Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Available Now in Audio: Promised to the Highlander by Kate Robbins

Nessia Stephenson's world was safe until a threat from a neighbouring clan forces her to accept a betrothal to a man whose family can offer her the protection she needs. The real threat lies in her intense attraction to the man who arranged the match—the clan's chief and her intended’s brother, Fergus MacKay.

When powerful warlord Fergus MacKay arranges a marriage for his younger brother, William, he has no idea the price will be his own heart. Fergus is captivated by the wildly beautiful Nessia, a woman he can never have.

When the feud between the MacKay and Sutherland clans escalates, Nessia, William, and Fergus all must make sacrifices for their future. Longing and loss, honour and duty. How can love triumph under such desperate circumstances?

• • •

“For a man who isn’t eager to meet his future wife, you’ve got quite a set of nerves there lad,” Fergus said to William.

William straightened his linen shirt and smoothed his tunic as he glared at Fergus. Yet, the comment was absorbed and William ceased his pacing to sit on a chair near the fire. Fergus watched his brother adjust his belt again. The young man wore his usual dress but had taken greater pains today to perfect his appearance. Fergus glanced down at his linen shirt and sleeveless leather tunic. William’s long hair was tied at his nape while Fergus’s was left hanging loose. He recalled having to take extra pains upon his betrothal. Thankfully those days had passed and he needn’t worry overly anymore. A young lass would surely find William’s neat, respectable appearance appealing. He hoped so, but before he could dwell on it further, a servant entered and announced the arrival of Thomas Stephenson, his daughter Nessia and several of their clansmen.

William sprang to his feet and crossed the floor in a few quick strides to greet them. He continued to fidget as Fergus sauntered up from behind.

“Thomas! Welcome. We thought we’d have to send out a search party soon,” Fergus said as the stout man turned the corner leading into the great hall.

“Aye, the road was a bit rough with a wagon in tow,” Thomas said. The man’s brow was streaked with sweat and he looked weary from his travels.

“We’ve had a lot of rains this harvest there’s no doubting that,” Fergus said.

In truth he would have gone searching himself had another hour passed. Earlier that day he’d heard more rumours about Ronan Sutherland. Apparently, the lad had agreed to his father’s suggestion and would commence his campaign in the coming days. Fergus sensed William stiffen beside him as Thomas began the introductions.

“Fergus, William, this is my brother Neville and these three are my sons, Colin, Robert, and Camden my youngest. And this is my daughter, Nessia.”

Fergus acknowledged each man in turn. When the introduction came to the girl and his gaze fell on her, his breath caught in his throat. With black hair and bright blue eyes she stood proud before him with her chin lifted and all the regal confidence of a noblewoman. She displayed no fear or reservation at all, something which was unusual in most men he met, but more so in a woman. The gentler sex usually cowered before him—not this lass.

Fergus stared at the girl, his heart drumming. His guts clenched as if he’d been punched. He had to force himself from moving toward her to touch her hair which looked like spun silk, for surely it could not be real. Fergus remembered his brother then and tore his gaze from her to find William’s eyes wide and his jaw slacked. An unexpected pang ran through him.

When he turned back it was to find her still staring at him, seemingly unabashed for staring openly at a man. A bold one, then. Fergus’s drew his brows together. What did she want?

• • •

Kate Robbins writes historical romance novels out of pure escapism and a love for all things Scottish, not to mention a life-long enjoyment of reading romance.

Kate loves the research process and delving into secondary sources in order to blend authentic historical fact into her stories. She has travelled to Scotland twice and visited the sites described in her Highland Chiefs series.

Her debut award winning novel, Bound to the Highlander, is the first of three books set in the early fifteenth century during the reign of James Stewart, first of his name.

Kate is the pen name of Debbie Robbins who lives in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

See Debbie here on Canada's Back Stage Pass TV program, aired 4 March 2014.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Available Now: Murder in Retreat by Noreen Wainwright

Edith Horton Mysteries, #5
Noreen Wainwright



99c through 30 Sept
After settling in to married life in Ellbeck. Edith is happy when Henry goes on retreat to Staffordshire, knowing that spiritual renewal is an essential part of a busy vicar’s life. However, after meeting fellow priests, Henry soon realizes most have their own secrets and deep troubles to reflect upon. His sense of unease is vindicated when he discovers there is a murderer in St. Chad’s House, and he is reluctantly drawn into the mystery.

At home, Edith is plunged into a crisis when the son of her housekeeper, and friend, disappears. A figure from the past has been in contact with the boy, and both women fear for his safety. Adding to Edith’s distress, she worries about Henry and is unable to dismiss the deep concern she feels about him and what is happening at St. Chad’s.

Will Edith and Henry's involvement in the troubles affect their relationship? Can they survive the seemingly endless struggles and find their way back to each other?

• • •

July 1937

My Dear Edith,

The first thing to say is that I am missing you terribly and questioning my sanity in putting such distance between us so soon into our marriage. I hope all is well in Ellbeck. I am missing the village too, my parishioners, Julia and Peter, Archie and Hannah; oh, everybody. You, most of all, my dear Edith. One good thing has come out of my retreat (apart from, I hope, some spiritual reinvigoration); it has reminded me of what I have. My life was good and fulfilling before but it has been blessed so much more for having you in it.

I’d better give you a brief account of life here at St Chad’s. The house is four miles outside of Lichfield, so almost striking distance of the great Cathedral. I don’t know if you’ve been to Lichfield Cathedral, dark and Gothic and towering on the outside, inside warmer, filled with wood, lots of wood, and marble and everywhere you look, signs of the craftsmanship of those previous centuries, where today’s mechanisation wasn’t even a dream but I suppose labour was freely available and boys spent years in apprenticeship to stone-masons and carpenters.

It reminded me, funnily enough, of our trip to Whitby, last month, when we said much the same thing about the abbey there.

There are eight of us on the retreat and we remain silent during the day apart from when we take part in services. After supper at six, we have the opportunity to socialise.

I will tell you about the two characters who interest me most. The first is a young curate, Roland Weston. He makes me feel old and dull, Edith. I like him but he has the light of the zealot in his eyes and he can be rather hard work, at times. He works amongst the poor of Birmingham and I think he must feel that the rest of us are little more than Anglican parasites, lolling about conducting a few services here and there and opening village fetes. I suppose he has a point. However, I am little more tolerant of his youth and idealism than some of the others are, especially, Stephen Bird, a chap about my own age who had a bad war and has woken us up on one occasion with his night terrors. Poor chap. He was telling me that this is now an unusual occurrence and that he was treated most successfully by a nerve specialist based in Edinburgh. He is a vicar in a small church in Scotland and I would imagine, has found his niche after some difficult years. He does not always have a great tolerance of young Roland’s sermonising. I hope I have acted the peacemaker.

There is a very good-looking chap, by the name of David Fallon—the type women find attractive. I haven’t taken to him and that’s nothing to do with his looks. There are two chaps from Derbyshire with whom I have exchanged no more than a few sentences. Then there is the elderly Canon Richardson and I’ll tell you more about him when I next write.

I look forward to hearing from you and I will write again tomorrow. Thankfully, we have our own small bedrooms and it is a pleasure actually, to escape here for an hour and write to you.

With much love to you, Edith,


* * *


Edith folded the letter and put it into the envelope. She’d read it again, later. She hadn’t known what this would be like, their first time apart in almost a year of marriage. Missing Henry had swept in and surprised her. More than surprised. Wasn’t it strange, how you could change from a fairly self-sufficient person to one who felt unsettled without another being close? If they weren’t careful, they were in danger of turning into one of those smug couples who made others feel uncomfortable, those on their own, principally. No, she wouldn’t get like that because she had been on the outside looking in on those couples herself, for a long time.

