Connections eMagazine May 2021 edition

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Volume 7 Issue 2

Connections eMagazine

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. April showers bring May flowers but for me, May signals warm weather, lazy days on the beach with a good book, and exploring the back country. The second magazine of the year is always dedicated to summer fun, easy reading, and adventure. I hope you’ll take the time to look around. "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." – Harper Lee 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.

Subscribe Writing Prompt: Authors are given the first sentence of a story and challenged to bring the idea to life.


“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

Blogs | Articles •

– Albert Einstein •

“Reading stimulates the imagination and a good imagination can change the world in the most splendid of ways.”

– Meredith Wood •

Paige Carter Free Books Writers’ Lives

Next Steps by Sylva Fae A Writers Search for a Body Dump Site by Val Tobin How I Improved My Angst With Alcohol by Terri Kozlowski Favourite Authors by Sylva Fae The Big Barn Hunt by Reyna Bradford

A Mess of Minor Miseries by Rebecca Bryn Engage Readers With Your Emails by Insecure Writer’s Support Group

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EDITOR… Melanie P. Smith

Melanie P. Smith

Sylva Fae

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Bernetta Thorne-Williams

Mom’s Favorite Reads

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Hannah Howe

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COPY EDITOR… Sylva Fae PRODUCED by… MPSmith Publishing

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What is a writing prompt? Depends on who you ask. Traditional writing prompts consisted of one or two words that were descriptive and prompted creativity. An instructor might simply say the word red, set a time, and participants would write whatever came to them. The idea was to create an environment for free writing without constraint. Authors also use writing prompts in a different way. These prompts could be in the form of a sentence or an idea intended to inspire. This type of prompt is often used in creative writing courses or just to help authors step away and focus on something frivolous and fun. You can find entire social media groups developed for this specific purpose.

The following example was posted in an authors group. Members were encouraged to write a short story (around 500 words) that began with the sentence ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ — Here’s what our authors came up with...

Rhonda Hopkins Fiction:

It was a dark and stormy night. Cliché, I know, but it fit.

I stood looking out the large window from the cabin rooted in the seclusion of the deep piney woods of East Texas where I’d hidden out for the past six months. Not that I was afraid of anything. I’d put fear behind me when I left Dallas. The darkness coalesced around the trees, making it too difficult to see except when lightning flashed across the sky. The driving rain crashed against the window, making the view in front of me even blurrier. The next burst of light highlighted a figure between the trees. My imagination. It had to be. I’d not seen another soul here in all the time I’d been renting the small home. My thoughts fled back to the night I’d left Stephen. He’d put me in the hospital the month before and blamed my bruises and lacerations on a fall down the stairs in our home. It wasn’t the first time he’d beaten me, but it was the worst. And, I knew he’d eventually kill me. He’d threatened it often enough and promised more than once if I left, he’d find me.

He boasted of his position as a detective with local law enforcement and told me repeatedly no one would believe he’d hurt me. Knowing he was right, I waited. And, planned. Another flash and the dark figure stood closer. I held my breath, waiting.

Feature Article That night six months ago, my husband had come at me with fists raised and I’d shot him with his own backup weapon. The surprised look in his eyes before he fell to the floor told me he’d never considered I’d defend myself. But, I had. My brother helped me move the body and bury him at the bottom of a large hill in an isolated area just south of Dallas. Afterward, I made a deep cut in my arm and spread my blood around the foyer of our home before my brother stitched me up. The news reports indicated the police presumed I was dead and my husband had skipped town. I cut and dyed my hair and changed just about everything I could. I hid out in this cabin, only going to the small town every couple of weeks for supplies. I healed. Body and soul. Until tonight. A foreboding had crept over me even before the storm began to pummel everything in its path.

Another bolt of lightning arched across the sky. The man stood in the clearing just before the steps to the cabin, disappearing as the light faded. My breathing quickened and my heart pounded against my chest. Panic skittered across my nerves causing my skin to pebble with goosebumps. When another jolt of light lit up the area in front of me, fear found me again. Stephen stood on the porch in front of the window, his cold dead eyes staring at me. Even in death, he’d kept his promise. He’d found me.

Penny Luker

It Was a dark and stormy night It was a dark and stormy night and the branches of a tree were tapping on the window. The wind howled like a ghoul in agony. I could sense evil in the air. Three candles were placed around the room as the electricity had failed about half an hour ago. I picked up a bottle of whisky and took a swig, wiping my hand across my mouth, when I’d finished. Why should I try to be ladylike and delicate when my boyfriend was cheating on me with Lisa, my best friend from school days? I don’t know which betrayal actually hurt the most. I wasn’t scared about being alone in the house, nor about the storm. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if the Earth exploded. My thoughts paused as I heard a third tile fall and crash on the driveway. Repairing the roof would be expensive. I needed the raw burn of the amber nectar to obliterate the pain. I took another swig. I didn’t hear Rob and Lisa come in the house. ‘I’ve just come to collect a few things. Best to get things sorted,’ he said. I raised my arm with the bottle tightly in my hand and brought it down on his head. His legs sort of crumpled as he fell at my feet and then I could see Lisa’s oh so round eyes. She had to go too. The bottle was now broken but I was still holding the neck. I shoved it towards her chest. Her scream was louder than the wind. It was not a pretty sight. Suddenly I was stone cold sober in spite of the drink. I picked up a newspaper from the coffee table and stuck it into the flame of one of the candles. As I left the house I could see the fire consume our little love nest.

The rain lashed against my skin as I walked away and I felt the evil disintegrate.

Feature Article Tom Benson

Convoy Drills It was a dark and stormy night.

The lights changed, and we set off again. I had nobody following me, but it took fifteen minutes to catch up with the asshole in front of me. My eyes were stinging, and I was aware of Norrie dozing as soon as he finished his cigarette. In the next sleepy little town we got caught at lights again, but this time, another convoy passed, and it was at this point I realised there were convoys from other regiments in the area. The traffic lights changed, and once again I raced off into the distance watching for the trailer lights. It took ten minutes, and Norrie was snoring. By the time I was within one hundred metres of the trailer lights, there was another set of traffic lights. I lost sight of the trailer and cursed the driver again. We set off, and I drove fast to catch up, but my wiper blades were skimming over the rain instead of removing any. It was like driving in a monsoon, and I was tired. Norrie woke up and rubbed his eyes as I reached the trailer. I abandoned the idea of a fifty-metre gap. I moved much closer so I wouldn’t lose the dip-shit again. Next time, I was going through the f**king lights no matter what colour showed. “Fancy a smoke?” Norrie said.

It Was a dark and stormy night “Yes mate, I need to concentrate.” I’d lost count of how many cigarettes we’d had. Norrie lit up two cigarettes and passed one to me. I took a deep drag and exhaled. I dropped to third gear as I pushed my Land Rover to get closer to the guy in front. Convoy drills were bloody history for this move.

Norrie leant forward until his face was close to the windscreen. We had issues trying to see through the torrent. “Didn’t you say the trailer in front of us had generators?” “Yeah,” I said. “It’s a 1-ton trailer with a pair of Onans.” “The trailer in front of us has a big black thing in it.” “Are you f**king hallucinating?”

“No, seriously, it has one of them big black tanks in there.” “You mean a water-bowser?” I squinted and stared through the rain-spattered screen. Not two, but hundreds of red tail lights … wipe, wipe … thousands of f**king tail lights. Bollocks. “I’m sure it’s one of those things,” Norrie said. “There’s no canopy, so I can see the big lid on top.”

I stared hard through the streams and dots of water on my screen. In the rain, I’d been focusing on the enhanced number of trailer lights whenever I could. I rubbed my sore eyes. “Bollocks!” A short distance along the road I braked hard and drove through a filling station forecourt to perform a rapid U-turn. I headed back the way we’d come, but faster. “We’ve lost our convoy haven’t we?” Norrie said.

“F**k all gets past you, does it, mate? Maybe if you kept your eyes open, we wouldn’t be following a fucking Royal Engineers convoy.” “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m knackered.”

Feature Article I wanted to say something else sarcastic, but there was no point and no defence. I was laying the blame on Norrie when in reality, I shouldn’t have been driving. I was fatigued. *

(This is an excerpt from A Life of Choice: Part Two … a true story).

Melanie P. Smith

It was a dark and stormy night. Lightening sliced through the ebony sky followed by the fierce, menacing boom of thunder. The air inside the tiny room vibrated and sizzled. The lights flickered and pulsed around her, shattering Adriana’s already frayed nerves. She closed her eyes and tried to focus. Malik would be arriving soon, and he’d expect an answer to his impossible proposal. Adriana’s stomach churned and she thought she might be sick. How was she supposed to decide?

It Was a dark and stormy night She needed more time. Unfortunately, that was something neither one of them had. One way or another, her life would be drastically altered at midnight tonight. Another flash of lightening lit up the sky, followed by the deep earthshattering sound of thunder. The storm felt foreboding — an ominous response to an impossible dilemma. Her thoughts returned to Malik; he was amazing. But could she do it? He said he was offering her the world, but was he really offering purgatory? She knew all the ancient tales, the folklore, and the legends of the undead. He said they were exaggerated. He said he loved her. But how could he? They’d only met six months ago. Six amazing, carefree months. They flew by so quickly; then, last night, he confessed. Malik revealed his secret, just before he made her an offer — one she should refuse. Instead, she was imagining what life would be like if she accepted. It sounded enticing. Which was intentional. Malik was tempting her, seducing her, using his talents to lure her— hoping it would get him what he wanted. She was sure Malik always got what he wanted — in his world. Was that a reason to join him, or to run? She had no idea. She just knew she cared about him — a lot. She loved the time they spent together — she loved the adventure and the mystique. But did she love Malik? That was the question she needed to answer. And she needed to do it fast because time was running out. Malik had exactly six months to find a mate, or his council would find one for him. He needed a companion that would embrace his world completely. Someone strong, independent and willing to be permanently changed — for love. Adriana jumped in surprise and nearly fell off her chair when she heard the loud knock. It was time. She stood, took one tentative step toward the door, then another. Her feet felt like they’d been encased in concrete. Suddenly, she stopped. If spending eternity with Malik was causing her this much turmoil, maybe it was a sign — maybe the universe was telling her to say no.

That’s what she’d do. She’d break up with Malik and wish him well. Eventually, she’d find someone to love. A sharp stab of pain sliced through her

Feature Article heart and she staggered, tripped, and nearly fell to the ground at the thought of never seeing Malik again. She tried to imagine her life a year from now, then five, ten, twenty — everything seemed bleak and depressing, like stepping from a vibrant painting into a world that only contained black and white. She couldn’t do it. A sense of calm settled over her and she knew what she had to do. She opened the door and locked eyes with her destiny. “Adriana?’ Malik asked. “I accept,” Adriana wrapped her arms around him. “I’d love to be your queen.” “You realize —” “I do,” she closed the door and pressed her body against his. “Bite me, baby.”

Sylva Fae

It was a dark and stormy night... Only a fool would be camping out in weather like this, but here I am, with only a thin canvas sheet between me and the raging elements. Damn you, smiley weather man - you lied to me! You promised me sunshine and clear skies for my first solo camp. My idyllic plans of yesterday, plans of relaxing at my campfire listening to the peaceful song of the woodlands, were washed away in the first downpour. I guess the sensible thing would be to pack up and go home, but it was hard

It Was a dark and stormy night enough wrestling my way out of soaking clothes, trying desperately to minimise the flood in the tent, while the airbed conspired to bounce me back out into the storm. No, I'm not leaving my dry haven until smiley weather man makes good on his promise. I'm hungry. The meal I'd planned to cook, remains a pile of raw ingredients in a cooler bag. Instead, my tea was the chocolate bar I packed for a late night snack. At least I'm warm though. I pull my sleeping bag tighter around my shoulders and snuggle into the airbed - it's ceased trying to eject me from the tent. I guess warm and hungry is better than cold, wet and hungry, but I'd kill for a bacon butty right now. Snuggled in my cocoon, I listen to the beat of the raindrops. The wind whipping through the branches adds the melody to the watery percussion - my own forest concert...a little night music. The timbre changes, it builds, intensifies until it reaches its crescendo, then settles back to a gentle melody of leaves dancing through the drops. My mind drifts with the rhythm of the rain. I don't know what woke me, I don't even remember falling asleep. I remember listening to the storm...that's what's different - it's quiet. Maybe the absence of noise was what woke me. My tummy rumbles. I squint at my phone to see the time - 5am. Too early for breakfast? My tummy growls in disagreement. Clumsily, I pull on dry clothes and clamber out of my tent. It's still dark, but this is my solo camp, my rules and there's nobody to tell me it's a ridiculous time for breakfast. After a few failed attempts (and much swearing) the fire lights, and it's not long before the kettle is boiling and the eggs and bacon are sizzling in the pan. I sit back with my coffee, proud of my efforts. The storm has cleansed the woodland and scented the breeze. Cool pine and damp earth mingles with woodsmoke and the delicious aromas of my long-awaited meal. Oh that smell...I'm practically drooling into the campfire. Finally, with a full tummy, I join the birds to welcome in the new day. The first golden hues sparkle through the raindrops as the sun slowly pushes the darkness away. I breathe in the beauty and give silent thanks to the thunderstorm, which led me to this perfect moment.

By Sylva Fae

A few months ago, author Tom Benson put out a challenge, to supply him with a writing prompt he could use to generate a short story for his upcoming anthology. The prompt was to be a dialogue between no more than two characters and to be no more than thirty words. I took up the challenge and Tom picked two of my prompts. This also gave me the privilege of being a guest author in the anthology. I wrote two stories for ‘Next Steps’ and I’m proud to share the pages with some of my favourite authors; Tom Benson, Rebecca Bryn, Lesley Hayes, Penny Luker and Frank Parker. Here is one of my contributions...

The Magic Box of Apples By Sylva Fae Annie sighed and paused as she heard the tapping from the front door. Nobody used the front, well, nobody who knew her…. Maybe there would be an occasional tap, just to let her know they were on their way round to the kitchen door, but nobody would expect to be let in the front. She listened for footsteps up the side path, but instead, the tapping became

louder and more insistent. Sighing, she removed her apron, wafting clouds of flour away, then headed down the corridor. Front door callers were either unwanted or bad news. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to disturb you…but errr…I think you’ve just been robbed.” The front door caller was a flustered young man, wearing only jeans and a scruffy t-shirt. He shivered in the chilly evening air, as he faltered, seemingly wondering how to explain further. A gust of woodsmoke-scented wind swirled around Annie, causing her to shiver too. The lad looked harmless enough; whatever was going on was better sorted out in the warmth of the kitchen. “Well, you better come in out of the cold, love. T’is gonna be a chilly one tonight.” Annie smiled and held the door wide. The young man hesitated, looking torn between reluctance to get involved, and being polite. “Come on, you’re lettin’ a draught in. I’ll stick the kettle on and you can explain all about it. I’m sorry but you’ll have to come sit in the kitchen, I’m just in the middle of baking.” Annie never tired of the smell of baking – scents of warm pastry and stewed apples, spiced with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, greeted them as she guided the young man to a chair. Annie checked the pies in the oven, adjusted the temperature, then filled the kettle. As she spooned coffee into mugs, she was aware that the lad watched her every move in silence. Finally, she joined him at the table with two steaming mugs and a plate of home baked oaty biscuits. “OK then, so what makes you think I’ve been robbed? I’ve been here the whole time, and I’ve not seen a soul since lunchtime…apart from you that is.” The lad warmed his hands around the mug, “I was walking back to my gran’s – I’ve just come from the train station – and I saw someone go up to your porch. I didn’t think much of it really, but then I saw them bend down and take something out of the wooden box. I watched them fill a bag with your stuff, then run off across the road. I’m so sorry, I should have shouted or stopped them, or something….” Annie chuckled, then smiled at the lad’s confused face. “Have a biscuit and drink your coffee before it goes cold. It’s OK, I haven’t been robbed. That would have been Jean picking up the chutney from the magic apple box.”

The lad looked even more confused, took a bite of the biscuit and smiled. “Mmmm, these are good. Chutney?” “Yep, five jars of apple chutney. Jean promised to deliver them to the school for the autumn fair – they’re setting up the hall tonight. She was probably in a rush; Jean’s always in a rush. Anyway, where are my manners? I’m Annie, but most folks call me Granny Apple around here….” “Pete, Peter Aspen,” he replied, and eyed the plate of biscuits. “Go on, have another. They’re freshly baked today. So, Peter, you said you were on the way to your gran’s…if you’re out without a coat, she can’t be too far from here. Who’s your gran?” “Molly Howarth, from across the road,” he said and took another bite. Annie smiled. The lad’s earlier reluctance and shyness seemed to be disappearing as fast as the biscuits. “Molly’s grandson! I should have guessed. I can see the resemblance now.” She watched as Peter brushed unruly curls of chestnut brown hair out of his eyes. “I remember the day your mum brought you round the village to show you off. You were such a bonnie baby. But I thought Dorothy married some chap down in London, what are you doing back up north?” “I’ve just started at the uni – it was my first day today. It was Mum’s idea to stay with Gran. She thought it would do us both good, and the train stops not far from the uni. Getting the train in is a lot cheaper than renting in Manchester, and I suppose I can always stay over with mates if there’s a party or something.” An apple-shaped timer suddenly beeped, cutting them off. Annie jumped up to silence the noise. “That’ll be the pies ready then. Do you want to give me a hand?”

“Sure,” Peter replied, “What do you want me to do?” “Grab those cooling trays off that top shelf, and stick them down on the counter over there.” Annie carefully lifted out two steaming pies – one large, one small – and placed them on the trays. “They need time to cool but if you pop back after tea, I’ll save a couple of slices for you and Molly. And come round the back next time. Now, talking of tea, I bet your gran has tea waiting and is eager to hear all about your first day at uni.”

Peter promised he would pop back and thanked Annie as he left. She watched the lad dash across the road to Molly’s, and smiled. She suspected he would soon be back to sample the apple pies. *****

“It’s me again, Pete…” he called from outside the kitchen window. Annie ushered him in, eager to get the door closed – it’d soon be time to light the coal fire in the living room, she mused. “Blimey, that was quick! Are you really that keen to sample some apple pie?” Annie chuckled as he settled back into the chair from earlier. “I’m just wrapping this big pie up for Elsie and Bob, over at number 8, then I’ll cut a couple of slices for you to take back.” “Annie, you know before?” Pete asked.

“Ahem,” Annie nodded back, and nudged the plate of biscuits his way. “Well, you mentioned a magic apple box and you said people call you, Granny Apple… why is that? I asked Gran about it but she said it was your story to tell.” “Your gran is right,” Annie agreed. She moved the wrapped pie to the counter next to the door, and then rummaged in a cupboard for a plate. “Yep, folks should be left to tell their own stories, and the magic apple box story belongs to this family. You see, I wasn’t the original Granny Apple. No, that’s a name that was passed down from my gran, to my mum, and now to me.” “And the magic box?” Pete interrupted. “I’ll come to that…. So, when I was a youngster, we used to visit my Granny Apple, in this house, every weekend. The house always smelled of cooking – if she wasn’t baking pies and biscuits, she was making jams, jellies and chutneys, or some delicious pudding. It mainly included apples though, on account of there being the village orchard just behind the house. Granny Apple was renowned for making the best apple crumbles in the whole county – or so she claimed.” Annie chuckled. “I loved it here. Granny Apple would teach me to cook and even shared her secret recipes.” Annie was interrupted by a tapping at the kitchen door. The visitor was just Elsie, picking up the pie for hers and Bob’s tea. With quick pleasantries exchanged, Annie closed the door and cut the remaining pie into four. “There’s a piece each for you and Molly, one for my supper, and one for lunch tomorrow – oh I do love a slice of pie with a cup of tea. I’m looking forward to this.” Annie proceeded to transfer two slices onto a plate for Peter.

