Welcome to the tour for the gorgeous final installment in The Order of the Crystal Daggers series by C.S. Johnson, called Heart of Hope and Fear. Read on for more details and a chance to win hardcover editions of the entire trilogy!!!
Heart of Hope and Fear (The Order of the Crystal Daggers #3)
In a moment of desperation and desire, one girl takes a leap of faith to secure the future of her nation — and save her family.
Despite the many demands that come with being a member of the Order of the Crystal Daggers, Eleanora Svobodová has plenty of reasons to celebrate. With Lumiere’s capture and Lady Penelope’s reluctant acceptance of Ferdy, not even Ben’s painful ire can completely diminish her joy.
But just as the future begins to look bright, the past catches up to Eleanora and the other members of the Order.
For as they investigate Karl’s disappearance, Eleanora learns the shocking secret about her mother’s final mission—and Lady Penelope’s treachery—just as the Emperor heads to Bohemia to conduct a special tripartite council, despite the threat to his life.
Can Eleanora and the Order find a way to save the kingdom? And even if they do, will they be able to survive a new betrayal from among their ranks?
Full of surprising twists and turns, Heart of Hope and Fear is the final book in The Order of the Crystal Daggers, a historical romance spy trilogy from C. S. Johnson.
Louis Valoris chuckled as he stirred his tea with a spoon. “I do believe it is time we were formally introduced, Lady Eleanora.”
“It’s you,” I whispered, shaking my head in shame.
“I must say, you look so much like your mother. Even in the moonlight, I would’ve sworn it was her ghost if Lumiere hadn’t found you and your brother last year.”
“Eleanora.” Lady Penelope scowled over at me.
I gave her an apologetic look, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. She’d warned me before Louis was crafty and full of cunning, and I’d been completely caught off guard.
“I must commend you on her progress, Pepé,” Louis continued. “But she’s still very naïve, and that’s dangerous, especially for one who carries the weapon of the Order, yet none of its secrets. How do you know she won’t betray you when she learns the truth?”
“Eleanora is a loyal member of the Order,” Lady Penelope said, her voice full of resignation instead of pride. “She will not betray me.”
“It would be nice to see her live up to her mother’s legacy.”
At his disparaging tone, rage and fury rocked through me to my core. Lumiere had told me less than an hour ago how Louis had a hand in poisoning my mother and killing Nassara—and now I knew he’d used Xiana to fulfill his plans.
“The dead deserve some respect, Louis,” Lady Penelope warned, speaking before I could yell at him. “I’d rather talk of the present than the past, now that we’ve arrived at our final rendezvous.”
She reached down and pulled out her own violet-colored dagger in one hand and a pistol in the other.
S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.
Welcome to the book tour for Scattered Legacy by Marlene M. Bell! Read on for details and the fantastic giveaway at the end!
Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy (Annalisse Series) Each Book is a Standalone Mystery
Publication Date: November 4th, 2021
Genre: Mystery/ Suspense
To outsiders, the relationship between Manhattan antiquities assessor Annalisse Drury and sports car magnate Alec Zavos must look carefree and glamorous. In reality, it’s a love affair regularly punctuated by treasure hunting, action-packed adventure, and the occasional dead body.
When Alec schedules an overseas trip to show Annalisse his mother’s birthplace in Bari, Italy, he squeezes in the high-stakes business of divesting his family’s international corporation. But things go terribly wrong as murder makes its familiar reappearance in their lives – and this time it’s Alec’s disgraced former CFO who’s the main suspect.
Accompanied by friend and detective Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father – linking him to embezzlement, extortion, and the dirty business of the Sicilian Mafia. The search for the truth sends the trio straight into riddles, secrets, and an historic set of rosary beads. Annalisse leads Alec toward a discovery that is unthinkable, and events that will change their futures forever.
Scattered Legacy is the third in Marlene M. Bell’s thrilling Annalisse series, which weaves romance, crime, and historical mystery into addictive tales to instantly captivate fans of TV show Bones or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
The reception area is completely empty, and there’s a smell like metal in damp dirt circulating overhead. Farther in, the ceiling fan is hovering on high speed, and the windows are open.
