The Virgin Club
Blog: The Virgin Club
There is but one constant, inevitable truth in my life: What goes up, must eventually come crashing down.
My first memory of this recurrent theme happened when I was six years old. I was angry at my mother for putting me in time-out. Believing I was too grown up for such punishments, I set out to prove how self-reliant I was by running away from home. Most kids at that age would end up walking in circles because they know they aren’t allowed to cross the street.
My incident involved hiding in our neighbor’s old tree fort nailed between two pine trees. By the time they found me, my entire ponytail was drenched in pine sap. No matter how many times my mother washed my hair, the sap remained. She had no choice but to cut my hair off… all seven uneven inches of it. Of course this all happened a day before I started the first grade.
Needless to say, my first day of school wasn’t a pleasant one.
When I started this blog in college, the Virgin Club had a mission and a purpose we believed in: to never let the complications of sex and relationships sever the bonds of girl empowerment. To raise each other up as individuals who supported our own personal and professional goals.
The five of us made a pact to remain virgins until graduation.
Only three remained in the club by senior year, but we ended up as best friends. We were proud graduates who knew what we wanted and were ready to take on the world. Right?
Not so fast.
Keeping to my inescapable what goes up, must come down philosophy, it seems only fitting that during my first job interview, I tripped over a cord and face-planted into someone’s desk, breaking my nose. You wouldn’t believe the amount of blood that can come out of your face. By the horrified gasps of those in the office and their reluctance to come anywhere near me, you would’ve thought I had transformed into a hideous zombie, unsteady on my feet, reaching out for help and gurgling through the faucet of red flowing out of my nostrils.
Thankfully, someone did eventually come to my rescue. With watering eyes and searing pain, and in a state of panic from the amount of blood on my shirt and hands, I could put girl power on the wayside. Adrenaline doesn’t give a crap about your sense of independence or not wanting someone to be your “savior.” It has only one job—survival.
I took his help without shame.
Although I couldn’t see his face through blurred vision, I still remember his voice, calming me and telling me that I’ll be fine and how he had had his nose broken twice. My heartbeat eventually slowed to a more normal rate as he waited with me for an ambulance. There’s something reassuring about having someone by your side who understands you. Someone who had been through it and was willing to go through it again with you.
I never got his name, and I sure as hell won’t go back for a second interview.
So if you’re out there, I just wanted to say thank you.
Publisher: BAK Books
It isn't easy being 13 ...
And being raised by your grandfather ... and having a name like Minno ... and then having to journey through a strange land to rescue your parents. But Minno is doing the best she can.
For all her young life Minno believed her parents were dead. Then she learns they're alive, but they're in grave danger.
Her friend Hailey thought she was having a sleepover at her friend's house. Now she's Minno's ally and partner on their incredible quest.
The girls embark on the adventure of a lifetime to face a veritable menagerie of strange creatures, both friendly and unfriendly to their cause.
Oh, yeah, there's also one evil high minister Craveaux, who must stop Minno while he steals all the magic in the kingdom for his own sinister purposes.
Minno has to save her parents and along the way discover who she really is.
Other Books By James Barlog:
Publisher: BAK Books
The adventure continues ...
Minno 2 packs more zany adventure, more creatures, and new characters into this thrill-a-minute sequel. Every chapter sweeps you along in the strange and marvelous world of Ambrosia.
For Minno and Hailey there's no time to rest. They must forge alliances to take on even more bizarre adversaries.
The bond between Minno and Hailey is about to be tested. Can the girls' unlikely friendship survive another harrowing exploit in an unfamiliar land?
Hugely engaging, the Minno series is the perfect one-two punch of excitement for middle school and young adult readers.
About the Author
J. M. Barlog grew up in Chicago before serving in Vietnam with the US Air Force. He has authored numerous novels across many genres. Windows to the Soul, his debut novel, won the Readers' Choice Award for suspense at a ''Love Is Murder'' Mystery Conference. Barlog currently lives with his wife in Southern California, where he is busy writing Minno 3.
Beneath the Broken Moon: Season One
Bullets peppered the big screen of the Teatro de la Noche. Screams rang out around me, and I dropped to the floor, pulling my cousin Chandra down with me. Tension ached in my shoulders, and my heart pounded in my chest like a trapped animal, desperate to escape.
Gunpowder stung my sensitive nose, but through the overpowering scent, I caught a whiff of a hunter heading our way. “Chandra, we have to move.”
If Chandra and I didn’t get out of here we’d end up dead—or worse, test subjects for the Cazador—human hunters ordered to scour the land of nocturnes by the plutocratic government.
“How? They’re all around us.” Chandra peeked over the seats before dropping back down beside me. “A few of them are chasing down those who ran from the first assault, but two more are heading straight for us.” She ran a manicured hand through her honey-brown hair, which was only a shade darker than my own. “Come on. I have a plan. Let’s try to sneak out the side door.” She crawled in the opposite direction, down the row of seats.
The sight of my cousin’s butt cheeks hanging out of her short skirt filled my vision; some things were better left unseen. I lowered my gaze, particularly since Chandra had forgone panties. She almost always held herself with an air of power and purpose. Perhaps that’s what it took to get attention from other werewolves. Chandra got it in heaps, but her lower social status stopped a lot of relationships.
While it was a horrible time to second-guess my modest fashion sense, I couldn’t help wonder if I should take a lesson from my cousin. My own blouse and dark blue jeans had much less pizzazz. But I doubted my father would allow me to dress like Chandra; we had a privileged image to uphold.
I bit my lip, struggling to turn my thoughts back to the problem at hand. This was all too much. How could we get out of here unscathed when the roar of gunfire continued to close in?
We reached the end of the aisle. Chandra moved to glance over the seat, when a shout came from the opposite end, startling us both.
“Run, Chandra!” I barely kept my voice to a whisper.
She sprinted toward the bright red exit sign at the front of the theater, and I chased after her, trying to keep my pace natural though her long legs made it challenging. Maybe if they suspected we weren’t nocturnes, they’d leave us alone.
The stomping of heavy boots on the theater’s plush carpets said otherwise. Then again, they weren’t opposed to taking their fellow humans down too. The very rich in power thrived on oppressing those less fortunate. What better way to keep the populace down than to have their thugs strike whenever possible.
“We should split up.” Chandra shoved a heavy trashcan in front of the door, but that wouldn’t be much of an obstacle to the pseudo-military bastards.
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “No way. If we do that, we’ll—” The trashcan scraped the cement as the hunters tried to open the door. Maybe she was right. If we were together, there was a better chance of them catching us both. Alone, we might survive the night.
I nodded to her, and we took off in opposite directions down the alleyway behind the Teatro. The door slammed open, smacking the wall hard, as I turned the corner and headed toward the main street. I had to find somewhere to hide out before the hunters spotted me again.
In front of me, another group of Cazador chased a few werewolves down the main road. I slowed to keep my distance from them, but if I didn’t get somewhere fast, they were going to catch me. Ugh. As much as I loved getting out of the house and going to the movies, I wished I’d listened to my instincts tonight and stayed home.
Two sets of feet pounded the sidewalk behind me. Perhaps they’d spotted me before I reached the corner.
I picked up speed a little, pumping my arms as I struggled to keep to a human speed while staying out of range. The temptation to race through the streets nearly drove me to action, but I glanced back, seeing my pursuers for the first time.
One of the men had greying hair and a rounded belly, which explained the slower, heavier footfalls, while the other guy appeared younger and super-athletic. No wonder I was having trouble getting away. If he hadn’t been so scary, he might’ve been attractive. Pure masculine aggression raged through him, tensing his shoulders as his gaze focused solely on me, his prize. Each man carried a large-caliber handgun. I was just glad they were too busy running to try to shoot me…for now, at least.
My sandal hit an uneven patch of concrete in the sidewalk. My body lurched forward, but I caught myself before I could go down. I should’ve been paying more attention to the street. Up ahead on the opposite side of the road, I spotted a dark alleyway running alongside a row house. If I cut through, I could safely turn up the speed without exposing myself, and lose them.
The older hunter slowed; his breathing had become increasingly labored. He cocked his revolver’s hammer, and I darted across the empty road, making a beeline for the alley. The last thing I wanted tonight was to see Dr. Matthews. Just a little bit farther. A bullet smacked the ground at my feet, hitting me with fragments of pavement. I bit back a yelp, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of knowing my fear.