“Lemonade,” Hannah put the tray down on the gate-legged, white trellis table.

“Thank you, Hannah. I’m glad you brought two glasses. Take the weight off your feet, for a minute and tell me again about John’s scholarship and Cathy’s teacher training.”

Hannah looked at her and frowned. “I will but I would have thought you’re far more taken up with what the doctor is planning to do, to be worrying about my two.” Hannah often mentioned her other employer, Edith’s brother Archie’s plans. Come to think of it, it must be unsettling for her not knowing whether she was going to lose part of her income. She had remained as Archie’s housekeeper also, when Edith had married Henry and moved across to the vicarage.

“I am, taken up with it, of course I am. But, maybe I need a bit of distraction. Maybe the build up to his leaving has gone on too long, you know, prolonging the agony.”

She was right. It was over a year since Archie had first brought up his plan of going to Canada. There were periods of time in the past twelve months when he had stopped talking about it and they all wondered if he was having second thoughts.

He’d been present at two weddings in that period, she and Henry and Julia and Peter. Julia…there was a time when it looked like she and Archie might end up together. But, that wasn’t destined to happen. If you took one look at Julia and Peter together now, it was clear that destiny, on this occasion, knew what she was doing.

“Cathy qualifies as a properly trained teacher in the not-too-distant future and she is keen to move, you know, Miss Horton…” Hannah put her hand over her mouth and smiled. “Sorry, Edith. I mean. she wants to work in a city school, if you please. Make a difference. I can’t fault her, I suppose but I’m going to miss her dreadfully.”

She put her glass to her lips, a shadow of sadness crossing her face, just for a second. Blink and you’d miss it.

“You’ll have John for a while longer though.”

Hannah smiled and chased away the shadows.

“I will. John won’t be going anywhere for at least the next year.”

• • •

Noreen is Irish and now lives in the Staffordshire Moorlands with her husband, a dairy farmer. She works part-time as a mentor at Staffordshire University and the rest of her time is spent writing. Many of her articles and short stories have been published and she has co-written a non-fiction book.

She loves crime fiction, particularly that of the “golden age” and that is what she wants to recreate with Edith Horton’s world.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Available Now: The Dane Law by Garth Pettersen

The Atheling Chronicles, #2
Garth Pettersen



99c through Sunday, 30 September
After a peaceful year running their Frisian estate, Harald and Selia are called to Engla-lond.

Their return is marked by violence and intrigue. The king has vowed to Queen Emma that their son, Harthacnute, will inherit the throne, but the atheling is cruel and reckless. Many view Harald as the better choice, which makes him a target for the unseen supporters of his half-brother. King Cnute urges Harald to be prepared to assume the throne should Harthacnute prove inadequate. Harald resists being swept up by forces beyond his control, but doubts he will survive the reign of King Hartha.

And what of his older brother, Sweyn?

• • •

A.D. 1016, Sussax, Engla-lond

With the sun near setting, eventide mists rose and thickened, obscuring the way through the lowland. Bracken caressed their leggings and bramble thorns snagged their sleeves, as the five warriors sought to retrace their steps. No footprint appeared in the soft earth, no broken branch hung as marker.

“If we could find a stream,” one of Jarl Ulf’s men said, “‘twould lead us back to the shore.”

“If we were ravens we could fly there. Have you seen a cursed stream?” The jarl barely kept his anger in check. It had been his decision to lead the scouting mission––there was no other to blame. The big Dane took a deep breath. He raised an arm. “Hold up.”

His four companions stopped. Each man supported a round wooden shield on his left arm and carried an iron-tipped spear. Thick beards masked resolute faces. Unwashed tresses spilled from unadorned dome helmets crafted with eye and nose protection. Only Jarl Ulf bore a battle-æx at his waist.

“Darkness falls and the mists deepen,” the chieftain said. “We’ll do as when a fog enwraps us at sea––we’ll wait. In the morning light we’ll find our way back to the ships.”

From somewhere in the wood, the bark of a dog broke the stillness.

The Danes stood motionless, all knowing a yelping dog meant men not far off. The barking sounded again, closer.

“Spread yourselves and move with me,” Ulf commanded in a low voice, and immediately his men spaced themselves and moved into position. They advanced through the dark weald toward the cur-dog, the cool mist dampening their faces. Practiced in stealth, the Danes made little noise in their passing. The dog continued to proclaim his location and the Danish line curved and closed.

The cur’s bark changed to a low growl.

Spears lifted, and the warriors stood ready.

A piercing whistle penetrated the cold night air and the dog’s growls ceased. There was a scuffling of paws on leafmold and the attackers knew their prey had withdrawn.

On high alert, Ulf’s men waited for his command.

“Press on,” Ulf said, his voice no more than a grunt.

They passed farther into the dense woodland, keeping a steady and silent pace.

Appearing at first like a flickering eye haloed in the white vapors, the campfire blinked through the trees and vines. Drawing nearer, Ulf and his men perceived a lone figure sitting before the fire, stroking a large black-brindle dog that took to growling as they approached.

“Steady, Æadwulf,” said the dog’s master. The cur ceased its low, rumbling growl, and dropped to an at rest position. It watched the newcomers arrive, still ready to attack if so commanded.

“The night is cold,” the youth called out in poor Danish. “Come to my fire. My hand is empty.” And to signify, he lifted his arm, showing the palm of his hand.

Ulf stepped first from the dark of the night into the fire’s light. The swain rose to his feet, hand still raised. Ulf assessed the younger man: short-bearded, tall and solidly built, dressed for hunting rather than fashion, in tunic and braies. Though outnumbered, he stood his ground and met Ulf’s gaze without faltering. The arm came down, but the hand remained open.

“You are alone?” Ulf asked.

A nod in response.

Ulf motioned for his men to search the surrounding wood. He returned the battle-æx to his waistband and raised his hands to the heat of the fire.

“You could have taken your wolf-dog and run from us,” he said. “Why didn’t you?”

His host pondered the Danish words; then said in a mix of Saxon German and Danish, “I was curious as to who besides me would be in this wood at night. And I am not partial to running and hiding.”

Jarl Ulf gave a short laugh. “Perhaps not a wise decision, but one I can agree with. What are you called?”

“Godwin I am named. My father is thegn here.” The young man bent to stroke the dog, who began to settle.

“Why do you tend a fire here on this night?”

“For the pleasure of Æadwulf’s company and the taste of the mist. The dog likes to hunt at night. I listen to him and the night sounds. Is that strange to you?”

“Uncommon, perhaps,” Ulf replied, “not strange. Tell me, do you not take us for your enemy, invaders of your homeland?”

“There are many who wish to rule Sussax, and many high-born who switch allegiances. Since King Æthelred the Ill-advised died, it is unknown who will rule, be it Edmund Ironsides or your Cnute. Or perhaps they will divide up the rule. I wish to live and thrive––with the victor.”

Behind his beard, Ulf smiled. “And if you choose wrongly?”

“That would be unfortunate. Therefore, I put off choosing ‘til I must.”

“And your father, which way does he lean?”

“Toward Edmund Ironsides. But I am not my father.”

Ulf bellowed out a laugh. “You please me, young Godwin. You have spirit, and I can’t fault your wits.”

Ulf watched his men return to the fire, having found no one in the wood.

