Connections eMagazine November 2022 Edition

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2022 | Quarter 4
IN THIS ISSUE… Exclusive interviews with critically acclaimed authors Freddy Cruz and Jennifer Anne Gordon, USA Bestseller Anna J Stewart, Award-Winning novelist JP McLean, and Author / Poet Jessica Bell

Connections eMagazine


from the Editor

The Purpose of this eMagazine is to connect readers with authors and bloggers. This is a FREE eMagazine that is produced quarterly. Our final issue this year is dedicated to cozy reading in front of the fire, holiday fun, and cold weather activities. I hope you’ll take the time to look around.

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”

Anna Quindlen

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.



Author Interviews… In this issue we are excited to announce multiple in-depth interviews with amazing authors. Get to know acclaimed authors Jennifer Anne Gordon (42) and Freddy Cruz (126). Get ‘Exposed’ to USA Today bestseller Anna J Stewart (6) and her new Circle of the Red Lily series. Get advice from author, poet and cover designer Jessica Bell (26) And, learn more about AwardWinning novelist JP McLean (98) and her newest Supernatural Thriller Ghost Mark.

Volume 8 Issue 4
• Bitten by Sarah Hindmarsh • A Spooky Book Collaboration by Sylva Fae • Creating Book Covers — Author vs. Reader by Jessica Bell • Autumn Apples by Melanie
Smith • Growing Bookworms by Robbie
♦ A Picture is worth 1000 Words — Multiple Authors • First Chapters Light, Love, Rituals by Ronesa Aveela • The Shadow at the Edge of the Wood by Sarah Hindmarsh
Writers’ Lives—Val Tobin Paige Carter Author Tips & Tricks Blogs | Stories
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” @ConnectionsEMagazine
Frederick Douglass

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

Would you like a listing in the next issue of Connections eMagazine? Click here for submission requirements. EDITOR… Melanie P. Smith COPY EDITOR… Sylva Fae PRODUCED BY… MPSmith Publishing ♦ Shannon Felton ♦ Daniele Cybulskie ♦ Carrie Carter ♦ Diane Bator ♦ Diann Floyd Boehm ♦ Jane Baird Warren ♦ Julie Gianelloni Connor ♦ Krista Lockheart ♦ Natasha Deen ♦ Matthew Bennett Young ♦ Stephanie Ellis ♦ Matt Hughes ♦ Daemon Manx ♦ Gayle M. Smith ♦ Vikki Stark ♦ Chantal Bellehumeur ♦ AI Winters ♦ Joe DeRouen ♦ Melanie P. Smith ♦ Tamikio L. Dooley ♦ Maggie Cobbett

“ Atmospheric, vivid and intense, this is modern romantic noir at its best.”

~ NYTimes Bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz


Circle of the Red Lily Book One

Hollywood secrets. Deadly reveals. The newest thriller by USA TODAY bestseller Anna J Stewart

“… a page-turner with images that will linger long after you finish the book. ”


Academy Award

Nominated Actress & Author Meg Tilly


Anna J. Stewart

Return of the Blackwell Brothers

The Nemesis Files

Heartwarming Christmas Town Series

The Prisoner of Stewartville

Stewartville. A town living in the shadow of the prisons that drive its economy. Haunted by the ghosts of its past. Cursed by the dark secrets hidden beneath. A town so entwined with the prisons waiting outside the city limits that it’s impossible to imagine one without the other, or to ever imagine escaping either.

When a teenage boy digs into the history of the town, he discovers a tunnel system beneath Stewartville, passageways filled with dark secrets. Secrets leading not to freedom, but to unrelenting terror.

Stewartville. Where the convicts aren’t the only prisoners. B0B67BGWZM

“This book was fast paced, tense, and full of creep factor. Not only was the horror potentially supernatural, but there was the horror of humanity (murder, drugs, prostitution, domestic violence, etc)”

Rescue and Reading

Shannon Felton lives in Buckeye, Arizona with her husband, their four children, and three dogs. The Prisoners of Stewartville is her debut novella.

Follow her on Twitter @ShannonNova3

Shannon Felton The debut novella that speaks to secrets within a dying town by the horror genre’s newest sensation, Shannon Felton

I waited for him in a faded restaurant in a small, rainy town on the main line between Brussels and Paris. There were mirrors on the walls all around the room. The strange thing was, when he arrived I couldn’t see him in any of them. I knew he was there though, I could feel the chill on the back of my neck.

“So that’s why you wanted to meet at night,” I said, taking a sip of my wine.

“And you are not afraid.”

It was a statement, not a question. “I’ve encountered worse things than vampires in my time.”

“And did you know what I was when you chose a restaurant with mirrors? ”

“I didn’t. The mirrors were supposed to make sure you couldn’t creep up on me unseen.” He didn’t say anything. I took another sip of my wine. It was a bit too dry for my liking but it was my third glass and I was past caring.

The vampire took a seat next to me. He ordered a whisky and we waited in silence until the barman brought it over, his slender fingers tapping on the bar just a fraction too quickly. The vampire grinned at the barman, exposing the deformed teeth beneath the impossibly pale lips and slightly too-blue eyes. The man made an excuse about restocking before tripping over his own feet in his hurry to get away from the creature. I couldn’t help myself, I laughed. The vampire regarded me with a puzzled look.

“Most people would say his reaction was the more sensible,” he said. “Most people don’t live in the same world I do.”

I drained my glass, and immediately regretted it. The barman remained conspicuous by his absence and my chances of another drink didn’t look good.

The vampire peered up and down the bar, then hopped over it with the same ease with which I would hop over a loose paving stone. My stomach lurched. I wondered if taking a life was that easy for him too.

“I’ll start a tab,” I said as he jumped back over the bar with a bottle of expensive-looking red wine in his hand.

“So what made you request an interview with the vampire?” he said, pouring two glasses of wine.

“Your best line is the title of a book?” I said drily.

“People are so poorly read these days there are very few that recognise it,” he said. “I am pleased to find someone who does.”

“So are you Lestat or Louis?”

“I prefer to think of myself as more of an Armand,” he said. “Lestat and Louis were far too emotional, too involved in the lives of the insignificant, too inconsistent in their motivations.” His expression changed. He knocked back his drink and refilled his glass. “Who do you wish taken care of?”

I pulled an envelope out of my handbag and withdrew an A5 photograph of my estranged husband. I pushed it along the bar but the vampire barely glanced at it.

“His name is Mark. I would divorce him, but we have a prenup.”

“And this, Mark, he is not a good man? ”

I laughed.

“That’s one way to put it.”

The vampire regarded me carefully. I looked at the floor, but it didn’t help. His glare made the hairs on my arms tingle uncomfortably.

“Fine, he’s a cheating scum bag who gets violent when he drinks, is that good enough for you?”

He drained his glass of wine again.

“Yes that is good enough.”

There was a twinge somewhere in my gut and beads of sweat formed on my forehead as I battled the panic threatening to overtake me. Poor Mark! He wouldn’t hurt a fly. I knew the vampire would not agree to the hit unless he thought the target deserved it. I found it strange that he should have such high standards in killing for other people when he had no such standards for his own kills.

“When?” I asked.

“What are his movements in the next few days? ”

“He’ll be in Paris for three days, he likes to walk along the canal St Martin every evening at sunset.”

“Very well, the day after tomorrow then. Payment must be made in full by tomorrow morning.”

“The money was in the account you gave me two minutes after you sat down,” I said, but he was already walking away. When I was sure he was gone I pulled out my phone and pressed redial. It took so long to get an answer I was sure it would go to voicemail. I half hoped it would. At last there was a click and a voice at the other end of the line, a voice so horrible it was as though someone had taken the sound of pure evil and made words from it.

“Hello Ms Grant, I wasn’t sure if I would hear from you again.”

“He’ll be there, the day after tomorrow,” I said clenching my fingers around the stem of the empty wine glass. “One thing though.” I took a deep breath. “There’s a complication. I knew there was something unusual about him, but until today I didn’t know what.”

“I had expected as much. What else could have made you dare to approach someone like me? What kind of complication? ”

The voice sounded bored, not worried.

“He’s a vampire. Does that make a difference?”

There was laughter at the other end of the line. Or an attempt at laughter that sounded more like a lion roaring. I found myself shaking, and had no idea if it was with fear, or rage.

“No Ms Grant it does not make a difference to me. If the other vampires in his coven find out you were the one who hired me however …”

“I don’t care. Just take him out.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’ve been waiting for this a long time. Wipe the monster that killed my son off the face of this earth. If you can.”

I didn’t mean it to sound like a challenge, but it did anyway. There was another roar of laughter.

“Ms Grant I can assure you, there is not a vampire alive that can stand against one of the guardians of Hell. It will be done, and in time I will collect my price.”

The line went dead, but the sound of hammering in my ears did not cease until I reached the bottom of the next glass of wine. I left money to cover the tab and a tip for the bartender, a good one, to compensate for his fear, then I left. It was cool as I exited the restaurant, and a few drops of rain dripped onto my face from the gutter. I wiped them away with one hand as I fumbled for my keys with the other, and headed for the rented car. Then I caught sight of my hand in the light of the lamp post.

I stopped; my legs incapable of taking another step, my mouth frozen in an O. All across my hand were red streaks. Not raindrops I had wiped away. Blood. There was a blur of movement beside me. A strong, cold hand grasped the back of my neck and an iron arm clamped around my chest. Something fell to the ground beside me with a thud. I looked down and found myself staring into the glassy eyes of the dead bartender. Something had ripped out his throat.

“Did you really think I would be that stupid? ” said a voice in my ear.

Sarah Hindmarsh is a vet student turned teacher turned writer. She has won, and been nominated for, multiple awards and prizes for her children’s fiction, short stories and poetry, and also writes revision guides and books of writing prompts. She is currently writing her first novel for grown ups – an LGBT+ high fantasy. In her spare time Sarah likes to compete in various equestrian sports and nap on the sofa with her dog, Kohla. Sarah is also autistic and ADHD, and writes personal essays about living and working as a neurodivergent person in a neurotypical world.

Connect with Sarah Hindmarsh at:

Sylva Fae & Sylva Rose

A Spooky Book Collaboration

Firstly, I should point out that I borrowed my pen name, Sylva from my littlest daughter. At first, she was embarrassed by it (I’m a mum, it’s my job to be embarrassing right?) but after I was recognised in the local chip shop as ‘that bee lady’, then again on the number 3 bus to town as ‘that fox lady’, she started to realise it wasn’t too bad and she could take the credit for the name on the books. I perhaps should explain that I’d recently done readings in a local school of my books, Bea & Bee and Yoga Fox, hence the strange names.

Anyway, back to the reason for the article, our spooky collaboration The real Sylva (as she would like to be known) was off school in isolation, thanks to a quarter of the class testing positive for Covid19. All children were fine but rules must be followed. So, Sylva and I were chatting about the characters in her class and I suggested she help me write a picture book. I figured it would be a fun and educational activity we could do together, (and I secretly wanted to write rather than home school).

While it started out as an excuse to write a book instead of home schooling my daughter, it was actually an amazing experience and one I hope we can do again. Who better to give ideas for a children’s book, than a child? She was brilliant, if a little naughty describing the characters of children she knows, but we changed the names to protect the innocents. The story is about a Halloween parade which grows as each costumed child joins the line. It includes all the usual characters that seem to be in every class. Clueless Bob, named by Sylva, is the child who never seems to know what is going on, and joins the parade late because he forgot the date. Copycat Abi is the child who can never come up with her own ideas, so copies the others in class in a bid to be more popular. Stinky Pete sadly represents the smelly child there’s always one who has terrible flatulence and the body odour of a pre teen. Sylva based the character, Lazy Alice on herself, as she’d join in but can’t be bothered with dressing up costumes any more.

In addition to naming the characters and helping to define their characteristics, Sylva also helped with the design process, choosing the colour scheme and font and getting the overall ‘vibe’ of the book right. (Apparently, the ‘vibe’ has to be right and who am I to argue with a 10 year old?) Thanks to her input, the Real Sylva now declares the book to be ‘cool’.


So, our spooky collaboration is called Halloween Parade. It has been published by Hatchling Press, which is the children’s arm of Dragon’s Lair Publishing. The book is available through Dragon’s Lair Emporium or via Amazon. Parade

The Blurb

It’s Halloween night, it’s dark and it’s spooky. The children of Shadewood School are dressed to scare. Dare you Follow the class on their Halloween parade?


How medieval monastic practices―with their emphasis on a healthy soul, mind, and body―can inspire us to live fuller lives today

We know that they prayed, sang, and wore long robes, but what was it really like to be a monk? Though monastic living may seem unimaginable to us moderns, it has relevance for today. This book illuminates the day-to day of medieval European monasticism, showing how you can apply the principles of monastic living, like finding balance and peace, to your life.

With wit and insight, medievalist and podcaster Danièle Cybulskie dives into the history of monasticism in each chapter and then reveals applications for today, such as the benefits of healthy eating, streamlining routines, gardening, and helping others. She shares how monks authentically embraced their spiritual calling, and were also down to earth: they wrote complaints about being cold in the manuscripts they copied, made beer and wine, and even kept bees

How to Live Like a Monk features original illustrations by Anna Lobanova, as well as more than eighty color reproductions from medieval manuscripts. It is for anyone interested in the Middle Ages and those seeking inspiration for how to live a full life, even when we’re confined to the cloister of our homes.

As a writer, TEDx speaker, former college professor, and podcaster, Danièle has made medieval history fun, entertaining, and accessible for millions of people around the world. As well as introducing a general audience to the fascinating world of the Middle Ages, her books, articles, videos, and weekly podcast have been used as resources in schools and universities across North America.

Danièle’s mission is to share the joy of history by highlighting our common humanity across time and space. When she’s not reading, writing, or recording, Danièle can be found drinking tea, doing Krav Maga, or sometimes building a backyard trebuchet.

Daniėle Cybulskie

Jessica Bell

Jessica Bell is a multi award winning author/poet, a highly sought after book cover designer, and singer-songwriter who was born in Melbourne, Australia.

In addition to having published a memoir, five novels, three poetry collections, and her bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, she has been featured in a variety of publications and radio shows such as Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, Life Matters, and Poetica.

Her latest book is called Can You Make the Title Bigga? The Chemistry of Book Cover Design. She is also the Publisher of Vine Leaves Press, and currently resides in Athens, Greece, with her partner and son, and a pile of dishes that still don’t know how to wash themselves despite her consistently teaching by example.

For more information visit:

Let’s ease you in gently. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you start writing and why?

Well, as a child of parents who were songwriters and musicians, and also artists in other ways such as painting and drawing, I was singing before I could speak. Around the age of 11, this turned into poetry writing, and then song writing, and playing piano and guitar. When I reached high school, I became extremely passionate about creative writing too. Already by age 16 I was writing short stories and at least one new song a week on my 12 string guitar.

During my last year of school, I had a strange obsession with graphic design. But as I was terrible at maths, I failed my graphic design class, and didn’t pursue it, because the school put a huge emphasis on graphic design leading into a career as an architect, and I just wanted to be creative. I was told to sign up for an ‘Art’ class. All the meanwhile, my music was going strong, but my grades weren’t perfect. All A’s and B’s in the English and Creative subjects, and mostly Ds in maths and science, etc.

Those Ds meant I couldn’t even get into my first choice of university course, Professional Writing at Deakin University, and I had to settle for Arts at Latrobe. At university I majored in English and focussed all my energy on my band. We were called spAnk, and we won some major competitions, got radio airplay, and TV appearances. But then, I fell in love with a boy in Greece and moved here, leaving behind everything I had achieved music wise by the time I’d turned 22.

The responsibility of being an adult in a foreign country wasn’t easy so many of my first years were spent earning a living working in bars and restaurants. By the time I turned 25, I had landed a job at a publishing company as an editor of English Language Teaching books, where I learned the ins and outs of editing, publishing, and eventually into writing ELT text books. I stayed in that career for eleven years. Around age 29/30 I had the urge to write a novel. So, I did, sneaking in writing time before and after my day job. That novel was titled String Bridge, and was published in 2011 by a small press called Lucky Press.

Unfortunately, just six months after its release they liquidated, and so I chose to self-publish it.

This was the beginning of me becoming my own boss. I had the publishing and editing know how, so I thought, why not try my hand at designing my own book covers? Turns out that teacher in high school who told me to do ‘Art’ didn’t know what fff they were talking about, because now being a self taught freelance graphic designer is how I earn a living. Designing book covers may be my main income, but I am still writing books and music.

So far, I’ve published 5 novels, 3 poetry books and 4 writing and publishing reference books. I've won a few literary awards, and book cover design awards. From 2016 2021, I was the lead singer of a group called Keep Shelly in Athens. I also have my own music projects, BRUNO, and Mongoa. And last but not least, I am the Publisher of Vine Leaves Press, which has been going strong since 2011.

What would be your idea of the perfect holiday?

After the first three years of being a mother, I would say anything that doesn’t require that I wade through the day-to-day domestic struggle!

You have recently written a book called Can You make the Title Bigga? I love it. Tell us about this book and why it came about?

I recently gave a course on book cover design via Jericho Writers. The organizer said that it was the best book on book cover design that they’d ever had. Alarm bells went off. It made sense to expand it into a really awesome reference book.

Subscribe to my newsletter:

Can You Make the Title Bigga

The first aspect of your book the reader sees is the cover. I know the well worn maxim, you can’t sell a book by its cover, but it certainly helps the reader pick the book up and explore further. I know I have bought books I wouldn’t usually read because the cover was so attractive, I just had to pick it up and look further. So, I bring you this review of Can You Make the Title Bigga by Jessica Bell, a book which gives an insight to the art of cover design.


Understand the chemistry of book cover design in Can You Make the Title Bigga? by award winning book cover designer, Jessica Bell, who is recommended by Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur,, John Fox of Bookfox, and more.

Are you self publishing? Can You Make the Title Bigga? will inspire you with practical, actionable advice and information.

Work in marketing or graphic design in a publishing house? It offers an invaluable resource.

Studying graphic design? Already designing book covers professionally or with dreams of doing so? Find inspiration for designs, workshops and classes.

• why book cover design is so important, whether you’re self-published, indie, or traditionally published

• the elements of an eye catching, professional cover design

• how to research and choose potential book cover designers

• some of the biggest challenges an author and a designer face during a collaboration

• the balance between creating a book cover the author loves, the designer loves, and a potential reader loves

• how to prepare for a collaboration

• how to ensure a smooth sailing collaboration

• costs and recommended designers

and much more! Review

I would like to start my review by stating, quite categorically, that I consider this book a must buy for all authors. I appreciate that is a somewhat strong statement, but I make no apology for this, and my review will outline why. The book takes you through every aspect of cover design and all you need to know to form an effective partnership with your cover designer. Bell uses her trademark humour and skilled use of words to walk the reader through the way in which a designer works and how the author often works against them. She does so in a way that enlightens rather than placing blame and uses examples to do so. I had several lightbulb moments when reading. Yes, authors have strong opinions about cover design, but we need to be ready to listen to why these may not work and why they need to be adapted or even put to one side. All the examples are backed up by stunning images of book covers, with explanations of why they do and don’t work. Other images show the evolution of cover design as tastes change and evolve. This book is witty, engaging, entertaining and above all educational. I will finish the way I started it’s a must read for all authors.

From Jessica Bell’s witty, kind, and thoughtful perspective, you will discover: Author Wendy H. Jones

Which of your books should readers start with if they want to read your books?

I think How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness would be the best. Start at the most recent and work backward, since my craft has improved immensely with each book.

Tell us a bit about your publishing house and what you publish.

We like to blur the line between commercial and experimental works. We publish book-length vignette collections, writing reference books, short story collections, memoir/autobiography, and character-driven novels with a literary bent.

You are an eclectic writer memoir, literary fiction, non-fiction for writers. Why so many genres.

I write what I feel like writing when I feel like writing it. I’m doing this for myself, first and foremost.

Out of all the genres which is your favourite and why?

I love them all for various reasons. Literary and poetry for the ability to be experimental and creative, and nonfiction for the ease of spurting out a book about subjects I have a lot of knowledge about.

As well as being an author you are also a cover designer and publisher. I’m curious, why all three?

Vine Leaves Press wouldn’t be the success that it is today without my writing and design know how. I know what makes a good book on the inside, and I know how to sell a good book from the outside. I think they all feed very well off each other. Despite that beautifully aligned synergy, I get bored doing just one thing. I really thrive off having a variety of creative tasks to sink my teeth into.

Interview Continued

Author vs. Reader

As writers, we’ve all heard the advice, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t interpret this as writing about experiences that we’ve had first hand, but as subject matter we feel passionate enough to write about. If we don’t write from the heart, from a place of honesty, then it’s unlikely readers will get emotionally invested in our work.

In the 10+ years I’ve been doing this job, 80% of my clients come to me with cover art ideas loaded with personal meaning that does not translate well when designed. Unfortunately, when it comes to covers, an author who isn’t experienced in book cover design, or isn’t willing to learn, needs to let go of those ideas to end up with a competitive cover. When a reader sees a cover, they aren’t likely going to relate to it in the same way the author of the book does because they haven’t read the book yet.

Just for a moment, put yourself into the shoes of a reader browsing through a physical bookstore. What thoughts go through your head when you are inclined to pick up a book and read the back cover? For me, as a fan of literary and speculative fiction, memoir and mind, body, spirit nonfiction (I love books about the brain!), it’s something like the following:

The Balance Between Creating a Book Cover the Author Loves, the Designer Loves, and a Potential Reader Loves


… oh, this reminds me of …

… oh, this looks like a good character-driven read for a rainy day

… hmm, this might be too soppy, I want a bit of grit, pass …

… ooh, this looks like something I could enjoy over summer …


… oh, this looks like an entertaining take on the subject …

… hmm, too authoritative and bland, I want sassy! …

… oh, that looks like advice I could benefit from …

… hmm, I don’t think I could take this author seriously …

What are my thoughts dripping with? Expectation.

So how do we strike a balance between meeting a reader’s expectations and fulfilling an author’s expectations? As an author, try to keep an open mind, and understand that your book cover designer knows what they are doing and what readers want. A designer doesn’t only want to create something beautiful for a bookshelf, they want to create something that functions. And that function is to entice and sell.

I understand, as a writer, marketing is a secondary consideration. When I started out as an author, I thought that I’d just be able to hire someone else to do it, and

forget about it. You can hire someone else to do it, but you can’t forget about it. One of the greatest pieces of advice I can offer you as an author regarding marketing is: don’t fight it if you don’t understand it. Your desires will never just be disregarded. If there is any way to use them and please your audience, it will be done!

Designer vs. Author

Many authors forget that designers aren’t just service for hire. We are also creators of art. That means we are investing our creative souls in an author’s project too. I can’t speak for other designers, but if I

didn’t let myself get creatively and emotionally invested in my work, it wouldn’t be worth publishing. This means that there is a fine line between satisfying my artist’s soul and delivering a cover that the author is in love with too. Don’t get me wrong, if I give myself credit as the designer, it means that I love the cover too, and that I’m proud to display it as part of my portfolio. But sometimes there are covers that make my heart sing so much that I can’t believe I was the one who actually created it. I’m sure, as writers, you can relate to this feeling. I experience this with my own writing and song writing sometimes too.

Since I always create three sample designs to begin with, it is always with great suspense when I send them through to the client. Though I’m always happy with them all, there is typically one sample that is my ‘baby;’ the sample that is the wild card; the sample which I decided to go out on a limb and deviate from the brief a little. When I design these wild cards, I design them from the perspective of my Vine Leaves Press publisher hat who has total creative control over the cover design of VLP books. When designing for VLP I always try to do something a little different while also attracting the intended audience. With fingers crossed, I hit send. Sometimes the client chooses my baby, and sometimes they don’t. If the latter happens, I of course have a little internal cry, but then get on with the job. Luckily, I am set up to sell my babies as pre made covers for a fraction of the typical cost.

Designer vs. Reader

Sometimes when I’m browsing through Amazon bestsellers, looking through covers for inspiration, I feel a great sense of loss. This is because I’m constantly faced with the same formulas over and over. And I’m bored. Take a look on the Internet at all the orange covers of books set in Africa.

I’m bored of all the orange covers of novels set in Africa. I’m bored of all the thriller covers with shadowy figures walking into the distance. I’m bored of all the beach reads set in Greece with women clutching their sunhats looking off into the horizon. I could go on. But I won’t. I won’t because rather than this having a negative impact on me, it has a positive one. I want to challenge myself to use these trendy tropes and make them even more attractive and beautiful and unique. I will not settle for ‘that looks about right.’ My aim is to get readers to adore the cover as much as the book, and hopefully enhance their reading experience.

Connect with Jessica on social media:

Instagram: @jessicabelldesign and @yesiamjessicabell

Twitter: @iamjessicabell


Facebook: @jessicabelldesign and @jessbell.vineleaves


Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey’s Adventures in Japan

A stunning debut by Carrie Carter

Carrie Carter has a profound love for Japan, cats, sumo, dioramas, and eating unusual foods. She has traveled with her husband Jim to Japan fourteen times, so her numerous

holidays across her favorite country were the inspiration for her first book, Whiskers Abroad: Ashi and Audrey ’s Adventures in Japan. Carrie has run multiple marathons including the Tokyo Marathon, and, as expected, Carrie and Jim live with an adorable cat named Frenemy, who was unhappy at not being selected as the model for the book.

She started and has been playing in an ‘80s band, Molly and the Ringwalds, for over two decades now! In addition to playing the keyboard, Carrie also plays the recorder and bagpipes.

Carrie lives in Houston, TX, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. At home, she loves to cook, design/create Halloween costumes, daydream about meeting Jacques Pepin, and watch Elvis movies, although not necessarily at the same time. She dislikes overly dramatic music used in reality TV shows. Currently, Carrie is working on her second book, a sequel to Whi skers Abroad, where Audrey and Ashi explore further into Japan and get themselves into even more interesting predicaments.

Whiskers Abroad is a lively travelogue featuring a trip to Japan shared by two main characters, Audrey and her cat Ashi, who alternate recounting their versions of events. During a twelve day trip, the pair visit several cities. Adventures abound. Audrey is still trying to find her place in the universe, while Ashi believes Audrey would sink beneath the waves were he not present to rescue her. Audrey’s daily horoscope offers tantalizing clues as to what’s in store for the pair. Written by Carrie Carter and designed by Stacy Vickers, Whiskers Abroad is both an amusing travel story with unforgettable characters and a useful guide for tourists going to Japan. Lavishly designed, Whiskers Abroad will delight both your eyes and your sense of adventure.


Autumn is the peak season for harvesting apples. Once picked, apples should be processed immediately. There are several ways to accomplish this. The most common are canning, dehydration, fermentation and freezing. One of my favorite ways to preserve apples is to can them in a water bath. This year, we had a bumper crop so I processed applesauce, apple juice and apple butter.

Apples have been a staple wintertime crop for hundreds of years. If you’ve ever preserved apples, you will understand why — the taste is amazing.

When the apples come in, it can be intimidating. A single tree can produce 30 bushels of apples annually. Even dwarf trees can produce 3 to 6 bushels that’s a lot of apples. If you have a lot of apples, get creative in addition to the usual

choices are limitless. So, let’s get started.


Select firm, but ripe apples. Don’t worry if they have small imperfections. You can cut off the bad spots.

Cleaning Preparing

Rinse and place apples in large container of water. Add sanitizer to clean bacteria from apples (optional). To keep apples from browning, add ascorbic or citric acid to the water.

Cut off damage. Remove stems and chop into quarters. There is no need to peel or core the apples because these will be strained out after cooking


• Place apples in a large sauce pot and add 4 6 cups water depending on the size of the pot.

• Heat on high until water begins to boil. Reduce heat.

• Cook on medium until apples are soft (15 20 minutes depending on apples). Fruit will begin to release its juices, look slightly transparent, and become mushy. They are done when fork goes in easily. Simmer slowly and avoid overcooking because it can destroy the flavor. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching.

• Drain water, run through strainer to remove seeds, cores and skins. Continue recipe depending on what you are making.

try apple cider jelly, dehydrated apple slices, fruit leather, pie filling, apple cider vinegar … your

Measure out pulp and place in a thick bottom sauce pan.

Add sugar to taste. Add spices (optional) Add lemon juice

*** If sauce is too thick, you can add water to thin out pulp.***


1/2 1 inch

approximately 12 cups
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Cinnamon Applesauce
4 6 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Ginger (optional)
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg (optional)
Applesauce Ingredients •
pulp • Sugar (start with 1/2 2/3 Cup and increase by 1/2 cup until you reach the desired sweetness). A general rule is 1/8 Cup sugar per quart of sauce. •
Yield 6 pints
on stove and bring to boil. Fill jar leaving
headspace. On average, 21 pounds of apples are needed per canner load of 7 quarts. 13 14 pounds are needed for 9 pints. A bushel weighs 48 pounds and yields 14 19 quarts of sauce approximately 3 pounds per quart.

Apple Juice

If you have a juicer, you don’t need to cook the apples. Just wash and quarter, removing the cores and run through electric juicer.

If you don’t have a juicer, prepare fruit as you would for applesauce then add pulp to a large saucepan. Add sugar (start with 1/2 cup and increase as needed). Sweet apples may not need added sugar.

Add 3 Tbsp lemon juice

Simmer for 7 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and blend until smooth. Run through a strainer to remove pulp.

Process for 20 minutes (pints) Process for 30 minutes (quarts)

The canning process for apple juice is quick and easy since it ’s full of sugar and acid.
Apple Butte r Ingredients • 16 Cups apple pulp • 1/2 Cup Lemon Juice • 8 Cups bakers sugar • 1/2 Cup brown sugar • 5 tsp Cinnamon • 1/4 tsp Ground cloves • 1 tsp Allspice • 1/4 tsp Salt

Heat on medium until sugar dissolves and ingredients are well mixed. Remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/2 to 1 inch headspace. Process in water canner.

20 minutes for pints | 30 minutes for quarts. Adjust processing time for your elevation using the USDA canning guide. Remove from water bath and place on cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 8 hours before handling.

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

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

Jennifer Anne Gordon is a gothic horror/literary fiction novelist. Her work includes Beautiful, Frightening and Silent which won the Kindle Award for Best Horror/Suspense for 2020, Won Best Horror 2020 from Authors on the Air, was a Finalist for American Book Fest’s Best Book Award Horror, 2020. It also received the Platinum 5 Star Review from Reader’s Choice as well as the Gold Seal from Book View.

Her second Novel, From Daylight to Madness (The Hotel book 1) received the Gold Seal from Book View, as well as The Platinum Seal from Reader’s Favorite, her third novel When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk (The Hotel book 2) Was published in late 2020

http://www.JenniferAnneGordon .com


Exclusive Interview with Jennifer Anne Gordon

Certainly, my name is Jennifer Anne Gordon, I am an award-winning horror novelist. My novel Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent won the Kindle Awrd for Best Horror/Suspense for 2020, and my novel Pretty/Ugly won the Helicon Award for Best Horror for 2022. I am an active member of the Horror Writers Association, as well as Mystery Writers of America. I am a committee member (Agents and Editors) for the New England Crime Bake convention. For the past 12 years my “day job” has been as a professional ballroom dance instructor. I have performed dance all over the country, my favorite performances have been at the Urban Garden Room in New York City, at Urban Arts in Philadelphia, at the New Orleans Fringe Festival, as well as the Dublin Irish Festival. I live in a gothic haunted house in rural New Hampshire with my husband and dance partner, and our silly little dog, Lord Tubby.

Are you a multi-genre author or a single-genre author? How did you decide what types of book you would write?

While the books I have published now tend to be more on the gothic horror side, I do write a lot of memoir, and creative nonfiction essays (with some horror imagery and poetic language thrown in. I also have a few books in the works that lean more towards upmarket women ’s fiction with a dark comedy and crime aspect to them. As far as deciding what to write, I try to follow my muse as much s possible, and when in doubt I talk to my amazing literary agent Paula Munier of Talcott Notch. She understands the publishing industry so well, and she is always helpful in guiding me in the right direction creatively, but also with the know how of what is

Can you tell us a little about yourself? going on publishing wise on a wider scale. I also am very active in some writing circles and the writers there help guide me as well—especially when it comes to sharing work—it is always inspirational to see immediate reactions when reading something. It lets me know if I am on the right track.

