Sunday, December 3, 2023

Chapter One: Her Dying Kiss by Jennifer Chase


Her Dying Kiss: Detective Katie Scott Book 10
Jennifer Chase
370 pp.
Crime Thriller

She wakes to the dawn light streaming through the window and rolls over to whisper good morning to her fiancé. But panic floods her veins. His side of the bed is empty and cold. Blood trails towards the open door. All trace of him is gone…

It’s been one month since Detective Katie Scott’s fiancé, Chad, went missing without a trace. Devastated Katie is still working tirelessly day and night to track down the love of her life, barely sleeping and chasing every new lead. But now the case has gone cold.

When the body of beautiful Gina Hartfield is discovered among the pine needles in a clearing on Lookout Ridge, Katie swallows her own pain and knows she must focus on finding Gina’s killer. The young woman was found with a pink velvet blindfold shading the hollows where her eyes had been removed. Katie is certain she is chasing a sadistic individual who will soon take another life…

But the autopsy reveals Gina’s body was washed before being abandoned, leaving no trace of evidence behind. And with no witnesses to Gina’s disappearance, the women of Pine Valley are terrified to go out alone.

Desperately combing the crime scene, when Katie sees a newspaper article about her previous cases pinned to a nearby tree, she is certain Gina’s murder is personal. Then tire tracks found in the forest are matched to a truck seen following Chad in the days leading up to his disappearance. Katie’s blood runs cold.

Is there a link between Chad’s disappearance and Gina’s brutal murder, or is the killer playing a twisted game with Katie? Can she find out the truth before they take another life?

Here’s what critics are saying about Her Dying Kiss!

“I couldn’t put it down… action-packed with excellent plot twists… I had no idea what was coming next… so gripped with many twists and turns.” Goodreads reviewer

“Excellent, nail-biting thriller with a plot that’s had me enthralled from page one… I’ve been gripped through each twist and turn… jaw-dropping and totally unexpected… brilliant.” NetGalley reviewer

Buy Links:

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 First Chapter:

Chapter One

One Month Later

Tuesday 1130 hours

There was a dead body, which was the focus of the synchronized police search. A deceased woman had been found by the utility company during their routine check and maintenance of the meters along the roadway. The body was efficiently wrapped in a large piece of dark brown burlap that had been rolled several times leaving only her head exposed. If not looking closely you would misinterpret the body dump for some type of discarded rug.

The victim was a brunette woman with long, perfectly combed hair with the strands resting on the burlap. At first, it seemed she was relaxed and had merely gone to sleep when, in fact, there were pink velvet pieces of fabric covering her eyes, as if shading her view of something.

John Blackburn, Pine Valley Sheriff’s Department’s forensic supervisor, kneeled down and carefully lifted one of the pieces of velvet, revealing the dark empty socket the eyeball had once occupied. The eye had been cleanly detached. It gave the body a more macabre appearance than the usual fixed eye stares of the dead.

John’s face was deeply sad and his mouth was turned down as he prepared to take a few more photos to document the scene before the medical examiner’s office took possession.

He carefully circled the body, taking the appropriate photographs—overall, medium range, then close-up—before collecting any evidence he could find. The young woman looked to be resting as the late afternoon sunshine cast down on her face. Her complexion, pale and ashen, appeared to be scrubbed clean, giving her a waxy doll-like exterior. There were no evident signs of makeup, dirt or blood on her face.

The south district area of Pine Valley was known for several warehouses that had been empty now for more than six months after a manufacturing company had vacated to a newer and more modern facility in an adjacent town. The front area to the one where the body had been found was overgrown, the weeds a few feet tall and garbage strewn around from where it had fallen out of an overturned, rusted-out dumpster. The dreary grey building looked more like emergency bunkers from a long time ago than a plant that had recently manufactured automotive parts.

Parked along the cracked driveway leading to the loading docks were several police cruisers, county vehicles and the forensic van. The main area of interest was near one of the loading bays. There were numerous cones and flags around, marking various pieces of evidence for photography documentation. The emergency personnel monitored the area and were conducting grid searches and making sure that no one was in or around the area that wasn’t supposed to be there, in addition to searching for more potential evidence. Everyone moved with precision and unity for the common goal of maintaining the crime scene.

“What do you think, John?” asked Detective McGaven. His towering height made him noticeable from a distance. His badge and gun were attached to his belt. “Is it the same as the other at Lookout Ridge?”

John walked up to the detective and nodded slowly. “We won’t know for sure until the body is unrolled and examined under controlled conditions, and I can run some tests… but, the signature appears to be similar if not the same, with the removed eyes.”

McGaven scratched his head, still observing the latest victim. His thoughts returned to his partner, Detective Katie Scott, and how he wished she were there examining the crime scene. Her perspective, instincts, and experience over the past year and half had been more than exemplary—her methods sometimes bordering on unorthodox, but always getting results. He had left several messages for her in hopes that she would open communications and ultimately return to work. His expression was solemn. It was as if a part of him was missing without her. He wanted to go to her house, but respected her need for privacy at this difficult time.

“Wish Katie was here?” said John watching the detective closely.

McGaven looked at the forensic supervisor and nodded. “How’d you know?”

“I feel it too. It seems strange not having her here.” He gazed around the area as if he expected to see Katie appear.

“Anything new with this scene?”

John shook his head. “Not that I can see right now. But we’ll know more soon.”

McGaven was disappointed, but knew that John would do everything he could to find any evidence. The last thing the detective wanted was for these homicides to go cold. He turned away and saw Detective Hamilton speaking with the utility workers. It wasn’t his optimum partnership, but he respected the detective and would overlook personality differences to make it work. “Thanks, John,” he said as he walked away, moving carefully around the area, looking for possible entrances and exit locations of the killer.

A young blonde woman with short hair was bent over taking a tire impression with a type of dental stone, waiting for it to harden. She looked up when McGaven approached. “Hi, Detective,” she said and smiled.

“How’s it going, Eva?”

“Good. This is my third impression. Two were consistent to each other and this one is different and definitely older. It’s probably not the killer’s, but John said we needed to be thorough.”

McGaven nodded. “I agree. If this crime scene is connected to the other one at Lookout Ridge, then we need the evidence to tie them together.”

“Ten-four,” she said and continued her task.

McGaven saw that Hamilton was speaking with the officers first on the scene so he took the opportunity to check out around the building. Everything was extremely overgrown, looking more as though it had been abandoned for years, not months. The weeds were extremely tall and had folded over due to their height and weight. There was an area where pallets, recyclable materials, and miscellaneous pieces of metal equipment had been stacked in the deserted area.