“Perhaps,” Ulf said, “we can be of service to each other this dark night.” Godwin watched the Viking chieftain but said nothing. “My men and I have been floundering in your forest like fish on a shoal. You could guide us back to our ships, no doubt.”

Godwin eyed Ulf as if he were bargaining for a favored weapon. “And how would you do me service?”

“Why, by not attacking this part of Sussax. And by leaving your head upon your shoulders!”

The Vikings all joined Ulf in the laughing. When the din died down, Godwin looked round at the armed warriors and said, “Then it would please me greatly to guide you to your ships.”

“Good lad. I am Ulf, jarl to Cnute, King of Danmark.” The Dane offered his open hand to Godwin.

The young Saxon took the extended hand and clasped it.

“When Cnute is King of Engla-lond, come find me at court.”

The fire’s light shone on the young Saxon’s slight smile and danced in the glister of his eyes.

Godwin looked up at Jarl Ulf. And nodded.

• • •

Garth Pettersen's short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies, and in journals such as Blank Spaces, The Spadina Literary Review, and The Opening Line Literary 'Zine. His story River's Rising was awarded an Honourable Mention for the Short Story America 2017 Prize, and his fantasy novella, River Born, was one of two runners-up in the Wundor Editions (UK) Short Fiction Prize. The Swan's Road is his debut novel. He is a Canadian writer who lives with his wife on a farm in the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, British Columbia. When he's not writing, he's riding horses and working with young, disabled riders.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Available Now: River of Shame by Susan Clayton-Goldner

A Winston Radhauser Mystery, #4
Susan Clayton-Goldner



99c through Sunday, 16 Sept
Something evil has taken root in Ashland, Oregon. And with it, an uneasy feeling sweeps down on Detective Winston Radhauser. If someone doesn’t intervene, that evil will continue to multiply until the unthinkable happens.

While on vacation with his wife and their newborn son, Detective Radhauser receives a call from Captain Murphy—a high school kid has been branded with a homophobic slur and is hospitalized in Ashland, a small town known for, and proud of, its diversity. And this is only the beginning. White supremacy, homophobia and racism are one thing. But murder is something else.

Radhauser will do whatever it takes to find the perpetrators and restore his town’s sense of safety. With such hostile opposition, can he succeed, and will justice be done?

• • •

Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Something evil had taken root in Ashland, Oregon. And with it, an uneasy feeling grabbed hold of Detective Winston Radhauser and wouldn’t let him go. If someone didn’t intervene, that evil would continue to multiply until the unthinkable happened.

He stood inside the twelve-by-twelve-foot stall of Mercedes, his wife’s mare, and dug his manure fork into the sawdust. Trying to ignore his uneasiness, he reminded himself he was on vacation. The only job he needed to worry about today was keeping his wife, Gracie, happy. And helping out with four-year-old Lizzie and their newborn son. But that didn’t change one basic fact. Radhauser was restless and eager to return to work.

From the juniper bushes on either side of the double barn doors, a mourning dove released its lonesome call. He grabbed the fork again. One thing he knew for certain, part of keeping Gracie happy involved a clean barn. He scooped up another load. It was a cool morning and the vapor from his breath rose in the air in front of him. He shook his fork, releasing the sawdust, then tossed the manure into his wheelbarrow. Before he’d spent any time around horses, Radhauser believed mucking out stalls would be a stinky job, but either he’d gotten used to it or there wasn’t any truth to that belief. The barn smelled, as it always did, like cedar, alfalfa and sweet feed laced with molasses.

When his cell phone rang, he dropped the fork, then pulled off his right glove, yanked the phone from his jacket pocket and answered.

“I need you to get down to the ER and check something out,” barked Captain Felix Murphy, his boss at the Ashland Police Department.

“It’s 8 o’clock in the morning, Murph. And I’m on vacation.” Technically, Radhauser was taking time off to be with Gracie as she recovered from the cesarean delivery of their son, Jonathan Lucas Radhauser, and started treatments for her breast cancer. Because it was diagnosed during the pregnancy, they’d done a radical mastectomy, then taken a chance and waited until after the birth to begin chemo and radiation. “Besides, you know Gracie is scheduled to start her chemotherapy treatments today.”

“Not until 2:30 this afternoon, right? You’ve got plenty of time to handle this.”

There was nothing he’d rather do, but there’d be hell to pay with his wife if he did. “Send Vernon. I’ve got my hands full here taking care of Gracie and the barn.”

“Look, I know I signed off on your three weeks, but Vernon’s out with a strep throat and we’ve got a real mess on our hands.”

Captain Murphy had been on edge ever since he found a hate flyer taped to the station window a couple weeks ago. The following day, two cars were reported vandalized—racist and anti-gay slogans had been painted in red on their windshields.

“A Doctor Landenberg called,” Murphy said. “He just admitted a high school boy, delirious with fever and a white cell count off the charts.”

“Sounds like a serious infection,” Radhauser said. “But what’s it got to do with us?”

“The doctor was suspicious. Said his mom brought him into the ER after she tried to get him into a tub of cool water to bring down the fever. That’s when she saw it. A brand singed into the skin of his abdomen. And the kid won’t tell anyone how or where he got it.”

“A brand? You mean like for cattle?” Radhauser struggled with disbelief, trying to make sense of what he just heard.

“Yeah,” Murphy said. “Branded, like a damn heifer. Doctor Landenberg thinks the kid was assaulted. A hate crime because the boy is gay. But the kid won’t talk.”

“What did the brand say? Was it initials? A logo of some sort? Something we can identify.”

“The doctor was pretty closed-mouth about the specifics, but he sounded upset. Come on, Radhauser. You know as well as I do, this could turn into our worst nightmare. You’re good with kids. I need you on this.”

He took a step back, then leaned against the barn wall and closed his eyes, the cell phone resting in the palm of his hand while Murphy babbled on.

Radhauser thought about the hate-filled messages he’d ripped from tree trunks near Lithia Park playground when he’d taken Lizzie last Saturday.

America Should Be White Again.

God Hates Faggots.

In The USA, Christians Rule.

His skin had gone clammy as the messages sunk in. What the hell was happening? In 1921 the Ku Klux Klan had planted itself in Oregon and its invasive roots spread out across the state. Cross burnings in Ashland and other larger cities were not uncommon. But times were different now. This was the beginning of the twenty-first century, not Selma, Alabama, in 1963.

Ashland was a picturesque town set in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges, just north of the California border—a place known for, and proud of, its diversity and its world-renowned Shakespeare Festival. It was a little bit of England, set down in southern Oregon. A town where Radhauser and his wife, Gracie, planned to raise their growing family. A place four-year-old Lizzie, and two-week old Jonathan, could grow up safe and free of prejudice.

But behind the scenes there were factions who believed being white, Christian, and heterosexual were all that mattered. Radhauser had wadded up the flyers he’d found in the park and hurled them into the trash barrel, but hadn’t been able to erase them from his mind.
He put the cell phone back to his ear and told Murphy about the flyers.

Hard to believe this was the same Ashland that only a year and a half ago held candlelight vigils for the gay college boy, Matthew Shepherd, who’d been beaten and tied to a fence in Wyoming. Every night for a week, concerned residents had flocked to the park, stood quietly, sang and prayed, candles lit, while Shepherd fought for his life and lost.

Murphy didn’t give up. “And this kid might not be the only one. Doctor Landenberg said a girl came in about a week ago with something similar. He wasn’t on duty, but saw the chart.”