“But you still haven’t told me about the magic box….” “Ah yes…” Annie continued. “The box…. My granddad made that for my Granny Apple – it’s made from apple wood from the orchard, you know. Originally, she used it to collect apples in, but as she got older, it was too heavy to carry so she left it outside the front door. And that is when the magic started….”

Pete leant forward to listen, but yet again they were interrupted by a tapping at the kitchen door. “Granny Apple, sorry to bother you,” the ‘thief’ from earlier stepped into the kitchen and closed the door behind her. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had company, Annie.” “That’s OK, Jean. This is Pete – you remember Dorothy’s boy, Little Petey? He’s staying with Molly for a while,” Annie explained. Pete blushed and gave a little wave. “Of course! I saw you earlier when I was rushing off to the school – I thought you looked familiar.” Jean smiled at Pete, then turned back to Annie. “Hope you don’t think I’m being cheeky, but I just bumped into Elsie and the smell from that pie…. I don’t suppose you have a couple of slices left?” “Of course, you know Granny Apple always has a slice of pie for those who want one….” “But Annie….” Pete started and quickly fell silent as Annie shushed him with a flap of her apron. Annie handed over the plate with her own two slices of pie, and saw Jean out of the door. “Now, where was I up to?” “You were just about to tell me about the magic box, but what about your supper? What will you have now that you’ve given the last two slices to Jean?” Pete looked perplexed. “Hush now, t’is just a slice of pie, I can have toast instead. And besides, my magic apple box will provide for me. That’s how the magic works. But Molly will be waiting for her slice of pie. Why don’t you pop back tomorrow and I’ll finish the story?”

“But….” Pete, clearly intrigued, started to protest but was once again shushed with a flapping of Granny Apple’s apron. “Now, the story will still be here tomorrow, and I have to get my beauty sleep.” She chuckled and her eyes twinkled with mischievous merriment. “On your way out, have a look at my magic apple box, then have another look tomorrow when you come back. I’ll be making my famous gingerbread biscuits….” The promise of more biscuits was enough to send Pete on his way. Annie had no doubt he’d be back for a tale and a biscuit (or three). ***** “Hi Annie, I’m back!” Pete called through the window. Annie noticed he’d remembered a coat this time, it hadn’t taken him long to get used to the chilly northern weather. He grinned as he handed the pie plate to Annie and took his chair at the kitchen table,

glancing over to the biscuits cooling on the counter. The smell of warm gingerbread was intoxicating. It was enough to make your mouth water. “So, did you look at my magic apple box last night?” Annie asked as she placed a few of the gingerbread biscuits onto a plate, and filled the kettle. “I did but it didn’t look that magic,” he replied.

“Did you happen to look again when you came past the front door?” Annie asked. “Yes, I stood and looked at it for a while, but the only thing different was that it was full of apples, plus there’s a bag full of blackberries too. The box is just a box, isn’t it?” Annie chuckled again. She took her time pouring the kettle and making the coffee. Finally, she set the steaming cups and plate of biscuits down on the table and resumed the conversation. “Oh, it’s a box, that’s for sure, but it is definitely magic. It all started when my Granny Apple placed it on the front porch. She emptied out the apples to make crumbles, but when she popped out to the shop for more sugar, it was full again. The next day was the same. She’d empty the box, then later that day, she’d find it laden with fruit. It started with a few apples, then as time went on, there would be pears, raspberries, blackberries…sometimes even vegetables.” “But how can that be?” Pete said, reaching for another gingerbread. “Magic! Magic of the purest kind. And the magic box doesn’t just fill with fruit and veg either, no, it provides whatever is needed. Some days it’s sugar, other days a bag of flour, and sometimes there are jam jars. Whatever I’m running low on, my magic apple box provides.” “Wow! That’s amazing. I’m not quite sure if I believe in magic but if it’s true, that would be pretty neat. Hey, do you think it could magic up a new laptop for me? I’ve been saving up for one for ages now,” Pete looked thoughtful for a minute, then

glanced at his watch and drained his coffee. “I’m sorry but I need to rush off, I’ve got my first lot of homework and it’ll take ages just to get Gran’s old computer booted up.” “Of course, but could you do me a little favour before you go? Pop out front and bring me back whatever is in the box, will you?” “Sure,” said Pete, jumping up. He returned a minute later laden with fruit. Annie handed him a box of gingerbreads to take home. “Just a little treat for when you’ve finished your work. Now, my magic box is empty, be sure to check it again when you pass by tomorrow.”

“I will, and thanks again for the biscuits,” he called as scurried out of the back door. The following day, Annie was greeted by a, “Yoo hoo!” from the back door. She opened it to find Pete stood there, struggling to hold a pile of apples and a bag of flour, all balanced on a pie dish. “Look what I found!” he said with a grin. “It was definitely empty last night, but it was full again as I came past. You sure you’re not playing a joke on me?” “No, no. I wouldn’t do that,” Annie said catching a rolling bag of flour. “Put that down on the counter, love before you drop everything. Shall I stick the kettle on?” Pete grinned and took his usual seat. “Actually Annie, I have a favour to ask.” “OK, ask away…” Annie grinned over her shoulder as she busied herself making coffee. “So, we have this project in uni, and we have to create a product with resources that are readily available, and then market it.” “Ooh that all sounds a bit complicated to me, love. I’m not very technical.” “No, Annie, you’d be perfect. I was wondering if you could teach me to make a pie or something, then I can take photos of it and market it as if it was going in a posh shop.” “Oh, well in that case, I’d be delighted to help. You don’t have to be in uni on a Saturday, do you? why don’t you come by tomorrow and we’ll see what the magic box provides and go from there.” The two drank their coffee and Pete explained his plans to Annie. From time to time, neighbours showed up at the back door to collect freshly baked apple crumbles, and biscuits wrapped in napkins. Again, Pete queried why she worked so hard only to give her delicious baking away, but Annie just brushed it off, “Bah, there’s far too much for me eat. And besides, if I stopped baking, the magic box would stop filling.” ***** The next morning, Pete arrived bright and early, mildly embarrassed that his gran had

insisted he wear her flowery apron. As expected, the magic box held just what he needed – a mound of apples, a bag of sugar, a wrap of butter and a bag of flour. It took him two trips to deliver everything to the kitchen counter. By the time Pete had balanced the last apple in the fruit bowl, Annie was ready with a coffee, and the now customary plate of biscuits – today’s delicious treat was shortbread sprinkled with extra sugar. While they nibbled biscuits and sipped the steaming coffee, Pete excitedly outlined his plan. He would first take photos of the ingredients, then a photo of Annie holding the finished pie. He already had ideas for the logo – Granny Apple’s Magic Pie. He showed his sketches to Annie, stressing that the final copies would be done on the computer and be much neater. Then, cups drained, and the last shortbread crumbs licked from fingers, they were ready to start baking. Pete snapped photos on his phone while Annie got out pans and pie dishes. Then it was over to Annie, and Pete was a willing apprentice. With a promise not to tell anyone the secret Granny Apple recipe, the two got to work. There was enough pastry and apple mixture for several pies. “That’s one for you, one for me, and the rest to share with whoever pops round first,” Annie said as she closed the oven door. “I think we deserve another coffee after all that hard work.” “You sit down, Annie,” Pete said kindly, guiding her to her chair. “This time, I’ll make you a coffee.” ***** Annie was surprised that Pete didn’t show up on Sunday. She’d grown quite used to his visits, and missed having someone to natter to while she pottered around the kitchen. She was just about to lock up for the night, when she heard footsteps thumping up the path. She opened the door wide to find Pete, brandishing a phone, and a huge beaming smile. “Annie, is it too late to come in?” Pete asked. “I desperately wanted to get this done so I could show you.” He waved the phone again. “You better come in then,” she replied, giggling. “You only just caught me. I was locking up for bed.”

Pete opened up a file on his smart phone and flicked through the documents. One showed just the logo he’d designed, another showed a mock-up of a label, and others showed different adverts. Each one sported the Granny Apple logo and colour scheme, and the tag line – Handmade with fresh, local ingredients. “Wow! It looks so professional. In fact, if I didn’t make my own pies, I’d go out and buy these ones,” Annie giggled.

“Do you think so?” Pete queried but it was clear from his expression that he was secretly proud of his work. “I’m going to hand it in on Monday. I really want to get a distinction.” The next few days passed by pretty much the same as they had before the excitement of Pete’s project. Pete would collect the stuff from the magic box, and deliver it to Annie on his way to uni, then pop back in for a natter and a biscuit on his way home. On Friday, Pete dropped a pile of apples off then sped off to uni. Annie was used to his routine by now and already had a plate of his favourite gingerbreads ready. But Pete didn’t show up. ‘Maybe his train has been delayed,’ Annie mused. An hour later, she put the gingerbreads back into the tin and locked up for an early night. She berated herself for relying on the young lad to keep her company. It was Friday night and he’d probably be out with people his own age. By Saturday coffee time, there was no sign of Pete, so Annie wandered round to the front to collect the contents of her magic box. She stood in front of the porch for a moment before it sunk in, the box was gone! In its place was a clean patch where the box had been, clearly visible against the weathered stone. She looked over to Molly’s house, wondering if she should go check on Pete, but argued with herself that it was none of her business how the lad spent his time. Besides, she had the mystery of the missing box to solve – two mysteries in fact, a missing box and a missing boy. Annie suspected the two were connected but couldn’t think how or why. Sunday passed without event, and by teatime, Annie was both curious and a little worried by Pete’s absence. She knew he had no obligation to visit, he wasn’t even her grandson, but still, she felt they’d built up a friendship. If she was honest with herself, she felt quite hurt that he hadn’t popped round, even if it was just to let her know he would be busy with uni work, or something. She hadn’t worried like this since her own daughter was his age. ‘A quick call to Molly won’t hurt, will it?’ she mused, but her hand was already dialling the number.

Molly’s cryptic response was both a relief and perplexing. Pete was fine, though he had been busy, and had an explanation for Annie. Molly wouldn’t be pushed when she probed for more information, insisting that it was Pete’s tale to tell. She couldn’t argue with that. Molly promised that he would be round as soon as he had finished what he was doing. Annie had just finished cleaning up the kitchen, when she heard familiar footsteps thumping down the path. She expected the usual, “Yoo hooo! It’s me, Annie,” but instead there was a rather formal knock at the back door. Pete was flushed, his shoulders dropped, head hung low so his mop of curly, brown curls hid his eyes. Annie was ready to tease him about abandoning her, but when she saw his sad face, she softened. She put her arm around his shoulders and guided him to his usual chair. “I hear from your gran; you have a story to tell me. All stories are best told with a coffee and a biscuit. Why don’t you start while I put the kettle on?” Pete cleared his throat and mumbled about being sorry. “What are you sorry for? I suspect it’s to do with my missing box but why don’t you start at the beginning? Just tell your story then we’ll sort out whatever it is that has you so worried together.” “Well…I handed in the project, it looked amazing printed out, and I was the first to hand it in.” Molly was about to offer praise but sensed the time wasn’t right. She nodded and gave what she hoped looked like a proud smile. “So, because I was the first to hand it in, the lecturer asked me to present it the class. I was a bit nervous, and I waffle a bit when I’m nervous…like now.” Pete blushed and continued, “Then people started asking questions, like, ‘where did your inspiration come from?’ I explained about the magic box of apples, and they all laughed at me. So, on Friday I borrowed the magic box so I could prove it to them, then they’d stop laughing at me.” Pete looked up at Annie, clearly struggling to go on, but was saved by the whistling of the kettle. The warmth of the coffee cup seemed to give him the strength to carry on. “I carried the magic box into the common room, and set it up with some books in. Then I took them out and made everybody leave while the magic worked….” “But it didn’t work did it?” Annie said kindly. “Oh Pete, you daft lad! I suppose this is as much my fault, filling you full of tales of magic boxes. It is magic but not in the sorcery-magic-spell kind of way, it works only on the magic of kindness.” “I get that now, but that’s not the worst of it. So at first they just laughed at me, but now they think I’m a complete dork. One of the lads picked up the box pretending to

be me, mimicking my voice asking for the magic to work, then he laughed and dropped it. Oh Annie, I’m so sorry – it broke! I collected up the planks and came straight back to Gran’s. I planned to mend it before I came round to explain and say sorry.” “Well, that’s quite a tale. You know, you could have just popped in on your way home and told me. I wouldn’t have been angry; in fact, I was a little worried about you.” With the worst part of the tale over, Annie opened the tin of homemade biscuits and offered them to Pete. The buttery, crunchy oat cookies brought a smile to his face. “So, did you fix the box? I suspect that’s not the end of the story, given that I haven’t seen you all weekend.” “You’re right. Gran didn’t have the right tools, and a couple of the bottom planks were rotten at the edges. Gran suggested I go ask Bill down the lane for help, but on the way, I spotted Jean struggling to bring her shopping in. I helped her carry the bags from the car and she gave me a few spare planks she had in the shed, that I could use for the box. I then went to Bill’s but he was busy tidying up his workshop. I swept up and tidied away his tools, while he cut the new wood for the box. I told him about the project and showed him on my phone. He was really excited, and suggested adding the Granny Apple logo to the box – he told me that his neighbour, Bert does pyrography as a hobby, and he would probably help.” “Wow, you have been busy,” Annie chuckled, and offered another biscuit. “But that’s not the end of it. I went to Bert and explained my plans, he was just about to do a run to the shops, so I went shopping for him while he sketched out the design on the box. When I got back, his wife, Kay insisted I stop for a cup of tea…I chatted with her for a while. Bert asked if I would leave it with him over night, and pick it up after lunch. When I went back, Kay gave me another surprise. I’ve left the box in its usual place, will you come and look, Annie?” Annie smiled and followed Pete round to the front door. The old magic apple box looked fresh and new again – chipped edges smoothed off, a fresh coat of varnish, and best of all, the fabulous Granny Apple logo was burned into the wood. Inside was a shiny package. “That’s for you, Annie. Go on, open it,” Pete encouraged, handing her the parcel. His earlier sadness was replaced by boyish excitement. Annie ripped open the paper to find a brand new, white apron, with the Granny Apple logo neatly embroidered on the front. “Would you look at that! It’s beautiful. I love it!” Annie cried and tied the apron around her ample waist.

“So, am I forgiven then?” Pete asked. “You were never in trouble, love. It seems the magic of the box has rubbed off on you. You see the real magic comes from kindness and sharing. Baking is my thing so I bake for my friends. I love doing it and in return, the kids collect apples and other fruits from the orchard and leave them in the box. Jean picks me up a bag of flour every time she nips to the supermarket. Elsie recycles jars for jams and chutneys, Bill gives me a lift whenever I need to go anywhere…. It’s a cycle of kindness that creates the magic. When I empty the box, it’s quickly refilled with whatever I need, because folks round here appreciate a bit of home baking.” “I understand that now and I feel like such an idiot for showing off at uni. I knew you would appreciate me mending the box rather than buying a new one, but I couldn’t do it on my own. I spent the weekend helping others, and now the box is better than before, and you have a cool new apron too…” “Sorry for interrupting, Pete, but what’s that in the bottom of the box?” Annie pointed to a flat plain cardboard box. Pete knelt down to lift it out. Looking to Annie for confirmation, he opened the box to find a glossy, printed box inside. “What is it? I haven’t got my reading glasses on.” “It’s a laptop. Top of the range – exactly the same one I’ve been saving up for.” Pete stared at it with a perplexed look on his face. “I guess the magic apple box left it for you then,” Annie smiled, but felt just as confused as Pete looked. “It wasn’t there when I brought the box round. How did it get there? It can’t have been you, and I haven’t told anyone else I wanted this one.”

“Beats me, but my magic apple box does have a habit of providing exactly what is needed, and you need a laptop for uni. I guess the box has accepted you into our magic cycle of kindness.” “Perhaps it is real magic, after all….” 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

Newly Released Fighting Crime one episode at a time Dax and Paige work to adjust to married life. The Training Center is thriving, relationships are growing and evolving, and the group continues to solve local crime.

Season 1 — Now available in audiobook https:// Paige-Carter-S1 Season 2 — Audiobook coming soon https:// Paige-Carter-S2 Season 6 — In progress and only available on my website.

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.

A Writer’s Search for a Body Dump Site A fellow author in one of the FB writing groups I belong to made a post asking for advice on where one could dump a body so that no one would find it for twenty years. Of course, I waded right into the discussion. I’d had the same dilemma when I wrote the romantic suspense novel Injury. Since an author is a god in his or her little literary world, one could argue that wherever they choose to dump the body, it can remain hidden for twenty years if they wish it so. But it’s not that simple. You must pick a realistic place, a reasonably secluded place, that still allows someone to go there after twenty years and find the body. If you’re a fan of the show Forensic Files, you’re also familiar with body-dump sites that worked long term and those that didn’t in the real world.

My solution came through a stroke of luck. In 2005, we moved from the home in which we’d lived for almost twenty years to another home in a different town. The house we moved to was new to us, but it had been built in 1937. We didn’t know this at the time — the real estate agents and the sellers guessed it might have been built in the 1950s. That made no sense to me for reasons I won’t go into, so when my husband and I stumbled across the local historical society’s

booth at the farmers’ market, we asked them to investigate. They looked at the home from the outside, determined it fit their criteria for investigating the history and, after some digging, learned that a local businessman built it, and the homes on either side of it, in 1937. The age of the house is important because it’s the only reason my eventual solution to the body dump problem works. When we had the home inspected before we purchased it, the inspector mentioned that the property contained a capped well. Anyone who knows me can now see where I’m going with this. Naturally, my first thought was A capped well? I bet those make great body-dump sites. So when I was writing Injury and needed somewhere to dump a body, I leaped on that solution immediately. But that didn’t mean it would work. My criteria, like the aforementioned author’s, required the body to lie undiscovered for twenty years. I had to investigate if this was possible. I consulted with a friend who is a retired funeral director. He verified for me that the smell wouldn’t leak out as the body decayed as long as the killer tossed some dirt down there to cover it. Also, it had to be a type of well where the cap wouldn’t prevent someone from opening it and accessing the well, so it can’t be permanently sealed. This brings us to the well’s age. The age is important because modern wells look nothing like the wells of yore. A few years ago, we had a well drilled at our family cottage, and let me tell you, Lassie is out of a job. Timmy can never fall down that well. A cylindrical thingamabob sticks out of the ground a bit, but nothing’s going down it — certainly not a body. You couldn’t fit a squirrel down it. Probably. I haven’t verified. But when I saw it, I thought, There’s one avenue of body disposal I can’t use anymore. Unless, of course, the well was dug during a time when they were large holes in the ground. The final problem I faced was how someone finally discovers the body. At first, I thought I’d hidden it too well (hahaha). The well was at the back of a large property. The killer dumped the body in, covered it with dirt, and put the cover back on. .