Mark Twain said “Write what you know.” Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you plot, plan, and conduct hours of research; or, do you just sit down and write whatever comes to mind based on your personal history and knowledge? I am a little bit of everything. My first novel I like to joke took 20 years and then 2 months to write. I had tried to write that story in a few different ways. A play, poetry, a graphic novel when I finally sat down to write it I thought it would be a short story, but then novel came out. I had nothing planned, but the story had been alive in my head for years. My two novel “Hotel” series I did some historical research, but most of the plot happened as I was writing it. My novel Pretty/Ugly I had an idea for the two main characters, and I knew the very last scene, but I had no idea how they would get there when I sat down to write it. Most of Pretty/Ugly was written in very short bursts or writing sprints. The novel I can ’t talk about (The one out on submission) I started with just a title and a vague concept. This was by far the hardest way to write—the book I have just started working on I have been outlining. LOOSELY. But I do know the beginning, middle, and end… so it feels less chaotic, and I can make the most of my writing time.

Tell us your latest news: I very recently finished a novel that I have been working on for over a year and a half. I can’t go into details about it, not even the title…but I am pleased to say that the book is “out on submission” now. It is a very exciting time and I hope to have an announcement soon(ish). I am staying busy while this book is out on sub by writing a new novel, as well as taking some writing classes with the incredible literary author Diane Zinna, as well as the horror and crime master, Chelsea Cain.

How much of the book is realistic? I would say even with my horror work, I tend to write on the realistic side. My characters are always based very much in reality (even if they are slowly going mad…). My horror work is not really minster based, but more emotion based. So, I write grief horror, or things based on childhood trauma that later manifest itself through horror imagery.

I love to explore the idea of what it means for a character to be haunted. I love playing with the ideas of gothic literature with dose of “your past is alive in the present”.

Do you have a mentor that helped or encouraged you to follow your dream of writing?

I consider Diane Zinna my mentor. She has been an incredible teacher, and reader of mine. She is always a huge fan of my work. She is one of the most talented writers working today. Her novel The All Night Sun is a masterpiece. I would also have to include my agent Paula Munier as a mentor, especially in regard to writing crime fiction. There are many other people that inspire and encourage my writing as well, they are too many to mention.

What are your current projects? I have a small collection of a few short stories, they are literary horror, as well as some creative nonfiction pieces that have a strong horror element to them. I am not really sure what will happen with this collection, as everything is on hold while my unnamed novel is out on sub. I also have a new book I am writing, a dark comedy/muder novel. This one is still very early on in the process, but I am in love with my quirky lead characters already.

What do you want written on your headstone and why? I’ve never thought of this, but I suppose I would not be opposed to having this quote from Sylvia Plath “Out of the ash I rise with my red hair. And I eat men like air” or even this one from Anne Sexton (though I already have this as a tattoo) “We are madness talking to ourselves, noisy and alone. ” These are two of my favorite quotes, and I love that they are lyrical and dark. Perfect for a horror and crime writer.

Critically acclaimed Literary horror author

Other than writing do you have any hobbies? I love photography, and travel. My husband and I try to travel at least once a year to a place we would love to photograph. I adore abandoned buildings and urban exploring in general. Other than that, teaching my dog tricks, and I guess reading—though I think reading and writing go hand in hand. I also have some old dollhouses that I plan to turn into “haunted dollhouses.” My husband and I used to a lot of mixed media artwork together, and we plan to take the type of artwork we made and transfer that style to the dollhouses. So expect lots of layers of peeling paper, and walls made out of old books.

If money was no issue would you prefer a cozy beach bungalow or a rustic cabin overlooking a mountain lake? I will say beach bungalow for sure, but even more that that I would prefer it to be on a rocky coastline…not necessarily a sandy swimmable beach. Though if a rumbling villa in Italy were an option, and it should be if money is no object …then I would choose that instead.

One final question...Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it? Do you have a social media platform where your fans can go to interact with you and follow your progress? My website is http://www.JenniferAnneGordon .com from there you can find all the links to my social media. I am most active on Facebook and Instagram, but people can always contact me through my website if they have a pertinent question. I also host the popular literary podcast Vox Vomitus (search Vox Vomitus on Facebook. We go live there most Wednesdays at 6pm EST). On that show my cohost (Allison Martine) and I talk to bestselling and trending authors about all the ways things can go horribly wrong on the way to finally going right during the creative process.

Your novel Pretty / Ugly was the winner of the Helicon Award for Best Horror 2022. Can you share a little of your book with us?

Interitus: noun. ruin; violent/untimely death, extinction; destruction, dissolution world.

Omelia fills the empty place in her heart with Instagram clicks, likes, and subscribes, hiding the scars of grief under a mask of makeup, cloaked in an online personality. She yearns to be someone new: a girl in a magazine, a character in a book, a beauty queen. Anything not to feel, to be numb, but the sharp pain accompanying the red spot on her face cannot be ignored. Nor can the black, spindly tarantula like vines that creep up the side of her face and the fever she spikes, forcing her to confront the fact that the person she has become may not be who she is at all.

Dubbed ‘the New JFK,’ Sam is the heir apparent to a powerful but emotionally distant political family, living the life he neither dreamed nor wanted. He sleepwalks through his days filled with self loathing, rage, boredom, and an ache under his heart that reminds him that he is not complete. He is roused from slumber when a political scandal erupts that coincides with the end of the world. Too many Adderall and Old-Fashioneds leave Sam wondering, is he crazy or haunted? When lives are emotionally ended in childhood, it takes an apocalypse to see the ephemeral beauty of living again.

"Pretty/Ugly, the story of two damaged people living in a dystopian nightmare, is an exquisitely written horror novel. But, is it really fiction? In these times, it seems chillingly possible for an Instagram star and a politician wrapped in a façade of is own to be facing a relentless pandemic that may well lead to the end of the world... Pretty/Ugly is a deliciously frightening, absorbing tale that seems all too real." - Wendy Webb

(The Haunting of Brynn Wilder)

"More than a simply a fine horror fantasy, this is a highly polished psychodrama exploring early trauma, identity, life’s exigencies, and fates all woven together in a stunningly creative tapestry of a unique novel. Jennifer Anne Gordon is on the ascent as a literary figure of stature! " Grady Harp, Top 100 Amazon Reviewer.

Pretty/Ugly is a lyrical, hallucinogenic train ride through the end of the world. It ’s the story of two people falling in and out of loneliness as the end draws near. Each moment is more beautiful and terrifying than the last. Pretty/Ugly is the combination of Contagion and Lost in Translation I didn’t know I needed. It’s Lost in Contagion” – Allison Martine (Author of the Bourbon Books)Pretty/Ugly


As Most of You Know, My Name Is . . .

She was barely able to drag her ass out of bed today. She felt it; she was destroyed. Last night’s drinks left her with a throat that felt like it was filled with cat hair and dried grass. The rest of her just felt a little raw. Her lips were swollen, and her mouth felt tender and chapped. She remembered Kim. She reached up and touched the back of her head, it was sore. She remembered it had hit the wall at one point. She tried to smile, but even a smile hurt.

She hadn’t had that much to drink, just a few fruity concoctions with the girls before the slow, smoky, and sad descent into whiskey . . . Girls. That stretched the truth. Girl. Last night it was just a girl. Only a girl. Girl.

This morning she felt like she was still there in that stupid bar, Lampadario; the music seared into her skin, eighth grade razor blades. Her eardrums hurt. It was too loud to have a conversation. She spent the whole night sipping 18-dollar Cosmos as she screamed, “What?” every time someone tried to talk to her. She only remembered one of her conversations from last night, but maybe it’s not that she can’t remember the others, maybe she never even heard them. She only heard one. She half-remembered it was about love languages and buildings that collapsed against you . . . and at the end of the night, it’s not conversations that matter anyway. The thing that mattered now was how the world saw it. Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is what she had tried hard in the last ten years to build her life on. Building blocks like this are precarious and, in the end, even memories felt like falling downstairs.

It’s the photos and selfies she got when she was there, when she felt her life through anyone else’s eyes. She posted a few to her Instagram earlier and the hearts started coming in almost right away. She knew they would. She knew her audience.

She shied away from the windows like a vampire and swished some room temperature water around in her mouth. She looked out the large windows near her bed, all the buildings on the other side of this city looked like empty picture frames. She was lucky; the renovated mill building where she lived had high ceilings and huge windows. The bottom floor and the two sub basements of this building were filled with sand to kill the Anthrax. The building was once a slaughterhouse. It killed herbivores, cows, sheep. Some of them had been sick. This is why this apartment building started three floors up; everything else was sand, and on top of that, expensive apartments.

The Merrimack River, which during early spring ran high when the snow from the White Mountains melted, made the river sound like an ocean squall as it barreled through Manchester; it cut the small city into two parts. Omelia could see across the river to the West Side of the city. She saw the steeple of Saint Marie’s Church as it tried to fight against the earth and reach out almost touching the sky. When she was a little girl, she went to school close to there. It was a sprawling Catholic school that somehow seemed in her memories to be made up almost entirely of basements. That building is empty now and does nothing besides take up space and hold squatters in what has become, in the years since her childhood, a sketchy drug filled collection of scraps. Now it is called a neighborhood.

When she was young, there were little worlds and small communities in that part of “Manch -hattan.” They all lived in shabby houses and in three floor walk-ups. They were mainly French Canadian speakers. She and her classmates all had parents who had thick French Canadian accents, their voices sounded like work boot leather. They mangled the word order in most of their sentences. She remembered her father screaming up the narrow stairwell in her childhood home how he was able to scream and be exhausted as he said, “Throw me down the stairs my slippers.” No matter how many times she tried to correct him he never seemed to get it right.

She ran her hands through her hair; it still had enough product in it from last night that she thought she could get away with not doing anything to it at all. Her face was free of makeup as she needed to be, and she was lucky enough, even now as she barreled towards thirty, that even without makeup she was what most people would call striking, not pretty, and thank God, not attractive. When she had makeup on, she was more than striking she was a work of art, a small, framed portrait in a gilded frame that hung on a museum wall. She was the Mona Lisa; except she was hot.

Today she saw that there were shadows under her eyes. Her delicate, papery, thin skin had a blue tinge to it, and it darkened to an almost plum in the corners of her eyes. She leaned in closer to the halo mirror that was set up with her light and phone. The camera settings were perfect. They took at least six years off her skin. Even so, she thought she could see little veins; they reached though her eyelids like famine and hunger. She looked at herself, and all she could think was that she looked like the worst kind of Dickens character.

Without makeup, she was the laundress, at best.

Maybe she looked more scrounged up than she thought she did. Maybe she was tired. It didn’t matter though at least it wouldn’t soon. She changed the setting on her halo light to the rose gold setting, and she noticed an immediate change in her appearance. Her mirror saw her as healthy, vibrant, and effortless. If she faked it long enough it could almost pass for happy.


She smiled, she could do that now, her real life, her make believe life only started when the camera was on. Her hand tousled her perfect messy bedhead in place. Everything before and after this didn’t matter.

She knew when she genuinely smiled that her mouth was crooked, and she felt it made her look like the worst of Picasso’s paintings the ones he did on plates and napkins when he could not afford the check. She also knew that when she smiled, she looked like her mother; her father used tell her that when she was a girl. His eyes would grow cloudy and unfocused. They would brim almost to the surface with tears. He went quiet after that and would stare out the kitchen window for hours. He never spoke; there was nothing to say. She tried to understand his grief over losing his wife, not to death but to indifference, but she was so little and understanding someone else’s sadness was impossible. It was easier for her just not to smile.

To not remind.

She checked her Instagram one more time before she switched her camera on. She is close to 1400 likes on a selfie from last night, in less than two hours; it ’s not bad, it could be better. She smiled again, her real smile, her crooked one. She knew when she wore a corset made of book covers that it would be a hit. She switched over to her camera and placed it in the stand. She switched the filter to vibrant, and that filter and the rose gold light combined with the natural light from her windows would be perfect. It changed her dull green eyes to an almost emerald with specks of gold. Her dark auburn hair shined with a vibrant red in this light. This is who she is now, who she was meant to be the whole time. She started up her live stream. She was barely done waving at the camera, and she saw there were 447 people watching already.

Her laugh was deep and throaty; she had taught herself to do this without letting out a natural smile. She glanced at herself one last time in the mirror; the blue shadows under her eyes were not noticeable in this light. She breathed in and exhaled slowly.

“Hey everyone, thanks for joining me today, as most of you know, I’m Omelia.”

“Pretty/Ugly is a modern gothic filled with sensuality, dread and a dark kind of love that can only exist during an apocalypse ..."

The Highland Dancer

A Nova Scotia girl deeply embraces her Scottish heritage through the art of highland dancing.

With her family's ongoing support, Ainsley's growing talent and determination lead her to win multiple dance competitions which seeds her eventual career as a renowned dance teacher. FDeFgEHA0PY

Chantal Bellehumeur is a Canadian author born in 1981. She has 19 published books of various genres as well as numerous short stories, memoirs, poems and articles featured in compilation books, eMagazines, plus a local newspaper.

For a complete list of publications, including free reads, visit the following website:


Chantal Bellehumeur

It was a MacKinnon family tradition to attend the Highland Games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia every July; the three-day festival was a grand celebration of Scottish music, sports, and culture.

Ainsley had gone to the Scottish festival every single year since she was born, but her earliest memories dated back to when she was four years old. She remembers watching some of the female Highland dancers practicing a choreography on the green grass of the well maintained field, and clumsily trying to imitate their feet and leg movements while hopping. She held her left hand on her hip like a teapot handle and her curved right one up in the air with her fingers pinched. Her parents apparently thought it was cute, and asked her if she would like to take dance lessons. Ainsley had excitedly said yes while jumping up and down.

The young girl was just as excited when she went shopping with her parents for her dance clothing. She required a bodysuit, dance shorts, knee high socks, and of course Ghillies.

After trying on her first pair of dance shoes, Ainsley did not want to take them off. Duncan ended up paying for them and carrying his petite daughter to the car with the black leather Ghillies still on her little feet. Ainsley only removed the soft shoes when it was time for her evening bath, but would have entered the water filled tub with them on had she been allowed to do so.

In the weekly half hour children’s Highland dance classes Ainsley ended up taking, she learned a basic Pas de Basques step as well as Highcuts. Although easily excitable, she was always attentive when her pleasant seventeen-year-old teacher showed her and the other little girls around her age new steps.

Ainsley loved practicing all the moves to the various bagpipe music Miss Melanie played in the small dance studio. She also liked looking at herself in the large floor to ceiling mirrors when she danced, to make sure she was doing everything right. When she got frustrated at doing something incorrectly, Miss Melanie would calmly tell her it was okay and to keep trying. “You’ll get it,” she always encouraged with a smile.

After each class, Ainsley always enthusiastically showed her interested parents what she learned. She rarely took off her beloved Gillies afterwards, and sometimes wore them to bed. Ainsley danced in her dreams.

If she felt like performing and her parents were too busy to watch, Ainsley placed all her stuffed animals and dolls on the living room couch and lively danced for them without music. She would sometimes mimic bagpipe noises with her vocal cords as she performed. Ainsley would always bow at the end of her random solo shows, and thank her special audience for watching.

When Ainsley’s grandparents on her mother’s side visited, they would ask Ainsley to dance for them. She was more than happy to do so, and would run off to get her dance shoes; if she was not already wearing them.

Seeing their precious granddaughter cutely bounce around energetically always brought a smile to the Wilson’s faces. They clapped at the end of her short performances and yelled out “Encore!” Ainsley would dance for them again and again until she ran out of energy.

Book Excerpt:

Last month, I discussed physical interactive books for children and their benefits. You can read this post here: publishing/connections emagazine 3rd quarter-2022/page/65

This month, I am sharing the pros and cons of digital interactive books for children. Firstly, what is an interactive eBook?

An interactive eBook is an ebook that has elements with which the reader can directly interact. This type of ebook has a lot of touchpoints where the reader can interact with videos, audio recordings, links and other content.

I read several articles about the benefits of eBooks for children and the experts believe that reading print books to toddlers and small children results in a better reading experience for the child. Research shows that children and parents/caregivers interact more frequently with one another when they are reading a paperback book and turning pages, and the quality of their interactions are better. This translates into better language development, literacy and bonding with caregivers.

The above being said, there are benefits to eBooks. Enabling children to learn new words and improve their fine motor schools are two of the more obvious benefits. The ability to engage with the storyline and possibly make choices, teaches children to weigh up options and improves their decision making abilities.

For reluctant readers, animated sounds, actions and special effects in books makes them more interesting and helps develop an interest in books and reading.

For economically disadvantaged children or children in settings that do not allow for borrowing books from public libraries, eBooks are a cheaper option.

Parents can accumulate a digital library for their children at a fraction of the cost of a physical book. eBooks are also a more environmental friendly option as they do not use as many natural resources. Children whose parents work long or unusual hours and can’t read to their children, benefit from having stories read to them by a digital reader. eBooks also provide for parents to read to their children when they are not in the same location. Parents and children can synch their ipads or iphones so they can interact on their screen in real time while holding an audio conversation. This is beneficial for parents whose jobs involve travel. The down side of eBooks in this context is that too many sounds, actions and special effects can distract the child from the story as they don’t focus on it, but rather on the interactive features. There is a concern among experts that many eBooks available commercially are targeted towards amusement and emphasis multimedia, colours, sounds and other interactions and do not encourage literacy and language development. Studies have concluded that multimedia elements that enhance an understanding of the text benefit children, while those that draw the child’s attention away from the story, are non beneficial.

If you are interested in having a look at what is available for children in the eBook line, Amazon does stock them. Here is a link to one such book called Another Monster at the End of This Book…Starring Grover & Elmo! There are a number of interesting reviews for this particular book.

What do you think about eBooks? Have you tried them? Do you think they are the future of children’s books?


Connect with Robbie…

Robbie Cheadle is a South African children’s author and poet with 9 children’s books and 2 poetry books. She has also published 2 books for older children which incorporate recipes that are relevant to the storylines. has 2 adult novels in the paranormal historical and supernatural fantasy genres published under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle. She also has short stories in the horror and paranormal genre and poems included in several anthologies.

A.I. Winters is an award author. Her titles include Summoner of Sleep, Strange Luck, The Nightmare Birds, and A Darling Secret.

Born in Northern California, Winters has since lived in every region of the country, but now resides in Colorado with her husband. She has published numerous articles on writing and publishing, and has worked as a grant writer and copy editor for non profits, municipalities, and major corporations.

When not writing books, she enjoys breaking a sweat in Jiu

Ryder Ashling’s world is turning upside down. He’s lost his job, wife, home, and now he’s doubting his sanity. Behind his descent are horrific nightmares so vivid that they follow him into the waking world. When he discovers his neighbor has been documenting his nightmares with scientific precision and leaving him vials of a drug called Summoner of Sleep, things get weirder.

His neighbor disappears and Ryder follows his trail to Marble Woods, a town erased from all maps after a historical atrocity. Now it whispered to be the home of marble demons, as well as the source of the plants used to manufacture Summoner of Sleep. It's here in Marble Woods that Ryder will come face to face with the darkest of family secrets and be forced to make a decision that will change the fate of the world.


Nobody can say for sure who coined the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ but we do know it’s been around since the early 1900s. It’s clear why the saying has stood the test of time. One glance at a picture and the person seeing it instantly imagines the story behind it. It might be personal, like a couple in love relaxing in a gondola in Venice. For me, that image brings back memories of my honeymoon and the amazing adventure my husband and I shared. Or, it could trigger strong emotions of love, hate, loneliness, or contentment.

As authors we work hard to show our readers the worlds we conjure in our minds, the sometimes loving, sometimes quirky, sometimes sadistic characters, and the stories behind them. We hope our words jump from the page and prompt an emotional response similar to a vivid picture. That’s what we had in mind when we developed this writing prompt. We sent the picture above to a group of authors and asked them to tell a story in a 1000 words. Each story is unique, compelling and interesting. I guess it just goes to show, that while the picture might be worth a thousand words… those words can change depending on the story teller.

JP McLean

The Western Warden thought he could silence me, a woman of no standing who dared challenge him in front of the high council.

He leapt to his feet and called his guards to hold me. But he couldn’t hold my tongue.

“Today is your last warning,” I said. “For you’re out of time.”

“Get her out of here!” The Western Warden ordered, and with a swipe of his hand, his men tugged me toward the door.

“Wait!” the Northern Warden asked. “Out of time for what?”

“And how did she get in here?” the Southern Warden said, stroking his white goatee. “She hasn’t earned the privilege of speaking in this chamber,” the Western Warden said. “She’s an interloper who bears no marks from any of our schools.”

“Yet she managed to not only find us, but she gained entry despite your guards.” The isolated mountaintop compound loomed over Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The Southern Warden raised an eyebrow. “That alone is worth investigating, is it not? ”

The Eastern Warden snickered.

A red tide rolled up the Western Warden’s neck. His nostrils flared. “I will investigate her trespass personally to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” He turned to his guards. “Take her to the detention centre.”

“You’d best prepare,” I called over my shoulder as they rushed me out of the chamber and down a freight elevator to the squat building at ground level.

An hour later, the Western Warden entered my cell. I’d only remained to give him the opportunity to listen, but his mind was closed, and he came in swinging.

“You may think that stunt of yours was clever enough to get you an audience with the Wardens, but you misjudged. Now I can classify you as a threat, and not merely an annoyance. You do know how we deal with threats?”

“You’ve mentioned it in passing.” Everyone knew the Wardens didn’t have a need for jails. It’s why they had so few challengers.

“How did you get past the guards? ”

“Why would I tell you? You believe nothing else I say.” Vann had followed the Warden’s rules precisely in the hopes he’d listen. Year after year, the Warden promised change, and year after year, the problem grew more invasive. And now it could no longer be tolerated.

“You’ve got two choices,” the Warden said. “Tell me what I want to know or suffer the fate of every other threat who’s gone before you.”

“You were a fool to disregard the warnings. You should have listened. You should have changed your ways.”

“And you’re a fool to think I won’t deal with you like I should have years ago. One more chance. How did you get into the chamber?”

“I find it interesting that how I got into the chamber is more important than why. How is of no consequence. But why will change your world.”

“Goodbye, Vann.”

Vann hung her head. “I am truly sorry for what’s to come. Tomorrow won’t be easy.”

Moments after the Warden left my cell, his guards came in. They escorted me to a small float plane in the harbour, and we took off heading west, over the Pacific. The engines droned for an hour before we dipped down close to the water. Sunlight sparkled off the ripples where white caps built at the frothy edges of ten foot swells.

“This is your stop,” one of the guards said, laughing. “Can’t deny the Warden’s got a sense of humour,” he said to his partner. The partner opened the hatch, and the laughing guard shoved me out.

They should have noticed my lack of alarm, but they were just like the others, unobservant and self-absorbed.

Within hours, the oceans heeded the call. It began with the Pacific. Waves the likes of which have never been seen gathered strength and pulled discarded debris from every seabed. With

each rolling wave that hit shore, they returned treasurers to the land. Boats and light debris rode waves that washed inland for hundreds of miles. Sunken tankers and aircraft, warships and cannons piled up on beaches. The water yanked out fishing nets and fish farms, oyster baskets and geo duck tubes. Rivers of tar and oil and chemical sewage were returned to the cities and fields from which they came. Square mile upon square mile of garbage bags blanketed cities. Lakes and rivers joined in, adding their debris to the piles. Bridge bulkheads and piers were uprooted and washed aside. Windmill farms and oil rigs groaned under the power of the water, and their bones were dumped onshore.

By the time the Atlantic returned its load to the land from where it came, there wasn’t a village or city in the world left unaffected. The receding waters dragged the dead but refused them entry to the sea.

Vann had warned them. If they didn’t clean up their mess, the oceans would do it for them with as much care as the Wardens had shown. Never again would the Warden’s kind be permitted to sail the seas or lakes or traverse the rivers. Those who survived would forever be bound to the land.

When the waters receded, Vann made her way back to the Western Warden ’s ivory tower. There were no guards to slip by, and no power to light the fortress. She slipped into the Warden’s private chambers and found the warden staring out at a vast sea of garbage. The fortress was no longer a refuge, but a perch from which he could observe his just rewards.

He turned when he sensed her, his face a hardened mask. “How are you alive?”

“You thought the ocean would kill me? Have you heard nothing I ’ve said?” He hadn’t known that the ocean was a friend to sea wraiths, for he had yet to learn what I was. Then again, he’d failed to ask.

“You did this!” Spittle punctuated his words. He swung his arms wide. “Destroyed all that we have built.”

“No. That’s your doing. I’ll return in a hundred years. Perhaps then you’ll be ready to tread lightly upon the ocean.”

“In a hundred years, I’ll be dead.”

“Then I suggest you train your successors well.”

And with that, I melted into a puddle, and found my own way back to the sea.


new story (Redemption) and a never before published Small Things novella, Sundown Rising. The stories are presented in the order in which they are meant to be read. The Small Things trilogy omnibus totals 1,450 pages/ 370,000 words and includes all covers, artwork, and a few surprises as well!

Small Things: It’s a hot June morning in a small Midwestern town when fifteen year old Shawn Spencer arrives at the church for his best friend Tanner’s funeral. Though his drowning was officially


The Small Things trilogy omnibus contains all three novels in the Small Things series as well as two related short stories and a novella. The box set contains 370,000 words of paranormal fantasy/ dark fantasy suspense and action.

The Small Things trilogy omnibus contains all three books in the Small Things trilogy (Small Things, Threads, A Pattern of Shadows,) a previously published short story (Smoke), a brand

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ruled an accident, Tanner’s sister Jenny swears she saw something rise up from the Carthage Lake to pull the struggling teenager beneath the surface.

Shawn doesn’t believe in monsters… but he will…The real threat, however, lies in the man behind the monster, a mysterious old man who has vowed to settle an old grudge and regain something that was stolen from him decades earlier. To survive the dark days and nights ahead, Shawn must not only decipher what the man is after, he must move past his own grief, fears, and insecurities, and learn to trust in Jenny, the disgraced town sheriff, and, most importantly, in himself.


The Small Things Trilogy Omnibus

A small town horror, fantasy, paranormal, and coming of age romance. The Small Things trilogy spans forty years and three generations in a tale of murder, betrayal, corruption, sacrifice, love, redemption, faith and magic that culminates in a showdown that will pit the very forces of heaven and hell against Shawn and his family in a battle for the future of mankind and the world itself.

Sundown Rising: When Shawn and Jenny decide to visit a traveling carnival, will they find more than they bargained for? And why are Mr. Kingfisher and Mr. Quarry in town?

Threads: History is changing around nineteen-year-old Ben Spencer, and he’s powerless to stop it. His sister has disappeared, his family thinks he’s schizophrenic, and, worse yet, the girl he’s madly in love with won’t give him the time of day. Enter the mysterious Michael, who, years earlier, helped Ben’s parents defeat a powerful sorcerer bent on destroying them and reclaiming a relic stolen from him years before. With Michael’s help, Ben will travel back in time, to 1977, and attempt to set the past straight. But will he undo himself and the woman he loves in the process?

Threads is a coming of age time travel adventure complete with murder and magic, and also a magical realism love story. The Small Things trilogy spans forty years and three generations in a tale of murder, betrayal, corruption, sacrifice, love, redemption, faith and magic that culminates in a showdown that will pit the very forces of heaven and hell against Ben and his family in a battle for the future of mankind and the world itself.

Smoke: Can humans and ghosts work together to figure out what’s behind deadly and destructive fires…when they can’t even communicate?

A Pattern of Shadows: Five years ago, the demon Azazel tricked Ben Spencer into giving him possession of his body. After countless frustrating and heartbreaking dead ends, Ben’s family and his girlfriend Katy Ruskin have finally located him. Will their daring rescue attempt work, and will they be able to free Ben from the demon? And with Ben free, is everything truly over…or is it only just beginning?

A Pattern of Shadows brings the Small Things trilogy to a stunning conclusion that pits Ben and Katy and their families against the very forces of heaven and hell itself in a battle that will decide the fate of humanity. Who will survive?

Redemption: Can a former villain truly change his ways?

I glanced up and saw her, sighing inwardly. A year ago, the sight would have freaked me out. These days, it was such a normal occurrence I had come to expect it. But seriously can’t a girl get a break?

Are you okay?

I forced a weak smile and focused my attention on the tall, dark, and handsome man sitting beside me on the soft blanket. Sandwiches, cheese, and fine wine was spread out before us. It promised to be a romantic first date. But no… apparently, I wasn’t allowed romance or perfection. I was destined to live a lonely life surrounded by chaos. My fate was macabre and unbelievable. I had to deal with HER and others like her.


Frustration shot through me, and I worked hard to stop the scream that desperately wanted to escape. I wanted this date to be different. I wanted a chance to get to know this guy. He seemed great friendly, compassionate, and totally hot. I was surprised when he asked me for a late dinner. I was thrilled when he pulled into the parking lot of the secluded beach. Butterflies flittered in my stomach when he grabbed a large picnic basket with one hand, tucked a blanket under his arm, linked fingers with me with his other, and pulled me toward the sandy beach. He led me to this secluded alcove; and, for the first time in a very long time, I let myself hope. Clearly, there was no hope for me, for my social life, for a life free of complications. There was only death in my future. Death and loneliness. “Roxie?” Marco asked again.

“Nightshade,” the woman whispered. Her voice was soft but demanding and tendrils of power shot through me, rattled my bones, and made me cringe.

“What’s wrong?” Marco demanded. “Did something bite you? I know there are tiny crustaceans on this beach, but I thought with the blanket ”

“No,” I reached out a hand to calm him. “I’m okay.”

“Nightshade,” the woman demanded. “I know it’s you and I need your help.”

I glanced at the woman, for some reason all the spirits I encountered insisted on calling me that stupid name like it was a title or something. Water dripped from the ghost; her hair was a tangled mess, and the sheer white protective cover draped over her body allowed the dark blue of her bikini to show through. I closed my eyes and willed the woman to just go away.

“Tell me what I’m missing,” Marco pleaded.

“I won’t leave until you help me,” the woman moved closer, and a chill filled the air.

Marco turned and glanced through the woman, then pivoted, and moved in front of Roxie to shield her from the danger he couldn’t see.

I frowned. Humans rarely felt the presence of a ghost.

“You must save Silas,” the apparition demanded. “He is innocent.”

I knew who the woman was. I recognized her the instant she appeared at the edge of the water. Julieta Stephens was murdered three months ago; her body was discovered in a cave a few miles north of here. Her husband, Silas Stephens, was currently rotting away in jail awaiting trial. From all the news reports, the case was concrete.

“Answer me,” Julieta demanded. She pushed the palms of her hands outward, and a gush of wind slammed into me, toppled the bottle of wine, and sent the top of the sandwiches tumbling across the sand.

“That’s enough,” I jumped to my feet, beyond angry that she’d ruined my evening. Then I froze, realizing what I’d just done and I knew whatever had started with Marco just ended. He’d run, just like all the others, believing I was crazy. I hesitated, then turned to face him.

“Save Silas,” Julieta demanded. The wind picked up, whipping and slashing, before it circled our little picnic.

“I’m sorry,” I told Marco. “I am so sorry, but I have to deal with this.”

Marco grabbed what remained of our dinner and shoved it into the basket. “Who is it?”

I stared at him in shock. How did he know? He couldn’t know, but yet

“Nightshade,” Julieta screamed. “I am running out of time. You must save Silas.”

“They have evidence,” I shrugged. “Tons of it. What makes you think your husband isn’t responsible for your death?” I’d deal with Marco later. First, I needed to get this psycho ghost across the line.

“I am the only one that knows the truth,” Julieta moved closer.

“Cool your jets woman and get rid of this wind or I’m leaving,” Roxie warned. The air instantly stilled. “My husband did not kill me. His partner did.”

“His partner?” Roxie asked.

“Julieta Stephens?” Marco asked, understanding dawned and he was instantly intrigued. He could only hear half the conversation, but it had to be the highly publicized murder.


did you

“Who killed her?” Marco wondered.

“I don’t ” I frowned. None of this made any sense. “What do you mean his partner?”

“Leon Basara,” Julieta growled. The wind picked up again but this time it swirled around her. The sheer white cover whipped furiously, clung to her body, and revealed more of her bikini below. Her hair was wild, no longer wet, it swirled and slapped around her face in a violent whirlwind.

“Who killed her?” Marco asked again, more curious than he’d been in a long time.

“She says it was Leon Basara,” I answered absently. I had experienced crazy for the past year, but today was off the charts bizarre; and, instead of running away, Marco was intrigued. None of this made any sense.

A grin spread across Marco’s face, and he nodded. “I wondered about that.”

“Who are you?” I turned to him and demanded. “I mean, I know you’re the friendly guy I keep running into at the grocery store. I know you have a condo in my complex and you drive that luxury black car, but who are you? I thought we’d get into the personal stuff on this date but then ”

‘But then we were interrupted by the ghost of Julieta Stephens and the situation got real faster than I hoped,” Marco sighed.

