Dead Man's Hand
What happens when the deck is stacked against you…
From NFL rising-star prospect to wanted fugitive, Calvin Watters is a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.
…and the cards don't fall your way?
When the brutal slaying of a prominent casino owner is followed by the murder of a well-known bookie, Detective Dale Dayton is thrown into the middle of a highly political case and leads the largest homicide investigation in Vegas in the last twelve years.
What if you're dealt a Dead Man's Hand?
Against his superiors and better judgment, Dayton is willing to give Calvin one last chance. To redeem himself, Calvin must prove his innocence by finding the real killer, while avoiding the LVMPD, as well as protect the woman he loves from a professional assassin hired to silence them.
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This time, it’s not a job.
After proving his innocence as a murder suspect, taking down an assassin, and being an instrumental part in solving a high profile murder, Calvin Watters believes he can finally move on—until Ace Sanders’ prison escape catapults him into action.
This time, it’s personal!
Something has always bothered Detective Dale Dayton about the arrest of Ace Sanders. Call it police intuition, but his inner ‘cop alarm’ keeps twitching. When Dale reopens the case, he’s introduced to new evidence that leads him into a political nightmare.
Who will play the Wild Card to survive?
While Calvin tracks Sanders across continents and into unknown, unfriendly surroundings, Dale remains in Vegas to uncover the truth behind police corruption, prison escapes and hired assassins. But Calvin and Dale must be vigilant, because there’s a deadly, new player in town.
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Calvin Watters laid his head back on the pillow, stretched out his long, muscular, dark-skinned body, then rested his hands behind his head. He released a sigh of pure pleasure, a sound he hadn’t made in a very long time. Calvin felt more relaxed than he had in years. Grabbing the remote, he flipped to ESPN just in time to see an exclusive interview with his former USC teammate, Toby Jenkins.
Rachel climbed into bed beside him wearing a sexy, black Victoria Secret lace and satin slip he’d never seen before, and nuzzled her head on his bare chest. The new, dark lingerie contrasted perfectly with her smooth, pale skin.
She snuggled him tightly, giving him light, butterfly kisses on his arms and rock-hard abdomen. Calvin could feel her warm breath on his skin and it stirred him deep within.
Calvin smiled. “You’re in a good mood tonight.”
She continued to kiss his body, moving upwards towards his neck before planting a deep, passionate, wet kiss on his lips. She gently bit his bottom lip and tugged on it playfully. She pulled away and smiled.
“Wow, what brought that on?” he asked.
“I’m just really happy. And it’s all because of you.”
“I can see that. What did I do?”
“Everything we’ve planned, dreamed about, is coming true.”
Calvin nodded. “It’s not a fairy tale, but even I couldn’t have predicted things would be this good. Did you think a former leg-breaker and ex-hooker would make the perfect couple, the perfect team?”
“Never doubted it for a second.”
Calvin gently touched her chin, tilting Rachel’s head up so that he could look into her electric-blue eyes. The admiration in her gaze was all he needed to know how she felt about him. He loved the way it made him feel.
“You are my knight in shining armor,” she joked, nestling in tight.
Calvin liked the way that felt, too. It hadn’t taken them long to become completely comfortable with each other since that first night. They’d been through so much together in such a short time.
An improbable match made in heaven. They’d both ended up on the streets of Vegas, running away from a troubled past and looking for brighter lights.
Rachel, alone on the streets with no friends or prospects, had turned to prostitution, leaving home and an abusive stepfather.
Calvin believed that had she remained there, without his help, she’d have ended up another statistic. No happy endings, no Cinderella stories on the streets of Vegas. “Pretty Woman” was complete fiction.
Calvin’s downward spiral had started with his career-ending injury at USC. The torn ACL had taken several surgeries just to allow him to walk. He’d lost his full scholarship and fell into a pool of self-denial and self-loathing. He never thought he’d ever get out of that rut.
Their chance meeting turned both their lives around. They’d encouraged each other, and made sure they’d succeed.
Rachel rested her head on Calvin’s chest and released a soft, muffled sigh of complete and intense pleasure. “What’s on?”
“Just an interview with my former college teammate. They’re doing a documentary on Jenkins, how he became a great NFL running back.” Calvin tried not to sound bitter, but how could he not? Even though he’d gotten over it, turned his life around and moved on, there was still a sour taste in his mouth from how it had gone down.
“Wasn’t he your backup at USC?” She watched Jenkins sprinting down the football field on TV.
“Yep. I was the starter, and he sat on the bench watching me break records.He couldn’t carry my jockstrap back then. Now he makes eight million a season for the Chargers. If I hadn’t been so selfish, and had done what was best for the team, that would be me.”
“Please, let’s not get into this again.” Rachel turned her head and looked at Calvin. She smiled and winked, running the back of her fingers down the middle of his chest and underneath the blankets.
“You’re much sexier.”
“I’m over it.”
He wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, pressing his lips firmly against hers. Their bodies melted into each other.
He gently kissed her neck and slid the black satin strap off Rachel’s shoulder, kissing a spray of collar bone freckles, moving his tongue lightly down to her breast, and gently sucking on an erect nipple. He pulled himself back as much as he could, trying to take things slowly, but he had the urge to rip the slip completely off and take Rachel immediately.
A sharp warning buzz from the TV startled him. “We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for a special, emergency news bulletin.”
Calvin ignored the report and returned his attention to his hotter-than-hell girlfriend, ready and waiting. Rachel’s trust and loyalty was all he needed. But in the back of his mind, he had the temporary satisfaction of knowing that Toby Jenkins’ interview was being interrupted. Okay, maybe he wasn’t completely over it.
“This just in—Derek Baxter, a former United States Marine, escaped military confinement and is now on the run.”
The name jolted his bones. Calvin turned and Rachel sat up. He grabbed the remote and raised the volume.
A newscaster appeared on the screen. “Baxter was wanted in connection to the shooting death of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer last year. After a week-long man hunt, he was brought into custody by the United States Military, because of an outstanding, special, high-priority warrant against him.”
Rachel let out a low screech. She grabbed Calvin’s arm. “What’s going on?”
Calvin raised his hand to quiet her, so he could hear the report.
“Baxter had been a highly-decorated officer who received two purple-hearts during two military tours. At one time, Derek Baxter was considered the military’s top sniper, elite class, before a being dishonorably discharged in 2005.”
A picture of Baxter flashed on screen. The pale face and dead eyes brought up a storm of emotion. Calvin’s heartbeat quickened.
Rachel put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God. That’s the guy who tried to kill us.”
Calvin’s jaw muscles tensed. He swallowed hard. A lump formed in his stomach as pain flared in his chest. Baxter’s picture brought back vivid memories. No matter how much mental weeding Calvin tried to do, that bastard had left a lasting impression.
“Baxter was last seen at an airport in Fallbrook. Local authorities say the ex-marine could be headed anywhere, is armed and considered extremely dangerous. Anyone with information should contact…”
Calvin shut off the TV.
“Fallbrook is in California. Is Baxter coming back for us?” Rachael asked.
Calvin shook his head. “I don’t think so. He wouldn’t do anything that stupid.” But he knew he didn’t sound convincing, because he wasn’t sure. He knew Derek Baxter, had a deep connection with the man, and the professional assassin was capable of anything.
He probably still held a grudge over what Calvin had done to him.
Rachel shook. “We shut down our lives because of that guy. We spent four days locked up, hiding from both the police and that psycho.”
“I can’t do it again.” Tears moistened her eyes.
Calvin reached for her narrow shoulders and pulled her in close.
She buried her head into his chest. He could smell the Jasmine shampoo she used in her sandy-blond hair as her warm tears traced over his skin.
“You don’t have to, Rachel. Baxter isn’t coming back. He’d be crazy to. The whole country is searching for him. He’ll probably disappear and never be heard from again.” But Calvin knew first-hand just how crazy Derek Baxter really was—and he was that crazy.
Rachel pulled away. “Are you sure?”
He looked into her tear-soaked eyes, trying to remain composed.
He felt queasy, his palms sweaty and his breathing labored.