No one had reason to go there and tamper with it. Since the killer was the victim’s wife, she never reported his disappearance. Since, as is typical of abusers, she’d cut him off from all his family and friends during their married years, no one else reported his absence. Whenever any of her friends inquired, she told them he’d run off with another woman, something she told her daughter, the story’s main character, as well else reported his absence. Whenever any of her friends inquired, she told them he’d run off with another woman, something she told her daughter, the story’s main character, as well. I resolved the problem of discovery by having the killer rent the house, and after twenty years, forcing her to move out because the landlord sold the property to a developer. Since farmland surrounds the home, a developer buys it up intending to build multiple residences on the properties. They of course open up the well and discover the remains, and this is where my story opens and how the main character finally learns that everything she believed about her father was built on a lie. If you’re a writer, how have you solved the body dump problem? Did your body require years of lying undiscovered? Let me know in the comments how you handled this issue. Val Tobin writes stories worth losing sleep over, drawing on her shady past as a software/web developer and her master's degree in parapsychology. No butter tart is safe when she's around, especially if there's tequila to go with it.

She believes vampires are monsters. So why is she risking her life to help one? After a divorce and much soulsearching, Kelsey Davis opens a bookstore café at the crossroads where several hypernatural communities converge. She’s ready to find herself and prepared to face her fear of those who aren’t human by living and working in the heart of their communities. But she’s not prepared for the tall, snarky vampire who bursts through her door and demands to talk to her son. When Kelsey learns the vampire’s daughter is missing, and her own son isn’t where he’s supposed to be, she frantically gets involved in the search. Following one clue after another, they confront the man who can lead them to the missing girl — a mistake they may not live to regret.

Pre-Order Available June 1, 2021

The Fool: New Beginnings is the first novel in the Tales from the Unmasqued World urban fantasy series. If you enjoy the paranormal, the magickal, and the mystical, then you’ll love Val Tobin’s thrilling world. Buy The Fool and step into the unmasqued world today.

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

Reader’s Favorite 5 Star Review Reviewed by Sarah Stuart

Bea is a happy, smiling little girl, except when she’s in trouble and Mummy shouts “Beatrice Rose!” It is a marvellous introduction because every child will instantly empathize with Bea. Mummy is nice, but she does say no to one thing Bea wants very much; a puppy like Pip, who belongs to her friend next door. “Our garden is just too small for a dog, Bea”. Bea loves flowers and there are beautiful illustrations of snowdrops in winter, all sorts of colorful blooms in spring, and dandelions and daisies in summer. By autumn, Bea has sunflowers too. And what did the flowers attract? A fuzzy bumblebee, and so came about Sylva Fae’s story, Bea and Bee, because a bee was the perfect pet to live in a small garden full of flowers. Bea having Bee for a pet is where all the fun starts! All the things the little girl and the bee could both do – hum, have “tea”, sleep, and fly – well, Bea does her best! Mummy worries a bee might sting, but of course, Bee doesn’t sting his friend. He does hurt his wing, but if you want to know if he got better and flew ziggardy, zaggardy, wibbly, wobbly, plop on more adventures with Bea, you must listen to the story, look at the pictures, and learn to read the words! It’s a story that shows you don’t have to have everything to

The Story Behind the Story – Bea & Bee One sunny day, I took my three girls off for a geocaching walk. We’d recently downloaded a geocaching app and found out that there were several geocache treasures to hunt for nearby. For those unfamiliar with geocaching, it is a way of adding an element of adventure to an ordinary walk. A geocache is usually some sort of weatherproof container, and could contain a logbook to sign, proving you found it, or sometimes they contain trinkets – if you take one, you must leave something for the next person to find. The treasure we were hunting for was supposed to be in a nearby field. As we pottered down a residential street, my eldest spotted a bee on the pavement. She was worried somebody might step on it if we left it there. I carefully picked it up and carried it over to the nearest garden full of flowers, but the little bee didn’t want to leave my hand. I gently nudged it onto a flower, but it fluttered straight back to my hand and snuggled into my palm. Despite several attempts to find Little Bee a safe place, it preferred my warm palm.

So, Little Bee came on a walk with us. We made it to the field, and searched for the geocache, but it was no longer there. Undeterred, we set off back home. All the while, my girls talked to Little Bee and told him what they were doing. My youngest daughter asked if we could take Little Bee home and keep him as a pet. I was just pondering whether he would actually come home with us, when he suddenly took off. The little bee flew around us, then up over the hedge to the fields. The little bee only stayed with us for half an hour or so, but he made our walk special and inspired a story.

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 © Melanie P. Smith

Insidious Conspiracy

Paige walked slowly through the bright white, sterile hallway. She hated hospitals, always had. She was only a child when her father passed away; but she remembered the pain in the air and the despair that surrounded her like it was yesterday. Ironic really, since her father didn’t actually pass away in a hospital. He died, probably a violent death, on a top-secret mission in a strange country; surrounded by his men. She didn’t know that at the time; she was just a small child. But her mother’s reaction and subsequent depression when she heard the news would live with Paige forever. It was years later when she learned the government had taken her father, a national hero, to the hospital where they created a cover story to hide the top-secret mission that had cost Dylan Carter his life. Her father wouldn’t have cared, he would have expected the deception. He’d just say that’s what he signed up for when he became a Ranger. She wondered if Dax would say the same. She paused in the doorway and shook off the memories. That was all water under the bridge now. Paige blinked several times in an attempt to adjust to the dim lighting, glanced momentarily at the lifeless body of the man she loved, and silently made her way to the uncomfortable chair that folded into a make-shift bed. As she stared out the dirty window, she wondered how much more she could take. Dax was still in a coma after two long months and; with each passing day, his prognosis got worse. Her mind was constantly fighting her heart. She wanted to believe, wanted to cling to hope and ignore logic; but each day, it got just a little harder. She had to be honest with herself, nothing had changed since his surgery. Well, since he had complications from his surgery and slipped into a coma. Over time, the hospital staff had shifted from reassuring Continue Reading Pg. 84 and supportive...

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

Author, Speaker, Leader, Certified Life Coach

Terri Kozlowski is a proud Native American warrior: Athabascan; Tlinglet Tribe — Raven Clan. She journeyed through the pain of child sexual abuse and utter fear of life after her mother abandoned her, at the age of 11, on the streets of Albuquerque. Rediscovering her true path in life, one of joy and love, she learned to transcend the fear that the egoic mind keeps bringing to the forefront of our lives. Terri is now a successful soul coach whose mission is to inspire others to master their fear. She is also the host to the Soul Solutions podcast.

Overcome your fears, improve your mindset, and live the life you desire! The Mission: To inspire others to transcend fear. By living a balanced life, continuing to learn, create, and be fully present. So that others can overcome their limiting beliefs and thrive.

Like many of you, I am a child of an alcoholic. My mother had a difficult life being born in a native Indian village inside the Arctic Circle and given up for adoption at the age of 16 with her two younger sisters. In 1961 uprooted from her sustenance living, moved into the city and had electricity and running water for the first time. By 1965 she was drinking when she met my father on his way to serve in Vietnam. In the years after I was born until my parents divorced in 1976 I don’t have many memories of my mother that she didn’t have a glass of liquor nearby. Alcohol doesn’t console, it doesn’t fill up anyone’s psychological gaps; all it replaces is the lack of God. It doesn’t comfort man. On the contrary, it encourages him in his folly; it transports him to the supreme regions where he is master of his own destiny.

~Marguerite Duras

Avoiding Fear As I entered high school beer was available. I didn’t partake for fear that I would become an alcoholic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the first use of alcohol typically begins at age of twelve. I did research papers on the subject and read that alcoholism was hereditary so I stayed away from all alcohol and people who drank it. I didn’t want to be around those that could become drunk because they were mean and hurtful, or so I assumed because that is how my mother was. Therefore I avoided parties. That’s all drugs and alcohol do; they cut off your emotions in the end. ~Ringo Starr In college, due to peer pressure, I tried some beer and thought it tasted horrible. I started to volunteer to be the designated driver so some of the pressure for me to join in on all the fun they said they were having was alleviated. I also learned to carry a glass of cola on the rocks and allow others to think I was sipping rum and coke so they wouldn’t keep trying to give me a beer, cocktail or whatever they were drinking. I would get fearful at these parties especially when the anger would come spewing out of those who were drunk. I did a good job avoiding alcohol and those that drank it, even casually, for years. Then I married my husband who was a social drinker. At first I thought it didn’t bother me and with his encouragement I learned that I did like to drink if I couldn’t taste the alcohol-

what he called froufrou drinks; yummy strawberry daiquiris and what we named chocolate milk which was Kahlua and cream. I thought my fear was subsiding.

Acceptance Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. ~G.K. Chesterton Meanwhile I was now socially drinking and that meant that I was around more people who drank and realized how uncomfortable I was in these groups. I was having a good time with these people but I kept waiting for someone to get upset and angry but I learned that not everyone drinks to excess. Not everyone drinks to escape their past or to forget. Some people drink to relax and enjoy themselves. Could I be one of these people? If I was, why was I still fearful?

The Episode When you only drink cocktails that you can’t taste the alcohol you forget how much you had. I had been tipsy a few times where I felt funny but I still could think clearly. So unbeknownst to me I had a Wallaby Darn before my salad arrived and a second one before my steak arrived and the third was finished with dessert. I was dumbfounded when I had trouble standing up. I also realized as my husband got me to the car that I was not feeling myself. I was dizzy and my thoughts were spinning in my head. I went on a verbal tirade on why anyone would want to feel like this; out of control of one’s mind and emotions.

This episode scared me. Maybe I could become an alcoholic like my mother? As it turns out alcohol makes me flirty and then puts me to sleep so I would not be mean and nasty the way she was. After this I was much more careful about drinking in public. I made sure that I had only a sip or two before my meal came and I only ordered liquor if my hubby was with me. Out of the blue I realized that even at home when it was just the two of us enjoying a hard cider together, I would be anxious. I guess I was waiting for my husband to react negatively and get mean despite the fact that when he has more than enough whisky he starts to tell stories. He is a big teddy bear. So why was I still getting fearful when someone near me was drinking?

Awareness Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness. ~ Seneca I am a very logical person. I can see the case for those who drink casually with friends to relax on the weekend. But once you are past the tipsy phase into being drunk I don’t understand why anyone would want to feel that way. My mother was a functional alcoholic. She held down a job with one company for over 20 years but she spent all of her life not facing her past or her fears and due to her addiction she lost everything and died utterly alone and still fearful. I realized that I was afraid that I was still around her despite her passing almost ten years ago.

Dealing with Traumas All traumas we go through as a child are more difficult to overcome due to the inability of our childlike minds to deal with the situations we were put in. Subsequently my inner child saw alcohol and prepared herself for nastiness despite my adult self knowing the truth could be so different than what I had experienced. Alcohol was not the problem; my mother not dealing with her life was the problem. Alcohol was what she chose as her way of hiding from her reality like so many others do too. Consequently I realized that my angst was my problem not anyone else’s. I needed to take responsibility for my state of mind. My inner child was reacting to something from her past that really had no bearing on the present. Therefore, I had to let go of the fear that someone would be unkind. I was no longer a trapped child trying to hide from her cruel, drunk mother. I was an adult and if I was uncomfortable around anyone drinking I could easily remove myself from the situation. By being accountable for my emotions I was able to teach the little girl that not everyone uses alcohol like my mother did. Not everyone drinks to excess. Not everyone is mean and nasty when they choose to partake.

Steps to Overcoming Fear I was able to outgrow my fear by using these steps and so can you. 1. Become Aware Being able to recognize that a fear is hindering you is the first step in overcoming that fear. This means that you become aware of the situation that causes you undue angst. Then you realize that there is another way to see this circumstance. Becoming aware that the worry is not serving you but actually harming you is the first step in disabling your fear. 2. Discover the Cause Understanding why you had the anxiety in the first place is a necessary part of immobilizing that dread. What caused the fearful response? What was the situation you felt you could not remove yourself from that causes you to react? These types of questions can help get to the root of your anxiety. Spend some time to ascertain the origin of your reactions so that you can overcome the fear. 3. Reframe Your Thinking Once you have scrutinized the cause of your negative reaction it is then time to determine what you need to do to realize that the distress is illogical at this point in your life, especially if your fear comes from your childhood. This requires that you look at your reactions logically not emotionally. Almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness, and money. ~Mary Wilson Little By following these steps you too can overcome your own angst and begin to live fearlessly. As you begin to live your life without fear you start to authentically communicate with others and start to expand your horizons. If you would like help in overcoming your fears, I would be happy to help you improve the angst you have so please contact me.

If you would like help in overcoming your fears, I would be happy to help you improve the angst you have so please contact me. If you enjoyed this article, you can find similar works on Terri Kozlowski’s website…

Raven Transcending Fear Terri Kozlowski’s raw story of overcoming childhood trauma. Raven Transcending Fear is part memoir, part self-help guide. It’s the authors' raw and personal story of childhood abuse and diving deep into her terror before ultimately getting comfortable with fear and transcending it. Though Terri had loving people in her life, her mother was abusive and enabled others to traumatize her. To get drugs, her mother allowed strangers to assault her 11-year-old body sexually. She then left her and her sister alone on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Terri’s childhood left her filled with fear until she embarked on a spiritual journey and learned the skills of empowerment, which have allowed her to transcend the fear and regain a connection with the Divine. Everyone is born fearless and knowing who they are and what their purpose is. However, life experience or abuse may instill fear and break the connection with our authentic selves. Through this memoir, readers will go on the journey with her as Terri moves from a life ruled by fear to fearlessness. BUY NOW —-

"What a beautifully written book. The author Terri Kozlowski's spiritual journey is transformational. A great read, I highly recommend it." ~ Dr. Eric Kaplan, three-time #1 best-selling author.


Dead Shifter Walking by Kim Schubert The Succubus Executioner Book 1

Not You It’s Me by Julie Johnson

Olivia is an exceptionally talented killer with a dark past and a questionable future. As the lead executioner for the Supernatural Council of the eastern United States, she patrols her territory delivering justice and death without remorse.

When the kiss-cam lands on perpetually-single Gemma, she thinks she'll die of embarrassment...Until the sexy stranger in the seat next to her steps in to save the day. But what happens when just one kiss isn't enough? And what if the man who was supposed to stay a stranger refuses to cooperate? NOT YOU IT'S ME is the story of a girl who doesn't believe in love... and the man who changes her mind. view/458380

The Boston Love Stories

Swerve Boosted Hearts #1 by Sherilee Gray Rescuing a distressed redhead in a Poison Ivy costume is the last thing Hugh should be doing, especially in the car he's just boosted. He definitely shouldn’t be asking her to share one hot night with him, not when he could bring danger to her door. But a thief like him can't offer more, no matter how much he wants to. books/view/626466

Ryker Steele Brothers #1 by Cheryl Douglas

Token Daring the Kane Brothers by Kelly Gendron One week out of the year, I put away my good-girl and completely let go. This year, my plans were cut short by Token Kane, the bossy, Irish hunk hired to bring me back to California. And, while I might’ve been thrown-off by the tempting, sexy beast, I’m not about to go anywhere with him! Little did I know, the next Harley I'd pick up would give me the ride of my life. books/view/707077

Mackenzie wanted forever with her sexy husband. He's still her best friend and the father of her children. But when weeks turn into months without intimacy, she realizes she's too young to feel so old. She wants to feel desirable again, to find the woman Ryker fell in love with twenty years ago. And there's only one way to do that… by asking him to move out. But Ryker won't give up that easily. books/view/572084

Bed and Breakfast and Murder Fiona Fleming Cozy Mysteries by Patti Larsen Fiona Fleming escaped Reading, Vermont 10 years ago. But her life in New York has left her with no career, a cheating ex and zero plans. Her grandmother's will leaves Iris Fleming's B&B to Fee, the ideal fresh start. But when she finds out ownership of Petunia's might be in question, she's drawn into the seedy underbelly of the cutest town in the US and singled out a the main suspect in a murder. books/view/700016

The Wedding Trap Second Service Book 1 by Adrienne Bell

Awakening Ava Delaney Volume 1 by Claire Ferrell

Everyone is expecting Beth Bradley's successful boyfriend, Charlie, to be her date at her best friend's wedding, but there's a hitch. He isn't real. Alex Tanner needs a cover to finish his search for a traitor. When Beth tries to blackmail him into pretending to be Charlie, he thinks he's found the solution. But when the man Alex hunts comes after Beth, Alex has to choose between duty and love.

Awakening - Volume One contains the first three stories in the original Ava Delaney series: Thirst, Taunt, Tempt books/view/333715

Ava Delaney calls herself a hybrid - a living, breathing human who happens to have vampire poison running through her veins. The only thing greater than her thirst for human blood is her capacity for guilt. She does her best to avoid the human world, for everyone's sake. books/view/152470

Moonstone Beach Main Street Merchants by Linda Seed She’s a divorcee who’s still struggling to recover. He’s notorious for his reckless ways with women. What could possibly go wrong? MOONSTONE BEACH is the first book in the Main Street Merchants series by Linda Seed. Read the novel readers have called “funny,” “delightful,” and “captivating.” books/view/648422

After the Climb by Kristen Ashley They were the Three Amigos. Two young boys with difficult lives banding together with a cool girl. They grew up to be Duncan Holloway, the face of the popular River Rain outdoor stores, Imogen Swan, America’s sweetheart, and Corey Szabo, ruthless tech billionaire. Rich and very famous, they would learn the devastating knowledge of how the selfish acts of one would affect all their lives.

L.M. Kimblin

Angie Ross, aged fifteen, sadistic, brutal, evil, wicked… The press had been the first to brand this teenager with all the usual condemnations and who could blame them? But, what drove Angie to commit such horrendous crimes? It was Susan Raynor's job to unravel the human story behind the monstrous act and to assess whether Angie was the sadistic beast that society believed she was. Angie’s dreams of her 'cotton candy' home, far away from the horrors of her childhood, depended solely on the outcome of this assessment but how could she tell a story so carefully locked away? B091DCDV3F

This is a complex and harrowing narrative of misplaced trust and lost innocence that takes you on a journey outside of your emotional comfort zone.

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We all have our favourite authors. You know the kind I mean – you read one book and feel like the author was writing just for you, and you are then compelled to read everything they’ve ever written. You eagerly await new releases and relish that moment when you open the new book. These are the authors whose characters stick with you long after the book has finished, often creating a pang of sadness that their story has ended. Authors are like friends, you may you get on with a diverse group, but only a select few are part of your special inner circle. Melanie P. Smith is part of my inner circle of favourite authors. Picking up one of her books is always a pleasure and I cherish the time spent reading her work. Her writing style is simultaneously intelligent and complex, yet easy to read, allowing the reader to effortlessly become part of the story. I know when I pick up a new book it will feel like meeting up with an old friend and I’ll be transported from my cosy English cottage to the mountains and forests of Utah, or to a sleepy little town in Montana. I first discovered Melanie P. Smith’s writing through this magazine. I read one of the Paige Carter stories, loved it and sought out more. I was delighted to find that the first Paige Carter stories had been collated into a Crime Blog book.

I was even more delighted later on, when Melanie asked if I’d like to be a beta reader for the next book – of course I said yes. These Crime Blog books follow Paige in her new career as a deputy sheriff in a rural Utah town where local crimes are solved, and secrets are revealed. The first compilation is one complete season and comprises of nine stories where Deputy Carter and her fellow officers investigate local crimes, arrest the criminals, and deal with personal struggles. There are currently five books in the series. You can read one of the stories in each magazine, but if you enjoy it, it’s definitely worth reading the books in order.

In between reading about Paige Carter’s latest exploits, I read the Thin Blue Line series, which is equally as engaging. There are three books in the series; Mount Haven (Book 1), Moondance Ridge (Book 2) and Subterfuge (Book 3). Here is the blurb for Mount Haven to whet your appetite:

Mount Haven | Book 1 Thin Blue Line Series Moondance Ridge | Book 2 Thin Blue Line Series Subterfuge | Book 3 Thin Blue Line Series Rowdy Cooper was born into a family of cops, and he loves the family business. Then, one night, everything changes. He is shot in the line of duty and forced to retire. Depressed and a little lost, he moves to a sleepy little Montana town called Mount Haven. But, will the move prove therapeutic or lethal?

