A Divided Mind
For everyone’s concern about me hurting myself or someone, cutting into a frozen frog didn’t prompt any crazed thoughts. Now the kid next to me who kept tapping me on the shoulder like he had a nervous tick, he deserved a beatdown just for annoying me.
“Branson, help me out. What is this?” He pointed to a part of the frog.
“For the hundredth time, it’s the liver.”
“Oh, that makes sense.”
I was identifying the other parts of Kermit’s anatomy when tick boy tapped me again on the shoulder.
“What?” I glared at him and he backed away. That sudden jolt of anger triggered the shadow people. I shook my head, but it was still there. I saw a shadow of a person pick up the scalpel and attack tick boy with exact precision, cutting him across the throat. The only color I could see was red.
Shoes on the Stairs
Back in the kitchen, Brad stood at the counter, amused by something on his phone while he sipped his coffee.
“Did you see this on Facebook?” He turned his phone screen in my direction.
“I haven’t been on Facebook in ages. Too busy for that time-suck.”
But truthfully, it wasn’t the time that kept me away as much as it was the lives of my “friends”, which always sounded monumentally better than my own, that stopped me from scrolling through the pages. The job promotions; the endless pictures of exotic vacations; the perfect children doing perfect things; the perfect, perfect lives everyone seemed to live. Everything and everyone were perfect on Facebook, and although deep down I knew no one lived the utopian life they portrayed on social media, the braggery still ate at me and left holes of inadequacy and unhappiness.
“Bridget Radcliff just published a novel. Isn’t she a friend of yours?”
“What?” I glanced at Brad’s phone. Bridget’s post made its way to his page from a friend of a friend of a friend in the small, claustrophobic world of fake-believe.
“Looks like it made it onto Amazon’s bestseller list.”
“Wow, fantabulous,” I said without an ounce of energy in my voice. “Another smut novel makes it onto the bestseller list. And if you must know, she’s an acquaintance, not a friend.”
I didn’t know if it was really a smut novel, but I assumed it was only because I couldn’t imagine Bridget writing anything else. But this, I admit, was one of my flaws. I assumed a lot about everything. I assumed I’d marry a prince and become a princess. I assumed I knew everything there was to know at fifteen. I assumed I’d want sex every day for the rest of my life and my marriage to Brad would be like living inside a rainbow every day. I assumed I wouldn’t miss my career when I stayed home to raise the kids. I assumed my children would be the best at everything because I assumed I would be the best mother there ever was. But now, even with all I knew about assumptions, about how they are idealistic dreams I refused to prove wrong, I still gave them weight in my life. Why would assuming Bridget wrote something scandalous be any different?
A little jealousy bounced within me. Even with Bridget being a divorced mother of two, she somehow found the time to write a best-selling novel. And that picture of her on Brad’s phone, all trim and sunshiny-beautiful holding her book, lit a fuse in me, or maybe it was already lit but had met the nitroglycerine.
In any case, I was ready to explode. I moved to the sink and gazed out the window, counting slowly to ten, fully aware of the emptiness growing within me. Each person’s success reminded me of my own career as a teacher I’d willingly given up for this.
Title: Midnights & Mimosas
Series: Drinking #2
Author: R.L. Griffin
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: July 26, 2019
Is there really such a thing as a quarter life crisis? You bet your ass there is. We should be married, maybe with kids, have a great job - but have a body like you donât, and have our lives all figured out. There is this existential pressure on women to have it all and do it all. Even if you rebuff this pressure, subconsciously, itâs still there. Middle fingers up to assumptions about where we should all be with our lives at a certain point. Am I right?
Iâm Laura Kincaid. The last year of my life has been what dreams are made of, but I think Iâve forgotten my own dreams. My best friend and I traveled across the country with no responsibilities. However, the lack of structure and routine got to me, and now Iâm a little lost and I canât figure out why. Iâm a planner, a doer, and a lover of all things sparkly. My quarter life crisis started one night when I realized I was in love. Donât worry, reading about my hot mess will make you feel better about yours.
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R.L. lives in the Atlanta area with her husband, son, and dog. After going to law school at American University, Washington College of Law, she settled back in the state in which she grew up but only after she fell in love with D.C. She worked in the Senate during the impeachment trial and the Department of Justice. She writes romantic suspense, romantic comedy, psychological thriller and coming of age books. You never know what you're going to get.
