Very few can see into the spiritual realm of good and evil.
Serenity Charles is a young woman given that special gift of spiritual vision. With it, she commits to fight off the powers of wickedness.
Her spiritual eyes are open to see evil deceit, and she observes demons that live within humans causing destructive behavior.
Wearing a sacred armor, Serenity (Rena), goes into battle to protect those who the demons would coldly harm or annihilate. With her shield she is protected from their flaming darts while using her sword of the Word, she cuts them asunder sending them screaming away in panic.
Three of Gods Waring Angels, Avigdor, Ariel, and Akim, are her guardians and collaborators, supporting her to accomplish a victory.
Aiden Baker, a mining boss, meets and is apparently taken by Rena’s beauty. He fights his attraction for her by either ignoring or voicing his reluctance to pursue a promising relationship. Will this angry man remain stubborn or will he chase Rena when she leaves town to return to her birthplace?
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It was dark and quiet in the house when Rena awoke with a start. Three huge golden angels stood at the foot of her bed. Dressed in white each carried a sword in a breast band around their shining bronze bodies. The angel in the middle began to communicate from his mind to hers. No words were spoken aloud to Rena, and his mouth didn’t move, yet she completely understood every word.
“My name is Avigdor, it means, the Lords Protector. These two with me are my helpers, Akim and Ariel. I am the leader in charge and will do most of the communicating. Father God has sent us to instruct you on your work and also to go everywhere with you helping to overcome the encountered evil.”
Every word received was spoken to her in the heavenly language, not English, yet she understood. She also knew demons did not know this language so it would be an extra strength.
“Come,” Avigdor motioned to her to stand. “Tonight we take you on a journey through to the spirit world. You need to behold the places of good and evil. There should be no fear because the holy armor of God is your protection.”
As he spoke, a breastplate covered her chest, with a wide belt around her waist, a helmet sat down on her head, and her feet became shod in golden boots. Through the air spun a sword that secured itself into her hand. Seeing her image in her full-length mirror, she glowed, just like the angels.
“Take your shield to guard you against the flaming darts. Be ever mindful lest you are struck.” Avigdor handed her the shield; it was enormous, big enough to cover her yet light in weight not to cause a hindrance. Strangely when holding it, she could see straight through, yet when Avigdor held it she could not. Of course, it - like her armor was spiritual and more powerful than an earthly covering or weapon.
In the time since her heavenly visitors appeared Rex remained asleep. Glancing down at him snoring Rena wondered why he didn’t wake up. He was a guard dog and liked to be a part of everything.
“He will remain here,” was spoken with authority. The angels raised their arms, flying upwards through the roof and to the open star-filled sky. Astonishingly, Rena found she could fly beside them.
Out of the earth’s dome and into the magnificent atmospheric space, her planet disappeared, left far behind. Rena propelled faster than light up into an ambiance of strange sights that continued forever. It all seemed inconceivable. They traveled in unison, with planets and stars flashing by and yet - when looking to the horizon; it always seemed the same distance away.
No words could explain what Rena saw or how she felt within herself - it was beyond words and beyond everything that she comprehended
"Durant’s story is slyly whimsical as she builds up the world of Marbryn, a world where there are many wonders, but also threats to the existence of Blue’s tribe." - Jack Magnus From Reader's Favorite.
"The Blue Unicorn…reads like old time fairy tales…where life and death choices are made…" - From Fundinmental As The Eyes See It Blog
"The gentle reminders of the importance of acceptance and maintaining a sense of self worth are artfully woven into this fun adventure tale." - From The Reading Addict Blog.
This YA book is perfect for fans of science fiction/fantasy books like Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey and The Xanth Series by Piers Anthony or illustrated fantasies like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz series of books by L. Frank Baum. Mix in some Brother's Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale themes and you're good to enter this enchanting world of the metal horn unicorn tribe.
Everybody loves unicorns! OK maybe they don't but for those who do, they will love this story about a little unicorn who was born into a tribe of magical, metal horned unicorns. The little guy has no magic and he has no metal but somehow he must save the tribe from an evil sorcerer. Read this book for teens and older readers to find out if he can do it.