A dead body inside a warm office leaves an unmistakable odor behind, as did the body Ethan found inside the stall at Walker Farm. Decomp is one smell that sticks with you forever. Adding to the office creepiness, who chose the interior’s decor? We’re surrounded by limestone walls painted an ugly shade of ochre, slightly more yellow and definitely more unappealing than the building’s exterior. The rooms will need another coat of fresh paint to cover a harsh stench known to stick to the walls like cigarette tar does.
No one is nearby, not even the receptionist.
The office cubicles are silent but for a few flapping papers. Not a single desk phone is ringing. It’s like the office decided to have a fire drill midday, and the employees left their computers on and didn’t bother to close folders—open to anyone passing by. Frames holding pictures of sweethearts and children stand by as guardians for the people who are absent from their high-back swivel chairs.
Officer Raffa returns and mutters in heavy Italian brogue, “Il signore is waiting for his… avvocato difensore.” He points to the room with a closed door. “Come, Mr. Zavos. Your friends stay here.”
“Josh is in there waiting for his defense attorney. Back soon.” Alec touches my arm and looks at Bill, sending him a private message.
Alec’s led to a side office, and the solid door closes behind them.
“Is Alec signing autographs, or should I even worry about what’s going on in that room? Has Josh been here the entire time messing with evidence?” I ask Bill.
“Alec’s prepared for all contingencies. I’m surprised they haven’t taken Jennings down to the station by now.”
A few minutes later, Alec emerges by himself. “They weren’t going to allow us to talk to Josh, but I persuaded him. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
For what feels like an eternity, we sit in ladderback pine chairs with brown cushions while Alec keeps adjusting his watch. I don’t know what Alec had to promise the officer. Autographs are fine with me, but if he had to pay him off, I’d rather not know.
“I hope Brad is parked in the shade somewhere.” Alec looks at his watch for the eighth time in twenty minutes and turns to me. “Now that we’re here, they seem to be in no hurry to get rid of us. I’m sorry, Anna. Hold on a little longer.” His smile is an honest one full of regret.
I’ve heard the sentiment from him so often it doesn’t even register with my brain anymore. We both have a lot of work to do in the I-promise-to-do-better department.
The closed door at the back wall opens, and a guy pokes his head out, surveying the room. He’s fiftyish and, with his reading glasses, reminds me of Gen’s studious accountant.
Alec pivots, and his earlier smile vanishes.
“That’s Jennings,” Bill says quietly.
“Yes.” Alec waves to draw the man’s attention.
A confused Josh looks at us and then the floor as if he’s embarrassed. Eventually he settles his eyes on Alec. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. My attorney should be here soon. Come back to the conference room.”
Bill asks Alec, “Is it okay to go on ahead?”
Alec must have compensated the officer well to allow us entry this close to the crime scene.
“Let’s get this over with.” Alec seems queasy.
The three of us move through the aisle between desks and toward the room with a door left open for us. Josh has already gone inside. For someone who wants Alec’s help, he sure doesn’t appear happy or grateful for his effort. A huge effort. This had better not be Josh’s way of buying himself out of the woman’s death. The disgrace of being fired from Signorile after Pearce’s tragedy has to hurt his pride.
There’s news of a deadly virus moving through Europe, and the typical handshake is no longer being used between business execs.
Bill lifts his arm and catches himself. “Mr. Jennings? My name is Bill Drake, an associate of Mr. Zavos. You’ve asked to see him, and we also have some questions for you on another matter.”
“Wonderful.” The man in a sweaty, slept-in polo isn’t thrilled with us staring him down. There’s frost in the room as testosterone flies between glances. No one wants to be the first to break the sheet of ice forming around the presumed blue-eyed killer. Alec hasn’t made any assumptions yet until we talk to him, but Josh’s cool facade feels calculated to me. A superior to Alec, or something like that. For an innocent, I don’t like his peculiar behavior in the presence of a man who’s here to keep his neck from a noose.
