Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Tiny Pieces by Stephanie Henry


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New Adult Romance
Date Published: October 2, 2018

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We all carry tiny pieces of those who built us.

And those who wrecked us.

For Aria Clarke, Cole Porter is all her tiny pieces.

When Cole shows up in Aria’s hometown a decade after being gone, her whole world changes. She thought she had moved on, but the past has a way of taking hold of her again and dragging her back into the depths of first love and first heartbreak.

After everything she believed to be true turns out to be a lie, she’ll have to decide if the hurt she endured in the past is too much of a risk to try again, or if just maybe first love deserves a second chance after all.




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Excerpt



Chapter 1

          

            With one glance at him, a thousand memories flood my mind, taking my breath away – Cole Porter as a small child, late nights at John’s house, swing sets, a dark closet, the beach, dropping to the floor in a heap of suffocating tears. I want the good memories to win, but the bad memories have a way of seeping themselves further into my consciousness and marking me forever, darkening my once vibrant soul. I can’t forget what Cole did to me. Which is why seeing him now, after all these years, has brought my heart to a complete halt. I can’t believe he’s here. My pulse quickens when my heart begins to beat once more. I try to appear calm and collected on the outside but internally I’m screaming from the top of my lungs.  

            Scarlet’s mossy eyes get big as she looks at him and then back to me. “Is that Coleton Porter?” I’d answer her, but I can’t breathe. “Holy shit, Aria. That is Cole. When did he get back in town?”

            I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Panic floods my senses and my knees start to quiver. “What is he doing here?” I manage to squeak out. I place my glass of champagne on the bar top because I don’t trust myself not to drop it. He shouldn’t be here. I don’t want him to be here. We stopped existing in one another’s worlds long ago. Sucking in a deep breath, I exhale, trying to gain some composure, but it isn’t helping.

            “I have no idea. I didn’t know he’d be here,” she whispers, offering me a guarded but apologetic smile. She knows what seeing him again is doing to me.

            My only response is the tight grip I have on the edge of the bar as I stare at the bartender, my eyes avoiding any area where they may accidentally catch sight of Cole again. I don’t want to see him, and I certainly don’t want him to see me.

            “I swear,” she says, “I had no idea. John must have invited him without telling anyone.”

            That’s nice of John, I think sarcastically. I plan this whole engagement party for Scarlet and John… and John goes and invites the one person he knows I never wanted to see again. Real nice. I wonder if Reese knew. She would have to have known he’d be here. John would have told her, I’m sure. John and Reese have always had a close brother-sister relationship, despite their nine-year age difference.

            Scarlet’s aunt Margo walks up to us and I’m momentarily distracted by the strong, stifling scent of her perfume. Her white hair is layered on top of her head neatly and her floral dress flows down to the floor. “I’m just delighted for Scarlet and your brother,” she tells me, smiling sweetly while placing a hand on Scarlet’s shoulder. “You are John’s sister, right?”

            “Actually, no,” I absentmindedly tell her, my mind far too occupied on Cole’s reappearance to notice I’ve made a mistake in trying to explain our complicated family dynamic. She scrunches her eyebrows together, giving me a perplexed look, further confirming that I’ll now have to explain something that most people have a hard time understanding. I suppress the frustration that begins to boil to the surface and instead smile sweetly back at her. I hate trying to explain my relationship with John, but saying so would sound rude. From the expectant expression on her face, I can tell she’s waiting for me to continue, so I try to keep it as simple as I can. “My step-sister is his half-sister. So even though we have a sister in common, John and I aren’t actually related at all.”

            Scarlet gives me a warning glare. I want to tell her I realize what I’ve done, but it’s too late now.

            Scarlet’s aunt shakes her head back and forth. “I don’t understand.”

            “Aunt Margo,” Scarlet chimes in, “You remember Reese, right? Well, Reese is Aria’s step-sister – Aria’s step-father’s daughter.” She waits for her aunt to nod in understanding before continuing. “And Reese is John’s half-sister – they have the same mother, but not the same father. So Reese is their sister, but technically Aria and John are not brother and sister themselves.”

            The look of confusion on Margo’s face disappears, but I can tell she still doesn’t understand. She waves her hand in the air, dismissing the whole conversation. “Never mind. It’s not important.”

            I agree. The fact that John and I aren’t blood related has never been important to me. Even though there’s no DNA between us, we spent a lot of time together as kids. I’ve always thought of him as a brother. Not today, though. Not if he invited Cole here, knowing how damaging seeing him again would be to me.

            I risk a quick glance around the room but don’t move from my defensive stance at the bar. I want to run away. I want to leave my glass of champagne on this bar and make a beeline straight for the exit. But I don’t. I planned this party for my best friend. I planned every detail from the food down to the napkins. I won’t be running out in fear. Plus, my purse is halfway across the room – only about five feet away from Cole – and I would need that, especially with my car keys inside it, in order to leave. Not happening. I’m not taking the chance of bumping directly into him. I’m not sure my heart could take it. I haven’t quite recovered from the initial shock of him being here. In fact, with each passing second, I find my hands are starting to sweat and feel clammy at the same time. I feel physically ill.

            I decide to run to the bathroom. I need to collect myself, and I can’t do that with Scarlet’s sympathetic eyes on me. When Scarlet’s aunt begins to question her on the wedding details, I take advantage of the moment and move through the event room, keeping my eyes straight ahead while trying not to trip in my high heels.

            In the bathroom, I grip the counter just as tightly as I gripped the bar. How could he show up here? Why would he? He hasn’t been around in years. Why now? I hang my head and concentrate on breathing in and out, not ready to meet my own eyes in the mirror. I know what’s coming. I try not to remember, but I can’t keep the memories at bay. No matter how hard I fight to keep them tucked away, they demand my attention. Refusing to be ignored any longer, reality slips away and the past comes hurling right at me. Punishing myself as always, I acknowledge the recollection and let it wash over me.



***



            The first time I met Cole, I was six years old. I had no idea he would end up meaning so much to me. I was with Reese for the night. My mom and step-father went out almost every Friday night and she always babysat me. Sometimes her mom would call her to come babysit John too, which is exactly what happened on this particular night. I hated going to John’s house. He didn’t have any Barbie dolls and boys had cooties that I might catch if I play with one. Reese talked us into watching a movie while she gabbed on the phone for hours.