Bailey’s on the run. She landed in Mount Haven and fell in love with the peaceful little town immediately. She keeps to herself and reveals nothing, but her sharp mind and secretive nature has attracted the attention of the Cooper brothers. One is her new boss — the other the town sheriff, both are too perceptive. As Rowdy struggles to rebuild his life, Bailey wrestles to keep her secrets hidden. But dangerous men are on the hunt… and Bailey is the prey. Suddenly, two sadistic conspirators emerge from the shadows united by one common goal; reclaim the woman that slipped from their grasp — and this time, there is nowhere safe to hide.

Divergence | Book 1 Immortal Series

Most recently, I read the first book in Melanie’s new ‘The Immortals’ series – a fantasy packed full of action, adventure, romance and intrigue.

Here is my five star review of Divergence – The Immortals Series, Book 1: ‘This is the first, stunning story in the Immortals series, and a brilliant start to hook the reader. I've read many books by Melanie P. Smith but this is the first fantasy of hers I've read. Smith's style fits as perfectly with this genre as it does with her police series.

Although it is primarily fantasy, as the series name suggests, the story is set within our real world, and the characters are ordinary people, who just happen to have exceptional skills and abilities. It isn't just fantasy though, there are romances developing amidst the action, adventure and intrigue. As the secrets unfold, the book reaches a satisfying conclusion, but this is just a temporary lull in the action, and it's clear to the reader that there is much more to come. I'm left eagerly awaiting the next in the series.’

Melanie P. Smith is truly a multi genre author, and excels at each one. In addition to police cases and fantasies, she writes romances and seasonal stories and still finds time to contribute towards anthologies and write for two magazines. As an author myself, I come into contact with many other authors and sadly, most only want to promote their own work but Melanie is quite the opposite. She is humble about her own amazing books, and spends her time supporting other authors, promoting them through her own Connections eMagazine, and Mom’s Favorite Reads magazine. In addition, she helps to run an indie author group, where she is always on hand to give advice. I have been fortunate enough to work with Melanie on a number of projects now. You may be thinking that I’m only plugging her books because she’s my friend, and I’m proud to support her as a friend, but even if our paths had never crossed, based purely on her writing alone, Melanie P. Smith still ranks highly as one of my favourite authors.

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

Bernetta Thorne-Williams A much-needed getaway to a resort in the Appalachian Mountains, after a failed relationship, places author Katharine Mitchell on a trajectory towards love. A chance encounter with the local wildlife forces Katharine to cross paths with Theodore Watkins, the reluctant heir and temporary operator of Mountain Ridge Resort. Theodore, a confirmed bachelor, doesn’t believe in love because with the exception of his parents, he’s witnessed the devastation of failed relationships. Nonetheless, as he comes face-to-face with Katharine, he soon realizes that love requires taking a leap of faith. As he pursues Katharine, danger awaits in the shadows. Will their chance encounter lead them to their forever love or will outside forces rob them of their future?

A warm and relaxing story I truly enjoyed this story about finding love when you’re not expecting it. The fact that it takes place in the mountains made it more enjoyable for me, because that is my favorite place to go. If you are looking for an escape from the noise in your life this book will take you away where you can take a breath and smile.

Promises. We have all made them. Some we honor and keep and others we forget and dismiss. However, a deathbed promise to your father is a promise of a different sort. One that should not be entered into lightly; especially when that promise has the potential to offer redemption. “ Following my passion involves crafting stories with daring characters as they navigate the greatest adventure of all: falling in love. Thank you for joining me on this journey where love conquers all and enduring love exist. Happy reading!” - Bernetta Thorne-Williams

Etched Upon My Heart intertwines a historical romance with a contemporary storyline to craft a love story that transcends race, time and even death. The opening scene is set in a quaint Moravian settlement in Salem, North Carolina during the post-Civil War era. Those who reside in Salem work and live as equals. The story focuses on the love triangle of Christine, an African American, and her two white love interests, Dr. Julian Alexander and Richard Bishop.

The most recent statistics has divorce occurring in America every 13 seconds which means there are 277 divorces per hour or 6,646 divorces per day. These staggering numbers begs the very simple question; in a world of failed romances, can true love still exist? Even if we still believe in the concept of love, is it possible to live happily ever after? Mended Hearts encourages the reader to believe in love. Love after a devastating divorce, love the second time around.

Reyna was born in western Kansas into a household of cats. But her first consistent animal experience was with horses. Blind since a toddler, Reyna's parents were advised to enroll her in a therapeutic riding program. She was on horseback at the age of two. By the time she was three, Reyna knew all the neighbors' dogs by name, breed, and age. She says she has loved dogs since before she can remember.

When she was four, the family moved to the Philippines for mission work. She spent her elementary years on the southern island of Mindanao, running barefoot, climbing trees, and swimming at the beach. While there, she also got her first puppy and her first pony, to be followed by many others. Once the family was back in the States, her dad pastored a church in rural northwest Missouri, and Reyna truly learned to love the prairie. When she moved out on her own, she came back to Kansas and put down roots on a small, six -acre hobby farm on the fringes of the Flint Hills.

She has degrees in political science and journalism, and is also a certified massage therapist. She has held jobs in those professions over the years, but her first love has always been for her animals and her land. Today she raises registered Nubian dairy goats and German Angora rabbits. When she's not milking, bottle feeding, making cheese, making yogurt, cleaning the barn, cleaning the corrals, brushing rabbits, shearing rabbits, and carrying bags of feed and bales of hay, she stays busy walking, training, and showing her pack of ten dogs. And yes, she does also still love cats.

Life Without Eyesight: Author Reyna Bradford Defies Limitation See a sneak-peek into Reyna’s life. Watch a short video — you’ll need to see it to believe it. Author, speaker, farmer, & dog trainer Reyna Bradford lost her vision as a toddler. In this inspiring peek into her daily life, she shows us that with grit, determination, and a lot of hard work, we can accomplish our dreams!

The Big Barn Hunt March 10, 2021 Today was one of the first, dazzling days of spring. Cascades of sunshine, the wind roaring in from the south, and temperatures flirting shamelessly with eighty degrees. A day I absolutely had to be outdoors. The kind of day you just have to share with someone. And who better to share it with than three eager dogs and five curious rats? This was the day of our first big barn hunt.

I had looked forward to it ever since last fall, when Gem and Tassie and the baby goats had helped to prep the arena, and forty bales of hay had been delivered. I had even wrestled a lot of those bales into rat-friendly piles and configurations, and had invested my talents and energies even further by creating a really cool tunnel for the dogs to explore. And then winter settled in, and conditions were just too windy and cold and wet for rats to be out. Today, though, there were no more excuses. It was time to rodeo. It was time to scoop the five rats into their special tubes, screw the tops on tight, and bundle them off to the waiting hay bales. I hid them pretty conspicuously for this time. Everyone is still so new at this game that I wanted to be sure to set us all up for success. This was the first time we would be working in the large, outdoor arena. And, as much stomping and chomping as the goats might have done last fall, they had still left some thick and prickly undergrowth in parts of the enclosure. The dogs would be working in a totally new environment, and for that matter, so would I. It really didn't fit into my plans for the day to get lost or disoriented. And on top of that, I really didn't fancy losing any rats, either.

Cinder and Scotch were the two searchers I wasn't sure about. Cinder especially had shown a marked interest in finding rats back at the house. But whether or not either one of the dogs could be relied upon to locate each of the five rats out in the arena remained to be seen. And just in case they didn't, it would be up to me to track down the missing rats in their tubes and bring everyone safely home. Well, it would be up to me and Tassie. She would almost certainly find all of them. I was counting on her.

So I began with the two boys, knowing that if the worst happened and we misplaced a rat or two, Tassie would do the last run and save the day. First up was Cinder. He came in excited but unsure. What exactly, he all but demanded, did mom want him to do this time? He was reluctant to leave my feet and go search on his own. So I decided to hunt down a rat tube myself, and let him remember just what we were looking for. Things went on a little better after that. He showed more interest, but he still needed to commit, not only to searching, but also to indicating when he's actually found a rat.

Okay, next up: Butterscotch. He worked surprisingly well. He actually did take some initiative, peeling himself away from his typical position at my left knee to go hunt. He even bounded onto and over the tunnel. (He really likes that tunnel.) The only problem was, that with four rats in the wagon, rat number five was still missing in action. Scotch just wasn't finding it. Or if he was, he wasn't indicating the find to me. After about twenty minutes, I was ready to bring in reinforcements. Time was getting away from me, and more important, Scotch was beginning to waffle and lose interest. I guessed that he had probably found rat five several times by then, but just hadn't known how to tell me so. And I didn't want him to establish a habit of not trying to indicate his find to me. So I shrugged and decided that four out of five wasn't bad for the first day out. I hid the four other rats one more time, took Scotch home, and came back with Tassie. And yes, she was amazing. She has always been fascinated by anything small and furry, but has made peace with the fact that, in the house, critters like ferrets, rabbits, and the occasional pet rat are off limits and should be ignored. Now that I was actually telling her to "go find rats!" she was all over it.

No offense to my two boys, but there was a stark contrast between their uncertain efforts and Tassie's quick and decisive work. It took her less than five minutes to find all five rats. She got out there and hustled. She knew what she was doing. She was looking for rats, and she was fast, focused, and deliberate. And the wonderful thing for me was that once she discovered a tube, she stayed with it, pawing and scratching at it until I arrived. Super helpful for me, and no doubt, very exciting for the rat.

There were two good things that came out of this adventure. One is that the missing rat is no longer missing. All five of them did come home. The other is that Tassie is ready to show. I don't think there's much doubt about that. There is a barn hunt trial tentatively scheduled in the area this fall, and you can count us in. Perhaps this long season of emptiness for the dogs and me is finally coming to an end. See the video here…

The Majesty of the Prairie. The Connections Between Humans and Animals. The True Joys in Life. These themes are explored with perfect vision by the author, Reyna Bradford, blind since she was 15 months old. Sharing the lessons, heartaches, and triumphs experienced by an extraordinary woman who ignores any limitations of a world without sight. The author introduces us to her remarkable life, including living on a hobby farm in the Kansas Flint Hills, raising dairy goats, and training and competing with her large band of beloved dogs. Beautifully written, Bradford shepherds us through the four seasons and all that each cycle involves, offering her unique perspective on animals, the land, and life. BUY NOW —

What Readers Have to Say: "This is an absolutely wonderful book. . . Her story is told with a true love for animals and an ambition for living life to it's fullest. She writes with incredible detail and feeling. . .I could hardly put it down." "Inspirational, warm, compelling, are a few of the words for this story of a full rich life of a young woman working a small goat farm and raising and training dogs to win AKC Obedience Contests. The fact she has been blind since 15 months is secondary, but an important part of her story."

If you enjoyed this article, you can find similar works on Reyna Bradford’s website…

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Profile and Background – I started adult life by having two children; one when I was seventeen and the second when I was eighteen. Although just about everyone told me I had ruined my life I just didn’t believe them. The children, now grown with children of their own, have always been my raison d’être.

When the children were old enough I trained to be a teacher but was unable to get a teaching job so went to work at The Land Registry and enjoyed my time there, meeting some fabulous people. Ten years later I decided to see if I could get into teaching again. I worked as a teacher for eight years and then as a headteacher for a further seven. I loved my teaching years and was never bored. Children offer us a different way to look at the world and are full of unspoilt imagination. During this time I wrote stories and plays for the classes I worked with, but I also filled diaries with poems which I completely forgot about until I retired. At the end of this time, I became an associate lecturer for The Open University, teaching about the primary curriculum, training teaching assistants and nursery nurses and teaching about the differences that children experience around the world, so for a further eight years my life was spent buried in books and research. Why? – When I retired I found loads of poems on odd pages in diaries and notebooks and as I had no work to do I started writing and attended a course at the former Mid-Cheshire College. I also took a number of writing courses with The Open University. Thinking back I have always told stories. When? – I suppose I’ve been writing seriously for the last ten to fifteen years, but really I’ve been writing or telling stories all through my life. I am a prolific reader and there are many family photos of me with my head stuck in a book. I think the two disciplines go together; reading and writing. Where? – Although our house isn’t big, both my husband and I have worked from home so we created a study for each of us. I now use mine for writing. I also have a writing shed in the garden, which I only use in the warmer weather, but I will write anywhere. There are many poems that have been born in the middle of the night or on long journeys. What? – Poetry was my first love and what I studied in the beginning. Even now I’m part of a poetry writing group led by John Lindley. I also write short stories, novels and children’s books.

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The short stories came about because of courses I studied and being a member of The Winsford Writers’ Group. We’re always writing short stories. Most of my life I’ve enjoyed reading Whodunnits and I have an unfinished book in that genre. More recently I’ve been reading fantasy novels and I’ve now written two YA fantasy novels. The children’s books started because of my grandchildren. I decided I wanted to write a book for each of them, which I have done, but there are more to come (children’s books – not grandchildren). How? – I am a spasmodic writer. I have many caring responsibilities and those have to come first. I try to book up time to write and let people know, so the family can give me some space. I find that being a member of writing groups is helpful because it gives you targets for finishing and makes writing a regular experience. I also write at odd moments or when there’s something on the television I don’t want to watch. The first draft is no trouble at all. Words just spill onto the page. It’s the editing and proofreading stages I’d rather skip. Unfortunately, these are crucial for a successful writer. I never write by hand from choice. I prefer to use my laptop. Writer’s Block? – My problem is the opposite. I have so many ideas in my head, that there are not enough hours in the day to get them down. At the moment I have a poetry book, a book of short stories and three novels on the go. If you’re stuck for an idea, read a heading out of a newspaper, look at titles of books or ask questions, e.g. Who painted that vase blue? There’s a story in everything. Other Interests? –I love to draw and paint with all sorts of media and make textile pictures. I also play the piano and ukulele extremely badly. I try to exercise every day. My treadmill has just died so I’m exploring the joys of dance with Darcy Bussell – ‘Diverse Dance Mix’ on video. I’m sure it’s meant for younger people. Oh and I read a lot!

2021 Reader’s Choice Award The Connections eMagazine Reader's Choice Award is open to all independently published authors and their work. Nominations close June 16th and the Finalists will be selected and posted prior to June 30th. Visit our Finalist page for this year’s options and be sure to come back and vote after June 30th. Winner Announced in August Edition

Help Choose your Favorite Novel Winners featured in August Issue of the eMagazine

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Nominations Open Until June 15th

Public Voting begins June 30th

Voting Ends July 19th

A Mess of Minor Miseries It’s what my ex mother-in-law used to say when I phoned her and asked her how she was. ‘I’m a mess of minor miseries.‘ At ninety-seven, having lost her husband of sixty-nine years, she was more than entitled to have the occasional moan, and I like to think I was a good listener. She was a lovely person, quite my favourite lady, and it was always a joy to talk to her despite her many minor ailments. Losing her three years ago left the world a sadder, emptier place.

I first met her when she was forty – seems impossible now to think of her as younger than my own sons. I was thirteen and smitten with her fifteen-year-old son. Enduring images are of a short, plump Welsh lady with a hairbrush in her hand threating to beat my future husband for his cheek. She was also an inspiring poet, diarist, mother, grandmother, and wife. She looked after her mother, her husband’s elderly siblings, her husband, her five children, and on occasion, her grandchildren. She also ran the village post office, a job I was to take over from her when she and my fatherin-law retired. I ran it from their front room for some years before moving it to my own home. Whilst working from home was convenient at that time, having young children, I did miss being brought a coffee and a huge slab of sponge cake every morning while I worked- it was the highlight of my day! And they were happy days, enclosed in the bosom of family, and we think, when we are young, that things will be like that forever. But nothing stays the same, and we have to treasure the happy moments, the family time, the companionship of those we love and who love us. But those days are but memories, and as we age, memories become more and more important – there are more miles walked behind us than we can manage before us, however willing the spirit. The trick, with 20/20 hindsight, is to make sure you make good memories. Photographs are a great way of reviving forgotten memories – no, not selfies…

So, having not long celebrated, if you can cause it celebrating in lockdown, another birthday with a higher number than I’m prepared to divulge – you can work it out for yourself, I’m sure – I now understand ‘Mum’s’ ‘mess of minor miseries‘. There’s nothing imminently lifethreatening, but boy can it be frustrating. The osteoporosis caused a break in a bone in my sacrum – I was only watering the garden – which gives me gip if I do too much, especially bending. I only planted three plants yesterday and am suffering for it today – I think the break caused some nerve damage which feels as if I’m wearing a corset around my hips – a sort of numb pressure, and sometimes my legs feel as if there are worms crawling around in the veins – a very weird sensation – and of course, I’m afraid of breaking another bone. I also get a sudden pain in one big toe which feels like someone’s sticking a red-hot gardening fork in it. I looked up the symptoms on the internet and decided I didn’t want peripheral neuropathy, so I’m ignoring that. Not easy as it’s jabbing me right now! What else – the results of breaking a wrist some years ago, slipping on mud while crossing the moor outside the house while dog walking. The hand feels slightly numb, and the wrist swells if I do too much at the laptop – which I do every day. The dry weather is making the roads very dusty, there’s a lot of tree pollen about, and the last few days, my eyes have felt as if a whole tree, or at least the wretched garden fork is underneath my eyelids. Oh, I do moan, don’t I? Well, you see, I don’t have an ex daughter-in-law to moan to, and I hope I never do. I like my daughter-in-law how she is, non-ex and fruitfully employed.

If you’re a reader of my blogs, you’ll know that I lost my other daughter-in-law to Covid in January. No one saw that coming at only forty-nine, and she is greatly missed. I dare say, but for Covid and the state of the NHS at the moment, I would have approached my doctor with some of these minor ailments, but truly, they have more important things to do. Will someone please take this garden fork out of my toe? It’s excruciating, and gosh it makes me jump. That’s better, thank you. As a friend of mine one told me – she was in her late eighties – ‘old age doesn’t come alone.‘ Was she wrong? No. It all went to pot when I turned seventy – so if you’re young and healthy, don’t waste what you have, because it won’t last forever, and look after yourselves – this is the only body you have. Truly, we have to appreciate what we have while we have it. (Especially the coffee and spongecake – the lemon one was my favourite)

Oh Yum, I could just eat that right now.

If you enjoyed this article, you can find similar works on Rebecca Bryn’s website...

I’ll Take You to See the Ocean Chantal Bellehumeur is a Canadian author born in 1981. She has several published novels of various genres as well as numerous short stories, poems and articles featured in compilation books, magazines, plus a local newspaper. For a complete list of publications, including free reads, visit the following website: About the Book: In this Heartwarming fictional story, Caroline fulfils her five year old son's wish to see the ocean by taking him on a cruise to the Magdalen Islands. This 44 page short story is available on Amazon and in paperback.

Happy read!

I'll Take You to See the Ocean is a piece of happiness wrapped in an inviting, mind soothing package. The cover itself took me to a trip the second I saw it and as always the author delivered just what I needed right now. A young mother, Caroline, takes his son to a trip to Magdalen Islands. Their journey is described so well, that the reader feels as if they were with them. The pace and the atmosphere of the story pulls the reader easily in and fills their hearts with warmth and joy. When on these challenging times one can only do imaginary trips, I was delighted to be invited on one only by opening this wonderful book. So thank you to the author for giving me a moment of joy and making me smile.