“I asked to see Alec. Who are the rest of you?”
He’s behind a chair, using it as a shield to save himself from a CEO who wants to take his livelihood from him again. Or is it because he’s guilty of ending a woman’s life?
Alec pulls out the chair for me, and we all sit at the long conference table with a fancy letter F embellished in the center.
Josh’s temples bead with sweat, and he’s wringing his hands next to a wool felt fedora hat with a band. They seem to be popular in Italy. The guy’s bloodshot eyes and dark circles are sure signs of insomnia and stressing to the max. Wet ovals hang beneath the armpits of his beige shirt.
Alec’s unshakable gaze lands on Jennings, who abruptly turns away.
This meeting isn’t opening well.
Bill addresses Josh. “We don’t have a lot of time. Authorities aren’t thrilled with us questioning you, but they were… let’s say, swayed. Tell us what happened here?”
“She was tied and tortured in my office after I left night before last. I opened the building in the morning at seven and found her lying on her side, strapped to a chair and wrapped in wire near my desk. Lots of blood.” Josh holds a paper towel over his mouth, then uses it to wipe away perspiration. “When I left the building, she was in the conference room. I have no idea how she ended up in the office. Maybe the cat went in there.” He slides the fedora into his lap.
Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer, artist, and sheep breeder who resides in beautiful East Texas. Her renown sheep photographs grace the covers of many livestock magazines.
The third book in the Annalisse Series releases in 2021. Scattered Legacy is an international mystery with light touches of romance. Stolen Obsession and Spent Identity, books one and two, received numerous awards including the Independent Press Award for Best Mystery in 2020. Her mysteries can be found at marlenembell.com.
Marlene also writes children’s books. Her first children’s picture book, Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! is based on true events with Natalie from the Bell’s ranch. It’s a touching story of compassion and love between a little girl and her lamb. Mia and Nattie is honored to be a Mom’s Choice Gold Award winner.
Marlene shares her life with her husband and a few dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep: a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, and cats, Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks. The cats believe they rule the household—and do.
Welcome to the book tour for gritty noir mystery, Stranger’s Kingdom by Brandon Barrows. Read on for more details and enter for a chance to win a $20 Amazon e-gift card!
Publication Date: August 25th, 2021
Genre: Mystery/ Suspense
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Politically blacklisted detective Luke Campbell’s last chance in law-enforcement is a job with the police department of rural Granton, Vermont. It’s a beautiful town, home to a beautiful, intriguing girl who’s caught his eye, and it’s a chance at redemption. Even if his new boss seems strange, secretive, and vaguely sinister, Campbell is willing to give this opportunity a shot. And no sooner does he make that decision than the first in a series of murders is discovered, starting a chain of events that will change the lives of everyone in this once-quiet town…
The tall bag of bones swung a vicious right that seemed to whistle in the stillness of the thin night air, scraping through the empty space between my chin and throat, just barely avoiding contact with flesh. Seemingly in the same motion, as if using the momentum from his swinging fist, he turned and dashed off into the dim recesses of the alley he’d been hanging around the mouth of — for hours, if Rosalie Stompanato was to be believed. I had no reason to doubt her.
“Police! Get back here!” Shouting was pointless, but I had to try. I gave chase to the already- vanished figure, plunging after him into the deeper darkness between two aging apartment houses. My fist, which I only then realized I was making, unclenched and I reached for the holster under my left shoulder, muttering, “God damn it.”
It was pushing midnight and in just over nine hours, both Rosalie Stompanato and I were due in court for the attempted murder trial of her mid-level racketeer husband, Thomas “Tommy Stomper” Stompanato. Stompanato, loosely connected to the much larger Castella crime organization, had been on a lot of people’s radars for years, for everything from small-time protection rackets to credit card scams and money laundering for bigger outfits. Major investigations by Albany city police, New York state police and even federal authorities produced charges and convictions against numerous Stompanato pawns, and even a couple of lieutenants, but Tommy Stomper himself somehow always remained clean enough to skate away. It took a domestic situation, a middle of the night, literal knock- down-drag-out in which he pulled Mrs. Stompanato out of their lavish home in suburban Malta and, according to witnesses and Rosalie herself, tried to remove her teeth with the aid of a conveniently placed curb. “Stomper” wasn’t just a clever play on his family name.