“I got this one, old kook,” the younger hunter grumbled, and his footsteps slowed too.
Another gunshot pierced the hazy night air. White-hot pain rocked my shoulder, nearly toppling me to the ground. I screamed, unable to hold it in, and picked up speed, no longer caring if I appeared human or not. The faint creak of a door barely registered before a pair of arms wrapped around my waist, jerking me inside the dark row house.
My rescuer softly shut the door, careful not to make a sound, and shoved a hand over my mouth. “Sshhh,” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you. You’re safe.” His voice was deep, with an English accent. He pulled me away from the door and hunched down in the darkened room, holding me close, waiting and listening.
Agony clouded my thoughts, but I couldn’t let myself lose focus.
Footsteps thundered through the side alley. I stiffened at the sound. The hunters’ harsh voices and the clanking of metal were the only differences between them and a herd of cattle. They made no attempt to disguise themselves, taking delight in the fear they provoked. The Cazador weren’t true predators, but they held power over their fellow humans and the weaker of the nocturnes.
I stayed silent in my mysterious savior’s arms. Thoughts of my cousin Chandra sparked inside my mind. She was still out there. What if the Cazador found her and killed her as they’d tried to kill me?
This man had saved my life. I needed to do the same for my kin.
His large hand flexed slightly, crushing my mouth. I placed my hand against his wrist, hoping he’d release me, since I no longer heard the disgusting Cazador who hunted me like an animal. How had I gotten myself into this mess?
Shifting my weight, I groaned as my shoulder brushed against his smooth chest, my arm hanging limply by my side. The bullet must be impairing my movement. I doubted even shifting into wolf form would fix this right now. What was I supposed to do? Not even my people were immune to blood loss.
The scent of death crept into my nostrils, which could only mean one thing: my savior was a vampire. In this weakened state, he could easily end my life, and I wouldn’t be able to stop him.
But why would he save me? Maybe he required his next meal. An icy shiver slithered down the length of my spine. For the first time, I felt real fear.
If only I’d insisted on returning home from the Teatro sooner instead of catching the night’s second movie, we wouldn’t have been there for the raid. Already my energy waned due to the rocky power of the three raging moons. The added exertion of running from the Cazador and getting shot strained my body even more.
Somehow, the Cazador had known nocturnes frequented the Teatro. Who would give that kind of information away? Wolves wanted the same pleasures in life that humans desired.
My savior readjusted his grip on me, brushing against my upper back. I swallowed a scream, unwilling to alert anyone who might be listening outside this man’s home. This vampire’s home. Clenching my teeth, I pulled at the vampire’s wrist. I would not be his victim.
He remained steadfast, proving my weakness. “Don’t scream. Don’t run. Don’t do anything that would force me to hurt you, because I’ve had a lot of practice.” His crisp voice caressed my ear, and his breath moved tendrils of light brown hair, tickling the flesh on my neck. “Do you understand?”
While he meant the words as a threat, I couldn’t help the way my body responded to his intensity. I nodded, forcing my thoughts back into place. If he attacked, I needed to remember my Militia training.
The vampire released me, but he stayed still, as if waiting for my next move.
Slowly and carefully, I scooted away and turned to face him. My eyes had gradually adjusted to the darkness, allowing me to see more clearly in the dimly lit room than a human would. What a sight he was. I brushed my fingertips over my sore lips.
Crouching in the shadows, he wore a navy-blue dress shirt with the buttons undone to show off his pale, sculpted chest, and dark jeans that snugly fit his long legs. I’d only seen a few vampires, and none of them had looked this exquisite.
My eyes widened as he ran a hand through his shoulder-length black hair. His gaze had dropped to my lips, and I lowered my hand. Hunger burned in his deep blue eyes; I prayed it wasn’t bloodlust.
What was I thinking? Our species didn’t see eye to eye on anything except survival. The Feud between vampires and werewolves had raged on for centuries now, since well before bickering humans shot the moon with a nuke after a resource dispute and nearly killed the world’s population. Little did my ancestors know just how much and how fast the world would change. Instead of bridging the gap, vamps and wolves had grown even further apart. No one remembered what or whom first started the divide, but neither race spent any effort on diplomatic relations.
Kill or be killed.
I took a deep breath and sat a little straighter. With space between us, my fear lessened. The Militia had taught me to defend myself against hunters and other nocturnes. They made sure I wouldn’t be easy prey for the enemy. Of course—they preferred to have my womb protected, since it ensured our race would live on.
Bitterness soured my taste buds, and the urge to spit overwhelmed me.
Admittedly, vampires were the hardest foes to defeat, and I couldn’t practice my skills much these days. Not with Father keeping me almost literally a prisoner in my own home.
But if I had to fight this vampire, I would go out having inflicted a lot of pain.
“Why did you help me?” I asked, keeping my gaze on the wall near his head. No way would I look into his eyes. While I was strong, I wasn’t stupid. His kind could easily manipulate, and I had no idea what he had in mind.
“I think it was your caramel-brown eyes, love.” He leaned into my line of sight, but I looked away. Instead, he closed the space between us in a heartbeat and gently stroked his index finger along my jaw.
The sudden intrusion on my personal space had me jerking away, but with my back so close to the wall, I had nowhere to run. “How could it have been my eyes?” I crossed my good arm under my breasts, but that drew his attention down to my chest. Not what I’d intended. “I’m sure you couldn’t have seen them while I was running from the hunters.”
With a sensual swipe of his tongue, he licked his lips. His gaze lifted to meet mine, but I quickly averted my eyes. “You caught me.”
Title: Easter Bride
Author: Shanna Hatfield
Genre: Sweet Romance, RomCom
Publication Date: March 21, 2019
Hosted by: Lady Amberâs PR
Valentine Bride: https://amzn.to/2ugBuja
Summer Bride: https://amzn.to/2N2FbAR
Easter Bride: https://amzn.to/2FlC2eG
Convinced everyone deserves a happy ending, this hopeless romantic is out to make it happen one story at a time. When she isnât writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
Shanna is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Romance Writers of America, Sweet Romance Reads, Cowboy Kisses, and Pioneer Hearts.
Valentine Bride: https://amzn.to/2ugBuja
Summer Bride: https://amzn.to/2N2FbAR
Easter Bride: https://amzn.to/2FlC2eG
A noise drew his attention from studying the buildings to behind the barn. He walked around the corner and stopped as a womanâs voice shouted from what was clearly a pen for pigs.
âSimba! Iâve had about enough of this,â she scolded. âYou know better than to get into Moeâs pen.â
There were grunts and bleating sounds that had to come from a goat. Colt was far enough away, all he could see was a muddy pen with mud-colored shapes moving around inside.
He took a few steps toward the pen but stopped when a dog the size of a small pony trotted from behind a horse trailer and stared at him. Although mud-splattered, the dogâs coat was a rich shade of caramel brown. Heavy bones, thick muscles, and the biggest head heâd ever seen on a canine gave the animal a look of power. An undershot jaw, like a bulldog, and a furrowed brow couldnât hide the dogâs intelligence even if he had paws the size of bread plates.
Expressive blue eyes sized him up. Afraid to move lest the dog decided to attack, Colt stood absolutely still. When the canine wagged his tail and offered a friendly woof, Colt released the breath he hadnât even realized heâd been holding.
âOh, shoot,â he heard the woman say. Colt glanced over to see her head pop into view before she released a startled squeal followed by a loud splat as she disappeared again. The goat bleated and the pig joined in the chorus with a series of grunts.
He started toward the woman, the big dog beside him, but before he reached the pen, she stood upright and stepped over the fence. Covered in oozing mud from the top of her head to the tips of her boots, the woman carried what looked like a half-grown goat in her arms.
Carson had assured him Piper was a beauty, but he couldnât envision it with her wearing baggy, filthy coveralls and muck smeared all over her hair and face. At this point, he wasnât sure he wanted to find out more about a female who appeared unfazed by the fact she dripped a trail of oozing, rank mud as she strode toward him.
âHi, there! You must be Carsonâs brother. Iâm Piper.â
She walked right up to him and Colt had to battle the urge to wrinkle his nose at the smell of goat and pig that filled the air around her. Normally, that kind of stuff never bothered him, but the overpowering odor made his stomach churn. Maybe he was coming down with something.
âLet me put Simba back in his pen and then Iâll show you Charlie.â Without waiting for his response, she marched over to an enclosure that looked like a small fortress with a high fence running around it. A covered area at the back provided a place for the goat to get out of the weather. Despite the secure lodging, he had an idea Simba had mastered the art of escaping.