Still walking carefully, he was trying not to step on something potentially hazardous or possibly evidence-oriented. The further he walked the quieter it became—the voices around the crime scene seemed to settle to a low hum as he studied the back area. The sun was high and beat down on him making perspiration trickle down his back. He kept walking, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. He thought about what Katie would do—he had been with her at many crime scenes and knew she would try to get a sense of the area, to look for places where the killer might have been.

The back of the building looked much like the front except more weather-beaten. The grey paint faded in areas and the windows on the second floor were dirty with some broken out. He observed the inconsistencies of the exterior of the building. Even though there wasn’t any graffiti to deface the area, the elements had caused rough and weathered places resembling an industrial mosaic appearance.

As he perused the area, he noticed a trail where weeds had been trampled, not by animals, but by something bigger. A person. Stopping in his tracks, he systematically scanned the area. There were no other signs indicating disruption to the weeds, so he cautiously moved forward. He spotted some paper or a piece of garbage rolled up tightly and wedged into the crevice of an exterior vent. It could have been easily missed or even dismissed, but something in McGaven’s gut made him take notice. He was going to alert John and Eva in order to have them search and document the area, but his instinct drove him to verify the origins of the paper first after quickly taking a photo of it with his cell phone.

Taking two more steps to meet up with the wall, he retrieved his gloves and slipped them on, and then carefully touched the paper. Leaning in, McGaven noticed that it appeared to be consistent to ordinary computer paper that had something printed on it. It wasn’t weathered and the printing was dark and readable. In fact, the paper appeared to be recent.

McGaven gently unrolled the paper. The condition and edges were as if it had been placed recently – there were no folds or fragile areas. As he continued to unroll it, he saw it was an article most likely printed from the internet. To his shock, the title read: Pine Valley Detectives Solve Three Murders in Coldwater Creek.

McGaven took a step back—his senses were now heightened as he glanced around, surmising that the killer had placed this article for them to find.


Was it the killer’s calling card? Was he taunting the police?

Was there another article hidden at the previous crime scene at Lookout Ridge they had missed?

The article concerned the last case that he and Katie had worked in a neighboring town. All the details flowed through his mind. It had been tough and dangerous. He carefully replaced the paper where he had found it and hurried to alert John.

About the Author

Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning and USA Today Best Selling crime fiction author, as well as a consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master’s degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent psychopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.

Author Links  

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Chapter One: A Gateway to Hope by E.C. Jackson (Book 1 of Hope Series)

Title: A Gateway to Hope
Author: E.C. Jackson
Publisher: E.C. Jackson
Pages: 296
Genre: Inspirational Romance

Twenty-one-year-old Neka is a bit of an introvert, she also happens to be stunningly beautiful. When she discovers her friend James is about to be dumped, she sees the perfect opportunity to escape from her quiet life. Can she summon the courage to leave it all behind?

James Copley comes from a ruthless family. It’s rubbed off. Years ago, he disengaged from his brother’s smear campaign, but now his father has offered him an ultimatum, “Get married or lose your seat at the table.” Plotting to stamp his design on the family business, he proposes to a woman, even though he doesn’t love her. But his carefully laid plans start to unravel when she leaves him on the day she’s due to meet his family. Could years of planning his comeback vanish with her departure?

A possible solution comes in an unexpected form: Neka. She’s not only a friend, but the daughter of his benefactor. And she’s right there, offering to support him. But will her support stretch to marriage? He attempts to win her over to his plan but collides with her powerful father who wants to leverage the situation for his own gain.

In their fight for survival and love, they are forced to face some uncomfortable truths. Can they overcome thwarted dreams and missed chances to find true love, or does forcing destiny’s hand only lead to misery?

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Chapter One

Henry Childs led a life

Nikhol Lacey stepped into the muted glow from the wall sconce above the door, grabbed her luggage from the porch, and hurried down the stairs. The path lights cast a shining arc across the yard. Pine scented the air, and fresh-cut grass clung to her sandals.

She sidestepped debris along the footpath to avoid snapping any twigs. To anyone looking, the maneuverings would have resembled a child’s game of hopscotch. It seemed like ages had passed, but at last she reached her destination. Lips curving into a fleeting smile, she placed her cases at the cab driver’s feet. 

After shaking her hand, he lifted the bags. His raspy voice broke the silence. “Good morning . . .”  

“Call me Neka.”

She scooted into the car and eased the door shut behind her. But she froze in place when the noisy driver stomped every twig she had missed and slammed the trunk. Her gaze swept over the second-floor windows. The house remained dark inside.

Good. No signs of movement. 

Neka lay back on the cushion but bolted upright when the driver sped away, crunching loose twigs scattered across the road. 

She brushed her fingers over her neck and chest and then clung to the front of her T-shirt. Familiar landmarks silhouetted against the dusky morning. She sighed, touching the window as her home faded into the receding darkness. 

Regret surfaced. Would her family understand her leaving home without notice? Massaging her right earlobe, she laid her head against the seat. 

James needed her. She was the only person able to help him. Finally, someone she cared about required assistance that only she could provide. Tears blurred her vision at the admission that she often felt unneeded. Self-revelation came at a price. Closing her eyes, Neka laid her face into the palms of her hand. 

She was committed. It was too late to turn back now. 

Lord, help me.  


James Copley stood half hidden in the shadows outside the Tulsa airport terminal. He contemplated the disruption to his plans, sighing as he shoved the cell phone into his pocket. Through the window, he watched a stooped man swishing a mop over the lobby floor. 

He jerked around and frowned when a car pulled up to the curb behind him. The taxi dropped off an older man in plaid shorts, who hurried into the building without noticing James’s six-foot frame standing to the side. 

The stillness shifted. Red and orange lights streaked a pattern across the eastern sky. Dawn hovered on the horizon as the night subsided into a brand-new day. 

The quiet June morning sprang alive. Steady streams of cars carrying a bevy of people rolled down the street. A white four-wheel-drive SUV pulled to a stop in the no-park zone. A gray-haired lady dropped off a family of five, and they hugged their farewells. When the SUV drove away, it was replaced by a black sedan. A jean-clad man exited the passenger’s seat, laughing as he waved good-bye. Vehicles continued replacing each other in fast succession. 

The touching scenarios highlighted his fiancée’s absence. Did Teri oversleep or have a car accident on the way to meet him? He rejected those ideas, struggling to remember her travel plans. Had she mentioned who would bring her to the airport? Or had he assumed she’d order a cab as he’d done?  

Leaving the milling people, he searched for a secluded corner. The spot he chose placed him closer to the curb, though he remained a great length away from the cars. James was a master planner and detested surprises he didn’t spring. Not that he willfully devised sneak attacks behind anyone’s back. He just worked overtime to ensure no one else affected him with their unpredictability. 