Title: Extra Innings
Author: Lynn Stevens
Genre: YA Sports Romance
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber Designs
Publisher: Siren Press
Publication Date: September 18th, 2018
ictoria Hudson is a seventeen-year-old with a passion for baseball. When her grandmother buys a new house in the city, Vic discovers a way to play the game for the first time since getting kicked out of little league. She just has to move in with her hippie grandmother and make sure her father, a U.S. Senator and prospective Presidential candidate, doesnât find out what sheâs up to over the summer break.
After proving her abilities on the field, she catches the attention of Daniel Cho, the teamâs catcher. Everything seems to be falling apart, and yet falling into place. Vic settles into a life sheâs always wanted, that of a normal teenage girl. But Victoria Hudson is anything but normal. Once the press learns that the potential First Daughter is crossing the gender line to play baseball, Vic is thrust back into the spotlight and making headlines. The life she tries so hard to get away from simply wonât leave her alone.
Lynn Stevens flunked out of college writing her first novel. Yes, she still has it and no, you can't read it. Surprisingly, she graduated with honors at her third school. A former farm girl turned city slicker turned suburbanite, Lynn lives in the Midwest where she drinks coffee and sips tea when she's out of coffee. Sheâs the author of Full Count and Game On..
Top of the 1st
Acid waved in my stomach, reaching for the peak of my throat.
Stop it. You can do this. Just go at it like you own the place. Stride up to the coach like Mom does when sheâs on the donation hunt.
The fields sat at the southern end of Jackson Memorial Park: one for softball, one for baseball. I had parked on the baseball side by a beat-up orange truck. The boys were already there, tossing balls and joking loud enough that I heard them through the closed windows of my car. Thankfully, the softball field was empty. Taking a deep breath, I climbed out of the car, pulling my equipment from the backseat.
Maybe it was my BMW, or maybe it was me, but the only sound I heard as I stalked toward the field were birds chirping to one another. No doubt the guys recognized a girl when they saw one. Mother Nature blessed me a bit too much in the boob department for anybody to mistake me as a boy.
I strode onto the soft dirt of the field and straight toward the older man with the clipboard. Coach Bernie Strauss stared back at me. He was easily six-eight with tree trunk legs and arms that UFC fighters would die for. He looked more like a Marine Corps drill instructor than a summer league baseball coach. I totally wanted to test him by shouting âSemper Fi.â
I stopped in front of him, waiting for what I knew was coming.
âSoftball practice ended about twenty minutes ago.â He sounded like he ate gravel for breakfast.
âIâm not here to play softball, Coach.â I straightened my back and channeled my motherâs unbending confidence. âIâm here to help you win the city championship this year.â
No one laughed like I expected. So I exhaled, relaxed. Big mistake.
âGet off my field. I ainât got time for this,â he shouted loud enough that birds scattered from a nearby tree. Coach Strauss turned his back to me and continued to bark at the team. âIf you donât get back to practice, youâll be running laps in three â¦ two â¦â His slight Texan accent made the âyouâsâ sound like âyaâsâ.
The boys started throwing and stretching again, but they didnât stop watching us.
âCoach ââ I began.
âI ainât your coach.â
I lost my cool, just like my father. âThis is bullcrap. Look at your registration sheet.â He didnât, so I snatched the clipboard from him and pointed. âSee the name Vic Hudson? Well, thatâs me. I paid to play. And I fully intend to. It isnât against the rules.â
Coach ripped the clipboard from my fingers and flipped to another page. I waited. He read. I tapped my foot. Thatâs not nearly as dramatic on a dirt infield. The boys stopped warming up again.
He looked me up and down. âFine. Iâll give you a shot, Hudson. You suck and youâre gone.â
âI can deal with that.â
âGet out there.â He pointed at a tall, super skinny boy. âDelvin, warm her up.â
I tossed my bag into the dugout and jogged onto the field. It didnât take me long to figure out why Coach Strauss told Delvin to warm up with me. He kicked his leg like a pitcher and tossed a pretty nasty fastball. If I had to guess, he could hit ninety from the mound on a good day. It wouldâve been stupid if I said anything, even though every ball he threw at me stung my fingers like tiny pricks of a hundred safety pins. I didnât even try to throw my hardest. I warmed up like it was any other day.