Radhauser’s eyes shot open. “What the hell’s going on here?”

“I wish I knew,” Murphy replied. “I don’t. But we need to find out. And fast. His name is Logan Caldwell. How soon can you get over to the hospital?”

Radhauser felt it surge up again—his need for justice. “Okay, I’ll do the initial interview, but I can’t take on a new case right now. Gracie would kill me. Give me an hour. I’ll call her mother and see if she can come early to help with the baby.” He wanted to be with his wife, knew she needed his help, but he also wanted to be on the job—to put a stop to what was happening in his town before it escalated into something worse.

Who was he kidding? It had already escalated. Flyers hung in other places, too, stapled to telephone poles along Main Street. And flyers were one thing—annoying, but not violent. Now, at least one kid, maybe another, was branded and too terrified, or ashamed, to talk about it.

• • •

Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program and has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. Susan won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. A collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality was released in 2014 by Wellstone Press. Prior to writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count.

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Monday, 10 September 2018

Available Now in Audio: Bound to the Highlander by Kate Robbins

The Highland Chiefs Series, #1
Kate Robbins

$19.95 Audio
(also available in ebook and print)

Aileana Chattan suffers a devastating loss, then discovers she is to wed neighboring chief and baron, James MacIntosh -- a man she despises and whose loyalty deprived her of the father she loved. Despite him and his traitorous clan, Aileana will do her duty, but she doesn't have to like it or him. But when the MacIntosh awakens something inside her so absolute and consuming, she is forced to question everything.

James MacIntosh is a nobleman torn between tradition and progress. He must make a sacrifice if he is to help Scotland move forward as a unified country. Forced to sign a marriage contract years earlier binding Lady Aileana to him, James must find a way to break it, or risk losing all -- including his heart.

From the wild and rugged Highlands near Inverness to the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle, James and Aileana’s preconceptions of honor, duty and love are challenged at every adventurous turn.

• • •

Near Inverness, Scotland, April 1430

A horse’s scream pierced the air sending a chill down her spine. Brèagha. Aileana Chattan quit pacing and dashed to the window. Thank God, they were home at last.

She strained toward the eerie quiet below just as the procession crested the hill beyond the gatehouse. She was right, it was her uncle’s horse Brèagha, but the poor beast hobbled as three men grasped his leather reins and struggled to keep the distressed animal in check. Bile rose in her throat when she spied the body face down across its back.

She tore through the hallway, down the winding stairs and raced out into the courtyard. Cold mud soaked her feet and her heart pummeled as the somber hunters approached. She looked to Andrews, her steward, to confirm her fear.

“I’m sorry, lass.” He shifted his weight, but did not look up.

Her gaze returned to the body. Fiery red hair hung in tangles and pale, limp hands were red streaked. Shivers coursed through her as she beheld his unmoving form.

Her uncle, their chief, was dead.

A soundless ‘No’ faltered on her lips. Men and horses spun around her, threatening her balance. She reached out to cling to something. Anything. Air slipped through her fingers as she stumbled forward. Andrews caught her the moment her knees buckled.

“I’ve got you, Lady Aileana. Come, we must get him inside.”

He placed one strong arm around her shoulder and kept her moving forward, her feet skimming the ground.

No one spoke as they entered the large stone and wooden stable. The huntsmen pulled her uncle’s body from the horse’s back and laid him at her feet. She dropped to the ground beside him. The foul stench of manure filled her nostrils and she fought the urge to retch.

“Why did you bring him in here?” The stable was no place for their chief.

“He ordered us. We had no other way to get the laird’s body home and he wanted us to save Brèagha for you,” Andrews said.
Her gaze shifted between her uncle’s body and the horse’s wild eyes. She swallowed the thick knot which had lodged in her throat.

“What happened?”

“We were tracking deer when something spooked him.” Andrews’s voice was low and grim. “Your uncle’s sword was drawn. They were both injured when they fell.”

The horse snorted and bobbed his head up and down. Aileana stood to view his injuries better. A deep gash oozed jagged crimson lines down his flank, pooling at his hoof. She moved to Brèagha’s side and buried her fingers in his mane. His coat was covered with a sheen of sweat.

“Dear God, you won’t see week’s end.” She must save him. “Andrews?”

“Get Argyle’s surgeon,” Andrews said. The stable hand took off to do his bidding.

There wasn’t much she could do for the faithful beast, but she had to try. Uncle Iain had wanted it. Aileana returned to kneel by her uncle’s side and brushed a lock of red, matted hair from his brow. She gathered his limp hand into hers and searched for any remaining hint of life, but there was none. Aileana closed her eyes, spilling tears onto her cheeks.

She pictured the two of them walking through the glen with the heather splashed mountains all around. She had loved his tales of legends and victories and could feel warm air caressing her skin and fluttering her skirts. He smiled, giving her all the comfort she needed.

Brèagha’s grunt brought her back to the present and her eyes flew open. In this story, there was no victory. Her velvet gown was no protection from the cold, uncaring earth beneath her, and the image of Uncle Iain and the colorful mountains faded to gray.

The men, her men, encircled her. They waited for her signal to move the body to his room for cleansing. Blood pounded in her ears as she struggled to do what she must, though she hated to release his hands. She cried out when she tried to fold them across his breast, but they slipped to the ground.

“Let me help, m’lady.” Andrews’ strong, weathered fingers covered hers and together they laid her uncle’s hands across his chest. Andrews pulled her up and held her close. His strong arms tightened around her, reassuring her as she tried to contain her grief.

“Move him,” Andrews said. “Now.”

Thank God for Andrews. He didn’t want his chief laying in filth any more than she did. The men nodded and encircled him.

“What’s this?” The familiar voice boomed from the doorway. “What’s happened?”

Gawain Chattan scanned the stable until his gaze landed on the body. His tall, thin frame was a silhouette against the gray sky and his expression was masked, even as he lifted his eyes to meet hers.

“The laird is dead,” Andrews said.

His words pierced her. This was really happening.

• • •

Kate Robbins writes historical romance novels out of pure escapism and a love for all things Scottish, not to mention a life-long enjoyment of reading romance.

Kate loves the research process and delving into secondary sources in order to blend authentic historical fact into her stories. She has travelled to Scotland twice and visited the sites described in her Highland Chiefs series.

Her debut award winning novel, Bound to the Highlander, is the first of three books set in the early fifteenth century during the reign of James Stewart, first of his name.

Kate is the pen name of Debbie Robbins who lives in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

See Debbie here on Canada's Back Stage Pass TV program, aired 4 March 2014.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Available Now: Violet Souls by Abbey MacMunn

The Evoxian Legacies, #1
Abbey MacMunn



(99c through Sunday the 9th)
While searching for clues to her past, single mother Bree Mills discovers a subculture of aliens with supernatural abilities living on Earth. And she’s one of them. Finding herself hurled into a world of possibilities, it’s made more alluring by Quinn Taylor, the 324-year-old, violet-eyed Evoxian from her childhood dreams.

Quinn knows his destiny is entwined with Bree’s. He’s fraught with frustration and desire, but before he can confess his love, he must wait for her to sense the Akui, a mysterious force tied with ancient Evoxian law.

At a Cotswolds country manor, passions awaken and ignite a love more magical than the once-Utopian planet, Evox. Then Fate delivers a cruel and heart-breaking blow when Bree is kidnapped by a malicious alien who wants her and her power. Will Quinn still love Bree when she’s faced with protecting her half-human daughter… whatever the cost?