Dumbfounded by the woman who didnât seem at all disturbed by the fact sheâd literally been wallowing with a pig to capture a goat on the lam, he remained rooted to the ground, waiting for her to return.
Title: Wrought Iron Roses
By: Elizabeth Kirke
Published by: Siren Press
Release Date: March 21, 2019
Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
Edited by: Squid & Ink
Genre: New Adult, Paranormal, Romance
Sisters Rachel, Angie, and Jo may have survived their first encounter with a curse, but hundreds more are lurking within their aunt’s antique shop. There’s just one problem: Peter, the apprentice, has no idea how to start teaching two untrained rune-casters and keep them safe at the same time.
It isn’t fair to Jo that she has no magic, but her sisters both do. She feels useless and left out. Worse yet, she knows that she’s a liability. She would leave… but, something in the shop is calling to her, reaching out … and she won’t leave until she finds it.
Every night, Angie’s dreams are haunted by a man who claims he was cursed, and she’s the only one who can save him. When she starts to get sick, Peter and her sisters are sure the cause is her mysterious dreams. How can they convince her that the person she’s determined to help could be the one killing her?
Rachel never expected to get a magic power and a boyfriend when she inherited the antique shop. Better yet, she’s actually good at curse-breaking. It seems as though she’s found exactly what she was meant to do. But, when a curse strikes two people she cares about, Rachel is faced with the harsh truth that she might only be able to save one.
Meet The Author
Elizabeth Kirke wanted to be an author before she even knew what an author was. She used to say that she wanted to be an artist, but that was only because she was too young to write and had to tell stories with pictures instead. She hasn't stopped writing since she learned how. It wasn't long before she dreamed of becoming an author and couldn't be happier now that that dream is a reality. If she isn't writing...well, let's be honest; if she isn't writing she's probably on Facebook thinking that she should start writing. But, if she isn't writing or on Facebook, she's probably doing something involving books, baking, gardening, or yarn. In an ideal world, she'd be reading and knitting while something from the garden is in the oven. Then again, in an ideal world, she'd have a flock of ducks and a couple of goats. Like most slightly-nosy, avid readers, Elizabeth can't resist trying to catch a peek at books she sees people reading when out in public to see if she can figure out what it is. While doing just that one day, she realized that it would probably be the coolest-thing-ever if she caught a complete stranger reading one of her books. That's her new dream.
STALK THE AUTHOR
Read for FREE in KU or own it for 99¢
When one cancelled flight changes everything. Nothing in Lucy Granger’s travels has prepared her for the series of serendipitous events that lands her in the arms of the handsome and enigmatic Bastian Kyle. On their first night together, Lucy and Bastian are on the same page: she doesn’t have the time for a relationship, and he doesn’t have the heart. But when they keep finding their way back to each other in the most unexpected of ways, what began as a one-night stand starts to turn into the one thing that neither of them expected.
EXCERPTMinutes later, movement shuffled in Lucy’s peripheral vision as someone claimed the empty barstool beside her. She didn’t even bother to look up from her phone—it was only a matter of time until the only other open seat in the airport was scooped up—but she did grip her bag a little more firmly between her heels and do her best to make some space between her and her new neighbor. The room seemed to be getting smaller by the second. She drained the rest of her wine, set the empty glass down, and tapped the bar top to signal a refill, only bothering to look for the bartender out of the corner of her vision less she accidentally made eye contact with someone who took it for an invite to chat. The bartender saw and nodded in her general direction without divulging even the slightest bit of personality. This guy was clearly really not in it for the tips, and nothing was more depressing in a pub than a lackluster bartender—especially when you were drinking alone. Lucy checked her watch: thirty minutes to go. At this rate, she might even have time for a third glass before she meandered back to the gate. Of course, three glasses of wine on an empty stomach probably wasn’t that great of an idea. It wasn’t exactly like that Cliff bar she’d eaten earlier was going to be the best sponge to soak up the booze sloshing around in her belly. Then again, supplementing it with crappy airport bar food sounded like a quick way to indigestion, or worse, so she’d take her chances. The new occupant of the stool next to her leaned in close and mumbled something that sounded like “hermm, mmm, hmm” in her ear. A chatter, there was always a chatter. Lucy did her best to keep her face from locking up in the sour expression she was told she made when she was irritated. “Hermm, mmm, hmm,” the voice said again. Whoever was speaking to her was doing so too softly for her ears to pick up over Randy Travis crooning in her ear. It sounded like someone was humming into a beer bottle. She was tempted to ignore it. If she didn’t react, the Chatty Kathy would probably assume her music was too loud and give up. But then her manners kicked in. Rudeness was unbecoming, or so she’d been brought up to believe. She tapped the screen of her phone to pause the music, and as she did, out of the corner of her eye she saw the soft fuzz of a very familiar looking scallion green fleece. Her wine-tinged mind barely had time to form the thought, No, it couldn’t be, before she found herself staring directly into the sparkling baby blues of Mr. Gate C30. She blinked once, swallowed down her shock, and recovered. Of all the people in the airport, how had it managed to be this one who’d found the only other empty seat? “I’m sorry, what did you say?” Her voice came out sounding as smooth as silk, not like she was surprised at all. Gate C30 laughed in that aloof, good-natured way that men do, and raised his bottle of Heineken to her in mock salute and took a deep drink. Even sitting he towered over her, and she studied his profile while he wasn’t looking. She’d hit the nail on the head: he looked exactly like an old-fashioned country boy, but with all the trimmings of a 21st century man—right down to the oversized TAG Heuer watch on his thick, ropey wrist. Lucy caught a whiff of something that smelled an awful lot like Guess Homme Blue; a crisp, woodsy scent with a hint of black pepper. She feared that scent since she smelled when she’d been shopping for men’s fragrances with Henri. It didn’t have a seductive name for no reason, and a scent like that on a man like this could drop a woman to her knees. She held her breath to keep from inhaling and tried to focus on what the sexy gate guy was saying. Hopefully he was more than just a pretty face. “I said,” he stared forward, but leaned into her as he spoke, tipping his head conspiratorially toward hers, “here’s to another missed connection, courtesy of O’Hare International Airport.” His tone didn’t match his words, and the surreptitious, almost suggestive manner in which he confided this made Lucy’s pulse thump in her throat. She had to hold her breath to slow her heartbeat back down to a manageable level. It wasn’t like he’d just told her he was Superman or anything. Being grounded at the airport wasn’t exactly a secret, but the way he said it she almost hoped it had been. She smiled politely and hoped she wasn’t blushing. That one glass of chardonnay was working its magic on already. Now that he’d spoken, Lucy should have been relieved to be wrong about his voice. It wasn’t of the warm, melting, thick as honey variety she’d guessed at before. Instead, it was the deep, rumbling, resonant kind—like thunder rolling across the sky—which wasn’t any better. Worse, actually. It was even more irresistible, and affected by an accent which was not country twang but that rolled and licked the words as they fell of his tongue. It sounded more like Louisiana than Alabama, and a little more creole than cowboy. That voice, those eyes—it was like she was sitting right next to a storm. The south was prone to hurricanes. “Oh, right …” Lucy realized she’d been quiet too long and forced something out. There really wasn’t much more to do than to agree, but she wanted to keep the conversation going. The bartender delivered her fresh glass of wine, his eyes shifting suspiciously between the couple as if he’d seen this kind of thing more times than interested him anymore. Nothing seemed to be able to shake this guy’s superior level of boredom. Even so, it provided the perfect distraction to avoid looking directly at the rumbling thunderstorm of a man beside her, which was a small mercy. She took a slow, considering sip of the chilled chardonnay, both to shake off the tension crawling up the backs of her calves and to buy her time for her brain to reboot. “Is your flight delayed?” she asked, attempting to sound disinterested. “Isn’t yours?” he countered quickly, turning his face to give her the full blast of his baby blues. “We’re on the same flight, I thought, or we’re supposed to be anyway.” She feigned surprise and prayed she pulled it off. There was nothing worse than being ousted by a guy who knew you were into him. He’d already caught her staring once, and she hadn’t forgotten the cocky smirk he’d given her then. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of guessing she’d been secretly praying to be seated next to him onboard. “Oh, are we?” His lifted eyebrow gave away nothing as he turned to take another swig of beer. He either hadn’t caught her bluff or he wasn’t going to call her on it. Either way, Lucy celebrated her victory with another sip of wine. They both knew damn well that the other had been waiting at the same gate. This kind of banter was the first move in the kind of flirting game that she’d been playing since high school, though it was monumentally sexier now when the end stakes were so much higher than making out in the backseat of somebody’s mother’s car. Not that she’d be able to cash in on this prize, but it was always a nice feeling to know she was the one winning. She always won. It was her favorite flaw: the need to succeed. Some people called it “over-achieving,” but Lucy preferred to think to it as “driven.” The Creole-accented stranger strummed his fingers on the bar, swallowed, and counter-attacked. “So, why are you headed into Madison? I assume business …” He tipped his head toward hers again and dropped his voice even lower so that it was a sensuous, pulsing baritone. “Or do you just really like cheese?” Well, now, he was being a flirt. She’d never heard anyone make cheese sound so deliciously filthy. It was likely that she might never look at provolone the same way. Smiling, she raised her eyebrow back at him. She would not give in to the temptation to give a lascivious reply, no matter how many were currently floating through her mind. It might put her over the edge. Lady in the streets, she reminded herself. “Business. Client work. Nothing exciting.” He nodded understandingly, and peered at her out of the side of his eye, waiting for her to continue. He was going to make her work for it now. Touché. “So, what about you?” she asked. “Business … or cheese?” She stretched out the last word, hoping her version sounded as titillating as his had. “Work,” he muttered, his playfulness dulling momentarily. The corner of his lip lifted in a look Lucy recognized as contempt, but quickly passed. After another a sip, he wagged the bottle, tried again, and tapped the bar top for another round. “Travel a lot?” “Never enough until it becomes too much.” Now that was a sentiment she could agree with. Being on the go was all well and fine until you suddenly looked up one day and realized you’d spent the past six weeks hopscotching hotel rooms. So you ran home, only to lay awake in your own bed because it felt less like home than the Sheraton. Of course, seeing as how she’d been so quick to run away from anything that even resembled a home-like feeling, Lucy could only partially relate. Home was heartache. Home was disappointment. She’d gotten a good reminder of that five months ago when she found herself in the middle of a grief-stricken shit show of relatives and estate attorneys. Catching the first flight out after her grandmother’s funeral had been a matter of survival. Still, usually nothing felt as good as freedom, until you reached that point when you forgot how to land. If home was where the heart was, then Lucy was starting to feel like she might as well move in with the Grinch up on Mount Crumpit, her heart two sizes too small. She raised her glass, echoing his mock salute. “To frequent flier miles.” He lifted his beer bottle, letting the ghost of a small smile slink through the wetness of his lips. “To airport bars.” For a split second, Lucy allowed herself to wonder how he had managed to make his way to the only other open seat in Concourse C. Did he follow me, or was it something a little more serendipitous? The thoughts slid out of her mind almost as quickly as they had crept in. It was unlikely she’d ever see him again anyway, not once they eventually landed in Madison and parted ways, so it wasn’t worth worrying about. Nobody ever met their soul mate in an airport bar … not that she was looking. “Sooo,” she said, stretching the word as she tried to think up what to say next. She let go of her bag, swung her legs around the barstool, and crossed them pointedly in his direction, leaving her triangle-tipped shoe to hang between them like a dare. She arced her ankle backward to show off the slim curve of her foot, and was pleased when she saw him glance down. “My guess is Louisiana.” He raised his eyebrow and the corner of his lip simultaneously so that his features carved a question mark in the profile of his body against the bar counter. She dropped off momentarily, letting her thoughts wander to the places she knew from her childhood when her family had driven over state lines to visit relatives. This guy was too polished for the bayou, but too spirited for somewhere so industrial as Lake Charles, and too worldly to stick out all the college traffic of Baton Rouge, home to Louisiana State University. But he definitely still had that front porch swing feel, with a little bit of a devilish streak. “New Orleans,” she decided. “Not French Quarter. Garden District. Willow trees. Where the undersides of porches are still painted blue to ward off evil spirits, but not far from a sweet nightlife and great food. Am I right?” “Mmmm.” His question mark reshaped into a pleasantly surprised comma. He made a small acknowledging gesture—a slight sideways nod—to show she’d guessed correctly, and swiveled on his barstool to face her. Giving her a calculating look, he ran a long-fingered hand through his thick dark hair and touched the index finger of his free hand to a dimple in his chin that she hadn’t noticed before. The face of his watch winked at her in the fluorescent lights above them. “Nicely done, Colorado.” He said it easily, with no hint of indecision or doubt, and Lucy couldn’t help but to take a sharp intake of breath. How the hell did he guess that? There wasn’t anything about her that screamed Colorado. It wasn’t like she’d pulled up in a dirt-caked Subaru wearing Birkenstocks and a Mile High City T-shirt, even if that was a rude stereotype. Then, she noticed her driver’s license, which was now laying face up on the bar top. The bartender must have rechecked her ID when she wasn’t looking. Black script scrawled Colorado big enough for any passerby to read. She gave him an accusatory glare. “You cheated.” “Didn’t you?” “I did no such thing.” Putting his hand on his knee so that his elbow bent, Gate C30 angled his body into a little right angle of fleece, denim, and tanned skin. His body language taunted her, daring her to prove it. He took a final sip of beer and ogled her suggestively when he returned the empty bottle to the counter. “Oh?” Lucy regarded at him in a way that expressly said, “Bring it on,” and meant it. She wasn’t sure exactly at what point she’d become so bold, so brazen, but she liked it. Perhaps it was the third glass of wine she’d chugged down before she’d even realized she’d ordered it. Or, maybe it was the fact that she was trapped in a random airport, sitting next to a gorgeous stranger that she’d never see again and who seemed to like to push her buttons. But, whatever it was, something about this Southern, baby-blue-eyed voodoo charmer made the muscles low in her stomach clench. “I’m too good to need to cheat.” The corners of his lips boomeranged into a grin, and a gentle laugh rumbled out of his throat. “I just bet you are.” She laid two twenties on the bar, plucked up her license, and slid off the barstool, now sort of wishing she’d sexier shoes after all. “You have no idea,” she purred in his ear as she walked out of the bar without a backward glance.
“You really are f@&king stupid,” Ice sneered. “Why don’t you just kick her puppy while you’re at it.”
“She doesn’t have a puppy.”
“That was sarcasm, a$$hole. Getting your brain scrambled has made you a real dumb f@&ker.”
“What was wrong with what I said?”
“You just reminded her that you still don’t remember her after you kissed her.”
“Yeah, it’s true. That’s why I said it.”
“Well, f@&k. There’s your first problem,” Ice grumbled. “You never tell the truth.”
“I thought honesty was always best.”
“Nooo. No, no, no.” Chris agreed with him, which I found a little odd, which meant it was probably the right answer. “How’s dinner?”
“Fantastic,” Ice said. “Never had a better steak.”
“Honey, did you put that bill in the mail?”
“Of course, honey. I know that bill was important,” Ice smirked.
“Was it good for you?”
“Best head of my life.”
“That’s an important one,” Chris said urgently. “Never forget that one. She wants to know that she’s the absolute best and you’re never thinking about any other woman going down on you.”
“You lie to her about sex?” I asked incredulously.
“They do it too,” Ice shrugged. “You’re the best I’ve ever had. You made me come so hard. Your dick doesn’t fit. All of those are lies they tell us to make us feel ten feet tall. You know for a fact that they still think of past f@&ks because we do it too. And then there’s that lie about coming so hard when you know they were faking it. And come on, we all know that a dick can only be so big and it’s definitely going to fit because they can squeeze a baby out of their vaginas.”
“Lies are a healthy part of any good relationship,” Chris agreed. “They’re for your benefit and hers, so use them, but use them wisely.”
“Well, I’m glad that you gave me this advice now, after I already f@&ked things up. What the hell do I do now?”
Title: Unbound Spirits
Author: Christine Pope
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Cover Designer: Christian Bentulan (Covers by Christian)
Editor: Katherine Tomlinson, Story Authority
Publisher: Dark Valentine Press
Publication Date: March 20th, 2019
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR
USA Today bestseller Christine Pope is the author of the paranormal romance Witches of Cleopatra Hill series and the Djinn Wars series, among many other books (sixty and counting!). Researching UFOs brought her to magical Sedona, Arizona, where she now makes her home. Find out more about her books at christinepope.com.