“I’m gonna call Dale.”
He tried not to look or sound worried, but that’s all he felt.
Teenage girls don’t believe in fairy tales, and sixteen-year old Elena Watkins was no different.
Until the night a fairy tale killed her father.
Now Elena’s in a new world, and a new school. The cutest guy around may be an evil dragon, a Prince wants Elena’s heart, and a long dead sorcerer may be waking up to kill her. Oh. And the only way Elena’s going to graduate is on the back of a dragon of her own.
Teenage girls don’t believe in fairy tales. Now it’s time for Elena to believe – in herself.
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A GIRL SINGING HER heart out about a miracle boomed inside my ear. A miracle would get me what I needed: a chance at a semi-normal life.
The bedroom door hitting the wall expelled the thought from my mind. With his hand tangled up in his copper hair, and with huge brown eyes, Dad’s figure filled the entire doorway. “Pack your bags.” He had that set to his jaw, the one that meant there was no way out of this. He bolted out of the room just as suddenly as he had appeared.
I ground my teeth, hard. A sharp pain behind my eyes, I guessed from the lack of sleep, grew stronger. Every fiber of my being wanted to explode.
Ever since I could remember my name, Dad and I had been on the run. From what? Beats me.
For the past two weeks, I’d been pacing through the house, struggling to fall asleep at night, waiting for this day.
For the love of blueberries, no sixteen-year-old should live this way!
I climbed off my bed, and the first step I took left my toe tangled in the wide leg of my jeans. I tried to regain my balance as the closet inched closer, but with wildly flailing arms, I came crashing down. The thud reverberated across the wooden floor, and it sounded as if I’d broken something.
Dad darted back into my room. “Are you okay?” He lifted me back onto my feet as if I weighed nothing.
Tears lurked in the corners of my eyes, as I stared up at him.
“Don’t give me that look, Elena. Please, we need to hurry.” He pulled my suitcase from the top shelf and chucked it haphazardly onto my bed. “We need to go. Now.”
He started to grab my clothes from the shelf and tossed them messily inside my small suitcase. Then he paused, sighed, and looked up with soft eyes. He stroked the side of my cheek. “This...” He looked past me. “...wasn’t the right place, Bear. Please, you’ve got to trust me.”
He reached back to pull everything off my shelf, while I curled my hands into balls of fury. My heart pounded fast as those two words bounced inside my skull. “Trust you?”
“Elena, we don’t have much time,” he yelled. “Pack your bags! You can ask questions later.” He left, and the hollow thump from his stomping footsteps rang loudly as he made his way into the hall.
Ask questions? Yeah right! I’ll only get answers that don’t reveal why we are on the run for the gazillionth time. “Trust me” and “I’ll tell you when the time is right” were the only two answers Dad gave. Guess the time with him will never be right.
It was no use arguing with him anyway. Once, he had thrown me over his shoulder and carried me out without any of my things.
So I grabbed the stuff I needed: my MP3 player, a photo of Mom and me on my first birthday that Dad didn’t know I had, and my journal from underneath my bed. I tossed them into my backpack. It wasn’t much, but it was the stuff that made my miserable life feel less pathetic. I zipped up my suitcase and took a deep breath. Looking around my bedroom for the last time, I said goodbye to my sixtieth-something room.
Dad almost ran me over in the hall, his army bag slung over his shoulder. He grumbled, which I assumed was an apology, took my suitcase, and ran downstairs. He always rented these huge old houses, pre-furnished and near the countryside, and we always left after three months.
The pickup’s horn honked as I shut the front door. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. Just two more years, then I’ll be eighteen and free from this freak show. Huge raindrops fell hard onto the ground. The smell of wet dirt filled the air. It was my favorite smell.
The water that pooled on the ground covered all the gaps in the driveway, forcing me to hopscotch around all of them. My shoe got caught in one of the gaps and I smacked down hard in a huge puddle. By the time I reached the truck, my jeans and shoes dripped with water.
Warm heat from the vents inside the truck hit me full blast as I jumped in; a million goosebumps erupted across my skin. As soon as I shut the rusty door, Dad floored the gas pedal. Tires screeched and the truck spun away as if the devil were chasing us. My lower lip quivered softly as he swerved onto the road. The streetlights flew by in a blur, and I plugged in my earphones. The same stupid song about a miracle boomed from my MP3 player, drowning the sound of the engine and the hard dribbles on the roof, a percussion that became the perpetual soundtrack to my misery.
A feeling of utter loneliness consumed my heart while I stared out the window. Homes with white picket fences and a convenience store whizzed by in a flash. A tear rolled down my cheek. Saying a silent goodbye, I released my breath and watched as it created a foggy condensation on the glass. With my index finger, I reached out and drew a small heart. These were the reasons why Mom had left. She couldn’t handle his paranoia, but why she’d left her two-year-old daughter to deal with it was a mystery. Dad constantly reminded me of the latter; that was the only time he ever spoke of her. If he ever discovered I had that picture, he would kill me. That was how much he hated her for leaving us.
The lights of a vehicle in the upcoming lane shone directly into my face. I shut my eyes, waiting for it to disappear. When I was little, I used to watch Dad as we drove away from yet another house. He would glare into his rearview mirror every five seconds, all the muscles in his face clenched, and his knuckles white on the steering wheel. I hadn’t been able to force myself to peek out the window then, as it used to scare the living crap out of me to consider the possible reasons why he was fleeing, or who might be following us. Now, I didn’t look at him or care much about what he was going through. He’d created this problem, with me becoming the luggage. It was a ritual I endured every three months, and nothing during the past sixteen years had ever changed that.
The “Interstate 40” sign flew by in a whirl, and the pickup slowly moved onto the turnoff lane.
My eyes started to burn as I stared at the rain running sideways against my window. Each rivet resembled another town, another place I could never again call home. Exhaustion consumed me and my eyelids felt heavy. I laid my head against the window and struggled to stay awake.
Suddenly, a huge figure flew past me. Dad swerved to the left, which made me crash into his side. My entire body pumped with adrenaline. I jumped straight in my seat and tore out my earphones as I wrenched the seatbelt over my shoulder to buckle myself in, while trying to process what had just happened.
“What was that?” I looked at Dad.
His eyes huge, he kept checking his rearview mirror every five seconds. Beads of sweat rolled from his hairline down to the side of his temple. Sure, he was paranoid, but I’d never seen Dad this scared in my entire life. This was something more than his usual paranoia.
“Did you see where it went?” he asked, attempting to inject calm into his voice, but I could hear the fear lacing each syllable.
“See where what went? Dad, what was that?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“For once in your life, just tell me!” I screamed. Sixteen years of frustration exploded from my lungs. I couldn’t take the unknown anymore.
“Fine.” He mumbled something else that I didn’t catch. “Do you remember the stories I used to tell you?”
“Stories? What stories?”
“The stories about Paegeia, Elena.” He looked in his rearview mirror again.
Vaguely, but I didn’t tell him that. “What does that have to do with this?”
I froze and stared at him.
“All of it, it’s real. The dragons, the magic, the Wall, everything is real.”
“Dragons!” I couldn’t believe this. “Is this why we’ve been on the run my whole life? That’s your reason?” I took a deep breath.
“You can believe what you want, it doesn’t change the fact that they are real, and somewhere out there.” He looked over his shoulder.
A figure with huge paws and talons flew in front of the truck. Tires screeched at the same time as I shrieked. The truck spun around a couple of times and came to a standstill on the dark stretch of road. My heart jumped at a great speed. My throat and lips became dry from my deep, heavy breathing.
My face pushed against the cool glass of the passenger window, I searched the horizon for any sign of life. Apart from the pickup’s headlights, not a single light peeked through the blanketed darkness, and the rain crushing down made me see figures, but I couldn’t tell if they were real. Dragons don’t exist.
“You okay?” my father yelled.
“I’m fine.” I tore my gaze away from the window.
His hands were on the door’s handle. “Elena, I need to get out—”
“No, no, please don’t leave me here!” I grabbed his jacket. I could feel the fear beginning to rise again, and my vision became blurry. Why am I afraid? Dragons aren’t real.
