Connections eMagazine February 2021 Edition

Page 1

Connections eMagazine

Volume 7 Issue 1

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. For me, the moment that calendar turns to February I start thinking about spring. The winter gloom is behind us and a new birth is just around the corner. The first magazine of the new year is always dedicated to spring, love, and new growth. I hope you’ll take the time to look around. “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe. You’ll receive an automatic email with a link to each new edition. Just click the box below and fill out the form. Be sure to include all required information. Don’t worry, your information will never be shared or sold.

FEATURE ARTICLE Let’s Talk Writing


Get to know some amazing authors, learn about their process, what energizes them and how they foster creativity in their writing.


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Summer Wine by Lee Smith Zions National Park By Melanie P. Smith Inspired by A Town By Sylva Fae & Nick Jones •

In every issue... Paige Carter

The Phone Call By Val Tobin

Story Karen’s Story Time By Sylva Fae & Adrian Czarnecki

Cupcake Hustle By Sylva Fae

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Melanie P. Smith


Jennifer Reynolds

Melanie P. Smith

Ronesa Aveela

Rhonda Hopkins


Sylva Fae

Sylva Fae

Erika Black

Sarah Stuart

Adrian S. Czarnecki

Tom Benson

The Fussy Librarian

Mom’s Favorite Reads

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In this edition, we are excited to feature a roundtable discussion with some amazing authors. I would like to begin by thanking my colleagues for their participation. The purpose of today’s roundtable is to discuss the writing process with best-selling authors from a variety of genres. So, let’s get started.

Does writing energize or exhaust you? What is your writing Kryptonite? Max Power—Energize. My Kryptonite is miserable people. Sylva Fae— I'm energised during the writing, but exhausted at the end. It's like a full workout. My Kryptonite is mess. I need a clear space and a clear mind for the ideas to flow. Lisa Shambrook — Energised, it takes me to another place and lets me escape the heaviness of every day life. Barbara Speake — Energised when it is going well, exhausted when I get to the middle and start getting a bit lost but energised when it finally comes together again. Best bit for me is having a first draft done. Don't care how much editing is needed. The story has to be down first. Writing kryptonite is getting disturbed when I am on a roll! Sharon Brownlie — It energises me but only until I write The End because it's then I know the 'real' work begins with the edits and then marketing. My Kryptonite is negative people. Cathy Donnelly — Writing always energises me as I get lost in the research and the storyline. The first couple of edits and I am still energized, but then I remember all the guidelines I read about structure and point of view and arcs, and start to struggle a little. My Kryptonite is the fridge and the biscuit tin and the bowl of fruit.

Let’s Talk Writing Rebecca Bryn — Both. I write a lot of scenes that are emotionally draining. When the ideas are flowing, I want to write at three in the morning. In between projects, I'm like a bear with a sore head. Kryptonite? Feeling guilty for spending too much time at my laptop. Ronesa Aveela — The first draft is exhausting. The energizing part of the process is doing the research (for the non-fiction books) and the editing for both fiction and non-fiction. My writing Kryptonite is social media, especially during these troubled times, when I see so much more negativity than encouragement and unity.

Val Tobin — I'm energized after a writing session. My writing kryptonite is doomscrolling on Facebook. Rhonda Hopkins — I'm energized while the words are flowing or I'm editing and making it better. My kryptonite is social media. I spend far too much time on it. Erika Black — Definitely energized. I love the feelings I can express in words. The negativity of people is my kryptonite. I want peace and love to dominate our world.

Anthony Randall — Energised. Writing is escapism, it's the other stuff that is Kryptonite. Melanie P. Smith — It actually relaxes me. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good story to help me alleviate stress. My writing Kryptonite is time. It’s difficult to balance personal relationships, writing, and everything else that comes with being an Independent author. I frequently feel like I’m being pulled in a dozen different directions and simply don’t have the time to write — which is kryptonite for an author.

Feature Article What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Max Power — As much as I need. I’ve been researching one project for 3 years now. Sylva Fae — You might be surprised that children's books need to be researched but I am constantly browsing for inspiration and checking specific facts. Research is not just reading articles and books, it can be observing and chatting with children or watching the antics of my pets. Barbara Speakes — Some of my research, especially regarding forensics has been acquired from courses I've done, books read, and consultations with forensic experts. Anything specific I research as I go along. Cathy Donnelly — My first two novels featured real historical people, events and locations, so I did a fair bit of research first, but after that I research as I go. As there is always a Templar involved in the stories, I have a collection of books regarding their history which I love to re-read. Ronesa Aveela — In my current non-fiction series, I research every aspect of the topic extensively, using all possible sources I can find. I like to consider it academic research for a non-academic audience. This is the biggest part of the process of creating the book and takes several months. Once I've gathered all the material, I organize it by topic. Only then does the actual writing begin.

Val Tobin — The amount of research I do depends on the subject matter and how well I already know it. I did more research on Algonquin Park than I did on psychic abilities when I wrote The Valiant Chronicles because I'd never been to Algonquin Park, but I have a masters in parapsychology.

Authors Talk About Writing Rhonda Hopkins — I'm a pantser (writing without a plan) so I research as I go because I never know exactly what I'm going to need until I get there. I have one unpublished series that is court and police heavy, but I use the knowledge I gained while working as an investigator for twenty years for that one. Erika Black — Let's just say that I love the research I do for my books, so I spend as much time as needed. Julia Lund — I tend to research as I go, otherwise I spend hours and hours procrastinating down rabbit holes. But to be honest, I spend a long time thinking and making notes before I start a new project. The new thing I've just started has been a decade in the brewing. Others have taken less time, but not a quick time. Cherime MacFarlane — I tend to stick with stuff I know which means I only do research to make sure what I think I know is correct. I usually research stuff as it comes up. Absolute pantser here. Anthony Randall — I research as I go. Internet based, cross referenced of course. Ceri Bladen — When I research historical stories, I can take up to 6 months before I start my story. With my contemporary romances, I write and research as I go... Melanie P. Smith — I am a multi-genre author so, for me, it depends on what I’m writing. You’ve probably heard the adage, “Write what you know”. If I’m writing a criminal suspense or a police procedural it requires very little research because that is a topic I know very well. I also write paranormal and fantasy novels, which sometimes require research. My recent release was a romantic fantasy based on mythology. While I’m familiar with the basics, this novel did require a significant amount of research because I needed to get the names, creatures, descriptions and lineage correct. While the research was fairly intensive, it wasn’t time consuming. These days, there is a wealth of information on the internet just waiting to be discovered.

Feature Article

How do you select the names of your characters? What comes first, the plot or character development? Eric Lahti — For contemporary stories, I choose common names or names of people I know. For a sci-fi story I'm working on, I'm getting to have some fun guessing what names will be like in a few hundred years from now. I want them to have a spontaneous craziness to them, but still be somewhat recognizable.

Max Power — My character names always come to me as I go. I start with a basic plot which is always altered by character development. Sylva Fae — A lot of my characters are named after my animals. Sometimes, my girls' friends ask to be in a book, so their names are sneaked in. I also love names that have deeper meanings - Cornish is a beautiful language to derive unusual names from. I often look at 'Naming Baby' sites to check the meaning behind the name. Barbara Speake — My names, too, come as I go along. I usually know the beginning, middle and the end before I start but sometimes my characters introduce subplots which become more important. As it's a series I write, I have learned to listen to them... Cathy Donnelly — Names usually just come to me but I always check their meaning so it relates to the character. The easy part is when my character is a real historical person. Rebecca Bryn — I try to find names that are right for the time period and area I'm writing about. Not too way out, and not too common. Some names conjure certain characteristics in my mind, so that plays a part as well. I have a rough idea for a plot, but my characters develop and write what they want. I have little or no control once they come alive. Troublesome lot they are as well.

Authors Talk About Writing Ronesa Aveela — Since fiction stories are about Bulgarian culture, the names are ones that are typical for that nation, but also ones that are easy to understand in English. Plot comes first. Since we are a two-person writing team, Nelly is the one who develops the basic story, and then Rebeca develops the story more. Val Tobin — I choose names depending on the genre and how symbolic I want to get. In the Valiant Chronicles, Michael's name was deliberately chosen. Althaea's name also has symbolism in it. Often, I come up with a character and then the plot. For example, when I got the idea for Injury, I thought about how it would feel to be an actress who believed her father had abandoned her when she was very young. What would that do to her selfesteem? How would she see herself? Would success help her or cause her to doubt herself even more? Gillian's Island also started with the character: an introverted woman living on an island. With The Valiant Chronicles, the plot came first: a UFO group runs afoul of a secret government agency when they release video footage of a close encounter. Rhonda Hopkins — Sometimes the main character's name pops into my head before I start writing as do other characters. Most of the time though I research name meanings for a major character and choose one that embodies the spirit of the character. I've also held contests that allow the winners to choose names. I have one in my Witches of Whispering Pines that came about that way. And, another that came about because of an auction for a good cause. The highest bidder chose her grandson's name for the series. They're always so excited and I love that! Erika Black — When one doesn't come to me, I do a search for "sexy names". Then I'll check the meaning to make sure it fits the character's personality. Julia Lund — My main characters usually come with their names. I always start with a character and the plot develops round them. Melanie P. Smith — My main characters tend to name themselves. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but as they story is developing in my mind, the names are just part of the initial creation. It’s the supporting characters that cause me trouble. I will typically search the internet name sites until something clicks. When it comes to plot and character development I usually have a clear understanding of my characters, their quirks and their personalities before I begin writing the opening scene. The rest develops as I go. Basically, my characters drive the plot.

Feature Article What is/was your hardest scene to write? Do you have a place you go for inspiration?

Max Power — A particular death scene in Little Big Boy and I’m inspired everywhere. Sylva Fae — The ending is the hardest to write, rather than any particular scene. Stories for young children's have to be wrapped up neatly, with just a hint of mystery to keep them wondering what happens next. Thankfully, I don't need to worry about writing traumatic scenes or anything of an adult nature - I'd be really uncomfortable with that. My woodland is my favourite pondering place, though in the past year, I've had to make do with sitting in the garden.

Barbara Speake — I write and rewrite action scenes. Is the person in the right place? Is the action coming off the page as I want it to? Inspiration can come from the smallest things, overheard conversations, a scene glimpsed, something I hear in the news. I am a 'what if' girl… Patricia Puddle — I sit and write and the stories appear on the page. Sometimes I think I’m possessed. Cathy Donnelly — I find the first scene is always the hardest because my stories are set in different timelines. So much depends on getting that right to entice the reader to want to know more. I get my best inspiration in bed with a notebook and pen, and just letting my thoughts wander. Rebecca Bryn — Sex scenes....

Authors Talk About Writing Ronesa Aveela — The hardest scene (or scenes) are those that lull between action, trying to draw out or slow down the story so it doesn't feel rushed. Sitting by the ocean, listening to the waves break against the shore, has a calming effect. Val Tobin — Any scene that results in an unexpected plot twist--something I didn't plan for--can cause difficulty. I'll often have to pull away and go for a walk to get inspiration for where to take it next. Rhonda Hopkins — My mom reads all my books, so even after all these years any romance scene makes me think "What if Mom reads this?" For some reason writing gore or violence doesn't affect me or make me worry about what she'll think. Apparently, I'm never going to outgrow that no matter how old I get. Erika Black — Break up scenes are difficult. It's romance, so I know they'll get back together, but it still makes me sad to put my characters through that. Melanie P. Smith — I think maybe the hardest scenes for me are the unexpected turns that take me down a path I didn’t intend — especially when they box me into a corner. I am what writers call a panster. I don’t plot out every chapter or even my scenes. I let the characters take me where they want to go. When we hit a brick wall, it can take days of thinking and analyzing before I find a way out. But, while those situations are difficult, it’s also part of the fun.

I love nature and the wilderness is where I find inspiration. The crisp fresh air, birds chirping in the background, and the peace and quiet all create a relaxing and inspiring atmosphere for getting lost in a story.

Feature Article

Would you rather live in a haunted mansion or live in a shack that’s not haunted? Why? Max Power — Mansion, it would be filled with stories.

Sylva Fae — Mansion! I'm not bothered about the size and grandeur as such, it's the wealth of inspiration for stories that entices me. The cottage I live in was built in 1660 and is full of unexplainable bumps, creaks, footsteps, shadows and whispers. Things disappear, move and fly off shelves - wonky old house or ghosts? Either way I feel comforted to live in a place steeped in a rich history, and I never feel alone. Barbara Speake — I prefer a quiet, unhaunted shack. Hate horror movies... Cathy Donnelly — I don't have a preference as long it has a garden and is surrounded by nature. Ghosts would be welcome as long as they were just visiting.

Authors Talk About Writing Rebecca Bryn — Shack especially if it's remote. Why? I hate the trappings of excess. A shack is simple and wholesome, like me. Ronesa Aveela — The haunted mansion sounds much more interesting, as long as the one haunting it was not malevolent, and as long as I could afford to have someone clean and maintain the mansion. It would provide inspiration for stories. Once the writing career comes to an end, I'd prefer a small shack somewhere remote, where I could escape the craziness of the world and live within the wonders of nature. Val Tobin — Mansion. I have no problem with ghosts. Rhonda Hopkins — A haunted mansion. I lived in a haunted house for a long time. The ghost and I came to an understanding and all was well for those years. I have to say I miss his presence. Erika Black — Either is fine as long as I have the one I love with me. Cherime MacFarlane — What's your definition of a shack? Some could say I lived in one now. If there is a lot of maintenance to do on the haunted house, I'll take the shack. Less to bother with. Melanie P. Smith — The mansion would be interesting. I wouldn’t mind living there if the spirit haunting it was a maid in their previous life. An expansive mansion is way too much work to maintain. Otherwise, I’d prefer the shack. There would be less maintenance and cleaning leaving time for me to relaxing and work.

Feature Article City or Country — Morning Person or Night Owl When writing… silence or background music Max Power — Country and both morning and night person. Sylva Fae — I am in training to be a morning person but it's not working! I am definitely a night owl, though it limits the time I can spend writing. I grew up in the coun-

tryside and draw my inspiration from the outdoors. I'm definitely a country girl. I used to always work to music but since I've had children, I love to work in silence. It's not often the house is truly silent, so a quiet write is a luxury. Barbara Speake — City girl, although I love the quiet of the country. More of a night owl but mainly write in the mornings and has to be quiet for writing...

Rebecca Bryn — Country night owl and silence. Always I love silence. I can write while the TV's on but if it's music I like, I have to stop and listen to it. Cathy Donnelly — Definitely a country girl. I would find it hard to live without open spaces, trees and wildlife. I am a morning person in the summer and a night owl in the winter. I prefer to write in silence, unless it’s the sound of birds outside or a purring cat next to me. I need all the space I can get in my brain as the older I become,

the less room there is in there for distractions. Ronesa Aveela — Nelly and Rebecca are both country people. Nelly is a morning person, up with the sun and energetic, who likes to unwind in the evening with a glass of wine. Rebecca likes to sleep in and feels more productive as night descends and the world becomes still. Nelly likes to be near water if she can, that is her inspiration. When she paints, she likes to listen to music, in most cases classical or Yanni, as it

has a magical calming effect on her. Val Tobin — City or Country: Country. I'd happily live at our family cottage if I could. Morning Person or Night Owl: Morning owl. I fall asleep early but awaken during the night, read, and then go back to sleep. Then I wake up early. When writing… silence or background music: Silence.

Authors Talk About Writing

Rhonda Hopkins — Without a doubt, I'm a country girl. I like peace and quiet, the sounds of nature, and the wildlife that often shows up. I'm a night owl, but I'm trying to rein it in. I've found that I get more writing done when I focus on it first thing in the morning before getting distracted by everything else. I thought I preferred silence, but I've learned over the past couple of months that playing Beethoven actually inspires my creativity and I write faster because of it. I can't listen to anything with lyrics because I want to sing along. Erika Black — Ohhh... I love both! There's so much to experience and explore in both settings. I'm a night owl and have been for as long as I can remember. I like music with no lyrics when writing. For editing, I prefer silence. Melanie P. Smith — Definitely the country. I prefer open spaces, a clear unobstructed view of the stars, and the smells and quiet you can only find in the country. I’m a big

time Night Owl — Me and Mornings do not get along. In addition to personal preference, I find I am more productive in the evening because there are fewer interruptions. I get bored easily, so when writing, I always have some kind of white noise in the background. Usually this means tv, but nothing too intense or distracting. I love music, but rarely listen while writing because I get distracted and focus on the song rather than writing.

Feature Article

Now for the heavy lifting. Which one of your characters was most challenging to create? Why? Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book? Max Power — Little Big Boy. So challenging to write about a character whose name you never reveal. Writing from his perspective, keeping him innocent by forcing the reader to read between the lines.. a tough one Sylva Fae — I don't really have the pages for this to be a problem. A picture book is on average 32 pages so the character has to appear fully formed and recognisable. Rebecca Bryn — I think it would have to be Walt/Chuck in Touching the Wire. He had

to make some terrible choices and trying to justify them and keep sympathy for him was hard. I had to dig really deep. The plotline went through at least three major rewrites, and I think, five titles to reflect the changes. The Boxes of Nemesis, The Daughters of Night, In the Shadow of the Wolf, The Sepia Girl, and Touching the Wire.

Authors Talk About Writing Cathy Donnelly — Rachel, the main character in my first novel Distant Whispers. I struggled with trying to keep her nature consistent in her various lifetimes. She remembered every detail of the lives she had, but had no idea how many lives were ahead of her. The last scene in the novel I’ve just finished {Memories of the Night Sky) has been the hardest. I couldn’t quite get the sequence of events to come to-

gether in the way I wanted. After many versions, I hope I’ve now got it right. Ronesa Aveela — Stefan in Mystical Emona was challenging. He just never seemed to grasp the emotion that was needed, going from grieving widow to loving his woodland nymph. It was difficult to figure out how a normal person would react to all the crazy stuff that happened to him. The plotline of Mystical Emona is the one that changed the most from start to finish. This was our first book and one that we workshopped through critique groups in When you're writing your first book, you are learning, and you think you have to take all the advice everyone gives you. Eventually, you learn to take into consideration the advice that fits into your idea of how the story should go, and then politely thank all the others for their responses. Val Tobin — A character I'm currently working on is giving me more challenges than most. He's a master mage and unpredictable. The Experiencers, book one in the Valiant Chronicles series, changed the most between the first draft and the final result. It was the first novel I wrote, and I was lucky to receive excellent high-level feedback from a professional editor. His suggestions made the story so much better.

Adrian Czarnecki — Sort of with Sylva Sylva Fae on this but, before I really got into my first adventures of Hot Rod Todd illustrates children’s story book based on 6 Siberian Husky puppies I spent hours and hours with illustrator. Cameo Anderson -

Feature Article Writer / Illustrator developing each of pups characters and personas as it was important that children and adults alike could identify. Best example would by Eye Patch Echo and his sister BBQ Haku. He adores her and she him but he winds her up teases her all the time but push come to shove he is always there for her. Parents out there with two kids does this sound familiar?

Rhonda Hopkins — There's a villain in an, as yet, unpublished book that is evil. It took a lot of effort to find any redeeming quality in him. I had to dig really deep into his psyche which felt like it stained my soul for a while. This same book, An Illusion of Safety, is the first in an upcoming romantic suspense series, Courting Justice. It was the first full novel I ever tried to write and as such it's been through a myriad of changes. So many, I finally stopped writing it because I was

basically sick of it. But, it has a piece of my heart and my plan is to release the first two or three books in 2022. Erika Black — I'm new-ish, so I can't really say any of them have been difficult so far. The characters I have written seem to have come to me fully-formed. However, I have a series planned for later this year, that I think will probably prove to be more difficult to get the character layers that will be needed. It will most likely be the book that will

require the most changes as it will be more complex. Gordon Bickerstaff — The main character in my series is a woman and special forces trained. I'm comfortable with her now, but I had to change her several times before her character felt . Melanie P. Smith — It might sound strange but the most difficult character for me to create was Knight — a police dog in my Thin Blue Line series. I grew up with dogs and

as an adult I’ve had many four legged kids. I also worked closely with our K9 unit for many years. Even with that experience, when it came to describing how a police dog would react in various apprehension scenarios, I had to consult an expert. I based the dog on my husband’s K9 partner — Knight. Over the course of the novel I would write a scene, give it to my husband, re-worked it with his suggestions, discuss it again, then rewrite again until I felt it was accurate, detailed and realistic.

Authors Talk About Writing Describe yourself in 3 sentences or less. Include a link to your website and one of your books. Max Power — Multi-genre author… I am happy. I am Irish. I am a little bit cheeky.

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Sylva Fae — Children's picture books and first chapter books … I frequently switch between mad mum of three and peaceful woodland wanderer.

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Ronesa Aveela — Multi genre (focusing on Eastern European folklore and customs) … Ronesa is complex,

being two people. Together, in writing, we have the skills to be one. Crazy, grumpy, happy, lazy, energetic, all at once.

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Feature Article Cathy M. Donnelly — Multi-genre author… I am introverted, optimistic and loyal.

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Rebecca Bryn — Multi-genre author… Introverted and slightly insane artist and dog servant

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Val Tobin — A variety of genres: SF thrillers, horror, fantasy, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. … I'm introverted but will come out of my shell with tequila and butter

tarts on a sunny afternoon at the cottage.

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Rhonda Hopkins — Multi-genre author: Paranormal, cozy mystery, young adult, apocalyptic, and urban fantasy. … I'm an introvert who loves her God and her family. I'm a volunteer. And I have a big imagination and would love to visit "most" of the worlds I envision.

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By Melanie P. Smith Erika Black — Erotic Romance… I'm a sensual person who loves to explore life.

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Melanie P. Smith — Multi-genre author… I’m an introverted writer, photographer and adventurer who is loyal, often sarcastic, and works hard but plays hard.

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Sharon Brownlie

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Gordon Bickerstaff

Buy now… https:// Black-Fox-Lambeth.../dp/ B00TFS63C2/

Ceri Bladen — Multigenre https:// ceribladenauthor

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Criminal Suspense Entire Series available in audiobook Moondance Ridge: Book 2 Mount Haven: Book 1 When evil finds her, will the hunters become the Prey?

