Author Archives: Tara Maya
Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.
This stand-alone novella is set in Faearth, the world of The Unfinished Song. Available here ONLY.
The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over 70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.
Author Archives: Tara Maya
Dark Before Dawn is filled with psychic chills and thrills in a deserted Maine beach town from the author of Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, Sink or Swim, and Face-Off.
When teen psychic Dawn Christian gets involved with a fortuneteller mentor and two girls who share her mysterious talents, she finally belongs after years of being a misfit. When she learns her new friends may be tied to freak “accidents” in town, Dawn has an important choice to make – continue developing the talent that makes her special or challenge the only people who have ever accepted her.
Dawn Christian curled under the covers, shivering in her nightshirt. Goosebumps popped up on her bare arms. She breathed in and out, trying to calm herself. Even the safety of darkness couldn’t hide it.
Something was wrong.
She knew it the same way she had known it would rain despite the weather report. Now gray clouds blistered outside the window.
I can’t go, I can’t go, I can’t go, something bad’s going to happen. Dawn rubbed between her eyebrows, the message flying around inside her brain like a loose pinball.
The red numbers of her alarm clock flickered to 6:29. Dawn rolled onto her other side and faced the wall. In an hour, she’d be starting her junior year at a lame new high school. She missed Boston and taking the T, the city’s subway system, wherever she wanted to go. Dawn used to hang out at museums, watch the college kids in Harvard Square and read books at the Common. Sometimes, she and her mother caught Saturday matinees in the theater district.
Not anymore. Ever since the wedding in July, Dawn had been stuck in Covington, Maine, a beach town overflowing with rinky dink carnival rides, cheesy souvenir stores and bad vibrations.
“Dawn?” She turned to find her mother framed in the dimly lit doorway, fully dressed. “Are you coming down for breakfast?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Nervous about school?”
Gulping, Dawn huddled under the blankets. No way could she discuss her feeling with her mom. Her mother wanted a normal daughter who was on the basketball team or school newspaper, had friends and didn’t live in fear. “Kind of.”
Her mother lowered herself onto the bed and squeezed Dawn’s hand. Her manicured pink nails shone against Dawn’s pale skin. Since meeting Jeff eight months ago, Dawn’s mother had been letting her curly hair hang loose and wearing makeup.
She smoothed back a tangle of Dawn’s chestnut waves. “You don’t look like yourself. Do you feel all right?”
“I’m fine.” Dawn shoved her stuffed monkey, Buddy, further under the blankets. Her father gave her Buddy shortly before he died, and holding it was like hugging a piece of her dad. Still, sleeping with a toy monkey was kiddish and Dawn didn’t do it often. Her mother would get suspicious if she noticed.
Darn it. Her mother drew out Buddy by his slender tail and patted his furry brown head. “Calling in the reinforcements, huh? What’s on your mind, honey? Maybe I can help.”
Dawn sat up and clasped her knees. Her mother never understood about Dawn’s hunches. “I don’t think you really want to know, Mom.”
“Of course I do.”
Yeah, right. But Dawn didn’t have the stamina for lying today. “I’m getting one of my premonitions. Something’s wrong. I think it has to do with school.”
She waited and sure enough, her mother got the frightened look she’d worn too many times before. Dawn remembered the look that terrible night with Mrs. Frazier … but she didn’t want to think about that.
Her mother dropped Buddy onto the mattress and squirmed as if fighting off a chill. “I’m sure it’s just regular old nerves,” she said in an overly cheerful voice. “It’s hard enough adjusting to a new home and a new family without throwing a new school into the picture. Who wouldn’t feel edgy?”
“That’s not it, Mom.”
“Just be normal. Don’t worry about your premonitions. You shouldn’t have to live your life afraid.”
“Get real, Mom. I’ll never be normal and fit in.”
“If you paid more attention to talking with the other kids, and less to these visions and feelings, things would be so much easier for you.”
How many times had she heard her mother say that? Dawn rolled her eyes. “This is why I didn’t want to talk about it.I can’t help that I ‘know’ things, Mom. The only way I can keep that stuff secret is by never opening my mouth. Then the other kids think I’m a snob.”
“Being different is no reason to separate yourself. You’ve been through a lot already, honey, and I want you to be happy here. We have a fresh start. If you pushed your feelings to the back of your mind and stopped working yourself up over them, maybe they’ll stop coming.” Her mother offered a brittle smile.
That was like asking Dawn to walk around blindfolded, or to stuff earplugs in her ears, giving up one of her senses. She couldn’t just shut off her feelings. They were too overpowering, demanding attention.
“You made me promise to hide my abilities around Ken and Jeff,” Dawn said. “Okay, I want them to like me, but I shouldn’t have to hide things around you. Why can’t you just help me?”
Her mother slipped an arm around her shoulders. “I’m trying to help you, honey. You need to tell yourself that your imagination is running wild and you’ve got normal jitters. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Dawn’s jaw tensed. Her mother deserved an Oscar. She had an amazing knack for pretending Dawn suffered normal teenage angst, acting as if they were on some TV drama when the truth was closer to the Stephen King movie Carrie.
Stacy Juba loves to write stories about Characters at a Crossroads: individuals who are finding themselves and getting on the right life path after overcoming obstacles. Her goals are to entertain readers of all ages as well as inspire them. She has made numerous bestseller lists including GalleyCat’s Barnes & Noble Bestsellers and GalleyCat’s Mystery and Thriller Bestsellers. Stacy has written about reality TV contestants targeted by a killer, an obit writer investigating a cold case, teen psychics who control minds, twin high school hockey stars battling on the ice, and teddy bears learning to raise the U.S. flag. She has had a book ranked as #5 in the Nook Store and #30 on the Amazon Kindle Paid List. Browse her website www.stacyjuba.com for more information on her mystery, romance, and contemporary fiction books for adults, teens, and children, guest author features and resources on how to build your own “character,” and for her book/product reviews and advocacy relating to Type 1 Diabetes.
Sit back and enjoy The Sleeping Warrior. Set in London and Scotland, it is a crime thriller with a subtle fantasy element.
LONDON solicitor Libby Butler’s life is in a self-inflicted mess. Her affair with her boss is going nowhere as is her position in the prestigious city law firm where she works. A narrow escape from the knife of south London’s elusive serial murderer, The Vampire Killer, has challenged her outward bravado and left her nerves and personal life in tatters. When duty calls Libby to a metropolitan police station in the middle of the night, she meets the enigmatic Gabriel Radley. Dressed like an ancient warrior in studded leather armour, Gabriel has a habit of disappearing from police custody and danger appears to dog him. Gabriel is searching for a ‘stone’ he has lost, its value ‘beyond human imagination’, that will help bring a ‘monster’ to justice. When Libby agrees to help him, she unwittingly plunges her life into a series of disasters and neither she nor any of her friends are safe. A cult who call themselves The Awakened, a gangland thug and his henchman, a female assassin, a detective chief inspector from Scotland Yard, and even the serial killer, all become inadvertently embroiled in the chase for the stone and the pivotal force of Gabriel. As the death toll rises, Libby is forced to face herself, learn the true value of life, and the potent significance of the Sleeping Warrior within.