            “Shit, Amy, I gotta go. My mom’s home. Talk later.” Reese hung up the phone just as the front door opened.

            Mrs. McGregor’s eyes grew wide when she saw John and I still awake on the couch. “Reese, they should be fast asleep by now!”

            “They were watching a movie. Besides, what are big sisters for if I can’t let them get away with breaking the rules every once in a while?” She shrugged her shoulders while offering a sly smirk.

            Mr. McGregor rolled his eyes at his step-daughter.

            I stood up and stretched, stifling a yawn that ultimately came out. I thought we were leaving, but Reese just kept chatting with her mom. I waited. And waited. And waited.

             Then the knock came.

            “Who would be here at this time of night?” Mrs. McGregor asked, looking over at her husband with concern. She was an older version of Reese, just as petite and pretty.

            We all moved for the kitchen and Mr. McGregor got the door.

            I saw the police uniforms before I saw the boy. My heart started racing. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew that police coming to your house late at night wasn’t usually a good thing.

            Reese ushered John and me back into the living room, even though we both wanted to stay and find out what was happening. She turned the TV back on for us, but neither of us could pay attention to what was playing on the screen. We were both intrigued and eager to find out what was going on. After what felt like forever, a boy came in and sat with us.

            “Hey. What’s going on?” John asked the boy, clearly recognizing him.

             He didn’t answer John, but he kept looking over at me with curiosity. I was curious about him too. He was John’s age, both of them about a year older than me. He had dark blond hair that was shaggy around his face. He was in desperate need of a haircut. But despite the shaggy hair, his eyes still stood out. They were the bluest eyes I had ever seen. I have blue eyes myself, but there’s no comparison. Mine are a dull, dark grayish-blue. His are like the crystal-clear waters of an ocean. He was staring straight at me and all I could do was stare back. Who is this boy?

            “Aria, we have to go.”

            I snapped my head up to break the staring contest I was having with the boy. “It’s about time,” I told Reese. “I was ready hours ago.” She only chuckled in response.

            In the car, I turned to her. “What happened? Why were the police there? Who was that boy?”

            “One question at a time.” She tucked her shiny brown hair behind her ear and started the car before explaining. “That’s Cole. He’s John’s friend. I guess his parents got into a fight and the police wanted him to stay at my mom’s tonight.” She shrugged and drove me home.

            For a long time after that, every time my mom and step-father got into the littlest of arguments, I always worried the cops would come and take me away. I didn’t realize back at that young age how horrible Cole’s parents must have been fighting in order to get the cops called on them.

            From then on, every time we went to John and Reese’s mom’s house, Cole was there. I think he moved in with the McGregors, but I couldn’t be sure because I never asked. All I knew was that going there wasn’t quite so bad anymore. And Cole definitely did not have cooties.



***



            The bathroom door flies open, bringing me back to reality. Reese walks in, all five-feet-nothing and barely a hundred pounds. I glance up at her in the mirror, but I don’t turn around. She makes eye contact with me, but I hang my head back down, my grip on the bathroom counter never loosening, even though my knuckles ache.

            When my mom married her dad, I had no issue with having a step-father. I had never known my biological father, since he cheated and bailed on my mom before I was even born, and Reese’s dad seemed nice so I was okay with the marriage. However, I wasn’t sure I’d like having an older sister. Reese didn’t seem too keen on having another younger sibling either. But throughout the years we grew on each other. By the time I turned twelve and wanted all the name brand clothes my friends had, I realized having an older sister – especially one as small as Reese – could have its advantages. Not many twelve-year-olds could fit into their twenty-one-year-old big sisters’ clothing, but much to Reese’s dismay, I could… thanks to Reese’s small size. I would steal her clothes often – the only time we’d ever fight. But it was always worth it. By the time I was a teenager, I realized how much of an asset having an older sister was. Reese would help me with my makeup, keep all of my secrets, teach me about boys. She was invaluable to me.

            Her lips purse, disguising a sympathetic smile. “I know why you’re in here and you can’t hide out all night.”

            I lift my head and look at her through the mirror again. It’s obvious we’re not related by blood. Not only is she extremely petite, but her dark eyes contrast my light ones. The only resemblance we have is our deep chestnut-colored hair, but whereas mine is long and straight, Reese keeps hers short and wavy. She puts her hands on her hips while narrowing her eyes at me through the mirror.

            “You’re a traitor.” I narrow my eyes at her in return.

            She softens. “I only found out today.” She lets her hands fall off her hips, but she doesn’t break eye contact.

            “Any heads-up would have been better than being completely blindsided.”

            “You would have chickened out. You would have made an excuse and bailed on your best friend’s engagement party. The party you threw for her. And you never would have forgiven yourself for it.”

            Maybe she’s right, but I’m still angry with her. She should have said something, so I could have been prepared to see him again.

            “Come on, Aria. It’s okay to take a minute to pull yourself together, but you have to suck it up and get back out there. It was so long ago. And besides, the best revenge is to just live your life and show him you’re happy.”

            We were supposed to be happy together, I think to myself. I fight back a sob. How did it come to this? “What if he approaches me?”

            She moves away from the closed door and walks further into the restroom. “Then you plaster a smile on your face and you tell him you’re doing amazing. You tell him you’ve never been better, that life is great. And then you excuse yourself to talk to someone else.”

            I move away from the mirror, turning to look her straight on. “You make it sound so easy.”

            “It’s only as complicated as you make it.”

            “And what if he just completely ignores me?” A much as I want to dodge an encounter, I don’t know if my heart can bear him ignoring me altogether.

            She lets out a heavy breath and releases it. “Honestly? Then it won’t be any different than the last ten years. You’ve done just fine without him and you’ll continue to do fine after tonight too.”

            I rest my head in my hands and stay like that for a moment, concentrating on getting my breathing steady and controlled. I feel Reese place a hand on my shoulder. We’ve never been the affectionate type, so this is her way of comforting me. “Let’s get this over with.”