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Excerpt: Caroline lived with her sweet five year old son James. The boy’s father sadly passed away from cancer at the young age of twenty-four when Caroline was eight months pregnant, so he never got the chance to meet his son or vice versa. With his thick short brown hair and brown eyes, James was the spitting image of his father. Caroline had long thin blond hair and clear blue eyes, so her son looked nothing like her. She was a short woman, and James was tall for his age. The only thing Caroline and her beloved son had in common as far as physical traits was the fact that they were both thin. Every time Caroline looked at her son, she saw her late husband Roger. James even started developing some of his father’s mannerisms. Sometimes it made Caroline sad, but she mainly felt happy to know that part of the man she still loved and deeply missed lived in James. In order for James to get to know his deceased father, Caroline told him nice stories about him. She would often make him select a picture from a shoebox she kept under her queen-sized bed, and tell him what happened in the moments before or after the picture had been taken. Of course, she could only do this with pictures taken during her and Rogers’ six-and-a half year relationship. Her equally widowed mother-in-law was able to provide details of his earlier life. Caroline was glad that she, and most importantly James, got along with her. James had developed an interest in boats because he had been told that his father had worked on one in his youth. He had actually been a seasonal tour guide on a small sightseeing boat which took tourists on informative hourly tours along the St-Lawrence River. But, James had a big imagination and pictured things much differently. Over the years, he had embellished his father’s role on the boat. He made up adventure stories in which him and his dad sailed the ocean to look for hidden treasures. Sometimes, Caroline would make up stories of her own while playing with James. But, for the most part she read him fictional books in addition to reciting true tales about his father.

Every night, Caroline and her son would snuggle up together in James' single bed within his small room decorated in a pirate theme, and they would read a book together. James would always hold his favorite plush during story time. In fact, the little brown bear named Captain Rodgers hardly ever left his side. He had made it himself at a workshop during a birthday party the previous year and dressed it in pirate clothing, complete with a black eyepatch his mother made. Tonight's story was about a group of five animal friends going to a sandy white beach with clear blue water. "I want to see the ocean," James expressed. It wasn't the first time he mentioned this, and Caroline replied the same thing as she always did: "I'll take you to see the ocean one day." James wanted to know when. "Soon," his mother replied with a smile. "Very soon." When the bedtime story was finished, Caroline tucked in her yawning son as well as Captain Rodgers and gave them both a loud kiss on their right cheeks. James gave his mother a kiss in return. "I love you mommy," James said. "I love you more," his mother replied. "No. I love you more," James returned laughing. They continued telling one another that they loved the other more until Caroline was out of the darkened room and the door was closed.

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” —Dale Carnegie

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bears’ hibernation schedule on her calendar. Every April 15th, I wait for the text from my mom letting me know it’s safe to go outside again. So many of my readers hit reply to that email to tell me my story made them laugh. The same readers that took the time to respond to that email are more likely to open my next email whether I have a new book to sell or not. 4. Keep emails short and simple.

Don’t fill your emails with tons of graphics or ginormous chunks of text. You want your readers to think of your emails like they’re emails from a friend. It helps to make them look that way. Use plain text rather than a super fancy template, and don’t go overboard with the photos you use. Short and sweet makes it more likely your readers will read your emails, and keeping it simple

makes your messages feel more intimate, like an email or text from someone you like and look forward to hearing from. 5. Encourage engagement. This is an easy one. Let your readers know you want to get to know them, too, and get them involved in your writing process. There are a bunch of ways you can do this. Use a poll to ask them about anything from the genre they read most often to their favorite flavor of ice cream.

Ask them to help you name a character, business, or dog in your next book. Ask them to hit reply and tell you about the weather where they live, what book they’re reading right now, or what show they just binge watched. Just don’t forget to respond to their emails. Relationships are a two way street! Hope you guys found this helpful! If you want to chat more about writing emails that engage your readers, you can email me at or Find me

on Facebook, Instagram or Sign Up for My Emails. Amy Lamont writes contemporary and paranormal romances. She’s currently working on a witchy billionaire romance series filled with magic and some four-letter words while drinking too much coffee and snuggling with Toby, her geriatric hound dog.

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Insidious Conspiracy to glancing away in pity. Paige knew she was a mess; on the inside and the outside. She wanted to be angry with the doctors, the nurses... even the janitor when he interrupted the silence to empty the trash. But, deep down inside she knew they were probably right. She was just grateful Dax had given Zeus power-ofattorney over his medical decisions years ago. Zeus was clinging to the same hope; which was probably an illusion. At least, they had that in common. They could still present a united front when challenged — not only by the staff, but some of the team. Hawk had stopped visiting weeks ago, Carmen insisted Paige and Zeus were only delaying the inevitable and Ken had returned to Nephi to deal with a personal crisis. Maybe, they were clinging to false hope; but as long as Zeus held out... Paige was going to stand strong beside him. Unrealistic optimism was all she had left. Paige brushed at her face, wiping away any evidence she’d been crying... again. She felt weak, and it annoyed her. She had to be tough, Dax would be strong if the tables were turned. She sighed and turned away from the window to glance at Dax, hoping somehow, he’d give her the strength she needed to get through this. That’s when she spotted her longtime friend, Sean Wilkins, standing in the doorway. She forced a smile in greeting and swallowed hard in an effort to compose herself. “I didn’t want to interrupt,” Sean said as he made his way across the room and settled into the chair next to her. “Any change?” “No,” Paige said a little too abruptly. She shouldn’t take her frustration out on her friend, but he was a handy target. And, at the moment, she couldn’t seem to stop herself. “There’s still hope,” Sean said compassionately. “Dax is strong, we have to believe there’s still a chance he’ll pull through.” Paige didn’t respond. “Why don’t we go for a walk,” Sean suggested. “I’ll buy you dinner.” “I’m not hungry,” Paige barked. “Paige,” Sean sighed. “You have to eat. Look at you, this isn’t healthy. How much weight have you lost? Ten pounds? Fifteen?” “I’m not hungry,” Paige insisted. She glared at her friend in challenge, daring him to 84

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 push her, daring him to give her a reason to unleash her anger on him. It had been bottled up inside for way too long. She needed a target, and tonight... Sean Wilkins seemed like a perfect mark. Sean sighed and stood. “Never mind,” he was halfway across the room before he paused, turned and focused on Paige. “I really do hope he pulls out of this; for his sake and yours. I won’t bother you again.” Then, he turned and disappeared out the door. Paige stared at the empty doorway for several seconds, confused and a little annoyed. Then it hit her, something was wrong with Sean and she’d missed it because she was too caught up in her own world to notice. She jumped to her feet and rushed to the door. Sean was already halfway down the corridor. She dashed forward calling his name. He ignored her completely, didn’t even pause, didn’t react at all. She immediately picked up the pace and caught up with him just as he was stepping through the outer door that led to the elevator. Paige reached out and set a hand on Sean’s forearm. “What’s wrong?” Sean stopped and closed his eyes for several seconds. Paige smiled, then realized that was the first time she’d been amused in over two months. This was Sean’s way of regaining control; a habit Paige had razzed him about since the moment they met. After several seconds, Sean opened his eyes and focused on Paige. Before he could say a word, she latched onto his arm and pulled him toward the row of guest chairs lining the far wall. Paige settled onto the one in the middle, next to the window. Sean lowered himself into the chair next to her. Neither one spoke for several minutes. “I’ve been suspended,” Sean finally said. “Assistant Director Sam Keaton called my SAC this morning. He said they are conducting an internal review which will probably result in termination.”

“For what?” Paige’s mind was racing. “Violating policy,” Sean grumbled. “Claims I went rogue when I assisted a domestic terrorist group composed of former soldiers on an unsanctioned rescue mission. According to him, I was obligated to call in HRT if the danger was legit.” “Hogwash,” Paige jumped to her feet and began to pace. “I’m calling Nathan.” 85

Insidious Conspiracy “No,” Sean immediately rejected that. “It will only make things worse. If Porter saves me, I’m going to have a rep. One that will follow me through the rest of my career. Everyone will know I’m the guy that should have been fired, but I was saved because a certain powerful General stepped in and intervened.” “Sean,” Paige sat back down and took his hand in hers. “That’s not what this is about. And, if you weren’t in shock you would see it for what it is. They’re messing with our team. This is just the most recent insidious attack. It’s all part of the whole.” Sean frowned. “What do you mean?” “Think about it,” Paige settled back against the wall. “Bryan’s death started it all off. They killed him because he stumbled onto their nefarious plan. Then, they panicked when they realized he was hooked up with Carmen — Nathan’s digital miracle worker.” “You think Keaton is dirty? That he’s part of the group we’re chasing? The guys responsible for Dax’s condition?” Sean wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know this Keaton guy,” Paige shrugged. “But it’s all just a little too convenient. Once this group realized Carmen was a threat, they took action. They are seriously whacked and desperate. Had to be to send a bomb to Nathan’s headquarters. Once Carmen was out of the way, or so they thought, they focused on Dax. He was the next biggest threat. We both know he’s supposed to be dead. But we stepped in and stopped them. You are the one that made our actions possible. You transferred Williams to Mo down in Mexico. As a local I couldn’t do that, neither could Sheriff Walters. So, now they’ve shifted to you... to get you out of the way.” Sean’s temper began to boil. Paige was onto something. When Special Agent in Charge, Clive Rickman had called him into the office and issued the suspension, Sean had quickly reminded him the mission wasn’t unsanctioned. And, he certainly hadn’t gone rogue. He’d been temporarily assigned to Nathan Porter’s team by the Bureau. His SAC sympathized. Sean didn’t always get along with the guy, but he thought Rickman even agreed with his position. Unfortunately, the order came from Washington and Rickman wasn’t in a position to argue with his boss. Rickman was a yes-man and would never go out on a limb for anyone... except maybe himself. The allegation didn’t make sense, but Sean had been willing to accept his lumps and move on. If Paige was right and the bad guys had


Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 infiltrated the FBI, if they were setting up obstacles to make sure nobody got in their way... well, they were in for a big surprise. Because Sean was now livid, and he planned to orchestrate a few obstacles of his own. “If you’re right, and I think maybe you are, they’ll be coming after you next.”

“I don’t think so,” Paige disagreed. “I’m just a local cop now. I think their next target will be the soldiers. I’m beginning to wonder if they’ve already set something up to deal with Thor. He’s been gone for nearly two weeks now and none of the guys seem to know where he went, or why. Plus, Ken had to rush back to Nephi. They are scattering our team, I’m sure of it.” “But Carmen wasn’t a high-ranking player, either. She was just good at what she does,” Sean sobered. “Just like you. We would never have found their hideout, wouldn’t have captured Williams, and wouldn’t have located the vehicle that led us to Dax - without you. I’m just saying you need to watch your back. These guys play dirty and they don’t seem to care what kind of permanent damage they inflict as long as they achieve their goal.” “I’m watching,” Paige paused to consider. “But I think they are, too.” “Meaning?” “I get the feeling I’m being watched; here, at the hospital,” Paige confided. “I think they have a camera somewhere inside Dax’s room. I’ve kind of glanced around, but unless I do a thorough search - which they will see me doing - I won’t be able to locate it. Be careful what you say while you’re in there, Sean. Even if you think you’re alone.” Sean frowned. “Have you told the others?” “Not yet,” Paige sighed. “They all think I’ve lost my marbles, that I’m not accepting the facts. I’m afraid of Hawk’s reaction if I tell him I believe there’s a camera in there. He’s going to think I’ve completely lost my mind.” “I don’t think he will,” Sean disagreed. “He’s a little paranoid these days, too. Plus, he’s working on some sort of plan to take the offense. I’m starting to think we should do the same. Can you get Jericho to meet us at Carmen’s house? Zeus, too. I want to talk about this as a group and decide where to go from here. I don’t like being...” “Held hostage?” Paige offered.


Insidious Conspiracy Sean grimaced, but understood her point. “I can’t believe I didn’t see this sooner. My only defense is that I was blind-sided. I didn’t even see it coming. The last few hours have been pretty much a daze to me. I didn’t want to dump this on you, but I decided to be selfish. I needed a friend, someone that understands the bureaucracy, someone I could sit down with and talk it through, you know? Not once did I even consider the possibility it was a setup. I think you’re right; this was just a clever way to get me out of the mix.” “I think I’ve been in a daze since the moment Dax fell off that wall,” Paige admitted. “This. Keaton messing with you, with your livelihood, it’s what jerked me out of my funk. They’ve gone too far, and they need to pay.” “They went too far when they kidnapped Dax,” Sean corrected. “And, like I said, I think Hawk is working on payback. Whatever he’s doing, he wants to bring these guys down in a big way. A way that is demoralizing and very public. Normally, I don’t agree with those tactics; but for this group, I’m willing to make an exception.” “I’ll call Jer and see you at Carmen’s in thirty,” Paige stood. “Sounds like a plan,” Sean also stood. “And, thanks. I already feel much better. I prefer pissed as hell to depression and guilt. I can’t believe I accepted everything so easily. Especially when we know how ruthless these guys are.” “I’m sure, in time, you would have gotten there on your own,” Paige smiled. “Once you stopped reacting to the news and really thought about the big picture. Now, I need to grab my stuff, then I’ll see you at the house. I’ll call Carmen and tell her we’re on the way. Zeus may already be there, anyway. He’s been spending most of his time at her place, or here with his best friend.” Sean pushed the button on the elevator. The door opened immediately, and he disappeared. Paige pulled out her phone and started back toward the room. She hit send and waited for her boss to give his standard, grumpy greeting. Instead, the phone went to voicemail. She tried again, same result. That wasn’t like Jericho. Paige made her way across Dax’s room, snatched up her bag, and headed out the door. Once she was back at the elevator, she punched in Margie’s number. Jericho’s assistant would know where he was. “Hello, Paige,” Margie greeted. 88

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “I need to talk to the boss; do you know where he is?” Paige asked, more concern coming through her voice than she’d intended. “Tolman contacted him just as he was leaving,” Margie’s voice also held concern. “The DA said Jericho was in trouble with the ATF; and if he didn’t head over to the office immediately, the Feds were going to arrest him and ask questions later.” Paige stepped from the elevator and moved quickly toward her vehicle. Another piece of the whole. She should have seen this one coming. If they got rid of Jericho, Paige wouldn’t have any authority to assist Nathan’s team. She’d be pulled from the case because the office would be in chaos. “I’m calling Nathan, Margie. Try not to worry, he’ll sort this all out.” “Jericho isn’t going to be happy when he finds out you called in the General.” “Nathan and Jericho are going to have to put their egos aside and work together for a while. We need to fight this war as a team; otherwise, we’ll never win.” “You lost me,” Margie admitted. “It’s all part of the plan,” Paige said, a little frustrated she was the only one that saw the obvious. “Dax in the hospital, Sean suspended, and now Jericho being interrogated by the ATF. They’re trying to divide and conquer. I’m not going to let that happen. If we all try to fight our personal, individual battles alone, the enemy is going to win. I’m not all that keen on losing this one.” “You think someone got to them?” Margie realized. “You think this group, the ones that killed that cop in New Orleans, then kidnapped Dax, has a contact in the ATF and they are using that connection to pull Jer out of the mix.” “I know it,” Paige said confidently. “And, I’m calling in my own big gun to head this off before it gets out of control.” “You do that while I call Riley,” Margie decided. “I tried to talk Jericho into taking my boy with him to begin with, but the stubborn man refused. Said he didn’t need a lawyer because he hadn’t done anything wrong.” “Good idea,” Paige smiled. “If nothing else, an attorney can stall while I get the ball rolling with Nathan.” 89

Insidious Conspiracy They disconnected and each woman immediately called in reinforcements. “Paige,” Nathan answered. “Has something changed?” “Not with Dax,” Paige admitted. “But I have a problem. Well, two actually. I need your help.” “Anything, just say the word.” Paige began to run him through the situation with her boss then concluded with the details about Sean’s suspension. “Sean’s problem is easy to resolve,” Nathan considered. “But it’s going to take time. Rickman has the paperwork. Director Mason approved that transfer himself and Rickman knows that. So does Keaton; I’d bet the farm on that one. It’s a bluff, a way to get Wilkens out of the picture while they move forward with their plan... whatever it is,” Nathan grumbled; clearly frustrated they hadn’t figured it all out yet. “But Mason’s in California. I’ll do what I can until he returns to DC. But, in the meantime, tell Sean as far as I’m concerned, he’s still on my team; and he’s not suspended.” “Can we get away with that?” “Yes,” Nathan said in dismissal. “Now, the thing with Walters I think I can handle tonight. Tell him to keep his mouth shut and make sure he doesn’t incriminate himself; but, stall his interrogators as long as possible. I’ll call Director Braxton. If he won’t step in, my next call will be to the Attorney General. I’ll get back to you, but don’t worry about your boss. This is all smoke and mirrors. Plus, it gives me a new lead into the man running things here in Washington. Hang in there, everything is going to work out okay.” “Thanks,” Paige let out a relieved breath. “A bunch of us are meeting at Carmen’s tonight to come up with a new plan. I’m not a fan of being on the defense all the time. I’m used to taking the offense and I plan to do just that, starting now.”

“That’s my girl,” Nathan was also relieved. Sounded like Paige was finally bouncing back. Now, he just needed Dax to wake up. Well, he needed a lot more than that... but, it would be a good start. “Love you, kid. I’ll try to call back tonight, but it may not be until tomorrow afternoon.” “No rush,” Paige decided. “Just save my friends.” 90

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “That I can promise,” Nathan disconnected with Paige and dialed an old friend.


Jericho studied the two men sitting before him. If they thought they could come into his town and intimidate him... well, they were going to be deeply disappointed. Their allegations were absurd, and he refused to respond out of principle. They couldn’t seriously believe he set those explosives himself. Really, to what end? And the idea he murdered Daniel Owens in cold blood was plain lunacy. The idiot banker hadn’t stumbled onto Jericho, he had stumbled onto the banker. As if that wasn’t enough, the dynamic duo had conjured up some fantasy about Jericho killing Chaya years ago. He was still baffled by that one. Maybe if he sat here long enough, they’d disclose more details. Maybe they’d explain their theory and how they got there. It would be nice if they started with motive because Jericho didn’t have one. Not for Daniel and certainly not for Chaya. The entire interrogation was absurd, and he wasn’t going to cooperate with this nonsense. Not even District Attorney James Tolman would change his mind on that. Everyone present glanced at the door when a loud pounding sounded outside. “I thought you said we wouldn’t be interrupted,” one of the agents challenged Tolman. The pounding continued.

Tolman stood, made his way to the door and slowly swung it open. Riley Gonzales pushed his way into the room. “It has come to my attention that the two of you have been questioning my client for the past two hours without representation.” Riley set his briefcase on the table and glanced around for a chair. He spotted one in the corner, drug it over next to Jericho and casually settled in... glaring at the two ATF Agents in challenge. “I’d like an explanation.” “He never requested a lawyer,” one of the agents finally provided. “Did you read him his rights?” “He’s the Sheriff,” the other agent barked. “I certainly hope he knows them by now.” “Be that as it may, unless you read him Miranda before this fiasco began, anything discussed prior to this moment is inadmissible and will ultimately be suppressed. You’re a federal agent, I’m certain you know that by now.” 91

Insidious Conspiracy “Challenge all you want,” the first agent said angrily. “The man’s a murderer and he’s going to pay. “Am I to gather from that statement we are here regarding a homicide investigation?”