She escaped — now he wants her back. Refusing could be deadly.

Subterfuge: Book 3 When someone you love vanishes, how far would you go to get them back?

Romantic Fantasy

Part Mortal — Part Divinity Fully Devoted Meet the immortals -The wiccan, the shifter, the Master of Water, the siren, the healer, the Reader of Minds. Their destiny awaits — if they accept their fate and unite to confront a dangerous enemy in the battle of a lifetime.

Audiobook coming soon...

Author Val Tobin studied general arts at the University of Waterloo, then went to DeVry Toronto to get a diploma in Computer Information Systems. She worked in the computer industry as a software and Web developer for over ten years, during which time she started to get serious about energy work and the paranormal and occult.

The Phone Call Hunched into a crouch, Dylan shoved the kayak off the dock and into the water and then tilted back on his heels to catch his breath. The simple act of lugging the craft down the rocks and to the water had sapped what little energy he had. His muscles were still weak, his limbs scrawny. He lifted the suede cowboy hat off his head and ran his fingers through the gray-flecked mahogany curls. Odd how his hair had grown back soft and curly after it had fallen out. Maddie, his wife, insisted it was sexy. Dylan agreed and checked himself out in mirrors and shiny surfaces whenever he passed by them. Secretly, he loved how young it made him look—not that fifty-five was that old. Still, if people mistook him for forty-five, he wouldn’t complain. He unfolded to his full six feet and scanned the lake. The mist had started to burn off already as the sun speared through the clouds over the eastern horizon. His target destination, the small island in the middle of the lake, looked farther than it had before. Only perception, he told himself. Fatigue always distorted perception. The challenge, to most people, would be easy enough: paddle out to the island, explore it, and return to the dock. For Dylan, it was the day’s major goal. Ever since his doctors had told him his cancer was in remission, he’d set increasingly challenging tasks for himself. Today, he planned to paddle to the island if it took him until sunrise tomorrow. One day, hopefully soon, he’d return to his job at the factory, back to the assembly line, the piecework. It wasn’t what he’d dreamed of doing with his life, but it paid the bills and the people there were decent. After spending most of his days in the hospital, he’d welcome the return to manual labour and ordinary problems.

He glanced up toward the cabin. Nothing moved. Good. If Maddie caught him here alone, she’d fuss and coo over him as if he were a baby learning to walk. He scrubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin and grinned at how he’d had to skip his morning shave in fear of waking her. She needn’t worry—he wasn’t a fool. He’d worn his life jacket. Dylan gripped the kayak and slid into it. Lifting the paddle off the dock, he shoved off. With a deep breath in, he reveled in the early morning air and headed for the island. He rested often as he crossed, but he used these respites as an opportunity to check out the local wildlife—such as it was out on the water. He spotted fish in the lake and a loon drifting along the surface. It dove under the water, likely chasing those fish. A hoarse, barking croak sounded across the lake, and Dylan at first thought a dog might be in trouble. Then a great blue heron launched itself into the sky. Dylan followed its flight until it vanished into the trees on the distant shore. It wasn’t until after the giant bird had disappeared that Dylan remembered he should have taken a picture with his phone. Perhaps he’d get the opportunity on his voyage home. He reached the island after an hour. Once again, he rested before climbing from the kayak and dragging it up onto the tiny beach. The sun was well up now, and sweat trickled from under his hat all around his hairline. He removed his life jacket and set it on the kayak’s seat. Next he removed his hat and shirt, but put them on again when the bugs swarmed him. Large flies that bit. Maybe horse flies, maybe deer flies, Dylan wasn’t sure, but whatever they were, they annoyed him. Part of his mission was to have his morning coffee on the rocks overlooking the lake, so he retrieved the thermos he’d brought and poured. His first sip went down like honeyed milk from heaven. Dylan sipped until the first cupful was gone. He recapped the thermos, saving the rest for later. Time to explore the island. His cell phone rang then, and of course the call display showed Maddie. He answered on the second ring with a cheerful “Hey, honey.” “Don’t you ‘hey honey’ me. Where are you?” More worry than anger filled her voice, which made him sound apologetic and guilty when he replied. “I went for a paddle.”

“What do you mean?” “I took the kayak out.” What else could that mean? “You”—she heaved a sigh—“Why? Where? You can’t. You shouldn’t.” “I’m fine. Just across the lake on the island. Nothing will happen. I’m having a thermos of coffee, a little stroll, and coming right back.” “But you didn’t even leave me a note.” “Well, you could call me if you needed me.”

Now anger crept into her voice. “What if something happened and you couldn’t answer the phone?” “You worry too much. I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.” In the end, she accepted he needed to do this—for himself, but not out of selfishness. He’d been sick for so long, in bed for so long, he needed to return to life again. This challenge was one way to show the cancer it hadn’t licked him. He’d beaten it, but he wasn’t satisfied with simply beating it. He had to get his life back. His vigor. Before he disconnected the call, he said, “You understand, don’t you, Maddie?” “Yes.” Her tone held reluctance, and he figured if their roles were reversed he’d react the same way. It was all for love. “But if you don’t come home at a decent time, I’m coming to get you.” “I love you,” he said. “I love you, too, you damn fool,” she replied, and he smiled. It was their routine whenever they argued and made up. Sometimes she was the damn fool. Time to explore the island and head home, triumphant. Dylan inhaled, drawing in as much energizing fresh air as his lungs could stand, blowing it out again slowly. With deliberate steps, he picked his way along the shore, following the circumference of the island. The beach was brown sand interspersed with large boulders and small stones, and he took care to place each step carefully.

He allowed himself an hour of exploring the island and its smattering of evergreen trees, bushes, scrub, and rocks. Birds made nests in the trees here, and he watched them flit from tree to tree, though he couldn’t identify them. They were small, wrens, maybe. Or finches? When he went home, he’d look it up in a book. He should pay more attention to what surrounded him, learn more about nature. The rain hit all at once. One moment, it was bright and sunny, and the next, it grew dark as twilight and rain teemed down. The wind lashed the trees, and thunder rumbled in the distance, pounding Dylan’s heart. So much for the stupid weather app, which had told him it would be sunny today with a chance of showers. Did this look like showers to them? It was more like a hurricane. He could hear the waves roiling and pounding the shoreline.

Maddie would be terrified, so he pulled out his phone to call her and assure her he’d be fine. The call dropped, and he couldn’t get through. The kayak! He ran, trying not to lose his footing on the slick rocks, but by the time he reached the shore, it already bobbed out of reach in the waves, carrying his lifejacket with it. He waded in, frantic to grab it before it capsized. ***** “Mom?” Libby stuck her head into her mother’s bedroom. “Are you awake?” She spoke in a low voice in case her mother was asleep, but hoped Maddie was awake. Just don’t let her be dead. Not now. Not yet. Maddie was dying, and she didn’t need to see her daughter falling apart. But Libby had already lost Dylan, her dad, twenty years ago. She didn’t want to face the loss of her mother, too. Yet some things you couldn’t control, and Libby had to accept that, like it or not. It had all been so sudden. Maddie’s diabetes and heart problems slowly ran her down. Then the cancer had struck, and after battling it for weeks, this was the end. Libby took a leave of absence from work to care for her mother, but from the look of it, she wouldn’t be away from work for long. After only three days, Libby could tell Mom was slipping away quickly.

To Libby’s relief, Maddie answered, her voice a soft croak. “I’m up.” Libby padded into the room and sat on the edge of her mother’s bed. She put a cool hand on Maddie’s warm, frail arm. “How’re you doing? Get any sleep?” Libby frowned, letting the worry show through for a moment before getting control of it and replacing it with a fake smile.

“He’ll call today. This time, he’ll talk to me.” “Yes, Mom.” Libby didn’t ask who her mother meant. Today was the anniversary of Dylan’s death. He’d perished in a violent storm on an island near the family cottage. Every year since then, Maddie insisted her phone would ring at the time he’d died, but when she answered it, no one was on the other end. Libby had been present once or twice when this happened. Nothing showed on the call display, and she wrote it off as a glitch combined with her mother’s wishful thinking. “I’m making tea. Would you like me to bring you a cup?” “Yes, please.” Her mother smiled, but it twisted into a grimace of pain. “Can I adjust your pillows for you?” Libby stood and leaned over her mother. “No. Just put my phone beside my hand where I can reach it.” “Mom, you know I don’t like to leave it in your bed. What if you fall asleep?” “So what? What’ll happen? It’ll give me cancer?” She laughed, and that turned into a hacking cough. Every request from her mother was like a dying wish, so Libby complied. “I’ll go make that tea. You call if you need me. I’ll listen for you on the monitor.” “Like a baby you treat me.” Libby sighed. “The monitor’s convenient. That way you don’t have to text me or phone me.” And Mom was too weak to shout for help, a fact Libby didn’t point out. She left the room, heading for the kitchen. *****

The moment Libby disappeared, Maddie’s phone vibrated. She picked it up and pressed it to her ear. “Dylan?” she whispered. She knew it was him. It was time he spoke to her. She’d hear him this time for sure, and she did, just as she knew she would. “Maddie.” She answered, keeping her tone hushed. “You left me.”

The years without him had been so long, so interminable. Sure, she’d had the kids, the grandkids, but she’d lost her soul mate. At first she’d thought she couldn’t live without him. When she discovered life went on regardless, and she’d survive the loss, she carried on, but with a void in her heart. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. But I’ve waited for you. It’s sunny here. Will you come?” “You know I will. The kids will understand. They know I’ve got to go.” She sighed, and it was heavy with pain and exhaustion. His voice gave her peace and filled the void in her heart with a longing that was as fresh as the day he’d died. “Let go, Maddie. Let go and come to me.” Maddie closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she found herself on the rocky shores of the island where the search and rescue team had discovered Dylan’s body. He’d slipped and fallen, his ankle twisting and catching in the rocks. Unable to pull himself from the water, he’d drowned as the storm raged around him. “Why here?” she asked him. “Well, it was my challenge, and I failed. When I spoke to you before the storm hit, you promised you’d come get me if I didn’t come home.” He took her hand, and it felt solid and warm. She looked him up and down. “I’m old, Dylan, and you haven’t changed a bit. Why, you look even younger than when I last saw you. Strong. As if you’d never even gotten sick.” She couldn’t wait to touch more of him, so she put her arms around him. “Ah, you’re but a young slip of thing now.” He chuckled. She pulled away from him and looked down at her clothes. The skirt she wore was one she’d owned forty years before. It was short, and the top she had on barely covered her belly button. Her legs were young and shapely. On her feet were sandals, and her toes were painted a bright pink.

“Are we staying here?” She drew his face down to hers, kissed him on the nose, and laughed because she could laugh now without coughing and choking. “We’re going wherever we want. Let’s walk a bit before we take that final journey. I want to show you the woodpecker. He’s in the tree right now. I love you, Maddie.” “I love you, too. You damn fool.” He looked down at her and tweaked her nose. “Me? What did I do?” “Nothing this time. I missed telling you, is all.” They linked arms and walked away from the shore as if they were fit and spry, because they were. ***** “Tea’s ready, Mom.” Libby entered her mother’s room and set the cup and saucer on the night table. For a moment, she thought her mother had fallen asleep again. She never stayed awake for long. The phone was on the floor by the bed, where it had fallen when the hand holding it had dropped to the covers. She stooped to pick it up and noticed the radiant smile on her mother’s lips. Libby choked on a sob and snatched her own phone from the holster on her hip. She called her brother, the phone trembling in her hand. Now that it’d actually happened, she took charge. Libby needed to take charge. “Hey, Lib. How’s Mom?” Her heart squeezed. It took all her effort of will to keep her voice from breaking and the sobs from escaping. “I’m sorry, Dave. She passed.” She looked down at her mother’s peaceful face and stroked her mother’s arm. “She’s with Dad now.”

As Libby stepped away from the bed, her foot knocked the phone on the floor. “I think he finally got through,” she said.

Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading. Discover more about Val on her website:

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9

Hostile Annihilation

Dax slowly slid his left eye open and cautiously surveyed his surroundings. It only took a couple seconds to confirm he was still alone. The floor he’d been dumped on was a cold piece of concrete, the walls were covered in brick so ancient it had started to crumble, but he’d hit the jackpot with the two old, foggy windows that practically covered the adjacent wall. The glass was probably shatter-proof, but he could work with that. The room was much smaller than the large warehouse he’d been held in before — with none of the custom-made amenities. Clearly, the duo hadn’t had the time to make the same preparations in this backup location as they had in the first one. Dax smiled. His luck had just turned. Instead of being in an impossible situation, he was merely in a difficult one. He was still groggy from whatever drug Nassar had given him before he made a hasty getaway. Unfortunately, Dax had no idea how long he’d been out or where he was now being held. What he did know... the trip was unplanned, and his captors were in a panic. Did that mean his friends had discovered where he was being held and Nassar had to move fast? Clearly, someone had caused significant problems for the crazy terrorist. But, in his haste, Nassar had made a serious mistake. Dax could tell his arms were secured with plastic zip ties. And, the ignorant man had mistakenly tightened the things as forcefully as he could. No slack, which meant they would be easy to cut. Once Dax found a sharp surface, he’d be free. But first, he needed an escape plan. He wouldn’t have long and Nassar still had a gun. Dax did not. He’d need to cut the plastic ties and escape immediately. It made things more difficult, the fact he had no idea where he currently was, but he’d have to wing that part. The first step was to locate the weak point in this structure and exploit it. Then, he’d break the ties and run. It wouldn’t be easy. He was sure at least two ribs were broken and his ankle was now swollen and Continue Reading Pg. 84 tender.

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

Jennifer Reynolds

Valeterra Series Book 2 Available: February 8, 2021 $0.99 Pre-Order SALE. Price increases to $2.99 on 2-15-21.

Gail has spent the better part of a year missing her sister, Valerie, who took off on a trip around the country to “find herself,” and trying to pick up the pieces of her life after a messy divorce. When Valerie returns pregnant, with a husband, strangers who can turn into wolves, and a story about parallel dimensions, plagues, mates, and magic, Gail doesn’t know what to believe or how to answer Valerie’s request that she cross a portal into another world with her. Caiden is a soldier, a bodyguard to the alpha of a shapeshifter pack. His only role in accompanying Jackson, his alpha and friend, and Jackson’s wife, Valerie, Earthside, is to protect them. He was in no way supposed to mate the human woman they were sent to bring to Valeterra. But as with all things, the Fates will have their way.

“Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring… my summer wine is really made from all these things”. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. I was a young man when the hit single “Summer Wine” was released back in 1967. I wondered at the time, is there such a thing as summer wine? Yes, there is… it’s another name for homemade country wine. What is country wine? You might ask. Wine made from something other than grapes. Have you ever entertained the thought of making homemade wine? I have. I would love to try my hand at making a grape wine. But I don’t live near the vineyards of Napa Valley. I live in the Mountain West. Not a lot of vineyards in Utah. But one thing Utah does have… fruit orchards. One hot summer day I was in my back yard looking at the mess that was my lawn under a large apricot tree, when the thought hit me... Apricot Wine! This was the beginning of my personal journey of discovery. How did it all turn out? I am proud to say I have produced several batches of excellent Apricot Wine from that very tree. If you have ever thought about making homemade wine, here’s your chance. I am all thumbs and two left feet, if I can do it… you can too! Start thinking about it now, the next apricot harvest is just a few months out.

What you will need: 1 bushel basket of fresh ripe apricots. Enough to make 2 gallons of juice/pulp. 10 lbs table sugar 1 pkt yeast (wine yeast) 1 plastic bucket (5-gal food grade) 2 glass or plastic carboys (5-gal ea.) with 1 bubbler/air lock Assortment of inexpensive additives from a local brew shop/ wine making supply.

Cost: People always ask… how much will it cost? The price will vary based on your location, but here are the basics here in Utah. As hobbies go, making your own wine at home is not very expensive at all. Often the fruit is free if you know someone with an apricot tree. The equipment of consequence is two carboy jugs (5-gal), they run about $35.00 each for glass. Some people use those large 5-gal Springwater jugs (plastic) only abt. $10.00 at Walmart. It’s helpful if you have a Slow Press Masticating electric juicer. Walmart has one for $70.00. You should have one of these in your kitchen anyway. But for just one batch of wine on the cheap, you could get away with using a hand press and crush one fruit at a time or use a potato masher on small batches of cut fruit in a bucket. You need to extract the juice and pulp. Do not use a blender. When it comes time to bottle the wine, you can save and reuse empty wine bottles. Or, 12 wine bottles for $24.00 at the brew shop. Or you can store your finished wine in 1 gal glass jugs.

There are additives and sanitizers available at the brew/wine supply at minimal cost; sanitizers, acid-blend, wine yeast, airlocks. Very inexpensive and easy to use. Wine yeast is 1.00 a packet. Procedure: This will make a 5-gal batch = about 20 bottles of wine. Let’s start with the fruit. You want fresh apricots, either pick them yourself or buy them at a road-side stand/ farmer’s market. Apricots should be almost over-ripe, still good to eat and juicy. Wash and quarter the fruit removing the pit, stim, and any bad spots. Leave the skin on.

Next, you’re going to crush the fruit to extract the juice and pulp. Use a hand press/fruit press to crush one fruit at a time. You will need 2 gal of pressed juice/pulp to make a 5-gal batch of wine. Do not use a blender. Bring 3-gal tap water to a boil (use 2 pots). Let boil a few minutes to neutralize the chlorine in the water or use distilled water. Add 10 lbs. table sugar to one pot, dissolving the sugar into simple syrup. Pour hot simple syrup into 5-gal plastic bucket (food grade). Add the 2-gal apricot juice/ pulp while syrup is hot. Add the 2nd pot of boiling water to bring the batch level up to within 4 or 5 inches of the rim of the bucket, stir. This will kill any bacteria in your juice. Cover the bucket w/ towel, let steep and cool down to 80 deg f. (barely above room temp) What you now have in the bucket is the makings of your wine. The next step is where the science comes in. This next step is called fermentation.

Fermentation requires a little explanation, and a lot of attention. Fermentation occurs by adding yeast. Not so fast batman… your mixture is still too hot. We need to let the juice, syrup mixture cool down to 80 deg. F so you don’t kill your yeast. First the explanation; adding yeast causes a type of chemical reaction that converts the sugar in your juice into alcohol. In other words, adding yeast to your mixture will turn your extra sweet fruit juice into wine, with an alcohol content of about 11% by volume. Now for your attention; yeast is a living organism. Think of yeast as a bowl of goldfish. Let the goldfish get too hot… they die. Let the goldfish get too cold… they die. Don’t feed them… they die. Let them get contaminated by outside bacteria… they die. If your yeast dies, your fermentation dies. If this happens, might as well pour your wine down the drain. Now you know what I mean by attention. Adding yeast to a sweet sugary liquid, at the right temp, will lead to a successful fermentation. Just sprinkle the yeast on the surface. The yeast colony will thrive in your sugar/juice mixture, so long as you keep the mixture between 70 deg. and 80 deg. Fahrenheit. The yeast will convert all the sugars in the juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. A few hours after adding the yeast you will see gas bubbles rising to the surface, this is how you will know the fermentation is active. Let’s talk for a minute about the gas bubbles. It is a harmless carbon dioxide gas, it smells of spoiling fruit, musty. It must be vented… allowed to escape the fermentation vessel, otherwise the gas will build up pressure and rupture/explode. For the first 3 days the fermentation will occur in the 5-gal plastic bucket covered with a towel. The gas bubbles can easily escape through the towel. The towel covering will keep out contaminating dust in the air and fruit flies. (little fruit flies seem to come from nowhere) On day 2 stir the mixture w/ sanitized long handle spoon to punch down any surface crust and help suspend the fruit pulp. You can sanitize the spoon w/ boiling water, or sanitizer from the brew shop. On day 4 the fermentation will have produced enough alcohol in the mixture that it now should be kept away from oxygen. Exposure to oxygen can turn your wine to vinegar. You are going to transfer the mixture (at this point winemakers call it must) you are going to transfer the must to a sanitized glass carboy. Do this by siphoning the liquid through a sanitized plastic tube. Place the empty glass carboy below/lower than the 5-gal bucket and siphon the liquid to the carboy leaving behind the

thick sludge at the bottom of the bucket. The glass carboy may be a little low of liquid when you’ve completed the transfer, (volume of sludge left behind in the bucket). Make this volume up by making more simple syrup and adding it to the carboy to bring the fluid level up to within about 5 inches below the neck of the carboy. Note: Let the simple syrup cool to room temperature before adding. Remember the goldfish analogy, you have a live colony of yeast to protect. Don’t kill the yeast with hot simple syrup. Speaking of the goldfish analogy… one of the things that can kill the yeast is bacterial contamination. To this point we have been safe because we have been building our mixture around boiling hot water and simple syrup. But now we are exposing our room temperature must to other surfaces such as a syphon tube and empty carboy. To protect the must from bacterial contamination we have to take care to sanitize those surfaces. The must cannot come into contact with any surface that has not been sanitized. This can be accomplished by flushing surfaces with boiling hot water - or - an easier way is to purchase a small bottle of StarSan sanitizer from a local brew supply/internet and follow the directions. Very easy to use. Now that the must is in a 5 gal carboy, you will fit a sanitized bubbler/air lock to the top of the carboy to allow gas to escape while keeping oxygen out. Add a little distilled water to the bubbler to make it work properly. (about halfway on the bubbler) Air lock cost about $2.50 ea. Within a few minutes the bubbler will become active indicating an active fermentation. After a couple of weeks, sometimes longer, the bubbler will slow significantly and eventually stop. This signals the end of fermentation. Congratulations… you have made wine. Don’t break out the wine glasses just yet. You have made wine… but not wine ready to drink. Making wine is a two-step process; 1) Fermentation where the wine is actually made. (the point you are at now)

2) Clearing the wine - a process that takes several weeks/months.