            I turn back around and stare at myself in the mirror, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. This morning I thought I looked great. But now…

            I swipe my fingers under my eyes, fixing the bit of eyeliner that smeared, and I run my hands through my long hair, which is starting to frizz up a bit. Then I smooth out my dress, which suddenly feels too tight. I was beautiful and confident coming into this party and now I’m falling apart with insecurities. Funny how seeing an ex can do that to you. I take a deep breath as Reese locks arms with me and leads me out of the restroom.

            Scarlet runs up to me right away. “Oh, thank God. I thought you left.”

            “Just needed the ladies’ room.” I smile brightly at her, even though I know she can see right through my facade. “I would never ghost you on such a special day. Especially one I planned.”

            She gives me a warm smile in return right before someone else moves beside her and starts to chat. That’s the thing about parties – they’re always more for the guests than the actual guests of honor. Scarlet gets stuck making small talk with distant relatives she barely ever sees, while everyone else gets to eat and drink and talk to whomever they want.

            “Aria.”

            I freeze in place at the sound of his voice. Goose bumps pebble across my arms and I hope he can’t see my physical reaction to the sound of my name on his tongue – like it has always belonged to him. I haven’t heard that voice in over ten years. Time has changed it – it’s deeper, raspier, sexier – but I would still recognize the timber of it anywhere. I take a deep breath, trying to control the butterflies swarming through my stomach, and plaster a smile on my face before turning around to face him. “Cole. How have you been?”

            He’s not smiling. He almost looks… tortured. He is still as handsome as he always was. In fact, my memories don’t do him justice. His hair is cropped shorter than he wore it before, but his eyes, as wounded as they appear, still hold the heart of the ocean in their depths. “Wow. You are…” He swallows, nods his head, and tries again. “You’re stunning.” My smile fades. I don’t thank him. Instead, I look around the room awkwardly. He takes the hint and moves on to something else. “So, you put this together, huh? You did a great job.”

            “Yeah. I planned all of this for Scarlet and John... right down to every last detail. I just don’t recall sending you an invitation…” I thought I had let go of a lot of the resentment I had for Cole, but evidently, all it takes is three minutes with him for it to all come boiling back out. I know I’m being mean, but he deserves it. No. He deserves so much worse.

            He nods his head like he understands my bitterness toward him. He looks away from my venomous glare and swallows before fidgeting with the collar of his shirt, as though it’s too tight on his neck. “I know. I wasn’t going to show up here uninvited, but the McGregors said it would mean a lot to them and, well, after everything they’ve done for me…”

            This time I nod in understanding. What can I say to that? I make an effort to release some of the anger I’m holding on to, if only for tonight. I get why he would come here if the McGregors had asked him to. I just wish they hadn’t asked. Sometimes I wish Coleton Porter had died the day he left me. I don’t really mean that… but it would be easier to deal with, I’m sure. There’s nothing harder than missing someone who’s right in front of you… except maybe accepting an apology you never received. That’s what it feels like I’m doing right now. I should be screaming at him, not standing here calmly talking to him. I feel like I’m letting him off the hook. I never got answers and I certainly never received an apology. Yet here he is. All six feet of him, standing in front of me with that same look he always reserved just for me – the one that lets his vulnerability shine through, his innocence be seen, if only slightly. He’s bigger than he was as a teenager. His muscles strain against his royal blue button-down dress shirt. His shirt makes the blue in his eyes even deeper than I remember them being. They’re intense. I get lost in them for a moment as they roam mine for answers, as if I’m the one who owes him any. Then I snap out of it and break eye contact, letting mine travel down his face. He never had scruff in high school, so I can’t help but stare at it now. It’s sexy as hell, even if it kills me to admit that. I was hoping if I ever saw him again he’d be old and decrepit. I’d wonder what I ever saw in him. But much to my dismay, time has served him well. He’s even hotter than he was back then, and that’s saying a lot. He didn't die after he left me… he flourished. It was me who died. I died every single day that he was gone. I died a painful death, full of agony, until the Aria Clarke whom everyone knew no longer existed. Only love can murder you, yet still keep your heart beating enough to feel every bit of the pain.

            “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check on something.” I do what Reese suggested and make up an excuse to end the awkward conversation. I should call my mom and check on Lucas anyways. I’m sure he’s fine, and it’s not like it’s the first time my mom has watched him, but I still worry. I guess that comes with being a mom. I turn to walk away, but as soon as I do Cole grabs onto my arm, stopping me in my tracks, his touch searing me.

            “Aria, wait.” I look at his hand around my arm and then back up into his deep blue eyes. He hesitates and I know for a fact that he can feel what I feel – what I’ve tried for all these years to forget – that electric spark that passes between us whenever we touch. It’s still there. I’ve never felt it with anyone other than him and I absolutely hate that. It’s like my body betrays my mind. I’ve tried so hard to feel this untamed electricity with someone other than Cole, but it always falls short. “I know you’re busy hosting the party, but I was hoping we could talk.”

            My heart pounds against my chest – speaking of my body betraying me. He’s had over ten years to talk. Why now? “I really am busy and you haven’t had much to say to me in over ten years, Cole. I hardly think we need to talk now. This really isn’t the time or place.”

            “Tonight then. After the party,” he presses.

            I’m taken aback for a moment. He doesn't break eye contact. He’s serious.

              “We can grab some dinner… or just drinks… whatever you want. Please?” His eyes beg and I feel that familiar pull that always made it so hard for me to say “no” to him. My heart pangs in my chest, reminding me he still has a hold on me both physically and mentally.



About the Author

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Stephanie Henry is the author of What Doesn't Kill Us, The Story of Us, the C-Vac series, and most recently, Tiny Pieces. She loves writing, as well as immersing herself in a good novel. Whether in a book or on screen, she's a sucker for an epic love story. She lives in Central Massachusetts where she is a mom to her young son and daughter, as well as a full-time office manager. Find Stephanie on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorStephanieHenry/




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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Gap-Toothed Girl by Ray Harvey


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Contemporary Fiction
Date Published: August 2018
Publisher: Pearl Button Press

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“Tournament night in a sweltering Las Vegas stadium, and the girl with the gap-toothed smile stood bleeding in her ballet slippers.”

Thus begins Gap-Toothed Girl, the story of Dusty May, a Lakota orphan with an iron will, who runs away from the horrific circumstances of her foster home and her foster father — a man of beast-like brilliance and power — to pursue her dream of lightness and ballet, even as her foster father unleashes an army to bring her down.