Unquiet Souls | Unbound Spirits | Unholy Ground
They headed toward the space where Susan had left her Subaru. However, theyâd only gone a few yards when Michael stopped, his entire body going cold, as if heâd just been pushed into an unheated swimming pool.
âWhat is it?â Susan asked, pausing as she looked at him with some concern.
âI donât know,â he replied. His teeth wanted to chatter, and he clenched his jaw. âSomething dark. Something evil.â
âHere?â She looked around in bewilderment at the parking lot, at the rows of cars shimmering under the bright sun.
He could see that sun, but he couldnât feel its warmth. Even though he felt as if his legs couldnât move, they were so numb, he somehow managed to force himself to take a step forward, then another one. Slowly, the icy feeling dissipated until it was gone entirely.
Just to be sure, Michael began to retrace his steps. At once the cold surrounded him again, so tangible, it was like walking into a wall of ice. It seemed to emanate from a single parking space theyâd passed. He went to it, and experienced a sharp shock of horror and surprise, gone quickly but still somehow thrumming in his bones.
Those werenât his emotions, however. Somehow he knew he was experiencing what Audrey had experienced in this very spot less than an hour earlier.
He turned and looked back at Susan, who stood at the edge of the parking space, her expression a study in confusion. Clearly, she couldnât feel anything, was only responding to his own reactions.
âI donât know where Audrey is,â he said slowly. âBut Iâm fairly certain sheâs in very grave danger.â
Author: Tara Vasser
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Cover Designer: Dawn Til Dusk Designs
Models: Chase and Mandy Borst
Publisher: Winter Musings LLC
Publication Date: April 11, 2019
Hosted by: Lady Amberâs PR
Buried as punishment for a crime he didnât commit, Endre has nothing but time to plot revenge on his betrayer. Salvation arrives when an archaeology student unwittingly exhumes his coffin and provides him with the first blood heâs tasted in nearly a century.
Upon awakening from an attack by a creature she never imagined actually existed, Nora discovers she is now his hostage. Forced to accompany Endre from Italy to Paris on a quest for vengeance, she is thrust into his dark and forbidden world where she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the Vampire. Lust runs rampant throughout the course of their journey and Nora begins to question if the irresistible connection between them is more than mere biology.
Tara Vasser is a wicked writer who lives in the frozen north in Minnesota with her wonderful husband and two rambunctious little dudes. She is an engineer during the day, a crazy mom in the afternoon and a writer at night. She enjoys spending her time playing in the dirt when her gardens arenât covered in snow and listening to a wide variety of music that inspires her writing â sometimes doing both at the same time.
Author Links: Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Y51LiD
Buy Link: Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TfZFsu
1923 â Italy
Endre sat beneath the shadow of a massive cork tree in his garden, reading the newspaper as he watched the first rays of sunshine peek over the hills to the east. It was a pity he could not give his full attention to the beautiful view, his mind burdened with the troubling headlines. Folding the paper with a deep sigh, he pushed the paper and his thoughts of Mussoliniâs latest moves to overtake parliament to the side. Perhaps it was time to leave Italy and move on to greener pastures. There was an ominous scent in the wind, and it spoke of the death and destruction on the horizon.
Endre was no stranger to war and chaos, having been born a warrior. When conflicts arose in the world around him, his hands always itched to take up sword and shield. But of course, those days of ending wars with steel were over. Now, the weapons of choice were guns and bombs. There was no honor in that. No promises of glory or feasting in the halls of Valhalla when so little skill and preparation was involved.
Valhalla or no, the political climate of this region was no longer hospitable to his research. Secrecy was completely necessary, and the alliances Gregor had forged to provide Endre with supplies for his lab would not stand the threat this new breed of fascism posed. Glancing over at the horizon, he frowned. He had been out here long enough; it was time to retire for the day, and he would allow his dreams to conjure his next moves and put new plans into place when twilight fell. Endre picked up his paper and made his way toward the door when the noise of automobile tires crunching over the gravel drive and shouting stilled his movement.
âBack here! In the garden!â a voice hollered from the garden entrance.
A man dressed impeccably in a suit with a homburg gracing his head stood at the entrance of the sanctuary. Endre did not recall his name, he only knew the man as one of Lorenzoâs bodyguards. The man gestured wildly in Endreâs direction.
Several more of Lorenzoâs bodyguards filed in behind him, posturing menacingly.
Confused, Endre watched the men as they lined the perimeter of his garden, violating his last few moments before the sun crested over the hill. âWhat is this? Where is Lorenzo?â he scoffed, standing his ground when they surrounded him where he stood, preparing to fight if the need arose.
âI am here,â Lorenzoâs French-accented voice called leisurely from the garden entrance as he strolled forward and casually buttoned his suit jacket.
Sighing with relief, Endre relaxed at the sight of his friend.
Lorenzo sauntered into the garden lazily, stopping to inspect a blossom before meandering his way through his men to stand in front of Endre.
âAnd to what do I owe this honor?â Endre questioned suspiciously, watching Lorenzo carefully. It was much too close to dawn for them to be conducting business.
âEndre, you have been charged with murder,â Lorenzo recited in a bored voice, placing his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels.
Endreâs head jerked back as if he had been struck. Murder? He was being charged with murder? âAnd who is it exactly that I am supposed to have killed?â Endre demanded, outrage making his voice boom through the still morning air.
âCount La Rossa.â Lorenzo sighed sadly. âWhy did you do it, Endre?â
âYou cannot be serious.â Endre balked, sure this was some prank. âGregor is dead?â
The men surrounding him took a step closer, as if of one mind.
âI did not kill Gregor,â Endre protested, though he found himself falling back on his training from another life and crouched into a fighting stance.
Several more men joined the mob, men from Gregorâs guard, flanking Endre now with more than a dozen men. At most, he could take out half of them before they would bring him down, leaving another half dozen to beat him mercilessly and likely kill him in the processâmerely for resisting. Any defiance would be futile, but he would not go down without a fight, especially for a false charge.
Lorenzo shook his head sadly at Endreâs change in demeanor, as if his instincts of self-preservation condemned him of the crimes for which he was accused. Lorenzo raised his voice loud so all the men could hear him. âEndre, you are hereby charged with the murder of Count Gregor La Rossa. Your brothers here will serve as judge, jury, and executioners of your sentence. The traditional punishment for such a crime, as you are well aware, is burial. Your death by starvation will serve as justice by the old laws laid forth by The Council. Guards, seize him and prepare him for his punishment.â Then, turning back to Endre, he taunted, âI think we will bury you here in your beloved garden.â
Several of the guards pulled out pistols and made moves toward Endre.
Cowards, of course, they would not face him without firearms.
Endre lashed out, but he had only his fists. He managed to knock two of the guards to the ground before they had him pinned to the moldering leaves in the dirt.
Fists were no match for bullets.
Watching with one eyeâthe other caked in blood and dirtâthree men began digging his grave beneath the large tree and another two hauled a plain coffin through the garden gates.
At the sight of the coffin, Endre redoubled his struggled to break free. âLorenzo, this is nonsense. Gregor was my oldest friend and confidant. He was like a brother to me, just as you are. I would never harm him. What is the evidence against me? I demand a trial with The Council. It is my right,â he spoke around the dirt in his mouth.
Scowling down at him disapprovingly, Lorenzo approached slowly. He stooped and picked up Endreâs fallen fedora, brushing dirt from the fabric.
An entreating glance at Lorenzo earned Endre naught but a kick to the face. This man was no friend. Endre wondered if he had ever been. Blood from a gash above his eye poured down his face, but healed almost as quickly as it occurred, leaving dried blood caked to his eyelashes. Through crusted lashes, he watched as Lorenzo stood above him and removed his own hat, placing Endreâs atop his head instead.
Smiling, Lorenzo gave a nod of approval at Endreâs taste in menâs fashion and tossed his hat to one of the men standing guard, inciting a round of chuckles from his henchmen.
Fury boiled in Endreâs veins as his âfriendâ betrayed him and made light of the unlawful punishment he dealt. How could Lorenzo believe Endre capable of such a crime? It was unlike Lorenzo to dole out consequence without following proper protocol.
Unless Lorenzo had something to hide. Something he worried The Council would unearth if the matter were brought to trial.
Realization sunk like a stone in Endreâs gut as he put the pieces together.