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THE ENTIRE TRIBE WAS IN THE COURTYARD WAITING FOR BLUE.
He should have already arrived. Now, he was twenty minutes late and they were getting restless.
“What’s so important anyway?” Cornum grouched. He looked across the room to where Alumna and Ghel stood alone.
The oracle was whispering in hopes no one else would hear but all ears swiveled her way at, “The Moon-star is coming.”
That was real news! All the others surrounded them, talking at once.
Flustered, Alumna found a break in the questions being thrown at her to ask Ghel to go see what was taking Blue so long.
Upon entering their stall, the gold-horned unicorn noticed something fluttering on the desk. It was the letter for her from Blue.
“Oh no," she cried, after reading it. “He’s left alone!”
She put on the necklace he had left her and raced out of the Halstable.
“He can’t be very far away yet. I’ll find him and bring him back,” she said to herself. She did not think it would take long so she left without alerting the others.
Ghel followed Blue’s hoof tracks for many miles until they ended in the hard rocky dirt. Looking up, she realized she was completely lost. She moved forward, stretching her neck to look around and tripped on a sharp rock jutting from the ground.
The sweet scent of blood flowing from a gash on her knee caught the attention of a very hungry manticore. He followed the smell until he came upon a natural land bridge right at the north-western point of the Kinubalu Desert. The bridge was a short-cut across a deep, wide canyon. It ended near the edge of the Guarded Forest.
On the other side of the canyon, the manticore saw a blue unicorn standing a few feet from a thick green wall made up of huge spiky vines.
“There’s my prey,” the manticore grunted, thinking the unicorn was trapped.
He dashed across the bridge, hoping to catch the unaware unicorn. Halfway across, he skidded to a stop. “What happened to the scent of blood?” he wondered. It was gone and he was confused.
As he tried to figure it out, the vines loosened up and opened a space just big enough for the unicorn to step through. “Arrgh! Lost him,” he groaned, as the thorned vines closed up tight. His empty belly rumbled.
The blue unicorn was safe. The Guarded Forest would not let a predator like the manticore in. Disappointed at losing his dinner, the beast turned back across the bridge.
To his delight, the scent of blood reappeared. Just a few yards away was the gold-horned unicorn, head down, stumbling his direction. She was wounded, paying no attention her surroundings.
The manticore wetted his lips. This one would make a good meal and there was no way she could escape.
A shiver ran along Ghel's spine. She felt like someone or something was watching every stumbling step she took. Intense fear gripped her heart, making it beat faster. “Something dangerous is out there and it’s close,” she thought.
She stopped and looked around, trying to find the source of the danger.
The manticore smiled to see how fear made her eyes glow white against her honey-colored coat. He smiled because fear gave the meat a better flavor. Abruptly, he asked, "Do you want a moment to say your prayers before I send you to your maker?"
Ghel's eyes snapped up to meet those of the ugly beast. The look she saw frightened her out of her wits. There was no way to escape.
"Oh, where can Nix be?" she blurted out. "Doesn't he know I'm in serious danger?"
Nix always arrived in the nick of time when a unicorn was in trouble. His powerful horn could detect a unicorn in distress from twenty miles away.
Indeed, Nix did detect that Ghel was in big trouble all the way from the crowded Great Room of the Halstable. A huge warning tingle forced Nix’s head to swing abruptly around. His nickel horn aimed in the direction of Ghel like a compass needle.
With a shake of his dark gray mane, he nodded a salute to Silubhra, saying, "Ghel is in danger but never fear, I will rescue her in the nick of time.” A blaze of light filled the air with silvery sparkles as he disappeared into the brightness.
Upon hearing Ghel’s words, the manticore twisted his neck around, trying to see who she was talking about. Seeing nothing, he thought, “The silly thing has taken leave of her senses!”
Laughter boomed from his terrible throat. It stopped when he caught glimmers of light just behind the frightened filly.
When Nix fully materialized, he took note of the dangerous situation, saying, "Stand aside, Ghel, while I nix that needle!"