The hall was deserted, save for an abandoned upright piano in the far corner and the sharp rays of morning criss-crossing the filthy oak boards. Only the dust stirred and it whirled and eddied in the bright shards of daylight, like miniscule angels trapped inside brilliant linear prisons, spilling across the lofty room.
A shadow entered from a door on the right. The dull thuds of cardboard blocks against wood stirred the silence. She lifted one black satin toe and then another, grinding the pointes into the rosin box: her stance haughty and strong, her hands and fingers soft as if pulling through warm water. She breathed in and then out and, with each breath, her arms moved obediently to the silent rhythm. She waited for the moment, her eyes closed in concentration, her lithe body yielding to the discipline of years.
As if an orchestra had struck the first notes of a rowdy overture, the arabesque came swiftly and with the power of an earthquake. Her leg reached out behind her and her heel kissed the back of her head, while her left foot formed a perfect arch, balancing her weight on the tip of one pointe. She unfurled her arms to either side, the softness of her fingers betraying the masculine tautness of her muscles as she flapped them lightly. There was no bend in her chest to suggest unnatural exertion — her legs formed a smooth, straight line behind her — a linear sculpture. It was a perfect, motionless pose: a faultless snap-shot of gravity and balance and a celebration of one of the most beautiful art forms known to man.
Her audience of one could have been an audience of thousands. This would always be her very best performance. She kept her movements purposeful and controlled as she opened to the rhythm of her memories.
The fluttering in her heart as the curtains came up. Her dance began with soft adagio in the shadows of the hall. A series of unfolding movements of smoothness and serenity, each arabesque and attitude was a still-life study in monochrome. Her dark pony-tail trailed submissively behind her every move in faultless synchronicity, like a shimmering shadow on a hot summer’s eve.
The hot glare of the lights and the vibrant colours of the stage. Pas de bourée into a bright shard of sunlight, her feet barely seemed to move, and she paused in bras bas, her feet in first position, her head turned down towards the floor. Like an alabaster carving, swathed in black silk, the light tumbling around her, she stood motionless under the spotlight in calm neutrality.
The orchestra of blasting brass, rumbling drums and weeping strings. A series of complex turns struck like lightning, spinning her diagonally across the hall. Running, now, she thundered into an enormous leap, her legs parting in mid air with near-impossible elevation; into another —sissonne ouverte at 90 degrees straight into a grand jeté en avant. Chaîné up, chaîné down and an almighty bound in open second. Her ghostly blur shattered the shards of daylight as she soared above the boards, flickering from shadow to light, the dust crackling in the turbulent air.
The spell-bound faces shining from the dark amphitheatre. Her audience could barely contain his awe as he gasped and sighed at the powerful performance before him.
Standing with his back against the far wall beneath a dilapidated balcony, he could hear the music as if he sat directly above the orchestra pit and could see the colourful splendour of the stage; he could feel the silk of the swirling costumes and sense the vibrant life-force in this divine prima ballerina. He put his hands together in rapturous applause.
The hailstorm of flowers and the thunderous ovation at the end of the performance. Her expression remained inscrutable as she halted in mid-turn, her arms and legs splayed out in opposite directions to leave her body wide open. She had seen him. A perfect double pirouette en dehors, then another, then another en dedan. Fouetté, fouetté, fouetté, fouetté, fouetté, over and over again — a hazy silhouette of vigorous perpetual motion. Her dark form was a smudge as she spun on her toe, faster and faster towards him… flicker …flicker …flicker … flick … flick … flick.
‘Beautiful, truly beautiful!’ her appreciative audience shouted his delight and clapped his hands together until his palms stung. He couldn’t hide the star-struck admiration in his expression as she stood before him and narrowed her pale green eyes. She was a good head shorter than him and so slim that she looked almost fragile. ‘How do you do that with your legs? You’d make a great pole dancer.’
The assault came suddenly and he was pinned against the wall by his neck, her knee bent at her right ear, the black pointe pressing the air from his windpipe, crushing the sensitive cartilage into his spine.
Slowly choking to death, he was powerless to defend himself and couldn’t even muster up the energy to grab the foot from his throat. His eyes began to bulge, his face was on fire, but the pain slowly began to recede as unconsciousness beckoned. As quickly as it had attacked, the pointe withdrew and he slumped to the ground gargling.
‘Lars has sent you?’
He could only nod as he held one hand to his throat and the other in the air, his fingers splayed in a gesture of supplication. Her Russian accent didn’t surprise him as his senses slowly returned.
‘Do you have a pen?’
It was an odd question in the circumstances but, having lost the ability to speak, he nodded again and fumbled inside his jacket. Still sprawled on the ground on his hands and knees, he drew out a black ballpoint and thrust it towards her.
‘If Lars has sent you, then that means money.’ The nod of assent was all she needed. She grabbed him by the thinning clumps of hair scattered across the top of his head and scribbled something on the bald patch, digging the point into the skin. ‘Tell him to call me.’ Her kick sent him spinning onto his back.
She took five wide backward steps into the middle of the floor and saluted him with a graceful, elegant curtsy to mark the dramatic finale of her best performance. She spun on her heels and marched across the room, leaving the hall empty save for an upright piano in the far corner; an injured man choking on the ground; and the faintest sniff of rosin in the settling dust.
Today I’m mixing things up with an excerpt from historical fiction novel Scenes from a Life by Richard Abbott.
What journey would you make to encounter the meaning of a dream?
Makty-Rasut is a scribe in New Kingdom Egypt, fashioning tombs for the elite. He lives a comfortable but restless life, moving every few years further upstream along the river Nile. He is content to exercise his talent without examining his origins.
Then a series of vivid dreams, interpreted with the help of a senior priest, disrupts this pattern. To solve the riddle, he must go on a journey that will take him outside the Beloved Land and away from the life that he knows. His travels take him into the neighbouring province of Canaan, to a hill-country village called Kephrath, and to a way of life he has never considered.
Makty-Rasut bundled the headscarf that he had needed in the cool of the morning behind his head, closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall, rough but solid and secure behind him. Perhaps he would think better like that. But in fact he must have fallen asleep, because all at once the dream came to him.
It was a familiar dream. He had had similar ones several times before, each time with minor variations.
He was inside a darkened boat, somewhere below decks where the light of moon and stars would not reach. He was rocking in little waves, as though the boat was crossing gentle ripples as it drifted downstream. It was warm, and his body was cradled in a nest of soft fabric, dark and red all around him. The boat had eyes on the prow that watched out ahead, he knew, though he could not see them just now. The boat contained ample nourishment to satisfy him, though just now he did not need it. The boat had a wide beam that made her stable in the water. It was all deeply pleasant.