He cupped my face and made me look at him. I only noticed now how his hands trembled. “Listen to me, Elena. Listen!”
I tried to swallow my tears, but it was no use. They were caught in the back of my throat, silencing me.
He hugged me tightly and kissed me on my forehead. I could feel the love he had for me behind that kiss. “You drive like hell, you hear me? Don’t slow down for anybody. There’s a motel on Interstate Forty. Just stay on this road, you can’t miss it. Someone named Matt will meet you there.”
“Dad, it’s pouring outside. I can’t leave you here with whatever...” We can sort this out rationally.
Dad cringed and stared at his jeans When he looked at me again, that set to his jaw was back. My words hadn’t made any impact on him whatsoever. He had already made up his mind for the both of us.
My strength returned as I slowly came to terms with what I had to do.
A man appeared in the middle of the road. We both stared at him for a few seconds. I squinted, as the rain made it hard for me to see him, but the headlights of the truck outlined his figure. I looked back at Dad and could tell from the look on Dad’s face that this guy was no stranger.
My gaze turned back to the guy in the rain. He was tall with long black hair; wet strands clung to his face. He wore a pair of pants, no t-shirt, and it looked like no shoes either. He stared at the pickup and it made my heart pound faster. He began to walk slowly toward us.
“Dad?” I slapped his shoulder, trying to expel the fear from my body.
“Elena.” He grabbed my wrist. “I’ll be fine. You need to go. Now. And, Bear, I’m so sorry. Whatever happens, don’t stop for anything.”
“Dad?” My lower lip quivered again. He kissed me one more time on my forehead and wiped away my tears gently with his thumbs.
“I’ll meet you there.” He sounded stern, climbed out of the truck and slammed the door. My gaze switched back to this macho loon making his way toward Dad, who stood right next to the pickup. I quickly moved into the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, and buckled up.
With my hands trembling on the steering wheel, I took another deep breath.
You can do this, the voice in my head rambled a few times. The key sat lazily in the ignition, and I jerked it to the right. The pickup sputtered and died. The guy disappeared into the darkness, and a new fear pumped through my veins.
“No, no, no, no! Please don’t die on me now,” I mumbled as I tried to restart the engine. The man appeared again in the faint glow of the headlights. He was getting closer.
“Start you stupid piece of crap!” I yelled over the roar of the blood pumping in my ears.
The engine came to life and I screamed as the man leaped toward the pickup. Dad jumped and tackled him in midair. “Go, Elena!” he shouted over the pounding rain.
I floored the gas pedal and the pickup’s tires screeched as I drove past Dad, who’d wrestled the guy onto the road. Tears blurred my sight.
I can’t just leave him back there. I struggled to come to terms with what was going on.
My father and the other man quickly disappeared into the horizon of my rearview mirror. I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand and lowered the mirror so that I could see Dad, but they had vanished into the night.
Don’t stop for anything, his voice replayed inside my head.
My hands trembled on the shift as I found third gear. A strong force hit the pickup on the passenger’s side. The impact of the blow jolted through my body as the truck rolled a few times then came to a halt on its roof, leaving me suspended in the air. My head and body throbbed, and my hand went automatically to the ache on my head. It was warm and wet, and when I brought back my hand, it was smeared with dark blood. My head began to buzz and my vision started to slip away.
Lightning struck, and the road was instantly engulfed in flames, leaving me wide awake. Something to the left grabbed my attention as the fire slowly began to creep toward the overturned truck. Something lifted the truck, righting it on the asphalt once again, and a shrill sound left my lips.
The belly of a huge, blue beast on four legs the size of tree stumps stood in front of the pickup. The sight left me breathless and my entire body froze. Dragons don’t exist.
A part of its head popped in front of me. Huge horns on the top of his nose lingered inches from the windshield, leaving a foggy condensation on the glass as he breathed. One of his frilly ears lay flat against his head, like a cat’s when sensing danger.
He placed a front leg on top of the hood, and my body trembled as the truck started to crumple. A part of his wing came into sight. It appeared to be shredded, with a sharp talon located at the end. Oval-shaped blue scales fanned over its entire body, glistening in the flames on the side of the road. Maybe it only looked that way through the tears blinding my sight. Beady eyes, sunken deeply into its skull, locked with mine. The picture in front of me just became my nightmare. I yelped as the dragon’s weight shifted, forcing the pickup to crumple even more.
Another dragon sank its jaws into the one in front of me. Two huge copper horns lay flat on top of its copper head. The blue dragon growled, and snapped with gaping jaws at the copper one attacking it. With powerful force the blue dragon was dragged off the pickup’s hood and thankfully away from me. The truck shook slightly and groaned, while my heart pounded as if I’d just run a hundred meters.
A bolt of fire came from the sky and lit up the entire scene in front of me.
More dragons landed with thuds in the middle of the road. One seemed to be green with a long neck and a fin-like mane running from the top of its head to its tail. A cloud of dark fog emerged slightly from its nostrils. Another was red and oddly beautiful, but something evil derived from its aura. They attacked the copper dragon with startling savagery.
Get the hell away from here, my inner voice shrilled. Quickly, I tried to unbuckle my seatbelt, but the clip wouldn’t release. The earth shook with bolts of fire, and lightning flew through the air, while I tried to free myself.
My father wouldn’t just leave me here! As each second ticked by, I worried more about Dad.
The dragons came close to the truck a number of times, but the copper one kept driving them back, as if it was trying to protect me. I shook my head, trying to expel that thought. Dragons don’t exist. Wake up. The tips of my fingers felt raw as I hammered endlessly on the buckle of the safety belt. My face was soaked with sweat and blood, and I knew that I had to get out of the truck, quickly. With trembling hands, I pounded on the buckle with my fist until it unlocked. Throwing the restraint from around me, I watched in horror as the copper dragon bit fiercely into the blue’s neck. Blood squirted everywhere and pooled in thick puddles on the road. The blue dragon staggered and dropped down to the ground. Electricity still sparked off its body, but soon died away. The green and red dragons jumped on top of the copper, but it knocked the red one onto the ground forcefully and crushed the green dragon with its huge front legs. The sound of flesh ripping was sickening, and I had to lean over as tremors wracked my stomach, but for some reason I couldn’t look away. The picture of the copper dragon shredding the green dragon’s wing sent a stab of new fear deep into me.
“Dad, where the hell are you?” I pleaded into the darkness.
The red dragon got back up and flew away just as the copper one moved from the green’s wing to his neck. I flinched and finally looked away as more blood squirted out of where the green dragon’s neck used to be. When I looked again, the copper dragon had turned its gaze to me.
I started to kick at the windshield with my newly freed legs. A new sense of urgency punctuated every kick.
C’mon! I kicked three, four times, but it only left long cracks in the glass. Watching the copper dragon trudge toward the pickup through the jagged cracks made the scene before me even more terrifying. The dragon stopped right in front of the pickup, our eyes locked, and I could see the vertical pupils inside a pair of dark, rich brown irises. My heart thumped wildly as it hooked one of its talons gently into the windshield and ripped it off.
It paused, stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, took a few steps back, and nodded in my direction.
It wants me to get out? You’re imagining things, Elena. Dragon’s aren’t real.
I didn’t act. I couldn’t. The dragon started to shrink. Its wings and legs dwindled into a smaller size until they disappeared. Its big head and horns shrank into nothing. I watched as the dragon’s huge shape melted away, and the heap transformed into a low-crouching figure. He lifted his head, and huge cuts seeping with blood became visible. It felt as if somebody had squeezed all the air out of my lungs. I’d finally found my father—without a shred of clothing.
With the death of her father…
Officer Charlene Taylor has received her dream promotion—working Homicide with the LAPD. Her first case is the high-profile murder of Ken Anderson, a playboy UCLA professor with a haunted past. A mafia kingpin, billionaire tycoon, cheated wife and jaded lover are only a few on a long list of suspects, all with motive and opportunity.
…all hope of reconciliation is lost.
