Tate surprises Kenzie by showing up on her doorstep late one afternoon… Standing on her front step, he rang the bell and listened to her footsteps hurrying toward the door. The smile on her face forced him to catch his breath.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” Kenzie asked, kissing his cheek then stepping aside so he could come in out of the cold.
Curiosity got the best of her when he stood staring at her, his good hand still behind his back. Trying to look around him, he turned so she couldn’t.
“What are you hiding?” she asked, her eyes warm and inviting when he stepped inside and nudged the door shut behind him with his boot.
“I couldn’t help but notice you’re missing a very important component of proper Christmas décor,” Tate said, sounding all knowing and official.
“What could I possibly be missing?” Kenzie asked, looking behind her and sweeping her arm toward the living room that did look particularly festive, thanks in part to Tate. “I’ve got a poinsettia, a beautiful Christmas tree, garlands, pine boughs, sugary treats, and a blazing fire. Did you bring me some chestnuts to roast? If you did, I’ve got no clue what to do with them, so you’re out of luck.”
Laughing, Tate raised his arm and held a bunch of mistletoe over their heads. “It seems to me this is the most important decoration of all.”
“Possibly,” Kenzie said, reaching out and looping her arms around Tate’s neck, pulling his head down to hers. Teasing and gentle at first, their kiss soon gained momentum until he dropped the mistletoe on the table near the door and she pressed as close against him as his thick coat would allow.
Taking a breath, she quickly unfastened the snaps on his coat and slid it off his shoulders, carefully over his injured arm, until it dropped to the floor. He tossed his hat on the little chair Kenzie kept by the door while a groan escaped his throat. He took in every feature of her face, the mouth-watering summery fragrance surrounding her, and the softness of the hot pink sweater she wore. Her favorite color currently matched the shade of her flushed cheeks.
Lowering his head to hers again, Tate wrapped his good arm around her waist and slowly backed her toward the living room without breaking the connection of their lips.
“I missed you,” he whispered against her mouth as he carefully guided her to the couch. When her knees connected with the edge, she sank down on the soft cushions, still holding onto Tate. He went down with her, ravishing her neck with sizzling kisses that made her whisper his name in a throaty tone, sending blood surging through his veins.
Tate surprises Kenzie by showing up on her doorstep late one afternoon… Standing on her front step, he rang the bell and listened to her footsteps hurrying toward the door. The smile on her face forced him to catch his breath.
And then she tells me her plan. “Maybe, I’ll stay with you awhile. Nothing back in Brooklyn right now.” I answer, mouthing words that I want to feel and yet cannot feel because I have closed myself off to the emotions of life, “Oh yes, please stay, Marina. I couldn’t bear all this alone.” I’m overwhelmed by her generosity, my loss, and the hidden truths lurking under the surface waiting to be revealed. Then the cordoned off person inside me breaks through all my controls again and unwonted tears erupt in a torrent of suppressed anguish. I am enveloped in her arms and her soothing voice whispers calming words as I try to regain the safety of stoicism.
Marina and I, sisters of a sort, sit together in my huge kitchen, in my huge house, sharing the huge hole in my heart as my tears pour down my face, flowing as if someone has turned on a spigot. Two small souls in a too-big kitchen of a too-big house silently wondering about the business problems of which his lawyer spoke using carefully chosen words somberly executed while his eyes burned with deep meaning. Problems that would have to be sorted out after I finished sitting “Shivah.” How can one cope with all of this? When will I wake up from this nightmare?
Eventually, it is dawn and I must sit on the wooden bench that signifies my mourning as memories cloud the present and I relive a life that is no more.