The manticore had heard of Nix, the great unicorn defender. He skittered away in fright, trying to escape. Nix aimed a powerful blast from his nickel horn toward the brute. It was meant to destroy the scorpion stinger at the end of its tail but Nix missed his target.
The land bridge was hit instead. It loudly crumbled away into the giant hole it had spanned. The short cut across the canyon was completely destroyed.
Nix was angry he had accidentally destroyed the only easy path to the Guarded Forest. He caught up to the manticore and tapped his stinger with his spiraled horn. To the manticore’s horror, the tip of his tail completely disappeared.
“Now beat it buster, before I nix your nose, too,” Nix said, looking fierce.
The manticore answered meekly, "Thank-you, kind sir, thank-you," then ran away on jellied knees, with what remained of his tail tucked protectively between his legs.
Part espionage thriller, part romance, part fantasy, part adventure, ‘Notoriously Naked Flames’ is Mike Steeden’s first novel. Spanning the lead up to WW2, the war itself and into the early 1950’s the unnamed heroine of the piece, a bewitching albino of Bohemian bent, masquerades in all manner of risqué guises dishing out her own version of clandestine justice to those evils souls spawned of conflict’s disregard for compassion, law and order. Additionally, she also finds herself nursing her lover, a giant of an Englishman once in the employ of MI5, back to a semblance of his former self following his torture at the hands of Cold War Soviets that had left him deaf, mute and blind. Her task is made a little easier with the help an Eastern European girl she befriended in bizarre circumstance.
Together the trio of ‘notoriously naked flames’ take on life in all its demonstrative disguises while the racy heroine keeps under wraps the tale of her otherworldly evolution for were it to become known to the public at large it might just invalidate religion as we know it and bring forth a new Dark Age. Can she keep safe her secret?
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EARLY SUMMER 1952 – SUSSEX, ENGLAND
She examines her defenceless giant searchingly as he bathes. He, the one who is a portrayal of rare full-fledged innocence, and wonders if the macrocosm inside his head replicates the one outside of hers. She hopes against hope that locked within exists a rainbow’s multi-coloured arc, or is all this lost upon the extraordinary self, empty of speech, hearing and sight, unaware that gesture is the only language he bestows. Touch and smell his native inside-out lone connection.
She communicates as best she can. Upon his awakening, she is always there. Her ‘hello of sorts’ a lover’s tangled tongue kiss. No passion though, they are no longer the passing lovers they once were. More that the sharing of her unique taste serves to let him perceive her, recognize her. Always has him gift a beaming smile just for her. She wears the self-same perfume each new day also, it helps him identify her proximity.
With no great difficulty she aids him out of the bath, warm towels, warm heart care. Time for drying and dressing, though the palaver of dressing irks him, induces a frown. Regardless he is immune to nakedness within his ambushed consciousness, his curious dominion. Not for him the embarrassment of the earthly collective.
The sun shone the day before. Albeit keeping a caring eye open, she chose to let him wander the lawn, uncovered. From nowhere a summer storm brewed, small hailstones. She watched as he held out his palms, threw his head back, greeted the spheres of water ice, an air of amazement, no suffering.
The eternal ‘what next’ frustrates her day; muddles her mood. She undresses, calculates he may have no recollection that human beings come in two packages. Her hands upon his chest, fingers spread wide, sensation of touch inviting. Invitation accepted, he mirrors her actions, stroke for stroke, his look curious, questioning, captivated. No folly in innocent exploration.
A telephone outside of his realm rings. Might be important, she pulls away. Notices he sheds a single loaded tear, from which continent of emotion it heralds, likely she will never unearth.
He has been this way ever since she rescued him.
Some mystics believe we choose our name, along with our life's lessons, before we are born. The name we select becomes our constant guide, helping us to navigate the journey ahead. In her memoir, A Girl Named Truth, Alethea explores the subjective nature of truth while she untangles the uncomfortable wrap of narratives she was raised on. Her name serves as her beacon, guiding her to heal and find the inner voice of her own truth. The author's story begins with her formative years, when her mother left her father and went into hiding with the Hare Krishnas. Months later, the young Alethea finds herself living 3,000 miles away from her extended family, trying to love a new father and forget the one she has left behind. Only she never forgets...A Girl Named Truth is a story of loss, love and the redemptive power of awakening a silenced voice.