When I got the tip about a disturbance at the Stompanato residence from a state-trooper friend, I couldn’t help being just a bit grateful for this bit of rage-fueled stupidity. The man had been so clever for so long that it looked like he’d never fuck up, that we’d never find the crack that would pull open his operation and let us drag him out into the light. For Rosalie Stompanato, it was a nightmare, but a lot of us who were after her husband felt gratitude and guilt in equal measures. One woman’s nightmare was a godsend for multiple agencies.
After the incident, Rosalie Stompanato moved out of her stylish home in nearby Malta to a small apartment in the area where she grew up, inside the city proper. Family and friends she knew there were long gone, but the return to a familiar place apparently brought a measure of comfort. It was understandable and it made both the county prosecutor’s work in prepping her for the trial, and my department’s in protecting her, that much easier. Despite the charges against him, not to mention his associations, Stompanato made bail and his organization worked on. With a trial looming over his head, but no date set, the mobster seemed to keep his nose relatively clean, knowing the state’s attorney would be more than happy to tack additional charges onto the list he was already facing. That and time, as weeks became months, allowed Rosalie Stompanato to make a life for herself unmolested.
“At least the kids are already grown and out on their own,” Rosalie told me once, in a private moment. “If this happened ten years ago…” She broke down without finishing, but I knew what she was thinking.
I kept in regular touch with her after that, partially because I felt she needed the support, but also hoping to pick up something that would further widen the chink in Tommy Stomper’s armor. She seemed to be doing as well as could be expected. She was even starting to feel safe again, she told me — until the night before the trial finally began.
It was past eleven o’clock when I received the woman’s call; I’d given her my home number and told her to call any time, for any reason. She noticed a figure, she said —a tall, gangly man she didn’t remember ever seeing in the neighborhood before, who spent hours standing in the mouth of the alley directly across from her apartment.
“It’s probably nothing,” I told her, as much to convince myself. Tommy Stomper proved he wasn’t stupid, but with so much riding on the events of the next day, maybe he was becoming desperate. “But I’m happy to check it out.”
When I arrived on Rosalie’s street, fifteen minutes after her call, I saw exactly who she was worried about and exactly why. He stood just outside the circle of light cast by a streetlamp, hanging around the mouth of an alley. I watched for a few minutes and he did nothing at all — not so much as light a cigarette, shuffle his feet or cough. He wasn’t worried about seen.
I exited the vehicle and approached.
Closer up, I could see he was a sickly thin young man, skin so pale it almost seemed to glow in the dimness. He wore a faded blue hooded sweatshirt that hung from him like laundry on a line and his hair was short, mussed and unwashed, making it look like blond barbed wire. I’d have bet his diet consisted largely of amphetamines.
The guy’s eyes, watchful and wary, scanned me as I approached. I flashed my badge and said, “Evening.” That was all it took. Those animal-alert eyes went wide and his fist swung out in an arc and then he was gone, rabbiting towards the nearest hole.
My feet pounded the pavement, echoing sharply in the narrow, trash-strewn space, all senses searching for signs of the danger I was rushing headlong into. Light beckoned from a short distance and after a moment, I burst out into the next street. Even the soft yellow glow of sodium lamps seemed brilliant after the pitch-dark of the alley and, as my eyes adjusted, I turned left then right, spotting a figure disappearing around the corner. I followed, telling myself I was being stupid, telling myself I should go back to Rosalie Stompanato’s, make sure she was all right, call it in, ask for additional officers, all while my feet took me closer to where I saw that retreating form.