He looked down, still in the dream. He was wearing a pair of startlingly white sandals. The sandals were of a style and an extravagance that he would never think to wear in waking life, but here it was fine. More than fine: just right, in fact.
But then all at once the boat and the warmth, the eyes and the provisions were gone, and he was plunged in the cold water, tumbling in one of the River’s turbulent places. The current pushed him away. He could not reach the banks of the River, could not see them in the windy mist that clung to him. He felt coldness everywhere, coldness throughout his body, clinging at him, and his mouth was filling up with water. He was still wearing the sandals, and they made it just about possible to remain at the surface.
He woke all in a rush, pushing away the scarf that had now tangled itself around him. He sat there for a while to allow his racing heart to return to a normal beat, trying to root himself back in this world. His oil lamp had long since gone out. Finally he got up, felt for his bag of tools, and walked slowly along the corridor from memory with his left hand trailing along the wall to guide him. Looking out from the courtyard, east towards the River, he found that the sky was starting to fill with stars, like jewels adorning the clothing of night. There was a sharp scent of a nearby herb, clinging to a crevice in the rock. No-one else was anywhere near him.
How long had he been asleep? The air breathing down the hillside from his right, down from Meretseger’s peak, was cool against his skin. He held on to the upright timber of the doorframe and steadied himself. Eventually he walked home, offered a pinch of incense and a brief prayer at the little shrine to Seshat that he kept, pulled at some bread and dried fish without really tasting either, and finally settled himself on top of his bedroll, tossing his unwanted clothes into a corner. He lay there for a while alone in the dark, feeling dislocated, and finally fell asleep again.
Check out the first novel in the Riverbend series, Collide.
Reese Johnson lost her mother when she was a child. She was pulled from Riverbend Elementary and home-schooled from then on. Mayor Johnson had to protect her and in order to protect her, he had to hide her from the world. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house. Ever. But when her father goes missing, she’s thrown into a foster home and into Riverbend High where she’s treated horribly by the other students. They don’t get her. In fact, they are scared of her. The town holds her responsible for her mother’s death and her father’s disappearance. What other reason could there be that she was left untouched and unharmed? She had to be the one responsible, right?
She is thrown into the home of the Satterly’s. She’s overwhelmed by the love and compassion Johanna and Rick Satterly show her, but is confused by the cold shoulder their son Havock gives her. Their other son Garrett, however, is kind and welcoming. Too welcoming. Forming a relationship with this family isn’t easy for her, but this very family will be the one who saves her from the darkness that threatens her.
Fallout Boy. That’s whose voice was blaring through my earbuds as the bad omen stepped out of the back of her driver’s black shiny piece of plastic that probably cost more than my parents house. I tried not to stare as she self-consciously tucked a few strands of her long dark curls behind her ears, but I couldn’t help my stupid self. It’s a shame something so fine was kept in hiding for so long. The skirt she was wearing showed enough of her legs to make my imagination run wild. If only it were a tad shorter. . . I felt an elbow plow into my side. I pulled my earbuds from my ears and frowned.
“Damn, Havock. You’re gonna bite a hole in your lip. What has your attent-” Jude stopped mid-sentence when his eyes landed on her ass. He inclined his head just enough to get a better view. He smiled in appreciation. “That my friend is the definition of perfection.”
“Or insanity.” The bell rang and we grudgingly headed towards the school building. “She’s like something expensive on display. So shiny you can’t help but stare, but if you touch it your mom will beat your ass. She’s bad news, man.”
“Ah, you don’t believe all that shit do you?”
“No, but I plan on staying as far away as possible. That girl is nothing but trouble. Talk about family drama…” I opened my locker, got the few books I needed, then looked at Jude who had a neighboring locker. I started to say something to Jude but low and behold there she stood in front of us, apparently lost.
She whispered below her breath to herself.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Talking to yourself won’t help your already shattered rep in this town,” I said before reminding myself that I’d made a promise to myself earlier in the year to do better about filtering the things that came out of my mouth.
A tear fell down her cheek as she clutched her books tightly against her chest causing her cleavage to show a little more from her v-neck shirt. Of course the universe would put something so perfect on this Earth that was too crazy to get close to. It was punishment to men everywhere. She only made eye contact with me long enough to make me feel like a total dick then started down the hall.
“She’ll never survive in this school,” Jude said as he shook his head. “They’ll chew her up and spit her out before the week is over.”
“Before the day is over,” I concluded.
Discover the heroic fantasy world of Nathan Hawke’s Gallow: The Fateguard Trilogy.
I have been Truesword to my friends, Griefbringer to my enemies. To most of you I am just another Northlander bastard here to take your women and drink your mead, but to those who know me, my name is Gallow. I fought for my king for seven long years. I have fled in defeat and I have tasted victory and I will tell you which is sweeter. Despise me, then, for I have slain more of your kin than I can count, though I remember every single face.
Collected here are the first three Gallow novels, along with a collection of framing short stories. THE FATEGUARD TRILOGY tells of the years when Gallow discovered that a man as notorious as he was cannot live a quiet life, and in the end must choose a side, even if that means betraying his own people.
And when you betray a king, you accept that there will be a reckoning. The Fateguard are coming…
Addic stopped. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together and took a moment to look at the mountains behind him. Hard to decide which he liked better: the ice-bitter clear skies of today or the blizzards that had come before. Wind and snow kept a man holed up in his hut with little to do but hope he could dig himself out again when it stopped. A clear day like this meant working, a chance to gather wood and maybe even hunt, but Modris it was cold! He stamped his feet and blew on his fingers again. It wasn’t helping. They’d gone numb a while back. His feet would follow before much longer. Cursed cold. He looked back the way he’d come, and it felt as though he’d been walking for hours but he could still see the little jagged spur that overlooked the hut where he’d been hiding these last few days.
Up on the shoulder of the mountain beyond the spur a bright flash caught his eye, a momentary glimmer in the sun. He squinted and peered but it vanished as quickly as it had come and he couldn’t make anything out. The snow, most likely, not that snow glinted like that; but what else could it be so deep in the pass?
Snow. Yes. Still, he kept looking now and then as he walked, until a wisp of cloud crossed the mountain and hid the shoulder where the old Aulian Way once ran from Varyxhun through the mountains and out the other side. The Aulians had fallen long before Addic was born, but that didn’t mean that nothing ever came over the mountains any more. The winter cold was a killer, but shadewalkers were already dead and so they came anyway.