Part literary fiction, part thriller, part dance story, Gap-Toothed Girl is at its core a tale of human joy and freedom of will — a “relentlessly paced novel” combining “the surreal imagery of Nabokov with the psychological complexity of Dostoevsky” (Fort Collins Forum) to investigate the depths of the human psyche and the indomitable will to succeed, ultimately plumbing the very nature of human happiness and the human soul.


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Tournament night in a sweltering Las Vegas stadium, and the girl with the gap-toothed smile stood bleeding in her ballet slippers. The sodium lights of the arena lay upcast on the low-hanging sky above. An electrical charge hummed through the air: a crackling undercurrent that came neither from the lights nor from the distant heat lightning, but from the galvanized excitement of the crowd.

Before her, some twenty feet away and elevated four feet off the ground, there stretched a long green balance beam, atop which, at the southernmost end, stood eight empty whiskey bottles. The bottles were perfectly upright and in single file. A small springboard crouched in front.

High above her floated a long banner which said, in  shimmering red letters:

A CONTEST OF MOTION

She closed her eyes and inhaled. The air was dry. She stood alone upon the stage. She was dusky-limbed, Lakota. She held her breath a moment and then she released it.

When she opened her eyes, her gaze settled on the objects before her: the springboard, the balance beam, the whiskey bottles. The heat hung heavy. A rill of sweat slid between her breasts. She didn’t see the tiny camera-flash explosions igniting everywhere around her from within the darkness of the stadium. She forgot that there were thousands of eyes fixed upon her. She forgot also the pain in her toes and was unaware of the bleed-through and the blood leaking like ink across the entire top part of her slipper.

Offstage in the shadows, a lanky youth in a baseball cap gave a thumbs-up, but it wasn’t directed toward her.

A man with a microphone emerged on stage. He was thin and well-dressed and darkly complexioned.

A hush came over the crowd. The man held the microphone to his mouth. His voice came booming through the speakers with great clarity.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “ladies and gentleman. May I have your attention, please. Thank you. We are finally at the end of the night, and — my Lord — what a night it’s been. What a competition.”

The crowd erupted.

“We have seen — excuse me, please — we have seen tonight some of the very best dancers in the world, and I’m sure you know this is not an exaggeration. We have only one more to go. Did we save the best for last? Need I remind you that there’s fifty thousand dollars at stake here?”

He paused.

“Now,” he said, “now, then. Do you see this young woman up on the stage with me? I’m told she’s about to do something that only one other person in human history is known to have done, and that was Ms. Bianca Passarge, of Hamburg, Germany, in 1958 — except Ms. Passarge, I am told, was not mounting a balance beam when she did her routine. Can this little girl — all 115 pounds of her — I say, can she do it? Can she steal the money from these big city boys and girls, the Bronx break dancers and West Coast B-Boys and all the others who have astounded us here tonight with their strength and agility and their grace of motion? Folks, we are about to find out.”

The crowd erupted again. The MC turned and looked at the girl on stage behind him.

He winked.

He lowered the microphone and said in an unamplified voice that sounded peculiar to her:

“Are you ready?”

He smiled kindly.

She nodded.

He gave her the A-OK sign with his fingers and nodded back. Then her lips broke open in return, disclosing, very slightly, her endearing gap-toothed smile.

He brought the microphone back to his mouth and turned again to the audience.

“Here we go!” he said.

The crowd went dead-silent in anticipation.

“Okay, okay!” she thought. All ten of her fingers wiggled unconsciously and in unison.

Abruptly, then, the lights above her darkened while simultaneously the lights behind her brightened, and then the music began: fast-paced and throbbing and happy.

She bolted forward.

She sprinted toward the balance beam and with astonishing speed executed a back handspring onto the springboard, vaulting into a full fluid backflip on one foot upon the beam — which in the very same motion turned into another back handspring, and then another, all to within inches of the bottles at the far end of the beam. This entire process took no more than five seconds. Here she paused for a fraction and then performed a half turn. From there she leapt lightly onto the first upright whiskey bottle, which wobbled only slightly under her weight. She placed her other toe catlike upon the next whiskey bottle, and then she raised herself en point to great heights….



About the Author

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Ray A. Harvey, novelist, essayist, published poet, athlete, and editor, son of Firman Charles Harvey (RIP) and his wife Cecilia, youngest of thirteen half brothers and half sisters, was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. He’s worked as a short-order cook, copyeditor, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, pedi-cab driver, bartender, and more. He’s also written and ghostwritten a number of published books, poems, and essays, but no matter where he’s gone or what he’s done to earn a living, literature and learning have always existed at the core of his life.


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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Dragon's Shadow by Allison Morse



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Tween High Fantasy / YA
Date Published: September 24, 2018
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

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Royal twins ripped apart at birth become reluctant champions of good and evil.

Kylie, a teenage science geek, has no faith in people. Instead, she relies on what she trusts the most, the facts––what she can see, touch, and hear but never feel. With enough pain to deal with in her own world, she is thrust into another––a kingdom at war whose strange inhabitants fear one thing the most––the return of the dragon.  All of this is illogical to Kylie, but even more so, when she discovers she belongs there.

Her brother, Prince Jarlon, journeys to kill the dragon who has laid waste to his kingdom.  His only hope for destroying the beast is help from his sister, whom he has never met. Will their paths cross before the beast’s malevolence infects Kylie and turns her into his creature or will Jarlon have to destroy her, too?


Advance Praise

“A heartwarming fantasy adventure featuring winning characters.” – Kirkus Review


Excerpt

A deafening screech sounded. Jarlon’s limbs vibrated from the piercing cry of a teledicthus. The dragon’s minions.

The twenty-foot-high shelves rumbled, and books rained down. Screams came from outside the library door. “Jarlon you must escape,” the king commanded. “Go into the forest and find the Lady of the Eyes. I need you safe. Go.”

The library doors flew open. A teledicthus, flapping large leather wings and screeching its horrible wail, flew into the room. The monster’s red face featured a mouth that was more like a barracuda than that of a bird. Its lower jaw was longer than the top, and both were lined with a double row of razor-sharp teeth. The creature’s large, black eyes darted about, then settled directly on the prince.