Then he began stepping back. One step here, then another.
I threw hard and high to make my point. Delvin had to reach to get it. He may throw harder, but I can throw farther.
âAlrighâ, get in here,â Coach yelled. He raised his eyes at Delvin, who shrugged. âI know most of you from last year. We only got two potential newbies. Oneâs a girl. Anyone got a problem with that?â
If they did, they sure as hell werenât going to tell Coach Strauss.
âGood. I expect you to treat her like youâd treat anybody else.â He looked at me and softened his tone. âWhat position do you play, honey?â
âThird.â I glared at him. He smirked then turned back to the team. Before he could open his mouth, I said, âAnd Iâm not your honey.â
His head snapped back like heâd taken a right hook to the cheek. âExcuse me?â
I pointed at Delvin. âDo you call him âhoneyâ?â
Delvinâs cheeks glowed light pink with either rage or embarrassment. I didnât know which and really didnât care.
Coach didnât answer me though. His chin grew beet red, which crept up his cheeks all the way to his pale yellow crew cut. Steam came out of every clogged pore on his face as he yelled, âEverybody at third. Jayden, get your ass to first.â He sneered at me and I expected to get kicked off the field. âWeâre going to field some grounders and see who handles them best. Iâll hit you three then rotate. Hudson, ladies first.â
Crap. Me and my big mouth. Heâs going to either hit me a line drive at a hundred miles an hour or make me go so far out of range that I make an ass of myself.
I jogged to third and dug my cleats into the stubborn dirt. The rest of the guys lined up along the fence, amused grins matching Straussâs own jack-o-lantern expression. Coach tossed the ball into the air.
I jumped spread eagle and dropped my glove between my legs, catching the line drive. I came down ready to throw to first, but Jayden wasnât on the bag. He stood three steps off with his mouth open. Smiling, I rolled the ball back to home plate.
Coach didnât give me time to get back into position when he hit a grounder to my left. In a game, the shortstop wouldâve played it, but this was a different type of game. I dove and knocked it down. My throw to first was in the dirt, but I was on my butt when I whipped it across the infield. That shouldnât be held against me. It was an almost impossible play.
The last ball went up the line. I hustled and wouldâve had it clean until it hit the bag. It took a nasty bounce that was nearly out of reach. I jumped and brought it down barehanded, throwing to first off balance as I fell into foul territory.
I stood up without looking to see if Jayden caught it and walked to the fence to wait for my next turn. The guys gawked at me as I leaned against the fence, ignoring them. Iâd made my point. I could field. My next time up, Coach hit some routine grounders.
After rotating through every infield position, it was time for batting practice.
âYouâre up,â Coach announced as he pointed his chunky finger my way. âDelvin, pitch to her.â
While Delvin threw some warm up tosses, I pulled my large batting gloves on, stretching them over my long fingers. The shin guard came loose as I walked to the plate, but I didnât dare adjust it. Not yet anyway. Iâm a switch hitter in softball but more natural from the right side. So thatâs where I started when I stepped into the box. I wasnât entirely certain I could hit a fastball from the left anyway.
Delvin dug at the rubber. I did the same at the plate. Kicked some rocks out from under my right foot. Buried my left foot in the front of the box. Right arm cocked at a ninety degree angle, my bat perched above my shoulder, I waited. A trickle of sweat ran down my cheek. This felt more like a playoff game than a practice.
My swing was graceful as I rocked the fastball over Jayden. He stretched, revealing his dark walnut skin. His long braids smacked his back as he dropped to the ground. Jayden could jump for a big guy.
âNice,â Coach said.
The Asian boy behind the plate whistled low and said, âSweet.â
Delvin tossed a few more pitches before Coach snapped at me to get to third. I didnât hesitate, grabbing my glove and hustling onto the field.
âGet in the dugout,â Coach commanded after everyone had hit.
I stood at the end of the bench, waiting for the axe to drop. Iâd played well enough to warrant sticking around, but I was still lacking the mandatory testosterone. If Coach told me to go, I would. It was his team and I wasnât about to make things worse by throwing an epic hissy.