“I don’t get you,” I glared at him. “You should be running for your car, terrified you asked a mental patient to dinner.”

“Why would he do that?” Julieta studied him for several seconds. “He’s just as gifted as you are… in a much different way.”

“Gifted?” I turned back to the ghost. “What do you mean he’s gifted?”

“Supernatural,” Marco corrected. “I’m supernatural. I wonder if that will be an advantage or a hinderance.”

“Meaning?” Roxie frowned.

“Human detective by day,” Marco glanced toward the water where he assumed the ghost stood. “Sorcerer and rogue hunter by night.”

Roxie glanced at the ghost.

Julieta nodded and considered. “I know where Leon hid the evidence. Ask him what kind of detective he is.”

“She wants to know what kind of detective,” I relayed.

“Homicide,” Marco shrugged. “Can you act as a translator? If she has evidence that Leon Basara was the killer, not her husband, I can help. It’s not my case, but I’ll maneuver things around once I have the details and take the evidence to the case agent. ”

Julieta didn’t wait for me to ask. She immediately began telling her story.

Resigned, wondering once this date concluded if it would land in the ‘looking forward to date two’ pile or the disaster pile, I settled in to help stop a killer and free an innocent man.


New look, same great story with a twist. New Beginnings is getting a makeover just in time for the Holidays.

Sarah Jenkins is looking forward to a new life. This year Christmas is going to be everything she’s ever dreamed. Her plans are derailed when she sees a man dumping a body into the local lake. Can she still have the peaceful holiday she’s always craved? And what is she supposed to do about the persistent, sexy cop she keeps bumping into?

Christmas with the Hunters. Holiday Short Stories of Love and Healing. Available at your favorite eBook Store

Coming December 202 2 -p-smith Immortals Series — Book 1 Part Mortal Part Divinity Fully Devoted This winter curl up in front of the fire with an audiobook, a cup of hot chocolate, and new friends. — Book 2 — Artifice coming 2023

http://www.JenniferAnneGordon .com

My mother was wearing a floral blouse; three buttons left open. Perfumy cleavage. It’s how she felt pretty. She was tropical and garish by New England standards. Every button of her blouse made my skin feel pale, itchy, and ugly.

My skin was the underside of mushrooms. I was poisonous and beautiful. Her skin was always a Florida sunset. Beachy. Fantasy. Perfect. My skin was pale, I was a ghost scared of ghosts.

My Mother’s best friend wore a tight fitting white tank top. I could see her dark red bra. It screamed for attention. I was eight, and the idea of growing boobs made me sick. Made me itch.

This friend of my mother’s was a woman with no indoor voice. Her breath smelled like damp leaves and rotten logs. Stale coffee. Cigarettes. Lies.

My father didn’t go to Florida with us by Jennifer Anne Gordon

She stole $145 from my mother’s purse after bingo. It went ignored. Her thieving habit was not spoken of.

Her house was bigger than ours. Better than ours. Their family had an above ground pool and her eldest daughter’s bedrooms were a joined finished basement bedroom with two queen sized waterbeds.

This was a woman whose laughter would echo in my ears like the Legos that I kept in an empty holiday popcorn tin. Everyone in our house hated popcorn. But those tins told a story. Those tins were echo puffs of memories I longed for. They were dreams I never got to dream. They were pennies in a wishing well.

My mother’s friend was a shadow on our life. She was the rotten damp thing growing mold in the foundation of our house. She was hidden between my old toys, and the thirty-year-old canned food from out root cellar.

She was there. My mother’s “friend.”

Her laugh would haunt me, I could hear it hours after I left her house. My heart would beat against my ribs like a cat in a cage. It danced and flipped even when I was safe in my bed.

I don’t want to say her name. Afraid all these years later she will appear in the mirror like Bloody Mary.

The villain. They brought us girls to a travel agency. The agent was a divorced woman working out of a bottom office of a gray crooked building. A building that looked like nothing, it was practically invisible.

Three parts tenement and one part ground floor old diner.

They never removed the spinning stools, and the counter was still stained with coffee rings. Now it held brochures for Amish Country, Disney World, and another one that I stared at until I blushed never getting past the words on the front of its glossy tri fold adventure Virginia is for Lovers

All the grownup women on this day: spoke French, and the travel agent smelled like stale cigarette smoke, and tidal pools. Her hair never moved even though her earrings and her hands danced as she talked. “Virginia, Virginia is beautiful.”

She felt dangerous. I wish I knew her name. In my dreams it’s Manon, but she is not the villain. Manon was too glamourous for a neighborhood that only spoke French. Everyone in those little houses were tethered to that old world. Everyone coughed dust instead of breath. A language of then, and not now.

Mills instead of mountains. An hour away from the ocean but most had never seen it. We didn’t understand why we were there.

Manon was a beautiful witch. Manon was the first woman I loved. Manon may not have ever been real. She was brochures. Beaches. Mountains. Alligator adventures

Little Maddie and I played with our Cabbage Patch Kids in the front of Manon’s sad office. At one point a young black boy came up and talked to us through the screened window. His skin smelled like oranges.

He had a lollipop that he pressed against the screen and let us both take a lick.

My tongue caught on the wire. It bled a little and I thought back, and then forward, and then back again Did I have a tetanus shot Will my bleeding tongue kill me maybe.

I stole the Virginia is for Lovers Brochure. I had it folded in half and tucked into my waistband. When my mother saw it, she tossed it out the window of the car. She was not mad that I had taken it not really she looked scared.


No one cared about littering back then.

My mother looked at me as she drove. Her eyes locked onto mine from the mystery of the rearview mirror. “We were getting pizza if Daddy asks.” She slow blinked. Like a cat with Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes.

“Oh please, for him to ask a question he would actually have to talk.” The villain laughed, and in my imagination all the glass broke around me. Windshields, side mirrors, water bottles. The car smelled like morning coffee. Sanka, sarcasm, smoke, and sadness. Sickness. The car smelled like stolen bingo money.

“Does this mean you aren’t making dinner?” my palms started to sweat, my mother’s eyes no longer in the rearview mirror.

“Why should I? We just had pizza.” I see her eyes. Last minute. A wink in the mirror…

“Did we have pizza?” Maddie asked her mother as she kick, kick, kicked the back of the passenger seat.

“Did we have pizza?” the Villain’s sing-song cartoon voice mocked her daughter, my mother, me it cut us like knives.

Maddie cuddled Leroy, her Cabbage Patch Kid, and whispered in his ear. I could not hear her words. I knew she would grow up and make an amazing mom. I bit at the inside of my lower lip until my mouth tasted like the metal screen, all metal, and no cherry.

We came home that day and my mother had secret glossy brochures tucked in her purse. Images of the ocean and palm trees for days. So different than the ocean here in New Hampshire. Water the color of gunmetal. Water that was the color of all my yesterdays.

The brochures were of Miami Beach America’s Sexiest Playground, Sea World, Gator Land she didn’t bother with Disney World. Everyone who lived inside those trifold worlds was tan and happy, everything was perfect, and nobody was sad.

My mother made my father BLTs. Knowing I could not handle the texture of uncooked tomato and that I would cry if I ate bacon but It’s okay. I was full.

I had “pizza”

It was later that night when I realized my father would not be coming to Florida with us. END

The Newest Novel in The Sugarwood Mystery Series Mans Doll

Christmas blooms in Sugarwood in the form of a brightly lit tree in town square, colorful ornaments, and a snowstorm. It’s just Audra Clemmings’ luck that she literally stumbles over the local butcher in Miss Lavinia’s shop. Then a witch doctor arrives in town. Can Audra solve the mystery before the killer turns their sights on her?

Other Books in The Series

Audra Clemmings loves Halloween. At least until she sees the display of voodoo dolls in the shop next door that resembles nearly everyone in Sugarwood, Ontario—including her. Then there’s the matter of the dead cowboy on the bench in front of her shop Stitch’n’Time

A prolific Canadian mystery writer, I am the mom of three kids, two cats and a step dog as well as author of Wild Blue Mysteries, Gilda Wright Mysteries, Glitter Bay Mysteries, and the Audra Clemmings Mysteries from Books We Love Ltd. with many more books and plays to come! You can find me at: Blog: Website: Publisher Website: diane/ Facebook page: Goodreads:


A new children’s book about growth, interpersonal relationships, as well as speaking to multiple health benefits by acclaimed author


The little girl shares her thoughts on how she’s ‘just like them’ and with each illustration you see the connection of the earth and the moon. Creative depictions of each phase of the moon reveal a bit more of the little girl until eager readers finally see her bright smiling, full-moon face. She’s from a different place but deep down inside, she’s really ‘just like them’!

Charlie and the Tire Swing is a beautiful intergenerational story told from the perspective of Charlie and his Grandpa Jack. Over a cup of hot chocolate, Charlie's grandfather tells the story of how he planted an acorn with his own grandfather, Charlie's Great Great Grandpa George, and how he tenderly cared for it and watched it grow, from one season to the next. He shares how, over the years, as the acorn grew into a might oak tree, how each generation enjoyed the shade of the tree, climbing it, reading under it, and gathering together as a family around it. It's a story of growing strong family ties, of sharing stories from generation to generation, and of appreciating nature and the simple things in life, like swinging on a tire swing. The learning opportunities range from the science of growing things, to interpersonal relations, the health benefits of outdoor activity, and innovation, problem solving, and creative play.

winning international author. Diann writes children's books and young adult books. In addition, Diann writes books to inspire kids to be kind, like themselves, and to "Embrace Imagination”. Diann's Story Garden YouTube Channel gives children the opportunity to hear different children authors read their stories. Diann is the co host with Dr. Jacalyn on USAGLOBALTV Diann continues to be involved in various humanitarian projects with multiple organizations.

Diann Floyd Boehm is an

Diann Floyd Boehm and illustrated by Judy Gaudet award Diann Floyd Boehm

Words of encouragement from Alessia by Mitch Coulthard

When I saw her walking up from the beach, suddenly my whole world didn’t matter anymore. My wife cheating on me,

the kids siding with her for some reason, my depression making my business struggle to the point of failure. Even my thoughts of walking out into the surf vanished like the spray from the nearby waves. Her hair was wet. Her clothes were not. I couldn’t believe she had been swimming in such wild of a surf. Even now the waves crashing into the rocky quoin gave me pause that my idea of swimming out and not returning may not have been a very bright idea. In my brilliance at that moment, all I could think to say was, “Hello.”

Looking up at me, almost shyly, she uttered a soft, “Hello.”

We stood staring at each other for several moments until she asked, “Are you okay?”

“I think so. And you?”

“I think so.”

More silence. I offered, “The surf is rough today.”

“Yes. Very.”

“Not ideal for a swim.”

“Not for a swim, no.”

A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. Most not making a lick of sense. One or two, scaring me.

Looking up and gesturing toward the cliffs, the path I’d climbed down a moment ago, she offered, “I saw you on the cliffs looking out over the ocean. I was afraid…”

“And you. I saw you swimming out a ways.” More silence. “What were you afraid of?”

“You seemed distracted. I thought maybe you were here… but no. Never mind.”

The pauses seemed to be growing shorter.

“My name is Keith.”


“What brings you out on such a blustery day, Alessia?”

“Nothing. I think it’s just where I needed to be, Keith. And you? ”

“I don’t know. I guess I was thinking it was a good place to be right now, too. I didn’t see a car parked in the lot other than mine. Do you live somewhere nearby? ”

“I used to.”

“Just a favorite place to be?”

“It used to be.”

“What brings you here today?”

“Memories. And you?”

Looking down and shuffling my feet a little, “Memories for me, too.”

“Good memories?” “Some.”

“Walk with me?”

“I’d like that.”

Alessia started to head to the stairs leading up the low cliffs. She was barefoot. I couldn ’t figure out where she could have lived close by that walking here would have been possible without shoes of some sort. Following about a pace behind, I asked, “You come here often?”

Without breaking her slow stride, she turned her head toward me, “This is my home.”

“I don’t understand.”

Looking away, she repeated softly. “This is my home.”

When we reached to top of the cliffs, near the car park were a few benches. We walked over the bench facing the ocean. Alessia sat down, looking up at me, patting the bench near her.

Watching the late sun struggle to get through the clouds for a few minutes, I felt I needed to say something. Her silence was unsettling in a strange sort of way. Even more unsettling when she asked, “Why are you here?”

My mind struggled to find words that could make a complete sentence without sounding morbid. When she looked at me, I knew she was going to ask again. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here because I’ve given up.”

As she looked out over the ocean, “I understand.”

“Can you tell me why you are here?”

Looking at me again, her eyes seeming to bore into me, “Because I gave up, too.”

“What happened to get you to that point? ”

Looking out over the ocean again, “They all died.”

Waiting… I hoped I would not have to ask.

“They all died because of me.”

The sound of the waves crashing against the low cliffs past the tiny beach seemed to set the

pace of our dialogue.

“I left the heaters on in the house. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

I could only breathe deeply, shuddering a little, knowing my problems paled in comparison to hers.

“My husband, our three children. I had a headache and got up to get some aspirin. It was cool outside and I thought the cool air would feel good… help my headache. Sitting on a chaise lounge in the back yard, I could hear an alarm in the distance. It didn’t sound like a car alarm. Through my headache, I just couldn’t figure it out. I woke in the morning with a policeman at my side. The alarm noise was still going. It was our carbon monoxide detector. I fell asleep outside in the fresh air as my family fell asleep in the poison air.”

Oh, Lord! Her family was dead and she had come out here to kill herself the same as I had! Yet, it wasn’t her fault. She had to know that.

“Alessia, you know it wasn’t your fault. Your heating system failed somehow. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I heard the alarm. But I didn’t do anything about it.”

I felt crushed inside that she had lost everything while I was just depressed about being stupid… letting my life get out of hand… letting my kids slip away… maybe even pushing them away with my depression. Standing, taking a step toward the cliff edge, I turned to admonish Alessia more strongly that it wasn’t her fault. She had to keep living. I was alone. There was no one around. So shocked I staggered to the bench to lean on the side for support. That was when I saw it. A plaque on the bench that read, “Donated by the Alessia Kent Mental Health Fund

Please remember, everyone needs a little help sometimes.

Alessia Kent 5 December 1972 3 January 2002

Call 1 800 WE CAN HELP”

Starting my car, giving it a chance to warm up a little, I wondered if my kids would be interested in having dinner with me. Couldn’t hurt to ask.


How To Be a


Some family secrets feel too big to share…

When her teacher assigns a family tree project for parents' day, Lizzie knows it won't be long until Scotch Gully’s gossips start up again. Most folks in her conservative town are used to the fact that she's the only kid with an unmarried mom, but when Lizzie's family tree research uncovers a shocking secret about her grandmother, Lizzie knows that certain townsfolk will start their back fence talk about her family once more. She turns to Harry ― who's been like a grandfather to her ― for help and advice, but Harry has problems of his own. Someone has arrived at his farm claiming to own it, and is forcing Harry out. Now Lizzie must face losing Harry and the place that's been her second home. Lizzie finds a surprising ally in David, the new owner's son. Together, their sleuthing uncovers the keys to saving Harry and his farm, but sharing the secrets she and David have uncovered will put Lizzie's complicated family on centre stage.

Told in the alternating voices of Lizzie and David, How to Be a Goldfish is a compelling, heartfelt, humorous read about acceptance and understanding, and will provide a gentle introduction to discussions about alternative families, homosexuality, feminism, forced adoptions and social justice.

Jane Baird Warren is a first generation Canadian with fresh off the boat parents. Literally! Her father came on a boat from Norway and her mother from Scotland. Jane grew up surrounded by a rich and often confusing blend of accents and began collecting new words like some kids collect action figures. At nine she read the dictionary front to back and announced she was going to be a spelunker because she like the word.

Jane left Canada in 1998. For twenty years she travelled extensively in Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East and Asia as well as South America and Africa. During her travels she completed an MFA in Creative Writing (she loves writing on airplanes). Jane also has a Bed and a BPE and has worked as a teacher, personal trainer, and coach. She currently volunteers as a developmental editor for emerging writers. Jane has been featured on CBC radio and has published short fiction and poetry in more than a dozen literary magazines in North America and the UK. She is represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency.

In her fiction and in real life, Jane is fascinated by people the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones who are ugly inside but what she values most in both worlds is kindness and courage. She is currently obsessed with the notion of family secrets and how uncovering the truth changes how kids (adults, too!) see and define themselves. She has ridiculous memory for trivia, which she'd always believed was the most useless superpower a girl could have. Until she started writing. You can find more information about Jane Baird Warren on her website. Drop by and leave a

A compelling read about acceptance and understanding by critically acclaimed children’s author, Jane Baird Warren

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise:

An International Adoption Story

A children’s book designed for parents to teach kids all about international adoption by awardwinning author Julie Gianelloni Connor

"The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise" is a children's book designed to be read by parents to a child adopted from a foreign country. The story is first recounted from the perspective of the parents in the USA, who are very sad not to be able to have a child. The perspective then switches to that of the biological mother, who realizes that she does not have the wherewithal to raise a child. She makes the difficult decision to give up her baby. Next readers learn about a foreign adoption agency, to which the biological mother surrenders her child. The adoption agency identifies foster parents to take care of the baby temporarily. The foster parents give the baby a temporary name. The parents in the USA begin researching international adoption possibilities and connect with the foreign adoption agency. The parents begin the adoption process and have to go to a school to learn how to be adoptive parents. When the foreign adoption agency matches the USA parents with the baby, the USA parents fly to the foreign country, where they meet the baby and the foster parents at the adoption agency. They find out that the temporary name given to the baby by his foster parents is one of the names they have selected for the baby. Their last requirement in the foreign country is to secure a visa for the baby from the U.S. Embassy. With the baby's visa in hand, the parents and baby return to the United States, where they are joyously greeted by their dog, their friends, and the baby's new grandparents. When the parents tuck their baby in at night, they tell him his story that he has three families, two countries, and a promise for the future to visit the country of his birth when he is older. The book has 40 pages and is illustrated on each page. B08PN2F9HV

Julie Gianelloni Connor is an award winning author and retired senior Foreign Service Officer. Her first book, Savoring the Camino de Santiago: It’s the Pilgrimage, not the Hike, garnered no. 1 status on Amazon in both the category for new books on hiking and walking and the category for Spain and Portugal. It subsequently went on to win a silver medal in the eLit national competition as well as being selected as a finalist by Self Publishing Review (SPR). She released her second title, a children’s book, in 2021. It has won first place in the children’s book category at the North Texas Book Festival and the Grand Prize for children’s book from AMI (Authors Marketing International). The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise tells an international adoption story. Julie’s short stories have appeared in four anthologies. She is the owner and publisher of Bayou City Press (BCP) in Houston, Texas, which focuses on travel writing, Houston, history, and international affairs. Julie writes a weekly newsletter for BCP updating subscribers about activities. She founded BCP after spending 33 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, first with the U.S. Information Agency and later with the U.S. Department of State. She had nine overseas assignments in seven different countries: Israel (twice), Paraguay, Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia (twice), Malaysia, and Chile. In Washington, DC, Julie worked on a variety of matters, ranging from nuclear non proliferation to narcotics control to women’s issues. She has one son, James, and two cats, Halloween and Charles Augustus V.

Unfinished Business

Tom Benson

20th August 1986

Robin Hood’s Bay, a hamlet north of Scarborough, was situated between cliffs and protected from heavy traffic by its steep, narrow streets. Visitors were obliged to leave their cars and walk, which proved as arduous on the way down as it was to climb when leaving. The terrain also prevented the village from being overrun by coachloads of tourists.

There were no more than eight shops and two pubs scattered in and around the winding lanes, and Beth’s Bookshop was one such establishment. Here, Paul Franklin took refuge from a raging storm, shaking the excess water from his jacket before ducking through the small doorway.

Paul, a thirty year old artist, lived in a famous seaside resort farther down the Yorkshire coast, but Robin Hood’s Bay drew him back inexplicably.

Beth, the grey haired storekeeper said, “Thank you for leaving the rain outside.”

“I’m a firm believer in treating others how I’d like them to treat me.” He returned her smile and paused to let his eyes adjust to the dim interior of the tiny store.

The place felt like no more than a single room of an ancient mariner’s house converted into a bookstore, but he liked the environment and perused the eclectic selection.

Paul found a small, well thumbed old book titled Medieval Times in Robin Hood’s Bay. He looked over the top edge of the book at the proprietor, who was content to gaze through the small front window at the continuing deluge.

Paul paused at two facing pages. On the left was a roughly drawn portrait of a woman, and on the opposite page was what he thought was a poem. Beneath the words in italics, a brief explanation suggested that it was a spell written in rhyme as many folks expected them to be.

He stared at the simple portrait of the young woman with long dark hair. “If this sketch is only partly accurate, you were beautiful, Catherine Darwin.” Beneath the drawing was an excerpt from a story about Catherine and others who had been executed in the late sixteenth century as witches. Paul read the verse on the opposite page.

‘Dunk me deep in water tied with ropes so tight continuing the slaughter of those who cause you fright

I shall cast a spell sustaining this, my being

your evil, I’ll repel a future I am seeing

My shirt of fabric white of satin and of lace will help to keep things right if I’m taken from this place

A heart, sincere, will cease my timeless gruesome end and I will be at peace new life, with him, I’ll spend.’

Paul looked again at the sketch and took the book to Beth at the counter. “I’d like this one. Do you have anything else on someone mentioned … Catherine Darwin?”

“I have more information about her, but I can’t sell it because it’s just a few damaged and incomplete pages from a book.” She lifted the tattered sheets from under the tiny counter. “May I see them … and I promise to take the greatest care? ”

Beth smiled. “Are you the artist who comes to draw and paint scenes around here? ”

“Yes, I live in Scarborough, but I’ve been coming here for months. There’s a magnetism which is hard to resist.” He nodded to his folded easel and the large black portfolio case containing his work. “I have three unfinished pieces at the moment, and they’re all scenes from the small bay.”

Paul didn’t confess that while painting, he dreamt of meeting a young woman to complete what was a solitary and lonely life.

Beth gazed out of the window briefly. The torrential rain began to ease, and she turned back to her customer. “Instead of selling you this old book, would you allow me to choose one of your incomplete paintings?”

It wouldn’t be a fair exchange to give you a painting that isn’t finished.” He grinned when she raised her eyebrows. “Okay, it’s a deal, and I will be careful with the remnants of the older book.” Paul stood his three partially painted scenes against the counter for Beth to compare, and as she did, he gently picked up the old book titled Spellbound. He treated the pages with the

reverence of an archaeological treasure as he turned the withered, yellowing sheets. Five women were listed in the contents, and the first was the one that interested him.

‘On the 20th August 1586, Catherine Darwin, a woman of twenty five years ….’ Tears filled Paul’s eyes as he imagined the terror of the person accused of being a witch. She had been bound hand and foot, taken out to sea, and dropped from a fishing boat. This one,” Beth announced. She held up a painting of the sea viewed from a part of the local bay. There was a large white area in the bottom centre, which had no paint or markings.


Paul returned to his favourite secluded section of the bay. He sat on a rock near a metal handrail fitted to an old slipway. He stared out to sea, and tears misted his vision as he was tormented by the thought of Catherine Darwin’s horrific fate four hundred years earlier.

A sweet voice said, “Why are you crying?”

Paul took his hands from stinging, tear stained eyes to see a young woman walking towards him from the rolling waves. He looked around. “Where did you … who ….” He stared at her beautiful face, long, saturated dark hair, and the white lace and satin shirt she wore.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for you.” She stepped forward, knelt before him and reached out her hands, dripping seawater onto him. “What year is it?”

“Nineteen hundred and eighty-six.” As he gently took her hands, Paul followed her gaze, and together, they watched as the breeze ruffled the pages of the battered old book he’d bought. It disintegrated, blending with the grains of sand.

“Have they stopped murdering witches yet … Paul?”



Book One of the Murder on The Vine Series

There’s something growing in the garden . . . and it’s not a flower. A mystery is growing in the garden!

Greenhouse expert and horticulture Professor Heather Moore gets a new lease on life when she inherits her grandparents’ estate in New England. The garden she loved as a child has seen better days, but she is determined to restore it to its former beauty with the help of her four legged companions. Knee deep in soil, Heather digs up an even bigger challenge—human

remains. Since she discovered the remains, she should get to solve the case, right? It will likely land her in harm's way with her family's legacy hanging in the balance. But as a gardener, she already knows all the dirt, she just needs to solve the puzzle.

To make matters worse, a fellow flower enthusiast, Lars Oslo, walks into her life at the worst time. He is the man of her dreams, there's no doubt about it, but can she juggle the case and a new romance?


Every Thorn Has Its Rose is the second novel in the Murder on the Vine Cozy Mystery series. Join Heather and Ant as they explore the seedy underworld of gardens, greenhouses, and six figure roses in this 'unputdownable' murder mystery mixed in with just a dash of romance! Totally addictive, satisfyingly hearty, and really charming, this is a fast paced plot filled with delicious red herrings to chew on. Don't miss out and pick up a copy today! Afterward, don't forget to read Book 1 April Showers Bring Dead Flowers! *not a paranormal romance

A new cozy mystery series by critically acclaimed author, Krista Lockheart B09WHBPNP4

Dead in the Water

Horror dripped from the woman like water and Jason’s intuition told him before his brain did that she was dead. The fact that she strode toward him didn’t fool him one bit.

“Mina Howell.” He grasped Carol’s hand. His wife sat beside him at the picnic table in a park on Lake Ontario’s shores. The park faced north, so the view wasn’t ideal, but Carol had insisted they come here to watch the sun dawn on their third anniversary.

“What?” Her eyes went wide and the hand in his trembled. “I don’t see anyone.” They both knew what this meant. Locals claimed that those who saw Mina’s ghost would die within the hour.

Jason’s gaze was fixed on the woman, so he saw her couldn’t stop seeing her.

He’d watched her climb the stairs ascending the hill from the beach. Even though no water dripped from her clothes, she’d risen from its depths, from where she’d drowned two years ago. He glimpsed a bikini through her white filmy gown. Her wet, straggly hair, decorated with skinny braids and gold rings, evidenced that her body still rested somewhere in the lake.

Search parties formed after Andrew Howell, her husband, had reported her missing. They’d discovered her shoes on the platform at the bottom of the stairs but never found her remains. Since that day, anyone who saw her spirit died.

Correlation doesn’t prove causation? Jason disagreed. What conclusion could one draw other than that she killed those who encountered her?

He leaped to the ground. If she wanted him, he’d make her work for it.

“Jay?” Carol’s voice held curiosity rather than fear. “What are you doing?” She stood.

“Stay away.” He waved his hands and backed away from Mina, who approached the table. Her lips twitched, as if she tried to smile and failed.

Carol hung her purse over her shoulder and rushed to his side.

He clasped her hand again and guided her toward the road. Trees and bushes hindered their progress. A small forest stood between the road and the lakeshore. Where it ’d provided them with privacy and romance, now it hid whatever happened to them and perverted the ambiance.

Carol released his hand. “Slow down.”

“Are you crazy? She wants to kill me.”

“Not exactly.” Jason’s wife opened her purse and stuck her hand inside. When she pulled it out, she pointed a gun at him.

“What are you doing? You can’t shoot a ghost. Where’d you get that?”

She smirked. “You’re so stupid. You’ve seen the ghost because you’re going to die not because she’ll kill you, but because I will.”

Shock made his extremities grow icy, and a cold sweat bloomed on his brow and back.

“Why?” He had a million other questions, but that was primary. They loved each other. He’d always loved her, and he’d thought she felt the same.

“Greener pastures.” The way she said it sent chills down his spine.

In a flash, he understood. The nights working late, the excuses, the phone calls at odd hours. She’s right; I am stupid. “Why?”

Mina appeared behind Carol.

Jason’s throat closed.

Carol smirked. “Time to move on. Or back. Two years is long enough to bide my time.”

“This is why you insisted we increase my life insurance last year? You planned this? ” She laughed. “Did you really think someone like me would fall in love with a nothing like you?”

He had wondered that, right from the start. When she’d accepted his marriage proposal, he thought he’d won the lottery. Instead, he’d damned himself. Who’s the other man?

“Walk to the water.”

Understanding dawned. “You and Andrew.”

“After he lost Mina, he needed a shoulder. I happily obliged.” She waved the gun. “Walk.” He strode forward with small steps. Each extra second of life gave him an extra second to survive this mess.

When they reached the edge of the woods, he made as if to trip over a root. Instead of falling forward, he rolled to the side, then into her legs. The gun fired, but she missed him, and the weapon flew from her hands as she hit the ground.

He lunged for it and snatched it up. Trained it on Carol. As he did, Mina faded from his sight. Carol’s eyes widened. “I see her.”

Jason’s hands shook. He had no intention of shooting his wife. With one hand, he fumbled at his waist for his cell phone.

“No.” Carol stumbled, clawing at the air. “Stay away.”

Cold enveloped him and his vision blurred. He gagged, choked, and regurgitated lake water. In his mind’s eye, a scene unfolded: Mina on the shore, gun pointed at her; a woman, face obscured, forcing Mina into a boat; two passengers leaving; one returning, the woman ’s face now visible.

Carol. She’d rid Andrew of his wife and intended to dispose of Jason the same way. Under Mina’s control, Jason’s body refused to cooperate. His brain tried to compensate, to grab the cell phone, call 9 1 1. Instead, his hand rose, pointed the gun at Carol. His breath came in hoarse gasps as he fought to keep pressure off the trigger, but the blast echoing across the waves and the red splotch blooming on his wife’s chest told him he’d failed.

When she fell to the dirt, so did he, back in control once more. Mina had vanished forever. She hadn’t needed her body located to be at peace; she’d needed revenge. She wouldn’t harbinger anyone’s death again.

He crawled to Carol’s side, but the only thing left to do was use the cell phone. He pulled it out but hesitated. No one would believe he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Jason put the phone away. Gulls circled in ever widening spirals as the sun burst from behind a cloud. Jason docked the fishing boat and secured it. He jogged to his car. He’d make the necessary calls from home. Time to start the search. END


Val Tobin

Profile and Background I’m a Canadian living in Newmarket, Ontario. After studying a semester of book editing and design in college, I got married and had kids. When the kids started school, I began working on a general arts BA. I then switched to Computer Information Systems and, following that, worked for ten years as a software and web developer.

During that time I also wrote articles and did the editing for Community MX, an online tech site with a focus on Macromedia products such as Dreamweaver. I became a certified Reiki Master/Teacher in 2004. Then I acquired ATP® certification in March 2008, in Kona, Hawaii from Doreen Virtue, PhD.

My fascination with the paranormal led me to work on a bachelor of science in parapsychic science from the American Institute of Holistic Theology in March 2007, and I received my degree in September 2010. Then I studied parapsychology at AIHT and received my masters in it.

At the end of October 2008, I returned to Kona, Hawaii to complete the Advanced ATP® training and in April 2010 to take the Spiritual Writing workshop and the Mediumship Certification class. During this time, I wrote freelance for online magazine Suite101 and was Topic Editor for Paganism/Wicca and Webmaster Resources at Suite.

I published my first novel in 2013 and have a lengthy backlist of titles in a variety of genres.

Why? My dream has always been to write novels. I love to read, and I love to write, and I’ve always found fiction inspiring. My favourite book, ever since I first read it when I was fourteen, is The Lord of the Rings.

I wrote The Valiant Chronicles, starting with The Experiencers, as an epic thriller with multiple characters and a there and back again mission that ends with the main characters growing and evolving into better versions of themselves. I enjoy reading multi-faceted stories and that’s what I prefer writing. The Valiant Chronicles stories have layers most readers will only discover on subsequent reads.

When? I’ve always written ever since I could read and studied the craft in my spare time from the time I was in high school.

Where? The magic happens in an office on the main floor of my house. Until the pandemic hit, the office had no door. When the quarantine started here in Ontario, one of the first things my husband did after he was laid off work was put a door on the office for me. I think that ’s what’s keeping our marriage together through the coronavirus pandemic.

What? I write in a variety of genres: SF, horror, romantic suspense, thriller. Hopefully, readers will agree they’re all stories worth losing sleep over.

How? I try to plan each story in detail but allow myself to veer off the path as I get to know my characters. As long as I hit the highlights I’ve planned, it works out without a ton of rewriting. I’m a mix of plotter and pantser. Six to ten beta readers review the second draft for me and provide feedback, and then I revise and prep it to send to my editor. Depending on how clean it is, it might take multiple edits/proofreads after that.