He quickened his pace. The high road was carved into the mountainside over the knife-cut gorge of the Isset. It was hardly used at the best of times, even in summer when the snow briefly melted. No one had come through since the blizzards, and so he was left to wade thigh-deep through the snow on a narrow road he couldn’t see along a slope that would happily pitch him over a cliff if he took a wrong step. It was hard work, deadly tiring, but he didn’t have much choice now and at least the effort was keeping him warm. If he stopped to rest, he’d freeze. And it probably hadn’t been another shadewalker high up in the mountains, but if it was then he certainly didn’t want to be the first living thing it found.
By the time he ran into the forkbeards, hours later, he’d forgotten the shadewalker. By then he was so tired that his mind was wandering freely. He kept thinking how, somewhere ahead of him, one of the black lifeless trees that clung tenaciously to the gentler slopes above would have come down and blocked the road completely and he’d have to turn back, and he simply didn’t have the strength to go all the way back to his safe little hole where the forkbeards would never find him.
And there they were: four of them, forkbeards armed to the elbows and riding hardy mountain ponies along the Aulian Way where they had no possible reason to be unless they’d finally caught wind of where he was hiding; and the first thing he felt was an overwhelming relief that someone else had come this far and ploughed a path through the snow so that he wouldn’t have to, and how that was going to make his walking so much quicker and easier for the rest of the way. Took a few moments more for some sense to kick in, to realise that this far out from Varyxhun the forkbeards had come to hunt him down, winkle him out of wherever he was hiding and kill him. He might even have been flattered if he’d been carrying anything sharper than a big pile of animal pelts over his shoulder.
The crushing weight of failure hit him then, the futility of even trying to escape; and then a backhand of despair for good measure, since if the forkbeards had learned where he was hiding then someone must have told them, and there weren’t too many people that could be. Jonnic, perhaps. Brawlic, although it was hard to imagine. Achista? Little sister Achista?
His shoulders sagged. He tried to tell himself that no, she was too careful to be caught by any forkbeard, but the thought settled on him like a skin of heavy stone. He set the pelts carefully down and bowed in the snow. The forkbeards seemed bored and irritable, looking for trouble. ‘My lords!’ They were about as far from lords as Addic could imagine, but he called them that anyway in case it made a difference. Maybe they were out here on some other errand. He tried to imagine what that might be.
‘Addic.’ The forkbeard at the front beamed with pleasure, neatly murdering that little glimmer of hope. ‘Very kind of you to save us some bother.’ He swung himself down from his pony, keeping a cautious distance. It crossed Addic’s mind then that although the forkbeards had horses, they were hardly going to take the High Road at a gallop in the middle of winter when it was covered in snow, nor even at a fast trot unless they were unusually desperate to go over the edge and into the freezing Isset a hundred feet below. And if they knew him, then there was only one reason for them to be out here. He turned and ran, or tried his best to, floundering away through the snow, not straight back down the road because that would make it too easy for them but angling up among the trees. The snow shifted and slid under his feet, deep and soft. As he tried to catch his breath a spear whispered past his face.
‘Back here, Marroc. Take it like a man,’ bawled one of the forkbeards. Addic had no idea who they were. Just another band of Cithjan’s thugs out from Varyxhun. They probably looked pretty stupid, all of them and him too, not that that was much comfort. Struggling and hauling themselves up through the steep slopes and the drifted snow, slipping and sliding and almost falling with every other step, catching themselves now and then on the odd stunted tree that had somehow found a way to grow in this forsaken waste. The forkbeards were right behind him. Every lurch forward was a gamble, a test of balance and luck, waiting to see what lay under the snow, whether it would hold or shift. Sooner or later one of them would fall and wouldn’t catch himself, and then he’d be off straight down the slope, a quick bounce as he reached the road maybe and then over the edge, tumbling away among the rock and ice to the foaming waters of the Isset. Which for Addic was no worse than being caught, but for the forkbeards it was probably a worse fate than letting him get away. Perhaps desperation gave him an advantage?
But no, of course it was him that slipped and felt his legs go out from under him. He rolled onto his back, sliding faster and faster through the snow, trying to dig in his feet and achieving nothing. He could see the road below – with two more forkbeards standing on it right in his path – and then the great yawning abyss of the gorge. He threw out his arms and clawed at the slope but the snow only laughed at him, coming away in great chunks to tumble around him, past him. He caught a glimpse of the forkbeards on the road looking up. Laughing, probably, or maybe they were disappointed that the Isset and the mountainside were going to do their work for them. Maybe he could steer himself to hit them and they could all go over the edge together?
Two forkbeards on the road? He wondered for a moment where they’d come from, but then he caught a rock which sent him spinning and flipped him onto his front so he couldn’t see where he was going any more. A tree flew past, bashing him on the hip; he snatched and got half a hand to it but his fingers wouldn’t hold. Then he hit the road. One foot plunged deep into the snow and wrenched loose again with an ugly pain. His flailing hand caught hold of something and tried to cling on. The forkbeards, maybe? Again a moment of wonder, because he could have sworn he’d only seen four forkbeards with their ponies and they’d all been chasing him, so these had to have come the other way, but that couldn’t be right . . .
A hand grabbed him, and then another. He spun round, tipped over onto his back again, felt his legs go over the edge of the gorge and into the nothing, but the rest of him stopped. The forkbeards had caught him, and for one fleeting second he felt a surge of relief, though it quickly died: the forkbeards would have something far worse in mind than a quick death in the freezing waters of the Isset.
A cloud of snow blew over him. When it passed he brushed his face clear so he could see. He was right on the edge of the gorge, the Isset grinning back up at him from far below. Two men stood over him. They’d let go and they weren’t hitting him yet and so his first instinct was to get up and run, but getting back to his feet and avoiding slipping over the edge took long enough for his eyes to see who’d saved him. He had no idea who they were or what they were doing out here on the Aulian Way in the middle of winter, but they weren’t forkbeards after all.
The bigger of the two men held out a hand to steady him. They weren’t Marroc either. The big one, well, if you looked past the poorly shaven chin, everything about him said that he was a forkbeard. Big strong arms, wide shoulders, tall and muscular with those pitiless glacier eyes. The other one though . . . Holy Modris, was he an Aulian, a real live one? He was short and wiry, wasted and thin and utterly exhausted, but his skin was darker than any Marroc and his eyes were such a deep brown they were almost black. He was also bald. Their clothes didn’t say much at all except that they were dressed for the mountains.
The four forkbeards were picking their way down from the slopes above, slow and cautious now. The two men who’d saved his life looked at him blankly. They were half dead. The Aulian’s eyes were glassy, his hands limp and his breathing ragged. The big one wasn’t much better, swaying from side to side. Addic thought of the flash he’d seen from the mountain shoulder hours ago and for a moment wonder got the better of fear. ‘You crossed the Aulian Way? In winter?’
The forkbeards were almost down now and they had their shields off their backs. The first one slid onto the road in pile of snow about ten paces from where Addic was standing. He pulled out his axe but didn’t come forward, not yet. He watched warily. ‘Hand over the Marroc.’