âWe got a tough schedule this year. Last year, the Rebels kicked our ass to take the district. Well, half those boys canât play no more. Hell, weâre missing three of our own. Itâs time we take our game to the next level. The Rebels need to rebuild more than we do. We can take âem. Now get outta here. Iâll see you tomorrow.â He glanced my way. âAll of you.â
I grabbed my gear and practically bounced out of the dugout when Coach called me and Shane Anders back.
Shane was short, plump, and had a face pot-marked by zits and craters. Something told me that his dad made him play to get him out of the basement. Coach Strauss towered over him. Shane tremored a little.
âAlright. Vic, whatâs your real name?â
He sighed, sending a poof of peppermint my way that didnât conceal his bad breath. It smelled like he didnât bother to brush his teeth in the morning. Ever. âDonât bullshit me, girl.â
âIâm not, Coach. Vicâs short for Victoria.â
He stared at me and shook his head. âFine. Hereâs the drill. We practice every day at the same time, at the same place until the first game. Ainât hard to remember. No excuses for tardiness or missinâ a game. Miss a practice, you donât play the next game. Bring your own equipment. Forget your glove or your cleats, you donât play.
âGames start next week. Your jersey will be clean. If it ainât, you ainât playinâ. We play on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for six weeks. Team that wins their district plays in the city championship tourney. I donât know nothinâ about either one of you, but there are a couple of boys here that could move on to college ball. Scouts look at summer programs, too, especially if theyâre already interested in a player. Neither one of you is goinâ to play baseball at the next level. I just ask that you donât screw it up for everyone else.
âNow get out of here. Todayâs practice was a short one. Tomorrowâs not gonna be this easy.â
Shane took off in a hurry. It was obvious he was scared of Coach. We watched him run to a small pickup truck and scamper in.
âCan I ask you something, Vic?â Coach crossed his arms and glared at me.
âWhyâre you here?â He nodded toward the empty softball field. âYou could be playinâ ball over there. Tell me the truth.â
I knew the question was coming, but I didnât expect any sincerity behind it. âSoftball isnât baseball, Coach. It may seem similar, but it isnât the same. I wanted to play ball one more time. Thatâs all.â
He nodded, then turned away from me and started gathering his bats.
âAm I really on the team?â I asked. I needed absolute confirmation.
âYeah, got no choice.â He straightened up and smiled at me. âLooked at the regs. Doesnât say this team is for boys sixteen to seventeen. Just says players. But you already knew that, didnât you?â
I smiled. Of course I did. âSee you tomorrow, Coach Strauss.â
He grunted and I took off to my car, trying not to skip like a ten-year-old.
Iâm in. Iâm going to play ball again.
Psychological Crime Thriller
Date Published: July 26, 2019 (preorder available now at 99 cents)
Marco Lumachi is a professional hitman. His name is not Donovan North, and he’s not a detective transferring from New York City to Landstaff Junction, Vermont. But the whole town thinks he is, and if he wants to stay alive, he needs them to keep believing that.
Because the real Donovan North — who happens to look a lot like Marco — was gunned down on the way to his new job, by a rival mob family who thinks they killed the hitman.
Forced to work on the right side of the law, Marco finds himself hunting down a serial killer who’s brutally murdered two women already. Worse, his new “partner” is beautiful, dedicated, and not buying a word of his cover story.
But the man he’s impersonating kept secrets of his own, and what Detective North was hiding could prove deadly … for Marco, and for the innocent women that the killer is still targeting.
New Heights Juvenile Detention Center — Bronx, NY
Seventeen years ago
I was out in the yard after another pathetic excuse for dinner, checking around to see if anyone had gotten a care package from home so I could muscle in on them and get something decent to eat, when I spotted the new guy over by the outside fence. And I couldn’t look away.
There must’ve been a hell of an expression on my face, because Jake Paladino came over and elbowed me, even though I’d punched him for less in the past. “Did you see a ghost, or what?” he wheedled, and then flinched away, clearly remembering too late that I didn’t appreciate being jabbed.
I let it go this time, though. I was too fascinated to be angry.
“Over there,” I told him with a bare nod toward the fence.