Writer’s Block? I might get hung up if I paint myself into a plot corner, and then I must take some time to figure out how to get myself and my characters out of it. But I’m never at a loss for ideas. They come to me even when I’m in the midst of working on a project.

Other Interests? Reading and writing are my life, but I also enjoy working with the metaphysical practices I’ve studied over the years. I used to do Reiki and oracle card readings as a business, and I’ve incorporated some of what I’ve learned into my stories.

Carolyn Fairchild in the Valiant Chronicles and Viktoria Kovacs in Walk In are both psychic readers. The walk in in my story is based on the new age concept, which most people aren’t familiar with. It’s basically one soul leaving the body and another soul entering it to take over the exiting soul’s life. It’s by mutual agreement, though, for my story, I put an evil spin on it.


Author Website:

Facebook: valtobinauthor/


Blog: LinkedIn:

BookBub: tobin

Martine had been minding her own business, sitting in the fresh air on the ferry, when she realized that the two men standing looking out to sea, were doing a drugs deal and chatting about someone who’d died. They were talking in Spanish, and then started discussing if she could have heard their conversation.

‘She probably doesn’t speak Spanish,’ said the big man.

‘Better be safe than sorry,’ said the smaller man.

Time to move, she thought and pulled her thick jumper around her tightly as she stood up and headed for the doorway leading into the café. Suddenly she was grabbed from behind and dragged to the side of the boat . Two pairs of hands lifted her up and threw her over the side. As she was falling, she realized that no one would have seen her, or would come to her rescue.

White Cliffs by Penny Luker

Although it was summer, the water was cold and the sea was turbulent because of the ferry’s engines. When she re-surfaced, she took a deep breath to try and calm herself, and then she took another.

Martine reckoned that she’d been on the ferry for more than an hour and a half and therefore the shorter distance to a shore would be to follow the ferry. Although when you ’re on board, the ferry seems to travel slowly, she could see it getting further away. She swam a few strokes and realized how heavy her sweater was, so she stopped and slipped it off. She would swim faster without it.

How many hours until night came? she thought, and then dismissed the question. She must keep her focus. She could see some white cliffs in the distance so she must keep them in view. Head down in the water, she swam ten strokes and then checked her position. It was indeed a marathon an endless one, but Martine was a survivor. She would not give in. The extreme coldness had gone now as she was swimming. It started to drizzle. Martine couldn’t spare the energy to laugh, but thought it funny that she couldn’t be wetter than she actually was. Would the text I sent my sister, just before being grabbed, cause anyone to look for me?

‘On ferry. Scared’. Probably not, she thought, but I’ll pretend that, firstly my sister will look at her phone and secondly, my sister will ring up the lifeboat rescue service. I must have positive thoughts and hope.

Martine wondered how far she had gone, because those white cliffs still looked the same distance away. She knew she needed to adopt a target strategy. It probably took her twenty strokes to swim a length of a swimming pool at home, but she needed bigger numbers, as the distance was so far, so she decided on fifty strokes. For every fifty strokes she’d count one length of a pool. She started counting, always checking for those white cliffs. After twenty ‘supposed’ lengths, she rolled onto her back and sculled for a bit. It gave her arms a bit of a rest, while she still moved in the right direction.

At one point she thought she was being attacked by a giant jelly fish, but then realized it was a piece of plastic flotsam. There were patches of water that seemed grimy,

with oil, but Martine decided not to think about what she was swimming through. She would think about what those two men looked like, so she could describe them clearly to the police.

One man was built like a rugby player. He must’ve been over six foot. How old was he? Perhaps forty? Difficult to tell. His brown hair was thinning. He was wearing a smart leather jacket. I expect that was expensive, but he’d be able to afford it, she thought. Was there anything unusual about him? Oh heavens, now I’m interviewing myself, (although, not out loud). He had extremely large, white teeth. I wonder what made me think of that.

She stopped and looked up. The cliffs were definitely nearer. I’m going to make it. I’m definitely going to make it. She took a deep breath. What about the other man? He was about five foot five, but skinny. He had black hair, possibly unnaturally black. He was wearing a dark anorak, which had seen better days. He was the one with the wad of cash. Fancy handing over that amount of money near the ship ’s edge. It could have blown away. Then she remembered. He had no front teeth and a scar on his hand.

Although Martine was now incredibly tired and just wanted to go to sleep, she could see the cliffs were so much sharper. She knew she must fight through the tiredness. Another twenty lengths of the swimming pool were what was needed. She started counting again. One, two, three…

Tomorrow I’ll have a good sleep and I must tell my sister that I love her, no matter who she marries. And I’ll treat myself to a new favourite jumper and an enormous jar of moisturising cream and some expensive hair conditioner. I’m probably going to have to skip the European Triathlon, I’ve come over here for.

Martine checked her position and at last she could see a wooden jetty. With a final burst of renewed energy, she headed for it. At first the beach seemed deserted as she hauled herself up the steps. Then she saw an older couple walking towards her.

‘Gosh child, you look like death and you must be freezing in that flimsy top. Look how pale you are,’ said the woman, as she wrapped the blanket they’d been sitting on, around Martine.

‘I need the police,’ said Martine.

‘Perhaps you do love, but we’re taking you to the hospital. Bert you can drive and I’ll call the police to meet us there.’

Martine’s teeth began to chatter and her body started to shake as the couple guided her to their ancient car.

I’m going to get those drug dealers , whatever it takes, thought Martine, as she fell asleep in the warmth of the car.


Toxic Indulgence

“James Tolman,” Martin Wolfe approached the small group and extended his hand. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Quite a party you have here,” Tolman shook the man’s hand and glanced around the room. “A Martin Wolfe gathering does generate a crowd.”

Martin laughed. “Human nature, I suppose. Curiosity has always been a great motivator.” He glanced up when a young, attractive woman approached with a fresh tray of expensive champagne; only the best for the estimable Martin Wolfe. The host of the biggest party in the region an annual event that brought in the wealthiest patrons for miles accepted the fresh glass, took a few seconds to down half of the bubbly liquid, then continued. “I like my privacy, as you well know; but once a year, I come out of what the kids these days call my safe space and mingle for an evening. It’s good for business; and now that the vultures are used to the routine, it offers me a modicum of privacy throughout the rest of the year. Something I could never achieve otherwise.” He laughed and took another long sip of the golden liquid. “And, it guarantees this…” he swung his glass through the air in a sweeping motion that took in the entire crowd. “Anyway, it truly is great to see you, James. And, for the recm glad that insufferable opponent of yours dropped out of the race. I didn’t like him. Didn’t know him; but I did see that interview on the morning show, and I have to say, he was even more arrogant than I am... which is quite an accomplishment, just ask my wife. Unfortunately, I won’t be here next month business in Athens so, congratulations on four more years of... whatever it is you do as Sanpete’s esteemed District Attorney.”

Paige Carter
—Episode 7 142
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 Continue Reading Pg. 143
© Melanie P. Smith

JP (Jo Anne) McLean is a bestselling author of urban fantasy and supernatural thrillers. She is a Global Book Award winner, a Chanticleer Paranormal Award for Supernatural Fiction and Page Turner Award finalist, and has received honours from the Eric Hoffer Book Awards, the Wishing Shelf Book Awards, the NIEA Awards, and the Whistler Independent Book Awards. Her work has won a Readers’ Favorite Award, two Gold Literary Titan medals, and honourable mentions from the Whistler Independent Book Awards and the Victoria Writers’ Society. Reviewers call her work addictive, smart, and fun.

JP holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of British Columbia ’s Sauder School of Business, is a certified scuba diver, an avid gardener, and a voracious reader. She had a successful career in Human Resources before turning her attention to writing. Raised in Toronto, Ontario, JP has lived in various parts of North America, from Mexico and Arizona to Alberta and Ontario. JP now lives with her husband on Denman Island, which is nestled between the coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was raised in Toronto and fell in love with the west coast when I moved there to attend university. After I graduated, Vancouver was my home for many years, but I’ve since migrated to a small northern gulf island called Denman. It’s rural with just 1,300 people and ferry bound, but I love it here. Our home overlooks the ocean, and we ’re steps from the beach. We’re a community of artists and farmers who sell everything from pottery to paintings and pork to potatoes. In the spring, I hear lambs bleating across the road, and in the winter, I hear the winds howl and rain lashing the windows. It ’s the perfect setting for writing.

When did you start writing? Did an event or person prompt you to take that leap?

I started writing fiction twelve years ago, prompted by the dreary winter west coast weather. It was the first winter after my husband and I returned to Denman Island in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to that, we’d spent five consecutive winters in the sunny south, two in Mexico and three in Arizona. After we’d unpacked and settled back into the house, I found myself staring out at the cold, rain-drizzled deck. The days were still getting shorter, and the wet weather had just begun. I knew I needed to focus on something productive or I’d go stir crazy. I decided to challenge myself with writing. Though I never imagined I ’d have an idea big enough for a book, I did have a small idea. I thought I’d write a scene that reflected my recurring dreams of flying. While I’d been away from home, I’d been reading a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal books and loved the genre. The flying scene seemed to fit right in. That one scene led to another, and another. When summer rolled around again, I had a very (VERY) rough draft of what would eventually become Secret Sky, one of seven books in my first series, The Gift Legacy.

Exclusive Interview conducted by Melanie P. Smith

Mark Twain said “Write what you know.” Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster? Do you plot, plan, and conduct hours of research; or, do you just sit down and write whatever comes to mind based on your personal history and knowledge?

If writers took “write what you know” literally, a great many popular fantasy and paranormal books wouldn’t exist, to say nothing of fairy tales. I interpret “write what you know” to suggest you strengthen your writing by

incorporating the emotions and senses that you’ve gathered through your experiences. You might be writing a high fantasy, but you still know what a meadow smells like, how gravel feels under bare feet, and what wind sounds like rushing through trees. When I was a new writer, I did a lot more panstering. It felt natural to me and removed the mental barrier of writing an outline something I groaned at back in high school. But I fell into writing series, and as the series grew, I needed more structure to hold the end points of the story lines and character arcs. Those points turned into outlines, which is how I write today. It ’s a hybrid model. Research happens throughout the project. Before I start writing a new book, I usually have a beginning, an end, and several of the critical scenes in outline form. But as I ’m writing, I let my imagination wander. If it leads me astray or into a dead end, I can always nudge it back to the path of the outline.

What books have influenced your life the most?

The earliest book that influenced me is John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. I was in high school and fascinated by the characters who had clairvoyance and could communicate, even over distances, using just their minds. Good writing in any genre grabs my attention, but I ’m most influenced by urban fantasy and paranormal tales. Deborah Harkness ’ All Souls Trilogy sent my imagination into overdrive. JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood had me tripping around the house with a book in my hand. Charlaine Harris ’ Sookie Stackhouse books kept me up at night. I’m currently reading The Witch Collector by Charissa Weaks and think she’s going to be my next obsession.

What are your current projects?

When I finished the Gift Legacy books, I looked for a writing project that would challenge me. I found that

challenge in the Dark Dreams novels. The setting is still Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest, but the characters are scrappier, poorer, and more hardedged, and the story is grittier. I also switched from writing single point of view to writing multiple points of view and also switched from first person perspective to third person perspective. Weaving together the three characters' stories in a single timeline has been a huge challenge, but one that I’m enjoying. Blood Mark came out in October 2021 and Ghost Mark comes out November 2022. I’m currently working on the third book in the series, which will come out in 2023.

Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

My hobbies include gardening and cooking. I call myself a lapsed gardener because I don ’t dedicate as many hours to the hobby as I used to before I started writing full time, but I still get out there when I need a break. There’s something meditative about getting my hands in the soil, something soothing about the rhythm of pulling weeds. And the gardens produce fruits and veggies that keep me busy in the kitchen. I tend to make more savoury dishes than sweet, and I’m always keen to try a new recipe, but my version rarely turns out like the photo in the recipe.

If money was no issue would you prefer a cozy beach bungalow or a rustic cabin overlooking a mountain lake?

Definitely a cozy beach bungalow, but it has to be a warm beach. I’m a real wuss about cold water.

One final question… Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it? Do you have a social media platform where your fans can go to interact with you and follow your progress?

Fans can connect with me:

On my website at

On Facebook at

On Instagram at

On Amazon at

On Goodreads at

On BookBub at p mclean cd5829f0 6e0d 4189 b561 44651ad67b9e

Abandoned at birth, life has always been a battle for Jane Walker. She and her best friend, Sadie, spent years fighting to survive Vancouver’s cutthroat underbelly. That would have been tough enough without Jane’s mysterious afflictions: an intricate pattern of blood-red birthmarks that snake around her body and vivid, heart wrenching nightmares that feel so real she wakes up screaming.

After she meets the first man who isn’t repulsed by her birthmarks, Jane thinks she might finally have a chance at happiness. Her belief seems confirmed as the birthmarks she’s spent her life so ashamed of magically begin to disappear. Yet, the quicker her scarlet marks vanish, the more lucid and disturbing Jane ’s nightmares become until it’s impossible to discern her dreams from reality, and Jane comes to a horrifying realization: The nightmares that have plagued her since childhood are actually visions of real people being stalked by a deadly killer. And all this time, her birthmarks have been the only things protecting her from becoming his next victim.

Book 1 of the Dark Dreams Series

Blood Mark is the first in a brand new paranormal thriller series by JP McLean, author of The Gift Legacy series and whose writing has been described as “. . . deftly crafted, impressively original, and inherently compelling from first page to last.”

What if your lifelong curse is the only thing keeping you alive?

The newest supernatural thriller by Award-Winning novelist,

Jane’s nightmares are back—and this time, they’ve unleashed a brutal killer.

Jane Walker’s nightmares aren’t imaginary they’re glimpses into the traumatic past; and the past can be dangerous, especially now that Jane’s protective birthmarks are gone. Worse, she’s no longer invisible within her dreams and learns this the hard way while using her power to incriminate a ruthless killer. Inadvertently revealing her ghost form, she launches him on a relentless hunt to track her down.

Even more disturbing, Jane knows this man. She once tried to use her power to save him from injury, but instead set him on a path of violent crime. Now, he’s targeted the man she loves, and Jane must keep one step ahead of this cold blooded assassin before he gets rid of Ethan permanently.

Jane has one last chance to fix the mistake that altered this man’s history, but that means taking her most dangerous dream journey yet one from which she might never awaken.

An exciting blend of action, mystery, suspense, and thrills with a supernatural kick that will leave you wanting more! Ann Charles, USA Today bestselling author of The Deadwood Mystery series

A captivating nail biter that will leave readers thirsting for more! InD'tale Magazine

Will keep you on the edge of your seat . . . an intense, riveting, and fast paced novel. Literary Titan

JP McLean

The following is from Ghost Mark, the second installment of the Dark Dreams series, released on November 1, 2022

McLean's writing is as ingenious as her protagonist, ranging from grunge to repartee to sophistication to laugh-out-loud snarks. Ghost Mark is Gripping. You won't put it down till it's done_ Ottawa Review of Books

This mind-bending, supernatural thriller is a riveting romp through the dark streets of obsession and murder. A story that tugs at your heartstrings and lingers in the mind long after The End. Un putdownable!

Sue Coletta, award-winning author of The Mayhem series

A sexy noir crime novel starring a bold intelligent superhero who seeks justice for past transgressions in a gritty Vancouver landscape.

—W. L. Hawkin, author of The Hollystone Mysteries

Ghost Mark is the second installment of The Dark Dreams Series by JP McLean, an author whose writing the Ottawa Review of Books calls “relentless and original.”

Chapter 1 Jane

GUILT WAS A NAGGING constant in Jane Walker’s life, a gargoyle digging its claws into her spine. She inhaled a heavy breath and steeled herself to return to work. Jane used to love her nursery job at Positively Plants in Vancouver’s West End. But seeing Pieter in his wheelchair every day, and his mom, Anna, with her cane, ate away at her conscience. And then there was Buddy. She wanted to believe that he had survived her unforgiveable lapse of judgment —the lack of a death certificate was a glimmer of hope but it had been months now, and she hadn’t found him.

“You done?” Ethan said, reaching across the brushed -steel bar for Jane’s plate.

Shaken from her thoughts, Jane looked up. “Yeah, thanks.” She rested her fork beside the cold French fry she’d been scooting around her plate and nudged the dish in his direction, catching the slight lift at the edge of his smile that was just for her.

The mirror on the wall of bottles behind him reflected the sunlight that soaked through frosted windows, brightening the room. The effect was amplified by steel tables and blond wood chairs, the product of a recent renovation. Music drizzled in the background, but tonight, when the line formed outside, Riptide’s lights would dim and the music would thump.

Ethan set Jane’s plate in the bussing bin beside the glass washer. A wayward New Year’s streamer lay drunkenly underneath. Jane checked the time. “Guess I’d better go.”

Laughter erupted from a table of safety vested construction workers across the room, who dwarfed their table. Fanny, their server, waved them off and bustled up to the bar.

“They giving you a hard time?” Ethan asked, as she loaded her tray with the pints of beer

Ethan had just pulled. Ethan was notoriously protective of the staff, not that Fanny needed it; though petite, she was a career server and could fend off the worst of the liquid lunch crowd. “They wouldn’t dare,” Fanny said, picking up her overloaded tray and starting back.

Ethan turned to Jane. “You coming over tonight?”

Her relationship with Ethan Bryce was still fresh, exciting. He was the first man who ’d seen beyond her birthmarks, back when she had birthmarks. The first man who ’d loved her without an ounce of pity. That he was also ripped and handsome was a delicious extra.

“After eight, okay?” Jane slid off the bar stool and pulled on her jacket. “Thanks for lunch.”

“Anytime,” Ethan said. She grabbed her helmet and started for the door, but the sound of breaking glass startled her. She swung her head toward the commotion and saw Fanny looking in her direction. With an apology to the construction worker, whose beer she’d just dropped, Fanny darted her gaze away.

Jane paused, wondering what had spooked her, and stepped forward again, not noticing that a wall of a man had veered into her path. She knocked into him hard enough to loosen her grip on the helmet, and gasped as it fell to the floor, bounced, and landed at the feet of the man ’s companion.

“Sorry,” she said to the brick wall she’d bumped into. The man acknowledged her apology with a curt nod, no smile. No wonder Fanny had dropped a glass. He stood his ground, a boulder in a stream, flotsam flowing around him. He ran his hand over the dome of his clean shaven head.

The other man stooped to pick up her helmet. Raindrops glistened on the shoulders of his canvas jacket. “Thank you,” she said. He glanced up at her as he handed her the helmet. Jane sucked in a breath. His eyes were mismatched, one hazel, one brown. She scrutinized him, a more perfect version of the man she remembered. Jane could hardly catch her breath. She’d been searching for him for months. “Buddy?”

A spark of recognition flashed in his eyes before the man frowned. “Ah . . . no.” He looked at his friend with a shrug that suggested Jane had been overserved. No? He was beefier than the Buddy she knew, and taller, but Jane had only ever seen him in a wheelchair. And Buddy was just a nickname. Might be that in this altered reality, he didn ’t have that nickname. She reached for him, stammering while her tongue caught up to her memory. “Dylan?” That was his given name, Dylan O’Brien.

He stepped back, raising his arms like she had some kind of contagion. “I don’t know you, lady.” He then turned and continued toward the bar. The wall that was his companion dismissed her as well and moved alongside him. But how many people had those eyes? It had to be him. She called after him. “Is your mom’s name Mary?”

He rounded on her, annoyed now. “You got the wrong guy.”

From behind the bar, Ethan caught Jane’s attention and shook his head. A warning. She knew better than to ignore it. Though it killed her, she left Riptide without another word, wondering what it was Ethan knew about Buddy. And how long had he known him? She took some comfort in having seen him, in knowing he was alive, but she ’d have to wait until tonight to learn the reason for Ethan’s warning. The wait would be torturous. Her curiosity about this version of Buddy was an itch she was dying to scratch.

After work, Jane parked her Rebel 500 in the gravel patch underneath the second floor bay window. She removed her helmet and headed inside the old Victorian mansion that had been

renovated into disjointed apartments.

Until late last year, she and her best friend, Sadie Prescott, had shared the one bedroom unit in the basement. But in the aftermath of Jane’s kidnapping instigated by Rick Sadie’s former john, Sadie had moved out and taken over the studio unit down the hall and adjacent to the poorly insulated utility room that housed the noisy furnace and boiler. It was a financial stretch for Jane to cover the rent without a roommate, but she’d paid off her Rebel, and that helped.

Both Sadie and Jane’s apartment doors hung open, the only two units on that floor. Jane stood on the threshold of her own place and peered inside, past the worn velour sofa to the kitchen beyond. “Hey, Sade.” Sadie, who had her head in Jane’s clunker of a fridge, straightened. “Good. You’re home. Do you have fresh basil? I’m trying a new recipe.” Sadie’s blonde curls were tied in a knot on top of her head.

“Sorry. There might be a packet of dried, though. Try the cupboard. ”

Jane set her helmet on the floor and hung her biker jacket on a hook by the door. Though Sadie hadn’t lived with her for months, she frequently made herself at home here. Jane didn ’t mind. They’d stitched up the gash Rick had caused in their lifelong friendship, and it had left only a small scar. She liked having Sadie around. They ’d been inseparable since their group home days. More than best friends. Fierce friends. The kind you’d protect with your life, and they had with fists, and knives, and words as sharp as finely honed steel.

“I collected your mail,” Sadie said. “It’s on the trunk.”

“What are you making?” “Penne pesto.”

It was exactly like Sadie not to have one of the main ingredients of a dish she was cooking. “There’s a jar of pesto in the cupboard. ”

Sadie found it. “Great. That’ll work.”

Jane sat on the sofa and absently flipped through her mail. She stopped at the government envelope with the British Columbia Crown Counsel ’s logo on it. The prosecutor. “Shit.”

“What is it?” Sadie came to sit with her.

Jane read the letter. “Looks like it’s started. I have to arrange my first meeting with Crown counsel. Ms. Monica Fowler.”

Jane had thought the trial was still months away. The man responsible for her kidnapping, Dr. Roderick Atkins, aka Mr. Rick Kristan, was safely locked up. She and Sadie had known him as Rick and still referred to him that way. Rick had learned Jane could manipulate the past, and he’d mistakenly thought he could starve her to the point she’d do his bidding and kill his brother.

“I am so not looking forward to reliving those events on the witness stand.” But unless Rick pleaded guilty, Jane would have no other option. She handed the letter to Sadie. “So much for wishful thinking.” Sadie straightened her spine but wouldn’t look at Jane.

Jane pulled the letter out of Sadie’s grip before her friend could spiral. “Rick is responsible for what happened to me, not you. ” Sadie never used to hold on to regret. She was a free spirit, often touting their old mantra: never look back. But she had a firm grip on her guilt over what had happened to Jane. It saddened her to see the change in Sadie.

Jane steered the conversation in a happier direction. “Guess who I saw today?” She told Sadie about bumping into Buddy at Riptide.

“You sure it was him?”

“He was taller than I would have thought. About Ethan’s height.” Jane’s phone rang. “That’ll be Ariane. You want to say hi?” Ariane Rebaza was the professor helping Jane navigate the minefield of her visiting dreams.

“Nah. Another time,” Sadie said. “Come over when you’re done.”

Jane understood Sadie’s reluctance. She hadn’t yet shaken off the shame of admitting to Ariane that she had been a prostitute, and that she had played a part, albeit unwittingly, in Rick ’s scheme to get his hands on Jane.

But Jane had forgiven her. They’d both made mistakes.

Jane answered Ariane’s call and turned on the video. She recognized Ariane’s kitchen in her family’s home in Lima. Ariane was a slight woman in her thirties with olive skin and expressive dark eyes. Her long ebony hair was pulled back in her customary ponytail. To Ariane ’s left sat her grandmother, Yessica, an elegant if birdlike woman with a nest of white hair piled on her head. To her right was an elderly woman named Rosa Yupanqui. Rosa was sturdy and thick necked with cropped steel-grey hair and hard eyes.

The elderly women were from what Ariane called “the old families.” They held the knowledge of the old ways and passed it on to the next generation. The younger generation scoffed at their lore, but not Ariane. She was a renowned Inca scholar who ’d dedicated her life to exploring and preserving their history.

And now Jane was caught up in it as well. After learning of her dreams, Ariane and the old families had identified her as una testigo, a Witness. As was Jane’s late mother, a woman Jane had only seen in her dreams. The old families hadn’t known about Jane or her mother. In Peru, Witnesses hadn’t existed for more than a hundred years.

Rosa’s face split into a wide smile. She spoke Spanish, which Ariane translated. “Rosa is asking if you’ve dreamed yet.” Ariane’s accent had gotten more pronounced since she’d left Vancouver to return to Lima.

“No. Nothing yet.” Jane hadn’t had what she called a visiting dream since her twenty fifth birthday more than five months before. Rosa understood Jane’s reply without translation, and her smile faded. Rosa had great hopes that in one of her dreams, Jane would be able to locate a family heirloom, a ritual offering bowl. The very bowl responsible for the blood marks that had now faded from Jane’s body.

Rosa and Yessica exchanged words that sounded like grave disappointment.

“Tell her I’m sorry. If I ever figure out how to choose what I dream of, I’ll try to find the bowl for her.”

Ariane translated and, after further follow-up in Spanish, the two elderly women nodded. “They’ve been praying for you,” Ariane said, with a mischievous smirk. “But I’m not sure you’d appreciate it; their prayers are for your dreams to return. ”

Jane forced a smile. Her dreams weren’t like other people’s. Hers were dangerous. She dreamed of the past. And at times, unpredictably, she slipped into those dreams. When that happened, one misplaced step could change history. Buddy and Pieter were living reminders of that.

Jane had dreamed of the night Buddy was born—the same night Pieter was born. On impulse, Jane had helped Buddy’s heavily pregnant mom navigate an icy patch of pavement at St. Paul’s hospital. Jane had thought she’d prevented a life altering fall. But all she’d done was delay the accident and change the victim. Now Pieter was in a wheelchair instead of Buddy. “Gracias,” Jane said. “Please tell them I’ll call you if I dream again. ”

“Not if,” Ariane said. “When.”

A new direction from Award-Winning #Own Voices Author Natasha Deen The

Spooky Sleuths Series

"A spooky adventure rooted in Guyanese folklore...with just the right amount of chills." Kirkus Reviews

NATASHA DEEN writes for kids, teens, and adults, and believes the world is changed one story at a time. As a Guyanese-Canadian and a child of immigrants, she’s seen first hand how stories have the power to shape the world. Her works include the Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection Thicker than Water, Guardian which was a Sunburst Award nominee, and the Alberta Readers’ Choice nominated Gatekeeper When she’s not writing, she teaches Introduction to Children’s Writing with the University of Toronto SCS and spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. Visit Natasha at and on Twitter/Instagram, @natasha_deen


Do you Love Soccer? Do you also dream of scoring the Greatest Goal in The History of Everything? Find out how it’s done in this thrilling soccer space adventure.

The soccer ball in this story leaves Earth with a mighty strike of the boot and rockets past every planet. Each planet has a landmark of a famous soccer city in the UK. See if you can work out which city and soccer club it is!

The collage illustrations in this picture book are fun and vibrant and really make the story come alive. It genuinely seems as if you are travelling along with the soccer ball through space. Children will learn about the planets in our solar system in a fun and exhilarating way, travelling faster than the speed of soccer!

Let your imagination travel to new soccer frontiers on this magical fantasy adventure. Follow the journey of the world’s most adventurous soccer ball as it travels through our solar system and finally lands where?

Matthew Bennett Young is a British author and has published in many forms (picture books, flash fiction, short stories and poetry) although his big passion is for picture books. Not only does he write but sometimes he illustrates as well. He is also an artist educator and has been teaching his inspiring workshops all over the world. He currently resides in Montreal and is a member of Artist Inspire and Culture a L’Ecole. He believes all creativity is a form of expression and is essential for wellbeing, especially now, and it takes practice!

A fantastic soccer journey through space and time brought to you by critically acclaimed children ’s author Matthew Bennett Young
More Books from Matthew Bennett Young
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Light Love Rituals

Budni Vecher

December 25 –

Коледа – Koleda: Christmas.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Christmas season starts on November 15 and continues until December 27, Saint Stefan’s Day.

A more unusual “cleansing” is the removal of bad spirits. To accomplish this, the female head of household walks around the

home and yard with burning incense, to chase those spirits away. This tradition began long ago when people believed unseen beings lurked in dark corners. By ridding their homes of both dirt and spirits, families can greet the new year clean and full of positive energy.

Christmas Eve. The year is coming to a close. It’s a time of festivity for Christian and non Christian alike. In the Eastern Orthodox Church,

Budni vecher marks the end of forty days of fasting from meat to purify both body and soul. In preparation for the holiday, families thoroughly cleanse and tidy their houses, because on Koleda, Christmas, traditional beliefs prohibit sweeping, washing, cleaning, and any kind of household work. An old superstition says that even sewing isn’t allowed, to prevent family members from going blind.

Other traditions people perform on this day also have special meanings. Among these are cutting a budnik or Yule log, selecting food for the evening meal, and blessing families with incantations and songs.

~ Origins ~

People in antiquity believed the winter solstice brought beginnings, rather than endings. Up until this date, the Sun was a dying god, his light shining less each day. On the solstice, however, the Sun was reborn as a new god called Mlada Boga or Young God, and daylight once again increased. Various religions celebrated the solstice in their own way. In the third century A.D., Emperor Aurelian combined these celebrations into a single festival called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun,” observed on December 25. Eventually, the early church designated this day as the celebration of the birth of Christ, and “Young God” came to refer to Jesus rather than a pagan, or non Christian, deity.

During the solstice, people in antiquity believed the heavens and Earth were at their closest points and merged, renewing natural energies. With the release of this power, vile spirits and the souls of the dead had free rein to mingle with people. These unsavory beings desired to bring chaos to the world by preventing the return of light, that is, the rebirth of the Sun God. People therefore performed rituals to protect families and crops.

~ Rituals in Practice ~

Instead of describing each ritual in detail, we invite you into the home of a fictional family, so you can celebrate with them. Let’s now meet Maria and Georgi, who live in Emona, a small village in Bulgaria along the Black Sea. They have two children: eight year old Nikolay, whom everyone calls Niki, and his fifteen year old sister Rada. You’ll also meet Baba Marta, Georgi’s mother, who lives with the family. The children adore her, and love to listen to her stories. And we can’t forget the children’s puppy, Balkan. He’s a Bulgarian Shepherd, also called a Karakachan.

Early in the morning, Rada makes a fortune bread. She mixes flour into the wet dough with a spoon, then glances at her mother who’s sitting at the kitchen table. “Did you used to make the pitka when you were young, before you were engaged to Dad?”

Maria looks up from writing on slips of paper. “Yes, I always started the dough. My mother told me that having the yeast ’s fermentation on my hands ensured everyone in the house could eventually have children.”

“I thought that’s why you touched the fruit trees with the dough.”

“True, we do that so women can conceive, but the ritual ensures our land stays fertile, too. It’ll make sure our apple and plum trees have plenty of fruit, our garden has lots of vegetables, and the grapes in your father’s vineyard are fat in the fall.”

Rada continues mixing the dough. “I like making this. Maybe I can do it all next time.”

“That would be helpful. I have to finish the bread today, but you can make the tikvenik later.”

“Sure.” Rada adds more flour to the dough. When it’s firm enough to knead with her fingers, she says, “You can take over now, Mom.”

“Thank you. I’ve finished writing the fortunes for the pitka. Will you wrap them in foil?”

“After I read them. I want to see which one I might get.”

Maria trades places with Rada and works the rest of the flour into the dough. She sets it aside to rise, then goes outside. Rada joins her.

With the sticky dough still clinging to her fingers, Maria touches the fruit trees in their yard and prays, “Lord, please give us a bountiful harvest this year.”

“Is asking God’s help part of the ritual?”

“No, but it doesn’t hurt. Before you were born, every time I did this, I asked Him to let me have children. ” Maria grins at Rada. “And here you and Niki are.”

Spirit Removal

Once inside, Maria cleans her fingers, then kneels at the fireplace. She grasps a hot coal with tongs and drops it into a pan on top of tamiyan. The fragrant scent of incense fills the room. She carries the pan to the next room. Niki tags along, clinging to his mother’s apron as she walks through each room.

He looks into dark corners and pushes smoke toward them. “Are you sure this will chase away bad spirits?”

She pats his head. “Yes. You can sleep well tonight and think about what St. Nicholas will bring you tomorrow.”

