,” she said in greeting. “Where your crisis ensures our prosperity.” “Seriously, Paige?” Elliott laughed. “What if I had loaned my phone to the local SAC?” “Then I guess you’d have some damage control to deal with,” Paige shrugged. “I assume Walters filled you in.” “Yeah,” Peter sighed. “Sorry about White. I wanted to send Anderson, but he was out on assignment. Maybe you could take a picture of those unicorns and make sure Sean Wilkens is right in the middle of the photo.” “Sounds like Jericho was thorough,” Paige shot a glance at Sean. “So, how do you want me to handle this?”

“Your CA is working something out with Sutton; the federal prosecutor here in Salt Lake,” Peter told her. “It’s going to end up in federal court but the two of them can work it out. That part doesn’t matter. I’m going to tell you, White is going to fight you on the arrest. He wants this one, which is why I’m counting on you to fight back. He needs to learn a lesson and a couple letters in his file hasn’t done much to correct his behavior. Maybe losing a collar he wants will be a wake-up call, especially when I don’t back him on it.” “Losing it to Sean is going to make things worse, but I’m giving it to him,” Paige decided.

“Do you have a problem with that?” “No,” Elliott sobered. “I also heard about the trouble you guys are having out there. Give Sean my best and tell him he has my full support. How are you holding up, kid?” “Kid?” Paige laughed. “You’re not even ten years older than me.” “Eleven, actually.” 128

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “A whole decade,” Page challenged. “Better start looking for care centers in the area, how are the dentures holding up?” “You laugh, but wait another ten years and you’ll understand,” Peter answered. “My mind says, ‘let’s go’ but my body says, ‘no way, pal.’ It’s frustrating to realize I’m not Superman, anymore.” “You’ll always be Superman to me,” Paige promised. “Okay, I’m going to let you go now. Gage has already transported the couple to holding. Any word on our warrant?” “I’m guessing Tolman and Sutton have already taken care of that,” Peter answered. “Let me know if you need anything else on my end. And, don’t let White bully you. He has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth when it comes to the locals. Unfortunately, most of them are so relieved when he’s finally gone, they never make a formal complaint. Do you plan to change that?” “Probably not,” Paige decided. “I prefer to handle guys like Ray White myself.” Peter laughed. “I’m thinking that will probably be worse than anything I could dish out. Don’t be a stranger, kid. My assignment here is temporary, but I’m only a phone call away.” “Ditto,” Paige said before disconnecting.

“I’m not taking credit for this bust,” Sean said the minute Paige hung up. “First, I shouldn’t be involved at all. This doesn’t have anything to do with the FBI and I can’t even connect it to Nathan’s project. It’s all yours and you won’t change my mind, so don’t even try.” “Publicly,” Paige said. “I agree. But, in private... I say we rub this in a little. I expect White to arrive any minute. And, Peter wants a picture of you sitting on that bed with all the evidence in the background. So, park it, buddy. I always follow orders from a superior.” Sean snorted but complied. That’s how White found them when he stepped into the room with the warrant. “What are you doing?” he demanded. “You’re going to contaminate the evidence.” “Corralling unicorns?” Paige said in answer as she snapped a couple more shots. “Did you bring the warrant?”


Bogus Prosperity “I have it,” White held out the paperwork, still scowling. “This is the most unprofessional display I’ve seen in a long time. I guess I should have expected it... given Wilken’s involvement.” “And I suggest you tell Peter Elliott exactly how you feel,” Paige suggested. “Elliott? What does he have to do with this?” White asked, confused. “Oh,” Paige flicked her hand nonchalantly. “He’s the one that asked for the photos. Apparently, he wanted to make sure Sean here got the credit internally... even if he couldn’t get recognition for the bust publicly.” White’s face turned a bright shade of red. “Elliott is...he thinks Sean made the arrest? He believes Wilken’s solved the crime?”

Paige stepped forward to crowd White’s space a little... similar to the way he loomed over her desk the other day. “He knows Sean is the one that solved the case. He knows Sean is the one that arrested the suspects. He knows Gage and me... we just assisted Sean because technically, this wasn’t his problem. Oh, yeah... it was actually yours. How’s that ‘real investigating’ working for ya?” She snatched the warrant out of his hand and began reading the language. Once she was sure it covered the entire room, she dropped it on the bed in front of White and began carefully searching for evidence. It might not be her case anymore, but she was going to make sure the feds put these two away for a very long time.

***** “Hey Carmen,” Paige greeted. She was finally on her way home after a very long, aggravating day. At least White was on his way back to Salt Lake. With any luck, she’d never have to work with that guy again. Even the satisfaction of rubbing another Sean Wilkens win, Ray White loss in his face, didn’t counter the man’s annoying personality. Good riddance! “Zeus called,” Carmen replied. “He’s in Texas. Thor was down there a couple days ago, but he’s long gone. Zeus is going to grab a few hours’ sleep, then he’s heading to Kentucky. Paige, Thor doesn’t know anyone in Texas. What was he doing there?” “Does Vato?” 130

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 2 “You still think he’s working with Vato on this?” Carmen asked skeptically. “I was there, Paige. In the room, while we were all frantically trying to find Dax. You know as well as I do, Thor didn’t have the slightest clue where his friend was being held.” “I do know that,” Paige agreed. “Doesn’t mean he’s innocent. Maybe, Vato didn’t tell him. Maybe, this Vato guy is playing Thor. Maybe, he’s appealing to Thor’s emotions, his sense of duty or loyalty, and he’s only telling Thor what he wants him to know.” “Do you really believe that?” Carmen asked. “Because Zeus doesn’t. And since I don’t know Vato and neither do you... I think I’m going to trust Zeus. He’s smart and a good judge of character. I think he’d know if his friend went off the rails.” “I don’t know what to think,” Paige admitted. “But I do know Dax is conflicted. He wants to believe Thor is still on his side. He wants to hold out hope that this Vato guy is, too. But he’s having doubts. I don’t think any of you realize just how much this entire incident has impacted Dax... or his confidence. And, honestly... I think Zeus leaving him this way has made it worse.” “Don’t try to push a guilt trip on me... or Zeus,” Carmen objected. “Dax has the other guys to help him. Thor is out there alone. You know Zeus, he had to help a friend in need… even if that friend refused to ask for his help.” “I know,” Paige sighed as she pulled into her driveway and shut down the car. “But I’m counting on you to keep me in the loop. And, if you even sense that Zeus is in trouble, I need to know. I promised Dax we’d step in at the slightest hint of danger. Dax can’t lose Zeus over this. He’d never get over that. I know the team is broken at the moment, that there’s not a lot of trust between any of us... but you have to promise me this, Carmen.” “You are putting me in a difficult position here, Paige,” Carmen said softly. “I think I love him. I never thought I’d fall for anyone... not like this. He’s trusting me and I won’t betray that trust. But I want you to go after him if there’s danger. I need Dax to be there, to protect him from himself and his trust in a friend that might betray him. But what if he never forgives me?” “You are putting me in a difficult position here, Paige,” Carmen said softly. “I think I love him. I never thought I’d fall for anyone... not like this. He’s trusting me and I won’t betray that trust. But I want you to go after him if there’s danger. I need Dax to be there, to protect him from himself and his trust in a friend that might betray him. But what if he never forgives me?” 131