The big man stood a little straighter. ‘Why? What’s he done?’ He was breathing hard and his shoulders quickly slumped again. He looked ready to collapse. An ally, maybe? But against four forkbeards? Addic glanced down the road, back the way he’d come.
‘Pissed me off,’ said the forkbeard with the axe. ‘Like you’re doing now.’
The stranger growled. The Aulian put a hand on his arm but the big man shook it off. ‘Three years,’ he snarled. ‘Three years I’m away and I come back to this.’ The other forkbeards were on the road now, the four of them grouping together, ready to advance. The stranger drew his sword and for a moment Addic forgot about running and stared at the blade. It was long, too long to be a Marroc edge – or a forkbeard one either – and in the winter sun it was tinged a deep red like dried blood. ‘Three years.’ The big man bared his teeth and advanced. ‘Now tell me how far it is to Varyxhun and get out of my way!’
‘Three days,’ said Addic weakly, bemused by the idea of anyone telling four angry forkbeards to get out of my way. ‘Maybe four.’ The forkbeards were peering at the stranger’s shield, an old battered round thing, painted red once before half the paint flaked off. It had seen a lot of use, that was obvious.
‘Move!’ The stranger walked straight at them.
Addic didn’t see quite what happened next. One of the forkbeards must have tried something, or else the stranger just liked picking fights when he was outnumbered and exhausted. There was a shout, a red blur and a scream and then one of the forkbeards dropped his shield and bright blood sprayed across the snow. It took Addic a moment to realise that the shield lying on the road still had a hand and half an arm holding it.
‘Nioingr!’ The other three piled into the stranger. Addic wished he had a blade of his own, and if he had might have stayed. But he didn’t, and there wasn’t anything he could do, and so he turned to flee and ran straight into the Aulian.
‘Out the way.’ He pushed past. The darkskin had a knife out but obviously didn’t know what to do with it. ‘If I were you, I’d run!’
The Aulian ignored him and took a step toward the fight. ‘Gallow!’
Addic heard the name as he fled. It stuck with him as he ran. He’d heard it somewhere before.
Find more from Nathan on his website.
Enter the world of The Celadon Circle with the first book, Blind Sight.
Jordan has visions of monsters, demons, and death. Seventeen, orphaned, and born into the family business, she doesn’t have friends, she doesn’t have choices. Her uncle, older brothers, and a few annoying angels dominate her life, demanding she tow their lines – and the punishment is severe when those lines are crossed.
When Jordan is ordered to help hunt down a monster, she’s not sure which she dreads more: the elusive, blood-thirsty creature or spending time in a cramped backwoods cabin with a brother who despises her. To make matters worse, a demon shows up and warns Jordan that she could be her family’s next assignment.
In a game between Good and Evil where God seems to have tapped out early, lines are blurred and not everything is as it seems. Jordan learns a little too late that the real monster is closer than she thinks.
Check out Jennifer Silverwood’s new adult fantasy, Silver Hollow.
Amie Wentworth writes paranormal romances, not because she is looking for a degree in ectoplasm, but because she’s got bills to pay. Ever since her parents’ car crash, she has trusted books more than people. Not even a letter from her long-lost uncle, begging her to visit, gives Amie incentive for anything other than ire – until she is stabbed in an alley and brought back to life by a mysterious stranger. Being a believer in the corporeal, she is determined to root out the logic behind the unexplained. Never mind the possibility she might be a part of it, or the fact her dearly departed dad left her with an inheritance she can’t return. To make matters worse, the man who saved her life keeps turning up and her would-be-murderer is still at large. Soon Amie is dragged into the very sort of tale she is used to selling. Silver Hollow is a place of ancient traditions and supernatural dangers, where everything is the opposite of what it seems and few escape sane. When she comes face to face with the ugly truth, will she too be sucked into her father’s madness? Or will she discover that madness is just another name for honesty?
The hour before dawn found Amie pulling her car round the back alley. Through the gloom and decades-buried waste behind Pat’s Delights was a narrow strip leading to the back staircase leading up to her flat.
The stranger’s face came unbidden to her as she gathered her things and moved her weary legs. Black eyes set deeply in a shadow-drenched face haunted her, eyes which seemed to accuse and praise, sift and wonder. Now that she knew, she realized she must have seen him before today, maybe even in the past she had tried to forget.
The faded yellowing parchment marked with heavy black ink, with words too absurd to be true, flashed in her mind. Clutching the key hidden in her jeans pockets while digging through her purse for her keys, she remembered Uncle Henry’s letter. Mulling over the words, she once again recalled how angry she had been ten years ago after reading his first note. So what the cops were uncertain how the accident had happened. So what her father had known some powerful people. Amie had been primped and pushed into the upper-class social sphere through her teens and knew how to handle that sort. She could take care of herself just like she always had. She would tear up the letters and the tickets tonight. The twins and James were her family now.
As she placed her shoe upon the first rickety metal step, two thick and powerful hands grabbed her in the same moment.
It happened so quickly she forgot to scream. Dropping her purse she struggled, kicked and bucked against the crazy person lifting her and pulling her deeper into the shadows of the alley. And the harder she struggled the tighter his choking embrace became against her chest.
She thought at last to cry out, only to feel her face being smashed against a brick wall. She gasped as the figure suddenly pushed her aside, out of his embrace. Amie stumbled back and nearly tripping over a metal pipe. She righted herself only to come face-to-face with the black-masked figure. His brilliant blue eyes blazed into hers, now filled with unmistakable purpose. Too late she realized his intentions as a sickeningly cool object was plunged into her chest and pulled quickly out again.
Her vision swam, then blurred as she slumped against the trash-littered concrete. Her mind began to fade into an ever-deepening sleep though her eyes watched on. The black-garbed man was fighting someone else. Unmasked, this guy was taller, broader in the shoulders than her murderer and wrought by fury.
Pain…she had not known the meaning of the word before now and even this too was fading into the deep sleep. The further she fell the less sense the scene before her made. Her mind didn’t believe that the tall man had really tossed her attacker five feet into the air over his shoulder and into the brick, or a strange light and energy crackled in the suddenly luminous alley.
She was too afraid to hope when a pair of warm hands cradled her in a firm embrace. He pulled her from the muck and fixed his dark eyes on her. Obsidian-cut eyes, familiar eyes, pierced through her gaze and reached deeper. His face, once so indiscernible it could be called plain, was now twisted as though in agony. Even though she was slipping, falling into a calm quiet darkness, he refused to let her go. His hand moved from her neck to her cheek with the faintest touch. He pushed past and clasped hold of something tearing deep inside of her then. The black of his irises gave way to a strange mix of blue and green flecks gleaming in their depths. She saw…
Fields of brilliant emerald grass and a sun filled with more colors than she knew to name.