Satisfied she’s cleansed the house, Maria heads back outside where more spirits linger. Niki scrambles from window to window, watching as his mother walks around the house. When she returns, he rushes toward her. “Mom, I saw black shapes running away when the smoke got near them.”

“Really?” She arches her brows, then places the incense on a low table, where the family will eat the evening meal. “I hope I got rid of them all.”

The Budnik

In the forest, Georgi carries an axe over his shoulder. He looks for a young, straight oak. Last year, he felled an apple tree that no longer bore fruit. He trudges toward an oak and walks around it, inspecting the trunk. “Yes, this will do,” he says. He chops it down, but doesn’t allow the section he’ll use as a budnik, or Yule log, to touch the ground, so its magical power doesn’t seep into the soil. At home he carves a small hole into the trunk’s long side with a chisel and hammer. He leaves the trunk on the porch and goes inside to relax before finishing the ritual.

When the sun sets, Georgi prepares the budnik . He pours incense, oil, and wine into the hole. Then he plugs it, wraps it in a white cloth, and brings it inside. Upon entering, he calls out, “Do you glorify the Young God?” To which his family replies, “Yes, we glorify the Young God. We welcome him.”

Georgi removes the white cloth, then places the log into the fireplace with the plugged end on top.

Niki comes over and sits on the hearth. “Can I help?”

“Sure. You can take the plug out, while I get matches to light the budnik.”

Niki grasps the plug and yanks on it until his father returns. “I think it’s stuck.”

“I guess I put it in too tight.” Georgi wraps his hands around Niki’s. The two pull together until the plug pops out. He hands his son a match. “You can light it.”

Niki peers into the hole, then sniffs it. “It’s like what Mom burned earlier. Will this keep spirits away, too?”

Georgi chuckles. “No, it’s to make sure everyone stays healthy. When the budnik burns, it sends energy toward the sun. In return, the sun protects us. ”


“It’s a different kind of energy. The budnik’s fire symbolizes the sun’s heat, light, and ability to ensure life. We let it burn all night so its energy helps with the sun ’s rebirth at the solstice. You can ask Baba to tell you one of her stories about the sun being reborn every year.”

The Meal

Maria inserts the foil wrapped fortunes into the pitka when the dough has risen, then she places the pan into the oven. Soon its mouth watering aroma drifts throughout the house. While the bread bakes, Rada removes filo dough from the refrigerator for tikvenik, a pumpkin banitsa. Maria gets the ingredients to make sarmi, stuffed grape leaves, and oshav, boiled dry apples and plums.

Niki rushes over, with Balkan behind him. “Let me help, too.”

Maria points toward the cupboard. “You can get mixed nuts, honey, apples, plums, and dried fruit, and put them into the dishes on the table. ”

He rubs his finger over the colorful design baked into the clay bowls. “These are the ones you bought in the market this week.”

“That’s right. We all got something new for the house, so we’ll have good luck.”

Niki retrieves the requested items, and eats a few nuts while he pours them into the bowl. He counts the dishes for the feast, starting with the ones he placed on the table. “One, two, three, four, five.” He looks at Rada rolling up the tikvenik log. “Six.” Then he turns toward his mother and counts the sarmi and oshav. “Seven, eight.” And finally he looks at the oven and breathes in deep. “Nine.” He points at each item, counting them again. “Only nine this year?”

“No, silly, twelve,” Rada replies as she ruffles his hair. “I’ll take out red wine, olives, and garlic later. We used to have only seven or nine before Baba moved in, but you were too young to remember that.”

“Why does it matter how many we have?” Niki pops more nuts into his mouth. Maria answers from the sink, where she’s washing grape leaves. “We make sure we have seven, nine, or twelve dishes because those are special numbers. Seven is magical, nine is how many months a baby grows, and twelve signifies the months of the year.”

Niki peeks into the oven when Rada checks the bread. “The dough grapes on top of the pitka are so golden. Why do we have grapes on top anyway?”

the sun already hot enough? It doesn’t need more energy.”

“You have lots of questions today,” she says. “That’s what Dad does for work. Since he grows grapes, we decorate the pitka with them.” She places the bread on top of the stove to cool. “Farmers decorate theirs with ploughs, like your friend Yordan ’s family. My friend Helena prefers to have a cross and other religious symbols on top.”

Niki sticks his nose close to the bread. “Mmm. I love this.” He moves out of the way when his sister puts the tikvenik and sarmi into the oven. “And both of those, too. Next year I want to help.”

“You can help now by telling Dad and Baba we’ll be ready in about half an hour.”

“Can I help Dad with the straw?” He jiggles from foot to foot.

“Go check,” Maria says. “I think he’s resting in his room.”

Niki dashes away, returning moments later, handfuls of straw clutched close to his chest. “I’m helping Dad!”

Georgi and Niki spread the straw in front of the hearth. Over the straw, Georgi sets a sinia, the low, wooden table Maria had placed the incense on earlier.

“Dad?” Niki sits on exposed straw. “Why aren’t we putting the cloth down like we did last year?”

“It was too difficult for Baba to get up from sitting on the floor. Remember?”

Niki puts his hand over his mouth to stop the laughter because Baba enters the room. He kisses both her cheeks when she sits in her rocker. “I know why we put straw on the floor.”

“You do?” She pretends she doesn’t know why. “Please tell me.”

“It’s because Jesus was born in a stable.”

“That’s right.” Baba rocks in her chair. “And do you know what we do with the straw afterwards?”

“Umm, burn it around the fruit trees?”

“Not quite. Your dad will scatter some under the fruit trees, and burn the rest in the vineyard.”

Niki looks at his dad, then back to his grandmother. “Why does he do that?”

“He puts it under the trees so they’ll produce more fruit, and he burns some in the vineyard to protect the grapes from hailstorms.” Baba leans forward and motions for Niki to come closer. She whispers, “And do you know what your mother did when she had you in her belly?”

“No,” he whispers back.

“She lay on the straw before your father took it away, so you ’d be born healthy.”

Niki stares at his mother. “Mom, is ” Maria puts her finger to her lips. “Niki, you can help set the table. Everything’s ready.”

He skips over and picks up the nuts, eating another one. When they finish setting the table, everyone sits on three-legged wooden chairs.

Georgi breaks the bread into chunks, wraps the first piece in a white cloth, and sets it aside.

Niki reaches for it. “Can I have that one?”

“No,” his father says. “That’s for the entire household.” He breaks off two more pieces and places them on a plate. “This one’s for God and the Virgin Mary, and the other one is for Balkan.”

“Balkan can’t eat it.” Niki pouts. “Why does he get a piece before me?”

“He has to have a fortune, too. You can eat his piece later if you want.”

“Yes, I do.” Niki smiles.

Finally, Georgi passes a piece to every family member, beginning with Baba, then Maria, Rada, and finally Niki.

Niki smashes his piece, looking for the foil-covered treasure hidden inside. “I hope I get the coin so I’ll be the luckiest one this year.” He unwraps the foil and sighs. “Nope. It’s a fortune. ‘You will grow tall and strong this year.’ Yeah! I’m going to be as tall as Dad.” Baba breaks in. “Did anyone get the coin?”

Everyone says, “No,” at the same time.

Niki wiggles in his seat. “Can I check the others, pleeeease.”

“Go ahead.” His mother hands him the plate. “Check the house one first. ” After he tears it apart, he shouts, “The coin’s here. Yeah! We’re all going to be healthy and lucky this year. I’m going to eat this piece and save mine to put under my pillow. ”

Baba puts her hand on Niki’s. “I hope you have a wonderful dream. Budni vecher dreams are certain to become reality.” She winks at Rada. “And perhaps you’ll dream of a nice young man.”

“Baba, no! If I do, I’ll have to marry him this year, and I’m not ready for that.” Rada blushes.

“I still want to participate in the lazaruvane this springand wear flowers in my hair, and all the other fun things we do on Tsvenitsa.”

Balkan whines, nosing in between each person.

“Someone should let the dog out while we eat.” Georgi looks at Maria, who arches her eyebrows.

“What?” she says. “You know we can’t get up once the meal’s started. Only the head of household, and that’s you.”

He chuckles. “Of course. We don’t want to chance having bad luck.” He stoops as he walks toward the door.

Niki tugs on his grandmother ’s sleeve. “Baba, something’s wrong with Dad.”

“Nothing to worry about.” She smiles at him. “It’s customary to walk bent over if we have to leave the table. It represents heavy grains of wheat on the stalk. We do it to make sure the harvest is plentiful.”

When the family finishes their meal, Niki says, “I’ll help clean up.”

“Not tonight,” Maria says. “We leave food out all night so our ancestors ’ spirits can eat their fill.”

“But …” Niki purses his lips. “I thought you got rid of all the spirits.”

“Yes, dear, I did. The bad ones. Our ancestors are good spirits, who protect us, not harm us.”

The Koledari Blessings

Later that evening, Niki’s friend Yordan Dimitrov stops by with his father Adrian. “Niki, I’m so excited to be in the Koleduvane procession this year. Are you?”

“Yes.” Niki puts on his jacket, then grabs his traditional folk costume from the chair. “Let’s go. Bye, Mom, Dad, Baba, Rada. See you later.”

They say their own good byes and wait for the carolers to return.

“Our little boy is growing up.” Maria sighs.

“At least it’s no longer an initiation rite,” Baba says. “He’s not ready to go out on his own and start a family.”

“No, but my little warrior thinks he has the power to battle spirits that bring winter’s cold.”

Soon after midnight, the parade of boys and bachelors makes its way back to Niki’s house. Niki and Yordan walk in front, shouting, “The koledari are coming,” as loud as they can. They swing their carved walking sticks, which are decorated with flowers and popcorn. Several ring shaped buns dangle around the top of their staffs. The bags at their sides are stuffed with coins, walnuts, bacon, sausage, and cheese that they’ve received in return for blessings they ’ve given at each home. The men also carry a baklitsa, a small, wooden flask of wine, used on special occasions.

As the leader, Adrian knocks on the door and is the first to enter. He raises his baklitsa and recites a blessing: “Health from God. Merriment from us.” Then he drinks a toast. The koledari gather around him and sing, “Welcome us. We sing for you, dear hosts. We are kind guests visiting. Kind guests, koledari.” They sing other traditional songs and recite incantations about health, well being, and happiness for both the house and its occupants. Maria and Georgi give each of them gifts, which the singers add to their nearly full bags.

After the koledari say good bye, Niki runs back inside as his father is about to close the door. He wraps his arms around his mother and quickly says, “Bye, Mom!” He rushes to catch up with the other singers, who are proceeding to the next house to give their blessings and receive more gifts.

Supplemental Chapter Material


Did you know…?

Spirits cannot cast spells using bread and wine because these items symbolize the body and blood of Christ. In fact, these sacred items frighten demons.

Did you know…?

Budnik ashes and embers possess magical healing powers. Scattering them over fields ensures crops are plentiful, and mixing them with feed makes livestock healthy and fertile. In some villages, people sprinkle ashes in a hen’s nest hoping the bird will lay more eggs.

Did you know…?

Cracking a walnut and finding plump meat inside means you ’ll be healthy and successful for the year. But, beware, if it’s shriveled, you’ ll suffer illness and have bad luck.

Ronesa Aveela

Ronesa Aveela is “the creative power of two.” Two authors that is. Nelly, the main force behind the work, the creative genius, was born in Bulgaria and moved to the US in the 1990s. She grew up with stories of wild Samodivi, Kikimora, the dragons Zmey and Lamia, Baba Yaga, and much more.

Rebecca, her writing partner, was born and raised in the New England area. She has a background in writing and editing, as well as having a love of all things from different cultures. She’s learned so much about Bulgarian culture, folklore, and rituals, and writes to share that knowledge with others.

Find More from Val Tobin...


A blockbuster Trilogy of novels by critically acclaimed horror author, Stephanie Ellis

Return to the Weald, the world Stephanie Ellis introduced us to in The Five Turns of the Wheel

Reborn is the story of Cernunnos, the Father of all, who has risen. Born of blood offerings, he travels to the Layerings one of those places, like Umbra, which sit just beyond the human veil.

Reborn is the story of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler, the infamous troupe whose bloody rituals were halted by Megan, Tommy’s

A terrifying pandemic sweeps the world, rendering its victims completely immobile but leaving them conscious with their minds intact. The victims are helpless against the environment, completely at the mercy of wild animals, weather, out of control fires, and other dangers. There’s no hope for those safe in their homes either, as they slowly starve to death, unable to feed themselves or drink.

Tyler Torrence has inherited his late grandfather's house, a home filled with bad memories and nightmares from his childhood. He returns hoping to learn the truth of his grandfather's secrets, especially the secret of the 'impossible bottles' and what lay beyond the black door. The door through which he was never allowed to enter as a child. But returning to the house is a mistake. It doesn't take long for Tyler to realize the hold the house has over him, and that he is a prisoner of the ancestral curse that claimed his grandfather. Now he must fight to break the curse before it claims him and his son.



Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the most recent being Scott J. Moses’ What One Wouldn’t Do, Demain Publishing’s A Silent Dystopia and Brigids Gate Press’ Were Tales. Her longer work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her short stories can be found in the collections, The Reckoning, and As the Wheel Turns poetry has been published in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII and VII, Black Spot Books Under Her Skin and online at Visual Verse. She has also co-written a collection of found poetry, Foundlings, with Cindy O’Quinn based on the work Alessandro Manzetti and Linda D. Addison. A gathering of her dark twists on traditional nursery rhymes can be found in the collection, One, Two, I See You is co editor of Trembling With Fear,'s online magazine and also co edited the Daughters of Darkness anthologies. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at and on twitter at @el_stevie. thefreddycruz/ show/2EipITDvfHUHanTmhW DVqp

The Greater Houston area has heard Freddy Cruz’s voice for more than seventeen thousand hours across three decades. in/thefreddycruz/

In 2022, he launched his own media company, Freddy Cruz Creative Works, and is the host of Freddy’s Huge ASK Podcast. When he's not in the lab writing or creating auditory satisfaction, you can find him nose deep in a book or snuggling with his dog Sparrow. Keep up with him on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I love dogs, food, books, running, and talking to strangers from all walks of life. These things manage to weave themselves into my life’s work, whether it’s my media company, a novel, or one of my podcast interviews.

Are you a multi -genre author or a single-genre author? How did you decide what types of book you would write?

Multi-genre. Why limit myself? I write whatever “calls” on me to be written.

If you write in multiple genres, do you have a favorite, or is one type of book easier for you to write than others, and why?

I don’t have a favorite genre because what I write involves conflict. Obscene amounts of conflict.

When did you start writing? Did an event or person prompt you to take that leap?

My first stab at writing was for my high school ’s yearbook staff. Copywriting for terrestrial radio for nineteen years paid my bills. But I didn ’t start writing novels until 2018. That’s when my kids challenged me to write one. The subject matter wasn’t their choice, though.

How / where do you find the plots you write about?

Everyday life. I love people watching and talking to people and integrating them into plots.

What books have influenced your life the most?

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write without fear. Write without regret. Write as if your life depends on it. Don ’t let down the senior citizen version of yourself. So write.

Mark Twain said “Write what you know.” Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot, plan, and conduct hours of research; or, do you just sit down and write whatever comes to mind based on your personal history and knowledge?

No disrespect to the legend, BUUUUUUUT…I despise that trope. How does someone who writes about aliens from Mars live the experience of someone who encounters aliens from Mars? Yes, research must be conducted. Yes, you should know what you ’re talking about. But I don’t think fiction writers should hold themselves to that kind of unrealistic standard. Instead, write what you love. If you love it, you most certainly will know it.

As far as my process, I do what I can to make sure my facts and details are accurate.

And while I’m not a plotter, my newest book was written with the help of a short outline. But I allowed myself to go rogue. Doing so allowed me to write a couple of disturbing twists in the second half of the book.

Tell us your latest news

Allow Me to Ruin Your Christmas is on sale now. It’s a holiday mystery with a twist of dark humor set in Houston during the holiday season. Bestselling author Adam Hamdy was gracious enough to write up a blurb: “If you like your festive stories dark and twisted, Freddy Cruz has a gem for you. ”

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I want readers to take away what they want to take away from it.

If money was no issue would you prefer a cozy beach bungalow or a rustic cabin overlooking a mountain lake?

A beach bungalow. In Seaside, Florida, aka PARADISE. My family and I love that part of Florida.

One final question...Do you have a blog/website? If so, what is it? Do you have a social media platform where your fans can go to interact with you and follow your progress?

From my media company and podcast to my blog and books, you can reach me at Search for @thefreddycruz on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Beckett needs his eyes bleached. Catching his mom and his favorite podcaster doing things that will get them on Santa’s naked and naughty list is enough to turn his stomach. And after he agrees to officially meet the new boyfriend, his slightly nauseous Yuletide cheer devolves into rage when he learns the guy was involved in his father’s death.

Driven by the need for vengeance, the incensed son sets out to stuff the homewrecking grinch’s stocking with burning coal by going after the loser’s wife and daughter. But as Beckett's gore trimmed plan descends into chaos, another ghastly secret could send him into murderous overdrive.

Is he about to unwrap a no-holds-barred retribution spree?

A new spin on the holiday season

Allow Me to Ruin Your Christmas is a perfectly gruesome revenge thriller. If you like characters pushed over the edge, dark acts, and family drama, then you’ll love Freddy Cruz’s bloodstained holiday treat.

Can you share a sample of your current work with us?

Critically acclaimed media host Freddy Cruz

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall. Maybe even a flea on Rudy ’s back. Watching the downward spiral of his podcast and the cancellation of what little ad revenue he ’s got. The FOMO wears off as I ponder the next two tricks up my sleeve. Ellis and Avery. Someone call 911 because I’d like to report an arson. I’m about to set Lex’s life on fire and fan the flames with misery.

I pull into the parking lot of a nearby grocery store to survey the damage.

The thumbs down counts on Lex’s YouTube stream increase by the nanosecond and my work is done here. Time to focus on more pressing matters. Like, who to seduce first? Ellis or Avery? Mother or daughter? I pull up Instagram and finding people is way too easy. You’d think with all the horror stories and Law and Order episodes meant to scare young women into disconnecting, more of ‘em would at least set their shit to private.

But not Avery. And just like her mom, she’s horny to share everything with her one thousand seven hundred twenty two Instagram followers. She likes coffee, as evidenced by every other post of a Starbucks cup or some cheesy coffee meme. She loves Rudy, possibly more than Piper (and definitely more than her parents). And books. Let’s just say her choice of literature makes E.L. James look like a children’s author. A pic of a coffee mug, a burnt scone, and a copy of I Let Him Mine My Bitcoin. The cover reveals a masked dude with an iron jaw and chiseled abs. A tattoo of the bitcoin logo spans his torso. The manicured hands of a woman cover his chest and I wanna HODL Avery’s curves right after I mine Ellis’s treasure from under the rubble of Lex’s demolished existence.

My phone pings. The notification reads, “The OGAG followed you on Instagram.”

Another notification. “The OGAG liked your photo.” I haven’t posted in over a week. It was a pic of my watch, displaying my personal record 5k run—a seven minute mile pace.

Another notification. “The OGAG liked your photo.” This one was from seven months ago. Me and my mom on her birthday.

My phone bleeds notifications. Avery likes twenty pics in a row and I thought I was obsessive. Another chime. A direct message from OGAG herself and what is it with suburban females

Allow Me to Ruin Your Christmas

and their love of using “OG?” As if anyone of them have ever been to Fifth Ward or Segundo Barrio. I should report her for stalking but Avery and I have business to take care of. She doesn’t know it yet but she will help me set her dad’s life on fire. But not before I let her (or her mother) heat me up a little.

I open the message and judging by the twenty likes spanning the past couple of minutes, she’s two more away from abducting me and slicing my face off so she can wear it next Halloween. The message reads, Thx for the follow. Hope you like coffee, books and makeup.

I wait exactly fifteen minutes. Anything sooner would make me look like a deranged stalker. I scroll my feed. I stop. I reply: I ’m a sucker for all three, actually. Well, except for makeup. Lipstick and eyeliner don ’t look good on me.

She replies right away and she’s ready for the B master. I suppose you might be right about that lol.

My phone chimes. A text from another Griffin. Her mom. I can already envision its contents. When you ’re done with my daughter, let me show you how a real woman can take care of you. Winky face.

Yeah right. But it’s the next best thing. Ninfa ’s. Tonight. No is not an option. Drinks on me and let ’s hope Drunk Margarita Chick doesn ’t show up this time.

Another DM from Avery. We should study tonight. You, me and lattes over democracy.

The Griffin ladies have presented me with quite a dilemma. I wiggle my fingers over my phone, pondering my next DM. Sorry, democracy bores me. So I ’m seeing your mom tonight and if she ’s lucky, I might put my ballot in her box.

Just kidding. I sigh and pound my thumbs on my phone. Sorry, plans tonight. Maybe later in the week? She replies. Yeah, that was a last minute ask. Just looking for something to do while the power ’s out at home.


Award-winning author Matt Hughes’s YA outdoor adventure tale set in the Swan Hills of Alberta now available from Shadowpaw Press

The Emir’s Falcon, an exciting new young adult tale of outdoor adventure by award winning Canadian author Matt (Matthew) Hughes, is now available in print, ebook, and audiobook editions from Saskatchewan publisher Shadowpaw Press Premiere.

“The novella evolved out of a real event that happened when I was an aide to Canada's Minister of the Environment,” Matt Hughes explains. “The government decided to give a peregrine falcon to a Persian Gulf emir. I wondered how the teenage volunteers who worked with the birds at the breeding facility would react. Almost forty years later, I stopped wondering and made a story out of it.”

The Emir’s Falcon is a sharp, fast moving tale with keenly observed young characters from very different backgrounds, brought together in the evocatively depicted Swan Hills of Alberta,” said Edward Willett, editor and publisher of Shadowpaw Press. “ I’m thrilled to be able to make it available to readers of all ages and to also offer an audiobook version narrated by the wonderful Elizabeth Klett.”

The Emir’s Falcon can be ordered through any brick and mortar bookstore. This handy URL provides links to multiple online sources for print, ebook, and audiobook editions: https:// It can also be purchased directly from Shadowpaw Press at emirs falcon/.

Matt (Matthew) Hughes writes fantasy, space opera, and crime fiction. He has sold twenty four novels to publishers large and small in the UK, US, and Canada, as well as nearly 100 works of short fiction to professional markets. His latest novels are A God in Chains (Dying Earth fantasy) from Edge Publishing and What the Wind Brings (magical realism/historical novel) from Pulp Literature Press. He has won the Endeavour and Arthur Ellis Awards and has been shortlisted for the Aurora, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Endeavour (twice), A.E. Van Vogt, Neffy, and Derringer Awards. He has been inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association's Hall of Fame. Website:


An Anthology of Gothic and Haunting Tales

Last Waltz Publishing brings you an anthology of gothic tales and horrors for the season, filled with, tragedy, heartbreak, wonderment, and terror. Journey into these thought provoking worlds and behold the majesty of traditional gothic elements delivered with a modern style. Inspired by a true love for the Macabre and the unnerving atmosphere of the Gothic genre, author Daemon Manx has gathered together some of the greatest literary voices of our time.

With a foreword by Candace Nola this anthology of fifteen short stories from some of the most terrifying authors in today's horror world will transport you into the shadows.

Light a candle and lock the doors because the hour of the witch is close at hand. The tales within this haunting collection are of dark places and shadows, catacombs and hidden passages, witches, vampires, secrets and curses. There are stories of deception, possession, despair and remorse, betrayal and of course ... death.

Daemon Manx

Daemon Manx is an award winning American author who writes horror, suspense, supernatural, and speculative fiction. Daemon has recently been nominated for the 2021 Splatterpunk awards for his debut, Abigail in the best short story category. In 2021 he received a HAG award for his story The Dead Girl. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), and the Horror Authors Guild (HAG) and has been featured in magazines in both the U.S. and the U.K. Daemon lives with his sister, author Danielle Manx and their narcoleptic cat, Sydney where the patiently prepare for the apocalypse. There is a good chance they will runout of coffee far too soon.

Brought to you by Daemon Manx and Last Waltz Publishing Christian Bauman

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

Atticus An Authors Best Friend

Create professional print books and eBooks easily with the all-in-one book writing software. Seamlessly import your existing work. Write your book in the editor built for authors. Choose the look and feel of your book. Your export will work with ANY book market and platform. KU vs Wide Should you be Exclusive to Amazon or Not?

One of the most prevailing questions in publishing right now is: should you publish exclusively with Amazon, or should you publish wide (i.e. with all the other ebook retailers). On the other hand, there are many reasons why you might want to publish wide instead. vs wide/

Writing Beginnings with Shane Millar

What do you need in the beginning of your novel so your reader buys your book? Shane Millar shares tips for writing brilliant beginnings, regardless of your genre. beginnings/

Writing Romance: Acoid These 13 Mistakes

Are you a first-time romance author feeling overwhelmed with everything required to publish your book? My romance-writing friends and I have got you covered. Take a deep breath, grab your favorite beverage, and heed the advice of these romance authors willing to share the mistakes they made when starting out.

Thickwood, Saskatchewan author Gayle M. Smith’s debut novel, intertwines the fascinating worlds of horses and women’s professional baseball with a touch of romance and a lot of heart. It’s now available in print, ebook, and audiobook editions from Saskatchewan publisher Shadowpaw Press Premiere.

“Many years ago a muse entered my writing life and she turned into a character that wouldn’t leave my side,” Smith says. “I hope readers enjoy Willomena and her adventures in Thickwood. Thank you to Shadowpaw Press for sharing the dream.”

“Thickwood is a tale I fell in love with as I worked on it with Gayle during my stint as writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library,” says Edward Willett, editor and publisher of Shadowpaw Press. “I think it’s a story that will enthrall readers on a number of levels, from the detailed, well researched behind the scenes look at the world of the All American

Professional Girls’ Baseball league, made famous as A League of Their Own, to the down to Earth and detailed look at the intricacies of horse ranching in the Thickwood Hills, where Gayle’s own love and knowledge of horses shines through. I can’t wait for readers to have the opportunity to enjoy this story as much as I have, either in ebook or print formats or through the wonderful audiobook version narrated by Elizabeth Klett.”

Thickwood can be ordered through any brick and mortar or online bookstore. It can also be purchased directly from Shadowpaw Press at emirs falcon/

Gayle M. Smith, author of Thickwood, grew up on a mixed subsistence farm in central Alberta where, as a young child, she developed a love for animals, especially horses, and a love for reading and writing illustrated stories. In 1989, Gayle married a Saskatchewan farmer and settled into rural life to raise three children, numerous crops, purebred and commercial cattle, and horses. In 2011, Gayle was accepted into the 2011 Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild Mentorship program, where she wrote the first draft of Thickwood, which then became her master’s thesis in 2015, when she graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing. Yearly wilderness pack trips in Northern Saskatchewan with her horses inspire her writing. She also rides in the mountains, competes in numerous equestrian events, and owns and operates a horse boarding facility. Gayle’s love of the environment, history, and adventure shines in her writing. She daily interacts with her beloved partner, her family, her horses, and her rural home, while contemplating and exploring through her writing the struggle and dilemma of being human.

The fascinating worlds of horses and women’s professional baseball intertwine brilliantly in Thickwood, the debut novel from Saskatchewan author Gayle M. Smith

Vikki Stark

Runaway Husbands

The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal

Based on a study of over 400 women worldwide, Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal, is the first book to explore and offer healing strategies to women whose lives have been turned upside down by Wife Abandonment Syndrome. Wife Abandonment Syndrome is a pattern of behavior on the part of a husband who leaves his wife out of the blue from what she believed was a happy marriage. Following his sudden departure, he replaces the caring he'd typically shown her with anger and aggression. He often moves directly in with a girlfriend, leaving his bewildered wife totally devastated. Written by family therapist Vikki Stark who was herself affected by Wife Abandonment Syndrome, Runaway Husbands helps women understand what motivated their loving husbands to turn into uncaring strangers and provides them with the tools they need to move forward and rebuild their lives in new and unexpected ways.

“YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE!!!! I just finished Runaway Husbands. I'm recovering from Wife Abandonment Syndrome and your book has been SO Instrumental in my healing.”

I have an active international psychotherapy practice in which I work with clients both in my lovely Montreal office and worldwide online.

I’m the founder and director of the Sedona Counselling Centre of Montreal, where we have experienced therapists providing a full range of therapy services to individuals, couples and families.

I’m also an international guest expert on television and radio on issues related to mental health and emotional well being, notably appearing on NBC’s The Today Show and Oprah radio. I was featured in Time Magazine and Maclean’s (Canada), among many other media appearances.

An in-depth healing strategy for women whose lives have been turned upside down due to Wife Abandonment Syndrome by international psychotherapist Vikki Stark
My work life is multi-faceted.

“What’s down there?” asked the girl, peering over the edge.

“Why don’t you jump and find out?” said the thing sitting next to her.

“What if there’s nothing there?”

“Nothing would be something.”

“Why must you talk in riddles?” the little girl stamped her foot.

“I’m a shadow, we always talk like this.”

The little girl thought for a moment and then moved back.

The shadow looked disappointed. “I thought you were going to jump,” it said.

“I don’t want to,” said the little girl.

“They never do,” said the shadow.

It looked so sad that the little girl nearly ran to the edge and jumped just to get away from its melancholy expression.

“Why are you here?” she asked it.

“Waiting for someone to jump off,” it replied.

“Then what will you do?”

“Wait for them to come back of course.”

“What do you think is down there?” the little girl asked.

“Well if this is the edge of our world it stands to reason that there must be another world at the


The little girl thought some more. Finding a whole other world would be a great adventure.

“Do you think there is chocolate in the other world?” she asked.

The shadow smiled - almost. “As much as you can eat,” it said, without looking at the little girl.

“What about puppies, and ponies and cotton candy? ”

“Oh yes,” said the shadow. “I’m sure there are. What’s more there’s nobody to tell you not to eat as much as you want or to make you do your homework instead of playing with the puppies.”

The little girl jumped up and ran back to the edge. Then she stopped, and screwed up her face in thought.

“What if it’s too far down? People can die from falling too far.”

“There’s something to break the fall,” said the shadow. “How could there not be?” The little girl nodded and faced the edge.

“Go on,” said the shadow, “Don’t you want to find out what’s down there?”

“I do!” said the little girl. And she jumped. She couldn’t be certain, but as the wind rushed past her ears she thought she heard a high pitched cackle from the shadow. The girl waited for the other world to appear; but she couldn’t see anything but darkness. She kept on falling … and falling …



and also writes revision guides and books of writing prompts. She is currently writing her first novel for grown ups – an LGBT+ high fantasy. In her spare time Sarah likes to compete in various equestrian sports and nap on the sofa with her dog, Kohla. Sarah is also autistic and ADHD, and writes personal essays about living and working as a neurodivergent person in a neurotypical world.


Connect with Sarah Hindmarsh at:

Sarah Hindmarsh is a vet student turned teacher turned writer. She has won, and been nominated for, awards and for her children fiction, short stories and poetry,

Maggie Cobbett

Maggie Cobbett is a British author with English, Scottish and Irish DNA (+ a touch of Norwegian, maybe from the Vikings, as most of her family is from northern England). She has half a dozen published books in different genres as well as numerous short stories, articles and even a few poems. Extensive travels in Europe, the USA, North Africa and the Far East as well as working at different times as a teacher of modern languages, camp counselor and film/television ‘extra’ have provided plenty of inspiration.



Thoroughly enjoyable book about Maggie's "extra" days in the "showbiz" world! She takes you on a wonderful journey explaining all the "ins & outs" of life as an "extra", from actually travelling and arriving at the set, to all the "rules & regulations" i.e don't be late! don't pester the celebs for autographs! etc, and even goes into detail about the on set "shenanigans"

About the book:

Forget the stars! Have you ever wondered what life is like for the unsung heroes of the television and film world who make a living out of not being noticed? Not for them the celebrity lifestyle with its access to the best that fame and money can buy. Yet their presence in the background adds an extra dimension to scenes that would otherwise look very unnatural.

Maggie Cobbett knows all about that, having worked on many shows in a wide variety of guises. When asked, “What have I seen you in?” she will generally reply, “Probably nothing.”

To the follow up question, “Have you worked with anyone famous?” she can say truthfully, “Yes. Many times.”

Toxic Indulgence

“Thank you,” Tolman said politely. Wolfe wasn’t wrong, James didn’t know anyone more arrogant and egotistical than the tech giant standing before him. But the man was also kind and very generous. “I appreciate the support.”