“That’s right,” the second agent said smugly. “Who is the victim?” “For starters,” the second agent continued. “Chaya Carter.” Riley glanced at Jericho then focused on Tolman. “How is Chaya Carter’s death a matter for the ATF?” “She was shot,” the first agent said immediately. “With an illegally obtained firearm?” Riley challenged. “We haven’t determined that, yet.” “Then we haven’t determined jurisdiction, either. That should be easy enough. Can you site any other death by firearm case that did not involve an illegal firearm, the ATF commandeered from the locals?” Riley continued. He was having fun and his mother had asked him to stall. He could happily report back that he’d done as asked.

“I’m not going to...” the agent stopped when his phone began to ring. He glanced at the display, flashed a panicked look at his partner, then answered. “Agent Jarrett,” the man said in greeting. “No, sir. Yes, Agent Reese is with me. I understand. No, sir. I’ll take care of it immediately. Goodbye, sir.” The room remained silent for several seconds. “Are we finished?” Riley finally asked.

“Um,” Jarrett glanced at his partner. “Yeah, I guess we are.” “Will you be questioning my client in the future?” “No,” Jarrett stood and looked at his partner. “Apparently, he’s been cleared. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Sheriff Walters. I hope you will accept my sincere apology for wasting your time.” 92

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “I’m not sure how sincere, but apology accepted,” he motioned for Riley to move toward the door. The two men silently exited and walked side-by-side to the parking lot. Jericho turned to address Riley. “Mind telling me what that was all about and how did you get the charges dropped so quickly?”

“Not my doing,” Riley smiled. “I was just a pawn in my mother’s chess game. I was told to stall because she was working with Paige on something. I stalled. Although, they did resolve this thing a little too quickly. I was just getting started.” “Sorry to interrupt your fun,” Jericho grumbled as he climbed into his vehicle. “Mom said to head over to Carmen’s place,” Riley slid his briefcase into the backseat of his own car. “Apparently, the gang’s all there and waiting.” Jericho watched as Riley climbed behind the wheel and disappeared from the parking structure before he started his own engine. Instead of pulling away, he just sat there contemplating the situation. None of this passed the smell test. He needed answers and Paige Carter was the only person that seemed to have any.

***** “I’ll go with Zeus tomorrow when he visits Dax,” Carmen decided. “I have a device that will tell me if someone is monitoring his room. Once we know, we can decide how to proceed.” “Make sure they don’t see you,” Paige ordered. “That’s why I haven’t investigated. I don’t want them to know we’re onto them.” Just then, there was a knock on the door. Sean stood and answered it, smiled and stepped back to let the local sheriff inside. “Glad to see you’re still free.” Jericho focused on Paige. “Porter’s doing?”

“Yes,” Paige admitted. Jericho frowned but moved to an empty chair and settled in.

***** 93

Insidious Conspiracy “Havi,” Susie called out as she disconnected with the caller. “What’s up?” Officer Duncan Havilland asked as he approached the nighttime dispatcher. “I have two details holding,” she admitted. “One is a 911 hang-up, the other is an active domestic.” “Try calling back on the hang-up,” he demanded. “I already tried, twice. It just rings and rings,” Susie practically apologized. “Where is the domestic?” “Out near Laurel Bluffs,” she said, glancing at her notes. “Looks like it’s right on the border.” Havilland glanced around the office, his gaze landing on Logan Reed. He’d be a good cop; someday. Oh, well. The rookie would have to venture out alone sometime…might as well be tonight. “Reed,” he called over his shoulder. “Yeah,” Logan jumped to his feet, eager for action. “You take the emergency hang-up but be on your toes. You never know what you’re walking into. Could be a mistake, could be trouble. I’ll call Dean and see if he’s available to back you.” “I thought he was off tonight,” Reed objected. “He’s on call,” Havilland glanced back to Susie. “I’ll take the Domestic but call over to the Bluffs and see if they have a man that can back me. Tell them I’m just leaving the station, but I’ll get there as soon as I can.” Susie nodded and grabbed the phone. The two officers left the building together. Logan pulled off the main highway onto a long, dirt drive. The house was secluded and surrounded by ancient oaks. He briefly wondered if the eighty-two-year-old homeowner was the one to plant them. He smiled at that, still surprised that his homeowner had a driver’s license. She must be in good shape, even at her age. He was sure this call was nothing, maybe a medical issue. At eighty-two, the woman probably fell and broke her hip or something. 94

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 Havilland was overreacting. Logan was sure of it. It still burned that the senior officer had called in Bridges. Dean was supposed to be at some awards celebration. The guy was a legend in the racing industry, and he broke some record the previous week. Would his colleagues ever respect him? Ever accept the fact he was a cop, not a child? Didn’t he prove he could do the job last spring when he dealt with the Sutton and the Newton clans... and the burning barn? Logan slowed as he took a bend in the road and spotted Dean’s vehicle. Even off-duty the man beat him to the scene. He pulled in behind Dean and checked in with Susie, advising her they had both arrived. “Hey, Logan,” Dean greeted. “How you want to handle this?” Logan paused in surprise. “I thought.” “Your call, I’m just here to back you. Give me some direction, boss.” Dean remembered what it was like to be the new guy. He thought it might do Logan good to take the lead. “Okay,” Logan considered. “Well, Susie said there was no answer when she called, but I think we should just attempt contact like we would on any other detail. We know someone is inside, they have to be... the call originated from this residence.” “Sounds like a plan,” Dean motioned for Logan to lead the way. So far, so good.

Logan climbed the rickety, old, wooden stairs and waited to ring the bell until Dean was positioned slightly behind him and to the right. They were both surprised when a male in his early-to-mid-forties opened the door. “Can I help you, officer?” the man frowned. “Could you please step out of the house, sir?” Logan requested. “What is this about?”

“We just have a few questions,” Logan assured him. “Are you alone here?” “No,” the man answered slowly. “My wife is napping in the other room. She’s not feeling well. I get the sense I’m being harassed for no reason, why are you here?” “We need you to step out on the porch,” Dean reiterated. 95

Insidious Conspiracy “I don’t think I’m comfortable doing that,” the man objected. “Can I see some identification?” Logan asked. “On what grounds?” “On the grounds that this residence belongs to Sophia Burgess. Is she here? We’re going to need to speak with her immediately,” Logan was starting to get suspicious now... and impatient. There was no reason for this man to act so hostile unless he was up to nogood. “I’m afraid she’s out of town,” the man said a little too quickly. “Alright,” Dean moved forward. “We’ll need your information then... for the report.”

“What report?” the man demanded. “Why are you here?” “We received a 911 hang-up call a few minutes ago. Any reason you didn’t answer the phone when we called back?” Dean pushed. “I guess I didn’t hear the phone,” he frowned. How did the infuriating old hag get to a phone? “Who do you think made the call?” Logan asked. There was something off here.

“I have no idea,” the man shrugged. “Maybe you got the wrong house.” Dean saw movement at the side of the residence just in time. He shoved Logan who tripped on the raised threshold and collided with their suspect. All three men went down. Dean covered his head and face with his arms as pellets from a shotgun blast peppered the entire area. He pushed into a crawling position, drew his weapon and fired. The woman went down before she could get off a second shot. “Bianca!” the man shouted as he jumped to his feet and tried to push past the two deputies standing in his path. Logan recovered quickly. He too jumped to his feet, grabbed the man trying to flee and pushed him against the wall of the house. It only took a couple seconds to handcuff the guy and shove him into a chair. “Talk!” “What?” the man looked at Logan in confusion. 96

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “Your name, now.” The man glanced toward the lifeless form of the woman he loved; moisture began to form in his eyes, but he blinked it back. “You killed a helpless, innocent woman for no reason.”

“Name?” Logan demanded, then shrugged. “Unless you want to be booked as John Doe. Doesn’t matter to me either way, I’ll get your identity, eventually.” “Ethan,” he whispered. “It’s Ethan Cabot and you just killed my wife. I’ll have your badge for that.” “Doubtful,” Logan said as he pulled the man to his feet and perp walked him toward his patrol car. He stopped next to Dean, who had moved to the woman, checked her status, and was also headed for his car.

“Want me to call medical?” Logan asked. “Naw,” Dean glanced at the man in cuffs. “You handle him. I’ll call medical and notify the sheriff. It’s going to be a long night.” “We still have to clear the residence,” Logan objected. “We have to locate Sophia Burgess.” He glanced to the side when he heard a vehicle approaching. “Looks like Havilland can help you with that.” Duncan Havilland climbed from his car, took one glance around and decided he chose the wrong detail. “Looks like you boys got yourself a cluster.” “You can say that again,” Dean sighed. “I need to call the sheriff and get medical enroute. This man needs to be transported and we still haven’t searched the place. Sophia Burgess, the eighty-two-year-old homeowner, seems to be missing.” “I’ll take this joker off your hands,” Havilland said, taking the arm of the prisoner. “You two clear the place and see if you can find our missing owner. I can also get medical enroute and call Jericho on my way to the jail.” “Good plan,” Dean looked at Logan. “You okay with that?” “Yeah, sounds like a good plan.” Havilland turned away before he let the smile spread across his face. Dean was a good 97

Insidious Conspiracy trainer and letting the kid think he was in control would be good for his confidence. He shoved the suspect into the back of his car before he called back to Logan. “You got a name for this yahoo?” “Said it’s Ethan Cabot,” Logan called back. “By the way, how did you handle the DV so quickly?” “Didn’t,” Havilland shrugged. “Laurel Bluffs did. They arrived while I was still enroute and realized it was really their call. Canceled me before I got there, so I figured I’d come out here and rubberneck. Glad I did. Looks like you two needed the help.” “Yeah,” Dean agreed. “Good call. Don’t forget to contact the Sheriff. He gets testy if we wait too long and don’t inform him when there’s trouble.”

Dean and Logan cautiously entered the residence and methodically cleared one room after another. They located Sophia Burgess in a small bathroom at the back of the house. She was battered and bruised, looked malnourished and mad as a hornet on a hot summer day. She was also chained to the toilet. “Get me out of here,” she demanded. “Sophia Burgess?” “Of course, I’m Sophia Burgess. Who else did you expect, Queen Elizabeth?” “My partner will see if he can find the keys,” Dean said as he crouched next to the old woman. “How bad are your injuries?” “Not enough to stop me,” Sophia warned. “Get these chains off me. I’m going to kill that no-good niece of mine. Then, I’m going after her husband.” Logan returned to the bathroom with a set of keys. “Let’s see if one of these works. And, I regret to inform you... uh, well your niece was killed a few moments ago in a shootout with one of our officers.” He didn’t think he should mention it was Dean that had killed her family member. “I hope her weasel of a husband is dead, too.” “No, ma’am,” Dean shook his head and forced his face to remain sober. What he wanted to do was laugh. This woman was a fighter and her spunk probably saved her life. 98

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “He’s on his way to jail. How did you get to a phone?” “My niece is an idiot,” she answered in a matter-of-fact tone that left no room for disagreement. “She left the cordless on the counter. It was easy to trick her... I just gave her a little distraction and slid the phone into my sweater pocket. By the time she finished securing the window, she had forgotten all about the telephone. That girl was always a moron but her husband? That man is the devil.” Logan slid the last of the chain away from Sophia and stood to hold out his hand. “Do you think you can stand up? We have EMT’s on the way, but I think some fresh air might do you good.” Just then two men appeared in the bathroom doorway. “We’ve got this,” one of the EMT’s told the officers. “I’d rather carry her out on the stretcher, but you’re right. She could use some fresh air.” “I could use a glass of water,” Sophia argued. “And, I can walk.” She braced her hands on the closed toilet seat and slowly rose to her feet. “And, a good steak... medium rare. I’m starving.” “Sorry,” the EMT said as he moved forward and placed an arm around her tiny waist. “Water I can do, but just a sip. Too much and it will make you nauseous. The steak will have to wait.” Logan and Dean watched as the two men lifted the woman onto a stretcher and rolled her out of the room. “Now comes the hard part,” Dean sighed as he moved toward the front door. “I’m sorry,” Logan followed. “It was bad enough you got called in on your night off. It bites that you have to go through the shooting protocol to boot.” “Not your fault,” Dean said as they stepped onto the front porch. He was greeted by the local District Attorney, James Tolman. “Gentlemen,” Tolman said in greeting. “Walk me through what happened. I already received a call from Fairfax. Ethan Cabot is filing an unlawful death suit against the two of you and the department. I hope this was a clean shooting. Otherwise, it’s going to get ugly.” 99

Insidious Conspiracy “Tolman,” Jericho had arrived without anyone noticing. “Tell me you’re not trying to interrogate my men without their rep.” “Walters,” Tolman frowned. Where had the sheriff come from? He hadn’t even seen him arrive. “Your men shot a helpless woman; I’m just trying to find out if they had a good reason for their actions.” Jericho frowned. This was not like James and the woman was not helpless. The shotgun she’d used in an attempt to kill his men was still lying next to her lifeless body. “A word in private.” The two men moved away from the scene and into the woods. “You want to tell me what that was back there?” Jericho demanded when he was sure they were out of earshot. “I’m getting tired of cleaning up your messes,” Tolman barked. “I spent two full hours this afternoon shielding you from the feds; and as a bonus, I get to deal with yet another officer -involved shooting incident this evening. What’s next, Jericho? What outrageous and indefensible event can I expect as an encore?” “What is this really about, James?” Jericho asked. “Because it has nothing to do with my man defending himself and a fellow officer against a woman intent on killing them both.” James Tolman sighed, ran his hands through his hair in frustration, and turned away. He paced for several seconds before he turned back to address his longtime friend. “Fairfax is threatening an unlawful death suit. He’s prepared to go public with this one. I’m not sure I can survive the bad publicity.” “The public loves you,” Jericho said dismissively. “Sure, it’s an election year; but last I checked, you were running unopposed.” “Yeah, well... things change.” “Who?” Tolman gave another long sigh. “New guy. Some hotshot attorney from New York. Says he inherited Paulina Kobrick’s place and decided he’d like a slower pace.” “I thought she left that place to Remi?” 100

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “So, did I,” Tolman shrugged. “But Trenton Moore contested the will. Guess it wasn’t as cut and dry as Remington always believed.” “What’s the relation?” Jericho wasn’t buying it. Remington Kobrick II was a doting grandson to Paulina. She adored that kid, and the feeling was mutual. It was common knowledge that when Paulina died, she’d be leaving her estate to her only family... Remi, his wife and their new baby. Remi and Megan were conflicted, of course. They couldn’t wait to get out of the city and raise their son in the country, but that meant losing someone they loved. Jericho didn’t believe this Trenton Moore had any right to the property. “No idea,” Tolman shrugged. “I didn’t know anything about it until tonight. Not long after you left, actually. I was just locking up when a cocky stranger pushed his way into my office. He declared, with more bravado and confidence than warranted, that he was running against me in November. Said it was time for a change and he was just the man to provide it. Some nonsense about demand justice, demand Moore.” Jericho rolled his eyes. “And you’re worried he’ll spin this thing against you?” “I have no doubt he’ll try,” Tolman said immediately. “Tell me it’s justified.” “I would,” Jericho grinned. “But when have you ever listened to me when it comes to an OIS?” “Really?” Tolman grumbled. “You’re going to go there? You know I have to operate strictly by the book when it comes to an officer-involved shooting.” “Which is why I’m surprised you asked,” Jericho countered. “But, yeah. From what I hear, it was justified. The shooting is clean, James. Dean didn’t have a choice. The woman took a shot already and was gearing up for a second attempt when he took her down. And, I know you don’t want my advice but I’m going to give it, anyway. Get in front of this. Hold a press conference, immediately. Make it clear to the public the shooting was tragic but unavoidable. They’re going to believe you, not whatever spin this Moore guy tries to put on it. You have an advantage... your community knows and loves you. He’s an outsider; and, as much as it shouldn’t matter, around here... it does.” “Sorry about the...” Tolman glanced at the front porch. “Well, sorry I jumped the gun and tried to talk to your men. I broke my own rule. We’ve established protocol and I’m well aware he has rights. I won’t make that mistake again.” 101

Insidious Conspiracy “So,” Jericho paused to consider. “Was it the ATF or Moore that got you all riled up?” “Both, I guess.” Tolman pulled two business cards from his pocket. “Those two agents answer to someone. Here’s the information, thought it might come in handy. They called a supervisor after you left. I only heard one side of the call, but their boss was not happy with the way things went down today. I’d watch my back if I were you. I’m not sure they’re finished with this.” Jericho took the cards. He wasn’t finished either. And, he had the perfect solution. His good buddy, Clark, would enjoy a little business and it would leave Carmen free to work on the big picture with Porter. “There’s something fishy about this Moore guy showing up... now, at the last minute. I’m giving you the same advice. Watch your back. I know it’s probably not kosher, but it might be worth a little investigating. If I were in your position, I’d want to know all I could about one Trenton Moore.” “I thought of that,” Tolman admitted. “But a sitting District Attorney investigating his political opponent would not be received well by the public. I don’t want to look like I’m a bully, or worse... that I’m abusing my power for personal reasons.” “Okay,” Jericho smiled. “Then, I’ll have Paige do it.” He walked away before Tolman had a chance to respond.

***** The following evening, Paige was parked down the road from Trenton Moore’s, formerly Paulina Kobrick’s, residence. She wasn’t happy with the new assignment. Jericho was taking her away from the hospital. Away from Dax. She wondered if that was by design. She wondered if they’d all become just a little too paranoid. Sure, a stranger moving to town and challenging James Tolman in his prime was odd. It was even a little too coincidental with everything else that was going on. And, the fact he hailed from New York added suspicion. But, on the other hand, the guy might be legit. Manti was a great place to live. She pushed her body a little lower when a car slowed and parked in the driveway of the residence she was monitoring. A man slightly older than James Tolman, but far grayer and more distinguished looking, climbed from the expensive BMW and headed for the front door. 102

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 He looked like a smarmy lawyer to her and he was just a little too cocky. Was that more paranoia or good sense? Right now, Paige really didn’t know. She jotted down the license plate and pulled away. The first step was to verify he really was who he said he was. The next step... talk to Remi and see what the relationship was and how the shyster attorney had bilked Paulina’s favorite grandson out of his inheritance. Two hours later, Paige was sitting next to Carmen in front of the computer. Her friend still hadn’t found a connection between Trenton Moore and Paulina Kobrick. She had found the papers filed with the court. He claimed to be a distant cousin, but Paige was now convinced the man was lying. It was time to call Remi. “I’ve got nothing here, Paige. If that man is related to Paulina Kobrick, I’m related to Elvis,” Carmen settled back into her chair with a sigh. “This is all some kind of con. I ran his financials, and nothing pops. It doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, nothing to indicate he’s desperate for money; but, there’s nothing connecting him to gun running in New Orleans either. I know you think this is connected somehow, but it might just be a dirty lawyer cheating a nice guy out of a valuable estate.” “I don’t know that it is connected,” Paige argued. “But, it’s a little suspicious and way too coincidental. I never did like coincidences.” “I know,” Carmen sighed. “Right now, I can’t connect it, though. Talk to the grandson, see what he has to say. Maybe, he can connect the dots somehow.” Paige stood and moved to the couch before making the call. “Hi, is this Remi Kobrick?” Paige asked the male voice that answered. “Yes, this is Remi.” “You don’t know me,” she began. “This is Deputy Paige Carter. I work for Sheriff Walters, in Manti...Utah.” “Oh, yes. How can I help you?” “I’m calling about your grandmother’s estate.” “Why? I lost everything, what does this have to do with law enforcement?” Paige explained how Trenton Moore had moved to town and challenged the local DA. “We all thought Paulina was leaving her place to you. And, I have to be honest, the entire 103

Insidious Conspiracy situation seems a little suspicious. I’ve researched the guy for hours and can’t find a connection to your family. Do you know how he’s related?” “I don’t believe he is,” Remi said flatly. “I think he made it all up. I don’t know why, and I know that sounds like I’m being petty and a sore loser; but I honestly don’t believe he is related in any way. I can’t explain why he’d do it. I can’t give you a reason he’d target me or my family but if I had a relative, even a distant one, my grandmother would have mentioned him. She did not.” “Can I ask why you didn’t force the issue, make him prove his relation in court?” “I can’t afford it,” Remi confessed. “As much as that place means to me, I can barely afford the necessities…diapers, baby formula, and new clothes practically every week. I’m barely holding on. There’s no way I could justify spending what little we do have on an expensive attorney.” “What if you didn’t have to?” “I don’t understand,” Remi said, clearly confused. “I’m wondering if you want to file a police report,” Paige answered. “For what?”