A no-show Teri Campbell dealt a harsh blow to plans he’d thought he’d carved in stone. His mind replayed the strategy he’d conceived four weeks ago. Jaw muscles pulsated as he clenched his teeth and bit down hard. An old sinking feeling rose at an alarming rate and failed to retreat when ordered.

Get a grip, man. You can do this. James was no longer the thirteen-year-old boy with lofty ideas. 

He glanced at the clock in the lobby and shook his head. Six o’clock. Their flight would depart in ninety minutes. The cell phone had made it halfway out of his pocket before he realized and pushed it back into place. Knowledge of Teri’s scheming nature stopped him from calling her. 

Why now? Like most people, he hated fighting a hidden foe. No one could adequately prepare for an unknown assault. Without sufficient warning he was just an unarmed soldier in the midst of battle. 

As he forced his back against a pillar, James cringed at the thought of abandoning his plan. A sudden chill struck him, as if a northern wind swirled around him. He willed his mind to focus and weigh the situation. The unfurling trouble begged a response, but the wishy-washy brigade held no sway over him. Once he reached a decision, he stayed the course.

Frowning, he stepped forward to reaffirm his resolve. In spite of Teri’s absence, his plans would proceed without another hitch. Snags to his plans didn’t matter. After living six years on the periphery of his family, James craved their acceptance more than ever. His life was spartan and geared to obtain his primary goal—running the family company. He closed his eyes but failed to block out the memory: days and nights occupied with endless planning, strenuous labor, and not enough rest in between. 

But those times were gone forever. Years of hard work with minimal play had paid off. It was time to return home and prove to his folks that life existed after mistakes and bad decisions.

He relaxed his knotted shoulders. He hadn’t spent half a decade spinning a web to see it dissipate without ensnaring its prey because of one little snag. This trip was crucial. A lifetime of professional achievements depended on its outcome. He narrowed his eyes as he considered Teri’s inflexibility when they’d spoken yesterday. She’d refused to share a cab with him this morning. 

The laughter in her voice when he’d tried to change her mind had riled him. “Believe me, James. Nothing could stop me from meeting you tomorrow. Count on me showing up. I’m coming.” 

Those words hadn’t sounded ominous when spoken last night, but now . . .

He ran his hand over the concrete pillar. “Not today, Lord. Not after I gave in to Father’s demands.”  

A maroon sedan swept up to the curb. Teri alighted from the vehicle—sans luggage. 

James steeled himself. The woman who’d accepted his proposal four weeks ago glanced around as if admiring the scenery. Her slow gait indicated she expected him to meet her halfway. 

Forget that idea. That contradicted the way he’d play her game. 

His tensions diminished as she approached. Many years battling his older brothers had taught him that remaining calm despite provocation usually won the victory. She hoped to toy with his emotions. Stiffening, he widened his stance, holding his position until she reached him.

Teri’s lips curved into a welcoming grin. “Hello, handsome.” 

When James remained silent, her ready smile vanished. It seemed she’d lost composure after he failed to respond to her tease. Her glance flickered over to people yelling good-bye a few feet away, and keys jangled in her hand. 

Eyebrow raised, he centered in on the restless movements. Teri brushed a bright-copper hair from her face. Nodding, she studied his features as if seeking out weaknesses. 

A slight smile touched his lips at the war of wills. 

Her tenacity amazed him. She read him well. Instead of being icy, her blue eyes flashed fire. 

“When does your flight leave?” Teri pursed her lips whenever she wanted to drive home a particular point. It removed any thought of convincing her of the immediacy of the situation. “You can lower that one eyebrow. I’m not going with you to St. Louis.” 

Though Teri appeared to brace for an angry outburst, she couldn’t keep the smirk off her face. She rubbed her chin, peeking over her shoulder to where the sedan had once idled at the curb. 

In one smooth movement, James gently gripped her arm, pulling the unresisting Teri closer. His gaze never left her face. 

“So this is the real James Copley.” Locking gazes with him, a thin bead of sweat dotted the skin above her lips. “I thought this engagement secured our future. Yet you refuse to talk to me.”

“Why should that matter when you disrupted our arrangement at the last moment?”

 “I agreed to marry you in good faith. It would be good for both of us.” Tossing her curly hair over her shoulders, she laughed. “But you sabotaged our engagement from the start. Twice my friends spotted you around town with Cynthia Ward.” 

The jealous act caught him off guard. She was acting like a scorned woman instead of someone who’d traded herself for personal gain. He knew her real motive for agreeing to marry him. At another time, her Oscar-winning performance might’ve entertained him. But he didn’t have time to be amused. The clock in the lobby showed he had less than ninety minutes before the flight left. 

 Teri tossed her hair again, gathering steam. 

“We shared two wonderful years together. But Cynthia Ward? For four weeks you claimed you needed me to secure your place in the family business. You should’ve concentrated on me. Okay, I get it. Women fall all over themselves to please you.” She jerked her hand from his grasp. Sneering, she leaned closer. “Where’s that winsome smile now?” 

James shook his head, looking at the cabs dropping off passengers. “So, unfounded rumors made you destroy our arrangement. You just brushed me off without notice. What about those two wonderful years you just raved about? Your response to your friends’ accusations says it all.”

“Why did you take her out?”

He laughed. “That question’s a little late. I promised to escort her to three events before we got engaged.”

Moving nearer, her perfume saturated the air. Her quiet appeal might have weakened a lesser man.

“You could have told me about the previous arrangements. Instead, you allowed me to stew in everyone else’s version.” 

James stepped backward. “I can only fix problems I know exist.”

Teri’s body went limp until she plastered herself against him. 

“I blew it, huh? I guess my emotions went into overdrive.” She glanced away, shaking her head. “I let a job promotion replace my desire for us to marry. At the time, it seemed simple—career increased, so James Copley must decrease.” 

She fingered his collar, letting her thumb brush along his neck.

 About the Author

E.C. Jackson began her writing career with the full-length play Pajama Party. Thirty-one years later, she adapted the play into Pajama Party: The Story, a companion book to the second book in the five-book standalone Hope series.

Jackson’s favorite pastime is reading fiction. She enjoys taking the journey along with the characters in the books. That also led to her unorthodox approach to story writing. Her vision for each book she writes is to immerse readers into the storyline so they become connected with each character.  

“The Write Way: A Real Slice of Life” is the slogan on her Facebook author page. She feels that if every person reading her books feels connected to the characters, her job is done.