Across the room, a man called Wolfe’s name. “Duty calls,” Wolfe started to turn, stumbled, and began to cough. He pushed the drink he was holding toward Tolman then bent over, trying to find some relief from the excruciating pain that suddenly attacked his stomach. That’s when he felt his throat constricting. He tried to gulp air, tried to get oxygen to his lungs, which now felt like they were on fire; but, failed. In desperation, he glanced up, hoping to find someone that could help. Instead, he stared into the hard, cold eyes of a killer his killer. Reality hit like a freight train and, in that moment, he knew he was going to die. Panic set in and his body started to shake uncontrollably from the pain, the fear, and the anger and embarrassment of knowing he’d been fooled. Suddenly, he couldn’t hold his weight any longer. Martin Wolfe fell to the floor with a loud thud as his body began to convulse.

“Find a doctor,” James yelled. “There has to be one in this crowd.” He began to survey the area, looking for anyone that had medical training and could help. Instead, Tristin Balli forced his way through the gathering crowd and moved in beside Tolman.

“What happened?” Wolfe’s head of security demanded.

“Tristin,” James Tolman grabbed his arm. “We need to lock the place down. Martin’s been poisoned. Nobody leaves, I don’t care who they are or how urgent their excuse. Get your men on it immediately. I’ll call Jericho.”

“Consider it done,” Tristin focused on the best boss he’d ever had as he pulled out a portable walkie and barked orders into the speaker. Once the entire residence was locked down, he turned to update Tolman but couldn’t find him. The man had vanished, completely.

“Miss?” Tolman stepped into the large kitchen and spotted the woman that had handed Martin his last drink. “Can I have a word?”

“I uh…” the nervous woman stammered.

“It’s not really a question,” Tolman pushed. “I need you to step in here.” James gestured down the hallway to an open door that led to an office. As soon as the woman stepped into the room, Tolman motioned to the couch. “Make yourself comfortable. You’ll need to wait in here until the sheriff arrives.”

Tolman shook his head. “Don’t explain it to me. I need you to wait and speak with the police.”

“I didn’t…”

Paige Carter Season —Episode

He closed the door firmly behind him, set the flute of champagne the murder weapon on a small table just outside the door, and stood guard over the evidence and the one person he hoped had the answers he desperately needed. *****

Paige cursed under her breath as she reached for the ringing phone. “This better be an emergency.”

“Paige, it’s Jericho. Wake up,” he demanded. “I’m on my way to your place, ETA ten minutes.”

Paige sat up, rubbed at her eyes, and glanced at the clock. “It’s after midnight. What’s going on?”

“Tolman called,” Jericho sighed. “Martin Wolfe is dead.”

“What?” Paige jumped up and made her way to the closet. She snatched up a pair of jeans and a hoodie. “How?” She moved quietly from the bedroom and into the hall, closing the door silently behind her. She didn’t want to wake Dax.

“James thinks someone poisoned him,” Jericho advised. “He’s doing his best to contain the guests, but he needs help — fast.”

“Guests?” Paige frowned as she pulled the shirt over her head. “Oh, that’s right. Tonight was that big shindig of his. He was killed at his own party? That bites.”

“I’m sure he would agree,” Jericho said flatly. “See you in five.” He disconnected without waiting for a reply.

The instant Jericho pulled into the driveway of Martin Wolfe’s elaborate second home, he knew they had a mess on their hands. The entire parking staff had been corralled on the front porch. Two security guards stood at the top of the stairs, waiting for the cops to arrive. The young employees did not look happy.

“How many people were invited to this thing, anyway?” Paige asked, surveying the area... and the large number of cars parked in every vacant spot possible. “I mean, does the fire marshal know? I think the benevolent Mr. Wolfe may have exceeded capacity.”

“Martin Wolfe does whatever he wants… well, did. This is an annual event. The rest of the year he’s practically a recluse. That’s when he’s in town and not crashing at his apartment in Salt Lake. Plus, he spends a lot of his time spent a lot of his time traveling the world bringing in new contracts.”

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“Yeah,” Paige frowned. “Because a few billion just isn’t enough. I heard the man was a workaholic. And, what does he have to show for it? An early death that’s what. Does Tolman have any idea who was responsible?”

“He didn’t say,” Jericho ascended the stairs and made his way past a dozen angry young kids and their loud, belligerent demands for answers. He stepped into the large home and sighed. The adults weren’t behaving any better than the teens. “I’ll find Tolman. You head that way and touch base with Tristin Balli. James said the head of security was guarding the body. Bridges and Lovato are on their way. They’ll start interviewing the guests. We can follow-up tomorrow if we have to. For now, we just need to make sure we have a complete guest list. Those who were invited and the plus ones. Make sure you get the names of everyone that was here at the time of his death. I also want to know everyone that went near that glass of poison.”

Paige sighed and shoved her way through the large crowd. The guests were clearly horrified and intrigued by the sight of a dead body sprawled on the floor. It always amazed her how morbid humankind could be. One minute these people were mingling, laughing, and joking with a friend. The next they were standing over his dead body gawking. She moved forward and pulled out her badge. “Tristin Balli?” she asked a large man keeping the guests several feet away from the scene.

“Who are you?”

She held her badge higher to make sure he could see it. “Deputy Paige Carter. Can you give me some space and let me get a closer look here? If you’re available, I could really use the help to manage the scene. We need to push this crowd back at least five more feet. Ten would be better.”

“You heard the lady,” Tristin called out. “Move back.”

The crowd began to mumble and complain, but they complied.

Paige thought she’d learned as much as she was going to learn from the body when Benny Parks, the local Medical Examiner, arrived. The instant he reached the body, he crouched and began his own thorough examination of the corpse. Paige waited impatiently through the grunts, the hums, and okays for several minutes before she couldn’t take it any longer. “Anything I should know before I leave you to it?”

“What?” Benny glanced up in surprise. “Oh, no… not really,” he straightened. “I assume you found the source of the poison and contained it? I’d like the lab to compare what I get from the body to the possible source to be sure.”

Paige pointed to a small bag that held the empty flute. Next to it was the small container she had


used to preserve the remaining champagne. “The District Attorney himself secured that evidence. Once I arrived, he couldn’t hand it over fast enough. Lucky for us he was on scene when it happened. Otherwise, it would probably be splattered all over that fancy marble floor. Anyway, if there’s nothing else I need to head in and help Jericho with interviews. He’s all yours, Doc.”

“Check in with me tomorrow, make it the afternoon,” Benny acknowledged. “I’m not going to start on the exam until morning. There’s no rush, we know cause of death—it’s pretty obvious.”

Paige focused on the foam that had gathered around Martin’s mouth and nose. “Yeah, we do.” With another long sigh, she turned and made her way through the crowd in search of her boss. Instead, she found James Tolman outside a closed door. “Boss in there?”

“Yeah,” Tolman said soberly. “This cluster is going to turn into a circus before morning.”

“Meaning?” Paige frowned, not sure what he was implying.

“Martin Wolfe dead at his annual charity event from poison? The national syndicates will go nuts over this. We’re going to be invaded, again. You thought it got crazy when we uncovered those bodies? Just wait a day or two you haven’t seen crazy until you’ve dealt with the death of a celebrity.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” now Paige was frowning. She had to warn Dax and the guys. Piper Weber was about to make another appearance in Manti. Great, as if this nightmare wasn’t bad enough.

“Anyway, that’s a worry for another day,” Tolman focused on Paige. “Jericho’s trying to interview a waitress. She’s the one that gave Martin the glass that contained the poison.”

“How can you be sure it was that glass of champagne that contained the poison?”

“Because I was talking to him,” Tolman barked. “Sorry, it’s a legitimate question.” He raised his eyebrow at her. “One I would normally ask you. I know because I was standing there having a casual conversation with the man. He was congratulating me on the election since I’m now running unopposed and he was heading to Athens. We were just casually shooting the breeze, for several minutes, when that girl moved in with fresh drinks. Martin snatched one off the tray, drank half of it in nearly one gulp, then continued the conversation. I’m telling you he was fine before that. It only took a minute seconds, really. And, I was standing right there!”

Paige realized he blamed himself. She could understand, it would be tough to realize a murder occurred right under your nose and you had no idea it was even happening. But with poison there was no way Tolman could have anticipated that. “You couldn’t have stopped it,” she finally told him. “Nobody could have prevented it. Unless you knew he had that kind of enemy after him…

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there was nothing you could have done to prevent this.”


“Focus on the things you can control,” Paige suggested. “Let’s catch the person responsible. Then, you can make sure they pay for killing your friend.”

Tolman just nodded.

“Now,” Paige reached for the door handle. “I’m off to rescue my boss.” Paige stepped into the room and took a minute to look around. Jericho was trying to comfort a woman who was near hysterics. He glanced up and gave her what could only be described as a desperate look. She could practically hear him demanding she step in and help. She moved forward and took a seat on the couch next to the woman. “Hi,” she said softly. “I’m Paige Carter. What’s your name?”

The woman looked up, surprised. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath before she answered. “Sh Shannon,” she sniffled.

“Shannon,” Paige said calmly. “Can I get your last name?”

“Shannon Con...Conley,” she sniffed.

“Great,” Paige smiled. “I can see you are upset,” she began. “There’s no reason to be scared. I’m just here...” she pointed to Jericho. “We’re just here to find out what happened tonight. That man outside is the local District Attorney. He says he was standing with Martin Wolfe when you brought over a tray of fresh drinks.”

“I did, but it wasn’t me.”

“Shannon,” Paige soothed. “I’m not saying you did anything to Mr. Wolfe’s drink. I just need you to walk me through it. Have you been here all night, working? Tell me about that tray of drinks. Did you get them from the kitchen? Did you load them up yourself? How many other people took glasses off that tray before you approached Martin and offered him one? Was there anything different about that particular tray and where you got it? Just walk us through what happened, in as much detail as you can remember.”

“Oh,” Shannon swallowed again. “Okay. I’ve been working here all night. We got here early, before the guests started to arrive, so we could set everything up. The tables, I mean.”

“Okay,” Paige nodded. “Do you remember what time you arrived?”

“Um...” Shannon took a ragged breath but was starting to calm down. “I rode over with Kathy. She picked me up just before six...maybe five forty five.”


“Do you know Kathy’s last name?” Jericho asked.

“Uh, yeah. Tippets. Kathy Tippets.”

“You’re doing great,” Paige encouraged. “So, Kathy Tippets picked you up at five forty five. What time did you get here, to the Wolfe estate?”

“Just before six,” Shannon said confidently. “We were supposed to be here at six, but we got here a few minutes early.”

“And did you have a staff meeting beforehand or did you just start setting up?” Paige asked.

“We just started in,” Shannon said. “We’ve all done this before. On other jobs. We all knew what had to be done, so we just started doing it. I helped Kathy and Pete carry the food out to the tables and some of the others began to pour out the champagne...into glasses. We wanted them all ready to go, you know. Parties like these, they get pretty hectic at first. The guests like to have a drink or two before they start to loosen up and mingle. Like I said, we’ve done this before, so we knew we’d go through a ton of champagne in the first hour. We like to have it ready so we’re not scrambling so much.”

“That makes sense,” Jericho encouraged. It was a little annoying that he’d ask the girl a simple question and she’d burst into uncontrollable tears. But Paige comes in and asks basically the same thing and the girl’s all cooperative and almost chatty. “So, the initial drinks had to be gone by the time Martin took that last glass.”

“Right,” Shannon agreed. “We had used up all the original stock. One of the kids... the one’s parking vehicles outside, came inside for a quick snack and Mrs. Wolfe asked him to grab a couple friends and restock.”

“Do you know where they got the alcohol?” Paige asked. “The stuff they carried in to restock what you guys had already used?”

“Outside somewhere,” Shannon said slowly. “I don’t know where, but they carried the cases in from outside.”

“Okay, so did you guys go back into the kitchen and pour a bunch of new glasses or did you just restock a tray at a time?”

“No,” Shannon shook her head. “We had two of the girls Tina and Marnie in the kitchen, pouring, while we circulated throughout the room.”

“Do you know if Tina or Marnie filled the glasses you picked up that last time?” Paige asked.

“I don’t think either one of them did,” Shannon told them.

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“I don’t understand,” Paige pushed. “Did you refill the tray yourself?”

“No,” Shannon frowned. “When I ran out, I was headed back to the kitchen, but that woman stopped me. She handed me the tray and pointed to Martin Wolfe. She said it looked like he needed a fresh drink and we shouldn’t make him wait or he’d take it out on the company — where I work and we wouldn’t get the job next year.”

“Do you know who the woman was?” Jericho asked.

“Was it maybe Mrs. Wolfe?” Paige added.

“No,” Shannon shook her head vehemently. “It wasn’t Mrs. Wolfe. I met her first thing... when I got here. I met her because she was out telling us how she wanted us to set up the tables. This lady was younger, but I don’t know her. I just assumed, well I assumed it was a personal assistant or something by the way she was giving orders. Plus, she seemed comfortable. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“You’re doing good,” Paige assured her. “You don’t know her, but can you describe her? What color of hair did she have?”


“Good,” Paige jotted that down. “And you said she was younger. Was she older or younger than me?”

Shannon studied Paige for several seconds. “I think... yeah, I think she was maybe about ten years older than you. I mean, I can’t say for sure but…”

“You’re doing good,” Paige stopped her. “So, Martin Wolfe and his wife are in their late fifties. I’m in my thirties. Would you say this woman was in her mid forties? Does that sound right?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“What about build?” Jericho asked. “Was she small and lean like Paige here? Or, maybe curvier like Mrs. Wolfe?”

“She was pretty,” Shannon said without hesitation. “She was wearing an amazing dress, it was dark green, forest green, maybe. And she was taller than me so pretty tall. I’m five seven and she was an inch or two taller than I am. She wasn’t exactly curvy, but she wasn’t thin either. Just normal, I guess.”

“Similar to your build?” Paige asked.

“Yeah,” Shannon said cautiously. “Sort of. I mean she was more just more.”


“The build was similar, but she showed it off more? Is that what you mean?”

“Exactly,” Shannon relaxed. “Her dress was short. Not indecent, but she wanted to show off her legs. And, it was kind of low cut.”

“You’re really helping us out here,” Paige praised. “Is there anything else you can remember that might help?”

“I think she had a tattoo,” Shannon was pulling a face that made Paige realize she was trying to concentrate. “I couldn’t see it clearly, her dress covered it up. But, when she handed me the tray of drinks, her thin strap fell off her shoulder and right in here...” Shannon pressed her right hand against the left side of her torso right next to the shoulder joint. “She had some kind of tattoo. I’m sorry, I don’t know what the picture was. I think it had wings though. And, a lot of color.”

Paige shot a look at Jericho. Shannon was proving to be a very informative witness.

“Is there any way you can clear something up for me, Shannon?” Jericho asked.

“I’ll try,” Shannon turned to face the sheriff.

“You said you don’t think Tina or Marnie poured the wine in the glasses. Why do you think someone else did it?”

“There are several reasons,” Shannon paused to consider. “First, I glanced into the kitchen and it was empty. They weren’t in there. I assumed, since the party was nearly over, that Mrs. Wolfe had asked them to start cleaning up or something.”

“You don’t think they could have poured the last of the champagne into glasses before they moved on to something else?” Jericho asked.

“They could have, but I know they didn’t pour those glasses.”

“How?” Paige pressed.

“Because we have to pour all the glasses exactly the same,” Shannon explained. “Stefano, that’s our boss. Stefano insists every single glass has to have exactly the same amount of liquid in it. Presentation, ladies! He’s told us that a million times. We get into trouble if the glasses aren’t uniform. The ones I got from that lady they weren’t uniform. One had more than the others, but they were all different.”

“Like someone poured more into the glass Martin took?” Jericho asked.

“Yeah,” Shannon nodded. “It’s human nature, I guess. That one had more, it was almost full. The others were maybe halfway full, some a little less, and some a little more. They were all

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different, but it was obvious the one Mr. Wolfe took was full. It’s sort of subconscious, you know. If you see a glass that’s only half-full, you think...’someone drank part of that one’ and you grab a different one.”

Paige realized that was by design. The killer had set the tray up to look like a normal tray, but also to make sure Martin took the correct flute. “Anything else?”

“Just that they spilled some of the alcohol on the tray and it wasn’t cleaned up,” Shannon told them. “It’s another reason I know Tina and Marnie didn’t do it. They would have cleaned it up instantly. Stefano is very strict about presentation and having it roll around like that would get us fired. I tried to stop and wipe it up, but the lady insisted Martin needed a new drink immediately. She told me to take care of him first, then I could deal with the messy tray.”

“Do you know what happened to the tray,” Paige asked. “After Martin got sick?”

“Um, yeah.” Shannon swallowed hard. “Since all the drinks looked half used, nobody wanted any. I was headed back to the kitchen to combine them, to make them full glasses when Mr. Wolfe...” she swallowed hard again, and her eyes began to water.

“Don’t think about that,” Paige tried to direct her away from the image of a dead Martin Wolfe. “You headed back to the kitchen, then what?”

“When I realized he was sick just after I gave him that drink, I was afraid I did something wrong. That there was something wrong with the champagne. I took the tray back into the kitchen and put it in the walk in fridge. I hid it in the back, so nobody would accidentally give it to one of the guests. Then, I locked the fridge.”

Jericho stood. “I’ll go track down Mrs. Wolfe and see if the tray is still back there. I doubt it will have prints and if it does, they will probably be Shannon’s, but it’s worth a shot.”

“Am I in trouble?” Shannon asked.

“No,” Paige assured her. “But we will need you to come into the station and have your fingerprints taken. If that tray has two sets, we need to rule yours out and focus on the other woman. The woman that gave the tray to you in the first place.”

“Do I have to?” Shannon was visibly worried.

“Is there a reason you don’t want us to have your prints?” Paige asked.

“No,” Shannon said immediately. “It’s not that. It’s just...I don’t have a car. That’s why I rode with Kathy. It’s hard for me to get around and I can’t ask Kathy to take me. She has a young daughter and it would be too hard for her to make a trip like that.”


“What if we sent a tech out to your house? Would that help?” Paige offered.

“I don’t want to put anyone out,” Shannon added.

“It’s fine,” Paige assured her. “I’ll ask Heidi to stop by sometime tomorrow. Did you give Jericho your contact information?”

“I did,” Shannon remembered. “He has my address and my number.”

“Okay,” Paige stood. “I think that’s everything for now. Heidi will call you tomorrow and schedule a time she can stop by and do the prints. Otherwise, I probably won’t need to contact you again. Here’s my card, you can call me if you remember anything or if you have any questions. I really appreciate your help. That information you gave us was very detailed and very helpful.”

“Sorry about...” she sighed, embarrassed. “Sorry about the hysterical crying earlier. I... well, I realized I was probably the one that killed that kind, friendly man and I thought the sheriff was going to arrest me and put me in jail. I don’t know how I’m going to live with that knowing I killed someone. I feel so guilty and sad.”

“Shannon,” Paige waited for Shannon to look at her. “You did not kill Martin Wolfe. You didn’t.” Paige insisted when Shannon looked like she wanted to argue. “Someone used you as a tool to kill that man. It was not your fault. Please, remember that. You didn’t do this. You can feel sad over the loss of a kind man. But you should not feel guilty. Someone... a sadistic coward, did this. And, I’m going to catch the person responsible and throw them in jail. They will have consequences for their actions and they’re going to have plenty of time to regret them.”

“Thank you,” Shannon said softly. “I’ll try to remember that when I start to feel sad and horrified.”

“I hope you do,” Paige motioned to the door. “You’re free to go.”

Jericho approached Paige, frowning.

“What now?” she asked immediately.

Jericho motioned to the empty office. “James, please join us.”

“Do I need my attorney?” James asked when he saw Jericho’s face.

“We have a problem,” he closed the door and moved to sit in the same chair he occupied while they interviewed Shannon Conley.

“What’s the problem?” Tolman asked, settling into a second leather chair.

Paige settled onto the couch and waited.

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“Mrs. Rianne Wolfe has left the building,” Jericho informed them.

“What do you mean she left? I gave strict orders that nobody was to leave the scene. Where’s Tristin?”

“I’ll go find him,” Paige offered.

Paige finally located Tristin Balli on the front porch with the rest of his men. The instant she opened the front door, the group became eerily silent. “Balli? I need a word.”

Balli glared at Paige for several seconds without moving. She realized he was trying to play the tough guy in front of his subordinates. Maybe she should have asked. Too late now, she remained in the doorway waiting. Finally, he pushed off the railing and walked purposefully toward the door.

Once they were inside, he turned and glared at her. She didn’t know what he was about to say because they were interrupted.

“You might want to ditch the attitude,” Jericho growled from the open doorway of the office. “It’s late and I don’t have time for a pissing match.” He turned and disappeared, expecting the duo to follow.

Tristin Balli was strutting when he stepped into the office. His steps faltered when he spotted James Tolman. He started to worry when Deputy Carter pulled the door shut. “What is this about?”

“I think I was pretty clear,” Tolman seethed. “I told you to keep everyone inside. I remember, very distinctly, telling you to make sure nobody left the premises for any reason. I know you understood. You acknowledged the request.”

“I did,” Tristin frowned. “We locked the place down completely.”

“Then where is Rianne Wolfe?”

“She was distraught,” Balli argued. “The crowd was too much for her and seeing her husband lying there like that... well, she asked Bobby, the chauffeur, to take her to the jet. I didn’t see any reason...”

“I can think of about a dozen,” Paige barked. “You just set our investigation back significantly.”

“You can’t think…”

“Doesn’t matter what we think,” Tolman said coolly. “The fact still remains, I told you not to let anyone leave, for any reason You let at least two people, that we know of, leave before the police


could question them. You know better, Tristin.”

“I do,” he sighed. “But Rianne is not a person that takes orders well. She’s usually the one making demands. Plus, she was crying and upset. She was not in any condition to be reasonable, let alone interviewed by the police.”

“That wasn’t your call,” Jericho said, clearly frustrated a prime player in all of this was missing. “You just better hope she didn’t get to the airport and decide she’d rather be in Cabo.”

“I’ll make sure she doesn’t leave,” Tristin pulled out his phone and made a call. “The jet’s not going anywhere. I’ll give you the hanger information and you can interview her whenever you want. I have to warn you though... tonight’s not a good time. Bobby said she took a valium and said she was going straight to bed.”

“While you’re here,” Paige decided. “Let’s get your interview out of the way.” *****

By the time they got the interviews concluded, the guests and temporary employees on their way home, and the residence secured, it was nearly seven in the morning.

“Paige, get some sleep,” Jericho ordered as he pulled into her driveway. “I don’t want to see you for at least six hours.”

“Will you be in the office when I get there?”

“I’m heading home for now,” Jericho admitted. “I’m getting too old to pull an all-nighter. These late night emergencies are harder than they used to be. I need a few hours as well.”

“See you when I see you,” Paige jumped from the car. “Do you know the family?”

“You mean do I know Mrs. Rianne Wolfe well enough to know if she killed her husband?”

“Yeah,” Paige smiled. “That. See, you’re not that old. Your mind still works.”

Jericho laughed. “I don’t know, Paige. Get some sleep, we’ll talk about it later.”

Paige watched as her boss shifted into reverse and headed home. She turned and took two steps toward her house when she spotted Hawk on the front porch of Dax’s residence. She paused to consider, pivoted and made her way across the lawn that separated the two homes.

“Paige,” Hawk said casually. “Looks like you got an early start.”

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“Actually,” Paige climbed the stairs and dropped into one of the patio chairs. “I barely got to bed before I was called out.”

“So, what can I do for you?” Hawk asked wearily.

“You’re going to hear it in an hour or so anyway,” Paige began. “Martin Wolfe was murdered last night.”

“Bummer,” Hawk said flatly. “Who is Martin Wolfe?”

Paige shook her head in disbelief. “You seriously need to expand your horizons. Martin Wolfe is a big shot billionaire tech giant. He’s an international superstar in the electronic industry and he was murdered in his own home, at his own fancy party.”

“Why are you telling me?” Hawk wondered. “It’s a tragedy, but irrelevant to our investigation.”

“Because he’s basically a celebrity,” Paige pushed. When Hawk still didn’t follow, she sighed. “Because the media is going to descend like vultures. The national media. Meaning…”

“Meaning Piper Weber is going to stop in for a visit,” Hawk scowled. “You don’t think she’d come here, do you? To the house to bother Dax?”

“She did last time,” Paige stood. “And, it wasn’t pretty. I was just hoping maybe you could help keep her away from Dax. With everything that’s going on, having another encounter with the nation’s sweetheart who is anything but is something he doesn’t need right now. I’m going to be busy until we can figure out who did this and arrest them. Too busy to run interference. So, I need a favor. Just intercept her, handle her, whatever.”

“That’s not a favor for you,” Hawk disagreed. “And it would be my pleasure to deal with Ms. Weber. I thought we already had. It’s disappointing to hear she paid Dax another visit. I guess this time we’ll have to make sure she gets the message loud and clear.”

“Thanks,” Paige stood. “Now, I need to catch a couple hours before I head back in.”

“I’m sure you’ll catch the person responsible; but, good luck,” Hawk stood. “And, don’t worry about us. We’ve got things covered. You just focus on catching your killer, so we can get rid of the media frenzy as soon as possible. Having a bunch of overzealous busybodies in town will make it harder to keep our mission a secret. We’ll have to be extra careful until they leave.”

“Understood,” Paige bounced down the steps. “And, good luck with Piper, you’ll probably need it. That woman is one sneaky, conniving piece of work. It still baffles me that Dax dated her at all.”

“I think she was just handy,” Hawk shrugged. “He wasn’t around enough to see the real Piper under the fake charm. Plus, he didn’t care enough to look.”


“Awe,” Paige teased. “I guess we are becoming friends, after all. It’s not necessary, though. Throwing me a bone to make me feel better. I know where I stand with Dax and that woman doesn’t threaten me. Not even a little.”

“Good,” Hawk held back a grin as he watched Paige make her way home. Were they becoming friends? Maybe. If nothing else, he could definitely see why Dax had fallen for his sexy, fearless, intelligent neighbor. He swung open the front door and headed for the kitchen. The rest of the guys needed to know Piper Weber might make an appearance... and they needed to be prepared for the encounter. *****

Paige stepped through the back door of the office and spotted Jericho impatiently waiting in her visitor’s chair. “Thought you were taking a nap.”

“I did,” Jericho stood. “Let’s go.”

“Okay,” Paige shrugged. “Where are we going?”

“To the airport,” Jericho stepped out the front door and approached his vehicle. “I want to talk to Mrs. Wolfe.”

Paige climbed into the passenger’s seat and buckled the belt before turning to focus on her boss. “Can I ask you something?”

“Just ask it,” Jericho grumbled.

“Maybe you didn’t get a long enough nap,” Paige surmised by his surly attitude. “I have two questions, actually. First, have we heard anything from the media? Tolman was sure the whole world would descend once they heard the news.”

“James will be holding a press conference at fifteen hundred this afternoon.”

“James Tolman and the District Attorney’s Office is going to take care of it, then?”

Jericho sighed. “For the most part. And, the answer to the question you are not asking no, you do not have to be there. I’ll handle it.”

“Good,” Paige said in relief. “But that brings me to the second question. Why are you so involved in this case? Normally, you just have line guys handle things and you keep your finger on it from a distance. You know, you hang out in the background to make sure we don’t mess anything up.”

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“Tolman insisted,” Jericho scowled. “Seems I’m the only one he trusts to make sure his friend gets justice.”

“Tolman doesn’t trust us to handle it?” Paige asked, insulted.

“I think he knows you can handle it,” Jericho pondered. “I just think he knows me... has known me longer, and he wants me personally involved. Maybe because he’s too personally involved. I agreed to join you while you interview Mrs. Wolfe.” He turned to glance at Paige. “You are conducting this interview, not me. I’m just your backup. I’ll appease Tolman, to a point, because this is a high-profile case and I can run interference. But this is your investigation, Paige. Don’t back off or wait for permission. Just interrogate the wife and run things the way you would if Gage was here instead of me. I won’t get in your way.”

“Okay,” Paige stared out the windshield. “I don’t know this family, but the spouse is always a suspect. Is that okay with you?”

“I said interrogation, not witness statement,” Jericho reminded her.

“That’s right, you did.” They rode in silence the rest of the way to the airport. Paige glanced up when Jericho brought the vehicle to a stop. “Fancy jet.”

“Fancy is easy when you have the kind of money Martin acquired,” Jericho climbed from the vehicle and made his way toward the plane. They were stopped just inside the hanger by what could only be a private security guard. Jericho remained silent, hoping Paige would step up and deal with the delay.

“I’m Deputy Paige Carter and this is Sheriff Walters,” Paige pulled out her badge. “We need to speak with Mrs. Wolfe.”

“She’s resting,” the guard continued to block their pathway. “Then she’ll have to stop resting while we conduct our interview. I believe Tristin Balli informed you ahead of time we’d be coming.”

“He did,” the guard still didn’t move. “But Mrs. Wolfe ordered me to decline your request. She said she is not in the right frame of mind to be hassled by the local police.”

“Her frame of mind might change for the worse if we have to take this to the station. I doubt a woman who is used to this kind of luxury would enjoy being transported in the back of a patrol car.”

“You wouldn’t…”


“I will,” Paige said flatly. “Now, get out of my way or I’ll arrest you for interfering with an investigation. And, Mrs. Rianne Wolfe will be discussing the incident in an interview room instead of the overpriced leather couch installed in that jet.”

“I need a minute to ask…”

“It’s not a request,” Paige informed him.

The guard moved away to have a private conversation.

“Give them a little authority and it goes to their head,” Jericho whispered. “You ready for a battle with the self-important Mrs. Wolfe? I doubt she’s going to offer you tea once we finally get inside.”

“I know everyone grieves in their own way, but this... sneaking away last night before we had a chance to talk to her, posting a guard to turn us away all seems more than a little suspicious to me.”

“I agree, she is being difficult. I don’t know her, I’m not sure if I’ve even met her before,” Jericho considered. “But the feeling I get from the staff is that she’s in charge and you don’t cross her, or tell her no. It could simply be she’s accustomed to getting her way. I’m sure she’s not in the habit of dealing with us little people.”

“Or,” Paige continued to stare at the private plane. “She’s avoiding us because she’s afraid she might give something away. My gut says there’s more to this than a snobby widow that can’t be bothered with the local cops.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Jericho focused on the guard, who was now headed their way. “Tristin has arranged a meeting,” his tone screamed ‘I just did you a favor.’ “Follow me.”

Paige shook her head but followed. “Even if you offered me all the money in the entire universe, I still couldn’t do that man’s job.”

Jericho grinned. “I’m pretty sure you’d be fired on your first day.”

They climbed the stairs and stepped into an excessive display of wealth. Even the screws that held the counters in place were gold plated. Paige’s first thought was how much money this couple spent on a plane and how many needy, suffering children or veterans could be helped by the waste. Sometimes, life just wasn’t fair.

“Sheriff,” Rianne Wolfe said in greeting. “I don’t appreciate you strong-arming your way into my private space. This plane is my sanctuary. It’s a private oasis I shared with my husband, a place where I could go to escape his death and grieve for a while. You have now ruined that. I hope whatever it is you have to ask me was worth the loss.”

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Jericho gave Paige a nudge.

“Can you tell me why you left last night after District Attorney Tolman very specifically directed everyone on scene to remain inside the residence to be interviewed?”

Rianne Wolfe ignored not only the question but Paige’s existence completely. “Well, did you have a question for me, Sheriff?”

“Yeah, Paige just asked it.”

Rianne fumed but turned to address the deputy. “I left because it was my husband that died. I was distraught, and I see no reason for this interruption. Martin suffered a severe heart attack and passed away in a very public, very humiliating way. I have no doubt the media is already blasting his photograph all over the internet.”

“Martin did not suffer a heart attack. Why would you say that?” Paige frowned. “He was murdered.”

“Now, you’re just being ridiculous,” Rianne turned her head away from Paige like a defiant ten year-old. “Martin was a workaholic. He was never home, always working on that next big project. I told him to slow down, but he wouldn’t listen. He had a heart attack. I warned him this would happen, I never imagined it would happen at the one party he allowed me to throw each year. What people must be saying.”

“Mrs. Wolfe,” Paige ignored the comment. Her gut was telling her this woman was involved. The heart attack excuse was part of the act. “There was a guest, a woman with blonde hair, wearing a dark green dress.” Paige saw the recognition and maybe panic in the woman’s eyes before she masked it. If she hadn’t been looking, she would have missed it. “Can you tell me who she was? This woman was comfortable enough in your home that she directed the staff. She gave the catering personnel orders.”