The master of arms pushed Jarlon toward the doorway, but the giant bird swooped closer. The soldier lifted his sword.

Too late.

The teledicthus swiped. Blood sprayed from the soldier’s shoulder, and he fell. The bird screamed in triumph and flew upward, preparing to attack again.

Jarlon leapt to the soldier’s aid. Using a sleeve of his waistcoat, he made a tourniquet by tying it around the man’s arm to stop the bleeding.

The Sword of Legends in his hand, the king yelled to Jarlon to run and hide.

Jarlon looked up and saw the glistening teeth of the giant bird come closer. Blood covered the bottom double row. The beast then closed its mouth, and the blood vanished. The creature dove toward him.

Unsheathing his sword, Jarlon waited for his moment to strike. The wind from the teledicthus’ wings whisked across his cheek and a touch of saliva brushed his arm. He swung his saber at the bird’s neck.

The teledicthus dropped in midair to dodge the blade. Still, the bird did not avoid the sharp blow to the back of his head as Jarlon hit downward.

“Maglot!” he swore. He hit the bird squarely but with the flat side of his sword. The sharp end had failed to pierce the beast’s skin.

The teledicthus flew up and out of reach. A second screeching bird swooped into the room, and the two circled their prey, their sights set on the king.

Jarlon ran toward his uncle. Everything slowed. His heart pounded.

The teledicthus dove closer and closer still.

With arm held upward, Jarlon placed his body and his sword in front of the king, waiting for the beasts’ jaws to tear into his flesh. Instead, his uncle shoved him to the floor, and Jarlon watched the king ram the Sword of Legends into one of the great birds.

The bird fell dead.

Jarlon pushed himself to his feet but not in time.

The other teledicthus sliced into his uncle’s chest, leaving a gash that exploded in red and ran down the king’s robe. His uncle was dead!

A scream, more primal than any teledicthus could make, erupted from Jarlon. “No!”

The giant bird flew back to the roof of the library.

Watching it circle above, Jarlon held his sword tightly and waited to die. Then the stone floor rumbled beneath him. Something grabbed his leg.

“Jarlon!”

Tryff! Where was he?

Jarlon looked down. A stone from the floor had been removed. He scrambled through the opening and dove into the darkness.


About the Author

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Allison Morse is the author of three very different novels: Fallen Star a Hollywood Gothic mystery, The Sweetheart Deal, a Rom/Com and Dragon’s Shadow a YA Fantasy & Adventure all published by The Wild Rose Press. She lives with her wonderful husband in a house in the hills filled with books.






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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

River of Shame


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Mystery
Published: Presale, August 1 / Release Date: September 12
Publisher: Tirgearr Pubishing Company

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Something evil has taken root in Ashland, Oregon. And with it, an uneasy feeling sweeps down on Detective Winston Radhauser. If someone doesn’t intervene, that evil will continue to multiply until the unthinkable happens.

While on vacation with his wife and their newborn son, Detective Radhauser receives a call from Captain Murphy--a high school kid has been branded with a homophobic slur and is hospitalized in Ashland, a small town known for, and proud of, its diversity. And this is only the beginning. White supremacy, homophobia and racism are one thing. But murder is something else.

Radhauser will do whatever it takes to find the perpetrators and restore his town’s sense of safety. With such hostile opposition, can he succeed and will justice be done?



About the Author

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Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She has been writing poems and short stories since she could hold a pencil and was so in love with writing that she became a creative writing major in college.

Prior to an early retirement which enabled her to write full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. It was there she met her husband, Andreas, one of the deans in the University of Arizona's Medical School. About five years after their marriage, they left Tucson to pursue their dreams in 1991--purchasing a 35-acres horse ranch in the Williams Valley in Oregon. They spent a decade there. Andy rode, trained and bred Arabian horses and coached a high school equestrian team, while Susan got serious about her writing career.

Through the writing process, Susan has learned that she must be obsessed with the reinvention of self, of finding a way back to something lost, and the process of forgiveness and redemption. These are the recurrent themes in her work.

After spending 3 years in Nashville, Susan and Andy now share a quiet life in Grants Pass, Oregon, with her growing list of fictional characters, and more books than one person could count. When she isn't writing, Susan enjoys making quilts and stained-glass windows. She says it is a lot like writing--telling stories with fabric and glass.


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Monday, 10 September 2018

Saving Phoebe Murrow


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Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Upper Hand Press
Date Published: September 2016

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Inspired by the tragic story of Megan Meier, who committed suicide following a cyber-bullying incident, Saving Phoebe Murrow follows DC lawyer Isabel Winthrop as she struggles to balance work and the responsibilities of being a mother and wife. She does everything in her power to keep Phoebe safe but fails when the mysterious Shane appears on Facebook and flirts with her teenage daughter.



This novel, which has won three separate awards (most recently a 2018 National Indie Excellence Award), explores the devastating impact social media can have on teenage girls along with the difficult, yet delicate relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters through five different points-of-view.


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Excerpt

Monday, November 10, 2008

At the end of the day, as Isabel stepped through the large glass doors of her law office, a strange thing happened. Outside in the cold, she suddenly felt trapped in a bright cone of light. As if some alien spaceship were training its eye on her.

Uneasily, she gazed into the dark November sky. There was the culprit. A smiling gibbous moon. Or was it smirking, maybe even mocking her? Yes, she thought, that would be more appropriate. Work had become insanely busy, though in its own strange way that kept her mind from dwelling on her recent topsy-turvy personal life.

Which included that awful teen party at Sandy Littleton’s, an event that had ruined the weekend. Phoebe drunk, and when Isabel brought her home, Ron found their daughter’s wobbly walk vaguely amusing. In front of Phoebe, they’d kept a united front. But later, in the bedroom Ron told Isabel she was being too harsh on their daughter.

‘She’s thirteen, Ron.’

‘Almost fourteen,’ he’d said.

She really couldn’t understand Ron’s blasé attitude toward the drinking that Sandy had allowed, encouraged even, nor could she understand Phoebe’s recent obsession with some boy named Shane. They’d met on Facebook, of all places, and he’d promised to show up at the party, then hadn’t. Ron had attributed Phoebe’s drinking to her disappointment over this no-show, as if that made it okay. Not okay, definitely not.