Clearing the wine is a simple enough process… but it takes time, a lot of time. Clearing wine is done by allowing the wine to settle out. In the beginning of this process the wine will settle creating a layer of sludge on the floor of the carboy. After about a week you will transfer the wine to a 2nd clean/sanitized carboy. You will do this again using the syphon tube, leaving behind the layer of sediment. This process is called “racking the wine”. After the first racking of the wine, we want to de-gas the wine. This is a one-time step to remove the gas/ foam from the wine. It is done with a power stir/electric drill, to agitate the wine sufficiently to remove all air bubbles/foam. This will help the wine settle out and clear. The mixer attachment for your drill is available at your local brew shop/internet. You can easily make one yourself from a wire coat hanger. Cut the coat hanger into a long shaft and put a slight bend in it. Attach to your power drill and agitate the wine. Remember to sanitize the stir shaft. As the weeks go by, the wine will become clearer and clearer with each racking, the layer of sediment will become thinner and thinner, and the time between racking longer and longer. Keep carboy out of direct sunlight during this process.

At some point the wine, which is now a pale yellow, will become crystal clear and “bright”.

We are close to breaking out the wine glasses but there is one more step… checking the acidity. The citric acid level is the difference between a flat, bland tasting wine and… Wow!! You want to find the right balance. I recommend adding small amounts of citric acid (acid blend) powder/ crystals until you find that balance. (available at the brew/wine supply) Add one level teaspoon, stir, taste. Repeat as needed. It’s helpful to have a bottle of store-bought wine on hand for taste comparison. I have added as much as seven teaspoons to get my wine where I wanted it. In older times winemakers added fresh squeezed lemon juice to help with balance. Now… break out the wine glasses. Note; You just made your first batch of homemade wine. You can bottle your wine in 1-gal glass jugs, or empty wine bottles you saved, or you can buy bottles by the dozen at your local wine/brew supply. Just be sure to sanitize the bottles first. If you enjoyed making your own wine, there is a wealth of information and supplies available on the net and at your local wine/brew supply. Enjoy


Safe Haven by Leeanna Morgan The Protectors Series Book 1

Hayley Elliott will do anything to keep her mom safe. Her sister has found a cure for Alzheimer’s and their mom is living proof that the supplement works. Hiding from the people looking for the supplement’s formula is impossible. When the threat to their lives becomes deadly, she has no option but to trust a man who’s living with a secret more dangerous than her own. view/637360

Elfin by Quinn Loftis Elfin Series Book 1

Before tonight, Cassie Tate’s biggest concerns were whether she could pass Algebra and how she was going to keep Elora, her emo best friend, from dressing her in a skimpy fairy costume for Halloween. Then Cassie saw something no human was ever supposed to see ... an elf in its true form. The penalty for such a transgression ... death. view/269223

Like a Memory by Abbi Glines One memory. One special summer. The one thing Bliss had lost herself in when the fear and sickness were too much, moments never to be damaged by the harsh reality that followed… until now. https:// books/view/694977

Armed and Fabulous Lexi Graves Mysteries Book 1 by Camilla Chafer All Lexi wants to do is get through the day at her boring temp job with Green Hand Insurance. That’s until she discovers the vice president, Martin Dean, in a pool of blood and herself at the center of an investigation into insurance fraud.

Sweet Hearts Samantha Sweet Magical Cozy Mystery Series Book 4 by Connie Shelton Samantha Sweet is planning her wedding to Beau Cardwell, coping with record Valentine sales at her bakery, and she takes on a new mystery when a dying woman begs Sam to find her missing son before it's too late. And if life weren't complicated enough, an ex-girlfriend of Beau's shows up to announce that she plans to win him back. Midwest Book Review: "Connie Shelton gets better with every book. books/view/125381

Millions of dollars are missing, the chief suspect is dead and her mysterious, sexy, new boss is not what he seems. books/view/161799

Send Me Crazy Hot in the City Series by T. Gephart A note, a pair of panties and a date. When Quinn’s efforts to set up her best friend go awry, she finds herself with a crazy blind date. Could the mystery man be her soul mate? Nothing like an adventure, and at the very least, she was going to have some fun with it. books/view/958235

Prince of Wolves The Grey Wolves Series Book 1 by Quinn Loftis Jaque Pierce, an ordinary 17-year -old girl, meets a mysterious foreign exchange student and soon learns he is a Canis lupus-a werewolf-with a destiny connected to her own. books/view/84572

Falling For You Sapphire Bay Series Book 1 by Leeanna Morgan After six years of focusing on her career, Natalie Armstrong craves the peace and tranquility that only Sapphire Bay can give her. But returning to her grandparents’ cottage isn’t as easy as she imagined. No one told her about her houseguest or the unexpected changes in the small town she calls home. books/view/800978

The Vapire Falls Three Nights of the Vampire Series Book 1 by Amy Cross One woman. Two vampire brothers. Three nights of terror. When she moves to Paris to start a new life, Chloe Carter soon learns that she can't leave the past behind. First, her exboyfriend shows up with a surprising offer. And then there are the vampires... view/1068007

Kayli Unknown Kat Johnson Mysteries by William Wresch A tiny bar in a tiny Wisconsin town. Suddenly the front of the bar explodes as a young girl smashes a car through the wall. Kat rushes to help her as the roof of the bar collapses. The girl is dead. Who was she? Why did she crash her car into the bar? Why has no one in town ever seen her before? Why is no one at her memorial service? Her bracelet says her name is Kayli. Kayli Who?

Once upon a time ... dragons lived in castles and captured beautiful princesses. The majestic dragon is a popular fairy-tale character. This collection of old tales made new introduces you to the creatures from Eastern Europe, many unknown to the Western world. These tales may have been told "once upon a time," but they remain cherished treasures to those who passed them down generation after generation. If you enjoy this book and would like to learn more about dragons, check out our nonfiction book on the subject: A Study of Dragons of Eastern Europe.

New Release

Have you ever wondered if dragons were real? Author Ronesa Aveela grew up in Bulgaria, terrified by tales of dragons capturing beautiful girls for their brides. Her grandmother armed her with protective herbs and performed rituals passed down from generation to generation. Dragons, the third book in the series, takes you across Eastern Europe to discover folkloric beliefs, fairy tales, customs, and rituals about the dragons who once lived in the land, and still do within the hearts of many. You’ll learn historical facts, discover intriguing and horrifying stories, and enjoy beautiful illustrations to gain a complete experience of these magnificent creatures. Here are a few topics you can expect to find within the book’s pages: • • •

Learn about how dragons or the idea of dragons developed. Did they ever exist in some form in the past? Explore the lives of dragons: their purpose, how they live, how to defeat or appease them. Discover the stories, facts, and fiction behind several popular dragon slayers. Dragons is an enlightening nonfiction cultural study in the Spirits and Creatures series. If you like impeccable research, chilling stories, and clever humor, then you’ll love Ronesa Aveela’s educational folklore series. Explore the pages of Dragons today to discover a world of wonders.

Zion National Park — Interesting Facts You May Not Know by Melanie P. Smith BASIC FACTS Approximately 4.3 million people visit Zion National Park each year making it one of the most visited National Parks in the nation. Currently Zion ranks number four ahead of Yellowstone and Yosemite. The only three parks with more visitors annually are Great Smoky Mountain, the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain parks. In contrast, the year it was created only saw 1,814 visitors. There are many reasons Zion has risen in popularity. Among them are the stunning scenery, some of the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world, and wild canyons with access to over 100 miles of hiking — some routes are extremely easy while others are among the most difficult in the world. Additionally, it’s only a short three hour drive from Las Vegas, one of the most popular tourist cities in America. The two most popular destinations in the park are Angels Landing and the Narrows — both are considered strenuous. The Narrows is so treacherous chains have been anchored to the cliffs to aid hikers on the narrow ascent. Chains and railing have also been added to the most hazardous areas of the Angels Landing trail.

FASCINATING THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW Before it was Zion National Park, this area — which encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States — was designated Mukuntuweap National Monument by President Howard Taft in 1909. Later, on November 19, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson expanded the protected area, changed the name, and it became a national park. Zion is the oldest national park in the state of Utah and preserves 229 square miles of red rock landscape. Zion is home to one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times. In 1909, Zion was virtually inaccessible to visitors because of poor road conditions and a limited railway system. Once it became a national park, people wanted to explore it. To make this possible, construction began on a 25 mile stretch of road connecting Zion with Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. It was completed in 1930 and named the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway. There is a 1.1 mile tunnel that cuts through the vertical sandstone cliffs and blends with the surrounding landscape, including windows to allow visitors access to the majestic views of the canyon along the way.

Zion lodge was built in 1925 in hopes of stimulating railway traffic to the national parks in southwest Utah. The design was rustic using milled logs and stonework in the smaller pieces. Unfortunately, in 1966, a fire destroyed the lodge. Understanding the importance of having lodging near the park, it was rebuilt in 100 days. Those in charge at the time focused on expediency rather than style and the original rustic look was lost. In 1990, the lodge was remodeled and restored to it’s original look. Luckily, many of the other outlying buildings still remain including guest cabins, employee lodging and a few other supporting buildings. In April of 1995, the lodge was again threatened when a landslide blocked the Virgin River. Over a period of 2 hours, the river carved away 590 feet of earth trapping 450 guests and employees in the lodge. A one-lane road was constructed within 24 hours (another miraculous feat) to evacuate those stranded. Access to the lodge was restored the following month. The Lodge remains a popular lodging spot for visitors.

Zion is home to about 80 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 8 species of fish and 44 species of reptiles and amphibians. Among them are rare species such as the California Condor, the Mexican spotted owl, the Mojave Desert tortoise and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. More common mammals like the elusive Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Mule deer, Big horn sheep, Fox, and a ton of Jack rabbits. Because Zion is home to so many caves and arched overhangs, bats are also frequently spotted by visitors.

The park has a subway but not the kind people use for transportation. The journey through The Subway doesn’t have any trails. Visitors must obtain permits before they can even access this area of the park. It is a strenuous 9 mile hike round-trip which requires the traveler to find the route, rappel down cliffs, cross — and sometimes swim — across several creeks, and scramble boulders. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is so difficult you cannot even obtain a permit unless you’re going with someone that has already successfully completed the Subway journey in the past. The canyon was carved over a million years by flowing water. From the valley floor you can see the Virgin River flowing across the land, but look up and you’ll experience towering cliffs and beautiful red rock. Zion is known for it’s flash flooding, so if it starts to rain — beware and get to higher ground. It would take weeks to explore the entire park completely. Most visitors stick to the more popular trails. You can hike over one hundred miles of designated trails throughout Zion National Park. So, if you decide to visit be sure to take plenty of water — you’re going to need it.

The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This gorge has walls a thousand feet tall and the river extends twenty to thirty feet wide in some sections. It is one of the most popular trails in Zion National Park. To traverse this trail; at times, you will be walking in the Virgin River — upstream in some places. Hiking from the bottom up from Temple of Sinawava does not require a permit. If you choose to make the 16 mile hike down from Chamberlain’s Ranch, this will require a permit. The best time to hike the Narrows is late spring to early summer when the water is the warmest. However, this is also the time when sudden, summer storms can hit causing life-threatening flash floods. The Narrows is especially susceptible to flooding because much of the surrounding area is bare rock that does not absorb the moisture. During storms, runoff is funneled rapidly into the Narrows and water levels rise instantly — within seconds. Flash floods are common in Zion and many hikers have been stranded, injured and even killed while traversing the flood prone canyon of the Narrows.

Water in the Narrows fluctuates greatly from year to year and season to season. Sometimes even day to day, depending on rainfall, snowmelt and other factors. There are areas where you will encounter knee-deep crossings on slippery and uneven river beds. Some pools are actually waist high, so expect to get wet if you plan to explore this area of the park. You should always check the weather service before hiking the Narrows. This section of the canyon is popular but it is also very dangerous.

Another popular destination in Zion is Angels Landing (previously known as the Temple of Aeolus). This hike provides spectacular views — if you are brave enough to try it. It has been labeled one of the worlds most dangerous hikes. Angels Landing stands 1,488 feet above the Virgin River. It is a strenuous 2.5 mile hike, which might sound tame and easy but it includes switchbacks over sandy terrain and slickrock, long drop-offs and exposed edges that are so steep and treacherous park officials had to erect railing and chain grips in some areas just to keep the trail open. If you reach the top, you will have gained 1,500 feet in elevation. The last hurdle is a series of 21 switchbacks before you reach Scout Lookout. This is where most hikers turnaround. Those willing to continue will traverse approximately one half mile of strenuous terrain, sharp dropoffs, and narrow paths that require chains for balance. Officially, there have been eight fatalities where suspicious activity was not involved on this short section of the trail. If you’re brave enough to take the risk and come prepared, you’ll be rewarded with a view that is out of this world. Angel’s Landing got its name from a man named Frederick Fisher in 1916. The instant he saw it he exclaimed, “Only and angel could land on it.”

Located deep in the backcountry and hidden in a small canyon sits Kolob Arch — one of the largest freestanding arches in the world. The majestic curve is like a giant condor’s wing and arches at a little over 287 feet long. It is second only to Landscape Arch located in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. My final historical fact is the huge rockslide that occurred in Birch Creek Canyon on November 23, 1947. Zion has a long history of large landslides due to the tall cliffs and constant erosion. The earliest recorded slide was in 1947. This particular slide came dangerously close to destroying the buildings

Historical Images courtesy Zion National Park, Museum

in the area. The first image is from the Oak Creek utility yard, the boulder weighs approximately 880 tons, settled in front of Stone bridge, and rolled more than 1000 feet before hitting a parked truck. The second image is a 40 ton rock that crashed through a shed. It destroyed a new truck that had only been driven 100 miles before its demise. Fate was on their side that day and the employee cabins were not hit by this massive avalanche of rock and dirt. The final image is a boulder that landed behind the residence of Chief Ranger Fred Brueck. This large rock barely missed his home, coming to rest on a basketball court. It’s easy to see why Zion has always been one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there dozens of times over the years and personally experienced the majestic cliffs, the calming and sometimes treacherous waters of the Virgin River, the beautiful hikes, and the peace you can only find in the wilderness as you commune with mother nature. I’m older now and many of the hikes would be impossible to traverse. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to return tomorrow with my camera, plenty of water, and a days worth of snacks to get me through. If you’re a biker, this ride is one you will never forget. I highly recommend it. I hope you enjoyed learning about Zion National Park and if you’re in the area — be sure to drop in for a visit.

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

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Coming April 2021

Secrets. Lies. And, murder. Charley’s relationship with her boyfriend is better than she’d hoped, but she’s keeping a secret from him that could destroy his trust. After disappearing for two years, her cousin’s father makes an unexpected appearance with secrets of his own. And, when a woman is found dead in the small town, accusing fingers point toward Danu’s dad. It seems all of Whispering Pines is about to explode from the secrets it’s keeping. Can Charley expose the skeletons and find a murderer before chaos erupts? If you enjoy magic, quirky characters, and small-town mysteries with a touch of romance, you're sure to enjoy A Witchy Secret! This is the third book in the Witches of Whispering Pines series. All books can stand alone. However, you may enjoy reading them in order to see the progression of Charley's magic.

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Just for subscribing. 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?

A magical heritage. A threat in the forest. An explosion of powers. Charley Cooper is tired of being the lone non-magical person in a family of witches. At the ripe-old age of sixteen, she believes the witchy gene has skipped her. But when something dark in the forest threatens her best friend and her little sister, Charley's powers appear out of nowhere. Now Charley's best friend is angry about the secrecy. Her crush is dating someone else. And, her out of control powers threaten to expose her family's secret. When a dangerous enemy tries to silence them forever, Charley knows she must fight back. But can she learn to control her magic before they're all taking a nap in the local graveyard?

If you enjoy small-town mysteries with witches and quirky characters, you're sure to enjoy A Witchy Surprise. Get it today!

By Sylva Fae and Nick Jones I first met children’s author, Nick Jones through social media and noticed he lived in the next town to mine. We became online friends and finally met up when we joined Paul Ian Cross to do readings and a Story Machine workshop, at the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, in London. It was great fun, and although we had the amazing Judith Kerr doing a talk in the neighbouring marquee, we still managed to fill our tent with children. We were each reading our debut books for the festival (Rainbow Monsters - Sylva, Sarah’s Shadow – Nick, Praxx – Paul) but quite by coincidence, Nick and I both drew inspiration from our town for the books that followed.

Sylva Fae – No Place Like Home There’s a wonderful little gift shop in my local town of Macclesfield called No Place Like Home. The owner, Heather only stocks handmade / designed items from local crafts people, artists and authors. She stocks both mine and Nick’s books. I bumped into her in town one day and we got chatting, she said how great it would be for the shop if there was a children’s story about Macclesfield. It set me off thinking… Macclesfield is famous for a few things but mainly for its role in the silk industry, producing finished silk. I’ve taken my children round local museums enough times to know all about the life cycle of silk worms and the traditional weaving processes. Everywhere you look in Macclesfield, there is evidence of our once thriving industry, streets, shops, pubs and businesses all sport names that include silk or mulberry bushes (the main food of silk worms). Silk worms seemed like the perfect characters for a children’s story, and so Silky and Mac were born. Next came the story idea and again, the little shop, No Place Like Home was the inspiration. Many of the gifts sold there include hand painted designs of places of interest around Macclesfield and its surrounding villages. I had the idea of the silk worms hatching outside the shop and seeing all the fabulous places on the gifts in the window. Once they’d

transformed into moths, Silky and Mac then had the ability to visit all of these wondrous places. They set off on adventure to find a new place to live. Nick Jones – One Night in Bear Town After I wrote my debut picture book Sarah’s Shadow, I wasn’t sure if I’d get a similar flash of inspiration again, but luckily it was not long before an idea came to me. I was driving through Buglawton, a part of Congleton, where I live, and I passed the bear statue that stands in honour of the real-life bear that the town owned many years earlier. I looked at the statue and thought, ‘What if that statue could come to life?’ Then, as I drove on, it occurred to me that Congleton (which is affectionately referred to as Beartown due to its bear-related history) is full of bear statues. We had a big event in 2011 called Bearmania in which 75 painted bears were exhibited in the town, each one sponsored by a local business, school or charity. The event was a huge success and generated a lot of good publicity for Congleton, and thousands of pounds raised was donated to Animals Asia Foundation. I realised that there was potential to write a story in which all the painted bears and statue came to life, and that it would be a fun way of breathing new life into Bearmania’s positive legacy.

I ran a Kickstarter to raise the money needed to produce One Night in Beartown and was overwhelmed by the support I received, especially in Congleton itself. Over 25 businesses donated and there were over 140 pledges altogether. This was all done during the Covid pandemic, so perhaps there was a stronger community spirit due to that? Who knows. What I do know is that I am proud to have sparked the imagination of Congleton’s kids (and maybe some adults too!), and I hope to write more books with a local connection in the future.

One Night in Beartown purchase links:

No Place Like Home Two curious silk worms hatch outside a little gift shop. Peeping through the shop window, they are intrigued by the places they see, and each creature they meet fills them with wonder about the town of Macclesfield. Each night, Silky and Mac dream about visiting these amazing places. When they emerge from their cocoons as silk moths, their dreams come true. Silky and Mac set off on an adventure to find their perfect home. A children’s story by award-winning Macclesfield author.

One Night in Beartown From the award-winning duo that brought you Sarah’s Shadow comes another magical adventure… When bear-mad schoolgirl Sandy Lane has her beloved teddy bear Berisford confiscated at school, she dreads the thought of going a whole night without his cuddles. Little does she know that a bear-rilliant night awaits her, involving Berisford, a bear statue and many other wonderful friends!

Kidlit World Are you a children’s author looking to increase your online presence, showcase your work, receive reviews and post blogs on a growing platform dedicated to kidlit professionals? Would you like to connect with other authors, search for illustrators for your next project, browse book promotion services or find an editor? Kidlit World is the only global directory and blogging site created solely for kidlit professionals of all types. Join us today!

By Sylva Fae, with Karen Salter Poole and a Review by Adrian Czarnecki I first ‘met’ Story Karen while searching for my book, and I discovered she had done a reading of it. I loved it and contacted her straight away to thank her. We quickly became friends, and she has since recorded readings of most of my books. As a children’s author, it is such a compliment to discover someone has read your book, especially when they have gone to the trouble of recording it to share with others, and Karen’s was the best I’d seen. As most books are sold online, authors really have no idea who is reading their stories – we are often disconnected from the storytelling end of the process, which is especially sad with children’s books. When you discover a reader like this, it serves as a reminder that there are real people buying and enjoying our books. It’s quite a surreal feeling to see your ideas and words flowing around this digital world we live in.

But how did it all start? At the start of the pandemic, when all our little ones were suddenly thrust into the strange world of homeschooling, Karen wanted to do something to make them smile. She recognised that this was a scary time for children, and also a difficult time for parents whose routines had been turned upside down. What better way than to share her love of stories, entertain the children and give a tired parent a few moments of peace? Karen started up Story Karen’s Bedtime Stories – now one of the best YouTube story channels out there.

A Success Story The YouTube channel is now packed full of stories, all beautifully read with a sparkling of Story Karen magic. You’ll find all your favourite, well-known children’s authors, as well as many local and indie authors, like myself. And another lovely touch, each story is dedicated to a specific child. You can contact Karen to have a story dedicated to your little one, for an extra special story time experience. Now Karen also has a regular spot on her local radio station, where she reads in her lovely, bubbly style and shares her love of stories with all the young listeners out there. Check out Story Karen’s Bedtime Stories on YouTube:

I was first introduced to Karen Salter Poole’s “Story Karen’s Bedtime Stories” by fellow children’s author Sylva Fae who thought my “Adventures of Hot Rod Todd children’s story books would be a wonderful fit with Karen’s unique storytelling skills. So, me being me, I watched some of Karen’s video’s reading all sorts of books on her You Tube channel and had to admit, wow she is good, BETTER than good. Such enthusiasm and oh so charismatic and engaging story-telling and, loved the way that you were looking at the book Karen was reading as she turned the pages. I was hooked but, my books revolve around 6 Siberian Husky pups who get into all sorts of pickles; plenty of adventures, twists and turns, drama tension and surprises not to mention quite a few other characters. So, as much as I was impressed with Karen’s readings I was a little unsure how she’d cope with my characters. Silly Billy me. I sent her ‘Hot Rod Todd Visits Loch Ness’ and to put it simply, despite all the characters and plots, she absolutely nailed it and what’s more, she added sound effects - awesome. I wrote the book but wow, I was so enthralled as Karen’s reading brought it to another level, brought it to life, gave it so much life. Karen had clearly indentified with each of the characters and given them their own voice and therefore added to their character. From sassy BBQ Haku the only girl to alpha Husky Hot Rod Todd not to mention Baby Nessie, each was easily identifiable. If I were a children’s TV show producer, I would have her signed up immediately – absolutely brilliant and I cannot wait until Karen reads another of my books, “Hot Rod Todd to the Rescue”. Adrian Czarnecki

A first chapter book for newly independent readers – ages 8-10, or suitable as a read aloud bedtime story for younger readers – ages 6-8.