When the guards finished digging the grave, the men casually tossed the coffin into the pit at Lorenzoâs gesture. The dull thud sent a chill through Endre. He continued to struggle against his captors, but with three of them now detaining him, he received nothing but a pistol whip to the head and kicks to his ribs.
With a nod from Lorenzo, the guards hauled Endre to his feet and dragged him toward the yawning opening of the coffin awaiting him. At the foot of the open box, two of the guards held his arms while one bound his hands in front of him with thick rope. Endre let out a shout when one man grabbed his hair and held his head back so he gazed directly into the lightening sky. From the corner of his eye, Endre watched Lorenzo pull a wicked-looking dagger from a sheath at his hip. The blade glinted with the light of the rising sun, a shining omen of Endreâs imminent demise.
âLorenzo, please,â Endre spoke to the man before him, the man he had considered a friend until this day, âIââ
Lorenzo only gave Endre a devious grin and prevented any more words from escaping his lips with a quick slash of his blade across Endreâs neck. Blood cascaded from his neck and he choked as it drained into his throat. Within seconds, the wound had already begun to heal itself, the blood flow stanched. Lorenzoâs blade dashed out again, performing the same motion across the nearly-healed laceration. Again, Endre choked and sputtered on his own warm blood and any words he wished to speak.
Light-headed from the blood loss, Endre fell to his knees. The guards holding him stepped back and left him with Lorenzo glowering down at him. Endreâs head lolled to the side and he was barely clinging to consciousness. All it took was a well-placed kick from Lorenzo and he fell backward into his new prison.
Several of the guards made a move to place the lid on the coffin, but Lorenzo stayed their movement with a wave of his hand. âLeave us. I want to speak to this murderous traitor alone before we leave him to the worms,â Lorenzo ordered, his eyes never leaving Endreâs fading ones.
Several murmurs went through the small crowd. That was not the way. Tradition and adherence to the old laws stated the sentence must be carried out before an amassing of the people, so all could witness what fate befell a murderer of his own kind.
âLeave us!â Lorenzo roared, turning to stare down each man in turn.
The guards filed from the garden, leaving Endre with Lorenzo and his bloody blade.
Lorenzo couched so his face was close to Endreâs.
Endre only wished enough blood had still flowed in his veins so he could reach out and relieve Lorenzo of the triumphant smile gracing his lips.
âEndre,â Lorenzo whispered with a sigh, âI warned you not to approach Gregor to back your research, and yet you did. Not only that, expressing wishes to distribute your cure at no cost?â Lorenzo tsked and shook his head. âHe would have done it, too. Threatened to expose me for lack of loyalty to our people. Unfortunately, he miscalculated. The man was too much of a philanthropist for his own good. He never did understand the power his money held. Such a waste. And here we are. Someone has to take the fall for Gregorâs death and justice must be served. It might as well be you. His blood is on your hands as much as mine, all because you could not follow simple directions. We could have profited from this together, you and I. I would kill you now if it would not upset the delicate sensibilities of our people. But alas, I cannot. Perhaps in a century or two, I will come check on you and finish the task when everyone has forgotten your existence.â
Endre glared up at Lorenzo, the lack of blood preventing his wounds from healing and allowing him to foil his new enemyâs plans.
âBut do not worry,â Lorenzo continued, brushing dirt from his trousers. âI will not let your research go to waste. I still have plans for the work you have done, but perhaps an adjustment here and there to suit my own needs.â
Endre only had the faintest inkling of what kind of dastardly plans Lorenzo was concocting, but the malicious smile gracing his lips was indication enough that it would not be good.
Rising to his feet, Lorenzo glanced down impassively at Endre once more. âYou should have listened to me, old friend. Now, you will have plenty of time to think on your cure and the error of your ways while you rot in your grave,â Lorenzo spat out with a maniacal laugh. Bending over, he slashed out with his blade one last time.
Endre felt the slightest trickle of blood ooze from the cut, so little of the liquid remained in his body.
At a shouted order from Lorenzo, the guards all marched back into the garden.
Endre attempted to alert them to Lorenzoâs treachery, but the only sound from his mangled throat was a pained moan. The lid of the coffin was lowered, blocking out the dazzling sunshine of the new morning, and hammers pounded out the finality of his death sentence. The last glimpse Endre had of Lorenzo was a mocking tip of the hat, his hat.
This box would not hold Endre forever, and when he rose, he intended to rain down retribution, and when he came for Lorenzo, it would be all-out war. The last thing he could hear between his own thoughts of revenge and each shovelful of dirt falling on the wooden box was Lorenzo whistling happily with the belief he had gotten away with his crimes.
Dark Fantasy, Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
The Masks of Under, Book 1
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Everything about my life has been pretty normal working as a forensic autopsy technician. Until the day I woke up with a mysterious symbol tattooed on my arm.
Suddenly normal no longer existed. The barrier between Earth and a world called Under, dissolved...
Now Iâm trapped with dozens of other people. Held prisoner by the creators of myths and legends, where the realm is ruled by two masked kings who want to turn us into creatures like them.
But even though I didnât choose to be here, this new world manages to pull me deeper, affecting me differently than other humans. Unfortunately King Edu, also known as the King of Flames, notices this and Iâm now considered a threat.
If I want to survive King Edu and the dangers of Under, I need to escape. The only problem is, thereâs another masked king who seems to have an interest in me. Aon, the King of Shadows, wants me here in this world, and he wants me alive.
I just need to figure out why.
What do you do when you wake up with a tattoo you didnât have the night before?
Huh. Well, thatâs odd, was the first thing that ran through Lydiaâs mind as she looked down at the mark on her forearm.
It looked like any old tattoo. It was small, about the size of a nickel, and done as if in a single pass with black ink from a needle. It was just a single symbolâarchaic, strange, and nothing she recognized. After attacking it with rubbing alcohol and bleach, all she succeeded in doing was making her skin red. Slowly and reluctantly, Lydia concluded the ink really was under her skin.
Or, at least, it looked like ink.
She was pretty damn sure it wasnât a spontaneously appearing black, thin-lined birthmark. One that looked like a backward N with a spiral cut through the middle. It really looked like tattoo ink.
The problem was, it hadnât been there last night. Lydia hadnât been out drinking and hadnât blacked out. Sleepwalking? No. She had gone to bed at about two in the morning after being up late playing video gamesâno tattoo parlor in the city wouldâve been open. She didnât know any tattoo artists with a sick sense of humor. Lydia had gone to bed, woken up, andâpoof. Nickel-sized tattoo. Right there on her forearm, no missing it, no mistaking it.
It was incredible how the human mind processed the seemingly impossible. After attempting to remove the thing for an hour, Lydiaâs mind simply decided that it simply could not process the issue. The mystery was upended by the simple and much more approachable problem of being late to work. That one she could wrap her head around. That one she could solve.
Instead of sinking into the panic of debating what the thing was on her arm, she justâ¦went about her day. Lydia scrambled to get ready, threw on some eyeliner, and brushed her hair before rushing to the T. She didnât know why she bothered. It wasnât like her âcoworkersâ would notice. They werenât the most sociable, chatty, and observant people. Nothing against themâthey couldnât help it.
They were dead, after all.
Lydia was a forensic autopsy technician. With every person she ever met, she had to explain why her job was not like that thing they saw on CSI that one time. It was hardly that interesting. Her job was only to collect the data. Record the numbers. There were more important, better-paid, smarter people who sat at a desk and actually solved the crimes. She just stuck plastic sticks in dead people, cut bits and pieces out of them for various reasons, and took a whole lot of gross photos.
Now, that wasnât to say Lydia didnât have real coworkers. It was just funnier to think about the people on the slab that way, to put them in a slightly humorous, if sardonic light. Otherwise, sheâd have to take her job seriously, and that was no way to live. Her real coworkers were friendly, ordinary people with details in their lives about which she had no clue. They were all okay with it that way.
Contrary to popular belief, nobody worked the night shift at a morgue, even if horror movies told you otherwise. She had a normal, nine-to-five, humdrum life, just like most people. Even if hers had to do with dead people. Well, hey, somebody had to do it. It did sometimes leave her with the scent of chemicals, though. She had to use mint shampoo because if she used anything floral, she just came off smelling like a funeral parlor.
Leaning against the side of the train car, she looked down at her phone and flicked her thumb over whatever soup-du-jour game she had downloaded that week. The green line was late getting into South Station. Again.