The Jonas Trust Deception
by AFN Clarke
AFN CLARKE is the author of 8 books, including the best selling memoir CONTACT, that was serialized in a British newspaper and made into an award winning BBCTV film. His latest novel, The Jonas Trust Deception, is a Thomas Gunn thriller and follows the success of The Orange Moon Affair. Readers have called it “classy, complex and cunningly compelling” and a “powerful force in the thriller genre”. In solving the mystery of an ongoing conspiracy involving his old friend Morgan, Thomas Gunn, ex-Special Forces, takes an action so shocking and bold, that even his team fear he’s lost his mind. The question is, has he? To get a taste of things to come, here’s an excerpt from the book. And for more information visit www.afnclarke.com or the Amazon Kindle store.
There is something so totally desolate about sitting in a prison cell staring at the blank grey walls that, unless you’ve experienced it, you’ll never understand. There is a finality and hopelessness that is almost beyond comprehension. A despair that sucks at your soul. My salvation was that I knew that my stay here was going to be short-lived, but what the future held was one big question mark. I had the distinct feeling somebody had put a ring in my nose and was leading on a mystery tour with more questions than answers.
Left alone with just the usual sounds of dissatisfied inmates, clinking keys and slamming doors for company, I thought back to the frantic last few days.
Confusion would be an apt description of my state of mind.
What facts could I scramble together?
Several dead bodies at Morgan’s ranch.
A small but ruthless Mexican Mafia gangbanger, with the unlikely nickname of ‘El Cobra Poco’, who seemed as if he could be a strange ally.
And the mysterious Robert Sutherland.
What other questions remained?
There were many, starting with who would have wanted to kill Morgan? Everything went back to my request for her to investigate the financial dealings of the Griffin Trust and its Chairman Ted Lieberman.
How was the Mexican Mafia involved if what Sutherland said about Morgan working for him was true?
I could just lie here all night long and create imaginary scenarios, but that wouldn’t supply any answers, so I closed my eyes and concentrated on emptying my mind.
Sleep was what I needed.
It must have been two hours after the jail cell lights went out, that the goons came for me. Dragged me off the bed and frog marched me down the corridor to the back of the jail and down narrow stairs to a basement garage without saying a word. There was a nondescript cream coloured painter’s van waiting with the rear doors open, and I was unceremoniously bundled inside.
It was eleven fifteen, and there was no sign of Melati. She could have been late for a number of reasons, or a complete no-show for that matter, and Jack hoped it was the former. No doubt, fraternizing with the passengers was forbidden, or at least frowned upon. So the question was whether she had been sufficiently lured by Jack’s charm to break the rules. His stomach was in knots from the anticipation of seeing her, and he paced the floor of his suite like a caged animal.
Part of him was over-the-top excited to see her, play with her. But a voice of reason in the depths of his consciousness couldn’t help but speculate whether he was getting himself into trouble again. He just couldn’t see how.
Perhaps Jack was just channeling his Eastern mentor, Tasagi, who had not only been his private jujitsu and karate instructor for several years now, but over time had become a valuable spiritual guide as well. According to Tasagi, Jack was bringing dangerous situations to himself through a process called the Law of Attraction, and it was tied to his internal belief system. That meant Jack consciously believed he had chosen to involve himself with certain people or situations because of their reasonable appearance on the surface, whereas in reality his energy had attracted an underlying issue or conflict, and he didn’t recognize it until it was too late.
The problem was that Tasagi had him questioning everything now, including sweet Balinese girls, and he knew he had finally taken it too far. He knew there was nothing at all wrong with Melati, and he prayed he would soon hear her knock on the door.
In the meantime, he forced himself to stop pacing, and he reclined on the couch with a bottle of water to hydrate himself for what he hoped to be a spirited night.
To get more comfortable, he had changed into a loose-fitting pair of white drawstring linen pants with an aquamarine linen shirt and brown woven leather loafers sans the socks. After all, the ship was traversing the Mediterranean Sea toward the north coast of Africa, so an outfit leaning toward the tropical seemed most fitting.
Also, despite his earlier wine-opening announcement of eleven o’clock, he chose to uncork the bottle of Caymus Special Selection Napa Cab at ten and empty it into a decanter to let it breathe. The wine steward had thoughtfully included a pair of Spiegelau vinovino Cabernet wineglasses, and Jack knew the large, appellation-designed bowls would let the wine open up to its full potential.