The Bedtime Stories App These stories were originally written as storyworlds for the Bedtime Stories App. They still feature on the app along with many other engaging stories aimed at a wide range of ages. The app is more than just stories though, it celebrates the joy of storytelling, encouraging parents and children to get involved with storytelling process. It enables children to develop skills like recapping and predicting what will happen. Parents can choose to read the story as it is, or use the guidelines to tell their own version of the story.

Fun fact: The character, Miso Mouse is named after the founder of Bedtime Stories, Michael Sokolar, and the fairy queen in story 4 is named after the artist who drew the original illustration, Karina Lemesheva.

Sylva Fae

New Release

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 Puddledust? Join Violet and her hedge ogre friend, Bramble Bottomly as they cause magical mayhem. Five short stories: 1. An Itchy Situation – Sometimes it takes a troublemaker to catch a troublemaker! 2. A Stinky Start – Violet longs for a friend to get up to mischief with and finds one in an unusual place. 3. A Dastardly Plan – Violet and Bramble make themselves invisible, but it doesn’t quite go to plan. 4. A Feast Fit for a Fairy Queen – Hedge ogres aren’t made for flying! Violet tries to help Bramble but her pixie potions don’t always work as expected. 5. Three Pesky Pixies and a Monstrous Mouse – Violet is given some unexpected responsibility, but with it comes her biggest challenge as the school acquires more pesky pixies.

Inspiration This story came about by observing the antics of my own three daughters. Their curious minds and adventurous spirits often get them into mischief. It’s not that they’re naughty, they just get easily distracted from what they should be doing and drift into daydreams instead of listening to instructions. Like Miss Nightshade, I despair of their behaviour and the mayhem that follows, but I’m secretly proud of their creativity and imagination. If truth be told, I was that pesky pixie in my youth.

Children have such short attention spans. As a parent, it’s tricky to find that balance between keeping them focused on tasks and letting them learn through play. I hope that, through these stories, children will learn that sometimes there are consequences when they don’t listen to a grown -up, but also, it’s fun to have a giggle at Violet’s magical mishaps too. “Captivating tales of pixies and potions – magical fun.” -Graham Watkins, Author That Pesky Pixie is available as an eBook and a paperback from Amazon:

Joy was a most unlikely hustler but beneath that innocent looking exterior lurked a shrewd and conniving mind. She painted on the first war paint of the day and admired the demure little housewife looking back out of the mirror. Smoothing the soft woollen cardigan over her tweed skirt, she smirked. Joy had planned this day meticulously, no detail left unchecked, from her loosely brushed hair right down to her sensible shoes. The list pinned to the kitchen noticeboard had every neatly penned item ticked off in sparkly pink pen. Who would suspect this innocent looking librarian of such a dastardly plan? The excitement of what she was about to do bubbled up inside her. She knew she'd succeed; failure was not an option. She carefully balanced a huge box of cupcakes, iced with military precision, as she locked the front door. The game was on. Joy fixed her expression and strode boldly on to the first house.Joy was a most unlikely hustler but beneath that innocent looking exterior lurked a shrewd and conniving mind. She painted on the first war paint of the day and admired the demure little housewife looking back out of the mirror. Smoothing the soft woollen cardigan over her tweed skirt, she smirked. Joy had planned this day meticulously, no detail left unchecked, from her loosely brushed hair right down to her sensible shoes. The list pinned to the kitchen noticeboard had every neatly penned item ticked off in sparkly pink pen. Who would suspect this innocent looking librarian of such a dastardly plan? The excitement of what she was about to do bubbled up inside her. She knew she'd succeed; failure was not an option. She carefully balanced a huge box of cupcakes, iced with military precision, as she locked the front door. The game was on. Joy fixed her expression and strode boldly on to the first house. Years of experience had taught her that brazen indifference worked best around these leafier suburbs. The cosseted inhabitants were totally unsuspecting as Joy worked her magic. They were ripe for the picking for an unscrupulous and devious mind. The key was to prey on their deepest fears, to exploit their vanity, greed and pettiness. Con them with a smile and a cupcake! The first house was always the hardest but Joy had chosen well, a deliciously rich trophy wife with an aversion to the working class; perfect! She delighted in the revulsion on Trophy Wife's face as she gingerly took the proffered cupcake, careful not to smudge her freshly manicured talons. Joy knew her cake would never add to the size six waistline. A shame really, her strawberry frosting was quite delightful, but these were just necessary props in her master scam. Joy chuckled to herself as she brushed a few stray cat hairs from her skirt to the designer doormat. Disgust rising, Trophy Wife thrust some notes at Joy and slammed the door. Two crisp twenty pound notes. Joy smiled as she folded them neatly into her cheap handbag. A small start but something to build on. She would use this paltry offering to her advantage.

Joy remembered the dreary days of scruples and honesty as she made her way down the long, landscaped drive of the next victim. She recalled the days when the chink and rattle of coins had thrilled her. The days she would trawl the cheap local neighbourhood being nice in exchange for a handful of loose change. Not so now, her little white lies had gradually darkened as she left those futile scruples behind in the terraced streets. Why waste her precious time trudging round door to door? Those people didn't have the cash to spare and most just slammed the door against her polite requests. Joy had quickly realised the advantages to be gained, if one was prepared to suppress the expected social niceties and embrace a life of deception. Adrenaline now coursing through her veins, Joy composed her next hustle. Mansion number two, an ostentatious eyesore, held a fake-tanned, pampered princess. Joy delighted as she prepared to play on Pampered Princess' rivalry with Trophy Wife next door; her research was paying off. Pitch expertly done; Pampered Princess was keen to outdo her neighbour any which way. Joy exchanged a pink frosted cupcake for an easy fifty pounds. Judging by the pudgy ankles squidged into her Manolo Blahniks, this was one cupcake that wouldn't be heading straight for the bin. Pampered Princess blatantly checked her watch and started to close the door, her rude dismissal didn't go unnoticed and Joy made a swift exit. Joy took a moment to enjoy the view as she made her way to hustle number three. This beautiful countryside really was wasted on these madams who had more money than sense, and egos to match. The next house came into view, a showy glass-fronted affair, subtly mirrored to keep out prying eyes. Joy glanced round the manicured lawn, a playhouse and two very expensive looking blue tricycles - children! Joy rang the bell and winced at the tacky tune it played. "Door!" a bored voice yelled from inside. Seconds later it was opened by a harassed looking girl, two toddlers tussling around her feet. Joy started on her patter taking in the scene. The overworked nanny shoed the boys out to the garden and sighed as she listened, probably glad to have a brief reprieve from the little monsters who were now fighting over a football. She glanced back nervously at her glitzy employer, who, phone in hand, was typing ferociously. Mistress Bling was dressed as only those who 'do lunch' do. An inappropriate amount of cleavage spilled over her tight, sparkly top. Her outfit screamed designer and no taste, and had no doubt cost more than Joy's entire wardrobe. Joy waited patiently as Downtrodden Nanny crept in and whispered her request. Without a glance or a pause in her tweeting, she extracted a purse from the matching sparkly bag next to her and thrust it into Downtrodden Nanny's hand. Joy suppressed her grimace and replaced it with a conspiratorial grin, as the nanny rolled her eyes and glanced back. Now the best bit, a cupcake in return for a couple of notes. Then, nodding at the squealing boys tearing round the lawn, she handed over another two cupcakes. Downtrodden Nanny hesitated, grinned, then grabbed another few twenties and thrust them back at an eager Joy. "She'll never notice. Good luck!" It was nearly time for lunch, soon the BMWs with their personalised number plates would be heading

out to the Village, their pristine owners strutting off to be seen in all the right places. Just time to a couple more houses before she paused for lunch herself. The homemade butties wrapped in foil were a far cry from the overpriced delicacies they would be nibbling. "She'll never notice. Good luck!" It was nearly time for lunch, soon the BMWs with their personalised number plates would be heading out to the Village, their pristine owners strutting off to be seen in all the right places. Just time to a couple more houses before she paused for lunch herself. The homemade butties wrapped in foil were a far cry from the overpriced delicacies they would be nibbling. Next stop, the residence of some local footballer. His celebrity status was wasted on Joy, she neither followed nor liked the game but yet again her homework had paid off. His recent infidelities had earned him a sleazy reputation and a number of front page headlines. Once Joy had convinced his long suffering wife she wasn't a reporter after a juicy story, she set about her task. Joy almost felt sorry for her, as she capitalised on the poor woman's need to make amends for her husband's rather public misdemeanours. With a weary smile, she handed over more than double the cash Joy had hustled so far. Another pink frosted cupcake turned into deliciously crinkly notes. House after house, Joy adjusted her patter, exploiting weaknesses, stroking egos and capitalising on petty jealousies. A little flirtation with the leather-clad minx at the farmhouse yielded another fifty pounds and an invitation to return! A tasty morsel of fabricated gossip for the busty blonde at number thirty, added an easy forty pounds, and her adoring, eyelash fluttering glances at the lecherous lout down the end of the lane, were rewarded with a fan of twenties. Each hustle was individually crafted and most lucrative. Hours of research into the newly rich and wannabe famous were paying off. She revelled in her power to coerce the obscenely rich into handing over their pocket money. The crisp wad of folded notes crinkling under Joy's caress grew and grew. Finally, her cupcake box was empty and her purse overflowing. Joy wiped a smear of pink frosting from the inside if the box and licked her fingers; it really was quite delicious. It had been a good day's work and such fun, but the best was yet to come. Just time to nip home for a quick celebratory coffee and change into a more appropriate outfit; skinny jeans, high boots and a casual jumper. She tossed her librarian persona into the wash basket and painted on a fresh face. A more hip and powerful Joy pouted back from the mirror. Cradling the heavy bag of cash, Joy locked the door and headed out once more. The rest of the gang were already seated when Joy arrived. She wasn't late, Joy was never late, she just liked to hang back to maximise on making her entrance. One by one the others emptied pockets and purses, adding to the disappointing pile of coins and small notes. It was a pathetic offering. Joy savoured the moment. It was time. Shoulders back, head held high, she triumphantly strode into the staffroom and placed the laden bag down on the coffee table sending coppers rolling to the floor.

House after house, Joy adjusted her patter, exploiting weaknesses, stroking egos and capitalising on petty jealousies. A little flirtation with the leather-clad minx at the farmhouse yielded another fifty pounds and an invitation to return! A tasty morsel of fabricated gossip for the busty blonde at number thirty, added an easy forty pounds, and her adoring, eyelash fluttering glances at the lecherous lout down the end of the lane, were rewarded with a fan of twenties. Each hustle was individually crafted and most lucrative. Hours of research into the newly rich and wannabe famous were paying off. She revelled in her power to coerce the obscenely rich into handing over their pocket money. The crisp wad of folded notes crinkling under Joy's caress grew and grew. Finally, her cupcake box was empty and her purse overflowing. Joy wiped a smear of pink frosting from the inside if the box and licked her fingers; it really was quite delicious. It had been a good day's work and such fun, but the best was yet to come. Just time to nip home for a quick celebratory coffee and change into a more appropriate outfit; skinny jeans, high boots and a casual jumper. She tossed her librarian persona into the wash basket and painted on a fresh face. A more hip and powerful Joy pouted back from the mirror. Cradling the heavy bag of cash, Joy locked the door and headed out once more. The rest of the gang were already seated when Joy arrived. She wasn't late, Joy was never late, she just liked to hang back to maximise on making her entrance. One by one the others emptied pockets and purses, adding to the disappointing pile of coins and small notes. It was a pathetic offering. Joy savoured the moment. It was time. Shoulders back, head held high, she triumphantly strode into the staffroom and placed the laden bag down on the coffee table sending coppers rolling to the floor. One thousand, three hundred and fifty lovely pounds Joy met the bemused stares of the other mums with a joyous grin. She pretended not to notice as they gaped at her ill-gotten gains but secretly enjoyed her moment. The headmaster rubbed his hands with glee, eyes glistening as he mentally planned where he would spend the money. The children of Holly Leaf Primary would get their new books and play equipment after all. And Joy, well Joy could bask in the limelight happy that she'd earned her rightful place as the Queen of the PTA mums. (The PTA is well known in England; it stands for Parent / Teacher Association. It is a brutal and competitive fundraising organisation, but thankfully, I’ve done my time and emerged relatively unscathed.)

Sylva Fae owns a wood where she and her husband run survival courses and woodland craft days. She escapes to the woods at every possible opportunity to enjoy the peace and fresh air. She takes the girls off on adventures in their own enchanted woodland, hunting for fairies and stomping in muddy puddles. You can find additional stories and anecdotes on her website

A great collection of stories by some amazing authors.

“I'm a fan of strong women, so I love the theme of this collection, and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed every piece in it. There's a wide variety of genres represented, from poetry to children's fairy tales, which keeps things fresh and engaging.

Strong Women The Cupcake Hustle was first published in an anthology by Mom’s Favorite Reads authors - Strong Women. The phrase ‘strong women’ can refer to countless things, from historical achievements, to self-made business women, to the strongest mothers out there. Strong Women is an anthology just about that, from the authors of the magazine Mom’s Favorite Reads. This collection of stories, featuring new and award-winning authors, span from a martial arts detective, to a girl working in a haunted café, all the way to a lady who takes down the queen of demons with a blessed baseball bat. You’ll be thrown into action, laughs, and even some chills. Proceeds of this anthology go to help continue to keep Mom’s Favorite Reads free for everyone. The volunteers who keep this magazine running donate countless hours writing, editing, and producing this magazine. Help support them and in return get a great collection of stories.

Magical creatures are well represented, from demons of Cassandra DenHartog's "The Lesson" to the questing queen of the Crypts in D. Fischer's "When Hope Was Forgotten" to the Queen of the Demons in Dennis Maulsby's story, featuring Father Donahey from his Winterset collection. Two of my favorites in the fantastic genre were Erin Casey's "Coffee Chaos," featuring a fae who's just having one of those days, and Val Tobin's "Premonition," which explores the consequences of having visions that prove true. Some women literally kick butt, like Stephen Brayton's martial arts heroine in "Orange Belt Opportunities" and the petite, deadly mob enforcer Elle in Kate McGinn's "What Happens in Vegas." Others use their wits to solve mysteries, like the investigator in Hannah Howe's "Over the Edge." For those who like their realism with a good dose of humor, Sylva Fae offers the menagerie family of "Hollin Hey" and Joy's "Cupcake Hustle," which had me on the edge of my seat wondering what this innocent-seeming lady was up to. Poppy Flynn takes us to Rome for romance in "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover," and DM Wolfenden tells a story of tragedy, loss, and redemption in "The Box." Each author has a distinct style and voice, but each piece has a unique appeal. Rather than enjoy just a piece at a time, I inhaled this book like a box of chocolates, eager to get the full flavor. It's rewarding to see how many ways women can be courageous, and on top of that, sales of this book support a great publication, Mom's Favorite Reads. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and spend your time with Strong Women.” Misty Urban, Amazon reviewer

New Release

What happens when your boss finds your naughty letter to Santa? Ashlynn Durant is horrified to learn that her letter to Santa has fallen into the hands of her boss, Giovanni D'Angelo. She only wrote it to get her feelings out of her head so she could concentrate on work. But, work is the last thing on the Italian angel's mind after he reads her letter. Maybe Santa is real after all. Will Ashlynn get everything on her naughty list? The Naughty List is the first book in The List, a new adult steamy contemporary romance series. You can read these in any order and they each have their own HEA; however, you may enjoy them better if read in the intended sequence as the main characters may reappear in other books in the series. *Sex, adult situations, and adult language PREORDER – March 5, 2021

What happens when you find the man who checks all the boxes on your Cupid's List? Co-CEO Genevieve D'Angelo works and plays hard. She's always in control. At least until she realizes her Chief of Security has plans to make all her hidden desires come true. Will Genevieve be able to let go and give someone else the lead? Cupid's List is the second book in The List, a new adult steamy contemporary romance series. You can read these in any order and they each have their own HEA; however, you may enjoy them better if read in the intended sequence as the main characters may reappear in other books in the series. *Sex, adult situations, and adult language PREORDER – April 2, 2021


I have always written. I was born into a working-class family in London where my grandmother and mother were continually regaling me with romantic and tragic tales about the varied personalities in their past as well as in the present. Stories were the currency with which we so often communicated, so it was no surprise when I began weaving my own. When my children were growing up they were used to the continual background sound of my typewriter keys clattering. So much so that my son told me he recently heard the sound of a typewriter on a radio play and it brought up warm fuzzy feelings associated with childhood. I suspect I neglected them in favour of the muse somewhat.

I have reinvented myself several times since those days, but writing has always been integral to my life. My writing routine now is different from the rigorous schedule I once set myself. Thirty years ago, when I first moved to Oxford, and before I trained as a psychotherapist, I had a rigid timetable. I wrote every day from breakfast until lunch and only allowed myself to socialise once my minimum of a thousand words had hit the page. I would often return to writing again in the evenings, and also maintained detailed daily journals. If I ever merit a biographer they’ll have an absolute field day with those. Now I still sit down at my laptop in the mornings, usually to edit the previous day’s work before embarking on continuing where I left the narrative the day before. I’m usually as enthralled as I hope the reader will be to discover where the storyline leads me. It often comes as a surprise, though on retrospect is thoroughly explicable. My unconscious knows where it’s heading better than I do, and I trust it. After a late lunch, I hang up my writer’s hat and remind myself CONNECT WITH AUTHOR I’m entitled to knock off work early since I retired. And during the morning’s stint, I’m far more inclined Author Website: to be distracted and to intersperse writing with things that help support my inspiration. Amazon: Twitter:

Who am I kidding? Playing with the cat (I should never have got those cat toys – he pesters me endlessly to join in); fiddling about with the pots in the garden; randomly exchanging witty memes on WhatsApp; gazing out at the sunshine wondering if

I should go for a walk earlier rather than later; doing yet another Sudoku while drinking yet another cup of tea… inspiration or avoidance? You choose. But I do stick at it. The muse whips me back into line if I ignore her, and once I’ve started something I have to finish it. I have what some might consider a weird kind of process. I begin with an idea that is barely more than a sentence long. It might even be a thought I speak aloud to a friend. But then it niggles and goes on niggling until apparently haphazard sentences begin forming in my mind – possibly internal dialogue, possibly words spoken by a character as yet unknown. Gradually, from that zygote grows an embryo that will eventually become a novel.

I always intend to make a proper plan, but that doesn’t really happen – or at least, not on paper. I see the whole thing in a nebulous form in my mind. I know what hero’s journey will have taken place when A reaches Z, and I trust that all points in between will eventually lead there, simply by the inevitable progression of cause and effect. I hardly know the characters initially, except as wraiths who become less cloudy as they speak to me individually or interact with one another. I rarely begin actually writing until they are real to me. This can take weeks or months. Once I understand them they are on a trajectory of their own making. I don’t always like all of them, but I do love them. They are so tragically flawed. I like that in a person. I write about what’s real. I live alone, apart from my cat, so a degree of social interaction is vital to me, despite being an introvert. So when I’m not writing I’m usually hanging out with one of my friends, none of whom are writers, which is a relief. I see their eyes glaze over if I start to talk about my current work in progress, which is always a useful reminder that the world in my head is not as real or important to anyone else as it is to me. They are also a fabulous source of material, and I wonder how many of them realise when their eyes drift over the notice hanging in my hall just how true it is. I’m in the last stage of editing before publishing Strange Eventful History, the final book of my trilogy, Written in Water. It’s been a hero’s journey for me as well as my characters, and I’ve revisited much of my own history while writing it. Every book feels like my last book, and I am aware there will be a period of mourning once I let this one fly the nest. And will the muse come pestering me again in a little while? I’ll have to wait and see. I tend to get bored when I’m not writing regularly. I once likened it to a mental process akin to having a daily bowel movement. I hope that’s not too graphic an image to leave with you. I told you I like to keep it real. Discover additional IASD Authors:

Redundancy gives Richard, a talented musician, the chance to pursue his dreams, but his fiancée, Bridget, publicly ditches him, making enemies of his friends. Next. his ex-wife, Naomi, dumps teenage Maria on his doorstep, claiming she’s his daughter. Scrapping freedom and dreams, Richard moves from the town where he’s lived all his life and takes Maria and an unwanted dog, Ben, to London with him. Can they find in each other the love they’ve been denied?

Richard and Maria marry, but both are haunted by past rejections. Sinister letters and unwanted gifts arrive, and the more each tries to protect the other by keeping them secret, the worse the anxiety. When vicious attacks on lives and property begin, Richard and Maria reveal the truth to one another and decide they must discover the identity of their enemy and defeat him or her. Will their love hold fast or the old saying “marry in haste, repent at leisure” prove true?

Richard and Maria’s inheritance, The White Hart Inn, is in financial trouble, and they are working very long days. Richard’s audience is shrinking as he gets older, and for Maria, all the fun has gone out of cooking, and yet only The White Hart Eatery profits stand between them and bankruptcy. After an overheard row, their daughter Eleanor tries to help by locating and contacting her maternal grandmother reviving dangerous secrets from the past.