Jake followed my gesture, and the perfect bug-eyed jaw-drop that formed on his face almost made me laugh. He looked like a real-life cartoon. Wile E. Coyote, watching the rocket he’d just fired at the Road Runner bounce off a cliff and head back at him full speed.
“You got a brother I don’t know about?” Jake finally blurted.
I shook my head, my gaze not leaving the newcomer. Apparently it was true what they said: everybody has a lookalike somewhere in the world. And here was mine. The new guy was a mirror, a twin, a clone of me.
Jake shook off the shock first and started bouncing on the balls of his feet, a lunatic grin on his unfortunate face. The scrawny, twitchy kid who’d followed me around like a stray dog since the day I got locked up in this crap place claimed to be the son of a mobster, and swore he was going to introduce me to his father and bring me into the “family business” when we got out of here. But I only had a week left on my sentence, and Jake had six months on his. Plus, he was probably lying about his mob connections.
I was considering it, though. If nothing better came along before Jake got out of here, maybe I’d give the little weasel a chance to make good on his claims. Considering my talents, the mob might be a decent fit for my future.
Not that any of us in New Heights could have a real future. They called it a youth center, but it was really just a prison with brighter colors — and everybody knew that ex-cons were screwed. Even if they were just kids when they went in.
Nobody who came out of this place would ever be considered a child again.
“Jesus, look at him. Holy shit.” Jake giggled and almost nudged me again, but then he thought better of it at the last minute. “I bet he’s about to piss his pants over there. Hey, let’s fuck with him.” The jagged grin spread. “You know what? You could do anything, even in front of the security cameras, and just blame it on that guy. We should burn this place down or something. Oh, wait, how about we kill a guard?”
“No,” I said sharply. Sometimes Jake had to be corrected like a dog, and it was all I could do not to rub his nose in his own shit. “Leave him alone, for now.”
The new guy — my doppelganger — did look unsettled. But unlike Jake, I didn’t believe he was scared. Reserved, maybe. Hanging back, getting the lay of the land. His posture was guarded and self-protective, as if he was expecting some kind of abuse, and that could’ve been interpreted as fear. But I sensed something dark in him.
Or maybe I was only projecting my own darkness onto the spitting image of myself.
Jake lost interest in the other kid fast once I rebuked him. His face only fell for a few seconds, and then his smile bounced back. “Vince and them are trying to crowd the hoop again,” he said, pointing over at the rundown basketball half-court in the far corner of the yard, where four or five of the younger boys had begun a half-hearted game of Horse. “Want to scare them off?”
“Nah. I’m hungry,” I told him. “Go find somebody with a care package. I want good shit, nothing generic or homemade.”
Always happy to serve, Jake nodded vigorously and scuttled off. I watched him absently for a few seconds before I returned my attention to the new guy.
This time, my doppelganger was looking back. And there was no fear in him at all.
There was nothing in him.
It really was like looking in a mirror.
About the Author
S.W. Vaughn lives in “scenic” Central New York, with its two glorious seasons -- winter and road construction -- along with her husband and son. An award-winning author, copywriter, and blogger, she's been writing professionally for over 15 years.
Under Sonya Bateman, she is the author of the DeathSpeaker Codex series (urban fantasy) and the Gavyn Donatti series (urban fantasy / Simon & Schuster).
You can also grab the prequel
Title: Like Father Like Son (Father/Son Duet #1)
Author: Leigh Lennon
Genre:Forbidden/Taboo/Age-Gap and Contemporary
Release Date: July 25, 2019
Hosted by: Buoni Amici Press, LLC.
I said good-bye to my son. But he had one final request—a letter I’ll never forget.
Dear Dad, If you're reading this, it means I'm gone. I had one dream, growing old with Holland. Death won't stop me from providing for my wife. And because you're the best man I know, what I'm about to ask—my last request—I know you'll do. Please take care of Holland. Take her back to California with you. It's a lot—I know. But, I’m placing my most precious possession in your hands. Love, Scott
But the thoughts swirling through my mind are certainly not what my late son had in mind. How do I resist this woman in front of me? After all, you can't choose love, it chooses you.