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MY MOTHER TOLD me she found my name, Alethea, in a book. In my child-mind I created a tome perfumed with age, adding gilded pages over the years. Sometimes I imagined stories, filled with strong and beautiful goddesses, and smiled with the thought that I was held inside pages I had never read.
“It’s Greek,” my mother told me, “for truth.”
When I opened the book inside the room of my mind, I watched the pages unfold like the wings of a butterfly, and waited for a girl named truth to manifest into form.
I never doubted the origin of my name, until one winter afternoon when I was thirty-six. That day, alone in my New Hampshire home, I cupped a phone to my ear and listened to my father’s words as he spoke from three thousand miles away inside a small ivory bungalow on the coast of Washington state.
“Did I ever tell you where your name came from?” he asked.
“No,” I said, my heart beginning to race his words. “I always thought it came from a book.”
My father’s nervous chuckle mixed with his words. “No, we got the idea from a TV show. Your mother and I used to watch a series called ‘Kung Fu’ together,” he said with another soft laugh that sounded almost like an apology. “It was popular in the 70s. There was an episode with a little girl named Alethea the year you were born.”
I scoured the drawers of the coffee table for a pencil and a pad of paper to record my father’s words, while my heart searched for a steady rhythm. This was not the same truth I had clung to all these years. The tome I had held close to my heart was beginning to disintegrate with the words of my father.
Later, after I hung up the phone, I Googled the episode my father had referenced. The words on the screen shifted me into another reality: “ ‘Kung Fu’ Alethea, 1973.” I clicked the YouTube link below the image and prepared to watch and listen.
Against a backdrop of daisies, the name Alethea appeared in orange ink, followed by Jodi Foster as a young girl plucking the strings of a mandolin atop a rocky cliff. I watched the spunky blonde actress I had always admired boldly follow the stranger she had just met, the traveling Shaolin priest Caine, played by David Carradine.
“They call me Leethe,” she told him as she extended her hand in greeting, “but my real name is Miss Alethea Patricia Abrahams.”
My mind traveled back in time thirty years to when my paternal grandmother, Grammie, used to call me Leethe.
She could almost be me, I thought as I watched Jodi Foster, if my hair had been lighter and I had been a child with courage. Here before me was a girl who seemed to live without fear, yet we both shared the burden of a name that meant “truth.” Neither of us could escape the weight of what it stood for.
Like the fictional Alethea, I struggled with the concept of truth. As a young child, if I told a lie, which was not often, I thought of my name. When I detected someone else’s lie, I thought of my name. Alethea. It was my anchor, it was my legacy, and it was my compass. Now my name was guiding me through the stormy seas of my past as I tried to redefine myself against the truths I was raised on.
I heard the words of the falsely imprisoned Caine reassure the young Alethea, “Do not condemn yourself for telling the truth,” while men outside the building banged nails into the gallows being built to hang him.
My mind swirled back into the past, remembering a childhood lived inside the shadows of secrets and truths I didn’t want to believe, before I heard Caine’s voice again, “Each step we take is built on what has gone before.” I watched as the character Alethea discovered how truth is often a matter of perception, and can be clouded by emotions and fears.
“The people of Greece have a name for truth,” Caine’s words rang clear and strong. “Alethea. Alethea is a girl who loves the truth.”
As Caine disappeared down the dusty road toward his next adventure, Alethea became a girl with light-brown hair and dark-blue eyes shadowed by distrust; a girl who created a shield of her mother’s words, blocking out her inner truth.
I thought of the stories my mother had told me of a life before I was old enough to remember it, and began to compare them to the new stories I was receiving from my father. In so many ways, they did not fit together. Now I tried to imagine my parents before my mother decided she hated my father. They must have been happy, I realized, for at least a little while.