& Tricks

“There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.’ This is when you reach deep into your heart and remind yourself, ‘I am the wilderness.‘” - Braving the Wilderness

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. From Draft to Done: A Full Breakdown of the Writing Process from ProWritingAid. From first draft to last edits, the writing process is a long and complicated journey. How to Find the Right Proofreader for Your Novel: A proofreader’s job is to look for typesetting or layout issues in your manuscript. This step is the final stage of producing a manuscript. Polishing the manuscript, finding plot holes and fixing mechanical issues is the job of an editor.

Beyond Google: Six Reliable Resources for Researching Your Novel Google is great, but if you’ve ever researched a topic, you may have found yourself falling down the rabbit hole. Fiction writers spend a lot of time looking up the details on really strange things. Here are six reliable resources that might help with the details. Turn Your Author Failures, Setbacks, And Mistakes Into Succeess We all experience failures, setbacks and mistakes on the author journey. If we learn from them, they can be the basis for our greatest success. In this podcast, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross share their journey as well as lessons learned. Writing and the Fear of Judgement: Once you’ve put the words on the page and release your book for the whole world to see, someone is going to judge you. That can be scary. Read how Joanna Penn worked to overcome her fear and let what’s inside of you flow onto the page.

In October 2004, Rachel Donoghue left Glasgow. She vowed to return and continue in the role for which she was chosen and trained, but first, she needed time alone. When a highly-skilled operative finds herself no longer part of a successful team she has many options, and one of those is to go solo. Would Rachel be capable of working alone?

Before she disappeared from circulation, Rachel left a calling card with contacts which displayed a picture of Atropa Belladonna – Deadly Nightshade. Rachel would return, but when?


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Life and Death in the Woods by Cecilia Peartree A woodland building project unearths truths that might otherwise have remained hidden, and causes people to question aspects of themselves and others that they hadn’t taken any notice of before. A project to build a new museum of trees falters when a body is discovered at the proposed site and a protest group is formed locally.

Beauty of Blue Hills by Yara Gharios A modern sleeping beauty tale telling the story of Anna, the daughter of a famous Hollywood couple, who is forced to relocate to a small town where her parents' fame does not exist, as they are on the verge of separating. With colorful sisters as roommates, a gorgeous guy trying to win her heart and a head cheerleader dead set on ruining her, Blue Hills proves to be Anna's biggest challenge yet.

Just Friends A Friends to Lovers Box Set by Camilla Isley

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

Love and friendship mix in the Just Friends series‌ the books follow the misadventures and exploits of a group of college students in Boston

The Iron Butterfly The Iron Butterfly Series Book 1 by Chanda Hahn Escaping the clutches of the Septori with the help of a handsome stranger has Thalia on the run. When strange powers awaken within Thalia she is forced to pretend to be one of gifted Denai and goes from being a servant to student overnight. Her life becomes even more complicated when the handsome stranger who saved her from the Septori becomes her new fighting instructor.

Sam’s Folly Midnight Sons Series by Carmen Desousa The Midnight Sons ~ Men as Wild and Rugged as The Last Frontier Itself Five brothers risk their lives to rescue those caught in the death grip of the Alaska wilderness‌and find their hearts in danger of falling for women as tough as the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Hope(less) Judgement of Six Series Book 1 by Melissa Haag Being a human, Gabby didn't count on meeting a silent, ruggedlyhandsome werewolf with a single-minded determination to make her his mate. When she tries to run, he's not the only one to follow. Something truly dangerous is after her, and Gabby must turn to Clay for help if she ever hopes to discover who is hunting her for the secrets she's spent her whole life protecting.

The Adventures of Anabel Axelrod Box Set ( Volumes 1-3) by Tracy Ellen Welcome to Anabel Axelrod’s world as she banters, spars, and drags her heels down the sometimes hilarious, sometimes treacherous, but always tantalizingly crooked path towards true love with the mysterious Luke Drake. From the first sparks of explosive attraction to the dreaded exclusive relationship, happily-ever-after has never been so elusively fun or dangerous! Don't miss this exciting series .

Hard Feelings by Jason Starr Things aren't going so well for Richie Segal. His prospects at the job are pretty miserable and, what's more humiliating, his wife's prospects at her job are pretty good. Richie knows he's a good salesman, but he just can't seem to land an account. And he's starting to drink again. And worry about whether Paula's seeing that old high school flame, or maybe someone new.

Dexeption on the Waterway by Terrance Robey A novel of one man’s wanton dreams, desires and ambitions and his web of deceit, not only entangle the lives of those around him, but snares an unthinkable catch. His myopic drive for business success and personal reward leads Kyle Logan and those who have had the poor judgment or naiveté to gravitate towards, down an unimaginable path along the Grand Strand and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Falling Night Falling Night Series Book 1 by Lee Larsen When Elizabeth Scott, a seventeen year old high school senior, first meets Leuken Bennett in the small town of Harrisburg Oregon, she has no idea the danger she places herself in by falling for him. While she quickly discovers that he is one of the good guys, after he saves her life the first time, what she doesn't realize is that by being with him, she risks losing more than just her life.

The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince Heir of Magic Book 1 by Jeffe Kennedy Book #1 in the new Fantasy Romance series from award-winning, bestselling author Jeffe Kennedy. Follows The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon in the Under a Winter Sky fantasy holiday anthology. books/view/1054773

Alberta Skies by Lathryn Imbriani Upon the prolonged death of her father, Lauren Butler decides to see if there is anything left of the love she and Adam once shared before he left for the wild and rugged District of Alberta two years ago. https:// view/88744

His Hired Baby Safe Harbor Medical Book 2 by Jacqueline Diamond When young widowed mom Kate Evans agreed to be a surrogate mother for hospital attorney Tony Franco, neither suspected his wife was about to jump ship. Now she’s giving him daddy lessons, but can she avoid giving away her heart, too? Reviewer Marissa Dobson called this romance in the Safe Harbor Medical series “a wonderful story.” . books/view/724703




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Hostile Annihilation Didn’t matter. He had endured worse and he’d get through this, too. He had to. Ahmed had sacrificed his own life to personally deliver Intel to Manti. That alone made escape a necessity. But, equally important to Dax was making sure his friend didn’t give his life for nothing. Once he was free, he’d figure out what the wily Iraqi had known. What he had wanted to give Dax. His body tightened at the noise just outside the heavy metal door. He quickly slammed his eyes shut and forced his body to remain perfectly still. He needed more time.


Paige sat in a comfortable lounge chair facing the large front window. She barely noticed the sturdy wooden rails that held up her front patio, barely noticed the giant old oak that she had always loved, barely noticed the beautiful mountains in the background, all she could see was that horrible room with the offensive metal table, the blood, and the sturdy restraints that nobody could escape... not even Dax. Jericho moved across the room and settled into the chair next to Paige. “Stop thinking about it.” Paige glanced up and spotted Zeus outside, where was he going alone? “What?” “If you let the emotions overwhelm you, if all you see is the blood and allow your imagination to run wild, you will never be able to investigate,” Jericho said seriously. “I know that better than anyone.” Paige studied her boss... and her friend. He did know. He’d let emotions get in the way when her mother was murdered and by the time he bounced back, the investigation had been bungled beyond repair. “I understand, I do, but there’s nothing to investigate. We’re all stuck here waiting...the waiting is going to kill me.” She glanced around the room at the remaining men and realized the waiting was getting to them as well. “It’s going to kill us all.” “Paige,” Jericho gave her knee a couple pats. “Stop acting like a scared girlfriend and be a cop. Dax is counting on you. I’m counting on you, Nathan Porter is counting on you, and even if they don’t know it... those guys over there are counting on you.” “To do what,” Paige ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “I don’t have any clues to follow. There wasn’t any evidence. You know I went through that farmhouse thoroughly. Then, I went through it again. What do you want me to do?”


Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “I want you to think like a cop,” Jericho sat back and raised an eyebrow in challenge. “Meaning?” Paige asked. “Meaning there was a lead, you missed it.” “What? You found something I missed?” Paige said surprised. “What? Show me.” “I realized something we all missed,” Jericho corrected. “Something you would have caught while we were still out at that dilapidated farmhouse if it wasn’t Dax’s life on the line.” “What did we miss?” Paige demanded. “Jericho, we’re running out of time here.” “Think... like a cop,” he added. “Havilland concluded the saddle shop was the only possible location and brought his deductions straight to you.” Jericho knew Paige was frustrated with him, but he needed her to re-engage. She wouldn’t do that if he just handed her his lead. She had to work it out on her own. Because Jericho was pretty sure, her keen mind was the only thing that would save her man... and at the moment, she was reacting to her emotions. “Nassar knew we were coming because they were monitoring Dax’s house,” Paige said in frustration. “We all know that. What are you getting at?” “And the two men began preparations to move their prisoner,” Jericho said unfazed. “Or they killed Dax and Nassar headed out to dispose of the body,” Paige said soberly. “No, they didn’t,” Hawk said, joining them. “Dax is still alive.” “You don’t know that for sure,” Paige disagreed. “I do,” Hawk settled onto the couch. “Because if Dax was dead, they wouldn’t have bothered with the body. Nassar is wanted by pretty much everyone. If Dax was dead and he knew we were on the way, he would have simply left the body strapped to that table.” “I agree with Hawk,” Jericho studied Paige, she still hadn’t realized what he was trying to tell her. “So what did we miss?” Paige pushed. “You tell me,” Jericho didn’t budge. “You think we missed something?” Hawk demanded. Jericho ignored him.. 85

Hostile Annihilation “Okay,” Paige sighed. “They knew we were coming and let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you’re right. Dax is still alive. Nassar would know his prisoner is dangerous so how did they get him out of there?” “They dragged him outside to the car,” Hawk provided. “What makes you think so?” Paige turned on Hawk. “The drag marks that went from the table, all the way down the hall and out the door,” Hawk said in challenge. “I didn’t notice drag marks,” Paige focused on Jericho. “And that’s your point. I missed something pretty obvious because I was too freaked out by that table and the blood.” “Because you were emotionally involved,” Jericho corrected. “But, yes.” “Okay,” Paige closed her eyes. “So, they drugged Dax... it’s the only way to get him to cooperate, especially since Nassar was heading out alone with a dangerous enemy. I agree that’s the most likely scenario but how does it help and what clue am I still missing?” Paige waited but Jericho remained eerily quiet. “Fine. Williams stayed behind then we showed up and captured him.” Paige furrowed her brow and focused out the window. “Why did Williams stay behind?” She focused on Hawk. The three of them remained silent for several seconds. “I have no idea,” Hawk finally said. “It would have made more sense for all three of them to leave together just in case something went wrong. Williams could drive and Nassar could ensure Dax’s compliance.” “Because he was supposed to clean up,” Paige realized. “He stayed behind to make sure they didn’t leave any clues for us to find. They knew we found them with the soil. Nassar wasn’t cutting ties. If he was, Williams would be dead. He wouldn’t leave a loose-end like that. Not when he could be captured and questioned... which is exactly what happened.” Paige focused on Jericho. “But how? We didn’t find a car. He appeared to be stranded out there, alone.” Hawk glanced at Jericho then focused back on Paige. They had a point and the group had been so focused on their prisoner and evacuating him to Mexico none of them had done a thorough search for transportation. Paige jumped to her feet. “I’m going back.”


Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “We’re going back,” Jericho stood. “But we’ll need to take separate cars. I have a meeting I can’t miss. I can only give you a couple hours at the farmhouse. I’m afraid if I reschedule, the individual I’m meeting with might not be as cooperative. Once I’ve finished, I’ll head back here and see if there’s been any progress.”

“I have to wait for Zeus to return,” Hawk also stood. “Carmen asked him to try to get pictures of the device attached to Dax’s back porch. She thinks she can identify the manufacturer through the serial number. As soon as he returns, I’ll gather up the boys and head your way.” “You don’t...” Paige stopped and shrugged. “I’ll call you if I find anything before you arrive.” She turned and followed Jericho out the door, grabbed her jacket, and slipped it on her way down the front steps. “Who are you meeting?” “Samara,” Jericho paused. “I think she’s holding back. I scheduled the meeting before Dax went missing. I think if I talk to her alone, I might get her to confide the rest.” “What do you think she’s holding back?” Paige frowned. “I think she knows at least some of the guys’ names from that night,” Jericho sighed. “When Tracy was attacked at the party up the canyon. She said Tracy was engaged with a group from another school before a larger group from Manti interrupted the conversation. I think she knows at least some of the names of the boys from Manti.” “Why would she hold that back?” Paige wondered. Jericho shrugged. “That’s what I want to find out. Could be she’s scared, could be she actually knows who attacked Tracy... and Chaya.” “I don’t think she knows, but I do think she was scared,” Paige considered. “I couldn’t tell if she was afraid of him because he’s stronger and a physical threat, or if she’s afraid of his power.” “I got the same feeling,” Jericho agreed. “It might be a combination of both. Plus, taken as a whole, a group of athletes would be intimidating to someone like Samara. I am fairly confident she doesn’t know who attacked her friends... which only makes her more cautious and suspicious of all of them.” “I think you’re right,” Paige told him. “If so, having me with you might make things more difficult. See you at the farmhouse,” she said before she jumped into her vehicle and backed out of the drive.

***** 87

Hostile Annihilation Zeus pulled out the small point-and-shoot camera the feisty woman had shoved at him and began to take pictures. He smiled as he worked. Carmen was a beauty, but she also had brains. In his experience that was a rare combination and something to be cherished. The warning Dax had given him the day he was abducted screamed in his head. Was he taking Carmen for granted? Was he going to lose her because he was terrified of commitment? He shoved the worry away and the fear, it was not the time to focus on his relationship. He needed to focus on Dax. Once he was sure he had captured the sophisticated bug from every angle possible, he shoved the camera in his pocket and started back toward Paige’s house. He’d only taken two steps when he decided to walk the perimeter. If they were going to run this like a normal op, they should probably follow their normal protocol. Thinking of normal protocol, made his mind shift to his friend and leader. Dax was the best man Zeus knew. They couldn’t fail him. None of them would be the same if they didn’t find Dax in time. His thoughts returned to the prisoner that Thor and Ken had escorted to Mexico. Hopefully, his friends could get answers; some kind of actionable Intel that would help locate the elusive lunatic that had captured his friend and mentor. For about the hundredth time, Zeus questioned his own actions. Or, more to the point, inaction. He had never disobeyed an order, but maybe this one time... he should have. Would Dax be safe right now if he had? Zeus’s mind was still preoccupied as he made his way through the thick trees that lined the back side of Dax’s property. He was abruptly pulled back to the present when he heard movement behind him. He whipped around and came face to face with a stranger, his only thought... he was going to be too late. *****

Daniel was crouched in his favorite spot, fully hidden by the cover of trees. Something was going on and he wanted to know what. Had Paige called in a group of her federal friends to help bring down the man that had killed her mother? Did she know it was him? Did she feel so threatened that she brought in five big, strong men to protect her? He liked that idea. A smile spread across his face and he reveled in the power. He was a dangerous man that shouldn’t be crossed. He proved that years ago with Tracy... then again with Chaya. Of course, in his mind both of those incidents had been self-defense. Something that couldn’t be avoided. Manti’s newest deputy was different. With Paige, he’d gone on the offense. And, it was a good thing he had. Paige Carter was digging up old skeletons... she should be scared. She was going to need all the help she could get. And, if he got the chance, he would reunite her with her mother. Maybe sooner than planned. This entire situation was getting out of control. 88

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 Daniel’s heart began to beat a little faster at the idea of killing a cop. No, he wasn’t a killer. He was just a practical man that was willing to do anything necessary to preserve his own life. Plus, he was now married. He had to protect his wife. She’d never survive a scandal. Anyway, nobody would really miss Paige Carter. Her entire family was dead. Really, he’d be doing her a favor. He pushed to his feet, turned and spotted the man that was living with Dax Hamilton... and the stranger was currently headed his way. Daniel froze, terrified of the muscular form moving towards him. It took several seconds before he realized the intruder didn’t know he was there. He dropped to the ground and frantically began searching for a weapon. His eyes landed on a large branch that had fallen from a nearby tree. If he could just get behind the stranger, he might be able to knock him out and escape. This one had been in town for a while now. He wasn’t one of the newcomers Paige had invited to help. No, he was some friend of the nosey carpenter that lived next door. But, clearly still a threat.

Daniel had to try, he had to succeed, otherwise he was going to get caught lurking somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. And if this guy, or anyone for that matter, saw him... Paige and Jericho would know he was the man they’d been looking for. He couldn’t risk it; the sheriff could never know he was involved. Daniel slid sideways, cautiously making his way toward the fallen branch. Once he was in position, he slowly, silently raised it above his head. Then he charged. Zeus didn’t recognize the man trying to attack him. He didn’t have time to think of anything but defense. When the stranger swung the large branch at Zeus’ head, he raised his arm and deflected... or attempted to. The man missed his target, barely. But, a sharp broken edge of one of the branches sliced through the sleeve on Zeus’ sweatshirt. Pain radiated up his forearm just before he felt the sticky liquid saturate his sleeve. Zeus was struck with so much force, far more than he’d expected, that he had to take a step back to steady himself. Unfortunately, in his attempt to brace for another blow, his foot caught the edge of a fallen tree and he stumbled, lost his balance and landed hard on his already injured hip. Excruciating pain flowed through his entire torso, blackness threatened to overcome him but he was a soldier, passing out was not an option. He gritted his teeth and focused on the trunk of a nearby tree until the sensation passed. Once he was sure he was stable again, he pushed to his feet and, using all his senses, located his target. The stranger was running towards the back road. Zeus forced his body to comply and broke into a dead run. The instant he broke through the trees, he stopped at the edge of the dirt road and realized he was too late. A dark colored Camaro with no plate was speeding away. He watched the vehicle make the turn around a curve too fast, waited as the back tires slid smoothly to the left; then, caught and propelled the vehicle forward. He continued 89

Hostile Annihilation to watch until the vehicle disappeared leaving a thick cloud of dust in its wake. When he was sure the guy was gone for good, Zeus turned and began limping his way back to the house. Identifying the intruder would have to wait. Carmen needed her photos. Was he connected to the situation with Dax or was it just Paige’s voyeur again? Zeus sighed and slowly made his way across the backyard and into the kitchen. He’d clean up a little before he joined his friends.


Daniel pulled into the ancient garage and shut down the engine. He was in trouble, big trouble. He needed a plan. The man in the woods saw his face. Daniel had narrowly escaped this time. At least, nobody knew about the restored car. They’d never trace that back to him. But, the man saw his face. And once the no-good, interfering nuisance told Paige and Dax what happened, they would surely know who he was. Did they already know? He couldn’t risk discovery. He couldn’t go to jail. He needed a plan, a fool-proof plan that would ensure this situation was resolved once and for all. No more investigating, no more questions, no more anything. Paige Carter had to die... tonight. He pulled out his phone, called the office to let them know he wouldn’t be in. Then, he locked himself in his private den determined to devise a plan that would get him out of this mess. He had to be quick and effective. There could not be any mistakes this time, neither Paige Carter nor her pesky neighbor could survive. He’d have to take out all the additional men as well. There was no way to know how much Chaya’s daughter had shared with the group by now. Okay, Daniel thought with a sigh. I’m going to have to go big this time.


Hawk glanced up and spotted Zeus in the kitchen. He started to relax then realized his friend was injured. “Jeeves,” he called across the room. “Go see what happened to Zeus.” He glanced at the closed door and debated. Carmen had been clear if anyone interrupted again... she would disappear and they’d never find her. Would she consider this an exception to her unreasonable rule? He should just leave her in the dark... that would teach her to lay down such irrational demands. But he couldn’t do it. She was in love with the reckless fool... anyone could see that. If he didn’t let her know her man was hurt, Hawk feared that would be an unforgivable offense. He moved to the doorway and started to knock. “What part of...?” Carmen began and flung open the door. She stopped abruptly when Hawk simply pointed to the kitchen and silently waited. Carmen spotted Zeus and ran to his side. Zeus smiled up at his woman and fished the camera from his pocket. “I got what you needed.” 90

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “This happened getting the photos?” she asked in horror. “After, actually.” “What happened to you?” Hawk demanded.

Zeus quickly walked them through the details of the attack. When he finished, the room was silent. Carmen was the first to speak. “Do you think it’s Paige’s stalker or was it related to Dax?” “I’d say that’s the million dollar question,” Zeus frowned. “Where is Paige, she’d be the best one to answer that one?” Hawk stepped forward and explained the situation to Zeus. He was just finishing up when his phone buzzed. “Tell me you’ve got something.” “Not a lot,” Ken admitted. “We arrived at the village. Thor is going to accompany Mo while he transports the prisoner. We don’t think there will be trouble but Williams was spouting off about contacts in Mexico. We thought Mo could use a little help if there was an ambush.” “And you?” Hawk asked. “I’ve arranged for a Jeep,” Ken lowered his voice. “One of the locals said he can spare it for an hour. I’m heading in to hook up with Ramin Trevils.” “No,” Hawk barked. “We agreed he was our last resort.” “And Williams isn’t talking,” Ken pressed. “Although...” “What?” “On the way out, the guy was cocky,” Ken provided. “More than he should have been. He said you guys would be chasing your tails for days. Something about never finding the compound down there... and then he said it was out of your range. I don’t think Dax is in Manti any longer.” “Then where the hell is he?” Hawk demanded. “I hope Mo understands how important this is and he’s not just playing us... gaining control so he can inflict a little payback.” “Mo understands,” Ken assured him. “You know how he feels about Dax. I trust him, if anyone can get answers from this guy... it’s Mo. Now, I gotta go. I have less than an hour to hook up with Trevils and get back to the village.” “Ken, don’t do this,” Hawk ordered. “It’s too dangerous. We all know what happened the last time Ramin was involved. He’s paranoid and his form of crazy nearly got Zeus killed.”