Not only does she feel the pressure from media and her boss to solve her first case, but Charlene must also deal with her father’s murderer, the “Celebrity Slayer,” a serial killer who enjoys baiting her with his knowledge of her life and routines.
Can a rookie detective work two high-profile cases and still keep her sanity?
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He pulled the old Honda into the dark, abandoned alley, killed the lights, and cut the engine. Even with the windows up, the stench of urine, vomit, and waste assaulted him. The steady, dismal downpour did nothing to conceal it.
The slow, light drizzle had not diminished the latest LA heat wave, but with its subtropical-Mediterranean climate, rain was a welcomed event.
Parked next to a rusty, dented blue dumpster, Martin Taylor adjusted his Dodger hat, his alert eyes scanning the deserted area.
There was nothing to see except three cinder-block, graffiti-designed walls, as the disinvested buildings had been gutted and vacated. The only sound was the relentless hum of Asian music from the back door of a Chinese takeout restaurant.
He didn’t like it. He was almost trapped within the u-shaped alley, with nowhere to turn his vehicle. He’d thought about backing in because, as it was, any chance of a quick, clean getaway would be impossible. But he needed this lead. Not just for the city, but for his ego.
He checked his watch. He was ten minutes early, so Martin took the time to think about the phone call that had lured him to the area known as Skid Row, in downtown Los Angeles.
He remembered the downtown as it was in the ’70s, when the sites and attractions drew both residents and tourists, but the economic downturn had changed all of that. From where he sat, he could hear the city’s Metro rapid transit system running throughout the night.
Now there was a new threat in town: The Celebrity Slayer, so dubbed by the media.
The serial killer was devastating the city, taking lives and leaving angry, malicious scenes—scenes that also left behind no criminal evidence to sort.
He was killing ‘B’ list celebrities, but his actions, his talents, were anything but ‘B’ list. The LAPD’s resources were running dry trying to find the guy. T, but the media was having a field day. The paparazzi, ETalk, Entertainment Tonight, Radar Online, were playing to the madman’s ego, feeding his narcissistic personality.
He had become a celebrity overnight.
Less than an hour ago, a call had come in on Martin’s cell phone, someone claiming to have pertinent information concerning the
Celebrity Slayer file. He was given this address. But he still couldn’t figure out how a stranger had gotten his unlisted number. That alone chilled him to the bone, but in this day and age, the internet was a highway of information and anyone could get anything. It wasn’t always a positive advancement.
Movement to his left. His eyes moved quickly, darting like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
He threw on the headlights but the beams didn’t cover the side wall. When he saw a form appear out of the shadows and approach the vehicle, Martin rolled down his window and touched his shoulder holster. Then the body moved into the light, and Martin released the grip on his pistol handle.
“What are you doing here?” Martin asked, a look of both concern and surprise registering on his face. He looked around the alley. “Is Charlie here? Did you follow me?”
When his questions went unanswered, Martin felt a strange sensation rise in his chest. Something was wrong, out of place.
That’s when he knew. His neck tingled and the hairs sprung on his arms.
He went for his gun a second too late. The killer had a silenced weapon drawn, and had stuck it through the open window frame.
“It can’t be you.” Martin realized the words came out as more of a statement than a question.
“Where’s the file?” the man asked in a curt voice.
“What file?” Stall him.
But when he looked into the eyes of the deranged killer, Martin Taylor saw that deep in the back of those eyes a hatred darker than night burned, and a homicidal maniac struggled for release.
How could I have missed it?
The last thing he thought before feeling the burning sensation of hot lead was that his daughter was in grave danger.
Allison Stevens became a Christian at a young age, but she makes a wrong decision that takes her on a collision course of disappointment and heartache. God loves her and wants her back, but Satan wants to keep her in a life of despair and lies.
Heavenly Spirits are sent by God to instruct and remind Allison of God’s promises. Can she learn to trust God's word and become the woman God meant for her to be?
A family she didn’t know she had, a man grieving a personal loss, and a felon who wants her dead makes her relationships more complicated than ever. Can she learn to trust God again and walk by faith?
On the road back to God, she discovers that the path doesn’t come without trials but now she realizes she isn’t alone. God is with her. Can she stay strong and follow God's path?
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It was two years since Allison Stevens had been to her hometown of Rustin, Colorado. She left after high school graduation, due to an unresolved issue with her father. One minute she was in a heated argument and then she was grabbing her suitcase walking out the door, only looking back once, but it was long enough to see the hurt look in her mother’s eyes.
She threw her suitcase onto the back seat of Tom’s Chevy and got into the front seat. Tom leaned over, gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and then started the car. At that time her heart and mind were a million miles apart.
Tom who was a couple of years older had swept her off her feet. Tall, with gorgeous brown eyes and a voice that dripped like honey, he was always telling her she was the most beautiful girl he ever saw. When he ran his fingers through her long auburn hair, it would send chills through her body and when their eyes met, she felt as though she would melt.
“Tom, where will we go?” Allison asked, now faced with the reality of the hasty decision she had made.
“Collingwood. I’ve been offered an internship with an advertising firm there. I know you’re scared. It’s a big step, but you’ll see. Everything will work out. We’ll get married. Isn’t that what you want?” he asked -glancing over at her with his dazzling smile that seemed to make her lose all common sense.
“Yes, of course. But where will we live? Do you have money to get a place? Allison asked, feeling unsure of her future. Doubt was beginning to creep in.
“We’ll stay with my brother and his wife until we can get a place of our own. I already talked to them.”
“It sounds like you have everything all figured out,” said Allison leaning her seat back. “How long will it be till we get there?”
“About an hour and a half,” Tom said. “Why don’t you get some sleep and I’ll wake you when we’re there.”
“Okay.” Allison took one last look out the side window as the highway stretched before her leaving her home behind. Her final thought before her eyes shut was, I will probably never see my parents again.
The years had not been kind to Allison. Tom was not at all what she had expected. He did get his job at Bedford Advertising and seemed to settle in quite nicely, and Allison even managed to get put in charge of the advertising for their magazine. She started to get one pay raise after another and felt she was finally living the life she was meant to live right before the bottom dropped out.
Allison was called into Mr. Bedford’s office one day in the middle of June. In the time she had been there, she knew that nothing good ever came from a special meeting with the boss.
“You have been a valuable asset to our company, but with the conflict between you and your husband, due to our company rules we have to let one of you go.” Mr. Bedford got up from his desk and came towards Allison. “I hate to have to do this, but we are terminating you.”
“I’m not sure I understand why.” Allison got up and walked towards the door. “But I’ll clean out my desk.”
“Stop by accounting and pick up your check and your letter of recommendation before you leave. I wish you the best, Allison.”
That was the end of the life she treasured. One-day Allison had a high paying job, a husband she loved and hoped to have children with some day, and then it was all gone.
Patrick Swayze, the beloved dancer, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, choreographer, family man, athlete, horseman, and more, had a diversified career in the arts world for over thirty-five years. He often played hero roles in his work and spoke about traditional values such as honor, integrity, morality, passion, faith, and love. He was always searching for meaning in his life and trying to give to others some joy or sense of purpose or meaning. During his hard-fought and inspirational battle against pancreatic cancer, he became a real-life hero to millions of people.Patrick Swayze was taken too soon, but his remarkable spirit and enormous legacy will always shine bright.
Discover how his focus on dreams for himself and others sustained him and guided him to live a zest-filled and hopeful life even while dealing with great adversity. Honor and celebrate Patrick while reading about his career, his connection with his family, and his involvement in advocacy for dance, cancer advances, and conservation. Learn what his professional colleagues and fans have to say about him. Finally, get a look at what I think Patrick would say to us now.
Enjoy approximately thirty color photos throughout the book which include Patrick Swayze from his various movie and television roles, rarely seen photos from appearances, and more.
Read Patrick's own words which have been compiled from multiple media sources throughout the years.
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Rustam Chalice, dance tutor, gigolo and spy, loves his life just the way it is, so when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. Only trouble is, the spy master, Prince Hal, teams him up with an untouchable aristocratic assassin who despises him.
And to make matters worse, she’s the most beautiful woman in the Five Kingdoms.