Instead of a sad young woman with long, brown braids sitting on an old tapestried couch reading a book against her swollen belly with my one-year-old sister, Tara, clung beside her, I saw a family of three gathered on a sofa, watching a small TV perched atop a wooden crate. I even allowed my parents to touch hands and smile as they looked into each other’s eyes and shared the same thought, Alethea, we’ll name our child Alethea, if she is another girl. For truth.
Dr Beth Nichols thinks she has been held captive by Edwin Evans for about 8 or 9 years now. Amidst her grief she often looks back and thinks about her fiancée Liam; theirs was the greatest romance of all. She lays awake at night staring at the one light bulb that is never switched off, and prays that he is still out there somewhere searching for her...
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MY HEAD IS pounding, and a bright light above ensures I quickly have to close my eyes again. Feeling nauseated, I lie still, using my other senses to try and recognise sounds or a particular aroma which could confirm to me that I am still in the accommodation unit. However, I can hear nothing at all; not even the usual birdsong, and there is an unaccountably earthy, damp smell. Suddenly curious, I fight sickness and confusion to sit up and take note of my surroundings.
I have no idea where I am. I am lying on top of a double bed. It is not the bed where I wrap myself contentedly around Liam. There is a duvet beneath me covered with a surprisingly clean-looking lilac flowery cover, which is complete with matching sheets and pillow cases. There does not seem to be any other furniture. There are no windows, and the bare bulb above my head is the only source of light.
Slightly panicky now and ignoring the increased hammering in my brain, I stand up shakily on the cold, concrete floor. The room is quite small, and I reach the only visible door after taking just a few steps. It is not the sort of door that I could break down. I turn the handle, but it refuses to yield.
I am locked in. I want to scream in fright, but stop myself at the last moment from sliding into rampant hysteria. I reason that whoever is keeping me in the room against my will would not want me making too much noise which might alert searchers to my location. I figure that I need to keep on the right side of my captor.
Deep in the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes lies a monument hidden for centuries. Who were the builders? Why was it abandoned? What secrets does it reveal?
In 1953, an amateur rock climber makes a startling discovery. Overwhelmed by the choices he must make, the mountaineer completes his ascent deciding he will document his findings and present them to his superiors as soon as possible. It will take another fifty years before anyone reads what he wrote.
In 2004 news of the strange revelation reaches Drake Alexander. He will become involved whether he likes it or not. People very dear to him are plunged into a nightmare of avarice, impairment and death. Using all his skills as an ex-soldier, with accomplices he can trust, can he save his tormented friends from the raiders that thirst for the secret that lies within the mountains?
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The Andes, Peru Early summer.
Father Suetonius Graft is no ordinary priest. Presently he has his left fist jammed vertically in a horizontal crack that splits the granite face he is ascending. The open seam stretches upward for seventeen meters or more, tapering to a sliver that is still seventy meters away from the top of the mountain. His toes nip a five centimeter ledge, left over from a stone slab that split from the heaving rock millennia ago. His calves, like the rest of his lean body, are chiselled muscle. They strain from holding his weight on his toes. He reaches up with his right hand to search for another hand hold; there is nothing he can see. Needing to rest, he needs to find a better position than he is in now. He’s been climbing since early morning, stopping only when he absolutely has to.
His fingers search for a grip as he brushes his hand across the flat surface. A familiar feeling of unease touches him, as it has since he was a boy. He closes his eyes for several seconds and asks God where his hand should go, thanks Him for His guidance and if there is no hand-hold to be had, thanks Him for his life. Prayer has never failed him, not in the thirty-seven years since he scrambled up a rock pile when he was five. He had gotten stuck then. A boyish prayer to his guardian angel had given him confidence to find a way back down. He feels the same presence that rescued him then. He waves his hand over the hard face once more. This time his fingers sweep away ancient debris from an indent in the rock with enough room for four fingers up to the second knuckle. He latches on to the hold just as his lower legs begin to quiver from exertion. Taking most of his weight on his hands and arms, he relaxes his legs. Semi relief is instantaneous and he hangs there motionless for five minutes, his sweaty forehead pressed against the warm rock, thanking the Lord for His benevolence, for delivering him one more time.