Nor did she like the fact that Phoebe had never actually met this character Shane, that all of her communication with him had been online. Who was he anyway? Again, Ron thought it was no big deal! ‘That’s the way kids communicate these days,’ he’d said.

In the end, Isabel had caved, and Phoebe was only denied use of her computer and phone for a day. Mostly because she feared the possibility of the ninth-grade kids teasing and taunting her as so many classmates had the previous year. Now, she was eager to get home to find out how Phoebe’s school day had gone. She hoped there had been no fallout from the Saturday night fiasco, though of course Phoebe didn’t know what her mother had done. Kids could be incredibly cruel.

Isabel strode hurriedly to the underground garage. The wind, gusting up Pennsylvania Avenue, tossed stray bits of paper into the air, bouncing them about inside tiny swirling tornadoes. She flipped up the collar of her raincoat.

Traffic seemed unusually heavy, though rush-hour congestion in DC was routine, and cars were backed up as far down Pennsylvania as Isabel could see. As she inched along in her BMW, she mused on the few recent signs of behavior that Ron, her husband of sixteen years, had exhibited only once before. It had been two presidential campaigns ago, to be precise, after he’d been on the road for several weeks covering John McCain’s bid for the Republican nomination. In early 2000. At home, Ron had turned sour, testy, distant. She’d attributed his mood to work. He’d wanted to be on George Bush’s campaign trail, in the company of the sudden darling of the Republicans and his attendant court of megawatt reporters. Traipsing after McCain, Ron saw himself as nothing more than second string. She’d tried to soothe him, and he’d come around, at least a little.

But then she discovered the true source of his discontent. One night she picked up the phone to call her mother and stumbled on Ron speaking with a woman in an unmistakably amorous tone. Making plans. Her insides had grown watery. Their relationship suffered a blow. She’d been on the verge of calling it quits. If not for five-year-old Phoebe and their infant son, Jackson, she might have. No, she would have. She wouldn’t suffer another betrayal. She’d made that clear. And Isabel was a woman of her word. Actions had consequences.



When Phoebe entered her Cleveland Park home, an elegant Victorian where she’d lived her entire short life, she could feel the void of human vibration. She hated coming home to an empty house. It depressed her. ‘Hagrid,’ she called out. ‘Where are you, kitty?’ At least their housekeeper, Milly, had left the light on in the foyer.

She’d had a tough day. Shortly before lunch, her once best friend Jessie had hissed accusingly, ‘Your mother called the cops on my parents, do you know that?’ Followed by: ‘Do you get what a b-i-t-c-h she is?’ Phoebe had stared at her mutely. Had her mother done that? It was true on Saturday there’d been drinking at Jessie’s party, but afterward Phoebe had been with her mother and she hadn’t heard her make such a call. It would completely suck if she had. So embarrassing. Not to mention that her relationship with Jessie had been on the precipice of a thaw.

Phoebe switched on all the lights in her path – ‘Hagrid, here kitty, kitty!’ – and stopped in the kitchen. If Milly had been home, she would have offered her some cookies and milk, and they could have had a chat. She loved their housekeeper Milly, her reassuring grandmotherly manner. But it was probably best that she not have cookies. No, cookies were the enemy. Had her mother been home, which she rarely was at this time of day, she’d probably have given her carrots.

Phoebe rummaged through the fridge, found a couple of plastic-wrapped cheese sticks, grabbed those along with a small bottle of carrot juice and trudged up to the third floor, her heavy backpack weighing her down. As she ascended, one thought brightened her mood. At last she’d be able to talk to Shane. Well, sort of talk. On Facebook.

She’d finally be able to ask him the question that had plagued her since Saturday night. Why hadn’t he shown up at Jessie’s party? He’d promised, and she’d waited. And waited. Then, on Sunday, because she’d been caught drinking, she was denied use of her computer, her phone, basically all forms of communication, and she hadn’t been able to contact him.

Now, at last, she’d discover what had happened, and even more importantly she’d remind him of her birthday party, only five days away. She and Skyla were turning fourteen and they’d invited the entire ninth grade, plus Shane, who lived … well, she didn’t know exactly where he lived, but his handsome Facebook visage hovered in her mind. That mischievous dimpled smile that separated him from all the other boys she knew. Even Noah.

In her room, Phoebe flopped onto her bed, burrowing her back into a mad pile of pillows and favorite stuffed animals; she flipped on her computer, then logged on to Facebook. It had taken some doing, but her mother had finally agreed to let her invite Shane even though he went to Walter J High, a public school about twenty minutes away in Bethesda, and was only a Facebook friend. Phoebe knew she’d mostly agreed because there, at the party, her mother could meet him in person and oversee their encounter.

Still, excitement and relief descended on her at the thought that, finally, she’d meet the real live sophomore boy who’d picked her and friended her. Who said he really liked her and was ‘dying to hook up’ with her. Whom she’d set her sights on after several weeks of private chats on Facebook. He was the single bright spot in an otherwise bleak Monday.

Her eyes darted to her private messages on the lower right-hand side of her Facebook page. Five awaited her. And, yes!, one from Shane.

 Eyes affixed to the screen, she read, I don’t want to see you. Ever. Her hopeful smile faded into a frown. Ever?

Phoebe read the message a second and third time. What was Shane talking about? Her stomach dipped. She checked for the little green dot that indicated he was available to chat, but it wasn’t lit. She stared at his name in the right-hand column of her Home page and prayed he would log on. Her mouth felt dry. I don’t want to see you. Ever. ‘Ever?’ Why was he saying that? What had she done? And her birthday party only a few days away.

Phoebe’s glance zigzagged across the room, her attic hideaway, landing first on her childhood saddle and riding gear, then on her Victorian dollhouse with the hidden box cutter, and, finally, on the wall to her right, where the lime green and purple bulletin board hung chock full of photos and memories. She’d pinned Shane’s Facebook photo in the middle of all the other memorabilia. He had gorgeous wavy hair and green eyes that blazed with self-confidence.

The green dot popped on next to his name. Her fingers typed as fast as they could: Why are you saying that? You’re joking, right?

She held her breath.

Not joking.

            A tiny gasp escaped her lips. Shane, what are you talking about? Again, she waited.