Plunged into a desperate journey over the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god - and each other.
They must also keep alive a sickly elf they need as a political pawn. But when the elf reveals that Rustam has magic of his own, he is forced to question his identity, his sanity and worst, his loyalty to his prince.
For in Tyr-en, all magic users are put to death.
Award winning novel, THE PRINCE’S MAN, has been described as ‘James Bond meets Lord of the Rings’ - a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with an underlying thread of romance.
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At the second ring of the bell, Rustam knocked on the door to Halnashead’s study. He glanced uneasily up and down the empty corridor. Where were the guards? Perhaps Halnashead had sent them away to protect Dart’s identity, but the back of Rustam’s neck prickled, and that was a warning sign he never ignored. He slipped his small dagger from its wrist sheath, and eased the door open. The room was mostly in darkness, with just a row of candles flickering on the front edge of the prince’s substantial desk. There was someone behind the desk, though Rustam could not make out who stood there.
Wending his way between the high backed chairs and ornate tables that cluttered the main floor space of the study, Rustam trod as lightly as he could with his injured leg, balancing on the balls of his feet, prepared to dive for cover at the slightest hint of trouble. He held the walking cane poised in his left hand like a javelin ready to throw, the dagger nestling coldly in his other palm. His eyes roved the room for signs of a third person. If that was Halnashead behind the desk, then Dart could be anywhere. And if it wasn’t…
With a rustle of ivory silk, the figure behind the desk sat down, bringing her face clearly into the candlelight. Rustam stopped in confusion, hastily lowered the cane to a more conventional position and made a small bow. “Your pardon, my Lady. The prince asked me to meet him here…”
Rustam’s voice trailed off as the Lady Risada Delgano vas Domn laughed; a resigned, self-mocking sound.
Risada shook her head. “Ah, Chalice. I suppose it had to be you, with your pretty face and your courtly manners.”
The study door opened, and Rustam spun around. Silhouetted against the light from the corridor was Halnashead’s bulky figure. The prince shut the door and strode across the room. “Splendid,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I see you two have met at long last.”
“What?” blurted Rustam, his famed manners deserting him. “You mean—”
Lady Risada vacated the prince’s chair, and moved around the desk, preceded by her exotic perfume. Rustam’s breathing became rapid, though whether in response to the heavy scent or the lady’s proximity, he wasn’t sure. Halnashead sat down and beamed at them.
“Dart, meet Charmer. Charmer, meet Dart.”
Rustam looked pleadingly at Halnashead. “You’re joking, surely? You must be. She can’t be Dart; she’s—”
“What?” cut in Lady Risada. “A woman?”
“No! Well, yes. I suppose so.” Rustam shifted uncomfortably, his mind reeling as it tried to adjust to the concept of a noblewoman as a player. Female servants on occasion, yes. But a lady?
He glanced aside at the lady in question. She stared coldly back.
“Please, please!” Halnashead drew their attention. “I want you two to get on with each other. Does it surprise you so much, Rusty?”
“Rusty?” echoed Lady Risada derisively.
Taken aback by the lady’s obvious animosity, Rustam considered the prince’s question. “I suppose it shouldn’t. With her court position, the lady has access to all levels of nobility. Certainly a great asset to your Highness.”
“And don’t you forget it, dancer boy,” muttered Risada.
Halnashead frowned. “Be nice, Risada. Rustam is my most skilled agent.”
“Most skilled womaniser, you mean!”
“Risada, enough.” Halnashead did not raise his voice, but his displeasure was clear. The corners of Rustam’s mouth quirked up, but he quickly dropped the smirk when the prince scowled at him.
“You will get on with each other. This is a serious matter and you are both professionals; I expect you to behave as such. Now sit down. This could be a long meeting.”
Toronto’s newest homicide detective, Reggie Swann, seemed to have it all: her dream career, a handsome husband and plans to start a family, until she was framed for murder…
A cop has very few friends in prison. After surviving ten brutal years behind bars, Reggie’s conviction is finally overturned thanks to her tenacious mother, a new forensic test and a very clever lawyer. She quickly discovers that getting her old life back won’t be as easy as she hoped. To many, she was still as the media had dubbed her: ‘Black Swann – murderer and cop-gone-bad’. The Toronto Police Department still considers her to be a suspect, Reggie’s husband has remarried and the real killer is still on the loose.
Before Reggie can return to Toronto and solve the crime that ruined her life, she reluctantly agrees to investigate a murder in her home town of Penticton, only to discover the two cases which are separated by ten years and five provinces might somehow be connected. Will anyone believe the wild theories of the disgraced detective?
The real murderer does. He framed her once, this time Reggie Swann must die!
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Unlike Julia Roberts in Sleeping With The Enemy, I did everything but sleep with mine. I worked, ate and even watched the occasional movie with 250 people that wished me mortal harm simply because of what I had been—a homicide detective. Locked alone in my cell from ten pm until seven am was the only place and time I felt safe enough to let down my defenses and relax.
In the chow line, a quick look away by one and a sideways glance between two other inmates alerted me to impending danger. An attack was imminent, but wouldn’t likely take place in the cafeteria. There were too many eyes here. Three guards patrolled the perimeter during meal times, plus there were cameras. A diversion might fool the guards but not the video feed as several former provocateurs had learned the hard way.
Fighting resulted in an automatic thirty days in the hole, no exceptions. The hole was what we called solitary confinement. I’d done my share of time there and I could tell you it was no joke. No windows, no yard time, no contact with anyone, except for a few seconds per day when meals arrive. Some of the guards wouldn’t speak. Twelve hours of fluorescent light, twelve hours of pitch black. Time creeps by in prison, but in the hole, during the overwhelming darkness of night, I swore sometimes it stopped altogether.
I tucked under my arm one of the three magazines I kept on my person whenever I left my cell and carried my plastic platter of eggs, sausage patty, bran muffin and definitely not freshly squeezed orange juice to the table in the back where all the unpopular women congregated. I nodded to Wilma Mainfield, the closest thing to a friend I had inside these walls. We weren’t pals and didn’t hang around together, but her brother was a cop, so she didn’t hate me for my past. Taking my usual spot in the last row of the room, I sat with my shoulders brushing against the wall. With Wilma to my right, an empty chair to my left and my back protected I got down to the business of eating. I devoured the food, hungry after the hour and a half calisthenics routine I’d completed this morning before my cell door opened.
Most of the meals in this place weren’t bad, especially breakfast and spaghetti night, which was every second Thursday. I’d worked in the kitchen for two years and knew that the head cook, Roberta Pomodoro, made the spaghetti sauce from scratch—best I’ve ever had. Roberta, a lifer, owned several Italian restaurants in Ottawa with her husband. I heard a rumor that they had gotten involved in the drug trade and a cop had been killed during a raid, resulting in a life without parole sentence. She sang Italian songs while she cooked. Everyone liked her. She’d tolerated my presence in her kitchen until I tripped, spilling a large tray of chicken wings. The next day I’d been transferred to laundry.
“Watch your back,” Wilma whispered as I stood to leave. Wilma didn’t say much to anyone. Over six feet tall and built like a man, the farm wife had literally shaken the life out of her husband when she’d discovered he’d been cheating with her teenaged sister. Referred to as a gentle giant for most of her twenty-five years, ten minutes of blind rage had erased that persona forever. I think we shared a kinship in the belief that we didn’t belong in this place. Wilma kept to herself, and most of the prison population, including me, tried their best to give her no reason to get angry.
I winked at her as I picked up my empty tray and magazine. I wanted to get down to laundry services before there was a lot of activity in the halls. As I deposited the tray I noticed three empty chairs at Laynie Garcia’s table, hers included. The rest of her crew chatted and laughed and avoided eye contact with me. Naturally, it would be Laynie, I realized.
Now I knew who, and since they were already absent, approximately when. So be it. Cameras watched over the main public areas, including the social and work areas. The bathrooms, showers and lesser-used hallways had none. To get to the laundry facility I needed to traverse several of these hallways, passing the ‘C’ Block showers and two bathrooms en route.