Author Links  

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Chapter One: Once Upon a Christmas Castle by Virginia Barlow

Title: Once Upon a Christmas Castle
Author: Virginia Barlow
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 276
Genre: Holiday Romance

Lady Rosalind Chatham journeys with her family to Weston Castle to wed an ancient earl on Christmas day. Yearning for true love, she falls for the duke, her stepfather’s cousin, while preparing her nuptials. Lady Rosalind entrances the Duke of Weston. Concerned for her future with the tempestuous earl, he can’t afford to get involved. The fines and scandal will be too great for a man of his wealth and power. When the truth comes to light, and he almost loses her forever, he finds he cannot afford to give less than his whole heart.

What Critics Are Saying:

“Loved this holiday romance between Lady Rosalind (Ruby) and the charismatic Duke of Weston. Facing a forced marriage to a loathsome noble, Rosalind uncovers lies and betrayal which almost cost her the life of the man she loves.

With plot twists, devious characters, attempted abduction, and touches of humor– thanks to a little boy and his unpredictable pet frog– this Christmas novel is a delightful holiday read!”

Buy Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Chapter One:

Yorkshire, England

Late November 1813

Lady Rosalind Chatham’s first view of Weston Castle took her breath away.

Gazing out the little window of her stepfather’s luxurious carriage as they turned a corner on the winding road, the trees of the dense forest fell away to reveal a magical, ethereal structure rising high above them.

Standing tall against the dark foliage of the forest, the heavy stone castle sparkled in the afternoon light.

Rosalind blinked up at the elegant towers and spires caressing an azure blue sky holding communion with fluffy white clouds and sighed with appreciation.

The relatives spoke of the beauty of Weston Castle, but their lavish praise in no way prepared her for this glorious reality.

Allowing her gaze to roam the enchanting scene before her, she wondered how the gate to her private hell could resemble the entrance to heaven. Such a thing should not be allowed, for it played with her mind and heart in a most unpleasant fashion. Shaking her head at the irony of the situation, she turned her attention back to the lavish grounds surrounding them.

The cobblestone road they traveled on meandered through acres of manicured gardens strewn with glistening diamond-studded droplets of frost to an impressive outer wall made of stone and curved metal.

Guards dressed in blue, gold, and black stood at attention beside the arched entrance welcoming her stepfather and mother in the forward carriage before waving the rest of the entourage through. Their warm breath hung suspended in the frosty air as they acknowledged their


Rosalind’s heart skipped a beat as their carriage wheeled past the guards. She had never been so happy and so distraught for a journey to end.

Her ancient, newly acquired fiancé, the Earl of Gloucester, would arrive within a fortnight for the wedding, planned for Christmas Day. Feeling as though she received a lump of coal in her stocking, a shiver of revulsion skated down her spine when his wrinkled face and snowy white hair popped into her head. Bushy white eyebrows dipped low over dull brown eyes accompanied by thin lips and nose. An inch shorter in stature then she, with a rounded belly and hunched shoulders, he hobbled when he walked because of swelling in his left foot.

When she left this glorious abode, she would do so as his wife. Anxiety twisted a knot in her stomach as she shoved the thought aside.

Two London seasons, a handful of half-hearted suitors, and a less-than-favorable reputation later, she received one proposal, his, a fifty-four-year-old widower anxious to make her his brood mare.

She often wondered where the term “love of my life” originated from. Did one have more than one? She concluded one must after taking her mother into consideration. Mama claimed Rosalind’s father held the title until his untimely death, and following her marriage to Lord Timothy Weston, now claimed her stepfather to be her one true love. Thus, reason dictated each person must have at last two, perhaps more. And if there were so many about, why had she not run into at least one of hers?

“Is this Cousin Lucius’ castle?”

Her five-year-old half-brother’s question jerked her back to the present as he squinted his nose at the drawbridge. “If I knew we were this close, I would have waited to stop.”

The heavy wooden beams groaned under the weight of the carriage.

One of the many reasons her stepfather and mother traveled in their own carriage with Rosalind and Thomas in another had to do with her brother’s frequent stops to relieve his bladder and constant chatter. When her

brother grew bored, he invented reasons to stretch his legs. She would join him if not for the fact she must behave as a lady.

Shaking her head, she replied, “Next time, be patient.”

He gave her an eye roll and studied the scenery with interest. “Do you think Cousin Lucius has a pond?”

Gazing at his angelic face, she smiled. The child’s big blue eyes stole her heart the second he appeared in this world as a tiny babe, and she held him in her arms for the first time. She alone possessed the fortitude to

deal with his precocious behavior.

“Papa says he does.” Although Lord Timothy did not father her, she called him Papa since she had no recollection of her real father.

“If I had patience, I would not have found Admiral Georgeous Frederick Alexander Junior the Third.” A wiggly, croaking object appeared from the inner pocket of his jacket, clutched tight in a chubby hand.

Rosalind’s eyebrow rose. “Who? What is this? You caught a frog?”

He nodded with a wide grin and set the amphibian down on his best linen trousers.

She frowned in alarm. “He will ruin your breeches and make Mama upset. Put him back in your pocket until I decide what must be done.”

Their carriage rumbled across cobblestones once more and drew to a stop. She shot a quick glance out the window, noting the parents disembarking. Somehow, she must deal with the frog before his presence became known or risk her mother’s fury.

Frowning out the window, she eyed red carpeted stairs leading upward to a tall, dark-haired figure wearing a royal blue jacket with gold braids on the

shoulders and black breeches standing cold and aloof at the top. A regal white and gray dog sat at attention beside the duke, eyeing the newcomers.

The gentleman must be Cousin Lucius, the Duke of Weston. His face remained expressionless, and his manner impeccable as the parents approached. Then with a slight nod of his head, his grace welcomed them to Weston. The dog lay still like a statue, and the only movement arose from the breeze ruffling his thick fur.

The parents spoke with the duke for a moment, and then her mother dipped an elegant bow low enough to impress royalty while her stepfather shook hands with the impressive figure before them.

Masculine, powerful, wealthy, and distant Lucius Alexander Phillip Weston became the fifth Duke of Weston five years prior upon the death of his

grandfather. As head of the Weston family, the duke invited one relative per holiday season to stay at his castle.

This season, their turn arrived with an extravagant and very expensive, gilded invitation signed by the duke’s own hand. Fortuitous considering her recent engagement? Perhaps. Rosalind suspected the duke invited them out of sheer despair at the thought of opening another of her mother’s hundred-and-one letters begging for the honor.

Mama obsessed over impressing Rosalind’s fiancé and exaggerated their financial situation to the point a wedding in the castle was necessary to keep the earl from guessing the true nature of their circumstance. Her

mother believed if the earl had knowledge of their lack of funds, he would withdraw his proposal, and she would be pitied by the local nobility for failing to obtain an advantageous marriage for her only daughter.