“I have no idea who you are talking about,” Wolfe said defensively. “Staff is never invited to our parties and I don’t have any children. There is simply no one that would direct the hired help, other than me. You must be mistaken.”

“What about a blonde woman in a dark green gown? Do you remember anyone that fits that description?”

Rianne waved her hand in dismissal. “I have no idea; the party was a plus one. Most of our friends and colleagues came as a couple. Half of those in attendance were women. I have no idea which one was wearing green or who wore purple. Your questions are ridiculous, and I’m done here. Please, leave my plane immediately or I will be forced to contact my lawyer.”


Paige studied the woman for several seconds before she turned and made her way back to the car.

“So?” Jericho asked once they were back on the highway.

“She’s involved,” Paige said confidently. “I’m not sure how, she certainly didn’t pour the champagne into the flute last night. I doubt she even ordered the champagne or bought the poison herself. She has people for that. Carrying out such an unsavory act would be beneath the pompous, arrogant Rianne Wolfe. But she ordered it done, I’m sure of it.”

“Now you just have to prove it,” Jericho made a left turn before he continued. “I agree, for what it’s worth. That woman orchestrated this whole thing. She’s not grieving the loss of her husband; she’s grieving the loss of her freedom. It’s rather inconvenient for a woman who is used to giving the orders. She’s in charge, people do what she says, she doesn’t sit for an interview with cops that asked all the wrong questions. She’s a manipulator, and we didn’t cooperate. We won’t get another shot at her. She’ll delegate this problem to her attorney.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Paige decided. “I’m done with her anyway... until I arrest her. And, I will arrest that woman. She’s going to find out just how unimportant she truly is. On the bright side, the whole world will know who she is. She’ll be famous. Something she couldn’t accomplish living in Martin’s shadow.”

“Infamous,” Jericho corrected. “So, what’s the next move?”

“I need to talk to Martin’s business associates,” Paige decided. “That means a trip to Salt Lake. But I definitely need to meet with his secretary. While I’m there, I’d like to talk to his accountant, his attorney, and the people that weren’t invited to the party but spent a lot of time around Martin Wolfe. If he was such a workaholic, his colleagues and his subordinates probably know him better than his wife. There’s no time like the present to get started on a new list,” Paige was surprised they were already back at the office. She pushed open the door and headed inside. *****

“Sean,” Dax said in answer. “This is a surprise. You usually relay information through Nathan or Paige.”

“I’ve identified the man that killed Brian Stewart,” Sean said in greeting. “Our murdered cop. We’re tracking the man now. He’s just a low level street thug. He must have had help; this guy could never ambush a cop on his own.”

“Interesting, but I’m still unclear on what that has to do with me,” Dax settled into his chair,

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realizing this would be a long call.

“I want Reynolds to pay,” Sean said softly.

“Can you trace the street thug back to Reynolds?”

“I have a wire transfer,” Sean affirmed. “Fifty thousand from one of Reynolds off-shore accounts into Damian Duffy’s savings account two days before the murder. Two days after the murder, Duffy withdrew twenty thousand in cash. My guess, he used the cash to pay his buddies that helped him.”

“Fifty is low,” Dax considered. “But Reynolds is strapped for cash. Probably why he utilized a common thug rather than a professional.”

“Yeah,” Sean agreed. “But that’s going to work in our favor. Once I catch this guy, he’ll sing. A pro would never say a word.”

“A pro would have left the country the minute the deed was done,” Dax added. “So, you just called to let me know?”

“Not exactly,” Sean hesitated. “I want Reynolds to pay, for everything. The FBI has picked this up...officially now. It was a murder for hire, on a cop and it involves multiple jurisdictions. Reynolds operates out of Washington, the thug was here in Chicago, and then we have the investigation Stewart was looking into that involved shipping out of New Orleans.”

“Are they going after Reynolds on conspiracy to murder?”

“That, amongst other things,” Sean answered. “But there’s one other thing and the agents that took over don’t see it or don’t care.”

“What?” Dax asked, knowing they had just reached the reason for the call.

“Reynolds just transferred sixty five thousand from the same off shore account to another off shore account.”

“Do you know who?” Dax asked.

“Yeah,” Sean said, concerned. “Major Trent Hastings.”

“Vato?” Dax was now alert. His former colleague was in trouble. It was the only explanation for a transfer to the Major.

“Has to be, doesn’t it?” Sean asked. “I mean, if you look at the big picture, Reynolds needs Vato dead so he can’t testify against him. He’d kill Camille, too — if he could find her.”


“I agree,” Dax sighed. “They have something sinister planned for Vato. Nathan is working on something, to get him to safety, but it’s taking too long and this proves it.”

“The feds are also going after Reynolds for the illegal drone and weapons shipping. They think they have a strong enough case to get a conviction. You need to know they’re formulating a plan to seize everything. His house, his company, everything. They’re working on an Op plan as we speak.”

“Can they do that?”

“Sure,” Sean said immediately. “Ill gotten gains. He’s going down and I think he’ll go down hard. But he’s going to serve his time in a cushy federal prison, not a state-run facility in general population. I think it’s better than he deserves. But once he’s out of the mix... it’s going to make our job more difficult. We still haven’t discovered who his partner is. And, he has one. I’d stake my life on that. I think whoever it is, works pretty high up in the military.”


“I don’t think so,” Sean disagreed. “I know the good general is focused on him, but I don’t think he’s dirty. I’m getting the impression he’s just friends with the wrong people and too stupid to know it.”

“I know Bratton,” Dax admitted. “A little. And, I tend to agree with your assessment. I think Reynolds is using him and Bratton doesn’t even know it.”

“Dax, I’ll pass this on to Nathan, but if Reynolds has already paid Hastings, the job is going down in the next couple of days. It’s a pattern. And, I have no way of knowing what it is that’s going down. I have no way to stop it.”

“I might,” Dax knew he’d have to call Porter. “When are you going to fill in the General?”

“As soon as I hang up,” Sean said soberly. “I have to, I work for him.”

“I’m not asking you to stall,” Dax said without hesitation. “In fact, I need him to know immediately. I’ll give you twenty then I’m calling him myself. He’s the only one that knows the status on Vato’s extraction. I do know he was able to move our Ranger friend to Al Hillah last night. Hastings no longer has direct control over Vato, but that doesn’t mean he’s safe.”

“I guess that’s good news, anyway. I’ll let you go. Once I have Duffy in custody, I’ll be joining the FBI task force to go after Reynolds. When I have a better idea of what direction the feds are going with this, and when they plan to hit Reynolds, I’ll give you a call.”

“I appreciate it,” Dax disconnected, considering his options. It about killed him, but he waited the full twenty minutes before he dialed Nathan Porter’s burner phone.

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“I wasn’t even at that party,” Tessa Whitman, the personal secretary for Martin Wolfe said in irritation. “I don’t see any reason you need to interview me.”

“Now that you mentioned it,” Paige said, undeterred. “Why didn’t you get invited to the party?”

Tessa snorted. “Are you kidding me?”

“Not at all,” Paige pushed. “According to HR, you’ve worked for Mr. Wolfe for twelve years now. I would think, as his personal assistant, he’d extend an invitation for a job well done.”

“Then,” Tessa scowled. “You’d be wrong. Mrs. Wolfe wouldn’t have it. He talked to me a few years back Martin told me he wanted to invite me. Thought I deserved a fun night out and he was sure I’d get a kick out the big brouhaha and all. But, Rianne Wolfe would not tolerate her husband inviting the hired help to the one and only social event she was allowed to throw each year. I wasn’t a member of the elite. I’m the hired help.”

“Sounds like that pissed you off,” Paige observed. But, if that was the case, wouldn’t she poison the misses, not her boss?

“Not really,” Tessa sighed. “Sure, it would have been cool to go once. You know, just for kicks to see what the big deal was. And, if I’d let on how much I wanted to see it, Martin would have invited me despite his wife and her snobbish objections. I guess that’s why I didn’t let on. I pretended like I wasn’t interested. They had enough problems as it was, I didn’t want to cause more.”

“What kind of problems?” Gage asked.

“You think Rianne did this?” Tessa focused on Paige then the large cop sitting next to her. Where did she know that guy from? “Right, the spouse is always a suspect. And, Rianne might be a good one if she didn’t have to get her hands dirty. I just can’t see that woman killing her husband. The whole thing would be beneath her. She has people.”

Paige smiled, realizing her initial instinct was correct. The woman Tessa was describing matched the woman Paige had encountered in the multi million dollar jet. “Do you have any idea who might have done this, Tessa?”

Tessa hesitated then shook her head. “Not really.”

“Someone who felt slighted or wronged by Martin?” Gage pressed. “Someone he had a falling out with?”


“I don’t think so,” Tessa lowered her eyes to stare at her hands.

“There’s someone,” Paige said softly. “Someone you don’t want to mention. Is it a business colleague, or something more personal?”

Tessa let out a deep sigh. “I guess since he’s dead... well, I guess it’s okay. Martin met someone. He was seeing another woman.”

“He was having an affair?” Paige asked. That could give them another suspect. Or, give the wife motive. “Do you know the name of his mistress?”

“That’s a polite word for his bimbo on the side,” Tessa focused on Paige. “I don’t know her name. I only saw her once. We were out of town on a big account. Martin took me along because he had several meetings scheduled and he needed me to organize the presentations. You know, keep them in order so he didn’t give the wrong pitch to one of the groups. I helped him put it together, so I was the obvious choice.”

“Did you accompany him out of town frequently?” Paige asked.

“No,” Tessa settled back and relaxed a little. “Just now and then. He liked to go alone. Liked the time away. If you’ve met his wife, you can probably understand why. I think he just needed a few days now and again to escape the nagging. Anyway, we had just completed a big presentation in Italy; and I went to my room to rest. Then, I decided I was hungry and went down to the in-house restaurant to grab a salad. Martin was having a romantic dinner with a blonde. He didn’t see me, and I never told him I saw him. But after that, he’d shut the door while he was on the phone sometimes. Other days, he’d leave the office early. Before Italy, he never left early. Usually, he stayed late. He had a side piece, but I think I’m the only one that knew about it.”

“Is it possible his wife found out? Gage asked.

“I don’t know how,” Tessa shrugged. “She never came to the office, so she wouldn’t know he left sometimes. She never went on business trips with him. She rarely called here, just now and then when she needed something. And, if he was out, she wouldn’t know he was with his... mistress.” Tessa grinned.

“Can you describe this woman?” Paige asked. “Was she tall, short, thin, curvy, sophisticated or sexier and more seductive?”

“I’d say seductive,” Tessa tried to remember as much as she could about the woman. “The night I saw her, at dinner, she was wearing a low cut red dress with high heels. You know those sexy shoes that men love for some reason. They were sitting down, eating, so I don’t know how tall she was. But she was definitely flirting, coming on strong and he was eating it up.”

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“Anything else stick out?” Paige asked.

“Maybe,” Tessa considered. “She came across as high maintenance. I’m not sure why, but maybe the polished fake nails. Her hair looked like she went to the salon, a lot. And she was wearing all this gaudy jewelry; fake, I think. Although, I wouldn’t know if it was real.”

“So, she spent money on herself?” Paige thought she understood.

“Was she Italian?” Gage asked. “Did you ever hear her speak?”

“Once,” Tessa admitted. “She was American. I was turning to leave, and I heard her fake surprise when she talked a little too loud.”

“Did you understand what she was saying?” Paige pushed.

“Yeah,” Tessa rolled her eyes. “She was all flirty and over exaggerated. She said, ‘Oh, Martin,’ in that high-pitched, fake embarrassed way women do. She was definitely American.”

“Do you think she was there for him?” Gage asked.

Tessa shrugged. “I have no idea. Like I said, it was a secret affair. Martin didn’t even know I knew; so, we never talked about it. She could have met him there, or she could have flown in just to see him. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“I have one last question,” Paige was sure they wouldn’t get any more from this woman. “Do you know if she had a tattoo?”

“I don’t...” Tessa brightened. “Wait, she did have something. Part of it was showing when she turned. A colorful... something, on the left, right by her inside shoulder. I only saw a flash before she turned back.”

“Okay,” Paige handed Tessa her card. “If you can think of anything else, please don’t hesitate to call.”

It was nearly eight o’clock at night when the two deputies finally hit the highway, headed back toward Manti. Once the interviews were complete, they were both starving and decided to grab dinner before heading home.

“Now what?” Gage finally asked.

“I’m going to meet up with Tolman in the morning,” Paige decided. “I need a warrant for Martin Wolfe’s financials. Both, his company expenditures and his private accounts.”


“That’s going to take a lot of time to go through,” Gage warned. “Think about what you buy in a month and then times that by about a million. Martin Wolfe was loaded. Can you imagine how many purchases he’d make in a year?”

“I don’t need to go back a year,” Paige disagreed. “Not at first. Trust me, this is my strong point. I did it for years for the FBI. Spreadsheets, ledgers, they’re my friends.”

“Don’t expect me to help with that,” Gage warned. “I’m pretty sure I’m allergic.” *****

Paige stepped through the front door and was surprised to see Dax waiting. “Is something wrong?”

“Vato,” Dax informed her. “Nathan got him moved, out from under Hastings. But Sean called. He found evidence that Reynolds paid Hastings sixty five thousand dollars. He’s formulating a plan to take Vato out while he’s stuck in Iraq and I’m not sure we can stop it.”

“What did Nathan say?” Paige settled onto the couch next to Dax. “Can he help?”

“He thinks it’s nothing to worry about,” Dax said in frustration. “He’s sending Solo over to extract him. So, he thinks the problem is already solved.”

“But, you don’t?”

“I don’t,” Dax sighed. “I know you trust Porter, but I know he’s wrong about this. It took too long to make arrangements for Vato to return to the states. Why? Someone is getting in the way. He only transferred Vato this morning. Again, why? Who keeps putting up roadblocks? Someone who knows Solo is headed in and they want to take Vato out before that happens.”

“Did you tell all of this to Nathan?” Paige asked, conflicted.

“I tried, but he said I’m just getting jumpy,” Dax grumbled. “Because of what has already happened. He’s sure the plan is going to work and Vato will be back here in no time.”

“What can we do?”

“Something you’re not going to like,” Dax warned.

“Tell me what you have planned,” Paige said, resigned.

“I don’t have a plan,” Dax started. “Not yet. It’s more of an idea that is still formulating. I need to go directly to the source. I need to corner Reynolds and force him to give me the answers I need.”

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“Wow,” Paige said in shock. “I don’t even know where to start with that.”

“Just hear me out,” Dax requested. “There was good news today. Sean arrested a man named Duffy that Reynolds hired to kill Carmen’s cop. He paid a couple of his buddies to help him. All three of them are in custody and they couldn’t throw Reynolds under the bus fast enough.”

“That is good news,” Paige smiled. “I knew once Nathan got Sean involved, he’d break the case. I’ve never met a better investigator than Sean Wilkens. Not that the locals weren’t devoted. But Sean has access to systems and information they don’t have. Both as an FBI Agent and as part of Nathan’s committee. And, he tied the killers to Reynolds?”

“Yeah,” Dax nodded. “Follow the money. Sean had access to Reynolds’ financials. He found a payment of fifty thousand to this Duffy guy. Then, he tracked those funds and Duffy withdrew part of it the next day. Sean figured this Duffy guy paid off his buddies. Sounds like he was right.”

“Can they tie Reynolds in with the murder?”

“Sean said the FBI got involved, took over the case because of all the jurisdictions as well as Reynolds’ illegal shipping. He’s going down, soon.”

“Okay,” Paige was trying to tie everything together. “And, you want to use that?”

“I do,” Dax said soberly. “Now that Sean finished up the homicide case, he’s going to be working with the task force that is going after Reynolds. He said they’re moving fast. They want to swoop in, arrest him and seize everything. I need to get to him first.”

Paige’s mind was racing. If the feds were going after Reynolds anyway, maybe this would work. “I’ll need to talk to Sean, convince him to call me before he talks to Nathan. One thing that works in our favor, the feds love to plan. They’ll develop the plan, then take a day or two to hash it out, walk it through a few times, and get the proper approval. The bureaucratic red tape will cause an even longer delay.”

“Then, you’re in?” Dax asked in surprise. “I thought you’d argue with me on this.”

“I’m conflicted,” Paige admitted. “If Nathan says Vato is safe, I want to believe Vato is safe. But the money, the roadblocks... you also have a point. Let’s make sure.”

Dax smiled. “Sounds like you want to accompany me. I have to warn you, I plan to break into his house and... compel him to talk. You probably shouldn’t be there.”

“We’ll see,” Paige shrugged. “I’m in the middle of a murder investigation of my own. I might not be available to go with you, but I’d like to help you come up with a plan. I know you well enough


by now to know, the guys will be there. Even if they’re on the outside, they’ll have your back. Let’s hash this out tonight and we can decide who goes when the time comes.”

Dax just stared at Paige for several seconds.


“You... well, after last time, I just thought...”

“I’ve been enlightened,” Paige shrugged. “I can’t do everything, and I trust you. I guess having you head out to rescue Zeus without me, helped to give me perspective. Now, can we talk about something else?”

“Sure,” Dax sobered at her tone.

“This case is going to bring in the national media,” Paige said cautiously.

“What you really mean is this case will bring Piper back into our lives,” Dax corrected. “I realized that as soon as I saw the news. Don’t worry about Piper. She won’t get in your way.”

“I’m more worried about her getting in your way,” Paige said honestly. “Especially, with all of this going on. Nothing you guys are doing on that committee can raise the attention of a reporter like Piper.”

“We’ll be careful,” Dax promised. “Did you eat?”

“That was quite a subject change,” Paige grinned.

“You’ve had a long day,” Dax shrugged. “We can talk about business tomorrow. Right now, I want to take care of my girl.”

“I ate, but I am beat,” Paige stood and held out a hand. “Let’s follow up tomorrow. I need sleep.”

Two days later, Paige was still scouring through financial data. Her eyes hurt, and the numbers were starting to blur together. She needed a break. “Anyone want lunch? My treat.”

Jericho materialized in his doorway. “If you’re willing to pick up, I’ll buy. Go to Dirk’s.

Margie, call in an order ahead of time. We could all use a break. I’m also going to call Tolman and ask if Stan can take some of these and work on them from his desk.

Less than twenty minutes later, Paige returned with an armload of food. When she stepped into

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the office, she realized it was empty. Where did everyone go? “That’s okay,” she called out. “I got it. I don’t need any help.”

Gage stepped from the conference room, then rushed over and took the large box Paige was carrying. He turned and disappeared into the conference room again.

“I thought you were allergic to spreadsheets,” Paige said the moment she stepped into the doorway.

“I am,” Gage said as he took the last lunch container out of the box. “But Dirk’s ribs are like an antihistamine. Once I dump some of this amazing sauce into the mix, I’m good.”

“That’s good to hear,” Jericho snagged a large stack of papers. “It means you can help.” He dropped the stack in front of Gage. “We’ve got a long night ahead of us. There’s something in here, we just need to find it.” *****

Hawk moved to the door and swung it open. He forced his face to remain neutral when he spotted Piper Weber standing on the front porch.

“Oh,” she said in surprise. “I was looking for...”

“Yes?” Hawk motioned for her to continue. “Please, finish that sentence.”

“What are you doing here?” Piper demanded. This was a complication she didn’t need. “Funny,” Thor said in the background. “I was about to ask you the same question.”

“I’ll come back,” Piper turned to leave.

“And, we’ll still be here,” Zeus said from behind her. “Might as well take care of this once and for all. Go on in, have a seat.”

Piper wasn’t scared of these guys, not really. She hesitated, weighing her options. Might as well get this over with now. They were clearly here to erect a barrier between her and Dax. She’d let them think they succeeded. “Fine,” she pushed past Hawk and settled onto one of the living room chairs. “What do you want?”

“You know what we want,” Thor gave her his most menacing stare. “I explained it to you a few years back, in that deserted alley. I was under the impression you got the message. Apparently, I was mistaken.”


“I got the message,” Piper flipped her hair behind her shoulder in an attempt to appear unfazed. “I just chose to ignore it.”

“You always did like to do things the hard way,” Zeus settled into one of the other chairs. “But, you see, it wasn’t an empty threat. And now, with the bump in your career, you have more to lose.”

“Is that a threat?”

“It’s actually a promise,” Hawk settled onto the couch. “The warning is the same. Unfortunately for you, I’m sure we could find the right reporter to share our story with. With everyone gathered here to report on Martin Wolfe’s death, we have plenty to choose from.”

“I like Trinity Snow,” Jeeves put in. “She’s friendlier than the others.”

“You are seriously threatening me with Trinity?” Piper brushed that off as ridiculous. “I’d smash her to pieces without even trying.”

“You could try,” Zeus handed Hawk the file Carmen had compiled. She’d been able to get even more dirt on America’s not so sweet, sweetheart.

“What is that?” Piper asked, a little worried.

“Evidence,” Hawk flipped open the file. “You see, we did our homework. It’s what we do.” He passed her a photo and waited for her to respond.

“So, I go to the bank,” Piper tried to hand it back to Hawk.

“You go ahead and keep that,” Hawk smiled. “It’s a copy.”

“What would I want that for?”

“Because it’s a photo of you at the bank, cleaning out Dax Hamilton’s bank account just before you left town, in his car,” Hawk provided.

“You could never prove that,” Piper was starting to get worried.

“This here,” Hawk picked up another sheet of paper. “It’s a sworn affidavit from the bank manager verifying the transaction. This one, it’s the bank teller testifying to the same thing.”

“Who cares?” Piper’s voice had gone up an octave. Clearly, she cared.

“I think America might,” Hawk said casually. “I mean, you’ve deemed yourself America’s Sweetheart. I wonder how they would feel if they knew while Dax was off fighting for his country, risking his life to protect all of us back here in the states, you were stealing his car and all his money. Dax is a national hero, and you wiped him out. I think a good number of your fans just might take exception

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to that.”

“And, I think Trinity just might gain the upper hand if she had all of that...” Jeeves pointed to the file. “People seem to love video these days, pictures, bank statements, affidavits, and”

“Yeah,” Zeus leaned back. “I know I’m willing to sit down with a pretty little up and coming reporter and share what I know, how about you guys?”

“Stop it,” Piper jumped to her feet. “I get it. You want me to leave Dax alone. I’ll do that. But first, I need to speak to him. I need to warn him.”

“About?” Hawk said, unconvinced. “His neighbor,” Piper said in resignation. She wasn’t going to get to Dax unless she could satisfy his men. “She’s a fraud. It’s the reason I’m here. Everyone else is reporting on the death of Martin Wolfe. I’m doing a story on the cop investigating Martin Wolfe. Did you guys know she messed up a case so severely a murderer went free? It’s the reason she left the FBI. She was about to get fired. She acted so quickly, left Washington and fled out here so fast the local Sheriff didn’t have the information when he decided to hire her. A few weeks later, and she’d be unemployed right now. There are rumors she took a bribe, let the killer go on purpose. Paige Carter is a dirty cop and Dax needs to know what a fraud she is.”

The men all exchanged glances, what in the world was this woman up to?

“I’d be careful if I were you,” Dax said from the kitchen doorway. Everyone looked at him in surprise. When had he come in? “Paige isn’t dirty, but I’d bet the farm the person who told you that lie is not only dirty, but he’ll be in a cage soon.”

“Dax,” Piper stood. “I’m not here to cause trouble. I just thought you should know. I hope you haven’t gotten involved with that woman.”

“Why Paige?” Ken asked the group. “I mean, of all of us she’s the lowest threat at the moment.”

Hawk shot him a warning glare.

“What does that mean?” Piper demanded.

“It means,” Dax made his way across the room and settled into his lounge chair. He hated the fact he still had a slight limp. “You’re playing a dangerous game with some very dangerous people. And, if you air that crap they peddled, you just might go down with them.”

“What happened to you?”

“I fell,” Dax said in dismissal.


“From what?” Piper said, clearly not believing the explanation. “The roof?”

“Close,” Dax just stared at her for several seconds. “But I can see you won’t let this go. Who is your source, Piper?”

“You know I’d never tell you that.”

“And, so does he,” Hawk realized.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dax shrugged. “Consider yourself warned.”

“I won’t back off a story just to save your girlfriend,” Piper was annoyed. Just by his reaction, she realized Dax was involved with the cop. What could he possibly see in Paige Carter? How was it possible he would choose a local cop over her?

“Let me explain how this is going to go down,” Dax informed her. “You, being the stubborn, illogical woman that you are, can run that story. You can go on air and claim that Paige is dirty; and she let a killer go free. Then, the FBI will come out and tell the world the story is incorrect. This will prompt you to dig deeper where you will ultimately learn that your source was using you and the entire thing was a fabrication. By this time, you will be so deep in your story that you will have to dig in your heels, convince the network there is a story there and you’ll push yourself further out on a limb. That’s when I’ll step in. I won’t take this to Trinity Snow. I’ll go to Monica Lake.”

“You hate me that much?” Piper asked softly. Dax knew the history between her and Monica. Her biggest nemesis would jump on the story without hesitation.

“I don’t hate you,” Dax disagreed. “I love Paige. I’ll do whatever it takes to set the record straight. I won’t let you or your anonymous source harm her in any way. And, the evidence these guys have on what you did to me, we’ll use that... in the beginning. Then, I’ll turn over everything I have regarding Frank Thomas.”

“I told you that in confidence,” Piper glared at Dax. He had her, if anyone knew about Frank, her career would be over.

Dax shrugged. “Go after Paige and everything’s on the table. But, if I were you, I’d start by looking into your source. You just might find the entire thing was fabricated to get Paige out of the way.”

“Why?” Piper asked. “Why would someone want to make up a story like that about a former FBI agent that is now a local cop in a small town?”

“I can’t answer that,” Dax answered.

“You won’t answer that,” Piper corrected.

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Dax remained silent, so did the rest of the men.

“Is there anyone I can talk to,” Piper asked. “To verify your story that this was all made up?”

“Sure,” Dax smiled. “Start with General Nathan Porter, retired.”

“Wasn’t that her mentor?” Piper asked. “Surely, he’ll defend and block the instant he knows.”

Hawk laughed. “He’s going to know the instant you leave this house. Be aggressive, Piper. Don’t take no for an answer. You’re a reporter... find the real story.”

Piper turned and walked to the front door. “I have a feeling all of you are setting me up. If I’m right, don’t think a little bad publicity is going to stop me from bringing that woman down. And, the rest of you along with her.”

“Ironic,” Dax contemplated. “That’s exactly the warning I have for you. Run the story, do the bidding of a criminal that is also a traitor to his country, and you just might find your own name and reputation smeared in the process. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise.”

“If Nathan Porter gets involved, you’ll be lucky to escape jail,” Hawk added.

“The truth will come out,” Piper promised before she flung open the door. “And, I’m the one that’s going to find it.”

The group waited several minutes before anyone spoke.

“I’d still like to know, why Paige?” Ken asked. “She’s knee deep in Wolfe’s murder. She’s not a threat. Why go after her now?”

“Paige is always a threat,” Dax said thoughtfully. “She doesn’t think like we do. At first, I thought Reynolds was behind this. But now, I think it’s his partner. Another military man that doesn’t understand Paige, the way she thinks, or what her next move will be. He can’t outsmart her, can’t get ahead of her analytical mind. He’s a military man. Sean pegged that one. And, he needs Paige out of the way. The Martin Wolfe murder has her busy, but not out. I still run things by her at night. This story, it would redirect her attention, keep her busy while they make their next move. And, he miscalculated. He thought feeding it to Piper would create a wedge between me and Paige.”

“Vato?” Hawk asked.

“I think so,” Dax sighed. “We need to finalize the plan. I get the feeling the feds are moving in and the partner may know that. We need Intel. Ken were you able to get the blueprints to all of the Reynolds’ properties?”


“Yeah,” Ken punched some buttons on his tablet and handed it over to Dax. “I think that is the most likely target. It’s a mountain cabin... resort really. He goes there when he gets stressed.”

“Where is it?” Zeus moved in to get a better look.

“Arizona,” Ken said in answer. “It’s near Humphrey’s Peak just outside of Flagstaff.”

“Makes sense,” Zeus decided. “With his business out there, he’d need a place to relax nearby.”

“Get that to Sean,” Dax told Ken.

“But...” Jeeves frowned.

“Sean is working with us on this,” Dax assured them. “He’s part of the task force created to bring Reynolds in but we’re on the same team. He’s the one that told me they’re looking for him. They already served a warrant on Reynolds apartment in Washington. That’s what I came over to tell you when I spotted Piper. Cole Reynolds is now a wanted man on the run. I think you’re right — if he’s not at that cabin, he’s on his way there. We need the feds to bring him in. I just want to have a little chat with the guy before they do.”

“Will Sean give us enough warning?” Hawk didn’t like sharing Intel with the feds. They never played well with others.

“He will,” Dax assured them. “They’ll need to get approval and another warrant for the cabin. It’s going to take time. Enough time that we can head out and beat them there. I’ll go in, get what we need and make sure he’s detained. That will give Sean time to find me and take custody of the prisoner while we move on to deal with whatever I get from Reynolds.”

“That means bringing Porter in on the plan,” Hawk mumbled. “What if he shuts us down?”

“Porter is already in on the plan,” Dax informed them. “He’s on board, as long as we get the timing right. He won’t shut it down. He thinks it’s overkill and unnecessary, but he’ll have our back.”

“Then let’s get started,” Hawk pulled out a map and spread it on the coffee table in front of them. “We have a mission to plan.” *****

“I think I have something,” Paige sat back to consider.

“What?” Jericho straightened in his chair.

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“Rianne Wolfe religiously went to The Spa at Zermatt every week,” Paige began. “I’ve gone back an entire year, and she had an expensive spa treatment every single Wednesday.”

“Why is that significant?” Margie asked.

“Because three weeks ago, they stopped. No more charges and she doesn’t have a charge at a different resort,” Paige considered. “I don’t know what it means, but I think someone should check it out.”

“Where is it?” Jericho asked.

“Looks like somewhere in Midway,” Paige flipped through her file and settled on another document. “And, I believe she took the company chopper. Fuel receipts show a regular trip on each Wednesday. Midway’s what? A two hour drive. So, she talked hubby dearest into loaning her the helicopter.”

“From the picture we’re getting,” Gage put in. “He would have let her use it. He probably reimbursed the company out of his own funds. Or, he would have if his accountant suggested it.”

Paige flipped through more pages. “He did,” she smiled at Gage. “Good catch. Looks like he wrote a check to his own company each quarter just before the accountant submitted the company taxes.”

“I’ll send Havilland,” Jericho decided. “Dean’s busy, but Duncan will get there nearly as quickly, and he’ll get the answers we need. Won’t be as fast as a chopper ride, but I doubt it’s going to take two hours.”

“You didn’t want to go?” Gage whispered so only Paige could hear.

“No,” Paige gave him a subtle shake of her head. “There’s something I need to do. In fact, I need an hour or so. Can you let Jericho know I’ll be back?”

“Okay,” Gage frowned. “Anything you need help with?”

“No,” Paige stood and pulled out her phone. “But Nathan’s been calling for the last forty minutes. I need to find out why.”

“Go,” Gage motioned to the door. “I’ll handle things here. It could be important.”

“Where’s she going?” Jericho asked as soon as he disconnected the call.

“Something urgent from Porter,” Gage informed him. “She said she needs an hour.”

Jericho just nodded and got back to work. He was pretty sure he’d discovered a pattern in Martin’s spending as well.


The instant Paige stepped into the house she knew something was up. All the men were gathered in Dax’s living room, engaged in serious conversation. The conversation stopped abruptly, and the room went eerily silent the moment they saw her. “Porter called.”

“Did he fill you in?” Dax wondered. “Apparently, not completely.”

Dax took a minute to explain the situation to Paige as well as the plan. The window was short, so they’d have to head out tonight. The feds were gearing up for a hit the following evening. “I have to go tonight,” Dax explained. “We need time to get to the target and scout it before the feds swam in and force us to leave.”

“I understand,” Paige studied Dax. “What did you leave out? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Dax sighed, then filled her in on the visit from Piper.

Paige glanced at Hawk then back to Dax. “Reynolds? Was he trying to keep me occupied while they went after Vato? That doesn’t make sense, I’m already occupied.”

“I don’t think it was Reynolds. I think Cole is on the run and not communicating with anyone,” Dax disagreed. “I think it’s his partner. Sean is sure the guy is in the military and that makes sense to me. He has to have rank and probably works out of the Pentagon. He’s blocking Nathan’s attempts to remove Vato, and he’s put something in motion, or he will soon. He needs to take Vato out and he needs you out of the way to do it. Or, Porter, or both.”