There were few secrets in this place. Everyone knew that I was leaving for a hearing tomorrow morning. If you had a score to settle with me, today might be the last opportunity. Laynie felt that she did. Relatively new to the facility, she’d been hell bent to build her reputation. After picking several fights and winning them all, she’d gotten much of the respect she desired. I guess she’d decided killing a former cop would give her kingpin status, because six months ago, without provocation, she’d attacked me in the showers. Fortunately, I’d felt her coming and managed to grab my towel before she reached me. I wrapped my arm and used it as a shield against the sharpened piece of rigid plastic she’d forged into a knife. Once I got hold of her and turned it into a wrestling match, my superior strength turned the tide in my favor. I broke two of her fingers prying the make-shift knife away and gave her a nasty cut across her cheekbone. A knee to the solar plexus left her choking and gasping for breath on the wet floor as I walked away without a scratch. I’d spoiled her perfect record; she couldn’t let that stand.
When I was a cop, I’d thought I could take care of myself. My first year in prison I’d been severely beaten twice and shanked once. I eventually learned that if I wanted to live I had to fight back. I became hyper-vigilant and worked at getting stronger and tougher. The will to survive is buried deeply in each of us—you felt it when your back was against the wall. In here, my back was always against the wall. For the next few years I held my own, giving as much pain as I received. Then, on the day I’d received news that my father had died, my guard had dropped. I hadn’t seen the shank coming at all. As I lay there on the floor bleeding to death, not one inmate lifted a finger to help me. Before I passed out I saw the smirks, heard some laughter and the claps of more than a few high fives.
Somehow, I’d lived. I had one less functioning kidney, a missing molar and three broken ribs from kicks I don’t remember receiving. Months later when I reentered gen-pop I had a new attitude. If you came at me, you’d better kill me because I would hurt you if you didn’t. I had an ugly scar on my side as an eternal memory to remind me that I had no friends in this place. I don’t look for fights—I don’t have to—but I no longer run from them either, and after eight years I’m still here.
With a hearing tomorrow, I couldn’t afford to get caught fighting, and Laynie knew that also. I had to admit it was a good plan—kill me or get me thrown in the hole causing me to miss my hearing. I intended to avoid both eventualities, if possible. I needed to get to the laundry and its overhead cameras.
This would be my third hearing. The first one had been terrible. I’d been so optimistic—certain that my wrongful conviction would be overturned. I’d been crushed when it wasn’t. I’d been less hopeful during the second one, and yet utterly depressed for a month afterward. This time, I’d even refused to discuss the hearing strategies with my lawyer or mother. This was simply a thirty-six hour mini vacation from this place. I would savor the sights, sounds and the non-concrete and iron textures of the outside world. The hearing was for Mom’s benefit, not mine. I was ready, harboring no false hope.
I rolled the magazine tightly, until it felt like a baton. Never underestimate the power of the printed word, especially when written on glossy paper.
I knew Laynie’s MO. She and her pals would try to box me in. I walked past the ‘C’ Block showers, my sneakers squeaking loudly on the polished concrete floor. I slipped them off, tucked them into my waistband and crept back to the edge of the doorway, magazine at the ready. I heard whispered counting from inside. “Eight Mississippi, nine Mississippi, ten Mississippi.” Then a large homely face peeked around the frame. Hopefully for its cornea’s sake, the surprised eye blinked shut before my Entertainment Weekly collided with the force of a billy club against it. I’d swung with all my might. Stunned, Sarah Granger sank to her knees. I whipped around and administered a chokehold. I held tight until she went limp, then held for ten more seconds to be certain. I dragged her heavy ass back into the shower room. I removed her shoelaces and quickly bound her hands, then picked up the chair leg that had slipped from her slack hand. I recognized it as having been removed from the movie lounge. I expected to see two or three more just like it this morning.
I’d left the mess hall seven or eight minutes early and estimated that I was still five minutes ahead of schedule. I hoped to use that to my advantage. I raced down the hall to the next corner. I peeked and saw no one in the next corridor. I figured they would be waiting in the bathroom, ready to jump out when they heard me coming. I crept to the door-less entry and listened.
“Any minute now,” Laynie said from several feet away.
I took a chance and peeked in. I could only see their feet under the privacy partition. I skipped lightly to the other side of the doorway.
“Granger, what’s that in your hand?” I did my best to throw my voice down the hallway.
I heard scuffling feet and then a hand holding another chair leg appeared. I heard the distinctive snap of bone as my newly acquired weapon crashed down on a wrist. Laynie’s right-hand-woman yelped in pain just before my magazine struck her exposed throat. She fell back against Laynie, both ending up in a heap on the bathroom floor. I leapt in. Laynie recovered quickly, scrambling out of the way as I swung the rectangular bat at her. I kicked the choking woman in the ribs as I moved between Laynie and her fallen chair leg. Her back against the row of sinks, she was now only armed with a metal shank, or so I thought.
“I’m going to kill you, pig bitch,” she told me, her eyes blazing with hatred.
“Give it your best shot,” I retorted, through clenched teeth. Dirty Harry would have been proud.
She threw something at my head and bull rushed me. I ducked as a bar of soap flew past my forehead. She’d missed, but the distraction worked. We crashed to the floor. The chair leg clattered away and sharp steel came down at my face. I got my forearm up just in time. She had my magazine hand pinned. We struggled in that position for several long seconds. Lying on top of me like that, I couldn’t catch her with my legs. It was a stalemate, until Laynie turned the blade inward and began sawing at my arm. A sadistic smile broke out on her face as the blade cut through the sleeve of my sweatshirt. She raked the blade across my forearm. She laughed, but her actions had given me the opening I needed. I managed to sweep her knife hand off to the side and lifted my pelvis as high as I could.
“What?” Her eyes widened.
I wrenched my other arm free and swatted her face with my celebrity-filled baton. I twisted out from under her and slammed her hand against the floor until the shank came free. I was sorely tempted to pick it up and use it on her, but resisted and instead choked her into submission. I stepped over Irene, a dumb-as-a-hammer long-timer, as I left the bathroom and rushed down the hall. Just before entering the laundry area I put my shoes back on, ran my fingers through my short hair and tucked under the torn part of my sleeve until it wasn’t visible. I took a deep breath, unrolled my billy club and casually walked into the large room, reading a story about Brad and Angelina. I looked up at the large clock on the wall. It was a full two minutes before eight am.
There wasn’t always a guard stationed in the laundry area, but there was usually one present at the start of the shift. I was counting on it.
“Good morning, Joseph,” I said casually.
“Inmate Swann,” Guard Zabrowsky answered more formally.
I held the magazine toward him. “I’m finished with this one, would you like it?”
No thanks, not interested.” He shook his head. “Big hearing tomorrow I understand. Excited?”
“Not really.” I tried to downplay the event. “I’m not a big fan of courtrooms.”
“Gotta be better than here, though,” Joseph chuckled.
“I heard some groaning in the lavatory,” Betty, the laundry crew leader, informed the guard when she stepped through the doorway. “You might want to go check it out.”
He eyeballed Betty to see if she was on the level, then glanced at me. “I didn’t notice anything.” I shrugged, feigning a lack of knowledge on the subject.
Zabrowsky rushed out, speaking into his radio as he went. “Possible code three in the washroom between Cell Block C and Laundry Services.”
“Roger that,” his radio squelched.
Seconds later two more fellow laundry workers appeared at the doorway, though their eyes were glued to the guard who’d run past them down the hall.
“Somebody got hurt.” Betty joined them, then she turned and stared at me. “Did you see anything, Blackie?”
I shrugged and casually walked over to the water fountain. When she turned her attention back to the hallway, I slipped the rubber bands and magazines I’d wrapped around each of my forearms out from under my sleeves and dropped them into the nearby trash container. I wandered over to the nearest laundry basket and wheeled it to one of the large washers. I tossed dirty clothes into the machine until I came to a size medium sweatshirt like the one I was wearing. I tossed it beside the machine and continued filling the washer.