As he clings to the sheer plate that rises over two hundred meters from the forest floor, the afternoon sun ricochets off his ebony skin, defining the musculature of his lengthy frame. His upper body is clad in perspiration that makes thin rills down his back, his chest and under his arms. The blue handkerchief with white polka dots, folded and tied around his tight curls, stops the flow from his smooth brow. He wears tattered climbing shorts that cover his thighs to the knees, all six pockets bulging. At his waist along his back, attached to a thin leather belt, is a pouch that holds climbing chalk. Powdered handprints left on the route up attest to the bag’s contents being well used. A white t-shirt is tied around his midsection. His legs end in thin wool socks tucked into custom, rubber-toed climbing shoes he designed. No other gear is attached to him: no pitons, no hammer, no clips. Around his neck hangs a polished, golden, curb link chain. Between his chest and the stone is a gold cross that his father gave him when he was ordained. He never, ever takes it off.
As his arms begin to weary, he looks up, trying to see a more appropriate spot where he can rest. Shadows creep up the mountain behind him as the sun begins its descent. Suetonius can see an opening about ten meters above to his right. A section of the plates that form these mighty mounds have created a crevice. He hadn’t been able to see it from below or with the sun shining directly on it. From where he hangs now, it looks to be wide enough for him to sit in. He sighs with relief. Concentrating on his next move, he sights an approach to the cavity. Once he is clear on his route, he pulls up with his hands, his arms straining until he can reach his foot into the same crack he has a taped fist in. He wedges his toes in sideways, pushing up to test its grip. As his body slowly rises he wiggles the lodged hand out and forces it as high as he can reach. It will be the last fist hold he uses because the crack starts to widen from there. But he knows it is all he will need.
With deft manoeuvers and risky placement, he is on the ledge forty-five minutes later. He can stand upright in the cleft, it being wider, with more head room than he originally thought. He leans back against the rock, which is refreshingly cool. The lip of the outer slab covers him from the sun. Studying the grain of the granite in front of him, he glances overhead at the slab at his back, marvelling that the two faces have identical marks and slices. Obvious they were one piece sometime in the past. He is in awe at the massive force that would have pushed these imposing mountains from the earth’s crust, cleaving solid rock as easily as if it were wood. He crosses himself in respect for God’s ways.
Sitting down on the rough ledge, his feet hang over the edge. Breathing deeply of the unsullied air, the scent of cold stone pleases him; the silence is complete. He looks out over the Peruvian scenery that poses before him. The narrow valley that leads back to the Malaga Pass is a mere indent in the landscape. Mountains, many gigantic, many shorter and greener fill the horizon. The smaller mountain he is perched on, a short distance east of Ollantaytambo, west of Machu Picchu, is over three hundred and fifty meters from the valley floor, over three thousand meters above sea level. The face he discovered is obscure, its access hindered by dense forest and abundant ancient scree. He felt led to this particular dome and he relishes the difficult work he’s accomplished over the past month to finally get where he is at this moment.
As his body rests, his thoughts sweep back to the rocks of his youth – the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, the Appalachians that puncture the southeast states. He climbed for the sheer joy of contact with the stone. It was at those moments he felt closest to God, when he felt his calling into the priesthood, when it opened his heart to possibilities, to humbleness, to majesty, to sharing and giving. When he clings perilously to a sheer stone wall, there is never any fear of falling, only a pure sensation of rising above the bounds imposed by gravity, above the bounds of personal limitations. To this very day, his best sermons are those that come from his moments with the open sky and the silent crags, and the peace that comes from times alone. His days off are often spent climbing or scouting for climbs. A grin crosses his slender face as he thinks how far he has come from a dormant village in Tennessee to the mountains of Peru.
His parents come to mind, both dead for the last three years, his father went first, at seventy-six, from cancer; his mother two years later at seventy-four. How he loved them. He was so proud of them, his father the first black fireman on the town of Raven Hollow’s pay roll. He recalls the marvellous sight of his Pap in his new uniform, buttons and brass as polished as his pure black skin. His Spanish-speaking mother was Cuban. She was originally a domestic, had shown a natural dexterity for numbers. She worked for the same employer all her life, first as his wife’s personal maid starting when she was only fifteen. But when she was twenty, she moved into the offices to learn bookkeeping, retiring many years later as office manager. They taught him and his five siblings to persevere, never give up on their goals. He missed them.