“Felony fraud,” Paige said seriously. “If this guy is not related, he has no standing to contest the will. Your grandmother wanted you and your family to inherit her estate. From where I’m sitting, this sounds like a solid case of fraud. Trenton Moore is taking advantage of the fact you are struggling. He’s a hotshot attorney from Manhattan. He can afford this fight, you can’t. I think he was counting on that. If you wanted to fight it, you’d have to hire an attorney. He is one. He can utilize his firm to get what he wants and con you out of the life you were depending on. At least if I start an official investigation, he’ll have to prove his relationship. And because it’s a criminal investigation, it won’t cost you a dime. It will cost you a complaint. I can’t do this unless you are willing to go on record and challenge him. If you agree to be the complainant, I’ll get the ball rolling and see where it leads.” “What if he comes after me?” “I’ll charge him with witness tampering,” Paige said immediately. Remi considered for several minutes. “Okay, file the report.” 104

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 The instant Paige disconnected with Remi her phone chimed again. She glanced at the display then hit answer. “Hello, Nathan.” “I found a connection between Keaton and Cole Reynolds,” Nathan said in answer.

“The Retrocero Inc. guy?” Paige asked. “Yeah,” Nathan told her. “Cole is on my committee and the evidence is piling up against him. He’s involved, but I’m not convinced he’s the leader.” “What’s the connection?” “They went to college together,” Nathan answered. “Rumor has it they’re Frat Brothers. I’m still trying to confirm that.” “We knew they were behind this thing with Sean but it’s nice to have proof.” “Any change with Dax?” “Not yet,” Paige sobered. “Hang in there,” Nathan tried to comfort her. “Dax is strong, if anyone can pull through this... he can.” “Hope springs and all that,” Paige sighed. “Do you have time to look into someone else for me?” “Has something else happened out there?” “I’m not sure,” she gave Nathan Trenton Moore’s name and explained the situation. Nathan agreed it sounded suspicious but wasn’t ready to include it as another attack on the team. “Tolman is too peripheral.” “I agree,” Paige admitted. “At first, I wondered if we were just being paranoid, but after talking to Remi I know there’s something there. The question is, what. It’s entirely possible his actions are nefarious, but unrelated. I just find it interesting that he comes from New York. It seems all of our trouble has originated from that area recently.” “I’ll look into it and let you know what I find,” Nathan promised. “Do you happen to know the law firm? Where he worked before he moved west?”


Insidious Conspiracy “Actually, I do. He listed it on his website. Can you believe he just completed the official paperwork today and he already has a political website?” That alone made Paige suspicious. “Says he worked for Yarber, Sardano and Douglas the past fourteen years.” “Really?” Nathan perked up. “Meaning?” “Well,” Nathan considered. “Cole’s uncle just happens to work for the same firm. And, last I heard, YSD handled all of Retrocero’s contracts.” “Bingo,” Paige sat up straight. “Carmen searched for hours and couldn’t find the slightest connection to Paulina Kobrick but after ten minutes with you, we have a connection to Cole Reynolds. That is too much of a coincidence for me. And, it fits - in a roundabout way. These guys are trying to cause problems. The ATF agents failed, and their boss was pissed. Then, suddenly, Tolman has a challenger. Someone that will keep him preoccupied so he can’t help keep the rest of us out of jail. I have to warn you, I’ve exceeded my patience with these guys. If they want a war, they just guaranteed they’ve got one. Not just from me, but they’ve attacked too many people that are willing to fight back.” “Promise me you’ll be careful, and you won’t do anything impulsive or dangerous,” Nathan said, concerned. Paige was right, these guys just poked the dragon and before it was all over, Nathan was sure they were going to get burned. Fried to a crisp, actually. Paige and Sean’s wrath was bad enough. Toss in Sheriff Walters, the local DA and worse... an angry team of Rangers; and Armageddon was going to look like a tropical paradise in comparison. The group they were after had just made a serious miscalculation; one that was sure to end in disaster. Nathan’s day suddenly looked just a little brighter. Now, they needed Dax to recover and his team could take the offense. “Warn Walters and the DA,” Nathan decided. “Let them know this Moore guy is dirty and they need to watch out. This group is ruthless, and they are too unpredictable.” “How much can I tell Tolman?” “For now, just let him know we believe Moore is part of the group we are after. I’ll decide what he should know and when. Then, I’ll touch base when the time is right. Paige, don’t do anything reckless.” “Love you,” she said in response. “Now, I have to go. I want to stop by the hospital before 106

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 it gets too late.” She disconnected before Nathan could call her on the non-answer she gave him. She didn’t plan to do anything reckless… but desperate times...

***** Paige climbed from her bed and stumbled down to the kitchen. She needed coffee. As she poured water into the machine, sorrow engulfed her. This was the time of day that always reminded her of Dax. She missed their morning ritual and wondered if those days were gone forever. She started the machine then made her way to the living room to wait. She’d catch the morning news while she enjoyed the delightful aroma of freshly brewing java. “And in other news,” the anchor continued. “Manti’s race for District Attorney has already heated up. We have Trenton Moore in studio today. Mr. Moore, tell us about yourself and what’s happening in Manti. I understand there have been some developments since you announced your candidacy yesterday.” Well, that didn’t take long, Paige thought to herself. She turned up the volume so she could hear the rest of the report then made her way to the kitchen. Her black miracle of life was finally ready for consumption. And, this morning she was going to need at least three cups to get her moving. ***** Paige had just settled behind her desk when Jericho exited his office and made his way to her visitor’s chair. Once he was settled, he took a minute to study his deputy. “You look like hell.” Paige shrugged. “Feel that way, what’s up?” “Trenton Moore has filed a complaint with the county commission. He’s demanding they terminate you immediately.” “Awe,” Paige grinned. “Now, you’ve hurt my feelings.” “He has also informed me, he expects my resignation before the end of the day. And, Tolman should not only resign, but Moore is demanding our favorite DA pull his name from the ballot in the upcoming election; it’s the ethical and sensible thing to do after all.” 107

Insidious Conspiracy “How about an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland while he’s at it? I mean, if you’re going to be ridiculous... might as well ask for the world, right?” “So far, nothing about Disney; but he wants an answer on the rest immediately.”

Paige smiled as she raised her middle finger to her boss. “How’s that for a response?” “Can you send that to me in writing?” “Sure,” Paige flipped on her computer. “Just give me a minute, I’ll Google it and get back to you.” Jericho laughed. “That’s not necessary. I’ll pass on the sentiment, but my way will be a little more subtle. Did you have a chance to visit Dax yesterday?”

“Yeah,” Paige frowned. “No change.” “What about the gang of militants? Anything new I should know about?” “No,” Paige shook her head. “Not that I know of, anyway. Zeus tries to keep us informed as much as Hawk allows. I’m sure they’re up to something, I just don’t know what yet.” “Maybe Dax will rein them in, get them to cooperate,” Jericho stood. “We are all on the same team here. We want the same thing; it would be nice if those guys understood that.”

“They understand,” Paige shifted in front of her computer. “They just think they’re better equipped to handle it on their own. By the way, did you catch the news? Moore didn’t wait long to go public with his complaints. Sounded like a petulant child to me, I doubt he won the hearts and minds of the locals.” “I’m not worried about Moore,” Jericho decided. “He’s out of his league. Tolman might come across as dignified and easy-going but he’s no fool. He’ll punch back and punch hard. Trenton Moore won’t even see it coming.”

“Good,” Paige decided. “Another failure for them... a win for us. We’re stacking them up. Now, we just need to figure out our knockout move. I want every one of them behind bars or in a grave, from the man at the top all the way down to the bottom. No one escapes this, Jericho.” “I agree,” he gave her a nod of approval. “Now, get to work. I have a meeting with the Mayor.” 108

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 Paige cringed, opened her email and got to work. *****

Cole Reynolds glanced up and frowned. “We agreed you would never come here. Now there’s a record of us together. We need plausible deniability.” “I’m not visiting you,” the Colonel stated flatly. “I dropped by to deliver a bouquet of flowers to Flo. She loved them, by the way.” “Still,” Cole considered. “What do you want?” “You know what I want,” the Colonel said. “We need to escalate the attacks. Nathan Porter is defeating us at every turn.” “Nathan Porter is preoccupied with saving his team,” Cole countered. “Our goal was to keep him busy with other things so he would stop focusing on us. It’s working.” “That was your plan,” the Colonel disagreed. “Our first shipment is late. Our buyers are growing impatient. If we can’t deliver soon, they will find someone who can. We have millions riding on this mission. We need to up our game and shut down Porter for good.” “What do you have in mind?” “Let me take Hamilton out, permanently. Then we can focus on Porter. Hamilton should already be dead. Nassar was going to handle that little problem for us. Where he failed, Nox will succeed.” “Fine,” Cole said with a dismissive wave of his right hand. “He’s nearly dead already, take him out. I don’t see how that helps, but he’s insignificant at this point.” “He’s not,” the Colonel disagreed. “Because Porter will attend the funeral. It will get him out of DC and vulnerable in Utah where we can silently take him out, too. Then nobody will stand in our way. We’ll be back in business and the shipment can be sent immediately.” Cole didn’t like it, but the plan had merit. “I’ll agree to it on one condition. After Porter, the deaths stop. Nobody else needs to die. If we rack up too many bodies, it will make us vulnerable. Someone is bound to connect the dots, and you and I will end up behind bars. I’d like to keep my freedom. What good will millions do us if we can’t enjoy it?” 109

Insidious Conspiracy The Colonel didn’t agree, so he didn’t answer; just slipped away unseen. The same way he arrived. *****

“I want her fired immediately,” Trenton Moore growled. “She’s overstepped. She took a civil matter and turned it into a criminal fishing expedition. I have rights and Paige Carter is stomping all over them. I’m sure you don’t want me on your bad side, sheriff. The new District Attorney and the local police department will have to work closely together. Let’s start this relationship off right. Fire that insolent busybody before the end of the day.” “I’m afraid I have an entirely different point of view on this,” Jericho said, gritting his teeth. “Paige stays. You, on the other hand, can go.”

Trenton Moore’s face turned a bright shade of red, then went almost purple. “You’re going to regret this.” Jericho smiled as the infuriating man stomped out the door and slammed it behind him. He continued to smile when Margie appeared in the doorway. “Guess that didn’t go well?” “On the contrary,” Jericho stood and moved to the window. “I think we finally understand each other.” “And Paige? Does she still have a job?” Margie asked, knowing the answer. “What do you think?” Jericho frowned when he spotted the black government vehicle. “Why don’t you go home early today?” “Are they still out there?” Margie might go home, but she’d be calling Riley. Her son could be just as big a headache as the cocky lawyer that just left the building. And, she thought it was about time the ATF had a really big headache... of the Migraine variety. “Yeah,” Jericho turned back to face his assistant. “Go home, I’ll handle this.” “Expect a call from Riley,” Margie called back as she disappeared out the door. “Great,” Jericho settled back into his chair. “That’s all I need.” Just then his phone began to ring. “Sheriff Walters.” 110

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “Jericho, it’s Clark.” “I didn’t expect to hear from you until tomorrow at the earliest. What do you have for me?” “An intense desire to help you take that snake, Trenton Moore, down... hard.” “I think Paige might agree with you,” Jericho settled back to hear what Clark Anderson found. Everyone he knew would find it strange that he employed the services of a Private Investigator. But Clark was more than a typical PI. He had contacts the police could never cultivate, and the kid was a wiz when it came to fleshing out the dirt... no matter how hard a person tried to hide it. Jericho was sure the guy employed tactics and methods that would get an officer in hot water, but he didn’t care. He considered himself an ends kind of guy. “I don’t know what that means, but the guy is a con artist in a fancy suit,” Clark grumbled. “I’ve located two previous victims... families he claimed to be related to. He lied. Just like this time, he barged in, cleaned them out, and then split. The last one was two years ago. Grant Sudbury hit it big in the market. Lucked into a couple big investments that paid off in a big way. When he passed away unexpectedly, Trenton Moore swooped in and cleaned out his portfolio. Didn’t care that Grant’s daughter was counting on that money to pay for her child’s medical expenses. The kid has some rare disease and needs another surgery right away. If his parents can’t scrape up the funds to pay for it, the kid won’t live much longer... not that Moore cares. He shipped the money overseas. I’m still trying to find the account, but things are more... complicated in the Caymans.” “I might have someone that can help with that,” Jericho considered. “I’ll have Carmen contact you directly. She works for the feds and is the best I’ve seen when it comes to finding secrets. Whatever you can scrape up — that we can prove — would be great. The sooner we get that guy out of my town, the better.” “I’ll work with Carmen and see what I can do on my end,” Clark decided not to tell the good sheriff he planned to take the money from two years ago as soon as he found it. It belonged to the daughter and she needed it more than some slick, underhanded lawyer. He was sure Jericho wouldn’t rat him out, but he didn’t want his mentor to be disappointed. Clark Anderson owed his life to Walters. If he hadn’t caught him committing some petty theft years ago, Clark would probably be rotting in a cell today. Instead, Jericho came down on him hard... and protected him. He taught him honor and respectability. Stealing a bunch of money, even if he gave it to the victims of Moore’s crime, probably wouldn’t seem honorable to Jericho Walters. No, it would be better if Jericho didn’t know about it. 111

Insidious Conspiracy “Anything on the other guys?” “Uh... yeah,” Clark shifted gears. “Your two ATF agents seem legit. I think they are just following orders. Their supervisor, on the other hand, is questionable. The guy has a pretty serious gambling problem. Rumor has it he was in big trouble a few weeks ago, then suddenly he came into the funds to settle the debt. No word on who he sold his soul to, but there’s no doubt he sold it to someone. I could follow up, ruin the guy by turning him into Internal Affairs but...” “But the agents are harmless, so drop it. I’m not ready to ruin the guy... yet.” Jericho glanced back out the window and sighed. If they wanted to waste their day sitting in front of his office, he’d just ignore them. “You up for a slightly more difficult challenge?” “Bring it on,” Clark smiled. “I’ve got some free time, what do you need?” “I’ll email you the names of a few former Rangers. See what you can find.” “I thought you were working with those guys,” Clark said, surprised. “We are,” Jericho hesitated. “I just want to know who I’m working with.” “Alright,” Clark decided. “I’ll get started, but this one is going to take some time. It’s not easy to break through the brick wall the government erects to shield these guys.”

“Whatever you can find will be fine,” Jericho assured him. “Now, I’m going to let you go. Send me the bill. I’ll sleep on the Trenton Moore problem and decide how to proceed. I’d like the details, any documentation you have. I think Paige could use it in her criminal case.” “I’ll send you what I can,” Clark promised. “Give me a few weeks on the other assignment. I’ll be in touch.”

***** Paige, Carmen and Zeus walked slowly toward Dax’s hospital room. They were later than originally planned because Carmen got a call from a friend of Jericho and the two of them hit on something big. Paige didn’t know what yet, but Carmen seemed thrilled with the discovery. They were only a few feet away from the door when chaos erupted. Nurses 112

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 rushed past, shoving them to the side. A doctor made his way into the room and quickly shut the door. Paige didn’t take the hint. She shoved it back open and stepped inside. “What happened?” she asked a nurse that tried to rush past her. “I don’t know,” the woman said in panic. “Somehow the machine got shut down.” “His life support?” Paige asked in horror. “Yes,” the woman answered. “Please, give us space. Paige was about to argue when Carmen pulled on her arm. “What?” “I found the camera,” Carmen glanced above them. “Can you get it? Without them knowing?” Zeus asked. “Give me a second,” Carmen pushed a series of buttons on the device she was holding then motioned to Zeus. “Go ahead, grab it.” Once Zeus pulled the device from the wall, he handed it to Carmen. The two women silently left the room. They were standing in the hallway, discussing their options when another alert sounded. “What’s going on here?” Carmen said in surprise. They watched as several nurses rushed by. Once again, chaos reigned. Paige and Carmen stepped just inside the open door unnoticed. They were in a room that was across the hall and a few doors down from Dax. For the second time in minutes, they witnessed medical personnel frantically trying to save the life of a patient. This time, they failed. Carmen fiddled with the recording device still in her hand for several seconds, then placed it on a table nearby. She turned to Paige and pressed a finger to her lips in the universal sign for silence. Paige gave Carmen a questioning look. Her friend flashed a huge smile then mouthed “no video, just audio” to Paige. They waited as the nurse shut down the monitor that had a solid green line brightly displayed across the dark screen. The room went uncomfortably silent once she eliminated the distinct, loud, solid beeping sound. Almost as one, the medical personnel stepped back from their patient in defeat. “I’m calling it,” the doctor announced. “Time of death twenty-one-thirty-seven.” 113

Insidious Conspiracy Carmen pointed to a large plastic cup positioned next to the sink. It was half-full of dark liquid. Paige snatched up the cup and held it out to Carmen. Her friend grabbed the recording device and dropped it into the cup. “Let’s get out of here,” she said as she turned toward the door. The device sizzled for a second, then gave a soft pop as they stepped into the hallway. “I think it’s dead,” Paige dropped the cup into a nearby trash can. “Yeah,” Carmen grinned. “And our enemy thinks Dax is, too. Should buy us a little time. Hopefully, enough to develop a plan to keep him safe. But I have to ask... what is going on at this hospital? Two machines just coincidentally go off at almost the same moment. What are the odds?” “Not as long as you might think,” Paige glanced back at the man’s room. It was silent now. “That’s the fourth time this week that patient has gone into cardiac arrest. I asked the nurse about it yesterday. He’s an elderly patient. She said he was suffering from heart failure. They’ve been trying to reduce the water that’s collecting around his heart, but the medication caused his kidneys to shut down. There was apparently nothing they could do for him but make him comfortable. The nurse I talked to said it was a miracle they were able to bring him back yesterday. They expected him to go last night, this morning at the latest.”

“So, we just got lucky and the timing worked out for us,” Carmen glanced back at the closed door. “It’s sad, and I honestly didn’t think it would work. I assumed they’d revive him the same as they did Dax. I just thought...” “You saw an opportunity and you used it,” Paige said in understanding. “I would have done the same.” “Does that make me an awful person?” Carmen wondered. “I just took advantage of a stranger’s pain and suffering.”