“If you were in trouble,” Zeus provided. “Nathan would be distracted. He’d focus on saving your reputation. If they were quick and careful, they might slip a plan through that would eliminate Vato for good.”

“And,” Paige said in understanding. “He used Piper Weber to create a wedge between you and me.” She was watching Dax.

“I think so,” Dax agreed. “He can’t read you, doesn’t understand the way you think. He needs you completely out of the picture for this to work. I’m not sure why, but there has to be a reason. The timing isn’t coincidental.”

“Let me think on it,” Paige decided. “I don’t know why either, but you’re right... there has to be a reason. Now, I have an hour, what do you need before you go?”

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Dax ran the plan through for her, twice. Paige stopped him several times to offer suggestions and to give insight into the FBI. By the time the hour was up, the group had a better understanding of how the feds would run their Op, how long of a delay they could expect before the Calvary rushed in with the warrant, and a perfect way to get a signal to Sean. He would need to know where in the house Dax had cornered their intended target. It was going to be Nathan that relayed that Intel. Once the task force entered the residence, Sean would hook up with Dax, relieve him of their prisoner and notify the team he had apprehend Cole Reynolds.

“Alright,” Paige stood. “I need to get back. I’m sure you guys will take off before I get home, so just be careful.”

“I’ll call you once we arrive,” Dax promised. “Now, I’ll walk you out.”

Once they were on the porch, Dax pulled Paige into his arms. “Are you really okay with the plan?”

“I am,” Paige wrapped her arms around his neck. “On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“I want you to make that man pay dearly for his actions,” Paige locked eyes with Dax. “I want you to scare him. I want you to terrify and intimidate that man so severely, he wets his pants. And, if you can justify it to Nathan, throat punch that traitorous SOB at least one time for me.”

“And here I thought you were going to tell me to restrain myself,” Dax laughed. “I was sure I was going to get a lecture on process, letting the legal system work and how I shouldn’t let my emotions get the better of me. Instead, I got a She Devil out for revenge. I’m not exactly sure how to take that.”

“Then just do as I ask and we’ll both be happy,” she leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss. “I have to get back to work. We’re making progress and I can’t leave my team hanging much longer.”

“You know who did it?”

“I know the wife was involved, but I think maybe she had help from the mistress,” Paige confided. “I can’t prove it yet, but the description matches. The girlfriend was the one that delivered the poison.”

“Why would they work together?” Dax couldn’t follow her logic this time. “Wouldn’t they hate each other?”

“Probably,” Paige shrugged. “Which is why I think they will roll on each other the instant I have enough to arrest them both. But, the why of it? I still haven’t figured that out yet.”

“You will,” Dax assured her. He pulled her in for a longer, deeper kiss. “I have faith in you. Don’t


worry about us, we’ve got this.”

“I’m still baffled by the fake report they gave Piper. The only reason she ran with it was because she hates me. From before. And, because you turned her down for me.”

“I did,” Dax ran a hand down her hair. “And, I’d do it all again. Piper is a sore loser, and that’s probably part of it. She also wants to get back at me for rejecting her. And, she’s always chasing that next great story. The one that will put her in the big league. I’m sure this sounded great professionally and it gave her a chance to get back at both of us on a personal level. Don’t worry about Piper. The instant she contacts Porter, he’ll shut it down. I have no doubt, every door she knocks on will be locked up airtight. Go catch a killer and forget Piper Weber. Because that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

“Be careful,” Paige took a step back. “I love you. See you when you get back.”

“Paige?” Dax said softly. He waited until she stopped and turned back to face him. “I love you, too.”

Paige was still smiling as she pulled out of her driveway and headed back to the office. When she pulled into the lot, she took a minute to refocus on the case. She couldn’t think about Dax or his mission. She couldn’t think of the risk to Dax, his team or Sean. She had work to do. She had a killer to catch... or, two. It took longer than it should have, but she was finally back on track by the time she stepped into the conference room.

“Trouble?” Jericho asked.

“I hope not,” Paige settled back into her chair. “I’ll fill you in later. I think the worst of it has been diverted; but just in case, I’ll speak with you in private, later.”

“Fair enough,” Jericho pushed several sheets over to Paige. “I’ve been working on Martin’s expenditures. I discovered a pattern. I believe he was meeting with his girlfriend nearly every other week on Thursday afternoon.”

“Only every other week?” Paige asked skimming through the documents. “I expected it to be more.”

Jericho started to respond but stopped to answer his ringing phone. “Walters.”

“Hey, boss,” Havilland said in greeting. “I think I have something for you.”

“Let me put you on speaker,” Jericho punched the button then set his phone on the table.

“Go ahead.”

“I got lucky,” Havilland explained. “I made it just in time to catch the manager before she left for the day.”

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“You’re already in Midway?” Paige asked in surprise.

“Was I supposed to go to Midway?” Havilland said sarcastically.

“What did you find,” Jericho said impatiently.

“Right,” Duncan cleared his throat. “Wendy, that’s the manager, said there was an incident. Rianne was a regular, but she wanted special treatment and that upset the other guests.”

“What kind of special treatment?” Paige asked.

“That’s the interesting part,” Duncan continued. “Rianne insisted on having private time in the sauna. She locked the door and wouldn’t let anyone else in, except one Skyller Franks. Rianne ordered two other women out of the area when they tried to join the duo for a steam session. Rianne became indignant, said the two of them needed to talk business in private and the women would have to come back later. Well, one of the women was an Eccles. She complained to Wendy, who in turn spoke to Rianne Wolfe. Rianne tried to play that ‘do you know who I am’ bit, but Wendy wouldn’t budge. She was more worried about losing the other customers. Rianne and Ms. Franks left together, both of them visibly angry, and neither one has returned.”

“As in Rice Eccles Stadium, Eccles?” Jericho asked.

“Yep,” Havilland smiled. “Looks like Rianne Wolfe took on the wrong woman. I think the other lady was related to John Huntsman somehow. Anyway, the spa didn’t want to lose two of their best customers to accommodate Rianne Wolfe.”

“Did they know anything about this Skyller Franks?” Paige asked. She glanced at Margie, who had retrieved her laptop and was frantically typing on the keyboard.

“No,” Havilland sighed. “Not really. I have the manager scanning through video to see if they still have an image of the woman. She is a blonde, and she’s the right height and build. Wendy thought she was about five eight, maybe one fifty.”

Paige smiled. “There’s our link.”

“But why would the two of them hook up?” Gage still didn’t understand that part. “They should hate each other. They were both after the same man.”

“No idea,” Duncan said, also perplexed. “Wendy’s waving at me. Maybe, she found something. I’ll let you know if I get anything else.”

“Thanks, Duncan,” Jericho answered. “Good work and drive safe on the way back. There’s no reason to rush the return trip.”


“Killjoy,” Duncan said before disconnecting.

“I think I found something,” Margie said once Jericho hung up. “Skyllar Franks has a Utah driver’s license.”

“You got a photo?” Paige moved to stand behind Margie. “Bingo, blonde hair, five eight, one fifty and not a hair out of place.”

“Where does she live?” Jericho asked as he studied the photo Margie had put on the big screen.

“Looks like,” Margie scrolled further down the screen. “Park City.”

“See what you can find on Ms. Franks,” Jericho ordered. “Look in court records as well. I doubt someone that polished will have a criminal record, but she may have been sued, or maybe she’s divorced.”

“I’m going to check social media,” Paige decided. “People put everything on there these days. We might hit the jackpot.” Paige left the conference room to retrieve her own laptop. Once she returned, it only took a few minutes to locate Skyllar Franks on Facebook. “I think I found her.”

“Anything useful?” Gage asked, moving closer so he could see the screen.

Paige smiled. “I’d say that’s pretty useful.”

“What did you find?” Jericho demanded.

“A tattoo,” Gage settled back, grinning. “A very colorful tattoo. One that has a large heart in the center and blue, purple and green wings, right where Shannon said it was.”

“I want to bring her in,” Paige focused on Jericho. “Can we convince Tolman we have enough to bring her in for an interrogation?”

“We don’t need his approval,” Jericho decided. “Pick her up. Once you get a confession, we can book her and let James do the rest.”

“That means a trip to Park City,” Paige warned.

“I’ll call Havilland and divert him,” Jericho decided. “He’s right there and he can enlist the help of the locals to bring her in.” He stood and left the room. “Paige,” he called over his shoulder. “Be in my office in five.”

Paige glanced around the table, not sure what to say.

“We know you can’t talk about it,” Gage finally said. “Just let us know if you need any help.”

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“It’s fine,” she assured them. “Just another mission involving Nathan and the band of militants. Dax and the guys already left town.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Margie assured her. Any mission Dax went on these days tended to be dangerous.

“I need to talk to Jericho,” Paige stood and escaped. She stepped into her boss’s office and settled into one of his chairs.

Jericho disconnected and focused on Paige. “Duncan’s on his way to the residence. He’ll notify me when he has Skyllar Franks in custody.”

“Will he bring her back here?”

“Yes,” Jericho settled into his chair. “Now, what are the general and his merry men up to this time?”

“I can’t discuss their mission, not until it’s over,” Paige evaded. “But, that’s not what I needed to talk to you about.” She proceeded to explain the situation with Piper Weber and her threat to go public.

“They must really want you out of the picture,” Jericho decided. “The entire story is a blatant lie. At least with me, they spun the truth into a lie. With you, they fabricated the entire story. How did they think they’d get away with that?”

“I don’t know,” Paige said in frustration. “I’m not really concerned with that. The only question I’ve been asking myself is why? I’ve been busy with this Martin Wolfe thing. Why now?”

“That is one question,” Jericho shifted. “But I think the more pressing question is what will Piper Weber do now?”

“She’s unpredictable, for sure,” Paige agreed. “I have no idea. She’s already called Nathan. That’s the reason he was trying to reach me. He thought I already knew about the mission that took Dax and the rest out of town. He wanted to talk to me about this nonsense with Piper. He’s already started erecting barriers. I doubt there is anyone in Washington that will even take a meeting with her. But what if he’s playing right into their hands? What if they want him distracted while they carry out some nefarious scheme? I don’t want to be the reason General Porter is distracted.”

Jericho laughed. “There’s nothing you can do about that, Paige. Nathan sees you as a sort of adopted daughter. He’s going to do everything in his power to protect you. But that doesn’t mean he’s dropping the ball on this Op the boys went on. General Porter is capable of handling more than one crisis at a time. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in right now.


And, he wouldn’t have the power or the respect he is afforded by everyone around him... including the President of the United States. Have a little faith. Everything is going to be fine.”

“I guess I’ve done all I can do,” Paige decided. “If Piper Weber corners you, at least you’ll be prepared. Other than that, it’s out of my control.”

“It’s going to take Havilland at least a couple hours to get back,” Jericho decided. “Go home for the evening. We can wait to interview Ms. Franks until morning. In fact, I think I’ll call Duncan and tell him to watch our suspect this evening but wait until morning to apprehend her. We’ll plan for a nine o’clock interview. I’ll tag you if anything changes.”

“See you in the morning,” Paige slowly left the office and headed home. *****

Paige was tired and grumpy. She was also worried about Dax. So many things could go wrong on this mission. And she knew, if he didn’t get out in time, the feds would pick him up and ask questions later. Nathan would eventually get him out of trouble with the Bureau but that would take time. Time, they didn’t have because Vato was in trouble. She stepped into the office and spotted Duncan Havilland. “You get her?”

“Yeah,” Duncan stood. “She’s in the interrogation room. Good luck with that one. She’s a real piece of work. And, I’m starting to think she could be a black widow.”

“Black widow or praying mantis?” Paige asked.

“Yours is better,” Havi decided. “She would definitely eat her lover if she could.”

“Sounds like she made quite the impression,” Paige dropped her bag onto the desk. “Have you talked to Jericho?”

“He should be here any minute,” Havi said. “He wants you to wait. Apparently, the two of you will be double timing the fair Miss Franks.”

Paige frowned. It wasn’t that she objected to Jericho’s participation. She respected the man and his methods. It was just this case, his constant involvement was making her feel like he thought she was incompetent. That thought made her foul mood even worse.

“Stop scowling,” Jericho said in greeting. “It’s not about you. Let’s get this over with.”

Paige followed her boss into the interrogation room and got her first look at Miss Skyller Franks. She waited several seconds to see if Jericho was going to start the interview. When he didn’t, she took

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the lead. “This interview will be recorded.” Paige moved to the wall and started the camera. She rattled off the date, the case number and identified the participants for the record. “Miss Franks,” Paige focused on the woman who now looked bored. Maybe she had done this before. “It is my understanding that you were read your Miranda Rights prior to being transported. I’d like to remind you of those rights for the record.” Paige read the Miranda Warning verbatim. “Do you understand these rights and obligations?”

“Sure,” Skyller shrugged.

“And are you willing to speak to us today without an attorney present?”

“I’ll let you know,” Skyller brushed at her nails.

“I need to know now,” Paige pressed.

“I’ll talk to you now,” Skyller sighed. “I’ll let you know later if I change my mind.”

“Great,” Paige settled back against the chair. “Can you tell me how you first met Rianne Wolfe?”

“Who?” Skyller pretended she didn’t recognize the name.

Paige pulled out a photo Havilland had obtained. It was a still shot of Rianne Wolfe and Skyller leaving the spa. She set it on the table and pointed at Rianne. “This woman, Rianne Wolfe.”

“Oh,” Skyller shrugged. “That day, at the spa. We were in the sauna together. Nice lady.”

Paige smiled. “It seems you’re the only one that thinks so.”

Skyllar just glared but didn’t take the bait.

Paige pulled out a picture of Martin Wolfe. “And how do you know this man?”

Skyller glanced at the photo and smirked. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met him.”

Paige pulled out another photo and glanced at Jericho.

“I got that from hotel security,” Jericho advised. “Looks like you’ve met to me.”

“Oh,” Skyller shrugged. “I think that was the nice man I met in the elevator.”

Paige set out another photo and another and another. Jericho had obtained photos of Martin and Skyller each Thursday when they hooked up in the expensive hotel. “Seems the two of you ride down in the elevator frequently.”

“What’s your point?” Skyller asked.


“I’m glad you asked,” Paige gathered up the photos. “I’m just wondering how Martin Wolfe’s mistress maneuvered her way into his annual party. A party thrown by his wife at his home here in Manti.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Skyller challenged. They couldn’t know she was at the party. She had covered her tracks well.

“I have several witnesses that put you in the room, at that party when Martin Wolfe died,” Paige informed her. “Maybe you want a minute to revise that last statement.”

Skyller sat silently trying to come up with an answer. There was no way anyone remembered her. “I think I want that lawyer.”

“Good,” Paige stood. “I was actually hoping you would refuse to discuss this. You see, we have plenty of evidence. We know you killed Martin Wolfe. And, well the District Attorney was at the party. In fact, he was standing right there, next to Martin, when he died. He’s anxious to try this case. We know you and Martin were having an affair, we know you were there that night; and once we book you for pre meditated murder, we’ll have your fingerprints. We’ll be able to match them to the ones on that tray you handed the caterer after you poisoned the champagne. Yes, we also have the champagne. We have several witnesses that remember you. You know, you really shouldn’t get such a distinctive tattoo if you plan to murder your lover. It’s a dead giveaway. Now, stand up and put your hands behind your back. You are under arrest for the murder of Martin Wolfe.”

“Wait,” Skyller held up a hand. “Okay, I’ll cooperate. I didn’t want to participate. I didn’t want anything to do with this. It was all Rianne’s idea. She made me do it. She’s a powerful woman. She threatened me. Said she would hire someone to come after me if I didn’t do what she wanted. I was terrified. I feared for my life. She said the poison wouldn’t kill him; it would just make him sick. I had no idea she planned to kill him. And, she used me to do it.”

Jericho stood and silently walked to the door. “I need a minute, Paige would you join me in the hallway?”

The two of them left the room and moved to Jericho’s office. “There’s something off about that woman. She’s calculating and prepared.”

“Havi said something when I got here this morning,” Paige considered. “He called her a black widow. Do you think she’s done this before? Killed a lover or a husband?”

“Call in Heidi,” Jericho decided. “Get her prints so Margie can run them. I want to know everything there is to know about Skyller Franks before we continue this interview.”

It was an hour later when Jericho and Paige stepped back into the room.

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“Did you verify my story?” Skyller asked. “Did you arrest Rianne Wolfe for killing her husband?”

“Rianne didn’t kill her husband,” Paige settled back in the chair. “You did.”

“But I told you...”

“Yes,” Jericho also settled into his chair. “Before we get into that, I’d like to talk to you about Duke Winters.”

“Why do you want to talk about Duke?” Skyller asked. How had these small-town cops discovered her marriage to Duke?

“The death was deemed mysterious by the coroner,” Jericho continued. “The local cops believe you were responsible.”

“They never proved I had anything to do with that,” Skyller practically screamed. She realized her mistake immediately. “Because I was innocent. They were trying to frame me for something I didn’t do. Duke died of natural causes. He had a heart attack.”

“Funny,” Paige tapped her pen on her notepad. “That’s exactly what Mrs. Wolfe said about her husband. Maybe she got confused. You know, maybe she was thinking about Duke rather than Martin.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Skyller protested. “Duke’s death has nothing to do with Martin. Rianne killed that poor man. I know, I put the poison in his drink; but his wife is the one that bought it. She’s the one that told me how much to use. She said it wouldn’t cause any permanent damage. We were just trying to teach him a lesson, for betraying both of us that way. I was shocked when I learned Martin was married. He claimed he was divorced and lonely.”

“How did you happen to be in Italy back in November, when the two of you met?” Paige asked. Once they knew who the woman was, they had obtained a warrant for her financials. Tolman had to do some fancy talking, but he’d come through for them. Paige had discovered that Skyller Franks was running out of money. She’d flown to Italy, checked into the same hotel Wolfe always used and the bellhop had confirmed the “sexy blonde” spent hours waiting in the lobby, hoping to meet the elusive tech giant. It would be interesting to see just how she tried to spin this one.

“I was shopping,” Skyller lied. “I went to Milan to shop and ran into Martin in the lobby of the hotel. We hit it off immediately and decided to share dinner. Our relationship took off from there. Imagine my surprise when I learned we lived so close to each other. I reside in Park City, as you well know. And, Martin spends a lot of his time in Salt Lake. We developed a relationship over time and started to meet at that hotel on occasion.”


“We seized your computer,” Paige advised her. “I have a forensic specialist going through it as we speak. I wonder if you realize you can delete your history, but it’s never really deleted.” Paige was confident Carmen would find anything there was to find.

“You had no right to go through my things,” Skyller slammed her hand down on the table. “Sheriff,” Paige asked casually. “Did we have a right to go through Miss Frank’s things?”

“I believe we did,” Jericho said calmly. “It’s a little thing called a warrant. Maybe you want to start over. And, this time tell us the truth. We know you were tracking Martin, basically stalking him for months before the two of you met. We know, based on your financials, which we also had a warrant to obtain, that you have nearly run through the money you inherited after the death of Duke Winters. We know you researched Martin, knew he was traveling to Italy, and you did your homework well enough to discover the hotel he always stays in. You flew to Italy, tried to get a room close to Mr. Wolfe and when that didn’t come through, you spent hours loitering in the lobby, waiting for the right time to pounce. You orchestrated the meeting, seduced a married and lonely man and maneuvered your way into his life. Let me know if I’m missing anything here.”

“All of that might be true,” Skyller said cautiously. “But it doesn’t change the fact that Rianne Wolfe is the one that murdered the man I loved.”

“I’m curious,” Paige added. “How did you plan to get the money? With Martin dead, it all goes to Rianne. She walks away from this a wealthy widow. You... well, you rot in a cell for a few decades.”

“Rianne Wolfe killed Martin,” Skyller screamed. “She was afraid he was going to leave her for me. So, she killed him.”

“There’s just one problem with that story,” Paige sighed. “You killed Martin Wolfe.”

“Just because that stupid waitress said it was me, doesn’t mean anything. I’m sure Rianne put her up to it. Rianne is framing me so she can get away with murder.”

“What waitress?” Paige looked at Jericho. “I didn’t say anything about a waitress.”

“I’m not stupid,” Skyller pouted.

“That remains to be seen,” Paige stood when there was a knock on the door. Once she opened it, she stepped outside.

“Carmen called,” Margie told her. “She said there were recordings on the laptop. Skyller tried to hide them and used some cheap encryption software she probably downloaded from the internet. I would never be able to quote your friend and her colorful assessment of the program. The bottom line is she got through it. She emailed you the most pressing file.”

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Paige rushed to her desk and pulled up the email. It took less than a minute to realize this was a smoking gun. And, they had the evidence they needed to arrest the callous duo for murder. She exited out of the file and returned to the room.

Jericho looked at her in question; but Paige just moved around the desk. “Skyller Franks, stand up. You are under arrest for the murder of Martin Wolfe.”

“What? I thought...”

“Yeah,” Paige grabbed her arm and made her stand. It only took a few seconds to cuff her. “You thought you’d get away with murder. I’m sure it was a real kick to your ego when Martin informed you that he would never leave his wife. He made her a promise, made her father a promise and Wolfe, he always kept his word.”

“How did you know?” Skyller asked in shock.

“I told you,” Paige gave her a little shove. “Delete never really means delete.”

“But they were encrypted.”

“Keep talking,” Paige shrugged. “You’re digging the hole deeper by the second.” Paige transported their prisoner to the county jail while Margie filled Jericho in on the details. The instant Paige returned to the office, their prisoner locked up tight for the time being, Jericho was pacing in front of her desk.

“It’s about time,” he growled. “Let’s go get a snake off a plane.”

“Wow,” Paige laughed. “Don’t look now but Jericho Walters made a joke.”

Both of them enjoyed arresting Rianne Wolfe. She too thought she had gotten away with murder. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong partner in crime. She wasn’t as easy to manipulate as Skyller. The instant they loaded her into the back of the car, she demanded her attorney. Didn’t matter, they had the entire planning session on tape. Skyller had sunk them both. In her attempt to gain evidence she could use to blackmail her partner, to ensure the grieving widow transferred the ten million dollars they had agreed to after the murder, Skyller had gathered indisputable evidence that could and would be used against them both in a court of law. There wasn’t a lawyer in the country that could prevent it.

“I’m going to lock up the evidence and head home,” Paige decided. “I’ll come in early and put the case together for Tolman.”

“He already has the basics,” Jericho told her. “Don’t come in early, it can wait. Good job, by the way. Another job well done. Guess I wasn’t snookered into hiring you after all.”


“Sure, you were,” Paige grabbed her stuff and started for the door. “But it wasn’t because I let a killer walk. Of all the absurd accusations they could have made. It wasn’t because I was fired, either.”

“Goodnight, Paige,” Jericho held the door for her. “Piper Weber will do what she does. That’s a problem for another day.”

Paige pulled away, wondering what she was going to do with the rest of the evening.

“Nathan,” Dax said in surprise.

“Can I come in?” Nathan asked, glancing around the parking lot of the hotel.

“Sure,” Dax held the door open and took a step back. “What are you doing here?”

“I was on my way to Manti,” Nathan admitted. “I didn’t like that ex-girlfriend of yours or the story she planned to fabricate on Paige. Once you relayed the plan, I decided to divert. There are so many things that could go wrong out here and I thought you could use my help. I won’t get in your way. I’m just going to stand by to make sure we all walk away from this unscathed.”

“You should have gone to Manti,” Dax advised. “I might do something that could come back on you. If you’re here, you can’t deny knowing about the plan.”

“I wouldn’t anyway,” Nathan settled into a chair. “Dax, I don’t care what you do to that man. Well, short of killing him. Make sure he’s alive to turn over to the FBI.”

“Any update on their arrival?” Dax wondered.

“Their plane should be touching down in two hours,” Nathan had confirmed the data twice. “When are you leaving, to scout out the cabin?”

“We already scouted,” Dax admitted. “We’re leaving here in ten minutes. It takes precisely eightytwo minutes to get there from here. It doesn’t leave much time for me to locate Reynolds, get the Intel I need and get out before the feds hit the place.”

“Why not leave early? Give yourself some breathing room?” Nathan wondered.

“Because he has one guard outside,” Dax informed him. “Shift change is at twenty one hundred. It’s the only window I have to sneak past the cameras and scale the wall onto the balcony. Reynolds feels safe leaving the door open at night. He assumes that since it’s on the second floor, nobody could use it as an entry point. He’s wrong.”

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“So, you’ll go in through the balcony and then what?”

“The guard station is to the left of the property, out front,” Dax motioned to the door. “I’ll explain on the way. We need to head out.”

Nathan stood and followed Dax out the door. “Reynolds has built a sort of control center in a smaller cabin. The guard works from inside the cabin. He basically monitors the cameras, watching for anything suspicious.” They had reached the parking lot and spotted the other men at the same time they were spotted. “Nathan will be joining us. Hawk figure out where to stage him. He needs to be somewhere out of sight, but also in a place he can come forward and intervene if something goes wrong.”

“On it,” Hawk climbed into the passenger seat of a dark SUV and began studying diagrams.

“Zee,” Dax called. “You drive the SUV. I’m going to ride with Porter, go over the mission plan and hook up with you at the staging location. We’ll need to do a quick scout of the property, make sure nothing has changed; but otherwise, it’s a go. See you guys in eighty-two minutes.” He turned to Porter. “You want to drive, or do you want me to?”

“You drive,” Porter decided. “I have no idea where you plan to stage.” *****

Eighty-three minutes later, the group was standing on the edge of Cole Reynolds’ luxury cabin getaway. Dax was surveying the house with an expensive set of night vision binoculars. “He’s not on the ground floor,” Dax reported.

“Is that good or bad?” Nathan wondered.

“Good,” Dax assured him. “I won’t have as far to go to find him.”

“He’s not on the balcony,” Hawk reported. “That means the coast is clear. We’re a go when you’re ready.”

“Wooly, check in,” Dax said into his headset.

“Green light on the two three corner,” Wooly advised.


“Good to go,” Zee reported. “All clear on the three four.”



“Same traffic,” Thor advised. “Nothing to report on the one-two.”

“Jeeves, you in position?”

“Good to go up here, too,” Jeeves advised. “I’ll let you know when I spot the feds headed this way.”

“Where did you post Jeeves?” Nathan asked, not remembering the man’s real name.

“He’s watching the road that leads up from the main highway,” Dax informed him. “I’m up. Hawk take care of the general. I’ll be back in a flash.”

Dax was dressed for the occasion. His black jeans and black turtleneck would keep him hidden until he started to climb the log exterior of the building. He dashed across a massive backyard and ducked under the wooden covering that formed a large back patio. Reynolds had spared no expense. The patio floor was covered in expensive stone tiles with an elaborate fireplace built to one side. Against the back wall of the cabin, a large built in barbeque and granite counter took up the entire wall. Dax cautiously made his way around the furniture and heaved his body onto the counter that ran from the BBQ to the edge of the building. He gripped two of the sturdy poles that encased the balcony and pulled his body upwards. He loved this part of the job, the adrenaline, the anticipation, the danger. It was the only part of being a ranger he truly missed. Once he got his footing secure, he swung one leg over the railing, then the other. He smiled as he moved toward the open door. He still had it. Good thing, tonight he was going to need every ounce of training he’d acquired over the years.

“I’ve got headlights,” Jeeves reported. “You’ve got ten minutes, fifteen tops.”

Dax slid into the elaborate bedroom and silently moved toward the door. If he had to guess, Reynolds was probably in the large spa area. It was risky, most of the room was an open gym. He could never get across that entire expanse without being spotted by Reynolds. On the other hand, if his target was in the sauna or in the glass-enclosed hot tub area, he might have a chance to surprise him. Dax stopped just outside the door. “Zee?” he whispered into his mouthpiece. “Go,” Zee said in response.

“Do you have a visual on the hot tub?”

“Affirm,” Zee said softly. “It’s a negative. Reynolds is not in the tub. I don’t have a visual on the target.”

Dax used a small mirror to look around the door. Reynolds was not in the gym, either. That meant he was inside the sauna. Dax just hoped the man didn’t relax in the steamy room naked. That was not something he needed to see. He slid through the opening and made his way silently across the room. The door to the sauna was closed, but steam was seeping under the door jamb. Dax had

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found his mark. He pulled his gun, swung the door open and stepped inside. Reynolds screamed and grabbed for a towel. “What do you want? Who are you? I’m calling the police.”

Dax laughed at that one. Just his luck, the man was naked. He moved slightly to the left, so the light shone on his face and waited. “Are you here to kill me?” Reynolds choked out. “What was the payment to Hastings for?”

“I won’t tell you anything,” Reynolds focused on the weapon pointed at his head. “You can’t make me talk. I have a partner. He’ll kill you if you do anything to me. You were supposed to be dead already.”

Dax didn’t say a word. He was running out of time. He waited ten seconds. Silence filled the room as he waited. Reynolds started to squirm but still didn’t answer. Dax never took his eyes off his enemy; he just shifted the gun slightly to the left and fired. A loud, thundering boom filled the air. The horrific noise didn’t bother Dax, he was wearing ear protection. Hastings, on the other hand, panicked. He fell off the bench and hit the floor with a thud, covering both ears as he pushed his body backward to huddle under the long bench. Dax grinned. He’d be happy to report back to Paige that Reynolds did, in fact, pee himself. The man was shaking so violently, Dax wondered if he’d have a heart attack and die before he could get answers. “Hastings?”

Reynolds didn’t respond. He just looked at Dax in wide eyed shock, a dazed and confused look permanently etched on his face. Dax waited and watched as a trickle of blood slowly slid out of Reynolds’ right ear and down his cheek. The crimson liquid immediately mixed with the sweat — from the heat and the fear that was now even more prominently displayed on the man’s face. Dax knew he had to give Reynolds time to recover, but time was something he didn’t have. “Hastings?” he pushed.

The question seemed to bring Reynolds out of his shock. “You can’t stop him,” Reynolds finally whimpered. “The plan is already set in motion. Nathan thinks sending that ranger in to evacuate Vato was a secret. It’s not. We know all about it. Your ranger buddy is walking into a trap. Instead of saving one of your friends, you are going to lose two of them. You underestimated us at every turn. And this time, you’re going to pay. I know you Dax Hamilton. Losing two of your lifelong friends over this is going to eat you alive. I’m glad Nassar failed. I’m glad you are going to live to suffer the pain and grief that you caused. Nobody had to die. If you had only stayed out of it. We have people,” he laughed. “It’s too late to save your friends. Live with that!”

Dax punched his location into his phone. He knew he was cutting it close, but he wasn’t finished.


Paige Carter Season —Episode 7

He moved quickly across the room with the skill of a trained hunter. Before Reynolds knew it was coming, Dax had his body slammed against the wall, his hand wrapped around Reynolds’ neck. When the man started to choke, Dax ignored the discomfort. “You underestimated all of us. Live with that.” He took a step backward just as Sean stepped into the room. “He’s all yours.”

“Cole Reynolds,” Sean moved forward and stood over the man that was currently crumpled on the floor. “You are under arrest. Put your hands behind your back. And please, do me a favor and resist.”

Dax made his way back to the balcony and had just lowered himself to the ground when he heard the rest of Sean’s task force barreling through the house. He wondered if they had ever heard the word stealth. He ducked behind the fireplace and waited for a two-man team to clear the dining area just inside a large bank of windows. “I’m out,” he whispered into his mouthpiece. “Return to base.” Once the feds were out of sight, Dax darted across the backyard and slid into the thick stand of Quaking Aspen that lined the property. In less than a minute, he was reunited with his men.

“Did you get anything?” Nathan demanded.

“Yeah,” Dax nodded. “You sent Solo into an ambush. Reynolds said they know about the rescue mission; all the details and they’ve set a trap to kill both Solo and Vato. He’s pretty confident we’ll never stop it in time.”

“We’ll see about that,” Nathan said absently. How in the world did Cole Reynolds find out about the mission?

“He also confirmed he has a partner,” Dax added. “I think he’s more afraid of him than he is of us.” “That’s because he knows we have boundaries,” Nathan turned and headed for the car. “I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”

Dax and the men watched the most powerful man they knew slide into the driver’s side of the vehicle, slam the door and drive away. He threw up dirt and rocks as his tires spun, then caught and forced the vehicle into motion.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that pissed off before,” Zeus finally said what they were all thinking. “I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that,” Wooly added. “Reynolds may have miscalculated. I think I’d be more afraid of Nathan Porter than some sadistic partner right about now.”

“Let’s get outta here,” Dax motioned to the SUV. “Zee, you drive.”

“All aboard,” Zeus called out. “The train is leaving the station.”

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