• • •

Brianna Mills grasped the curious pendant around her neck. Like before, when she’d first touched it, the violet jewel warmed, and her peripheral vision shrank back.

Her steps faltered. With somehow more focused vision, she watched the man coming towards her along the tree-lined track.
Jasper stopped rummaging in the undergrowth, sniffed the air, and wagged his tail. But despite her dog’s interest, she sensed something…odd.

It wasn’t just the disconcerting vision or the static electricity surrounding her. Or even the disappointment as she pondered over the outcome of her adoption meeting earlier. No, this was something else, something tangible. Electromagnetic energy rolled over her skin, made her scalp tingle. A strange, coppery scent circulated in the cool spring air.

Blood pulsated in her ears, muffling the sound of birds chirping in the trees. She came to a standstill, all five senses fizzing with an unseen force, her heartbeat pounding like tribal drums.

Still six metres ahead, the guy looked tall, well-built with broad shoulders, and casually dressed in a faded brown leather jacket and dark blue jeans, worn at the knees. Overlong blond hair rested on his shoulders, and messy waves fell either side of a tanned, ruggedly handsome face.

Drop. Dead. Bloody. Gorgeous.

A tiny spark ignited somewhere within and she forgot how to breathe.

Bree recognised him. But he wasn’t anyone she’d ever met before, not while she was awake. No, this was someone whom she used to dream of when she was a child.

It didn’t make sense. How could she have dreamt about him, what, fifteen or so years ago?

The spark became a small flame, breathing its warmth on parts of her that she’d forgotten existed. Her cheeks heated. She had so little experience with men. No wonder she’d fallen for the first guy to show her any interest and been naïve enough to get herself pregnant.

Jasper barked, which made her jump, and then raced towards the guy, wagging his tail and leaping around excitedly, greeting him like some long-lost friend.

“Jasper! Get back here. Right now.”

Trying to focus through the tunnel vision, she willed her feet to walk the remaining distance to retrieve her dog.

Get a grip, Bree, get a grip.

Keeping her head down, she wished she hadn’t tied her hair in a loose bun, so she could have hidden her embarrassment behind the long tresses.

“Sorry. Jasper doesn’t normally like strangers.” She gulped. Her words were breathless and pathetic, and she cursed under her breath. Is he a stranger, though? With shaky hands and distorted vision, she grabbed her Labrador and fumbled with the lead, desperate to get the damn thing to clip on to Jasper’s collar.

“Are you wearing blue contact lenses?” he asked in a deep, hypnotic, and strangely familiar voice.

Bree blinked rapidly and her vision returned to normal. “What…? No.” She wouldn’t look at him, preferring to give her attention to Jasper’s lead, now gripped so tightly her knuckles had turned white.

She could almost feel the guy’s stare burning the top of her head. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she backed away—until she noticed his dog.

Similar to a pure white Alsatian, but she’d never seen one as massive or as muscular. It stared at her too, with weird violet eyes.

Violet eyes like hers.

• • •

Abbey MacMunn writes paranormal and fantasy romances. She lives in Hampshire, UK, with her husband and their four children.

When she’s not writing, she likes to watch films and TV shows – anything from rom-coms to superheroes to science fiction movies.

She is a proud member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

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Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Available Now: One Night in Denpasar by Eden Walker

City Nights, #36
Eden Walker



(99c through Sunday, 2 Sept)
When Italian Ana Ortensia heads to Bali on a photojournalism assignment, she’s expecting a seriously good time. After all, she’s a sexual adventurer who wears her motto on her T-shirt for all to see—and it’s not Namaste! Within twenty-four hours, she’ll put a carnal spin on enlightenment for Caleb Barnard, a spiritual New Ager with whom she feels safe because he’s so not her type. But Denpasar is about to surprise her. Ana really doesn’t need someone to see through her defences, bring her to her knees, and make her eat, pray, love—or does she?

• • •

Hundreds of tiny fish nibbled my feet. Soft strokes, baby touches. The last time I’d felt anything as pleasurable was with a guy on the London Eye one night. We’d been alone in a pod. And it wasn’t my toes he was interested in.

I snapped several shots of the tank with my camera. Aquamarine water, backlit, with the fish massed blackly against it. Yeah, a good picture. Not in my brief—way too touristy—but maybe I could still do something with it.

In a corner of the patio ceiling, a toy-like portable fan whirred uselessly against the oppressive humidity. Sighing, I rolled my head on my neck. Mio Dio, was I tense. I’d dashed into the Bliss Warung because I needed a break. The place suited my needs perfectly: a quirky walk-in treatment centre and curio shop in one, where you could get a foot massage or exfoliation by live fish at a reasonable rate.

The cool water of the footbath did a nice job of soothing my soul after several hours in the city. Sure, Denpasar was in Bali, the world’s most beautiful island, but it was chaotic, and about as far from the idea of a tropical paradise as you could get. Trust Stack to send me here. They’re always seeking something edgy. Like I do.

As I lowered the camera, I caught sight of my reflection in the water. Waves of thick, red hair cascading down my shoulders. Rope, the man in Reykjavik had called it. And then he’d begged me to tie him up with it. My eyes, which were like pools you could drown in—or so Fernando had claimed, in Barcelona. Or was his name Luis? I laughed.

“Share the joke?” someone said near me in a mellow voice.

I’d been so busy with my own thoughts, I hadn’t noticed the bench on the other side of the footbath fill up. I looked into a tanned face. Nice hard jaw, feathery stubble. My age, maybe a bit younger. Unkempt white-blonde hair. A small shell on a leather thong around his neck. Oh-oh. New Age alert. So not my type.

I wanted to say: The joke is, mio amico, all men are the same. “Ticklish.” I shrugged, glancing down at the fish.

He shifted, and out of the corner of my eye I observed an imposing thigh muscle tensing against the fabric of his sand-coloured cotton pants. So, he was built under there. His fish scattered and regrouped. Well-shaped feet, I noted. Perhaps I could think about them while we sixty-nined each other?

I gazed up at him and smiled. His eyes were an azure colour not unlike the water our feet were in, and equally sparkling with a certain something. He regarded me with a thoughtful expression, a slight frown creasing the part of his forehead above his nose.

Here it comes. ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere? Disneyland?’ People often tell me I’m princess material when we first meet. Little do they realise I’m more like Prince Charming without the charm. I extended my feet, splashing slightly, enjoying the moment. A few drops of water darkened his trousers. Then I sat back, resting my weight on my palms, and stuck my chest out. For a split second, his gaze roamed over my T-shirt. In answer, I looked at his crotch.

Okay, the T-shirt thing. It started in high school. I had this favourite old T that said, I want you to know someone cares. Not me, but someone. My mother gave it to me. I loved it. So did the boys. It became my trademark thing. I had some variations printed. And guess what? The meaner the shirt, the more attention it got. When I went to parties, I wore Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come. Stuff like that. But I came all the time…

“Is that a Nikon?”


“Nice. I’m Caleb.”

“Ana,” I said, extending a hand. He shook it. His palm was warm and dry in a strong, square grip, his handshake firm and sincere. I liked him, despite the fact he was Mr Earth Hour.

“You’re a photographer?”

“Mmm-hmm. National Geographic,” I lied. It’s a thing with me. I make stuff up when I’m bored. Which is quite a lot of the time. I lifted the camera and took a pic of him, too quick for him to smile. I knew instinctively I’d caught something essential about him. “Got you.” He frowned again. It made him seem perturbed, studious and sweet in a nerdy kind of way. But in his photograph, which I flicked to, he radiated innocence, all pure of heart. “Wow, Mr Photogenic.”