Frantic to maintain the façade and her social position in their little village, she sent a new letter every day, entreating her husband’s distant cousin to allow them the privilege of the upcoming nuptials.

The present returned with a bump when the parents turned and motioned toward their carriage. What if the dog smelled the frog? Panic flared as she gazed from her brother to his wiggling, jumping companion still sitting in his lap and returned to the forbidding scene on the stairs. The amphibian must go.

“Mama and Papa want to make a good impression on his grace. You must leave the admiral in the carriage so we do not disappoint them.”

“But he is part of the family now. Why can he not meet Cousin Lucius?” The boy held his pet up to her nose as he asked his question.

“Your friend might shock the parents since he is so new to our household. Put him on the carriage seat, and we will return for him later.” She jumped when the carriage door opened, and a footman set the step stool on

the ground, holding his hand out to offer her assistance.

“But I want him to come!” The boy’s voice grew in volume, and his lower lip stuck out, threatening a fullblown mutiny.

If Thomas did not calm down, Mama would scorch her ears later. “Fine.” Thinking quick, she stuffed the frog into the left pocket of her gown where she could monitor the situation and hopefully hide the scent from the great beast beside the duke. “He shall ride with me.

Now behave.”

The child’s rebellion disappeared like a foul scent in the breeze, followed by another wide grin as they stepped from the carriage. “You should call the duke cousin, too. I am sure he will not mind.”

Mama frowned. “Who, Thomas? Who will not mind?” Casting a quick worried glance in Rosalind’s direction, she took two steps toward them.

“Everything is fine, Mama. Thomas expressed his opinion. Nothing more.” She kept her hand against her pocket to hide the wiggling bulge and prayed no one would notice.

Her mother visibly relaxed and held her hand out to the boy. “Come.” Catching her brother by the hand, she turned to their host. “Your grace, I would like to introduce you to our son, Thomas Hutchinson Weston.”

Rosalind stopped a foot behind and waited her turn, her gaze on the dog

To his credit, the child executed a perfect bow in response to the duke’s deep voice bidding him welcome to the castle.

“And this?” The deep voice drew her gaze to his, and her knees clacked together as their host’s gaze lingered on her hair and face before perusing the rest of her.

Stepping forward, she swallowed and waited for the parents to make the introduction.

The duke stood six feet tall if an inch, possessed dark wind-swept hair, piercing blue eyes, a broad forehead, straight nose, and a dimple in his chin. His jacket emphasized the breadth of his shoulders and the

narrowness of his waist. His muscled thighs strained against the fabric of his breeches, and his boots gleamed in the sunlight. No man of this caliber had stood this close to her before, and Rosalind snapped her gaping

mouth closed, dropping her gaze before her expression gave her fascination away.

“Lady Rosalind Chatham, daughter of my wife’s late husband, the Earl of Chatham.” Papa stood beside her, gripping her elbow.

She dipped a deep curtsy, and the frog jumped in alarm, straining against the fabric of her pocket.

The dog let out a low growl, and cold sweat broke out on her forehead.

The duke’s cool, impassive gaze dropped to the pocket of her gown while he snapped his fingers at the animal beside him. “Silence, Ulysses.”

The white beast did not make another sound but kept his gaze fixed on her pocket.

Clasping her hand against the opening to keep the amphibian from escaping, she rose to her feet and pinched the edges of the fabric together with her left hand, hoping she adopted a believable level of disinterest in the dancing fabric at her hip. Casting a worried glance at the dog, she smiled, ignoring the panic in her chest.

Mama would never forgive her if something went amiss, and this situation contained enough potential to effect ancestors yet unborn. She inched backward, praying the breeze blew her scent away from the massive dog, not toward him.

“Do not be shy, Rosalind.” Mama nudged her forward, and with her attention on the dog, she tripped on a stair.

“Ah, the bride.” The duke’s gaze traveled over her a second time, and a smile touched his mouth. “Welcome to my home, Lady Rosalind.” He bowed from the waist and took her right hand in his, kissing her gloved


The dog leaned forward, staring at her pocket.

“I call her Ruby. She is my sister.” Thomas stepped to her side to establish ownership, tugging on her left hand, the one holding her pocket closed, and glared up at the duke.

To her extreme consternation. she lost her grip on the edges of the fabric, and Admiral Georgeous Frederick Alexander Junior the Third made his debut into the family by jumping out onto the duke’s bent

windswept hair!

Everyone reacted at once.

The dog barked and leaped at the duke, jumping around his master for a better vantage point.

Anxious to contain the situation, Rosalind made a dive for the frog while Mama screamed for help. Thomas yelled and dove in to retrieve his pet at the same time she did. They hit heads, falling to the ground in a heap. She

groaned in frustration.

Papa burst out laughing, offering no assistance whatsoever, to Mama’s verbal dismay.

While the duke snapped his finger at the dog, captured the amphibian with one hand, and surveyed the group before him as if this were a common occurrence.

“Heel, Ulysses.”

The dog whined and dropped to his belly, keeping his gaze on the frog.

The liveried butler, two steps behind, hurried to the duke’s side to relieve him of the green wiggling creature while Papa continued to chuckle, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

“You owe me twenty gold coins, Amelia. We have not been here a full ten minutes, and already we have an incident.”

Her mother sputtered apologies as she fluttered around the duke, trying to help but unwilling to touch the loathsome creature he held. She gave the dog a wide berth.

“Cease this fuss.” The duke’s quiet voice stopped everyone mid-stride. He held his free hand down to assist Rosalind to her feet before studying her and Thomas.

Silence filled the cobblestone area around them as the duke gazed from one to the other. “To whom does this creature belong?” Blue eyes narrowed on her face as he waited for her answer.

Her heart beat loud in her ears, and a band tightened around her chest as she considered possible repercussions. His grace might send them home in

shame. And if he did, Mama would send her to a convent to hide her embarrassment from the world. No one wanted the social disgrace of having a spinster for a daughter, least of all her mother. Marrying the earl was her one chance for acceptance and approval.

Anxiety turned to nausea and rose in her throat as her future loomed before her sending fear skittering down her spine. The punishment would be far worse for Thomas. A convent, she could escape from, but a boarding school for him would crush his spirit, and without her, he would be unmanageable.

Swallowing, she lifted her chin to meet the duke’s piercing gaze and take responsibility. “He belongs—”

She squeezed her brother’s hand, stopping short when Thomas stepped forward.

“He is mine. Ruby kept him safe in her pocket so he would not embarrass Mama.” The child stood with his head thrown back, his gaze unwavering as he faced their host.

“I see.” The duke held the frog out and glanced down at the boy. “And did you plan to carry him into my home?”

Thomas nodded. “We must because we named him, and he is part of the family now. He cannot stay in the carriage. He will get lonely.”