Chapter 1: Them Ol’ Paparazzi Blues
Someone called Jilly’s name, then the name of her band, Four Girls on Fire. At first, she thought she was dreaming – they’d just won the nation’s biggest talent show all over again, and from now on, life was going to be really amazing! - then her stomach turned over.
She disengaged herself from Rob, got out of bed and went to the window. Bloody hell, yes, down in the narrow cobbled street that fronted the guest-house. Paparazzi, sixteen or seventeen of them, all men, full of last night’s chip fat and strip-club testosterone, leering up at the net curtain like they could see through it. She swallowed.
The other girls had warned her about dating a member of a boy band, but only tongue in cheek. Twice the publicity, babes, sure you can handle that? She couldn’t help herself, though. Two years ago he’d been her hero and she’d been a nobody. Now they were equals.
“They’ve found us,” she told him.
Rob stretched and yawned. He discarded the bedclothes, picked up his boxer shorts and put his foot in one leg. “The press?”
“You don’t seem very bothered.”
“You were bloody brilliant last night, Jilly.”
“How did they know we were here?”
“I mean it. Outstanding.”
She realised she didn’t even like him much. “Did you tell them?”
“Wake up, Rob! It’s the press! I said the press have found us!”
He pulled on his boxers and put his arms round her. She disengaged herself, plonked herself at the dressing table and brushed her long brown hair, pulling halfway down as if it was full of knots. She was trying to stop herself shaking.
“Anyone could have told them,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t me, babe.”
“Put your clothes on. We’re leaving.”
“Why? They can’t get in here.”
She fished her bra from the pile of clothes on the floor and put it on. “We’re in the bloody Lake District, Rob. We’re supposed to be miles from anywhere. How did they find us so quickly?”
She looked round the room: the plaid curtains, the beds with valances, the 1920s lampshades, all the varnished wooden surfaces, so unlike the places she always stayed when she was touring with the girls. She’d fallen in love with it at first sight. She’d been drunk, true, but she’d never wanted to leave.
Rob pulled his socks and T-shirt on then looked at her. “You’re not frightened, are you?”
“They’ve probably got the place surrounded. And yes. Yes, I am frightened.”
“We’ll just call a taxi. We can be downstairs and in the car before anyone knows it.”
“I’m not bothered about us, Rob. I’m bothered about them.” Tights, tights, where were her bloody tights?
“Yeah, ‘them’. The photographers, journalists, whatever they call themselves. Them!”
He laughed. “First time anyone’s cared what happens to paparazzi. Anyway, what could happen to them?”
“Haven’t you been watching the news recently? Are you really that self-obsessed?”
“Hey, now - ”
“Four photographers shot dead in four weeks. Following Bobby Keynes, Zane Cruse, Mikey from Bad Lads Zero, Stallone Laine - ”
“No such thing as bad publicity, from what I hear. Not that you need it, girl, but it won’t hurt. Besides, they’re all douche bags, right?”
She pulled her dress on and smoothed the waist. She’d had enough now. She wanted out. Of everything. “I misjudged you, Rob. They’re still human beings.”
“No, they ain’t. Anyway, what are the chances?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
He picked up the telephone. “Is that reception? Hi, yeah … Room …”
“Fourteen,” Jilly said.
“Fourteen. Could you get a taxi pronto for me and the shorty? And fetch us the bill for the room? … Yeah, we’re leaving … Yeah, all good things have to come to an end sooner or later … Yeah, we’re disappointed too.” He put his hand over the receiver. “She knows us,” he told Jilly. “It’ll be her that told the reporters.”
He put the phone down. “About fifteen minutes. Get your face on, gorgeous.”
“I’m not waiting for her taxi to come, Rob. Not if she’s with them. I’ll get my own. There’s a rank down the road. Come on.”
“What about your make-up?”