            Your mother called the police on Jessie’s parents … you tattled about the booze at the party. And then the Littletons were arrested.

            I did not tattle, she thought briefly, but that was replaced by the bitter realization that Jessie may have been right: her mother had called the police. Had she? Panicked, Phoebe wrote: I didn’t say anything to my mom, I swear.

So why’d she go inside the Littletons?

I don’t know, I guess she was looking for me.

            That’s so lame.

            Her thoughts swirled as she wrote. You weren’t even at the party, so how do you know all that stuff?

            No response. She waited, barely breathing, then his reply appeared. Don’t you worry how. I just do.

            She was hardly paying attention to these strange words; she could only think how much she wanted to see him, talk to him, get him to kiss her, to understand this was all a terrible mistake. What should she say? Finally, she wrote: Why didn’t you come to Jessie’s? You promised.

I didn’t because I heard you’ve been messing around with Dylan.

            What? Who told you that?

Instead of private messages, his response now appeared on her Facebook Wall, where everyone could see what he was saying: I don’t tell on my friends.

            She wrote back a private message: It has to be Jessie, but if it is, she’s lying.

            Again he posted his message on her Wall: You’re calling Jessie a liar?

            And now, to defend herself, Phoebe switched to making her responses public too:  No, I meant if she said that about me, she’s not telling the truth. Why don’t you believe me?

Again, several moments passed before an answer appeared: I don’t trust you. I heard you said Jessie was fat and no boy wants her, especially Dylan. That’s bitchy. Nobody likes bitchy girls.

            Tears sprang to Phoebe’s eyes. Why was he making things up? That’s not true, she wrote. I never said that!! Please let’s talk. On the phone? In the four weeks they’d been communicating, she’d never heard his voice. All their exchanges had happened right here, on Facebook. He’d suggested that hearing the sound of one another’s voices would be a wonderful surprise when they finally met. And to save it for that special day.

            But then this from Shane: I get it, your mom hates Mrs. Littleton, so you hate Jessie.

            She stared at the words. That’s sooo not true. I swear, she wrote. Though in fact she knew her mother didn’t care for Jessie, and probably not Mrs. Littleton either. This was happening because of her mother. All because of her mother. She glanced at the dollhouse. Through the blur of tears, she saw Shane’s green dot disappear.

Her gaze fixed on his name. If only she had his cell number. She began rubbing her arms, her fingers absently running over scars and recently healed wounds. ‘No, no,’ she muttered softly. She typed a private message: Shane, please believe me. I didn’t say anything. Whoever told you I did was lying.

            She waited for him to respond, her breath catching. Her eyes flicked to the box cutter’s hiding place and lingered there for several moments before returning to Shane’s photo. He was the cutest boy who’d ever friended her, and a year and a half older than she. His dimpled smile grinned at her from the bulletin board. He looked amazingly like the guy in Twilight, though without the ghostly pallor. Why didn’t he believe her? Why would he believe Jessie? Had someone else said something? Yet, who could that be? Skyla? How could things get so messed up? Phoebe saw her dream of Shane as her boyfriend slip away.

Why had her mother called the police on Saturday night? This was all her fault. About to retrieve the blade from the dollhouse, she snatched her cell phone instead and angrily tapped her mother’s number.



Isabel’s iPhone released its symphonic chime. Without taking her eyes off the road, she grabbed the phone. ‘Hello?’

            A frantic voice shouted into her ear: ‘Mawm, you’ve ruined everything! You called the police on the Littletons! How could you? Now Shane thinks I lied and he won’t see me. Ever!’

            Phoebe’s attack caught her by surprise. ‘Calm down. What are you talking about?’ Isabel said, although her daughter was right. She had called the police. She’d felt duty-bound. Irresponsible parents feeding young teens alcohol! But how had this ridiculous Shane found out?

Phoebe’s response came in the form of loud panicked sobs.

‘Phoebe? Sweetheart, talk to me.’ Isabel kept her voice even despite the sudden onslaught of guilt. ‘Exactly what did he say?’

            Between sniffles, she managed, ‘That he couldn’t trust me because obviously I must have told you about the drinking. And you know that’s not true! And then he claimed that I said Jessie’s fat and no boy would ever like her.’

            ‘Did you? No, I mean—’ Isabel cast around for the appropriate thing to say.  ‘Phoebe, darling, are you there? I know you wouldn’t say that. Where did he get such an idea?’

            ‘Mom, what difference does it make? I like him and now he says he won’t see me! Not at my birthday party! Not ever!’

            Isabel recognized the panic in Phoebe’s voice. For the past year, she’d been flying into emotional overdrive at the drop of a hat, but she was also sensitive, overly sensitive. For an instant, Isabel saw the wounds on her daughter’s arms, self-inflicted cuts that made her want to cry. The whole thing actually did sound like a mess. But how had it happened? This guy was only a Facebook friend. ‘Honey, I’ll be home in ten minutes. I’ll make you some hot chocolate and we’ll sort this out. Okay?’ She knew it might take her as long as half an hour, but she’d get there and calm her daughter down.

Why wasn’t Ron home yet, she suddenly wondered. He’d be there shortly, she reassured herself, unless some assignment had delayed him. She’d call him.

            ‘This is horrible,’ Phoebe moaned.

‘It’s going to be all right,’ Isabel said soothingly. ‘Just get off Facebook, okay?’

Once home, she’d explain the truth to Phoebe. She would explain how sometimes you have to make difficult choices, stand up for your beliefs, and that you can’t worry about what other people think. Is that what she’d tell her? And then there was this mysterious Shane character; she’d been wary about him, apparently for good reason. Who was he to treat her daughter this way? Maybe now, for once, Ron would listen to her. That’s when she remembered he hadn’t called her all day.

She waited for Phoebe to say something, but there was silence on the other end. ‘Phoebe, honey, talk to me.’ She had to keep her on the phone. Then she heard her weeping miserably. ‘Phoebe, sweetheart, I’m sure he’ll see you. It’s just a misunderstanding.’ The sounds of distress suddenly grew distant then stopped.

            ‘Phoebe?’

            She glanced at the phone and saw that Phoebe had disconnected the call.                 