“And is that an Italian accent?”

“It is.” I raised an eyebrow. “They say once you’ve slept with an Italian woman, you’re never the same again.” I spoke from experience; I had dated Stella Di Ser Piero in Venice and Florence last spring and all through the summer. Our romance only cooled with the weather, when we went on tour with her brother’s exhibition—and then Paris happened. A cocktail waitress named Lola, to be exact, at the famous Moulin Rouge. I know, it’s so sexist: French girls in costumes. A weakness of mine.

Caleb levelled a look at me, giving nothing away.

“Sorry, I can’t help it, I’m Neapolitan. Naples is an ‘in your face’ part of the country.”

“They gave the world pizza and ice cream. Can’t be all bad.”

“I thought I’d say the Italian-woman-in-bed thing before you came up with it. I’ve heard it so often.” Then again, maybe hippies didn’t speak that way. “You from Australia?” I added, when he said nothing.

He shook his head, watching me. It was impossible to read his expression. “Cape Town. They say once you’ve bedded a South African, you never want to have sex again.”

• • •

Eden Walker (nicknamed Aziza, or Beloved) worked as an actress and a psychologist before committing to writing full-time. She began writing love stories on a little blackboard as a young teen, the advantage being that she could rub the risqué bits out before anyone saw them! But now she is having fun going public. She has two books, The Seeing Place and its sequel, This Crazy Paradise, with another house. She is a keen blogger and would love to hear from readers.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Available Now: Black Moon by Tegon Maus

The Chronicles of Tucker Littlefield, #2
Tegon Maus



99c through Sunday, 19 August
Every twenty-eight years, the reign of the old Shalic comes to an end with the arrival of the Black Moon. The symbol of the law is a spear that holds sway over the whole of the Kindred, and is passed onto the old Shalic’s successor with the passing of the Black Moon.

When the old Shalic is murdered, war between those who carried the spear and those who were to receive it divides the Kindred bent on settling old scores.

Only one man stands between them...Tucker Littlefield, and he holds the spear.

• • •

"Damn the luck," Jack said, throwing his cards in disgust to the table. "If I didn't know better, Tucker Littlefield, I'd say you were cheating."

"Why, Jack, what a terrible thing to say, and we've been friends for so long," I answered innocently, raking the pot to my side of the table.

Few things pleased me more than a quiet drink on a Saturday morning and a friendly game of cards. Jack's Tavern had always held that contentment for me for as long as I could remember. There is something comforting in the smell of well-worn wood, stale beer, burnt food, and the dust of an energetic broom.

"I know you, Littlefield, and no one wins this much without cheating. I don't know how you're doing it, but you're doing it right enough."

"Jack, you were dealing; how could I possibly cheat?"

At that moment, the door flew open with a loud bang, startling me, not to mention Jack.

"You'd better come quick, Mr. Littlefield, they're looking for you," a young man called, breathing heavily as he leaned against the door.

"Who's looking for him?" Jack asked, standing.

"They are," he said, pointing nervously down the street.

Slowly, I stood, moving to the door.

"Soul bearer," a deep, angry voice boomed.

"Who the hell?" Jack asked.

"Littlefield," a second voice shouted, almost as annoyed, adding itself to the first.

My heart sank at the sound of it. I was certain who it was before I stuck my head out the door to confirm it.
"Damn it," I said softly, slipping back inside.

"Littlefield!" they shouted again.

Outside, two Jonda, each dressed in nothing more than loincloths, walked down the center of the street as if they did it every day. They stood well over seven feet tall, with long, black hair pulled into a tail at the back of their heads and tied with a thick, red string. Around their necks they wore a small string of blue and white shells. Their near-naked, copper colored bodies had been painted with thin, dull yellow paint in misshapen circles, giving them a turtle-like appearance. Hanging low from their hips were the overly large knives I had seen in action far more than I cared to remember.

It had been two years, and I still trembled a little inside at the sight of those knives, not to mention the men that knew how to use them.

"You better go see what they want before they set fire to the whole damn town," Jack said sternly, stabbing a meaty thumb at the door.

I gave him a distasteful look but knew he was right.

"Here," I shouted. Standing half in and half out of the doorway, I waved an arm to get their attention, bidding them to come this way.

"Better bring some cheese, Jack," I said dully.

His face contorted with concern at my words.

"So help me, Tucker, if they break one–" he began.

"Cheese, Jack, quickly," I interrupted, turning him by his shoulders toward the kitchen.

I straightened my clothes quickly, determined not to let my nervous concern show, and turned toward the door to wait.

After a few moments, both Jonda came to the door, bending slightly to peer inside far more tentatively than I would have thought. The larger of the two was first to enter, bowing slightly to clear the doorway. The second followed his lead to stand next to him. They turned their heads from side to side with distaste as they inspected their surroundings.

At that moment, Jack reappeared with a large wedge of cheese on a cutting board, a knife stuck in its surface quivering next to it.

Jack, not a small man by any measure, stood mouth gaping widely, staring up the length of each man until he tilted back dramatically then passed out, falling with a loud thump.

"Gentlemen," I said, trying desperately to balance the offering I caught from his failing grip. "Nice to see you again."

Without a word, the larger of the two picked it up, sniffed at it hesitantly and then broke it in half, handing one piece to his counterpart. Each sniffed at it several times before devouring it in three or four bites.

"Daneba say come," the largest intoned.

"So, she's still alive," I said with no small level of relief. I owed my life to the woman, hands down. Her fate had kept me up more nights than I cared to count. "Well, give her my thanks, but I'm afraid my schedule doesn't allow me to be–" I began to lie.

"Daneba say Black Moon coming, Soul Bearer must come."


"Daneba say Black Moon…Tucker come in two days or all Jonda come here for Soul bearer," he said, folding his arms across his chest.

"All Jonda?" Jack asked from the floor, looking up to me. "Tucker, that can't be good."

"I'll think about it," I returned, waving him off. It had been two years, and I was determined I wouldn't risk my life in the outlands again for anything in the world…not for anything.

"Soul Bearer come…two days…Black Moon comes soon," the larger of the two men said again, pushing my shoulder to make his point before turning to leave.

I folded my arms in defiance but said nothing.

"Bring more this," the shorter one whispered harshly, before pushing the now empty wax cheese rind into my chest.

I stood there unmoved as they made their way outside.

"Tucker, you have any idea what a black moon is?"

"No, and I have no desire to find out," I said, moving to look out the door. I hadn't realized it until this moment, but I had been holding my breath.

By the time I reached the opening, my Jonda friends were nowhere to be seen.

"You know you have to go, right?" Jack asked, getting off the floor and pushing lightly past me to look outside.

"Yeah, I do," I said in resignation.

• • •

Married forty-three years to a woman he calls Dearheart, Tegon Maus lives a contented life in a small town of 8,200 in Southern California. By day, Tegon is a successful home remodeling contractor, but his passion is storytelling.

Tegon's progatonists are frequently wedged between a rock and a hard place, but manage to work things out through the story. Like most when pushed into a corner, it only brings out the best in his characters and become the unstoppable force of a reluctant hero. Tegon's signature style is creating characters who are driven and believable, and who strive to find happiness.

Tegon is the author of The Chronicles Of Tucker Littlefield series.

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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Available Now: Scathed by Sue Coletta

On a picturesque fall morning in Grafton County, New Hampshire, a brutal murder rocks the small town of Alexandria. In the backyard of a weekend getaway cabin, a dead woman is posed in red-satin, with two full-bloomed roses in place of eyes.