She rammed a pair of sunglasses on and picked up her travel bag. He followed her downstairs. They didn’t stop at reception. Rob reached into his wallet, pulled out four fifties and thrust them at Mrs whatever-she-was-called, the proprietress. “Keep the change.”
Suddenly, they were out on the street. Paparazzi to their right, shouting Jilly. Jilly take off your shades, Jilly flick your hair, Jilly wave, Jilly smile, Jilly stop, who’s that with Jilly, that’s Rob from Simply Boyz, Rob give us a smile, Rob –
She took off her glasses, grabbed Rob’s hand and turned left and accelerated. She almost changed direction. There was a loud crack and she jumped like she’d been hit.
Behind them, the paparazzi roared. One of them – a photographer, about twenty-five - lay prostrate and bloody. Four others photographed him, ten or twelve were in full flight, one was trying to get a signal on his mobile. No one was interested in Jilly and Rob any more.
Rob looked at them then at her. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
Jilly started screaming.
How do you work through self-doubts and fear?
I think almost every author goes through times when they feel like they’re the best writer since Tolkien, and others where they feel like talentless losers. When those lows hit me, I fall back to my incredible support network of friends and family. They’re great for cheering me on, showing me where I’m doing well, and pitching in to help me improve.
You would think that the day The Wings of Dragons hit shelves would have been the happiest of my life, but I was actually terrified. Up to that point, I only had the word of few close friends that they thought it was good. What if people thought it was terrible? I had never put myself out there like that before. I tend to be introverted, and the exposure made me really uncomfortable. In the end it worked out and people enjoyed it, but I’m sure that paranoia will come back when it comes time to release book two.
I love hearing from fans that my book has made a positive difference in their lives. You work so hard for so long on a novel, put your heart and soul into it, but you always wonder if readers get out of it what you put into it. When you hear that they really enjoyed it, that they encouraged their friends to read it, that it was something that spoke to them or resonated with them, then you know you’ve done your job as an author.
When I decide to do something, I go for it all the way. I love the quote from the TV show Mythbusters that goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” That’s me in a nutshell. I don’t do things halfway. I put everything I have into a project, and I think that mindset shows not only in just getting a finished product out there, but having it be something that others will enjoy and share.
I’ve always been introverted, so publishing and marketing The Wings of Dragons has really forced me to come out of my shell. Suddenly I’m communicating with folks I never thought I would meet and interacting with readers from all over the world. When you write a novel, it’s just for you. When you publish a novel, though, it’s for the readers. You’re baring your soul for the world to see, and that visibility is still something I’m coming to grips with.
Because I love to tell stories! I grew up in a family where storytelling was part of everyday life. In particular, my father lived for stories. We would be having a conversation, and all of a sudden he would say, “That reminds me of a story.” We would all groan, but that was just part of the tradition. He would launch into his story, and at the end we’d all laugh because it was funny even though we’d heard it a hundred times. If you’ve ever seen the movie Lincolnand the way that Lincoln is always using stories to get his point across, you have a sense of how my dad was. With writing, I’m telling stories just like he did, only now I can share those stories with a lot more people.
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, whether in written form, around the living room, or around the campfire (especially around the campfire). I grew up in a family where everyone told stories, some real, others made up. My father and his father were famous for it. They were both Lutheran pastors, and they made stories key parts of their sermons. They passed on that love of stories to me.
I have a lot of strange ideas, and I tend to take perspectives that a lot of people don’t have. Sharing those thoughts is a big motivation for my writing. I want to help people see the world in a different way. I want to communicate with others and share my passions. I’ve always been amazed at the ability of a good writer or filmmaker to reach out to an audience they’ve never met and make them laugh, cry, or scream at all the right moments. I want to be able to do that with my writing.
No question, the piece I’m most proud of is my debut novel, The Wings of Dragons(http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FKJKJCA) published by Arboreal Press. I started forming the ideas for it over a decade ago, and its release marks the achievement of a lifelong dream for me to publish a book. I put over two years of sweat, toil, and (I’m not ashamed to admit) tears into that book, and all of that hard work has paid off.