Mama groaned as if she could hold back no longer.

“For God’s sake, Thomas, frogs do not belong in castles nor in carriages. Really, Rosalind, I should think you would discourage him rather than abet him in his nonsense. His grace will no doubt want us to return home now, and I warned you of the repercussions if he did.

How can this happen when I worked so hard to get us here?” Flushing with embarrassment, Mama dipped down in a swooning curtsy, addressing their host. “Your grace, I do apologize for all this.” Waving her hand toward her two children and the frog still wiggling in the duke’s fingers. “What can we do to make this up to you?”

“May I have him back?” The boy held his arms up to retrieve his pet, not at all repentant.

The dog whined as if unable to bear the tension of the frog being so close and having to obey his master and stay.

Rosalind held her breath and waited as the duke studied the boy’s face, her mother’s fawning curtsy, and Papa’s jovial laughter. Thinking he meant to be stern with them all, he surprised her by dropping to his haunches, becoming eye level with the child.

“You may have him on one condition. While you are here at the castle, you must ask before you invite any more creatures into my home whether they are part of the family or not. I like to know who occupies my castle. Do

I have your word?”

Thomas did not hesitate. “Yes, your grace. Thank you, Cousin Lucius.”

Their host handed the frog back to the boy and rose to his feet. Holding out his hand to help Mama to hers, he offered her his arm. “If I may voice my opinion, do not be too harsh with them, my lady. The boy meant no

harm. Frogs do possess a certain charm for lads of his age. As for Lady Rosalind, she meant to defend the boy. A kind heart is an admiral trait in a young lady.”

Mama gaped and then snapped her mouth closed as she allowed him to lead her up the stairs to the heavy entrance door while monitoring the large dog keeping pace on the duke’s other side. “I pray you feel as lenient

toward us by the time we leave, your grace.”

Papa fell in behind them, clasping his hands behind his back as he strolled along, still chuckling. “I agree, Lucius. Both with you and my wife. I remember a time or two we were sent to our chambers for such antics.”

“Quite right.”

The three approached the open door to the castle and disappeared inside.

Rosalind followed, bemused by the way their host dealt with her younger half-brother. “Come along, Thomas.” She took his hand and hurried after the parents, trying not to envision the talk she knew her mother planned for later. The duke may be appeased, but Mama would not be until she had her say.

About the Author

Virginia Barlow has always loved reading romance novels. She used to sneak into her mom’s room as a young girl and read them while her mother was gone. As she grew older, her reading tastes expanded to sci-fi, dystopian, paranormal, and fantasy.

 She considered becoming an author in her late twenties but as a busy mother with toddlers, she didn’t have the time or the energy. Later, in her fifties, she decided to give it a try and has enjoyed every moment of it since. She recently signed her fourteenth contract and is over the moon with excitement. Writing is truly her happy place.

Her husband of forty-one years is her greatest support as are all her children. Most of them are grown and carving out lives for themselves. But they are the beat of her heart and with every grandchild, the rhythm gets stronger. She enjoys every moment of her life and plans to live them to the fullest.

Author Links  

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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Chapter One: Tropical Scandal by David Myles Robinson

Title: Tropical Scandal
Author: David Myles Robinson
Publisher: Bluewater Press, LLC
Pages: 291
Genre: Legal Thriller/Suspense/Mystery

When Pancho McMartin, Honolulu’s top criminal defense attorney, takes on the case of Dayton Kalama, a young drug dealer accused of murdering his grandmother (tutu), Pancho is faced with a daunting amount of evidence pointing squarely at Dayton. But as Pancho, together with his private investigator, Drew Tulafono, gradually pull back the layers of deceit, they begin to uncover hints at what is beginning to look like the biggest scandal ever to hit Hawaii’s legal community. This book is pure fiction, but is inspired by true, scandalous events which shook Honolulu’s legal community to its core.


Chapter One:

I was surprised when my current lover, Padma Dasari, asked me to meet with Isaac Goldblum, a legendary Hawaii trial attorney who, now in his eighties, was an alcoholic still representing clients. I had made known my intolerance for those attorneys who fell prey to addiction 

yet refused help—all while still accepting clients. They were walking malpractice cases who risked everything they’d worked for in their own lives—not to mention the lives of their clients—by living and working as functional drunks or addicts.

Being a trial attorney was stressful. Being a criminal defense trial attorney was particularly stressful. Aside from the relatively rare innocent defendant, our customer base was composed of criminals who, generally speaking, were not the warmest and fuzziest people to deal with day in and day out.

Whether they were guilty or innocent, their lives were in our hands—a situation only the most jaded and burned-out counsel didn’t find stressful.

My surprise didn’t arise from the fact that Padma knew Goldblum. She was the former medical examiner for the city and county of Honolulu, and just as I had cross-examined her many times in her capacity as coroner, so had Goldblum. My surprise arose from the fact that Padma knew Goldblum had been one of my early heroes. He was most famous for having won an acquittal for two Hawaiian teenagers who had been charged with the murder of a prominent haole (Caucasian) businessman. The public outcry against the Hawaiian kids had been reminiscent of the uproar in the Deep South when young black men were charged with the rape of white women. It was scary. Goldblum was vilified for taking the case. 

As he later said in an interview for the Honolulu Advertiser, he knew that anything short of proving who the real killer was would fall on deaf ears. His cross-examination of the businessman’s administrative assistant, who’d been having an affair with the dead man’s wife and who ultimately confessed to the murder, was nothing short of brilliant.

I had shared my early hero worship of Goldblum with Padma, but I had also made it clear that I now harbored a healthy dose of contempt for the man, who seemed intent on destroying his own legacy. At the time, Padma had not tried to defend Goldblum.

We were enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon at Padma’s Kahala Beach condo when she broached the subject of my meeting with Goldblum. “He lives here, in the next building,” 

she said. “He’s invited us to stop by for a cocktail at about four.”

I stared out from her oceanfront lanai at the tranquil ocean.

The palm fronds on the coconut trees fronting the beach barely twitched. One lone puff of a cumulous cloud hovered in the bright blue sky.

“Why?” I asked. “Why would I want to go have a drink with a drunk who should have put himself on inactive status years ago?”

Padma stared back at me with her piercing dark eyes. I half expected her to admonish me for being too judgmental—a trait I seemed to have developed in recent years. “Isaac asked to 

meet with you. We know each other from court, and he knows I live in this building, and he knows we’re in a relationship. I think he came to me rather than you because he knows—or at least suspects—that you aren’t much of an admirer of his.”