“No, it makes you acute and quick thinking,” Paige smiled at her friend then immediately sobered. “Someone tried to kill Dax tonight.” She should have anticipated that. After all, he was a threat that Nassar had already tried to eliminate. The two friends silently made their way back into Dax’s room. It was nearly empty now. Zeus was standing in front of the large window, silently staring into the darkness. Dax was connected to the same machines, which were now working again. 114

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “The doctor said he’s stable,” Zeus moved to stand next to Carmen. He took her hand and focused on Paige. “I’m heading downstairs to the cafeteria. I need coffee. You want anything?” “No, I’m good,” Paige moved closer to the bed and took Dax’s hand. “Take Carmen, she can fill you in on what we just did. If we’re lucky, it bought us some time.” Carmen grabbed her tablet off the table, Zeus must have set it there, then moved to stand next to Paige. “I’m going to send the new information on Trenton Moore to your boss. I think with what I’ve uncovered, what Jericho’s PI friend added, and the documentation from you it should be more than enough to arrest him immediately.” “Okay,” Paige said absently. “Paige,” Carmen waited for a response. “We don’t know how long Dax... well, we can’t be sure there wasn’t damage. You need to prepare yourself. He may not recover from this. And, if he does, he may never be the same.” “I know,” Paige settled into a chair next to the bed but continued to hold Dax’s hand. “I can’t go there right now.” “Let’s go,” Zeus moved in and pulled on Carmen’s arm. “Paige needs a little time alone with Dax.”

“We won’t be long,” Carmen assured her. Once her friends had left, Paige rested her head on the side of Dax’s hospital bed and let herself cry. She knew Carmen was right. If shutting off the machine had cut off all the oxygen to Dax’s brain, he may never wake up. Or worse, he may never be the same as he was before. For such a strong, independent man... any amount of brain damage would be worse than death. It was time to discuss the unthinkable. When Zeus returned, she’d broach the subject of shutting off the machines for good.

***** Dax hurt...everywhere. But something told him he had to open his eyes. Was he awake? Partially awake? Where was he? Suddenly, he remembered where he was. Nassar was trying to kill him. He’d escaped the warehouse, fled into the woods and the brick wall... he 115

Insidious Conspiracy remembered the brick wall. He had to find a way over the brick wall. Then a flash of pain. Was he lying helpless in the forest? He had to get up. He had to run before Nassar found him and finished the job he’d started days ago. His eyes flew open, expecting trees and damp ground. Instead, he was surprised to see dim lights and cabinets. He glanced to the side and realized he was connected to some type of machine. He was in a hospital. How had he gotten here? Was this just another sick torture method Nassar thought up? Was the liquid flowing into his body some kind of poison? Or truth serum, maybe? A noise to his right caught his attention and he turned his head slightly to investigate. Paige, not Nassar. Did Paige find him? Save him? It took him a couple seconds to realize she was crying. He had to do something, soothe her somehow. But his body ached, and he wasn’t sure he could move. Paige bolted upright when she felt Dax squeeze her hand. Was that just an involuntary muscle spasm or something miraculous? Her gaze landed on his face and she was shocked to see he was awake. “Dax?” “Hey,” Dax croaked. “Do you think a guy could get a sip of water? My tongue feels like sandpaper.” “Dax!” Paige jumped to her feet and ran to the door. “Nurse! I need you in here, now!” “Paige?” Dax said in confusion. “I can’t believe you're awake,” she moved to the sink and filled a small cup full of water. “Just take a sip. The nurse will tell you if it’s okay to have more.” Right on cue, a friendly nurse stepped into the room. “What’s going on? You said you need help?” “He’s awake,” Paige beamed. “He says he needs water. Is that okay?” “Let me get you a mug of ice water and I’ll page the doctor,” she turned and disappeared in an instant. Dax waited, impatiently, for the nurse to return. Why the strange reaction? He was about to ask when Zee and Carmen stepped into the room. “What’s going on?” Zeus asked immediately. “He’s awake!” Paige pointed at Dax. 116

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 Zeus shoved the coffee at Carmen and rushed to the bed. “Man, is it good to see you awake.” “How long was I out?” Dax asked.

“Two months,” Paige practically whispered. “What? Seriously?” “You had complications after surgery and slipped into a coma,” Zeus added. “Dude, you had us worried.” “Wow,” Dax was shocked by this new information. “What happened to Nassar? Did he get away?” “Thor shot him, right after he shot you off that wall,” Zeus said, still smiling. He couldn’t believe his friend was finally awake. “Thor?” Dax frowned. “What was he doing there?” Distrust settled in the pit of his stomach as he remembered the phone call he’d overheard. How many of his friends had turned against him? “The gang all came running when they heard you were in trouble,” Zeus answered. “Hawk, Thor, Wooly, even Jeeves managed to get away to help.”

“And Vato?” “Naw,” Zeus settled onto the couch. “He’s still deployed... Iraq, again. Sucks for him, he was supposed to have at least a year before another mission.” Dax frowned. Vato was in Iraq? And, his friend and informant had fled Iraq with sensitive Intel that the enemy was desperate to retrieve. Coincidence? Not likely. “You think you’re up for visitors?” Zeus asked. “I need to let Hawk and the others know you’re okay.” Dax considered for several seconds. “Not yet, close the door.” ***** “It’s done,” the Colonel said, sliding onto a chair across from Cole Reynolds. “Dax is no 117

Insidious Conspiracy longer a problem.” “Already? You’re sure?” Cole asked. “Yeah,” the Colonel shrugged. “Vox was in Vegas. Took less than five hours to get in, shut down the machines and bolt. He’s on his way to Salt Lake as we speak. Piece of cake.” “And you’re sure it worked?” “I’m sure,” the Colonel frowned. “But that bug you gave us failed. Something went wrong when they rushed in to save the soldier. We lost video, but the sound held out long enough to hear the doctor pronounce the guy. He’s dead alright, went down just after nine -thirty Utah time.” “Good,” Cole relaxed a little. At least something had finally gone their way. “We may need Vox to return, though.” “I figured we could use him to take out Porter. He’s going to hang out in Salt Lake for a few days, then he’ll swing by Manti and eliminate the irritating general.” The Colonel waved down a waitress to order a whiskey. At least Cole had access to a nice club they could use for their private meetings. The guy was beyond paranoid about getting caught. He really needed to lighten up a bit. Things had shifted and they were back in business. Next task... get rid of Nathan Porter. “Porter is... missing.” “What do you mean, missing?” Cole shrugged. “No idea. My guy went by the office as we discussed. He was all set to tail him, but Porter wasn’t there. The secretary said he left this morning, went out of town. If I had to guess, he’s visiting his wife. We still haven’t been able to locate her. I’m guessing Nathan shipped her off, sent her into hiding until this whole thing is resolved. We’re approaching the weekend; he’s probably just visiting his woman for a few days.” “Then we’ll have to watch the airport in Utah,” the Colonel decided. “We won’t know when he heads out, but it will take at least a couple days to plan the funeral. Chances are pretty good they’ll wait until early next week. I’ll call Vox, tell him to lie low for a couple days then head out and monitor incoming flights for Porter.” 118

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “Good idea,” Cole tipped his glass and downed an entire shot in one gulp. “I doubt he’ll arrive before Sunday, so Vox has a little down time before his next mission.”

***** Nathan Porter stepped through the revolving doors of the hospital and made his way to the information desk. The trip had been impulsive... something he prided himself in never being, but he had a gnawing feeling he was needed in Manti. “Can you tell me what room Maddax Hamilton is in?” “Are you family?” the woman asked. “Yes,” Porter lied. She tapped a few keys, then rattled off a room number and wished him well. Nathan stepped from the elevator and made his way down the extended corridor. It wasn't long before he spotted the room number he’d been provided. He frowned when he realized the door was closed. Should he knock? No, Dax was unconscious. He’d just step inside and take a peek. His frown deepened when he realized the door was locked. Now what? He rattled the handle again, hoping to get someone’s attention. The door swung open and the man known as Zeus peeked out.

“Porter? What are you doing here?” Zeus asked in surprise. “I came to visit Dax... and Paige,” he pushed on the door and Zeus immediately took a step back and swung the door wide open. “Come on in,” Zeus invited. “We were just discussing a few things.” Once Zeus closed the door and locked it again, Dax spoke. “Porter, what are you doing here? You should have stayed in Washington.”

Nathan was surprised to see Dax was awake. That must be a new development or Paige would have called. He glanced around the room and spotted his girl standing in front of the window. She turned slowly toward him, then closed the distance and practically fell into his arms. Nathan immediately began to rub her back. The girl was a mess. He should have come sooner, but she sounded okay on the phone. In person, he could see she’d lost weight and, if he had to guess... she’d barely slept in weeks. 119

Insidious Conspiracy “I was expecting a greeting that was a little more... friendly, Dax. Glad you’re back among the living.” “You misunderstand,” Dax pushed himself into a sitting position. The task took more energy than it should have. “I overheard a conversation Nassar had with... well, someone I considered a friend. They want you here. They were trying to figure out a way to lure you here. They need you out of Washington and out here, you’re vulnerable. Nassar was going to orchestrate a fatal crash. They thought they could take you out and make it look like an accident.” “Somebody tried to kill Dax tonight,” Paige added. “These guys are determined to get him out of the way for good. Carmen and I made them think they succeeded.” “Looks like I left town just in time,” Nathan wrapped his arm around Paige and guided her to the couch. Once they were settled, he pulled her closer and pressed a fatherly kiss to her temple. “They don’t know I’m here. In fact, they have no idea where I am. I caught a ride with a friend. I won’t be on any passenger list. And trust me, they’ll be watching.” His mind was racing, and he thought he knew the enemies plan. “If I’m right, they tried to kill Dax to get me out here. I would never have missed his funeral... especially with you involved.” He placed a gentle kiss on Paige’s forehead. “They didn’t expect me to take off before they put their plan in motion. I left early this morning, stopped in to see Sophie, then came straight here. I’d already left the airport by the time they made their attempt on Dax here. We have a little time before they catch on. So, if they think you are dead, why all the secrecy and the locked door?” “Because,” Zeus said soberly. “Dax was about to tell us why he doesn’t trust his own team.” “The Rangers?” Nathan asked. “Yes,” Dax nodded. “Nassar was in touch with Vato,” Dax focused on Zeus. “And I want Zee to convince me he’s not involved. He and Vato go way back... nearly as far as Vato and Thor. I’m thinking it’s a little too convenient that Thor shot Nassar before anyone could question him.” “You can’t seriously believe any of us would betray you like that Dax,” Zeus objected. “And if you don’t trust me by now... well, there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. I’m outta here.” 120

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “I trust you,” Dax grinned. “And that’s the response I was looking for. You pass. Thor? I won’t know until I speak with him. Vato was close to all of us, but those two are tight. If he went to anyone for help, it would be Thor... then you, Zee. But he’d also know you’re the first two I’d suspect. Anyone that showed up to ‘help’ in my time of need... well, they’re now on the suspect list.” “What does that mean?” Carmen asked. “It means I need you to do me a favor,” Dax focused on Carmen. “I need you to run all my men. Go deep, I want everything... phone records, financials, the works.” “Hawk will know as soon as I do,” Carmen warned. “He’s doing the same on us. The minute I start looking into him, or any of the others, he’s going to find out.” “What?” Zeus barked. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “The same reason she didn’t tell you I already had her run an initial check on your team,” Nathan said soberly. “Carmen is a professional and she knows when to keep things to herself. Telling you would only cause problems. You’re not exactly known for your patience and tolerance. If you knew the team was spying on us... yes, all of us... you would have confronted Hawk about it. We didn’t want him to know we knew.” “You and I...” Zeus focused on Carmen. “We’re going to have a nice long, private chat about all of this later.” “A basic run wouldn’t work on my men,” Dax told Nathan. “It was worthless and a waste of time. They all know how to cover their tracks. Carmen needs a full, deep run. See what you can find on the black web. Financials will be hidden somewhere, offshore most likely. Start with their phone records. They wouldn’t use their regular cell, see if anyone purchased burners recently.” “Hawk did,” Zeus provided. “He issued one to all of us. You have the numbers, Carmen. Run those first.” “Does that mean you’re coming around?” Dax asked. “No,” Zeus disagreed. “But the sooner we clear them, the sooner we can focus on the real targets. None of these guys had anything to do with your abduction... I’d stake my life on that.” “I hope you’re right,” Nathan mumbled. 121

Insidious Conspiracy “Thor has been out of town for over two weeks,” Paige focused on Zeus. “Where is he?” “He didn’t say,” Zeus shrugged. “Just said he had an emergency he had to handle. Thor is not involved in this and nobody will convince me he is. Sure, he’s close to Vato, but he’s loyal to Dax. He’d die before he put his leader in danger. You may not trust him, but I do.”

***** Jericho made his way toward the room Dax was occupying. He knew he’d find Paige inside. He tried to turn the knob, but the door was locked. He knocked briskly, concern taking over when his knock went unanswered. He was just turning, to track down a nurse to open the door, when it suddenly flung open. Zeus stood, blocking his entrance and wearing a scowl. Jericho pushed past the man and glanced around the room. “General,” he said in greeting. “Sheriff,” Porter acknowledged. “I heard what happened,” he glanced at Dax and was surprised to see he was now awake. “Welcome back, son.” “Thanks,” Dax watched Jericho as he moved to address Paige. Maybe, the good sheriff could help until he cleared his team and knew who he could trust. “I guess my offer for around the clock protection isn’t needed,” Walters settled into a chair across from Paige. “Not at the moment,” Paige glanced at Carmen. “We bought us all a little time.” Paige proceeded to explain what Carmen had done and why they were sure the enemy believed Dax was dead. “And at the moment, they don’t know Nathan is in town. We’d like to keep it that way.” “I agree,” Jericho told her. “Now that Dax is awake, any idea how long he has to stay? I’d like to move him before anyone realizes he’s alive. I’d suggest my cabin, but I don’t think you can get to it, yet.” “The guys are staying at his place, but we could put you up,” Zeus gave Carmen a pleading look. 122

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 “Yeah,” Carmen nodded. “I have room at my place; and, this way — if you want — we can even keep your condition a secret from the men. Hawk’s a bit of a... well, he’s not much of a team player if you’re not one of his precious Rangers. He never drops by these days. If he wants something, he just drops in next door and grills Paige.”

“What about Nathan?” Paige asked. “If we suspect one of your guys... he can’t stay with me or they’ll know.” “Nathan is going back to Washington,” Dax said staring at his current boss. “Aren’t you?” Nathan grinned. “I’m staying with Paige tonight, then I’ll make arrangements to return to Washington sometime tomorrow. By the time anyone realizes I was here, I’ll be on my way back to the cesspool of corruption. Don’t worry about me.” “I appreciate you taking the time to check on me,” Dax added. “But in light of the fact they want you out of the way, I think that’s where you need to be. In Washington, directly in the way of any future plans they might have. We need you to keep the committee going, keep the pressure on... officially. And, I’ll do what I can to keep it on from here... unofficially. Once I get settled with Zee and Carmen, we’ll touch base and coordinate a new plan.” “I agree,” Nathan stood and held a hand out to Paige. “You ready to head home. I could use a little rest and I want to have some time to visit before I head back.” “Uh,” Jericho stood, too. “I need just a minute with you, Paige, before you take off.” He turned back to Dax. “Get some rest, I’ll meet up with you tomorrow. It really is good to have you back.” “Good to be back,” Dax told him. “Before you take my girl, can I have just a minute alone?” Everyone left the room to give the couple some time to reconnect. Paige moved forward and settled on the side of Dax’s bed. “You scared me.” “I know,” Dax took her hand and began drawing circles on her palm with his finger. “I’m sorry.” “I know,” Paige sighed. “We’re going to get through this,” Dax promised. “Will you come back tomorrow and get me? I want some time with you. We need to talk things through. I’ll tell you everything I 123

Insidious Conspiracy know; you tell me what’s been happening since I was taken by Nassar. You are the only one I truly trust, Paige. I’m 99.9% sure I can trust Zee. He’s always been solid; and he would have given his life to protect me, I know that. I also know, he would have tried to stop Williams and Nassar from abducting me, but I ordered him not to. If I hadn’t, he’d be dead. If he was working with them, he would have reacted... or acted differently. But I’m 110% sure I can trust you. We need to present a united front going forward, do you think you’re up for that?” “Absolutely,” Paige climbed onto the bed and snuggled in close to Dax. “I need you, Dax Hamilton. Don’t ever scare me like that again.” Dax leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to Paige’s lips. “I’ll do my best.” They stayed like that for several minutes before Paige stood and sighed. “I need to go. I wish I could stay with you tonight, but I think I should spend the evening strategizing with the good general. Plus...” “Plus, you miss him, and he rarely makes it out for a visit. I’m wiped out anyway,” Dax assured her. “Once you all leave, I think I’m going to call it a night and try to get some rest. Hopefully, I’ll have more energy in the morning.” “I’ll be here as soon as I can,” Paige promised. She gave him one last kiss, then stepped into the hallway in search of her boss. It didn’t take long; he was casually leaning against the wall across from Dax’s room. “Let’s step in here,” Jericho motioned to an empty waiting room a few doors down the hall. “Is something wrong?” Paige asked the moment the door closed. “No, it’s good news, Paige, not more bad news. I came by to check on things here... on you, but also to let you know that between your investigation, the complaint from Remi, and the stuff Carmen sent over; we were able to arrest Trenton Moore about an hour ago. He’s furious; and so far, he’s not talking; but he’s not going anywhere. He’s going down for felony fraud, at least two counts. There was another family a couple years ago that lost everything because of him. He’s going to pay for a very long time. And Tolman is now running unopposed again.” “Sophia Burgess also heard about Pauline’s will and how Remi was in limbo until it all gets settled. Apparently, the two women played bridge every month and Sophia was more than 124

Paige Carter Season 3—Episode 1 a little angry when she heard the news. She asked Remi and his family to stay with her for a while. Remi’s wife has agreed to take care of Sophia until she recovers from her injuries. The spunky old woman was facing months in a rehab center; but knowing she’ll have full time care at home has appeased the doctors and they’ve agreed to the arrangements. Oh, and you’ll be happy to know Fairfax has dropped the unlawful death suit against Dean and the department. Apparently, Ethan Cabet decided to focus on his criminal defense rather than waste time on a frivolous civil case he knows he can’t win. With all that... and Dax’s miraculous recovery, I’d say this is turning out to be a stellar day.” “I thought we lost him,” Paige whispered. “When someone snuck in and turned off the machine, I thought it was over. Then, suddenly, he was awake and squeezing my hand in comfort.” “Sounds like Dax,” Jericho pulled Paige in for a hug. “It’s been a long two months. Go home, take tomorrow off and catch up with the arrogant General. If you want a few days with Dax, I can swing it. It’s time you put you first for a while, Paige. You’re tired, stressed and on the brink of collapse. I’m here if you need me, all you have to do is call.” “Thanks,” Paige choked back tears. She was tired and stressed, but she was also relieved. Dax was going to be okay and she had an entire evening with Nathan. They had a lot to catch up on and... they needed a plan. “I’m okay, but I appreciate the offer. I will take tomorrow if that’s okay. I need to get Nathan back to Washington and help to get Dax settled. For a while, Dax is going to count on me... and I’m going to have to count on you. There’s not a lot of trust in this group. I’m glad I have you.” “The feeling is mutual,” Jericho gave Paige a hug. “Now, go spend time with your guest.” “Oh,” Paige stopped at the door. “What happened with the ATF?” “They’re still around,” Jericho shrugged. “If they want to waste their time following me around... I can live with that.” Paige couldn’t and she planned to broach the subject with Nathan as soon as they got back to her place. There were a lot of subjects she planned to broach. Sean Wilkens was another. In the meantime, she was going to rejoice in the fact that Dax was okay. Better than okay, he didn’t seem to have any permanent damage from his ordeal. Today was a good day and Paige was determined to embrace it.