It has nothing to do with my fiction writing, but I’m proud to have earned a Master’s degree in natural resource management from the State University of New York. Much like writing a novel, graduate school for me was a two-year process with a massive research project and an equally massive thesis. Looking back, I still can’t believe I crammed everything I did in grad school into two years. All that work helped when I wrote The Wings of Dragons. It wasn’t necessarily the subject matter, although I use my knowledge of the environment to make my settings more believable. Rather, it’s the skills I learned in how to plan out big projects, to take them one step at a time and to stick with them even when they seem impossible.
Mac leaned back in his chair and observed Rebecca, a fellow editor, as she walked in and sat down.
“So how is it to be back?” he smiled, knowing the answer.
“It’s hard to leave a newborn,” she sighed. “It’s even harder when the minute I get back to work, Edward’s insisting we sign nothing but porn.”
Mac laughed, “Well, he tactfully called it ‘erotic romance’ but yeah, same thing.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes, “I hate Fifty Shades. Well, I hate what it’s doing to the industry. This hideously written book is being marked as a game-changer. I have to wonder if anyone who actually read the book said this. It was a repetitive and boring pile of crap. I want more literature. I was hoping to come back and do more children’s books and instead I’m ‘encouraged’ to sign porn.”
Mac spotted Kate walking past his office, “Katie, come in and say hi to Rebecca. She’s back from maternity leave and mad as hell.” Mac’s light blue eyes were on her; as usual, she heated up instantly. A smile rose from his lips, crinkling those eyes set off by his dark, thick hair. She wished she could run her fingers through it.
Pull yourself together, she thought. She took a deep breath, walked in, and sat down.
“Good to see you back. You’re not mad at me, are you? Chelsea did great this morning.” Mac’s eyes were still on her, burning into her. Kate shifted in her seat.
Chelsea was one of Rebecca’s authors, Kate wondered if she should tell her that she had to drug her up. It looked like her coworker had enough on her mind; Kate decided to wait to share Chelsea’s fear of national television.
Rebecca shook her head, “It’s not Chels, though I do appreciate the update. It’s the memo Edward sent around this morning.”
“I didn’t see it.” Kate was puzzled.
“It only went to editors,” Mac began, “encouraging us to sign more erotic books. ‘It’s what the readers want,’ Edward insisted.” Mac tapped a pen on his desk, clearly impatient with his boss.
“Shocker.” Kate threw Rebecca an encouraging smile, “I’m sorry, but you know this will wane. At some point housewives will get tired of reading about red rooms and being tied up.”
Rebecca laughed, “You’re right, I know we need to jump on trends. It was one thing when we were trying to sign young adult after the Potter craze, but this takes the cake.”
“I know,” Mac said supportively, “but you know Kate’s right. Edward will lose interest once something else shiny pops up on his radar screen.”
Rebecca stood, “You’re right, Mac, thanks for listening.” She turned to Kate. “Glad it went well with Chels this morning, I’ll catch her segment online.”
After Rebecca left, Mac turned to Kate. “So,” he smiled a broad sexy smile that drew her in, “how did it really go this morning?”
Mac observed a tiny muscle flicker near her eye. It always happened when she was stressed. She’d smile, her poise never wavering, but Mac knew. He could always tell when she was feeling ready to punch someone.
“I had to drug her to get her to go on. Her manager told me that she gets nervous from time to time, but it’s nothing major. Nothing major my ass! She was in a full-blown meltdown and there I was, shoving a pill under the door.”
Mac laughed so hard, he rocked his chair back. “Katie, world class publicist and author rescuer saves the day, again.”
A tiny smile slipped across her face. Mac was right; she was often less of a publicist and more of an author 911. She shook her head. “I have to call her manager and tell her that she’s either here for the rest of Chelsea’s TV gigs, or I’m pulling them. I barely got her to go on air this morning.”
“I think as a general rule, all authors should be sedated from the moment we sign them.”