Darkness and a dirty cell, where heavy fists punctuated his pain.
Time beyond counting became a lifetime lost.
A green-eyed dark-haired beauty bathed in sunlight stretched out her hand to him.
Someone was screaming. Amie frowned as the woman’s cries grew louder. Pain spiked up in her chest as her lungs constricted and her heart was ripped apart then reformed. The woman’s screams died when she took a breath and realized the voice was hers.
And then she was lying within the narrow strip between two brick buildings, alone.
If you like paranormal romance, check out My Immortal Playlist from Julius St. Clair.
Alexandra Cain is cursed.
She’s unpopular, a little lonely, and all of her boyfriends have this nasty habit of dying and then coming back to haunt her in unimaginable ways.
It’s not easy being a Siren in high school. A femme fatale whose first instinct is to enchant a man and have him for dinner, instead of being asked out to it. Burdened by her nature, it doesn’t seem like she’ll ever find the romance and passion she’s been looking for.
Until Lucas Hawthorne arrives.
He’s gorgeous. He’s mysterious. And he’s so dangerous that even she knows she should stay away.
But there’s something about him that keeps her digging deeper into his past, and following him into situations that keep getting worse and worse. She just can’t break his hold over her, and soon she has no choice but to ask herself a terrifying question: Who cast the spell over whom?
“I should’ve stayed home,” I sighed under my breath.
“You didn’t put up much of a fight,” she said, her blue mascara strangely accenting her vibrant green eyes. What was with this new fad of mixing strange colors together?
“Yeah,” I said. “But that’s only because someone told me this movie was different. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be at all.”
“Okay, and what were you expecting? A horror movie?”
“Exactly. I mean c’mon, the movie is called Zombie Kisses. How do zombies kiss?”
“Like everyone else.”
“Well, it didn’t look appealing.”
“You’re not supposed to like horror movies anyways,” she huffed.
“And why is that?” I scoffed, sitting up in my seat quickly. Margaret flashed an award winning smile and made her voice all cutesy.
“Because you’re a woman,” she said. “You’re not supposed to like horror movies.”
“Ugh,” I groaned again, closing my eyes and turning around to see our fellow moviegoers leave in frustration and disappointment.
“I’m serious. If we’re ever going to graduate high school and snag a husband, we can’t give off the image that we’re into blood and gore and all those unattractive things.”
“Not like horror movies…snag a husband…what is this? The 50’s? Seriously, Margaret, you’re being unrealistic. And a little bit of a hypocrite. Do you seriously think that just because this movie is classified as a romance, it means you’re not into the supernatural? Think about it. A girl gets tired of her marriage with a vampire and decides to fall for a zombie! Who, I might add, tries to eat her shoulder when they’re making out! Listen, I don’t care if Malcolm Maximus looked nothing like a zombie. Yes, he was as gorgeous as always, but the concept is still gross and creepy.”
“This is completely different and you know it! There was no gore or violence whatsoever!”
“Yeah, but it’s a girl and a zombie…”
“Which if you ask me, didn’t look so bad.”
Silence filled the theater and I realized her face was not giving off its usual amused glow.
“You’re serious,” I said.
“Okay, that’s not funny…I think I’m going to be sick.”
“What do you want to me say, Alexandra? I love these types of movies, but I still think it’s improper to engage in viewing gory flicks like that stupid torture one that’s making all the headlines these days.”
“Oh, you mean Screwdriver VIII.”
“Yes. Absolutely disgusting.”
“It’s classic horror. A carpenter teams up with a mechanic on this one. Double the screwdrivers. Double the terror. Double the fun.” I really wasn’t fond of horror movies, but I was willing to say anything to get under Margaret’s skin.
“Are you like doing a commercial for them or something? You sound way too excited.”
“Um,” a voice interrupted our conversation from below. We looked down to see a pimply faced, red-haired attendant brushing some nachos under a chair in row six. “The movie’s over. I gotta clean up the aisles before the next showing starts.”
“Sorry about that!” I called down as we awkwardly retrieved our purses and jackets in one swoop.
“So…he was cute, wasn’t he?”
“Not really,” I muttered, trying to attempt damage control. “His face was so greasy I could see myself in his forehead.”
“Isn’t that your type?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to drown out my annoyance by taking loud footsteps on the parking lot asphalt.
“Well, you went out with that Elliot kid, and that was after he changed over the summer, I might add.”
“Well,” I muttered, unsure of what to say. I kept my head down in shame as we walked, but then I miraculously remembered that we drove separately. I didn’t actually have to suffer through the whole conversation today. Maybe if I got to my car in time, I could change the subject. Make a comment about how rusty and old it was before Margaret had any follow up questions. But of course, it was Three Dollar Tuesday at the movies, which meant every high schooler with a half-beaten go-kart was in attendance, and my car suddenly blended in like a toenail in a bag of rice…don’t ask.
“He was so dreamy before,” she continued on. “I mean, I almost broke my own dating rule and asked him out, but you know, a lady has to have standards. After his…um, makeover…he didn’t appeal to me as much.”
“You wouldn’t have liked him,” I muttered, before I realized what I was saying. I was such an idiot sometimes. Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?
“Oh? And why is that? Did you two…”
“Ew. No,” I shuddered, “and I’m surprised a woman of your class would ask such a thing.”
“Some things transcend class.”
“Apparently,” I said, fumbling with my car keys. Why couldn’t it have one of those convenient beepers that let you know where your car was located? I would be spamming it like an elevator button.
“So tell me about you two. I know you went out for at least a month last summer. What was it about him that attracted you?”
“To be honest? He was a little obsessive. Kept hounding me for a date.”
“Oh? Do tell!” Margaret said excitedly as she grabbed my arm and made me face her. I guess the search for the missing rust bucket was at a halt for now.
“All he wanted to do was touch me…or grab me,” I said, smiling like a maniac. “And he liked the taste of my flesh.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Margaret backed away, wrinkling her face. “Why do you have to put it like that?”
“It’s true though, and it started getting crazier too. He would chase me around the neighborhood, roaring away as he picked at his face, peeling off dead skin like he had gotten the worst sunburn imaginable, yelling how he wanted to lick my sweat…”
“Stop! Just stop!” Margaret shrieked, stamping her feet to the pavement. “That’s just disgusting! And you know how I can’t stand it when you’re being gross! Just…just see me at lunch tomorrow!”
And with that, my best and only human friend ran away like I had been infected with a plague. I didn’t get why she was so upset. I thought she liked zombies.
Oh well, people just liked dreaming. They never thought about how unromantic it was in reality. Deep down, they didn’t really want to be a part of that paranormal world…
And I would know.
After all, I was living in it.