With that last thought, he rises from his seat thinking to scale the final stretch to the top, not too worried about time. He still has five or six hours of sunlight. He wants to check the rock overhead, looking for the best route up, and he backs into the crevice so he can see past a slight overhang just above him. He doesn’t look behind him because the inner slab looked to be part of the outer slab that forms the walls around him. But when he steps back, he feels a weak breeze stirring behind him. He looks past the back wall to see an opening that rises ten meters off the split but it’s only twenty-five centimeters wide. He isn’t a caver, a spelunker, so openings in the rock face hold little interest for him. Attempting to ignore it, a shiver prickles his skin, telling him to take a look. Removing a small flashlight from his pocket, he clicks the button to reveal a sharp, straight beam.
Poking the ray of light into the darkness, it is swallowed six meters in. The walls seem to open, moving apart from each other. The ceiling is nowhere in sight, too high and too dark for the penetrating glare. Rocks litter the floor, small and large; cobwebs in the hundreds decorate the interior, and the acidic smell of bat guano is present. The spooky emptiness is oddly inviting, like an entity that calls to him. An aroma of cold dust and aged memories wafts through the black passage. Father Graft tries to ignore his inner voice’s prodding, about to give up on the cave when his sweeping light falls upon something familiar, the skeleton of a human hand.
The bones are projecting from the base of a large boulder as if reaching for freedom. The curled finger bones are intact, tarsal and meta-tarsal pointed to the roof. Suetonius stares at the sight for many moments, never having considered that he’d not been the first to climb this face. His curiosity takes him deeper. Behind the boulder, the skeleton continues, two sets of tibia and fibula with feet attached complete the scene. The man or woman had been crushed by a falling rock. Who it was would never be known. What he may have been doing here would soon become evident.
Father Graft moves his light in a pendulating arc across the floor. The cavern widens out; narrow cracks punctuate the floor that he realizes is too smooth and level to be natural. He carefully watches where he walks. Stones of every size litter the passage, a reminder that the mountain’s insides are unstable, probably not safe. Shortly the ingress takes a sharp turn, opening into a wider grotto. He continues a short distance until the point of his torch touches upon something familiar on the floor to his right: a crude hammer. Its stone head is attached to a wooden handle, with curling strips of dried leather binding the two together. Holding the light directly on the implement, he stares at it for several moments; its obvious antiquity stuns him. What he is about to discover will floor him.
He lifts the light to the right, discovering a stone shelf that runs along the wall to disappear into the pitch. It comes almost to his waist. The width varies with the roughness of the stone it has been carved out of. It is cluttered with many more hammers of different sizes, with metal chisels clothed in verdigris. Odd implements he doesn’t recognize and loose rock fill the space. The spider’s traps are abundant. Scanning the collection, he tries to estimate the historical significance of what he has uncovered. He senses they are very old. But how old? Are they Incan, Quechan, Chanca? Why here? What were they building? The discovery uncovers so many questions. He checks his watch, sees he has been in here for only twenty minutes. He decides he will look around another half hour before leaving.
He directs the flashlight beam across the floor, checking for cracks, when off to the far left it reveals a stone berm. The delicate and precise crafting can only have been made by the most skilled of artisans. It is obviously Incan stone work. He has been in Peru for almost three years; Incan history fascinates him. He visited the ruins, listened to the lore, and devoted his reading time to their history. Their skills with chisels and wet sand astonish him. Reflecting on that, he judges this is the same work that he saw at Machu Piccu, likely over six hundred years old. He lifts the sliver of light upward.