Kate stood up. “It sure would make my job easier.”
Mac’s laughter followed her down the hall.
Excerpt from Deleted Chapter at a strange Paris shop. Fun, but it didn’t further the mystery enough.
Dark gleaming eyes watched her.
Black lips parted to show fearsome fangs.
Mesmerized, Theodora stared at the snarling leopard crouched and ready to spring.
Laughter erupted nearby. Paused on the threshold, Theo fought the answering smile that quivered at the edge of her lips. Instead, she pressed one hand to her heart, the other to her brow, and faux swooned against the doorjamb. “Save me. I will be devoured.”
“Save you from such a unique death?” Paul exclaimed. “Never!”
“Indeed, what poet would spare you such a devastatingly delicious experience?” Casimir inquired.
“Delicious for the leopard,” Theo scoffed, stepping into Deyrolle’s taxidermist shop. Underneath bowls of potpourri exuding rosemary, lemon, and lavender, she breathed a musty aroma of fur and feathers, a hint of chemicals. Kneeling in front of the leopard, she felt its sharp fangs and stroked its rough, spotted pelt. She wished she could feel the muscle ripple beneath the hide. How wonderful that would be—to stroke a live leopard.
Despite all the praises Theo had heard, this was her first visit to Deyrolle’s. She loved living animals and had had little desire to visit a shop full of dead ones, however unusual. Now that she was here, to her surprise, she felt caught in its spell. There was a strange blending of cruelty and in love the preservation of these creatures. Violation and honor. Still kneeling, she looked about her. Hovering above the crouching leopard, a crane soared on outstretched wings. A passageway opened to either side. In one, a baby elephant lifted its trunk as if sniffing the air. In the other, a huge king cobra rose, spreading his hood. Beside the winding staircase stood a mannequin in a dapper suit and striped cravat, topped with the head of a gazelle. Deyrolle’s managed to be at once charming, sad, and unnerving.
Theo stood and went to join the Revenants who had responded to Averill’s request to meet here. Casimir, Paul, Jules were gathered around a glass case near the elephant. They were dressed in descending degrees of elegance, aristocratic, professorial, and shabby country church mouse. Also present were les trois Traits—the three Hyphens, as Paul had dubbed them—three slim, dark-haired poets named Jean-Jacques, Pierre-Henri, and Louis-LeRoi, professor, student, and fledgling lawyer …
There was a bucket with three bottles of iced champagne on the floor beside them, and a fancy basket held crystal flutes. An attendant waiting behind the cash register had a towel draped over his arm, as if champagne were de rigueur on such occasions. Theo looked around for Averill and saw him descend the curving staircase that led to the next floor. Her heart trip-stepped at the sight of him. At first he seemed freshly scrubbed, almost boyish. His hair was smoothly pomaded, his linen gleaming white, and his suit neatly pressed. When he came close to greet her, she saw dark circles under his eyes. Too much studying—or too much absinthe?
“There must be some kind of way out of here,” said the joker to the thief.
“No reason to get excited,” the thief he kindly spoke.
Pour yourself a margarita, sit back, and slide into the ‘70s for a while as you follow Kansas and Will through this cocktail of madcap adventures – on The Road To Key West.
—Mandy Bolen, The Key West Citizen
—John Archibald, Ouachita Life Magazine
IF YOU ENJOY THIS BOOK BE SURE TO GET THE THIRD IN MICHAEL’S SERIES; “ALONG THE ROAD TO KEY WEST”!
-- John H. Cunningham, author of the Buck Reilly Adventure Series
– Bryan Crews, former president, Tampa Parrot Head Club
Fast-paced humor-adventure with wacky pilots, quirky con men, bold women, mad villains, and a gadget to die for…
Will Bell find their lives turned upside down when they discover a truth device hidden in the temple of an ancient civilization. Enthralled by the virtue (and entertainment value) of personally dispensing truth and justice with this unique tool, they take it all a step too far and discover that everyone wants what they have.