Padma had been born in India and had done volunteer work as a doctor in Bangladesh, but she had lived and worked in the United States for most of her adult life. Nonetheless, she still retained the remnants of an accent, which was melodic and soothing. No doubt she was a calming influence on many people grieving the loss of a loved one. She had been instrumental in helping my mother in New Mexico get through the early stages of the loss of my father. Just the tone of her voice seemed to take the wind out of my judgmental sails.

“Okay, but do you know why he wants to meet?”

She gave a small shake of her head. “Something about a case. That’s all I know.” She paused for a beat. “Look, I know he’s a drunk and you hate the fact that he’s still going to court, but you have to admit: drunk or sober, the man knows the law and probably still has pretty good instincts. I doubt he would ask to meet with you if he didn’t think it was important.”

I resisted the temptation to make a snide remark and instead looked at my watch. It was three-thirty in the afternoon. “Why’d you wait until now to tell me about this?”

Padma’s beautiful brown face broke into a mischievous grin. “So you wouldn’t have time to obsess about it.”

I laughed. “Jesus, Padma. We’re not even married and you play me like a fiddle.”

“I love the fiddle,” was her only retort.

About the Author

David Myles Robinson has always had a passion for writing. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, while in college, Robinson worked as a freelance writer for several magazines and was a staff writer for a weekly minority newspaper in Pasadena, California. Upon graduating from San Francisco State University, he attended the University of San Francisco School of Law. It was there that he met his wife, Marcia Waldorf. In 1975 the two moved to Honolulu, Hawaii and began practicing law. Robinson became a trial lawyer and Waldorf eventually became a Circuit Court judge.   

Upon retiring in 2010, Robinson completed his first novel, Unplayable Lie. He has since published eight more novels. 





Sunday, September 10, 2023

Chapter One: Home Rule: Book III of The Tribal Wars by Stella Atrium

Title: Home Rule: Book 3 of The Tribal Wars
Author: Stella Atrium
Publisher: Stella Atrium Writes LLC
Pages: 458
Genre: Science Fiction  

In Book 3 of the award-winning series, photojournalist Hershel Henry witnesses the loss by self-torching of tribal women. The Madquii and Gora tribes have laid siege to the city of Urbyd, and Brianna Miller must seek a peace treaty.    

Kelly Osborn travels to Stargate Junction to set the wedding of ambassador Otieno. Hershel Henry opens a gazette to report on pending elections for home rule, but then shocking events upset their plans.     

Get your copy at Amazon at

Chapter One:

Chapter One – from Herschel Henry

Dkar was my landlord in Cylay. A Putuki man with bulging eyes that judged everything, he owned a converted warehouse eight blocks from the governor’s house, if you can call them blocks. I paid for two rooms above the waterfront where Cylahi-constructed furniture was sold to the newly rich residents of the Putuki city section. People on the street did not bother me much, sometimes to beg alms. My rooms were tossed and robbed, however, whenever I left to pursue a news story.   

Aging and maimed warriors lingered in Cylay; desperate women with toddlers, free-roaming fowl and pigs. Electricity came on for two hours a day and the faucets never worked. Rabbenu Ely and Putuki Bazaari still held authority in Cylay, but Rabbenu provided few services to the people. Unblessed ones, as poor residents were called, understood little of where the city funds originated and why foreign aid arrived at the governor’s mansion.   

I was in Dkar’s office to lodge a complaint about being robbed again. Dkar sat in a squeaky chair behind a desk scrounged from an abandoned hotel. “The thefts are friendliness, Hershel Henry,” he said. “Their way of saying that you are useful to them.”   

“Look, if you refuse to take my complaints seriously–” 

I like you Softcheeks,” he interrupted. “You can feel safe here. Safe as long as you allow the activity. If you should bother Potuki police about the theft, well…that’s different, huh?”

“Is that a threat? Are you making a threat?”

“I want to help you, Henry. I’m helping here. Tomorrow we go to the bazaar, and there we find your solution.” Dkar leaned forward with a grin, showing the absence of two teeth on the left side. “Trust me.”    

I had washed the insect repellent from my hair and beard, now a silvery blond against the tan skin. I wore the dungarees and shirt of the clutch of Kenru, provided to me when I first visited Uburu land. I had a field vest with notepad and light meter. And I constantly wore the sheathed beltknife that was a gift, more for show against the hungry eyes of local beggars than for soldiering.         

I was forced to keep my cameras and everything but a change of clothes at the hotel Press Club. John Milan and other journalists jeered at me for preferring to live among the people, and I was beginning to get the message.   

“You got a woman, Henry?” Doug Endicott guessed when I was sharing drinks with John Milan and Regan Villines at the Press Club. Endicott was the network dog who parceled out paychecks.    

I squinted at his smirk. “Just closer to events.”    

“You stink of that slum,” Endicott complained. “You bring their diseases in here.”   

“I’ll try not to infect the tribes with your attitude.”     

“Why did you even come to Westend?” Endicott demanded. “What was it, Henry? The lure of exotic locales, or running away from a broken heart?”       

“Where I come from, everything is broken. The savannah tribes have a purpose.”    

Endicott shook his head slightly. “So…it’s the romance thing. Your tour will end six months early. Mark my words. You’ll shake with malaria chills for a decade.”    

“Maybe not. Australian pioneer stock.”      

“An urban pioneer?” Endicott realized his drink was empty and stepped to the bar for a refill.       

The comtech over the bar had the volume turned down, but the news clip replayed Rabbenu Ely announcing a new business in Cylay for an upstart stock exchange. The rotund rabbenu wore a dark suit and blue silk sash to designate his office. Ely made a stately stroll down a gilded hallway to step up to the podium and face reporters. Three suited Putuki men and General Sector in a starched uniform, head of Consortium peace-keeping troops in Cylay, crowded behind Ely.   

“Ely has gained weight,” Regan said derisively. “And he chose blue for that sash.”   

“Why blue?” I asked.  

“Blue is forbidden on the savannah,” Regan said, seated shoulder-to-shoulder with me. “In honor of the blue macaw, the god-agent of Rularim.”   

“What’s a god-agent?” I asked.   

“You have much to learn about the tribes, Henry.” John Milan said. “It’s like a witch has a black cat, but some animals can share dream images with favorites.”    

“With you?” I asked him.    John made a snorting noise and looked around for the waiter. He sighed and went to the bar to order, lingering with Endicott.    

“Why does General Sector lend himself to this charade?” Regan asked as she watched the comtech news. “That’s the real question.”   

We saw Ely encourage a shorter man in a blue suit to step up to the podium, further crowding the ministers.     

“Manenowski! Can you believe it?” Regan said. Her weathered face and khaki clothes tagged her as a veteran reporter. “He was promoted to captain under General Sector,” she added. “He resigned his commission for this new position as a stock trader. And Sector just stands there like that turncoat act was nothing at all. Man, this job will make you cynical.”     