The latticework of cuts on the inside of Phoebe’s pale arm, and many more on her thigh, swirled into Isabel’s mind as she finally reached 22nd Street and sped north, aiming for the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway near Dupont Circle. She had to get home, but traffic in the nation’s capital – oh hell, the light was turning red. She stepped on the gas.

Seconds later, a siren wailed behind her.

The furious lights of a police car blinked in Isabel’s rearview mirror. ‘Oh, God, not now.’ She looked for a place to stop on the one-way street, hoping the siren was intended for someone else.

But the vehicle stopped behind her. ‘Damn it,’ Isabel moaned. In her side mirror, she watched the policeman’s eyes sweep the length of her new convertible BMW, probably making a judgment about her. He sauntered up to the window in that idiotic, languid way some cops have of showing off their authority. If ever she needed to exhibit self-control, now was that time.

            She rolled down the window, drew on her lawyerly restraint and explained to the man an abbreviated version of what had just transpired on the telephone with her daughter. Surely he’d understand her need to hurry. Seeing his bemused expression, his complete lack of interest, she went on to describe Phoebe’s high-strung personality, and then against her better judgment and sense of privacy told him of her tendency to cut herself when under extreme emotional distress.

But he just stared at her. ‘You ran a red light, lady,’ he said, ‘I need to see your license and registration.’

            Isabel fished through her purse, finally managing to locate the documents. ‘Please, officer, I’m telling you the truth.’

            He took the items from her, glanced at them, said, ‘Be right back,’ and strolled to his vehicle. She watched him retreat in her mirror. She picked up her cell phone and tried Phoebe again. After five rings Phoebe’s voicemail switched on.

            ‘Hi,’ her sweet young voice said. ‘You know what to do … so do it.’

Isabel felt the same alien anxiety she’d experienced earlier. I have to get home. With one more backward glance at the police car, she cut the lights, put the BMW into gear and eased into traffic. She drove toward the P Street entrance of Rock Creek Parkway, only a couple of blocks away. Never in her entire life had she done anything like this.

As the smiling gibbous moon shone overhead, she kept looking in the rearview mirror, but saw no sign of the police. Her foot pressed harder on the gas, one eye fixed on the odometer. She could kick herself for what she’d done on Saturday night. Calling 911 had been spur of the moment. She always said you shouldn’t act in the heat of anger. Still she’d been right to do it. Damn that Sandy! Now she had to explain it all to Phoebe. She tapped their home number and waited for someone to answer. Despite two more calls to Phoebe, plus one to Ron, no one picked up. Damn it!



Phoebe fought back her tears. She was struggling to make sense of the fact that her mother had called the cops. Now she knew for certain that Jessie and Shane had been right. But Shane had also accused her of having been complicit in Mr. and Mrs. Littleton’s arrest. Why can’t you just admit it, he’d said. And yet there was nothing to admit, she hadn’t told her mother! Worst of all, he was no longer interested in meeting her and he WASN’T coming to her party! She’d NEVER get to know him. She’d never be a ‘10’ in his eyes! And now everyone would HATE her for what her mother had done.

She fetched the box cutter and began marching around the room. What could she say? How could she defend herself? She ran her thumb across the blade’s sharp edge, then returned to her computer on the bed and laid the box cutter beside it. She would announce that she was sorry, very sorry, but she couldn’t be held responsible for her mother.

Before she typed a single word, there in broad daylight, posted on her Facebook Wall, she saw that all sorts of people were slamming her. Messages from girls and boys, some she hardly knew. A couple she didn’t know at all. What a loser. Glad you’re not my ‘friend.’ Several accused her of tattling to her mother about the drinking and called her mother ‘sick’ for calling the police.

Oh, please, not again, Phoebe thought, she couldn’t take another year like the last one. She just couldn’t, and this was definitely worse.

How low! You are such a piece of trash!

The words on the screen became a grating noise in Phoebe’s head. She closed her eyes and covered her ears. This can’t be happening. Make it stop. Please! And where was her friend Emma? She knew she could count on her. But the slights and insults kept coming.

Her hand flew to her mouth when she read: The world would be better off without you. Don’t you know that? She might have expected something this cruel from Skyla or some of the others, but not Shane. No, not Shane.



Isabel maneuvered the car along the curves of Rock Creek Parkway. She pressed harder on the gas pedal, allowing the speedometer to climb well past the speed limit, half an eye on the road, she kept the other on her iPhone. ‘Hell’s bells,’ she said aloud, fumbling with the icons, touching the wrong one, banging ‘end,’ then striking another. Finally, she tapped Ron’s name again and listened to the phone’s endless ring.

‘Damn it,’ she said viciously, ‘answer the fucking phone.’

A feeling of dread lodged itself in Isabel’s gut, and a sense of foreboding and darkness galloped through her mind. One moment it was the certainty that something bad had happened to Phoebe, and in the next the irrevocable fact that only minutes earlier she’d escaped the policeman, who couldn’t be far behind.

She looked into the rearview mirror every few seconds, knowing that when he or another cop caught up to her there’d be hell to pay. How would she talk her way out of this? Could she be disbarred? She only knew that she had to get home and make sure Phoebe hadn’t resorted to anything drastic. Anything, God forbid, irreversible. Then she remembered something she’d read on the Internet about cutting: the worst thing of all about self-injury is that it is strongly connected to later suicide attempts and death by suicide. No, no, no, she told herself. NO!

Concentrating, watching the car lap up the road, she chased the thought from her mind.

Once more, she tried the home number. But no one answered. The gibbous moon continued to stare down at her with its mocking smile.




About the Author

 photo Saving Phoebe Murrow Author Herta Feely_zps7ydjmkh9.jpg
Herta Feely is the author of numerous short stories and memoir published in literary journals and anthologies. She received two fellowships for a novel in progress, the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Artist in Literature from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and an American Independent Writers award for a personal essay.

Now an editor, writing coach and ghostwriter at Chrysalis Editorial, a company she founded, Herta has worked with hundreds of writers helping them to perfect their writing as well as find agents and publishers for their work. She has ghostwritten three memoirs, all of which have been published. On occasion, she also reviews books for the Washington Independent Review of Books.


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Tiny Pieces by Stephanie Henry

New Adult Romance Date Published: October 2, 2018 We all carry tiny pieces of those who built us. And ...