Hostile Annihilation “Actually,” Zeus corrected. “His right-hand man nearly got me killed. Ramin Trevils had nothing to do with it. Plus, ask Ken... Emilio Mendoza paid dearly for his betrayal.” “I heard that,” Ken provided. “And he’s right. Emilio is dead and Ramin’s men know what will happen if he’s betrayed again. Plus, he’s feeling indebted to us at the moment. If anyone can get answers about Williams or Nassar’s contacts in Mexico... it’s Ramin. We need to take advantage of the timing. I’ll check in as soon as I can. Hopefully, Thor will be back at the village when I return and we can start home immediately.” “I don’t like this,” Hawk grumbled. “But do what you have to. Just watch your back. I don’t trust Trevils nearly as much as you seem to.” “Trust?” Ken laughed. “Not even a little. I respect his power and his resources. I’ll keep an eye out but I seriously don’t think you have anything to worry about. Ramin will not risk another attack so soon after the ordeal with Zeus. He needs to save face and another incident would make him look weak. I’m pretty sure I’ll have my own private escort to the meeting place and probably back to the village as well. I’ll let you know before we ship out. Huey’s got to get the ship back before dark or our little mission is going to be detected and questioned by Porky.” “Don’t cut it too close,” Hawk warned. “The last thing we need is interference from Major Polk.” He disconnected and turned his attention to Carmen. “Ken think’s Nassar has left the area. If that’s the case, we’re wasting our time searching for abandoned buildings close to Manti. We need to know where he’d go... south of here.” “I have an idea,” Carmen said immediately. “Let me download these photos. If I’m right, Dax is out in the middle of nowhere... out in the Utah wilderness, I mean. I think the device these guys used to monitor us was built by Retrocero Inc.” “Who is that?” Jeeves asked. “It’s owned by Cole Reynolds,” Carmen admitted. “As in the Gentleman from Arizona?” Hawk frowned. “Isn’t he on your team?”

“Yes,” Carmen said angrily. “And, if I’m right... he’s Nathan’s mole.” “Just because he owns the company that built the bug doesn’t necessarily mean he’s dirty,” Hawk warned. “The bug is still in R&D,” Carmen countered. “Only an inside guy could get their hands on the device. Nobody’s more inside than Reynolds.” 92

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “But isn’t that too obvious?” Zeus asked. “I mean, the instant we found it... we’d know who it belonged to.” “They don’t think we can find it,” Carmen grinned. “I admit, I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Nathan. He told me to scan that frequency and see if I found anything. It operates completely independent of all the other surveillance devices…completely different signal, different frequency, the works. Nathan, knowing he has a mole on the committee, hit on it immediately. He suspected Reynolds and had me check. He was right.” “Okay,” Hawk considered. “But doesn’t that mean Dax could be in Arizona?” Carmen shook her head. “Too close to home. He has a cabin out in the wilderness. Well, it’s a fortress, really. He inherited it from his mother’s father... or grandfather, uncle, something. I’m digging up dirt on the man as we speak. If you hadn’t interrupted, I’d probably have the exact location pinpointed by now.” “Is it hidden?” Zeus asked. “Sort of,” Carmen answered. “Nobody is supposed to know about it. He’s kept it a secret, which tells me he’s hiding something.” “Brilliant deductions, Einstein,” Hawk grumbled. “Isn’t that the point... in keeping something hidden?” Carmen glared at the annoying soldier for several seconds before she continued. “Reynold’s assistant slipped up, told me he had a place just outside Salina off I-70. Apparently, the mountains up there are popular for hunters but his place is hidden down a side road.” “If it was supposed to be a secret, why did she tell you?” Hawk wanted to know. “She was venting,” Carmen shrugged. “Apparently, I’m easy to talk to. Nancy was frustrated because Reynolds had her assessing the value of the place. He said he wanted to sell as soon as possible. Apparently, he needed some fast cash to cover a bad investment. She said the property was in bad shape. Nobody had been out there for years. Nancy arranged to have the property appraised and even had a prospective buyer when Reynolds suddenly changed his mind. He told her to forget it and freaked out. Demanded to know who knew he owned the compound, had she told anyone what she was doing, who did the appraiser think owned the place? Nancy was beyond livid. She told me she’d rearranged her plans and was going to be late for some big family gathering and couldn’t change her flight again... all for nothing.” “When was that?” Jeeves asked. 93

Hostile Annihilation “Last summer,” Carmen said absently. “Nassar must have given Reynolds the influx of cash he needed in exchange for a secluded, private place he could stay undetected.” “Go study the pictures Zeus took of that bug,” Hawk ordered. “Make sure we’re on the right trail. I’ll call Paige and tell her we’re not going to join her. We need to focus on finding Reynold’s compound. Five gets you ten that’s where we’ll find Dax.”


Paige and Jericho stepped away from the wooded area and moved toward the farmhouse. “We’ve been wandering aimlessly for the past forty minutes. There’s nothing here. Maybe we were wrong about the vehicle.”

“We aren’t wrong,” Jericho insisted. “But you just identified the problem. We’ve been wandering aimlessly.” He focused on the old saddle shop. “You want me to go inside again?” “No,” Jericho said softly. “That’s the last thing I want. But I think we need to go inside. We need a clue, something that will point us in the right direction. I’m beginning to wonder if they parked the car a fair distance away to protect it in case we... interfered.” Paige focused on the building. She really did not want to go back inside there. “Okay,” she turned to Jericho. “I can do this. You have a meeting to get to. Go ahead and leave. I can handle this. I’ll call you if I find anything.” Jericho studied Paige for several seconds. “I can’t even begin to tell you how disappointing it is that you think I’d let you go in there alone.” “I’m fine, really.” “And I was fine that day we visited the Tillman factory,” Jericho said soberly. “Give me just a minute to cancel my meeting and we’ll... well, we’ll see what we see.” “Don’t cancel,” Paige pressed. “You said you had a couple hours. Let’s get this over with and then you can head out. I’ll be okay, I promise.” “Okay,” Jericho considered. “Then let me see if I can postpone. Samara will probably welcome the delay. Just give me a minute.” It took less than five minutes and Jericho was standing beside Paige again. She looked a little white. “You going to be able to do this?” 94

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Yeah,” Paige said, trying to sound confident but knowing she just sounded a little sick. “Yes,” she said more forcefully. “Let’s go inside.” “I’m here, Paige,” Jericho said, placing a supportive hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to be right here. And, Hawk is right. Dax is still alive. Remember that. We’ll get in, see if we can see anything and get out.” “No,” Paige stopped and turned to look at Jericho. She took a deep breath, glanced at the building then focused on her boss. “I have been thinking like a scared girlfriend. Dax is strong, he’s the strongest man I know. I think that’s the reason I haven’t been myself. He’s not dead. Hawk was right, they would have left him here. He’s fighting for his life and I need to do the same. I’m not weak, I’m a cop. We’re going to go inside and investigate.” “That’s my girl,” Jericho smiled and motioned for the door.

Paige stepped into the room and paused, took a deep breath, and surveyed the interior as a cop, not a frightened woman who was terrified the man she loved might not survive. She spotted a light switch and flipped it on. Florescent lights began to flicker then solidify. After another long, deep breath Paige began to walk the room. “I see the drag marks Hawk described. He’s right, they drugged Dax while he was still on this table then waited for him to pass out. I can see two sets of footprints so both Nassar and Williams must have taken him to the car.” She moved to the window and glanced out. “I’d say Nassar’s vehicle was parked just outside that door. But where did they hide their vehicles while they were here? When they weren’t using them.” Jericho knew she wasn’t really asking so he too began to move around the large room. He moved to a corner and spotted a long chain attached to the wall. “Paige?” Paige moved in behind her boss and studied the area. “They took him off the table when they were finished and locked him up here.” She pulled a flashlight from her bag and crouched to get a better look. “What is that?” Jericho asked immediately when Paige illuminated what looked like a stain on the wall. “Blood,” Paige rummaged around in her bag again and pulled out another light. She switched off the flashlight and raised the UV light to the wall. “Brilliant SOB, isn’t he?” Jericho whispered, studying the writings. “He was expecting Zeus,” Paige decided. 95

Hostile Annihilation “Military code,” Jericho agreed. “But it was risky. It’s going to cause a delay. We’re here but we have no idea what that stuff means.” “No,” Paige straightened and pulled out her phone. “Here hold the light.” She handed the flashlight to Jericho. Once he had the symbols well lit, she began to snap pictures of the wall. “Now, I send them over to Zeus and see if he can tell us what they say.” Paige hit several buttons on her phone then waited. It didn’t take long. “Hello,” she answered on the first ring. “Where did you find these?” Hawk demanded. “Funny, you don’t sound like Zeus,” she pointed out. “Can you read it?” “We can read it,” Hawk answered. “Where did he write it?” “In the saddle shop,” Paige answered. “There’s a spot in the corner where they chained him to the wall when they were finished with... you know. I’m guessing he was too weak to fight back... or they drugged him before they moved him. Anyway, it’s written in blood then he wiped it so they wouldn’t know what he was doing. They just look like smudges to the casual observer.” “Good eye,” Hawk praised. “It says they have two vehicles and one is hidden down the road, to the east. There should be a building of some sort, if I had to guess a barn or a... silo of some kind. The code’s not that detailed. Look for...” “I got it,” Paige’s mind was racing. “I think we saw the building earlier. What else?” Hawk hesitated. “Tell me,” Paige pressed. “He’s injured,” Hawk admitted. “Broken ribs, electrical burns, possibly a broken ankle. The burns have to be severe or he wouldn’t have mentioned them. We need to find him... soon.” “Thanks,” Paige glanced at Jericho and realized he’d found something else. “Any other updates I should know about?” “Yeah,” Hawk told her. “Ken called, they don’t think Dax is in your area. Carmen thinks he’s somewhere near Salina... where ever that is.” “An hour or so south of here, I think.” Paige turned to ask Jericho and nearly collided with him. “How far is Salina?” “About an hour down southeast of here, easiest route is down eighty-nine.” 96

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “It’s about an hour and you’re right, that’s no longer our jurisdiction,” Paige frowned at the metal object Jericho was studying. “We’re heading over to the barn, might take a while if we find the car. I’ll keep you posted.” “Out,” Hawk said before disconnecting. “What is that?” Paige asked, moving in closer to Jericho to study the object. “I’m not sure,” Jericho admitted. “Seems out of place, though. I thought maybe it was another one of those bugging devices when I saw it but that’s not it. Maybe Carmen can tell us.” Paige took the small object from Jericho and turned it over in her hand. “It looks like a tracker.” “To track who?” Jericho asked. Paige pulled out her phone and hit redial. “What’s up?” Carmen asked. “Why am I getting everyone but Zeus when I call?” Paige demanded. “Zee’s busy at the moment,” Carmen said cryptically. She didn’t want to worry Paige until she got back. “Can I help?” Once again Paige took a photo of the object and sent it to Zeus’s phone. “That was here, in the saddle shop. Jericho found it shoved between the slats of a shelf. I’m thinking it looks like some kind of tracking device. What do you think?” “It’s a tracker,” Carmen confirmed. “Hey, you guys remove a tracker from Williams before he was transported?” “No,” Hawk moved forward to study the photo. “Send me that, I need to alert Thor and Mo.” “Paige,” Carmen called. “Put that in your car and bring it back here. I want to have a better look at it. But, take it next door. We’re supposed to be working at Dax’s house. We can use that to our advantage. I’m not sure how yet, but I want to use it. If Thor finds one on Williams, maybe we can talk like we put the device on a decoy and sent him to Mexico to throw them off and send ‘em on a wild-goose chase or something. I’ll work out the details with Hawk.” “Good idea,” Paige dropped the device into her bag. “I’ll let you know if I find anything else. You sure Zeus is okay?” “Yeah,” Carmen said abruptly. “Gotta go.” 97

Hostile Annihilation “There’s something fishy going on with them,” Paige decided. “Let’s go see if we can find that car and get out of here. I’ve had about all I can take of this place.” Twenty minutes later, the duo stepped cautiously into an old but sturdy barn. They spotted the gray Dodge SUV immediately. Paige held up a hand when Jericho began to move forward. “Wait,” she studied the surrounding area. “Nassar could have set a trap in case anyone but Williams found the thing in here. Give me a minute.” She crouched, low to the ground, and flipped on her flashlight. Once she was sure the coast was clear, she nodded to Jericho and they approached the abandoned SUV. “Think it’s safe to check the doors?” Jericho asked. “Yeah,” Paige decided. “I think they got cocky and believed the hiding spot was safe and secure. Let’s see if there’s anything inside that will help.” Paige pulled open the passenger door at the same time Jericho opened the driver’s side. “Looks like luggage in the back,” Jericho observed slowly running his flashlight over the interior. “Rental contract,” Paige pulled some papers from the glove box. “They reserved it through the end of December.” She glanced up, intrigued. “Why would they rent a car for that long?” “They wanted a buffer, maybe?” Jericho shrugged. But he wasn’t feeling that casual about the news. His gut was telling him there was more. “I don’t think so,” Paige disagreed. “We assumed Nassar followed Ahmed to Manti to prevent him from sharing information. If that’s the only reason he was here, they wouldn’t still have this car. We believed he grabbed Dax because he didn’t get what he needed from Ahmed. What if we were wrong?” “Then this is bigger than we thought and there is something else going on,” Jericho surmised. “Something we need to figure out before it’s too late. But our first priority is finding Dax.” “Let’s check the luggage,” Paige decided. She climbed from inside the car and shoved the rental forms into her pack then followed Jericho to the rear of the vehicle. Jericho pulled open the back hatch and studied the contents. He reached out and clicked open a hard plastic case, then instantly regretted it. Inside was a large collection of what could only be torture devices. He started to slam the lid closed but Paige stopped him. “We need to check them for blood,” Paige said softly. Her imagination wanted to run wild, but she was doing her best to stop it. 98

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Paige, I can do this back at the office,” Jericho moved to close the lid again. “Jericho,” Paige said louder. “I’m fine. If this is what he used that means he doesn’t have them to use again. I’m fine with this.” She pulled out her UV light again. “Let’s check.” The instruments were clean, meticulously so. Paige was able to detect slight amounts of blood where the handle met the blades or where the instrument folded closed. Probably not enough for DNA but enough to prove they were the tools Nassar or Williams had been using on their prisoners. Jericho secured the case and set the offensive container aside. “I’ll take those with me when I go. Once my interview is over, I’ll swing by the office and book them into evidence before I head back to your place.” Paige forced her gaze from the case and focused on Jericho. “I’m going to consider that good news. I’m telling myself if we have his tools, Nassar will be forced to use his fists or more conventional means on Dax. I want to believe that’s good news. That Dax is trained to minimize a blow. I know I could be completely wrong, but I’m going to try to convince myself leaving that behind was a break... for Dax, and us.” “I’m going to tell myself the same,” Jericho said soberly. “And with any luck, we’ll be right. Now, let’s get through this and see if this William Broadbent guy left us any leads. A cell phone or laptop would be nice.” “I’ve got a phone,” Paige held up a smartphone. “But it has a security code. Maybe Carmen can break in. I’ll keep this and take it back to the house.” She straightened and frowned when she saw Jericho pull items from a briefcase. “I’m going to guess that .40 Cal belongs to Dax,” Jericho set the gun to the side. “But what do you think this is?” He held up a plain black box slightly smaller than a mobile phone. Paige took it and turned it around in the palm of her hand. “I have no idea. Do you think it belonged to Ahmed? I don’t see how it’s the device they were looking for. If they got it why abduct Dax?”

“Unless they planned to take our favorite soldier all along,” Jericho considered. “I suppose that could be some sort of storage unit. But it seems unlikely Nassar would leave it behind if it was important.” “Right,” Paige said sarcastically. “Because that offensive case of sadistic, inhumane doom wasn’t important to a cold-blooded killer like Nassar?” 99

Hostile Annihilation “Okay,” Jericho conceded. “You have a point.” “This looks like some kind of high tech electronic device. I’ll give it to Carmen and see if she knows what it is.”

Jericho glanced back inside the briefcase then handed it to Paige. “There’s nothing in there that tells me a thing. Hopefully, Carmen will have more luck.” “The rest of this is just luggage, clothing, shaving kits, you know... the usual. Why don’t you head out? I’ve got this. I want to go over it more thoroughly and then I’ll call Frank and have him tow it back to the office. I guess I should contact the rental agency and let them know we have their car.” “Don’t,” Jericho shook his head. “Not yet.” “Why?” “We don’t know who is involved yet,” Jericho reminded her. “I want to keep the fact that we’ve located and impounded the vehicle a secret. At least until we find Dax. Remember, Nassar has no idea what happened to Williams. By now, he’ll realize his partner is missing, but he doesn’t need to know what happened just yet.” “You think he’ll panic and take out Dax then bolt,” Paige realized. “I think it’s a possibility,” Jericho admitted. “One we can take off the table if nobody knows what we’re doing.” “Not completely off,” Paige countered. “But I agree, let’s keep this to ourselves for now.” “Before I go,” Jericho studied Paige to make sure she was okay. “Can you call Carmen back?” “Sure, why?” “I just thought of something,” Jericho admitted. “Nassar probably has realized the man he calls Williams is missing. I’m thinking the first thing he’ll do is call one of his contacts. They’re going to try to find out if William Broadbent was arrested. That means they’ll access my jail system. I’d like Carmen to monitor things... do what she does, maybe watch for computers out of DC or something. It could be someone we already know about, but it might be someone else.” Paige pulled out her phone and punched in Carmen, grateful she’d transferred her important numbers to the burner Nathan had provided. “What now?” Carmen answered. “I’m working here.” 100

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Grumpy much?” Paige said, unfazed. “I need you to do something for me.” She proceeded to explain Jericho’s concern and asked for a trace on anyone out of Washington. “Actually,” Carmen punched in a new code. “I need five minutes to finish what I’m doing then I’ll take a look at the local system. Most have some kind of log, each system is different; but, I should be able to skim through and see if anyone was looking for the elusive Mr. Broadbent. Then, I’ll set up a filter so if anyone searches for him specifically, I’ll know immediately.” “You can do that?” Paige asked, then corrected herself. “Of course you can. I’ll let you get to it. Tell the guys I’m going to be a while. It will probably be close to dinner time before I get back. I’m going to search the car and then I’ll need to hang out and wait for the tow truck. I’ll get back as soon as I can.” “Sounds like a plan,” Carmen told her. “I’m out.”

Paige slid her phone back into her pocket. “I’m good here, I’ll meet you at the house later tonight and you can fill me in on your talk with Samara.” “Count on it,” Jericho said before he turned and left Paige alone with her car. He knew she’d spend at least an hour going over every inch of the thing but when she was finished... they’d have everything there was to find.


Dax gritted his teeth when Nassar broke another finger. If he could just get through this session, he could make his escape. He remained silent, determined not to give Nassar the satisfaction of showing just how much pain he was really in. “You will tell me what I want to know,” Nassar fumed. Where was Williams? He needed his tools. This was getting him nowhere. He focused on Hamilton, determined to break every one of the man’s fingers if he didn’t get the answers he desired. They were running out of time. He was about to select another finger when his phone began to ring. Anxious, and a little worried about his missing partner, Nassar gave his prisoner one last kick to the stomach before stepping out of the room. His finger left a bloody mark on the screen when it slid across the surface to answer the call. Frustrated, Nassar pressed the speaker button, set the phone on a small concrete ledge protruding from the wall and began to clean his hands with a handkerchief. “This better be an emergency,” Nassar barked. “I was working on Hamilton. I’m finished playing games with the stubborn fool. If he doesn’t give me what I want tonight, I’m ending it.” 101

Hostile Annihilation Dax was braced for the pain, expected to hear the quick snap of another finger when Nassar’s phone began to ring. He was surprised when his tormentor kicked him one last time then left the room. He forced his breathing to slow and remained perfectly still hoping to hear something that would tell him where he was currently being held. Instead, he received a blow he would never have believed possible. The distinct voice on the other end of the call was a voice Dax would recognize anywhere. It came from a man he believed he could trust. A man he considered a brother, a trusted friend and loyal ally. One of his men was working for the enemy. “By working you mean torturing, I assume,” came a male voice. “I told you that is never going to work. Not on Dax Hamilton. You need a new tactic. The only way to get what you need is to threaten someone he cares about. He’ll give you what you want if you have something he wants. Otherwise, he’ll let you torture him to death out of spite just to prove he’s the better man. But that’s beside the point, you will not kill him tonight. You agreed to try things my way. I need another day, two tops. You gave me your word Nassar.” “And if I changed my mind?” “You already know my conditions. I haven’t changed my mind.” Nassar started yelling in Arabic, neither man understood a word he said. “Fine, one day. Then, I do things my way. With or without answers... the infidel dies.” “We’ll see about that,” the voice said in dismissal.

“Why did you call?” Nassar demanded. “Do you have news?” “My source says General Porter is getting restless,” the man said. “He’s working on something but nobody knows what. The staff members are talking, wondering if he’s going to head to Utah for a break for the holidays. I’m guessing it would only take a slight nudge to get him out of DC.” “And then our man will be in charge,” Nassar considered. “And the mission will be back on schedule.” “Temporarily,” the man corrected. “Maybe not,” Nassar continued to strategize. “Porter could have an accident while he’s in Utah... a fatal one.” “Seriously?” the man said clearly irritated. “Now you’re going to knock off a highly respected general? Yeah, good luck with that. Because if you follow through with that idiotic plan you’ll be dead in about a minute.” 102

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “I’m not asking for your permission,” Nassar barked. “I’ll call you if I need you.” He disconnected the call and stomped down the hall, away from his prisoner. Dax held his breath and waited for Nassar to return. Twenty minutes passed before he decided his crazy enemy was finished for the night. He waited another fifteen before he started to put his plan in motion.

***** Paige stepped into her neighbor’s house and glanced around. She set the tracking device, the black box and the GPS unit on the coffee table. She couldn’t access the GPS data, it also had a passcode. Carmen might be able to get in. Paige hoped her friend could crack the code, it might be their only hope to find Dax alive. At least, she’d found it. Williams had hidden the thing well. So well, she nearly missed it. If she hadn’t lost her footing, she probably wouldn’t have located the magnetic box secured underneath the passenger seat of the rental car. Paige sighed, took another quick look around then secured the residence and headed home. She’d gather the crew together, discuss what she’d located, find out what they were hiding and then go from there. The more she thought about Carmen’s plan to misdirect the enemy, the more she liked it. And, knowing Hawk... he probably already had a twenty-point op plan mapped out to do just that. She stepped through the front door, spotted Zeus on the couch and forgot everything. “What happened to you?”