Betty and the others were still watching down the hall. I slipped beside the machine and quickly swapped sweatshirts. In three or four seconds, I stepped back into camera view, tossed the torn shirt into the machine and slammed the door closed.
Betty glanced over at me again. Betty was no idiot. I smiled as innocently as I could. She was no rat, either.
“Let’s get to work, ladies,” Betty told the others. “We’ll find out what happened at lunch.”
A short while later, while throwing clothes into another washer, a hand clamped onto my shoulder.
“Roll up your sleeves,” Zabrowsky commanded, as I turned to face him. Another guard held Laynie just beyond the laundry doorway.
“Blackie attacked us,” Laynie yelled. I could see the purple welt on her swollen face where Brad and Angelina had struck her.
“What’s this all about?” I asked Joseph.
“She and two others are claiming that you ambushed them and beat them without provocation.”
“I ambushed three of them?”
“That’s what they claim,” Zabrowsky said, though he looked dubious.
“You know about my hearing tomorrow,” I reminded him. “I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
“I cut the bitch,” Garcia yelled again. “Check her arm.”
“I tend not to believe her account of the events, but she claims that she cut your wrist during the fight,” Zabrowsky said. “Show me your arms. If you’re not bleeding, the three of them will have thirty days in the hole to come up with a new story. If you are bleeding, your hearing will have to be postponed.”
“This is ridiculous,” I said, glancing toward Laynie.
“Just roll up your sleeves and we’ll be done,” Zabrowsky stated.
I rolled up my left sleeve and let him inspect my arm.
“The other one, now the other one,” Laynie shouted excitedly.
I held my right hand in the air and slowly pulled the sleeve down well past my elbow.
“Take her to the hole,” Zabrowsky yelled to the other guard.
“No, no, no,” Laynie Garcia screamed as she was dragged away. “I cut her, I swear. The pig bitch ambushed us…”
“Good luck with your hearing, Swann,” Joseph told me as he walked away.
Sixty cell doors rolled into place and locked shut on Cell Block A. I sighed in relief. I’d survived the day. Tomorrow morning at six am I’d be escorted to transport while the other inmates were still locked in their cells. I sagged back against my bunk and reread the letter I’d received. For almost ten years I’d been trying to figure out who had framed me for murder. As a former Toronto Police Department homicide detective I had enemies, like most cops, if we were any good at our jobs. Daniel Hamilton had been the last name on my list. He’d admittedly been a bit of a longshot. Now that he’d been cleared I had zero suspects left, unless you included the likes of Bag McNaughton.
In the third grade I’d gotten into a fight with Benny McNaughton while playing shinny hockey after school. He’d been pestering me all game. Mom later explained to me that he’d probably had a crush on me. I wish I’d known. After tripping me once and administering a cross-check that had stung, I’d gotten frustrated and had retaliated with a cross-check that had flattened him. He’d dropped his stick and charged me. A tomboy through and through, plus a green belt in Taekwondo, I’d been ready. We’d been the same size back then and Benny ended up with a fat lip and black eye. The next day at school he’d been teased mercilessly. ‘By a girl’ had become the taunt of the day. Unfortunately for Benny, we’d been learning about acronyms at that time. I never forgot that scuba stands for ‘self-contained underwater breathing apparatus’ and in Mrs. Quill’s Grade Three English class bag now stood for ‘by a girl’. Bag became Benny’s nickname for life. Even his older brother and two sisters called him Bag.
In all seriousness, I didn’t really suspect that Bag had waited nearly eighteen years and then killed someone to get even with me. Besides the fact that he would never have done a thing like this, he had forgiven me. We’d even gone to a dance together in the ninth grade. Mom had been right—she usually was. Bag McNaughton and everyone else that I had ever arrested, angered or even slighted, going all the way back as far as I could remember, were listed in my suspect file.
You have lots of time for introspection when you spend most of your day in a seven by nine cell. Even the eleven-foot-high ceiling didn’t help to give it a spacious feel. I put the letter into the neat folder of papers beside me. The felons I’d put away while working homicide had been easy additions and simple for my one law enforcement friend to investigate. I had worked vice for three years before homicide and the list of pros, johns and pimps I’d arrested had been much longer and more difficult to track down, since many of the girls and pimps were transients.
Daniel Hamilton had been a john. He, like most johns, hadn’t spent any time in jail for his offense. However, when his name and the charges against him were published in the Globe and Mail, he’d apparently lost everything. Hamilton, the Vice President of Shale Refineries, his father-in-law’s company, was fired summarily. His wife of twenty-two years kicked him out of their house and began divorce proceedings, which she’d followed through with. His daughters, deeply embarrassed by the scandal, refused to speak with him for more than a year. His life had been ruined. Plenty of motive to want to ruin mine.
I shook my head in frustration and once again picked up the background report on Hamilton. The man had been in Dubai, working for another oil company for three months prior to and another month after the murder of Dr. Applegate. His younger daughter had moved there with him. By all accounts, he’d taken full responsibility for his indiscretions and had resurrected his life. There was no evidence that Hamilton had anything to do with the frame-up or indeed even blamed me for what had happened to him. A year ago, Daniel Hamilton had become President of ESA Oil—a company five times the size of Shale Refineries.
I took some satisfaction from the knowledge that someone had been able to rebuild their life. It was comforting to know that it could be done. I cautioned myself not to get my hopes too high for the evidentiary hearing my new lawyer had arranged. Regardless of the outcome, I would have at least one and a half days away from this place and I would get to spend several hours with my mother without bars or glass between us.
Someone had framed me and there had to have been a motive but I couldn’t find it.
There were only three people in all of Canada, besides myself, who believed that I was innocent without reservation. Robert Walters, a lawyer with CAJE—the Christian Advocates for Justice Enterprise—and also my mom’s boyfriend, had taken up our cause after re-examining all the evidence in the case against me. RCMP Staff Sergeant Jean Kirkwood, whom I’d worked with on several joint task forces, was the only law enforcement officer who had stuck by my side through the years. Jean did the legwork and provided me with reports like the one I was holding on Daniel Hamilton. Last, but certainly not least on the short list, was my mother, who had devoted her life to freeing me.
I guess there were four, if you counted the real murderer.
I put the report back into the folder and tucked it away under my bunk. Lights out would be any minute and I had a big day ahead of me in the morning. As I undressed, I tried not to think about how angry Laynie would be thirty days from now.
Rebeca’s family looks for a new life in the suburbs of Chicago. Unfortunately, the move puts Rebeca in a new home, new place, and new school right at the beginning of her high school career. Ink High presents challenges from the beginning, but none more menacing than Shelby – the aspiring “Queen of the School.” Shelby decides to make Rebeca’s life a nightmare – and succeeds, forcing the new girl into a life of seclusion and fantasy. By her sophomore year, Rebeca loses her ability to sleep and sinks further into a morass of imagination and internal pain. Why she cannot sleep presents a mystery. But, the real question lies in whether or not Rebeca can cling to any shred of a will to live.
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Saidah's Christmas memories have been warped by personal tragedy. A chance encounter brings her unexpected love and a new outlook on life.
Here's to finding love where you least expect it!
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“I don’t know why you’re being so difficult, Saidah. Just put on some clothes, run a brush through your hair and come over.”
“Maybe I don’t want to go over there. Maybe I want to sit on my couch and watch A Christmas Story back to back while I drink myself into oblivion.” As if I needed to prove my point, I loudly sipped from my mug of spiked hot chocolate.
“That’s the exact reason you need to bring your behind over here. You don’t need to be by yourself on Christmas. Especially on Christmas.”
I rolled my eyes while switching the phone from one shoulder to the other. I was comfortable, deeply implanted into the corner of my new leather couch, under a chenille throw, in my pajamas and fuzzy Christmas socks. The socks weren’t actually necessary, since it was the warmest Christmas Atlanta had seen in years, but they were red and had little green Christmas trees on them, so they were helping to ring in the holiday season as best they could.
The trees on my socks were about the only sign of cheer in my condo. It had been years since I put up a tree and decorated for the season. It had also been years since I joined Faith, my friend-as-close-as-a-sister, and her family for Christmas dinner. My new tradition wasn’t one I picked up by choice; it was a natural consequence. And I was in no hurry to change something like a natural consequence.