John returned with drinks for him and Regan but not for me. I took the hint. I headed out from the Press Club, just catching Regan’s comment as she speculated to John Milan, “How much different from Henry’s station in Australia is that slum alleyway?”   

# # # 

It was four days and two thefts later when Dkar knocked on my door. I laughed and shook my head. The doorjamb was splintered where the most recent thief had gained entry after I had bars installed on the windows.   

“Come along then,” he said without preamble.     

The Cylay local bazaar was long established – a narrow walkway where vehicles found no purchase. We walked past six-by-six kiosks with stacked shelves. Unlicensed, I was thinking, and each with a souk who mostly lived there. I saw second-hand goods near the walkway, also some aging and bruised vegetables. We had to step across a couple of vendors to get to another kiosk with better goods. We struggled through a narrow section where herbalists sold amulets, talismans, and magic poteens. Finally, Dkar stopped at one counter that I could never find again from trying. I was instructed to buy blue macaw tail feathers.     

I squinted. “Bird feathers?”      

“Trust me,” Dkar said with that slimy grim.     

The feathers were expensive.   

We returned to my rooms where Dkar tied the feathers over my doorjamb with string.   

“A new temptation for theft,” I complained. “They’ll be gone in an hour.”     

“A good message you send with these,” Dkar said. “Your power is greater than theirs.”   

“My power to be robbed again?”    

“For you, the mark of Rularim is not needed,” Dkar said. “You wear Brian Miller’s beltknife.” Brian Miller had fallen in the tribal wars long before I came to Dolvia. “But your house is not covered,” Dkar added, “only your person. And Rularim’s mark over the doorjamb? Well, everybody tries that. Her mantel does not extend to Cylay.”    

“Blue feathers are a deterrent?” I asked.   

“A taboo color. The blue macaw lives at the fortress, maybe longer than Rularim lives there. These unblessed ones see a spiritual risk, frightful dreams or a sour stomach later. Only a discarded gualarep toenail is better. Do you have one?”    

“I’m afraid not.”    

“Ah, too bad.”   

And I was not robbed again after that. I brought clothes and equipment to my small space. Later I set up an EAM connection complete with a coolant unit and battery pack.    

Kids brought water in buckets in exchange for kam, the Arrivi penny that was a circular plug of copper. Cylahi warriors traded tool-and-dye services for twists made from precious metals. The oblu was their twist equivalent to the silver quarter. Rabbenu Ely had paper money printed with his face on the front, but the denominations were too high for most street commerce.   

Dressed only in cotton shorts, many with rust-colored hair and stunted by malnutrition, the kids gambled on the kam lottery. On any street corner, a kam-man loitered continuously. Nothing was written down so he needed to know customers for collection and payoffs. Our local kam-man was a Cylahi warrior who spoke Arrivi. White splotches showed on his arms and shoulders, the result of old burns where the pigment was gone. He was known as Blanc. Over time I had won Blanc’s trust, and he agreed to bring any news. If a broadcast segment or article developed where I was the first reporter on the scene, he received a small gratuity; that was our deal. I learned about recent deaths at the hands of the brutal Putuki police and where the abortion clinic operated. Later I learned that Blanc knew some English, but why show his cards, huh? I told Blanc that I sought political news – what Rabbenu Ely was doing for the people.    

“Not anything,” Blanc said with a shrug. “Ely does nothing for these unblessed ones.”     

The rainy season was getting underway. The unmanaged sewage that was so offensive in the unrelenting heat, during the rains became a disease-carrying soup in the alleyway outside my window. I had a rubdown at the Press Club to relieve aching muscles and considered getting the flu shot distributed in Cylay by Consortium officers. Tribespeople stood in line at police stations and academies, at long tables under the Consortium flag – a backward C tangent to a P, powder blue, on a sky-blue background. Children cried after an injection in the arm and took sugary treats from officers who wore powder-blue tams that designated them as peacekeeping.    

At the Press Club, I booted the EAM to catch up with correspondence. “Herschel Henry, hiki,” the screen blinked, using the Arrivi greeting.    

On the news channel, an announcer with china-doll makeup and a crisp English accent introduced an event showing Rabbenu Ely at the podium, facing reporters again. John Milan sat in the front row and was asking a long-winded question of the embattled leader. Did Ely support the order of impunity that protected Consortium officers from local laws, or did Ely support Karlyhi’s famous tribal logic? Was Ely content with the presence of peacekeepers who weren’t subject to tribal law? Was Ely content with the continued presence of a circle of elites like Carl Hartley who disregarded tribal law?  

The stormy look on Ely’s active face was all the answer I needed.  

I called up old news footage of the immolation of Kyle Rula in the Cylay plaza. I had watched the clip a thousand times. I remembered when I had first viewed the orange conflagration that had devoured her. I was sitting in an over-lit lobby of a lawyer’s office in Perth, waiting to settle my stepmother’s estate. My half-brother Trevor Scott sat across from me in a row of chairs against the wall. He was twelve years younger and two inches shorter. His mouth was screwed into an ugly smirk.      

“It all comes to me, you know,” Trevor said. “Mine by right.         

“The two properties and the stock certificates are yours. We are agreed.”        

“What do you care?” he asked hotly. “You’re headed to the other side of the galaxy.”     

I had looked away from his smirk and watched the Perth news on the overhead comtech with the volume turned down. A segment was showing a woman sitting cross-legged in the middle of Cylay’s plaza. She struck a match and dropped it onto her broad skirt. The fire was instant and harsh, maybe fueled by gasoline. Bystanders screamed or backed away, not understanding the purpose. I remembered I was unable to breathe that day in Perth, and coughed slightly to draw in the harsh air. It was the surprise that impacted me, especially from a muted comtech. Why would a person do that? What drove her to such a dreadful act?  

Trevor had only squinted at the images on the news. “And you’re so eager to report their troubles? People in Westend are just like us. No better than us.”    

I had signed the estate documents, barely listening as the lawyer explained that my father’s assets had been placed in trust for my return from Westend, and Trevor Scott received what his mother’s will had stipulated. I had walked out with Trevor still loudly complaining.    

“Go ahead, run away!” he shouted from behind me. “That’s what you always do.”

About the Author

Stella Atrium is writing The Tribal Wars series. The first trilogy is available as ebooks and in print. BookLife has awarded the Editor’s Pick designation for each book upon its release.    

Home Rule rounds out the first trilogy and received first place in the 2023 Artisan Book Review Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy.     

Book 4 titled Tribal Logic is scheduled for release in early 2024. Also be certain to pick up Atrium’s standalone novel Seven Beyond that won a 2014 Reader’s Favorites award in science fiction.