“I tripped,” Zeus said with a grin. “Not likely,” Paige settled onto the couch next to Zeus and waited for an answer. Zeus sighed, then began to tell his story. ***** Jericho was still reeling from his conversation with Samara. Had Gage hid his father’s presence at that party on purpose or had Drew Clayton kept that secret from everyone, even his son, for all these years? Surely Gage knew his father had a football ring, one he’d obtain the same year as everyone else on the list. How had his deputy eliminated his father as a suspect? Had he? Or did he just make an assumption, one that couldn’t be defended if this went to court? Samara had said Drew left early that night. That Drew’s girlfriend at the time, Darla Vernon, was sick and she needed a ride home. Samara was positive about that. She was also sure that Drew left before Tracy disappeared... 103

Hostile Annihilation while her friend was still visiting with the guys from another school. Still… The terrified woman wasn’t much help, but she had given him a couple names. One they had already cleared; Ethan Weldon. But she also remembered Ethan’s friend Tom Lafferty because at the time Ethan never went anywhere without Tom. He’d been surprised when she suddenly remembered Danny Fletcher was also in the group. Jericho had met Danny and he wouldn’t have pegged him as a partier. The biggest surprise, the reason Samara knew it was a group of jocks from Manti that interrupted Tracy’s conversation with the outsiders, was the presence of Giles Sullivan. These days Giles was the town drunk, a vagabond that was more of a nuisance than anything. Apparently, his teenage years were spent trailing after the football team like a mascot, desperately wanting to be accepted. Samara explained that back then, if Giles was present, so were the jocks. She’d given him one additional name, a man that no longer lived in Manti but he came from a prominent family at the time. These days, Tyron Olsen was a sitting congressman for the great state of California. Could be motive for murder, he’d have to see where Tyron was when Chaya was killed.

Drew’s presence was the thing that bothered him the most. Gage hadn’t mentioned his father’s name on the list. Was that because it was never there, or because Gage had located his dad’s ring and crossed him off before anyone could question it? There was only one way to find out... he’d have to call his deputy and ask. Jericho slowed as he approached Paige’s residence, hesitated only a second, then continued on down the road. He had to talk to Gage before he met up with Paige. He could call, but he’d need to find a place he could have complete privacy to do it. He considered and discarded several options before he settled on the dirt road that ran along the back woods next to Dax’s place. He’d just pull onto the dirt road, find a spot with cell service and make the call. Jericho slowed and made the turn onto the dirt road. He continued to coast along the dusty trail watching the display of his phone, determined to find a strong signal. As he maneuvered around the last bend that emptied out just behind Hamilton’s place, he stared in wide-eyed shocked at the black Camaro parked snugly on the side of the road. Had he just stumbled onto their suspect? He positioned his vehicle to make an escape from the rear impossible and unsnapped his holster before he cautiously moved forward. Within seconds, he knew the car was vacant. But who did it belong to? He hadn’t seen the thing anywhere, not once, since he’d moved to this town. He’d remember if he had whether it was on the road or secured in a parking lot or a driveway. Jericho had owned one just like it a long time ago. Not nearly as clean, this one had been carefully restored and looked brand new. His had a few dents, a little rust, and the upholstery had seen better days. And still, he had loved that car. Cherished it until the day it let out one last billowing cough from the tailpipe and died. That had been years ago, right after he’d graduated college and a memory for another day. Jericho moved forward, carefully placing the tiny spike strips under each tire before silently making his way into the cover of trees. If Chaya’s killer was lurking nearby, Jericho was going to catch him. After traveling less than ten feet, Jericho spotted the man’s trail. So far, this year was a dry 104

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 winter. The few snow storms that had come through were mainly in the high country. Here in the valley, the ground was moist as a result of several rain storms and early morning frost that made the ground soft. Whoever was after Paige, hadn’t seemed to care about leaving prints. An uneasy feeling overcame the sheriff and he quickened his pace, not enough to alert his prey but he had to find out what the man was up to. Every instinct he had told him he was walking into trouble. Once Jericho reached the edge of the forest, he paused to take in his surroundings. That’s when he spotted the dynamite. The man had strategically placed a large bundle, more than was necessary to take the structure down completely, on each corner of Paige’s house; with another small bundle positioned in the center of each wall. As he moved closer, he realized a large string of det-cord was attached to each bundle, chaining all the explosives together. Whoever had killed Chaya was trying to kill her daughter and if Jericho didn’t find him quickly, the man just might succeed. But why? Why now? Why today? Once he reached the corner of the house, he took a second to study the makeshift device. If he cut the cord at the corner, this side of the house would be safe. He slid his knife from his pocket and carefully cut the cord then kicked the end several feet into the yard. At least anyone positioned on this side of the house, might have a chance to escape if Jericho didn’t reach the madman in time. He moved cautiously toward the back porch, pausing to see if he could locate anyone inside the kitchen... no such luck. When he reached the far corner of the home, Jericho froze in shock. His mind was racing as he sifted through the clues they had gathered. Daniel Owens was a bank manager and a coward... and apparently, he was also a killer. Okay, maybe that did fit. Only a coward would force an innocent kid off a cliff so he wouldn’t have to face the consequences of a sexual assault. Only a coward would empty a magazine of bullets into a sweet, innocent woman like Chaya Carter. Only a coward would harass and terrorize his victim’s daughter the way he had tried to bully Paige. Anger flowed through him with so much intensity he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control his temper. “Daniel,” Jericho moved a little closer to the murderer currently crouched on the ground, attaching his long string of det-cord to the last bundle of dynamite. Jericho could see the device clearly. Daniel had attached a blasting cap to this final bundle with a long fuse running from the center stick. The fuse was long enough that Daniel could have lit the fuse and escaped safely without detection. The plan was risky, but it might have worked. “I need you to put your hands where I can see them and slowly, very slowly, stand up and turn around.” Daniel froze, Jericho wasn’t supposed to be here. He’d waited until he was sure the group had settled in for the night. Sheriff Walters should be home, tucked safely away for the evening. Instead, he was here... getting in the way. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold-plated lighter. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”


Hostile Annihilation Jericho saw the lighter and knew before the night was through, he just might be responsible for the death of the man who had killed the love of his life. Would Paige keep that secret? Or, would a shadow fall over a justified shooting? He couldn’t think of that now, couldn’t let it play into the situation at hand. If Daniel didn’t comply, Jericho had no other choice... he’d have to shoot a man that had been born into privilege. A man who belonged to an iconic, local family. A man whose family name would be tarnished forever. The image of the cufflink Jericho found clutched in Chaya’s hand popped into his head... that also fit now that he knew it was Daniel. Something inside Jericho shifted and settled. He had finally identified Chaya’s killer. The clues finally all lined up correctly. After over a decade of searching, Jericho finally discovered the identity of the man that killed Chaya. He finally had a face to blame for the destruction, finally knew who destroyed his dreams and stole his happiness. Daniel Owens had nearly destroyed Jericho completely. And he was going to make sure the man paid for his crimes. “Daniel,” Jericho warned. “We both know I’d never survive prison,” Daniel turned slightly to study a man he had always admired. “I was hoping tonight could end things. I hoped that with Chaya’s interfering daughter out of the way, this town could go back to normal. That the entire sordid ordeal would finally be over. I never wanted to involve you in this. But, I’m sorry... now that you know, I don’t have a choice. I’m afraid you will have to go out with the rest of us.” “It doesn’t have to end that way,” Jericho took a step forward. “Don’t,” Daniel grabbed the end of the fuse. “It does have to end. Like I said, I’d never survive prison. I’m not a criminal. I’m just a simple banker and a loving husband.” Jericho looked at the man before him. Clearly, the guy was delusional. “You killed Chaya for no reason.” “I killed that nosey woman in self-defense... because she couldn’t mind her own business,” Daniel spat. “If she’d just stayed out of it... but no, she couldn’t do that. She had to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. She couldn’t leave well-enough alone.” “You saw her car,” Jericho realized. “From your family residence on the hill. Your backyard overlooks the old factory. You saw her drive up and you had to investigate. Did you plan to shoot her that night? Is that why you took a gun?” Maybe if he kept talking, someone inside would hear them and investigate. If he just had help, he may not have to shoot his suspect. “My grandfather bought that property and built his estate on that hill for that very reason,” Daniel said nostalgically. “Once he and grandma inherited the Tillman Factory from her father, they wanted to be close. He thought hard work and dedication would carry them through the recession. He was wrong, which is why I have to work at that stupid bank. Oh, the trust has enough to cover the essentials; taxes, insurance, and upkeep; but my family was iconic in Manti. The factory is what kept the town together for so long. I could hardly live like a pauper, and I certainly couldn’t spend 106

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 time in prison for having a little fun with that girl. She was nothing, she should have been flattered. Instead, she told me no... an Owens? Anyway, if she had just given me what I wanted none of this would have happened in the first place. Then Chaya Carter moved back to town. That woman had no right to pursue something that happened all those years ago. It was in the past, it should have stayed there.” “Tracy was Chaya’s best friend,” Jericho fumed. “Of course she wouldn’t just let it go.” “Which is why we are here tonight,” Daniel flipped open the lighter. “And it’s why all of us are going to die. Ironic really. You, your deputy inside... that large man who interrupted me earlier... if you would have just stayed out of my business, well... we’d probably all die of old age. Instead, you forced me to end it all tonight.” Daniel moved to flick the lighter. Jericho knew he didn’t have a choice. He’d gotten all the answers he was going to get. When Daniel moved to light the flame, he fired once. A man he’d hated for over a decade... a man he would never have suspected... hadn’t suspected... had basically crossed off the list Gage Clayton had whittled down to less than a dozen men... was dead... at his hand. He should care that he’d taken a life, should regret the need to use deadly force, should be worried that Tolman... or Stan wouldn’t understand. But none of that mattered. Right now, all he felt was tired. Hawk, Jeeves, Zeus and Paige rushed out the front door and rounded the corner to spot Sheriff Walters standing over the lifeless form of a large man. “We needed him alive,” Hawk growled. “He probably knows where they are holding Dax.” “He didn’t,” Paige stepped forward and took the sheriff’s weapon. “You okay?” “Paige,” Hawk barked. “Hawk,” Paige said in the same tone. “This man had nothing to do with Dax or his disappearance. You’ll just have to trust me on that.” She glanced around and spotted the dynamite. “We need the bomb squad.” “Zeus,” Hawk turned to address his man. “Take care of it.” “On it,” Zeus moved forward and began studying the amateur setup. “This shouldn’t take long.”

“I think we need an expert,” Paige argued. “Zeus is my expert,” Hawk moved forward past the body lying on the ground and studied the sheriff. “You’re sure about this?” “I’m sure,” Jericho sighed. “He confessed, Paige. It was him all along. I should have seen it. The factory, his family owned it... on his mother’s side. I forgot about that. He’s a coward, which also fits the profile. He’s on the list.” 107

Hostile Annihilation “I bumped him to the bottom of my list, too,” Paige admitted. “I just couldn’t see it. I mean, he snuck out the back when that fugitive robbed the bank.” “I should have...” “Stop it,” Paige demanded. “Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. Tell me what happened before I call Tolman.” “He said someone saw him,” Jericho recalled. “I saw him,” Zeus confirmed as he rejoined the group. “That was the man I encountered in the forest this morning. The guy that attacked me.” “You’re sure?” Hawk asked. “Positive,” Zeus nodded. “I think we took each other by surprise. Then after I went down, he ran. He was gone before I could get to the back road. He fishtailed on the soft dirt, going around that curve. The vehicle was black and old; that’s all I saw.” “You spooked him enough he panicked, I think,” Jericho closed his eyes and tried to sort his emotions. “He was stringing that cord, connecting it to large bundles of dynamite so he just had to light one fuse and escape. Might have gotten away with it, too. Like I said, he was pretty much off the list before tonight.” “There’s enough dynamite to blow a hole the size of Pluto attached to this house,” Zeus said soberly. “Someone cut the cord over there, I assume that was you?” he focused on Jericho.

“It was,” Jericho affirmed. “I realized immediately what he was doing; and figured, if he got the thing lit before I stopped him, at least the entire house wouldn’t explode.” “It was a valiant effort, but he has enough TNT that the blast, the compression from that blast... would have been deadly for all of us,” Zeus corrected. “I’ve disconnected the cord, but that stuff is old and I’m thinking unstable. You might want to call in that bomb squad of yours if they have a bomb box they can bring out. We need to get the stuff contained before it blows.” “So,” Paige studied Zeus. “I guess you’re the explosives and munitions guy in this operation.”

“And extraction,” Zeus confirmed. “You probably figured that out already, with the whole incident in Mexico and all.” “I wondered,” Paige sighed. “But I wasn’t sure when Ken and Dax went down to extract you.” “Yeah,” Zeus scowled. “Things went FUBAR almost immediately.” “So that makes Ken...” Paige asked. 108

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Logistics,” Hawk told her. “Contacts, equipment, anything we need.” “And do you have a specialty?” Paige asked. “Other than management?” She knew the conversation was annoying the impatient leader, but she hoped the delay would give her boss a few minutes to settle and gather his thoughts before Tolman arrived. “Intel,” Hawk turned to study the man who had tried to kill them all. “And I failed when it comes to that one.” “He’s a local problem,” Paige countered. “He wasn’t on your radar because he wasn’t your problem.” “I disagree,” Hawk said soberly. “He just tried to kill all of us. If he had succeeded in lighting that fuse... well, we’d all be gone.” “I guess that makes Jericho the hero of the day,” she placed a comforting hand on her boss’ forearm. “I know this isn’t how you wanted it to end, but you didn’t have a choice. Not from what you said and apparently he confessed to the rest. I’m looking forward to hearing about that conversation sometime. First, I think I need to call Tolman.” “I’m going to contact Gage,” Jericho decided. “He’s familiar with the case with none of the conflicts you and I have.” Jericho paused, wondering if that was actually true. “He can take over the scene, process everything and we can go from there.” He’d get Gage alone and discuss the situation with Drew at a later date. Right now, he needed someone on the case he knew he could trust. “I’m thinking we should also contact Sean,” Paige said hesitantly. “He’s familiar with... well, all of it. It will make things easier. Sean can deal with the domestic terrorist stuff... there’s no problem making a case on that with the dynamite. And Gage can deal with the shooting and Tolman.” “Okay,” Jericho sighed. “Let’s get this cleaned up so we can get back to finding Dax.” Paige walked around to the back of the house and dialed her old friend. Within minutes, she’d explained the situation and had a promise from Sean he was walking out the door. She turned to look for Jericho and collided with Carmen. “Geez,” she said taking a step back. “You should call Porter,” Carmen settled onto one of the patio chairs.

“I’ll deal with him later,” Paige brushed the suggestion aside. “He needs to know what happened out here,” Carmen pressed. “Why?” she didn’t want to deal with the overprotective man at the moment.


Hostile Annihilation “Because,” Carmen glanced toward the house next door. “They are still monitoring our communication. The bad guys know we’re in the middle of a...situation at the moment. The General might be able to use that to flush out the mole.” Paige hated to admit it, but her favorite tech wiz had a point. “Fine, I’ll call him.” Paige pulled out her phone, selected Nathan’s name and hit send. “But if he freaks, I’m handing the phone to you.” She was still smiling at Carmen’s response when Nathan answered the call.


Paige glanced up and spotted Sean. Thank goodness! She started toward him when she spotted a second vehicle... Gage had arrived and it looked like he had Thor and Ken with him. All three men climbed from the vehicle and headed in the opposite direction.

“Hey,” Sean climbed from his car. “What do I need to know?” “The DA is on the way,” Paige warned. “And there’s something else you should probably know.” Sean glanced up at the tone he detected in Paige’s voice. “What’s wrong?” Paige took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “The man’s name is Daniel Owens. He’s the bank manager, you met him a few months back... at the robbery.” “Okay,” Sean studied his friend. “Why did he want you dead?”

“Because he’s the man that murdered my mother,” Paige glanced away. “What!” Sean stared in wide-eyed shock. “Talk about burying the lead.” “He was hiding in the forest over there,” Paige pointed to the wooded area next to Dax’s house. “Zeus stumbled onto him this morning. Daniel shoved Zeus causing him to fall and reinjure his hip allowing Daniel to escape. Best we can tell, Daniel showed up tonight to blow up my house because he panicked. He was afraid someone would figure out he was the one harassing me, which would implicate him in my mother’s murder and Tracy’s death. He was determined to get away with it, no matter how many people died to ensure his freedom.” “There’s more,” Sean pressed. “There is,” Paige admitted. “I’m just deciding if I should tell you.” “Paige,” Sean pressed. “If I know, I can help.” 110

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Jericho is the one that shot Daniel,” Paige confided. “He tried to stop Daniel, but when he moved to light the fuse to blow up the house, he didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t there, but I believe him. When I got there, Daniel was lying on the ground, Jericho was standing there in shock and the lighter was only a few inches from the fuse.” “Is that a problem?” Sean asked. “Sounds like a good shooting. What has you worried?” “My mom and Jericho... they were involved when she was killed,” Paige told him. “Nobody knows about that and they don’t need to. It’s irrelevant to your investigation but I don’t know what Tolman knows or what Jericho is going to tell him.” “Let me get a look at the scene,” Sean decided. There was a lot to sift through and they didn’t have time for this. They needed to work on finding Dax. “What are you going to do?” Paige didn’t answer for several seconds. Her world was falling apart and she was powerless to stop it. “I’m going to find Carmen and talk Hawk into joining me next door. We need to work on finding Dax and give whoever is listening an explanation for one of their tracking devices ending up in Mexico.” “Clearly I’m missing a lot here,” Sean frowned. “Let me handle the problem at your house and then you can fill me in on the rest.” Paige walked away and approached Hawk. “We need to head next door and set up an explanation for why the tracker ended up in Mexico. Then, I think we should head over to Carmen’s place. Those guys are going to be here a while and we can’t get into my house while they investigate.” “Let me get the guys,” Hawk walked away. The group gathered in Dax’s living room. Once everyone was settled, Paige took the lead. “Zeus, things are crazy at my house and I talked to Deputy Clayton. He thinks they will be busy over there most of the night. I was thinking maybe we should relocate to your place for the night.” “Good idea,” Zeus grinned. He was going to suggest they work out of Carmen’s tonight. Paige just beat him to it.

“Molina called,” Ken provided. “He said the tracker arrived and he gave it to a local, asked him to attach it to his truck and drive around town a few hours every day. He likes the idea of giving the men responsible for Diego’s death the run-around.” Hawk gave a nod to Carmen. They had discussed this and she knew how to lead the conversation where he wanted it to go.. 111

Hostile Annihilation “I was thinking,” Carmen began. “You guys found those tracking devices at the saddle shop. We know Dax was out there but his captors had relocated before you arrived.” “Right,” Paige focused on her friend. “Did you find out why?”

“Well,” Carmen glanced at Hawk before she continued. “What if someone attached the trackers and Nassar didn’t know? I’m thinking once they found the devices, they ditched them and then ditched the location just to be safe. We thought they saw you coming, but what if they moved before... maybe even before we narrowed in on the farmhouse?” “It makes sense,” Hawk winked at Carmen, Zeus scowled. “We acted on the Intel immediately. There’s no way anyone saw us coming. I’m not sure that helps us locate the new place, but it does explain why they moved. Now, how do we find the new location?”

“I haven’t found anything so far,” Carmen sighed. “I think I hit a brick wall.” “Jericho and I went back to the saddle shop today,” Paige added. “We didn’t find anything either.” She reached out, picked up the GPS device and the strange black box and handed them to Carmen. “What are you going to do with that?” Zeus asked, pointing to the tracking device. “I don’t think it works,” Carmen grinned. “I’m thinking Nassar wasn’t happy when he found out someone planted a tracker on him. He probably stomped on it or something. Leave it there, I’ll take it apart tomorrow when we get back and see if there’s anything to learn from it.” “Let’s head over to my place,” Zeus stood. “We’ll have to figure out sleeping arrangements and I’m beat.” The group stood and followed Hawk out the door.


Carmen stepped into her house and immediately dropped into her oversized lounge chair. “Okay, now let’s have a real conversation. I’m curious about this box. I’ve scanned it. It’s not transmitting anything but I haven’t seen anything like it before.” “What do you think it could be?” Jeeves asked. “I’m going to set that aside for now,” Carmen decided. “I’ll call Nathan in the morning and see if he can help with it. In the meantime, I’m more curious about this GPS unit.” 112

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Do you think you can access the data?” Hawk asked. Carmen snorted. “Do you think the sun will come up in the morning?” “How long?” Hawk ignored the sarcasm.