“I promise you, honey. I’m fine right here. Enjoy your meal and your family. Are we doing after Christmas sales on Saturday?”
Faith sighed that long, drawn out sigh that usually accompanied a roll of her dark brown eyes and pursing of her pouty lips. “Why do you have to ruin everything, you stubborn brat?”
“Wait, what? I didn’t know we were name calling on today of all days, the celebration of the birth of sweet little eight pound, six-ounce baby Jesus.”
“Yes, we’re name calling when you’re being stubborn. I was trying to surprise you. Jay is coming to dinner.”
My heart skipped a beat at the mention of him. I didn’t have to ask for a last name or a clarification on who Jay was. I knew very well, and Faith knew, too. The very thought of him brought his face to my memory—strong square jaw with the dimple in the chin, skin like whipped mousse, chiseled cheekbones, classic nose, wide-set eyes so dark they looked black and the longest, prettiest eyelashes you ever saw on a man. Always impeccably dressed and intelligent to boot.
Jay was the one that got away.
“Don’t lie to me, Faith. Jay is really coming to dinner?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Saidah. Never have, never will.”
“Well. When did that happen? How did you even get in touch with him?”
“I have my ways,” said Faith. In the background, I heard the clank of the heavy lid to her Le Creuset Dutch oven. A Le Cordon Bleu trained chef that owned a successful catering company, Faith could tear up a meal like nobody’s business. You’d swear you were dining at a five-star restaurant and be right in her dining room.
“I’m serious, Faith! How did you manage that? How do you know he’s really showing up?”
“Anthony ran into him in Nashville a few weeks ago at that conference he went to— you remember they’re in the same frat? They started talking, catching up. He works in… building design or something. Was doing pretty well, but he hinted that his wife left last year.”
“Left him? Women are giving up rich handsome men these days?”
“Girl, I guess. There was an affair, or at least that’s the vibe Anthony got from talking to him. Anyway, he seemed to be having a hard time, said something about being alone this year so Anthony invited him over. He came home and told me and that’s when I called you and asked if you were coming over.”
As stubborn as I was about spending the day in my pajamas, alone, on my leather couch, the thought of seeing Jay after all these years could be a game changer.
We’d all gone to college together at Albany State University. Jay and Anthony were line brothers in Alpha Psi Alpha. Anthony and Faith were dating and were trying to hook me up with Jay. He and I were friends, then close friends, and then one night after a party, on the walk back to the dorms, he pulled me into the shadow of a building and pressed himself against me, walking me backward until I was caught between the cold brick wall and the warm man with the racing heartbeat.
His lips pressed against mine, tentatively at first and then with a moan and a tilt of his head, deepened the kiss with an open mouth and a probe of his tongue. After a few minutes of breathless kisses and roaming hands, I pulled him from the darkness and around the corner to the side door into the building.
I dragged him to the room that Faith and I shared, that I was pretty much living in alone since she spent a lot of her time at Anthony’s place. Jay wasn’t my first, but he may as well have been. Being with him felt so different than the few guys that had stumbled through quick, awkward sex. Jay moved slowly, fluidly, I felt like we were meant to be together. There was definitely no stumbling and zero awkwardness.
After, we talked and talked, tangled up in the sheets with my cheek plastered to his warm skin. I listened to his heartbeat and splayed my fingers across his broad chest, feeling him catch his breath. I was already falling in love.
We were inseparable, except when we were with Faith and Anthony. We were those cute couples that did everything together and always hung out together. Until we weren’t.
Jay was from a small South Georgia town and the college experience seemed overwhelming to him. While he did well in classes, he wasn’t used to having so many social options. The allure of being able to date so many women was tempting. So much so that, before the end of our sophomore year and right after Anthony and Faith got engaged, Jay broke up with me.
Over the next few weeks I saw him on campus, hands tightly clasped around the waist of one girl and then another. Looking into someone else’s eyes with that gaze I used to think was reserved for me, laughing that laugh that I thought only I could bring out. I was devastated. I tried everything to get him to realize the mistake he’d made, what he was giving up and leaving behind. Jay was more interested in the next party, the next girl, the next conquest.
Faith and I graduated, and a few months later, I walked down the aisle as her Maid of Honor. Though I hadn’t seen him in years, Jay was at the wedding, as handsome as he ever was, with a beautiful cinnamon toned woman on his arm.
Twelve years later, we’d be in the same room. Him so handsome, more mature and all grown up; hurt and vulnerable from the demise of his marriage. And me so… well, me.
“So, is he still fine? And what are you making?” I made a valiant attempt at sounding nonchalant but Faith was on to me. I could almost hear the grin in her voice, knowing full well what my moments of silence represented.
“I haven’t seen him, so I don’t know. But Anthony didn’t say he’d let himself go or anything. And I’m not going all out— just a bone-in prime rib, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy, collard greens, macaroni and cheese. Maybe a wedge salad with bacon bits, some yeast rolls. Oh, and a Dulce de leche cake. And I’m thinking about whipping up a pound cake with buttercream frosting.”
“Not much? Not going all out? I just gained five pounds listening to that.”
“Dinner is at three o’clock. I’ll save you a place next to Jay. Bring some wine, a nice cabernet or merlot.”
“I already told you— what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?”
“Because I know you. And I know I can always change your mind. See you in a bit.”
My retort was cut off by a dial tone. I sucked my teeth, rolled my eyes and tossed the phone onto the couch. I stomped to the bedroom, heading straight for the closet. Dressing for this dinner was going to be of utmost importance. I hadn’t seen Jay since he paraded that woman in my face and had the nerve to be smug about it.
“Hamm…” I hummed, stepping into the closet to survey my options. “I’ll want to make a good impression… but not look like an attention whore.”
I eyed a pair of skinny jeans, dark rinse. My full figure did look ridiculously good in them, but the way Faith cooked, I would need more room than those would allow. “I need to show off my grown and sexy…. but not look thirsty.”
I thumbed through a few more options before I grabbed up a brand new black sweater dress with stylish zipper embellishment across each shoulder. It hugged my ample hips and showed off my bust in glorious fashion. At a perfect mid-thigh length, it was long enough to be classy but short enough to be sexy. I’d pair it with my over-the-knee, three-inch suede boots.
I plugged in my flatiron and turned on the shower. I was going to be a spectacle or die trying.
Time to show Jay what he’d been missing all these years.
Metatron: The Angel Has Risen
"A wild wish fulfillment juvenile romp that should be great fun for 12 year olds of any age." --Piers Anthony, New York Times bestsellingfantasy author
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Twelve-year-old Tyler Thompson has a secret: he's not a "normal" boy. After his father's tragic death, Tyler finds himself in one predicament after another, until one day he and his faithful dog Maxx fall into a cesspool of mysterious green goop.
When his grandfather bestows him with an object not from this earth, Tyler soon discovers he has strange powers. Unfortunately, so does the sinister Dr. Payne.
Together with his best friend Lukas, who also has a special ability, and Maxx, Tyler embarks on a journey to put an end to Dr. Payne's evil scheme to control the world's children. To do so, Tyler must make a life-altering choice-one that could change the world.
Metatron: The Mystical Blade
"St. John has done it again with The Mystical Blade; another novel 13 year olds of any age will really enjoy!" --Piers Anthony, New York Timesbestselling fantasy author of the Xanth series
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Thirteen-year-old Tyler Thompson is on the verge of becoming a superhero, but he must prove himself so he can earn the remainder of his superpowers and fulfill his destiny.
When his grandfather, Benjamin, is held prisoner at AREA 51, where the eternal powers are presumed to be hidden, Tyler attempts to penetrate the base's heavy security. However, Dr. Mason Payne, the evil scientist who killed Tyler's father, has insidious plans of his own.
Hunted by an unknown entity, Tyler races against the clock to retrieve the superpowers, rescue his family and help the others who are depending on him. And when all hope seems lost, help comes in a power he didn't know he possessed--a mysterious weapon known as The Mystical Blade.