I’m so excited to introduce you to the debut novel from R.S.A. Garcia. We are in a writing group together and I’m so thrilled for her first novel, Lex Talionis, a science fiction mystery. I have an interview with her below, as well as all the details on Lex Talionis.
1. What is your favorite place to write?
If I had my way, I’d write where I had a view through a picture window to water, mountains or trees. However, my computer is in the spare bedroom in my house, so I go there. It’s got the advantage of being quiet, so it’s my favorite place.
2. Tell us a little about your writing process.
I’m a dedicated pantser. I go in knowing the beginning and the end and a bit about the middle, but I don’t like writing scenes out of order. I get inspired by kernels of ideas and usually bury them deep. They can take months or even years to germinate a story. Once that story idea has reached a point where I have to sit down and tap away at the keys, I’ll generally keep going until it’s done.
I don’t usually write more than one book at time, but I’ve recently developed that skill out of necessity. I’ve also realised it might be a good idea to start doing plot outlines and keeping lots of notes rather than storing the entire book in my head and flipping back over the text when I need to remember a small detail, like the colour of someone’s eyes. LEX TALIONIS was written this way, but I’m looking to try different methods. I’m exploring Scrivener at the moment.
3. If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
That’s a huge question! Why do I have to pick one? I’ve never been able to narrow down anything I love to just one favourite. So for now, I’ll just say there was a time I wanted nothing more than to be the captain of the Enterprise, or Xena, or Buffy. But deep down I think I just want to be Spock.
Or the woman that ends up with Shane Gooseman of the Galaxy Rangers.
What? A girl can dream.
4. What is the best writing advice you’ve been given?
You have five senses. The more you use them to build a scene, and by extension your story, the stronger your writing will be. Lots of writers–myself included–have vivid imaginations and a great love of film. This leads us to write amazing visuals, but your writing can’t immerse the reader until you can make them smell, taste and touch the world you’re introducing them to, as well as see and hear it.
A battered young woman wakes from a coma in a space port hospital with no memories of her past. The only thing she remembers are two words: Lex Talionis—the Law of Revenge. To discover her identity, she must re-live the nightmares of her past, and face the only survivor of a terrible massacre that connects her with her abductors.
Death came for Michael while he slept.
He woke, gasping and trembling, from a dream of being pushed out the airlock. His fingers were cold and numb; the weight of his head on his arm had cut off his circulation. Michael sat up, wiping sweaty strands of hair off his forehead. Shifting his feet out from under him, he cursed as pain lanced up his leg.
Shit. I fell asleep. I can’t sleep. How long was I out?
Michael crawled along the vent to the grille that covered its entrance, stopping once to catch his breath. Despite having dozed, he was exhausted and cold. The air in the vent left a metallic taste in his dry mouth and he couldn’t stop shaking. The wound in his leg, which he’d bandaged with cloth ripped from his pants, made a white-hot line down his shin.
God, it hurts. If I don’t find some meds soon…
He had to figure a way out before he was incapable of going on, or lost consciousness again–maybe for good. Michael pulled himself onto his knees, inching his way toward the harsh light that shone through the grille. Dust motes danced in the path of square patches of illumination.
Then he heard it.
Faint, a mere whisper: the brief sound of air being expelled from lungs. And it came from outside, from the corridor below the vent. Despite the fact that he was freezing, sweat broke out all over his body.
Fuck. Oh, fuck no. Please, no.
Michael strained to hear, ignoring the pain in his wounded leg, which had become twisted beneath him. There was nothing but the impossibly loud sound of his own breathing. Seconds ticked by, then minutes. He blinked as sweat dripped into his eyes.
Heart tripping, he decided he must have imagined it all. He began to shift his weight in a careful movement.
Tap, tap, tap.
All the air left his lungs. The grille wavered and darkened before his eyes.
The sound came from right below him, on the wall just under his hiding place.
Tap, tap, tap.
He recognized the rhythm. It had been centuries since anyone had used it on a military vessel, but everyone had studied the same vids in their naval history holobooks during basic training.
Three short, three long, three short. SOS. Save Our Souls. A cruel jibe. The only soul left to save was his, and the very thing he tried to escape stood right outside, mocking him with the ancient distress signal none of them, least of all him, would ever be able to send.
The tapping stopped. Michael stared at the opening in front of him, seeing the grille being yanked off like paper as if it were already happening, seeing the light falling fully into the narrow vent, revealing him where he crouched, helpless and too terrified to move.
Not that he would be able to escape even if he could.
The silence pushed at his ears. The grille in front of him continued to filter the light into shapes on the inside of the vent. He waited, certain he was a dead man; wanting it to be over now, because he was tired, so very tired.
Eventually, it dawned on him that it had been silent too long. It took a few more minutes before he worked up enough courage to make his way to the front of the vent and look down to see the empty corridor stretching out on either side.
After he opened the grille and slid down from his hiding place, his legs gave way below him and he crumpled to the floor.
I’m still alive. I’m still alive.
But not for long if he just sat there. He had to find medication. That meant Med Bay–and the bridge.
He shuddered, his mind shying away from the endless corridors that waited for him, lights flickering while darkness edged their walls.
Don’t think. Just go. Go now.
Leaning on the wall, Michael pushed himself to his feet. He started limping down the corridor, slow at first, and then faster. The way to the bridge would be long and dangerous, and if he was right, he had very little time to get there.
Desmond Obuki was not particularly kind or generous. He gave to charity for the tax breaks and avoided fund-raisers like the plagues they were usually trying to eradicate. He was a businessman, not a meal ticket. But he was also something else.
And if the shoe on the unmoving foot he had spotted told him anything, it was that the Elutheran had a human down on the ground. It kept lashing out viciously, its muscular proboscis waving between its short, sharp beak as it chirped away to itself. The feathered red ball of its body rippled every now and again, as if caught in a stiff breeze. It was at least knee-high; definitely an adult.
After that, he couldn’t very well walk away. The warren of alleys surrounding Bradley was dangerous. Not so much for a former soldier like himself, but even he wouldn’t be here now if he wasn’t trying to beat the clock.
He had no idea how the Elutheran had managed to overpower the human, but a mudsucker couldn’t be up to any good in an area like this one. The guy had probably fallen asleep drunk in the gutter, and the Elutheran must have come across him. Humans were few and far between in this part of PortCity; the least he could do was drive off the little mudsucker and help the poor bastard up out of the gutter.
He didn’t need to check the dim street for friends of the alien. The alley finished in a dead-end beyond the spot where the Elutheran had the human backed up against the building. The smooth seventy-foot walls of the ore factories on either side offered no hiding places.
“Hey! Get the fuck off him!”
The Elutheran panicked. It sucked its feeding tube back into its head, rolled across the narrow alley, bounced along the lower edge of the wall and shot past Obuki before the man could grab hold of it. Shrugging his shoulders, Obuki walked over to the gutter and bent over the shape clad in a dark jumpsuit and a pair of spacer’s boots. There was a faint smell in the air–like rust.