Leigh Lennon is a mother, veteran and a wife of a cancer survivor. Originally with a degree in education, she started writing as an outlet that has led to a deep passion. She lugs her computer with her as she crafts her next story. Her imaginary friends become real on her pages as she creates a world for them. She loves pretty nails, spikey hair and large earrings. Leigh can be found drinking coffee or wine, depending on the time of the day.
Meant to Be
Meg was afraid to ask, but she did anyway. “What happened?”
“Sean’s been shot.” Sam crumpled back into the booth, sobbing.
Megan gasped as bile rose in her throat. She couldn’t even comprehend Sam’s words. Sean was shot? The invincible Sean Flaherty? Her buddy? Her best friend? His handsome face flashed into her mind—the lock of dark hair that invariably fell across his brow, the blue, blue eyes that sparkled sapphire with wit or turned dark navy with emotion, that killer smile, those amazing Flaherty dimples… impossible!
“What?” She sat down across from Sam. “Shot?” She could hardly catch her breath. “When? Where?”
Sam grabbed a napkin from the dispenser on the table and swiped at her eyes. “I–I don’t know much. Charlie Smith at the firm said it happened right outside the courthouse in Evanston early this afternoon. Some crazy woman. The wife of his current client. They took him to Northwestern; he’s in surgery right now.” She took a shaky breath. “Conor’s driving up to meet Aidan and Brendan at the airport, then they’re heading to the hospital.” She covered her mouth with both hands as if that could stop her lips from trembling, then shuddered. “Dear God, Meg.”
Megan closed her eyes, trying desperately to banish the dreadful pictures in her head—Sean on a gurney, pale and bleeding—and replace them with ones from the last time she’d seen him—grinning and pouring sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve.
They’d hugged each other at midnight because neither of them had had a date, and Sean had pressed his warm lips to her forehead. “You’re the best, Megs,” he’d murmured and held her close to his brawny chest for a long moment. She felt the even beat of his heart under the navy sweater he wore—the one she’d knitted for him for Christmas that made his eyes look deep blue.
“I’m going up there.” Megan stood and gazed at Sam. “I have to, Sam. He’s my oldest and dearest friend. Maybe there’s nothing I can do, but I can spell the guys at visitation and maybe, I dunno, give blood or something. I just know I can’t stay here. I’ll go crazy. I have to see him.”
Sam stared at her silently, then sighed. “Come on. Let’s trade cars. I don’t trust your old beater to make it to Indianapolis, and you sure as heck can’t ride Big Red all the way to Chicago.”
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Why wait until 65 to retire when you can start doing what you really want when you are in the prime of your life? Whether your dream is to start your own business, volunteer, or work less, Chris Dumont provides a blueprint to early retirement and the best advice on the stock market to gain control of your finances today.
After reading this book:
• You will learn how Chris went from being over $50,000 in debt to being debt-free, owning multiples properties, and a six-figure stock portfolio within four years.
• You will be more financially secure. Chris shows you how to pay off all your debts. Once you are debt-free, you can hit your savings goals.
• You will create a budget using an easy-to use-system, with savings and expenses automatically deducted.
• You will not spend hours managing your money. Once you set things up, managing your money will be so simple that you only focus on it once a month.
You will also learn:
• Being happier with less by spending on what makes you happy.
• How much money you need to retire. (Hint: It’s not as much as you think!)
• Car advice on whether you should lease, own, or buy.
• Negotiating salaries and raises and incorporate side hustles to increase your income.
• Common investing mistakes to avoid and easy-to-understand index funds with ETFs.
• Tax-advantaged accounts you should use and why for both Americans and Canadians.
• Real estate advice and whether you should rent or own.
• And much more!
Everything he shows you is…
SET – AND – FORGET
You are covered by your emergency fund when you need it, from accidents to losing your job.
Start using the concepts he teaches in this book and retire in comfort in as few as 10 years.
Once retired, learn how to stay active and accomplish what you have always wanted.
What are you waiting for? Take control of your future today and start kicking financial ass!
About the Author
Chris Dumont is the founder of MoneySensei.com, a personal finance hub that helps people become debt-free.
For nearly a decade, he has worked in finance learning both inside and outside the classroom the fundamentals of personal finance. Chris holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Ontario and a Bachelor of Commerce from the Alberta School of Business with a major in Finance. He completed his CFA designation in 2016.