“Talk to me,” Ken answered his phone after only one ring. “The guy is being difficult,” Mo admitted. “He wasn’t nearly as cocky once Thor left him here... alone with me. I think we have finally come to an understanding.” “Meaning?” Ken asked, not sure he wanted to know. “Meaning, Williams says he doesn’t know exactly where the new compound is located,” Mo sighed. “I believe him. Trust me, if he knew the location, he would have told me. He said he was just supposed to head to Salina, then Nassar programmed the route into a GPS. He thinks the property belongs to a guy by the name of Cole Reynolds.” “That matches our Intel as well,” Ken told him. “Problem is, Reynolds hid the records. Carmen is sifting through corporations and subsidiaries but so far we’re not having a lot of luck. I have to tell you, we were counting on you to get more. Nassar has realized by now that Williams isn’t going to show. There’s no telling what he’ll do to Dax. It would be safer to take him out and disappear.” “Safer,” Mo agreed. “But I don’t think that’s the plan. Williams is still holding back on me. I’m going to keep working him but I thought you should know about the GPS and Salina. If I get more, I’ll let you know. My relief should be here any minute. Once he arrives, I’m headed your way. Shoot me a text with the address if and when.” “Don’t come to Manti,” Ken decided. “Head to Salina. We’ll have to relocate down there eventually, we can meet up with you there. That way we can all head into the wilderness together.” “I’ll check in when I arrive,” Mo clicked off. “Mo is coming to Utah?” Paige asked, worried. “It was part of the deal,” Ken evaded. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” Paige asked. “Because I don’t. I think it’s a horrible idea. I already skirted a line by letting you hand our prisoner over to him. Why?” “Why what?” Hawk asked. “Why was it part of the deal?” 113

Hostile Annihilation “Because Nassar killed his friend,” Hawk said flatly. “So, when this is all over... we’ll hand Nassar over to Mo as well.” “You never said...” Paige began but stopped when Ken’s phone rang again. “Does that thing ever stop ringing?” Ken smiled. “Not when I’m on a mission.” He turned so his back was to the group then answered the phone. “Wooly speaking.” “Nassar is working with a man named Akmed,” Ramin said in answer. “Akmed is dangerous. He’s known to run illegal weapons and munitions. And he’s a terrorist. He will blow anyone up that gets in his way.” “We already knew that,” Ken said, disappointed. “But thank you for checking.” “I’m not finished,” Ramin told him. “Akmed has done business with Edwardo Contreras.” “Your biggest enemy,” Ken smiled. “This problem of yours has piqued my interest,” Ramin admitted. “I will find out what Nassar and Edwardo are planning and let you know. There are rumors... whispers of something big and sinister. So far, it is believed the trouble will only impact our neighbors to the north. I’m intrigued and will look into this further. If I learn what is brewing, I’ll be in touch. Let’s just call it mutual cooperation involving a shared enemy.” “What’s the catch?” Ken asked. Ramin never did anything for free. “No catch,” Ramin promised. “One more thing, I was told there is a compound in the wilderness. A shipment will be headed that way next week. To a place called Oak Ridge something. Do you know this place?” “No,” Ken motioned to Carmen. “What else do you know about this Oak Ridge compound?” “I’m still investigating,” Ramin told Ken. “My source was not very... what do you say? Dependable? He said something about ducks and some kind of berries.” “Ducks and berries?” Ken said, confused. “Gooseberry?” Carmen asked. “Could it be Gooseberry?” Ken asked. 114

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “Yes, yes. That is it,” Ramin affirmed. “So Goose eat berries where you live?” “I’m not sure,” Ken laughed. “But Gooseberry is a wilderness area south of here. I think you may have just given us the clue we needed. I believe Nassar is holding Dax near there.” “Give Dax Hamilton my best when you find him,” Ramin said in closing. “I’ll be in touch.” Carmen was sitting at her kitchen table, frantically tapping on her laptop. Paige was hovering over her shoulder. “Sit,” Carmen pointed to a chair. “I need space.” “Sorry,” Paige settled into the chair next to her friend. “Did you find him?” “Hand me the GPS unit,” Carmen held out her hand, palm up. Paige started to stand but stopped when Hawk dropped the device into Carmen’s hand. Carmen plugged the unit into her computer, pressed a few keys and synced the memory to the satellite map displayed on her screen. Suddenly, a trail led from the city of Salina, east on I-70 and then turned onto a side road called Gooseberry Road, it continued southbound past Gooseberry Campground and then north on a road labeled Oak Ridge Road. “Bingo!” Carmen exclaimed in triumph and punched her fist in the air. “We found Dax,” Paige whispered. “Let’s head out,” Hawk turned and headed for the door all the men followed.

“Shouldn’t we take a minute to develop a plan?” Paige rushed after them. “We’ll plan on the way,” Hawk said, never looking back. “Jeeves, Wooly, Thor, Zeus... you’re with me. Check the back and make sure we have what we need. Otherwise, we’ll have to swing by Dax’s place before we hit the road.” “I need my medical bag,” Jeeves advised. “It’s in the spare room... at Hamilton’s house.” “And we stashed the bag with the walkies and the extra ammo in his basement,” Ken added. “We have to stop back and load up the rest of the gear.” “I’ll follow you. I need to check in with the sheriff,” Paige shrugged. “What are you going to do?” she asked Carmen. “I’m going to stay here and gather more information, call Nathan, then I’m going to try to figure out what that other device is. I don’t need to go out there and I think I’d just get in the way. I can do more good here. Just keep me posted. And when you find Dax...” 115

Hostile Annihilation “You’ll be the first to know,” Paige gave her friend a hug then rushed out to her car. Hawk was already halfway to her house by now.


“Tolman left very specific instructions,” the woman jumped in front of Paige before she could enter her house. “Unless the world is coming to an end, you can’t go in there.” “Lady,” Paige growled. “This is my house. I’ll go in there if I want to go in there.” “You can’t...” “I don’t have time for this,” Paige said before she shoved open the door and pushed her way inside. Tolman jumped to his feet and glared at Paige. “I left strict instructions...” “Yeah, yeah,” Paige waved her hand in the air in dismissal. “Jericho, we found the compound. We know where to find Dax. The guys are already on their way to Salina. I need you. Mo is meeting us there and those guys...” she glanced at Tolman. “I just need you.” “I’ll come,” Sean jumped to his feet. “Don’t argue, you know I can help.” “I’m not finished here, Jericho,” Tolman insisted. “Whatever she’s talking about... it can wait.”

Jericho pulled out his phone and dialed Gage. “Yes, sir,” Gage answered. “I need you to meet me on the front porch,” Walters began. “We’re headed to Salina; so, tie things up and get here as soon as you can.” “I need ten minutes,” Gage turned and headed for the bomb squad. “You have ten minutes,” Jericho said to Tolman. “Then, done or not... we’re leaving.” “Thank you,” Paige hugged Jericho then practically ran out the door. Sean followed. “You driving or am I?” Sean called out. “You drive,” Paige decided. “I need to call Nathan.” “What kind of lead do they have?’ Sean asked as he sped onto the highway. 116

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 “A few minutes,” Paige glanced at the clock. “And a million miles. They’re developing a plan on the way. That means when we arrive, they’ll have a complete op plan sorted out and you and I... we’re going to be in the dark.” “Call Nathan,” Sean said, never taking his eyes off the road. He was closing in on a dark Navigator that he thought he recognized. “Paige,” Nathan said in greeting. “Please tell me nothing else has happened out there.” “We found him,” Paige said softly. “We think we found him. We’re all headed to Salina. The guys... Dax’s team is ahead of us. They said they’re developing a plan on the fly. Any idea what Sean and I will be walking into?” “Just remember, all of them are professionals,” Nathan tried not to let the stress and the worry come through. “You are working with an elite team... Dax couldn’t be in better hands. Stick with Sean, you two work well together. The most important thing is finding Dax, but don’t get separated. Nassar is ruthless and he won’t hesitate to abduct you or use you to his advantage. Promise me you will be careful and call me the minute things settle out there.” “I know this is hard for you,” Paige could hear the stress in Nathan’s voice and wondered if there was more he wasn’t telling her. “Is everything okay out there?” “Nothing I can’t handle,” Nathan evaded. “Are you wearing your vest?” “I will,” Paige promised. “And you have plenty of ammo?” “Yes,” Paige bit her tongue, she knew he needed this. “Tell Sean I’m counting on him to keep you safe,” Nathan demanded. “I’ll keep him safe,” Paige countered. “I love you, Paige,” Nathan whispered. “Be safe and I’ll talk to you later.” Paige frowned but slid the phone back into her pocket. “Problems?” Sean asked. “I’m not sure,” Paige admitted. “But first thing’s first. Let me see if Carmen was able to get a diagram of the main residence.” 117

Hostile Annihilation *****

Paige took a deep breath then silently pushed open the door and stepped from Sean’s sleek government vehicle. The two of them met at the front of the car and waited for Hawk to yank bag after bag from the back of their SUV and hand each one to a different man. He motioned for Paige and Sean to join him. Paige moved forward and realized Hawk was facing a small board with an outline of the property diagrammed in detail. “When?” She froze when she saw the group had picked Mo up somewhere along the way. “Wooly did it on the way,” Hawk said absently. “You and Sean will head inside with me and Jeeves. We’ll go right, you take left. We clear one level then meet back up and move to the next.” “Sounds good,” Sean said studying the layout of the building. “Obviously we’ll do the main level first but then do you want to move up or down?” “Down,” Hawk decided. “If Dax is inside, chances are good he’ll be in the basement.” “I agree,” Sean continued to study the layout. “What will the rest of the guys be doing?” Paige asked. “Thor and Zeus will clear the right side of the property as well as any outbuildings they encounter. Ken and Mo will go left.” “Ken?” Mo asked. “That’s still Wooly to you,” Ken grinned. “Is your prisoner still alive?” Paige couldn’t help herself. “He was when I left,” Mo shrugged. “Now... your guess is as good as mine.” “Will Mexico be keeping him?” Paige refused to look away. Mr. Alejandro Molina was trying to intimidate her. It wouldn’t work. “Of course,” Mo grinned. “The man murdered a police officer. I assumed you would understand the ramifications of that action.” “Technically,” Paige disagreed. “Nassar murdered a police officer. William Broadbent did not.”


Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 Mo focused on Hawk. “I didn’t realize your cop was present when my friend was killed. Maybe I should take her back to Mexico when I return.” “Drop it,” Hawk barked. “You guys head out,” he motioned for the four men to proceed. “You two... follow us. Keep quiet and stay together. We’ll pause on the front porch.” He handed both Paige and Sean a small walkie. “Keep it simple,” Hawk glanced at Sean then back to Paige. “We only speak to relay information or answer a question.” “Really?” Paige grabbed the walkie. “I was thinking I’d keep up a play-by-play just for kicks.” Hawk turned and started for the front door. “By the way,” Paige whispered. “Gage and Jericho are on their way. They were delayed ten, maybe fifteen minutes. You want me to text them instructions?”

“Tell them to come inside and secure the front door while we clear the main floor,” Hawk decided. “Then they can join up with us while we clear the basement. Paige pulled out her phone and typed a quick message. “Done.” Hawk pressed his finger to his lips and moved toward the front door.


Dax couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in this much pain. His fingers were so swollen, they felt like they would pop. He gritted his teeth and slid backward before forcing his arms upwards just a little further. He pressed harder, giving his wrists a slight jerk and finally heard the tiny pop of the zip tie breaking just before it fell from his wrists and settled onto the cold concrete floor with a soft click. Okay, first step complete. Now, he’d need to break out the window and hope there was some kind of cover nearby. He was running blind now. He thought of the military mission’s he’d commanded for years and appreciated the analysts, the Intel and the comprehensive plans that were compiled long before he or his team got involved. Thoughts of his men... of one man that had deceived him... tried to surface, but he pushed them aside. His life would depend on his total concentration. He could deal with the betrayal if he survived this mess in one piece.



Hostile Annihilation Nassar heard the glass breaking and ran to the window to investigate. His heart began to beat a little faster when he saw the team of four on the front porch. How had they located his position? Had Williams been captured? Had the fool talked already? That was a problem for another day; right now, he had to find a way out of this building. He didn’t get the chance to kill Dax Hamilton, he’d always regret that. But, his life — his survival — was more important. He could deal with Hamilton later. Nassar slid the sleek Glock into its holster then snatched up a second handgun just in case. He slid the compact 9mm he smuggled from Iraq into his ankle holster and made his way silently across the room. Once he reached the door, the ruthless militant peered into the hallway. He relaxed a little when he saw his pathway was clear. He slipped into the shadows and soundlessly made his way to the other side of the ancient house. He carefully descended one stair at a time down the well-hidden servant’s staircase and stepped into the dark, musty kitchen. From there it was only a few steps to the back door. The wood creaked slightly when he yanked open the heavy wooden barrier and ran into the cover of trees directly behind the main residence. Nassar had scouted the entire compound before he decided to use the property as a backup. It was always best to be prepared. He knew if he went to the right, his pathway would be cut off by a large brick wall. To the left was an open meadow, a fenced in area and a dirt road. His only escape was directly behind him. He’d have to head into the wilderness, maybe make his way to the creek — then wait. Once the group realized he was gone, they’d take his prisoner and head back to Manti. The insufferable soldier would need medical attention immediately. Then, Nassar could return to the house, pack up and disappear. At least, he’d been careful. His vehicle was positioned on the other side of the brick wall, hidden behind a thick stand of trees. He just had to survive one night, that’s all. It would be cold; it was winter in these mountains. But, so far... there wasn’t snow. He had survived worse. It took a strong man to survive a summer in Iraq. Nassar stumbled over logs, tripped on protruding rocks and cursed out loud when a tree branch struck him square in the face. He was making too much noise and he wasn’t entirely sure which direction he was now traveling. He froze and crouched against the trunk of a tree when he heard a sound. He wasn’t the only one in the forest. Nassar slowly slid to the side and settled lower to the ground to wait and see who was headed his way. A huge smile spread across his face when he spotted his prisoner. In the commotion, Hamilton had also escaped. If he played things right, he just might get the opportunity he longed for... he may still get to kill the man who had caused him so much trouble over the past two days.

***** 120

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 Dax was grateful for the trees, but he also knew he wasn’t alone. He could feel someone watching him. How had Nassar located him so quickly? Dax made an abrupt turn and headed to the right. Maybe, he could lose the hunter in the woods. Dax figured he had an advantage. He’d spent time in the forest all his life. Nassar was from the desert. He wouldn’t know the tricks, wouldn’t be able to read the sounds... and if luck was truly on Dax’s side, the man that wanted him dead might even get lost... turned around to the point he wouldn’t know if he was headed north or west. A sound behind him caught his attention and he ducked into a thick stand of bushes that lined the area directly in front of his position. As he forced his body further into the shrubbery, he hit a wall... literally. He had worked his way... probably with his luck, to the only solid barrier on the property. He was stuck with nowhere to go but over. And if Nassar was close by... Dax would be discovered before he could lever himself to the other side. But, what was the alternative? He was positive his ankle was broken, his shin was now bleeding from the long, precise cut Nassar had inflicted earlier that day. His fingers were throbbing, at least three of his ribs were broken and sixty percent of his body was covered in deep, raw burns. Conclusion? He was a mess and his only hope of escaping was over that wall.


“This level is clear,” Hawk called out. “Let’s move downstairs. Paige, when we hit the bottom, you go left again. Jeeves and I will go right. Jericho, glad you could join us. You and your backup man... fall in behind one of us. You decide which looks like the larger section.” “You holding up?” Jericho whispered to Paige before they started forward. “I’m fine,” Paige whispered back. “Tolman?” “It’s covered,” Jericho said in dismissal. The entire group grew silent and focused on the mission. They cautiously descended the narrow staircase, determined to find Dax this time. The instant they reached the concrete slab of the landing, they new they had failed. “He’s gone,” Hawk called out. “Not again,” Sean turned and headed for the other side of the building, frustrated and defeated. Paige stepped into the room and did a quick check of the area. One of the large windows was broken out of its frame. “Do you think he escaped?” “Maybe,” Hawk didn’t want to give false hope, but that was exactly what he thought. He pulled out 121

Hostile Annihilation his walkie and turned to leave. “Dax is on the loose, keep an eye out and watch for Nassar. He could be in pursuit.” “Split up,” Hawk ordered. “Jeeves stay with me. Paige you and Sean head right. Jericho, take your man and head toward the back of the property. Watch for my men and please don’t shoot any of my guys by accident.” “Does he think he’s the only one that’s ever worked an op?” Sean grumbled. “He acts like we’re security guards he just pulled in from the mall.” “Ignore him,” Jericho scowled. “And stay in touch. I want to know where you are at all times.” “Copy that,” Paige pulled out her walkie and turned right. “Zeus, Sean and I are headed your way.” “Copy,” Zeus whispered. “I think we have company.” “Hurry,” Paige called over her shoulder to Sean. “There could be trouble brewing.” She worked her way over fallen logs, soggy leaves and low hanging branches. At least, the ground was soft enough they could move around up here without crunching leaves or squeaking as they moved across a bed of snow. Several minutes later, she came to an area where the trees stopped and a flat meadow butted up against a sturdy brick wall. Sean had just moved in beside her when Paige spotted Dax. Her entire body froze in shocked horror as she watched a series of events unfold. Events that she was too far away to stop, events that she knew would change her life forever.


Dax took a deep breath to steady his aching body. It was now or never. He had to act... had to try, even if the attempt killed him. He would not return to that musty basement to be tortured to death by a madman. At least, out here if he died... it would be quick and relatively painless. He shoved his back against the wall and pushed upwards. Within seconds, he was standing again; now, he just had to accomplish the impossible task of scaling a brick wall. Piece of cake. He reached up, braced the top of the wall with both hands and jumped. His fingers ached, his ribs were screaming for him to stop, but he held on, pulled a little harder, shoved upwards with his toes, and finally forced his left leg over the top of the barrier with a loud grunt. Within seconds, he was able to scramble to the top of the large structure... the wall was thicker than he originally believed... but he was preparing to drop to the other side when the loud crack of a high powered handgun echoed throughout the night. He pushed out, tried to force his 122

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 body to the other side, hoping he could find safety if only for a moment when the bullet found its mark. Pain engulfed him, heat sliced through his torso just before his world went black and his body fell over the wall and struck the ground with a resounding thud. “Noooo!” Zeus yelled before he broke into a dead run and tried to catch up with a fleeing Nassar. Several things happened in a matter of seconds. A second shot rang out–breaking the calm silence that had engulfed the wilderness like a sinister omen. Zeus skidded to an abrupt stop, lost his footing and fell backward in shock. Nassar’s lifeless body fell suddenly to the ground a few feet away at a grotesque angle, one that seemed fitting somehow after all he had done. Zeus looked to the side, to the area where the shot had originated and spotted Thor. His friend was clearly angry, but still had his .40 caliber Smith & Wesson pointed at the enemy. An enemy that may have just killed the best friend Zeus had ever had.


Hawk and Jeeves reached Dax first. Jeeves dropped to the ground beside his friend and frantically began searching for the damage. “How bad?” Hawk settled to the ground on the other side. “Bad,” Jeeves said gravely. “I’m not sure I can save him.” “You can,” Hawk disagreed. “You will.” He glanced up when he heard his colleagues running toward them. Paige reached Dax’s body and immediately dropped to the ground. “How can I help?” “There are so many injuries,” Sean whispered. He reached out and put a supportive hand on Paige’s shoulder. He wouldn’t say it, not out loud, but it would take a miracle and even then... he wasn’t sure Dax could survive. Paige felt like she was treading under water. She knew the rest of the men had joined them. She knew Sean was standing beside her, had somehow known the instant Jericho flanked her on the other side and Gage moved to stand behind her. But she couldn’t hear their muffled voices, couldn’t understand what Jeeves was saying. “I’m losing him,” Jeeves called out. “Ken?” “That’s my transport,” Ken called out when they heard the distinct sound of a helicopter overhead. “We need a landing zone.” 123

Hostile Annihilation Paige was still kneeling on the ground when two men lifted Dax onto a stretcher. She remained there while Dax’s team helped rush him to the waiting bird. Continued to sit frozen when the engine roared to life, the wind picked up and the helicopter lifted gracefully into the air. She still didn’t move when the men gathered around and silently stared at the bloodstained earth in front her. “What are you going to do with the body?” Mo finally asked. That simple statement jerked Paige back to reality. “Body?” Had Dax died while she sat there weak and immobilized? “Sean?” Hawk focused on the federal agent. “It’s a crime scene,” Sean shrugged. “Nassar was a sadistic terrorist, but the shooting will have to be investigated.” Jericho considered. “I agree, but we’ll need to call in Sevier County on this. All of us, well except Agent Wilkens maybe... are out of our jurisdiction.” “Is that going to complicate things?” Hawk asked. “Maybe a little,” Jericho admitted. “They will probably be upset we didn’t notify them earlier. Luckily, that’s not my problem. Consider the prisoner transferred into the custody of you, Agent Sean Wilkens. What the FBI does to deal with that man’s body is now out of my control.” “I tried to call Nathan,” Zeus offered. “He’s not answering so we’ll have to deal with this on our own. We should be able to use his name to justify our presence here... the former military team, that is. The rest will be up to our new favorite agent.” “Then let’s hope I can use my charming personality to smooth things over,” Sean smiled. He turned to see Paige’s reaction and realized she was still crouched on the cold ground. “Why don’t you guys head back to the car? Maybe, you could check on Dax and see if there’s an update. I need just a minute, then I’ll contact the locals.” Hawk focused on Paige for several seconds, nodded, then turned and started back toward the house. “Come on, kid,” Jericho gripped Paige’s forearm and gave it a gentle pull. “We need to get you to the hospital.” “Did he...?” Sean stepped forward and took her hand. “It’s bad, Paige. You need to be prepared for that. Jeeves 124

Paige Carter Season 2—Episode 9 lost him completely but brought him back around. He may not survive the ride to the hospital but we did all we could. You need to be prepared and I’ll help you through whatever happens.” He glanced at Jericho then Gage. “We all will. There’s still hope. If anyone can survive this, Dax Hamilton can.” Jericho wrapped a strong arm around Paige’s shoulder. “Just take one step at a time. It’s all you can do. We’ll let these guys handle cleanup out here until the locals arrive and I’ll drive you to the emergency room.” Jericho started forward then glanced back and spotted Gage. The big man liked everyone to believe he was strong and tough; but at the moment, his deputy was having a hard time keeping it together. Dax had touched the lives of his entire department. Jericho just hoped the stubborn, but loveable, carpenter was as resilient as he used to be. Because he wasn’t sure Paige Carter could survive losing the man she loved on the same day she discovered the identity of the man that killed her mother. Jericho wasn’t sure he could handle it himself. Daniel Owens had died today by Jericho’s hand. Unfortunately, he had taken far too many answers with him to the grave. Read the current season for free. Available exclusively on my website. Each season runs from April to December. Season five now in progress. If you subscribe to my blog, you will receive the entire first season absolutely free just for signing up.

Season 1 1. Lakeside 2. Lasting Consequences 3. Perverted Theology 4. Camp Reefer 5. Youthful Plunder 6. Newborn Harvest 7. Unfortunate Trio 8. Impetuous Flight 9. Innocent Strategy 125