It was funny that in the city of Boston, you could hit the start of your workday by fifteen minutes in either direction, and honestly, nobody cared. Bostonâs T was Americaâs oldest subway station, and it showed. At this point, she suspected if a pigeon shit on the rails, the train would have to wait twenty minutes for it to dry.
She didnât even want to think about what happened when it snowed.
Lydia had come to enjoy Boston, if admittedly against her will. Sheâd moved out here from the New Hampshire countryside to go to college, got an internship, got hired, and got stuck. Now she had a typical life for a late-twenties single professional. Some houseplants, a job, some friends, some hobbies, andâa mark of personal progress in the city of Bostonâa one-bedroom apartment to herself.
Lydiaâs pattern was, like most people, wake up, work, go home, fill some time, sleep, wake up, work, day after day. Every few days, sheâd hang out with friends or catch a beer with her breathing coworkers. Smatter in a date or two, and life was good.
That was a successful life, right?
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Each day wasnât too different from the last. That also was most peopleâs opinion of a successful life. Just slowly wandering into the sunset, doing the same thingâpredictable and routine.
To be fair, today was just a little different than usual, though.
Lydia kept scratching her arm over her sleeve. The heavy chemicals she used on her surprise tattoo were itching like mad. Maybe she shouldnât have attacked it with a Brillo pad and bleach, but she had been frantic. Rolling up her sleeve, she tried to surreptitiously glance at it to see if it had magically disappeared. Maybe the bleach had done its trick. But no. There, surrounded by a red rash of her own doing, was the mark.
It didnât even hurt like she had expected a new tattoo probably should. It hadnât felt like anything until she attacked it trying to get it off. It was like it had been there for years.
She knew how tattoo ink on human skin should look. She knew how it got that slightly grayish, fuzzy edge to it, no matter how good of a job had been done by the artist. She didnât have any ink of her own, but more of the bodies that ended up on her table had them than not.
The thing on her arm wasnât possible. It had no business being there. She should be rushing to the hospital, but what the hell would they say? Tell her not to do drugs, and maybe she wouldnât wake up with a tattoo she didnât remember? They wouldnât believe her when she said she had a Diet Coke, played some PlayStation, and went to bed. Theyâd assume she either got drunk and didnât remember it or got roofied at a bar.
Either way, the cops would be called in, sheâd fill out a report, and absolutely nothing would be done about it. Nobody was hurt, nobody had been killed, nothing had been stolen, and there was nowhere to start looking. Best case, theyâd come to check out her apartment for signs of breaking and entering. Sheâd already looked; there werenât any. The cops would be left to simply shrug at the situation and go.
So, what on earth was she going to do? Call out of work? Sit on her floor and sob uncontrollably? Call an exorcist?
Lydia wasnât the type to cry and panic. She considered herself a rational, reasonable, logical human being. In college and med school, she had worked as an entry-level EMT. She had learned the âact first, panic laterâ mantra from a few of the older, far more beautifully jaded and saltier Boston paramedics.
They were a particular bunch.
The method was clearâsolve the problem, then have a breakdown if you had to. More than once Lydia had shown up to an accident where the person who had the original issue was just fine and the person who had made the call needed help because of a panic attack.
Act first, panic later. Lydia kept repeating it to herself in her head to try and stave off the rising tide. She had a tattoo on her arm she didnât remember getting, one that was impossible. But nothing was impossible, just momentarily unexplainable. Like stage magic, once you knew the secret, it was all a joke. Once she learned the trick, itâd seem obvious.
All the way to work, she scratched absentmindedly at the spot on her arm. Now it was seriously burning. Like a mosquito bite, rubbing at it only made it worse. But like a mosquito bite, she couldnât help it.
Passing the front desk, she threw her bag onto the track of the x-ray machine. Government building, government security. It was the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, after all, and it wasnât exactly in the nicest part of town. Even if it was attached to the Boston Medical Center, it was a few blocks from the corrections center and in that no manâs land between the South End and I-93 where it came back out of the Big Dig.
All sorts of people tried to wander in, some high, some nuts, most somewhere in between.
âHey, Nick,â she said to the security guard. He was younger than most of the other guards. He had initially been a Boston University intern with her almost six years ago. Nick had a penchant for not trying very hard unless he was really interested. Very little interested him, and so security was the perfect spot for him.
âHey, Lyd,â Nick said with a grin and looked up from his iPad. âBeer? Tonight?â The guy had an endearing, lopsided grin and scruffy brown hair. She figured he spent as little time as possible combing it without looking like a complete hobo. He was the kind of guy who always wore a t-shirt, over which he always wore either a hoodie or his uniform. That was pretty much all sheâd ever seen him wear.
Lydia and Nick had hit it off as good friends years ago, and they were still close. He was crass, and most people found him to be more than a little bit of an asshole. The issue was that Nick didnât know how to communicate, even on the scale of people who dealt with the dead every day. He couldnât help himself and not say what he thought at every possible moment. Lydia found the humor in it, and he put up with her weirdness, so here they were.
âSure,â Lydia agreed to after-work beers without really thinking about it. âWhy not?â Screw it. She could use a drink. Maybe she could show Nick the mark on her arm and he mightâmightânot think she was crazy.
âCool,â he said and went back to his iPad, dismissing her from the conversation. Oh, Nick and his stellar lack of people skills.
Lydia picked up her bag from the other side of the x-ray machine. Nick hadnât even bothered to look at the screen; he never did. Lydia shouldered her pack and walked to the lab she shared with two other people. But as it was the week before Thanksgiving, most people had taken an extended vacation. Shannon and Dan, her real officemates, were both out for the rest of the weekend.
Today should be a dull day. But surprise tattoo chorused in Lydiaâs mind. Fine, a slow workday. She sat down at her desk, flicked on her computer, and checked her email. She had a few cases to button up, boxes to click, photos to upload, and so on.
Lydia scratched the mark on her arm and sighed. It was like a fly, buzzing around her head. Hey! Hey! It was making it very hard to focus now that she wasnât moving. Idiot, you have a thing on your arm. You should panic. Hey! Hey, idiot!
As she was in the room by herself, Lydia rolled up her sleeve and glared down at the mark. Sure enough, it was still there, under the skin that had now turned a pinkish-red with all her incessant scratching and previous chemical abuse.
Lydia leaned back in the chair and held it up to look at in the light. Itâd take a tattoo artist all of five minutes, if that, to put down. So, some goon broke into her apartment and set up all his equipment and tattooed her. And the noise and the pain hadnât woken her up somehow. They must have drugged her first, then.
That seemed laughably like the most logical option. Lydia went to the bathroom and started searching herself for injection marks. She was good at finding themâthat was her job, after all. Half an hour in the bathroom, using her phone on selfie mode, and no dice. Nothing to show for it except confirmation that looking at herself up the nose was never attractive, ever, and didnât do anything for her self-esteem.
She even checked for the classic serial killer trick and looked between her toes and under her nails. Lydia let out a low breath, took her long blonde hair out of her ponytail, and combed both her hands through the loose waves and tried to think. She scratched her scalp with her fingernails as she desperately tried to get her brain to work faster. It was required to keep your hair under a shower cap while working on a corpse, so Lydia always kept it tied up. But honestly, she preferred it down.
No injection marks. Maybe it was somewhere really well-hidden, and Lydia was missing it. Well, she couldnât just sit in the bathroom all day and look. Somebody was going to notice she wasnât at her station eventually.
Flopping down at her desk, Lydia realized there was a body on her metal table. It was still in its bag, likely having just been dropped off. Lydia blinked. There wasnât one scheduled for today. A folder on her desk had a sticky note on it, saying in fine-point Sharpie scrawl, âYouâre the lucky winner. Jim.â
Jim was her boss. He was funny, they had a friendly and casual working relationship, and he trusted her to get her job done. Even better, he didnât over-manage her, and in exchange, she didnât ask him for a damn thing except for time off. Lydia was as self-reliant as employees came and managed her own time without an issue. It was a pleasant, peaceful coexistence.
But it also meant when he needed to get something done and done fast, it was her job.
Sighing, Lydia picked up the folder and opened it. The body would have been in the fridge, except Jim had pulled it specifically. Upcoming holiday weekend and schedule be damned.
Death was hard to plan, after all. Especially the kinds of death they handled. The gentle term they used on the website for this kind of death was âunexpected.â Lydia, with her off-color sense of humor, had long since dubbed it âmurdery.â
There were a few different kinds of people who worked in the dead-people business. There were those who had simply turned that part of them off and handled everything they saw and did like a bank clerk. No big deal, nothing to see here, move right along. There were those who internalized it to the point they became dead inside themselves. And then there were ones like her, who handled it with humor. It was a crass and morbid way of dealing with the world, but at least it was good for a laugh.