“Hey, you, wake up. This is no place to sleep off…”
He rolled the body over and sucked in his breath.
His hands were wet. He looked at them and it dawned on him that the top half of the jumpsuit was not red. It only looked that way because of the blood.
He’d lost his comm panel on the flight back. Hadn’t thought much of it at the time as he had a replacement at the office, but that wouldn’t help him contact the police now.
He looked at the battered face again and sighed. It had to be a woman. And she was still breathing.
Well, he thought, no good deed goes unpunished. He would be late for sure now. Grumbling under his breath, he picked up the unconscious woman and strode out of the alleyway.
I’m excited to feature the RONE Award-nominated Displaced by J.F. Jenkins.
Chevelle Donahue thought going into work would be just like any other boring day at the mall. Sure, there was her annoying co-worker Wicken Sanders, and a promotional visit from teen heartthrob Timber Hudson, to watch and keep her entertained. But who was she kidding? Working retail was lame no matter what happened.
A terrorist attack changes everything – an attack from aliens of all things. The patrons are given two options: comply or else. Complying means giving in to a new set of rules and changing her entire life. “Or else” means she has no chance of going home again.
She must figure out the truth behind why the aliens are holding everyone hostage. In doing so, she risks her chance at freedom – but by the time she learns what’s really happening, she might not want it.
I looked between the two guys standing between me and the doorway, wishing I could read their minds. They were both so quiet and I hated it. Earlier they each had rather strong opinions of what to think. Now there was nothing? Did I have to make the decision for all of us? I wasn’t sure if I could handle that kind of pressure, let alone live with the consequences.
But I wasn’t left with much of a choice.
“I guess we turn ourselves over,” I said quietly, my face half-buried into the large hippo’s synthetic gray fur.
Timber nodded, his shoulders hunched up around him, and he rubbed his arms slowly. His gaze hardly ever left his phone. The light bouncing off his eyes revealed a glistening of tears. If that wasn’t the look of defeat, I don’t know what was. Wicken was the exact opposite image. He remained confident and poised, his gaze strong and determined. The only hint that he might have been afraid was the slight shaking of his hands.
He looked down at me. “You don’t know what they’re going to do to us.”
“I know what will happen if we don’t agree to their terms, though,” I said softly. “Escaping is futile, not following instructions sounds dangerous. I personally do not want to die.”
“And you’re assuming they won’t mass execute everyone or pick us off one by one until their demands are met,” he snapped. “I think I like my chances better with escaping.”
Timber held his phone over his watch. “We have twenty-five more minutes to decide. Ten if you want to include time to walk down to the main entrance. I’m personally going to go along with them. I’m with her.” He pointed at me. “I’m not ready to die yet.”
“Then I guess this is where we go our separate ways,” Wicken said. Again, he looked as if I had betrayed him or something. There was a sadness in his tone laced with anger. His gaze met mine and for a moment his strong composure faltered. “Last chance, Chevelle.”
I shook my head, tears pooling in my eyes. “I’ll never make it. I’ll slow you down. I’ll be the reason you can’t get away.”
His hazel eyes closed and he reached over to hug me. Then he whispered in my ear with a shaky voice, “I love you.”
My gaze met his and I didn’t know what to say in return. Part of me was wondering if I even heard him right or if I imagined him talking in the first place because the words had barely been audible. When the sadness in his frown increased, I knew he had actually said it. He pushed his way past us and toward the back door.
“Wicken,” I whimpered. “I…” Felt the same way? Loved him too? None of that seemed right, though my heart did have a special fondness for him that I didn’t understand. We’d gotten close enough through all of our time together.
He waited in the doorway, waiting for me to finish my thought.
“I…s-same. Please be careful so we can talk about this again.”
He flashed me a small smirk. “Of course.”
And then he was gone.
Timber gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Come on. If we’re going to do this, we should go now before we waste any more time.”
I nodded and stood, never letting go of the hippo. That thing was coming with me, I didn’t care how stupid I looked. The girl brought along her teddy bear, and the three of us made our way out of the door using the light of our phones to make sure we didn’t trip over anything. Timber dropped down to pick up his bag of purchases from earlier on our way to the gate – the gate which was now open. Outside were bright blue lights which reminded me a lot of tiki torches. They were tall and illuminated with electric light instead of fire.
We followed the lights to the escalators which were now nothing more than an ordinary staircase leading us to our potential doom. Timber took the lead and with his free hand he held onto the little girl who had been forced into our care. Every so often he’d look back at me and give me a small smile, as if that were his way of silently telling me he’d take care of me too.
At the bottom of the stairs was the main entrance. There were not as many people there as I originally thought there would be. Somewhere between fifty and seventy individuals of mixed ages sat on the floor under the glow of the blue lights. What disturbed me was how many of them were parentless children or teenagers. The next-well represented age group was twenty-something-year-old women, then a few middle-aged couples, and an even less number of elderly. How many men tried to get away? What had happened to the mass of teenage girls who had been here earlier? There wasn’t any blood, and the only signs of struggle were a few tipped-over plants. Did they escape, or at least try to?
The three of us found an open spot on the floor and sat down near a group of crying children who couldn’t have been any older than nine or ten.
“Do you think my mommy will be here?” The little girl asked.
I shrugged. “Maybe!” I wanted to be hopeful for her. Maybe that’s why all of the kids had decided to congregate at the entrance too. They were looking for their parents as well.
Timber reached into his bag and pulled out a bag of gummy bears. The guy was like a walking candy shop. I wondered what else he bought. He opened up the bag and waved a few of the other kids over.
When our gazes met, he shrugged. “It’ll keep them from panicking or going into shock.” He looked me over. “So you know who I am, but I don’t think I’ve caught your name.”
“Chevelle,” I said softly.
“Like the band.” He smiled.
“I doubt that’s what my parents were thinking, but yes, like the band.”
He nudged the girl. “And what’s your name?”
“Lara,” she said in between bites of gummies.
“Nice to meet you Lara, I’m Timber.” He kept his voice low.
It was hard to tell if she recognized him or not. She was a little young to be a part of his fan base. I pegged her at about six years old. Still, kids were smart and observant. If she knew who he was, she didn’t care. She did, however, lean in closer to him to snuggle in a little.
“Will you stay with me until my mommy comes back?” She asked.
“Of course.” He smiled and showed off his perfect teeth again. They glowed in the blue light, and it was more than a little amusing to see. Lara giggled, and the sound was music to my ears and contagious. Soon I was laughing as well, if not quietly. Sure, we both got a couple of strange looks from some of the people sitting around us, but I didn’t care too much. A small lift in the tension was nice.
Not like it lasted long, because eventually our half-hour deadline was up. I’d been praying silently that Wicken would change his mind and come with us after all. He never showed.