In her hand, a mysterious envelope addressed to Sheriff Niko Quintano. Inside, Paradox vows to kill again if his riddle isn’t solved within 24 hours.

With so little time and not enough manpower, Niko asks his wife for help. But Crime Writer Sage Quintano is dealing with her own private nightmare. Not only did she find massive amounts of blood on the mountain where she and her family reside, but a phone call from the past threatens her future—the creepy mechanical voice of John Doe, the serial killer who murdered her twin sister.

Together, can Niko and Sage solve the riddle in time to save the next victim? Or will the killer win this deadly game of survival?

• • •

October 16, 2008
6:00 a.m.

The unknown shattered my reality. Before entering hospital room 339, I rapped my knuckles on the doorframe. A gentle tap, tap, tap so I wouldn’t startle my husband. “Pup, it’s me.” Deep inhale, and I pushed open the door, with Noah straddled on my hip.

My heart collided with my ribcage.

Niko lay in the hospital bed, the sheet coin-tight across his chest. Clear tubing ran to intravenous medication, hanging by a metal pole, to clear bags secured to the bed frame, below the thin mattress. Five or six tubes in total. His pallid color worsened when he reached for me, his strong fingers grasping air, urging us closer. The fingers that soothed my pain with one touch, the hand I held as we recited our wedding vows—twice. Those very fingers weaved with mine for the last two decades, through agony, through despair, through sorrow, through excitement, through endless days and passion-filled nights. The man in that bed possessed the ability to wash away my darkest fears. Yet, in that moment, the hand that reached for me didn’t look like Niko’s. Its skin was mottled, gray, ill.

Frozen in place, I gaped at his suffering.

“This is not your fault,” he claimed. “Please don’t blame yourself, babe.” Balls of white cornered his dry, colorless lips. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Tears flooded my eyes, my vision clouding more and more with each soul-crushing second that crawled by. “What’re you saying? I don’t understand.”

“Don’t let our son forget me. Promise me.”

“Don’t talk like that.” I rushed to his side, pressed my lips to his forehead, sheathed in sweat. “You’re gonna be fine, pup. You’re the strongest man I know.”

“I love you, Sage Quintano. From the first day you strutted into the Hilltop Steakhouse, wavy hair cascading down your back, to this moment right here, right now, I’ve been helplessly, desperately, in love with you. Always remember that, remember me.”

“Pup, I don’t understand.” I cried harder, my chest heaving so heavily, I struggled for each and every breath. Noah wailed, too. At twenty months old, he was too young to grasp the severity of Niko’s words, but he sure sensed something wasn’t right. “Talk to me. Please,” I begged. “Tell me how and why you’re here. Who did this to you?”

“You’ll find love again, as much as it pains me to say. Consider this my blessing to move forward. I can’t bear to think of you, Noah, and the kids living alone in that big house.”

“Stop talking like that. I don’t want another love. I want you, pup.”

A slight grin arched beneath his straggly goatee, glints of silver more prominent in his dark hair than ever before. “I know you do, babe.”

When he forced the second grin, albeit weaker, the charade didn’t fool me. My husband feared the worst. What happened in the hours after he dropped me off? If Paradox were responsible for Niko’s grave condition, maybe there was a riddle that pointed to a clue to reverse the effect.

“This can’t be the end; it just can’t be. I’ll never make it without you. Hang on. Please, pup.”

“That might be out of my control,” he countered. “Remember how deeply I love you guys. You’re my whole world, my everything. Thank you for so many blissful years together, years I didn’t always deserve. I haven’t always been the best husband, especially when it came to recognizing your fears. Why didn’t I listen?” His warm, caramel-colored eyes rolled closed. From under his thick lashes, tears trickled down to the pillow. “I’m … so … tired.”

“Pup?” I shook him by the shoulder. “Pup?” My gaze shot to Noah, still bundled in my arms, and I fell to my knees, hands held in prayer around our son. “Dear God, no. You can’t take my husband. Not now. We’ve just begun this beautiful new chapter. It can’t end yet. Please, I’ll do anything.” Noah bawled with me as I rose. I pressed an open hand to my husband’s chest. “Fight harder. Don’t you dare give up. Fight for us.” Sweeping my hair around one ear, I lowered my cheek to his heart.

Thump … thump … thump.

Dr. Rollinsford strode up behind me and rested a supportive hand on my back. “Mrs. Quintano, may we talk?”

Without turning around, I said, “Only if you’ll give us hope. Otherwise, save your bullshit condolences for someone else. We don’t need ‘em.” I whirled around. “How did he wind up here? He was fine earlier. Maybe a little rundown, but nothing to indicate his life was in danger. Was he poisoned? Shot? Stabbed? I can’t tell what’s wrong with all these tubes.”

“Let’s go back to my office so Sheriff Quintano can rest.”

“No, dammit.” I stomped my foot. “I’m not leaving him. Whatever you need to tell me, you can say right here.”

With the saddest eyes I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing, he started slow. “Your husband ran into trouble earlier today when …” His words trailed off, his voice muffled by my devastation. The doctor’s lips moved, but I was trapped inside my own head, silently pleading with God, begging for mercy. If my husband died, I’d never recover. Not ever.

• • •

Sue Coletta is a member of Mystery Writers Of America and Sisters In Crime. She lives in northern New Hampshire with her husband and four-legged baby. If you catch her strolling on the beach or roaming the rural backroads don't be surprised if she stops to chat with you about her books or her two beautiful granddaughters. Just don't ever call her Grandma.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Available Now: Love Begins at 40 by Ann Burnett

Ann Burnett



(99c through Sunday the 22nd)
Maisie McLelland spent ten years building up McLelland Events in Glasgow and has just bought a holiday home in the relaxing small seaside town of Largs on the west coast of Scotland. She immediately befriends her elderly neighbour, the widow of a local fisherman.

When Elizabeth is in need of rescue, Maisie steps in to help. Elizabeth’s grateful son, teacher and lifeboatman, James, takes Maisie to dinner to show his appreciation. Maisie’s not looking for a relationship, and neither is James, as he’s still reeling from the loss of his son. They’re both surprised at the instant connection.

Over time, Maisie and James become friends and their closeness continues pulling them toward each other until emotion leads to intimacy. She agrees to help with the organisation of a Vilking Festival he is planning in the town.

But as Maisie approaches her 40th birthday, tragedy strikes a double blow, and she’s forced to make some important decisions about what she really wants from life.

• • •

‘What on earth have I done?’ she exclaimed as she looked about the half-empty room. This was not what she had planned, what she had looked forward to, what she had imagined in the evenings when the TV programmes were boring and she was sitting at home in her flat in Glasgow.

Where was the wee, whitewashed Highland cottage nestling into the glen, the purple heather-tinged mountains rising all around? Where was the burbling burn to supply fresh, clear water? The black-faced sheep munching close by? The sound of the distant bagpipes drifting through the quiet air? Her bolt hole, where she could escape when the pressures of her work in Glasgow became too much?

Maisie McLelland was 39, a successful businesswoman in Glasgow, with no ties and a bucket-list of what she wanted to achieve before she hit 40. Buying a second home, where she could go to relax away from the bustling city, was top priority. In fact, it was her only priority.

But here she was in another flat – smaller even than her Glasgow one – empty apart from a load of flatpack furniture piled high in the bedroom, and a sofa and two chairs wrapped in plastic sheeting in the lounge. She’d gone ahead and bought the property, despite the fact that it in no way resembled her long-held dreams of a Highland cottage far away from everyone and surrounded by hills.