Better that than winding up like that guy from Phantasm. What was his name again? The Tall Man. Right. Itâd been a while since sheâd seen that one, and if she could recall right, heâd been some weird brain-sucking alien or something. She didnât remember, except that he had those bizarre floating silver orbs.
Lydia loved horror movies. She adored them. They were a pastime and a hobby. From the age of eight and on, her dad would take her to the local Blockbuster every Friday, where she could rent two VHS tapes. So she did, and every week, they were always from the horror section. Lydia had spent her childhood working alphabetically through from 13 Ghosts all the way down to Wolfman.
None of it ever scared her. As a kid, all sheâd ever wonder about the movies was whether Michael Myers ever got lonely, or how Pinhead slept at night with all those things in his face. Did he have to straighten them all back out in the morning with the back of a hammer?
It was part of her love of horror that led her to do what she did for a living. It was easier to handle, in some weird way, if you just pretended it was all movie magic. These werenât real squishy peopleâthey were just props.
The folder contained the police report. The guy had been found the night prior in an alley between some buildings in Boylston. All that was scribbled down was that the man had died from an apparent shotgun wound to the chest. No other descriptions, no other boxes checked. Even the little box that indicated if a weapon was found nearby was left blank. Freaking cops. They never wrote down anything that mattered. More than once, she had wound up doing a cast of a blade only to be told another department had the knife the whole time.
With a sigh, Lydia stood and walked up to the body. Putting on a sterile hair cap, she suited up and threw on a pair of gloves from the table next to it and unzipped the bag. She pulled it all the way down past the toes before opening it up.
âWell, hey there, buddy,â Lydia greeted the dead body incredulously and tilted her head to the side. That was something you didnât see every day. The man was dressed in what looked like Victorian clothes. Shirt, vest, and coat, all extremely dated and all in shades of white and cream. Even his shoes were white and polished. Was this guy on the way to a wedding? Or a costume ball, maybe?
Blood had oozed from his forehead and ran straight down his face, revealing it had been there while the man was standing. It covered the right side of his face, obscuring what would have been otherwise reasonably handsome features. He had short black hair, the only thing about him that wasnât white, cream, or in the case of his skin, the familiar lifeless pale blue of a corpse.
âSigns of an altercation before death,â Lydia mumbled to herself as she wrote it down on her notebook. That would be the only reason he had blood streaking down his face toward his chin. What had killed the man was pretty clearâa broad swath of small holes in his chest, each circled and ringed in dried blood. A shotgun blast to the chest, and it looked like it was done from close range and been packed with buckshot. Great. That would make for some serious fun all afternoon as she picked each individual ball out of his chest. Lydia sighed. So much for a short day.
The man had no identification on him at the scene. In fact, his pockets had been entirely emptied. That wasnât uncommon, even if most people didnât generally get mugged with a shotgun on the way to a costume ball. Lydia had to admit at least that part made it interesting.
First step, photos, then strip a layer of bizarre Victorian clothing, and more snaps with her camera. The clothes werenât cheap and didnât seem like they were costumes. Once the body was naked, she took more pictures, bagged and tagged the clothes, and put them in a little plastic bin on the bottom shelf for the more traditional forensic teams to examine.
The lab would want a blood sample. They always did, no matter how obvious the cause of death might be. Lydia took a red washable pen, circled a mark on his femoral artery on this thigh, and inserted a syringe. Heâd only been dead twelve to fourteen hours, as far as she could tell, so itâd be easy to get a blood test. When she pulled back the plunger, it was dry. Just air.
She threw the needle into the hazmat bin by her feet and picked up another one, and this time, circled a different spot on the femoral artery. Lydia drew back the plunger andâ¦nope. Nothing. No blood.
Okay, the subclavian, then. No blood. All right. Screw it. Screw this guy. Going to a stack of drawers, she rummaged through a bin and found a cardiac stick. Go for the gold. She unwrapped it, went to the body, and fed it into his heart.
Okay! Okay, fine. He had no blood in his body. Completely exsanguinated. Sure, why the hell not. She took off her gloves and started to write notes on one of her forms, detailing what sheâd found, or, in this case, not found.
Lydia could start doing a cut-down and pull open the guyâs ribcage to see if he was utterly devoid of blood, but that was a hell of a lot of work to do without being explicitly told to do it. The corpse hadnât started decomp yet, so he hadnât been dead long enough that the blood would have pooled into the tissue. The man didnât have bullet wounds large enough to have bled him out. Where did all the blood go?
Whatever. Let someone further up the food chain solve the mystery.
Lydia took a few more photos of the shotgun wounds on his chest before taking a swab and beginning to clean each one. It seemed that the only blood this guy had was the dry stuff on the outside of his body. Oh, well.
Picking up a small pile of little red sticks, she began to feed each one into the bullet wounds. It always reminded her of playing KerPlunk. Taking a photo, she wrote that the weapon was likely operated by someone standing between three to five feet away and at chest level. Pulling all the red sticks back out and dropping them into the hazmat bin, it was time to stop avoiding the inevitable.
Picking up a pair of thin, needle-nose tweezers, she began plucking out the little balls of lead, one by one.
A little lead ball went into the tray. At least the wounds werenât too deep. A few inches at most. Enough to kill and wind up in the lungs and the heart, but not enough that she had to really go digging.
So much for a peaceful last day before Thanksgiving break.
She was going to be at this for way too long. It had already been forty-five minutes, and Lydia was barely halfway through.
Each time she pulled out a ball, she marked the wound with a tiny red dot of her washable pen. That way, she wouldnât have to play the guessing game of which ones she had already done. That was the worst.
The mindless, repetitive task let her mind wander. Of course, naturally, it strayed right back to dwelling about the mark on her arm. What the hell was it? How the hell did it get there? What kind of sick joke was this?
How could she get the stupid mark off her forearm?
At least she was almost done with the buckshot. Just a few more little pieces of lead to go. That last one had been deeper than the others.
Lydia nearly jumped a foot in the air as her desk phone rang. With a sigh, she put down the tweezers, pulled off her goggles and gloves, and went to answer it. âYeah?â
âHey, Lydia,â answered her boss, Jim. âWondering if you could take a mugshot of our dapper John Doe. Upstairs wants to circulate a description before they leave for the day.â
âItâs not even two in the afternoon.â
Lydia shook her head. Must be nice. âYeah, sure, Iâm on it.â
âYouâre the best. Oh, and donât forget a dental impression for I.D.,â Jim replied, and she heard the click as he hung up. Lydia hung up the phone and put on yet another pair of clean gloves. âAll right, Dapper John,â Lydia said, having to give Jim some credit for the fitting nickname. âTime to smile for the camera.â
Taking a few more shots of his face with the blood smear, she then set to work cleaning the dry, congealed substance from his features to get a clean shot for the folks who had offices upstairs. It was when she went to get some of the blood off his temple that she paused. It looked like something else was there, under the blood.
What the hell was this? This guy was just full of surprises.
Tossing the bloody swab into the hazmat, she picked up another to scrub at that spot further. It looked like there wasâ¦white ink on his skin. Two marks looked as though they were tattooed on him. White tattoos were rare, especially on the face. A gang member, maybe? Once she had cleaned the rest of the blood off, she turned his head to the side, stiff but still flexible, to get a better look at the marks.
Lydia pulled back, her eyes wide.
It matched the symbol on her arm. Her âsurprise tattoo.â His marks werenât exactly the sameâno backward N with a spiralâbut the style was unmistakable. Like different characters from the same alphabet. Esoteric and strange, looking like a something out of Hellraiser or some other occult movie.
Wide-eyed and dumbfounded, Lydia froze. How was this possible? How was any of this possible? Lydiaâs heart was pounding in her ears as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. All at once she was thinking too quickly and not fast enough, her thoughts a jumbled mess as they tried to vie for supremacy.
Nothing had a chance to win the fight and rise to the surface.
A hand snapped around her wrist. Cold, deathly, and wrong. The face of the corpse turned to look at her of its own accord. Eyes, dilated and ringed in red, met hers.
About the Author
Kat (Kathryn Ann Kingsley) has always been a storyteller.
With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isnât penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.
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