There is a stone pedestal on the berm that holds what appears to be a tremendous slab almost like a wall rising into the bleakness above, it has to be three to four meters high, he estimates. He flashes his light briefly inside the cavern ahead of himself to see berm, pedestal and slab continue beyond the reach of his light. He brings the beam back to the wall in front of him. When he moves it up, he steps back, eyes wide in shock at what he sees. Even through the dust of ages, through the fine patina that masks the surface, he can detect, carved ornately into the facade of the flat wall, a huge warrior with battle axe raised above his head. Fine detail riddles the helmet fitted on his head. The figure stands with a fractured shield, armour dressing his lower limbs. One leg is raised, with a sandaled foot resting on a fallen foe. The body of the fighter’s enemy lies at his feet, the severed head close by. Father Graft wheezes into the gloom, “It’s a wall of war.”
Focusing the light down the wall, he can see other battles, other defeated opponents depicted in gruesome realness. The enormity of this definitive carving, an epic battle etched in something solid by hand, is too much. His heart races, his breathing becomes shallow. He has to sit down, he tells himself. And then he almost faints. His legs buckle; he drops to his knees, trying to control his breathing. His dropped flashlight rolls up to the berm and goes out.
He panics briefly but control learnt from his climbing calms him. He slowly moves into a sitting position, never taking his eyes off the spot where the light came to rest. The berm is less than two meters away, but the darkness is almost complete like on a moonless night. Very little light comes from the opening. He trembles lightly. He speaks to God in a small voice: “I’m humbled that you chose me to discover this relic, to find this evidence of Peru’s tumultuous past. I can only be your servant. I have no idea who to tell, where to go, but I will follow your lead, dear Father. Please show me what to do. Amen.”
His soft inflection barley echoes in the chamber.
He returns to his knees and creeps towards the wall until he touches the lowest stones. Shifting his hand to the right along the base, he finds nothing. In the opposite direction he hits the bottom of the light and it blinks two or three times. He grabs the flashlight with relief. As he shakes it gently, the light flashes again. Checking the battery cover, he finds it loose and gives it a twist. It springs back to life.
Rising, he walks towards the opposite end of the wall. There are three other warriors in similar battle array, similar poses, with defeated men who have all succumbed to hideous wounds. The victors bear different weapons: a bow, a sling, a spear. He notices each soldier is posed in a victorious stance, his attention focused towards the center of the grand wall. He recognizes them as Inca soldiers.
Seven meters in from where he started, an even larger figure rises taller than all the others. Suetonius shuffles closer, shining his light upwards. The carving is of a robed man. Taking root from the neck of his tunic are two heads bearing crowns. From each, the same face stares out at the girded greeting at his sides. The tip of his spear looms over his head, extending above the top lip of the wall. Father Graft stares deeply at the faces, which are stoic and unemotional, not at all war-like. The body of the man is wonderfully formed. It is hard to fathom that it was carved by hand. His bewilderment is intensified with every sweep of his eyes.
Another stretch of the wall, displaying carvings of equal skill and dexterity, is of mighty men still at battle. Each Incan warrior fights a different enemy. Some of their opponents wear odd dress, some wear none at all. All convey killing weapons and fierce glares. Father Graft notes that the carvers, likely Incan, paid respect to their enemies by not featuring them as weak. He retreats to inspect the fallen men on the left panel again, noting that on this wall also the enemies are different. It’s a marvellous display. Could it be a monument to the central figure, he asks himself? Why is it hidden in this mountain?
His questions are many, creating a traffic jam in his skull. He closes his eyes again, shaking his head. He feels dizzy for a moment and reaches out to catch himself as his arm automatically lifts towards the monolith. Where his hand comes to rest on the cold plate, he can feel the roughness of the carving. He reaches up with his other hand to hold his cross tightly in his grip as he tries to think what to do. He remembers he only has so many hours of sunlight to reach the mountaintop and he has yet to walk back to his car. His mind clears thinking of the climb before him. He knows concentration is vital. He pushes himself from the wall, checking his watch. He’s been in here for over an hour. He should go.
Turning to head, he glimpses the flash of his light reflected by the spot where his hand brushed away the patina. He gapes at what he sees and slowly focuses on the blotch.
“It can’t be!” He exclaims. “It’s unimaginable.”
To confirm his analysis of what he thought was stone, he turns the ray of the flashlight at the cross on his chest. The reflection is the same.
“Oh, dear Lord. It’s gold!”
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.