Instead, this was an ordinary one-bedroom apartment, with magnolia-painted walls and a beige carpet throughout. The kitchen and bathroom were new, and white, and clean, and efficient. Nothing out of the ordinary; in fact, all very, very ordinary. Yet she’d known she had to buy it from the first moment she stepped out onto the balcony attached to the lounge.

‘Maisie McClelland,’ she had said to herself. ‘This is your idea of paradise. This is your dream.’

It was the breathtaking view that had sold the flat to her. Two flights up, she looked west across the glittering waters of the Firth of Clyde to the islands of Great and Wee Cumbrae, with the Isle of Bute behind, and further down the coast, the bulk of the Isle of Arran. Scotland in miniature, the adverts called Arran, with its mountain range at one end, and progressing gently down to rolling green fields at the other. She made a mental note to visit it one day, along with the other islands across the bay.

As she stood there, the sun was beginning its descent, and its rays bathed the islands in a golden light as they rose out of the sea. It was like no other view she had ever seen, and its beauty took her breath away.

So, there and then, she’d bought it. And now she was moving in. Except that all the furniture still had to be assembled.

Maisie wandered through to the bedroom and stared at the boxes, the packages, the pile of which would be her furniture and accessories, whenever she managed to put it all together. She’d got somewhat carried away on her visit to the large Swedish superstore in Glasgow where she’d bought it all, forgetting that most of it would have to be assembled.

First, though, a coffee would sustain her. But where was the coffee machine she had purchased, with a supply of coffee capsules? She raked through various boxes and bags, unearthing a couple of prints she’d thought would brighten up the plain walls, a large glass vase, and a magazine rack. But no sign of the coffee machine. She remembered, too, that she didn’t have any fresh milk or sugar. It might be easier to head out and find a place to sit while she gathered her strength.

Grabbing her coat, she marched out of the flat and pressed the button for the lift. And waited. And waited. Just then, the door of one of the other flats opened and a man came out, shouting ‘Cheerio!’ A large bear of a man, tall and muscular, with thick fair hair and an equally thick fair beard, and wearing a set of overalls. He was carrying a toolbox, and as Maisie spotted it, an idea struck her.

She smiled broadly at him as he approached the lift that had just arrived.

By the time they reached the ground floor, he had introduced himself as James Paterson and they had agreed he would come back the next day and, for a suitable payment, assemble all her furniture.

• • •

Ann Burnett was born in Scotland where she now lives but has travelled extensively and lived in Canada and Australia.

She has published short stories, articles and children’s stories, as well as writing a novel, Loving Mother, as part of her Masters in Creative Writing. She is an experienced Creative Writing tutor and adjudicator for the Scottish Association of Writers.

Her short stories have been published in New Writing Scotland, Glasgow University Creative Writing anthologies, My Weekly, That’s Life (Australia), Woman's Weekly and the Weekly News. Her collection of short stories, Take a Leaf out of My Book, is available on Amazon.

Her memoir, illustrated with her father's photos, A Scottish Childhood, Growing up a Baby Boomer has just been published.

But perhaps she is best remembered for writing Postman Pat stories for a children's comic every week for five years. A labour of love indeed!

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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Available Now: Misfortune of Time by Christy Nicholas

Druid's Brooch, #6
Christy Nicholas



(99c through Sunday the 15th)
In 11th century Ireland, Étaín must hide her pagan magic from her pious Christian priest husband, Airtre. She wants to escape his physical abuse, but she must stay to protect their grandson, Maelan. Over many lifetimes, she has learned how to endure her own pain, but Maelan is young and vulnerable.

When Airtre's paranoia and jealousy spiral out of control, Étaín has no choice but to escape in the night with little more than the clothing on her back, leaving a trusted friend to protect Maelan.

This is not the first lifetime Étaín has fled, and she knows how to survive. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she must make decisions that may result in disaster for her, her grandson, and everyone she loves.

• • •

Cluain Mhic Nóis, early spring, 1055AD

Étaín peered into the cauldron, sniffed the savory aroma of lamb stew, thyme and dill, and added a pinch of pepper. Just a few more minutes and the pot would be ready to swivel off the hearth fire. She tucked an escaped strand of gray hair behind her ear and stirred the stew with the long wooden spoon. With a practiced hand, she filled a small bowl with cream to set outside for the Faeries, careful to hide it where no one would notice. Then she turned her attention to the oat flatbread. She grew anxious in case her husband, Airtre, returned home before she completed her tasks.

A drip, drip, drip made her turn just as she placed the bread on the cooking hearth. She scanned the thatch of the large roundhouse, searching for the telltale dark spot which might betray the leak. She finally spied the culprit, directly above the eating area. With a muttered curse, she shoved and wrestled the heavy wooden table under the leak.

After wiping the damp from her brow, she climbed and stretched, standing on tiptoes to reach the soaked thatch. Étaín pushed daub into the thatch, but the patch would never hold. Still, the patch should serve until morning. She’d do a proper repair when the rain slowed.

Slowed, not stopped. The rain never seemed to stop in the spring.

The faint odor of char sent panic through her blood and made Étaín scramble down from the table to rescue the bread. She pulled back the cloth and grimaced. Airtre would not be pleased. Still, he hadn’t yet come home from the abbey. The other night he hadn’t even come home until much later, but he’d offered no explanation. Perhaps she had time to make another loaf. She usually kept more dough resting in the cool room. The new loaf would be tarragon rather than chervil, but Airtre liked both.

Étaín dusted her hands on her apron, pulled an oiled hood over her head, and hurried past the herb garden. Several round storage structures ringed the south corner of their courtyard, filled with tools and supplies. She rummaged through her herb supplies and found three turnips to mash as well as her precious salt box. A little sweet cream, butter and sorrel, and those would make a nice dish for the side if the new flatbread didn’t bake in time.

She had just returned to the hearth when she heard the horse outside.

Stones and crows, he’s home early. She scrambled to scrape the burnt bread out of her iron pan, burning her hand on the still-sizzling metal.

Étaín had long since learned not to curse out loud, but a grunt of frustration still escaped her lips, knowing her husband hadn’t come in yet. After closing her eyes tight against the painful burn, she plunged her hand into the cold water bucket by the door.

She concentrated on her heirloom brooch and pulled time back a few moments. While she couldn’t use the magic longer without serious illness, a few moments should be enough. Still, a wave of nausea swept over her as she grabbed a scrap of rag to pull the pan out of the oven and saved her hands this time. A sound at the door made her whirl back to her chores.

When Airtre entered the roundhouse, he shook the rain off his oiled cloak and cursed. “Étaín! Pissmires and spiders, what have you done all day? This place is a mess. Is something burning?”

She turned to him after swallowing her distress, her head bowed. “I apologize, husband. I found a leak…”

He stood with his arms crossed on his stocky chest. “A leak? A leak? I don’t care about a leak! What did you ruin, woman? I swear, for someone reputed to be an excellent cook, you are damned clumsy with food, and wasteful at that.”

She busied herself with cleaning the hearth and putting things right. First, she wrapped the new dough in a burdock leaf and placed the package in the warm coals. Then she shoved the table back into its proper place. She rubbed at the scrapes the legs made on the flagstones, but Airtre was busy changing into a dry léine. Hopefully, he would not notice the damage until they wore away.

• • •

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she's a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it's more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation – and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

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