I turned the corner, saw a flash duck around yet another corner. At the mouth of the alley, I allowed myself an instant’s rest before entering. Even from the street, it was clear this was a dead-end. There was nothing but darkness down this brick corridor — the alley was blocked up midway down.
I drew my weapon, fumbled in my coat pocket for my penlight, flicked it on, then aimed it and the weapon down the length of the alley, sweeping the narrow width of the space.
“C’mon out. There’s nowhere left to go.”
My heart pounded in my chest and there was a stitch in my side, but I felt good all the same.
Stompanato’s intimidation failed, and I caught his crony in the act. Witness tampering charges would be a bonus year or two on Stompanato’s sentence.
There was a rustle behind a pile of discarded cardboard boxes. “Let’s go,” I commanded. “Now.”
The figure rose like a scarecrow in a concrete field, arms lifted in a half-hearted pose of surrender. I flicked the flashlight’s beam upwards; he shied away, blinded by the brilliance, his head turning and one arm flying up to protect his eyes. I shifted the light so I could hold both it and my weapon in my right hand then started forward, plucking a pair of handcuffs from my pocket. With my left hand, I reached for the man’s wrist. Up close, I could see he was barely more than a kid.
“You’re under arrest for disobeying a lawful command, resisting an officer and—” I never got to finish.
The fist I’d narrowly avoided before thrust out again, catching me hard in the right shoulder, a wave of pain and shock jolting down the length of my arm. He was a lot stronger than his frailness suggested. He followed up with a two-handed push that sent me spinning off to one side, banging my other shoulder off of the rough stone wall of the alley, before rushing past, trying again to escape.
I threw out a hand, grabbing a fistful of his sweatshirt. It stopped him, but only long enough for him to half-turn and chop an open-handed blow down onto my elbow. Fresh pain skittered along my nerves, but I didn’t let go, instead raising my right hand, only to discover it was empty. Somewhere in those chaotic two or three seconds, I dropped my gun.
I cursed and struggled for a better grip on the kid’s clothing. He was thrashing wildly, yelling, “Let go! Let go!” his voice shrill and his mind going into panic mode. The decision between fight or flight was no longer his to make, but it seemed as if he was trying to choose both options simultaneously.
“Settle down! Cut it out, God damn it!” I snarled, freeing one hand to cuff him alongside the back of the neck, trying to startle him into a semblance of calm. “Nobody’s going to hurt you, but you’re digging yourself one hell of a hole!”
He ignored the words and continued to flail around. I tried to tackle him around the waist and ended up dragging both of us down to the filthy floor of the alley, where we rolled around for a few seconds, trading a punch a two. We were making enough noise that lights in the surrounding buildings came on. I hoped someone would have the sense to call 911, but even if they did, I knew nobody would arrive soon enough to help me get out of this. I was on my own.
Just as the thought flew through my head, the kid stopped moving. I allowed myself to hope he was coming to his senses at last. Then his hand shot out, straining to reach beyond my head, and when it came back into view, his fingers were wrapped around a chunk of brick the size of a small loaf of
bread. He reared up, holding the thing above his head, prepared to end things between us. In the scant light of the nearly forgotten flashlight, his eyes looked huge and empty.
My own eyes flew all around, frantic, searching for a way out. The other man was straddling my chest and his knees kept me effectively pinned to the ground, but my arms were free and my fingers scrabbled across the rough, cold ground, searching for something, anything, to break this deadlock. They closed around something even colder, something metallic and familiar.
As the brick came down, my fist came up, and the explosion of noise and light only inches from my face all but knocked me senseless.
Brandon Barrows is the author of the novels STRANGERS’ KINGDOM, BURN ME OUT, and THIS ROUGH OLD WORLD. He has published over seventy stories, selected of which are collected in the books THE ALTAR IN THE HILLS and THE CASTLE-TOWN TRAGEDY. He is an active member of Private Eye Writers of America and International Thriller Writers and was a 2021 Mustang Award finalist.
I’m so pleased to be part of the book tour for Moon Scorned by Marty Mayberry! Read on for more info and a chance to enter a giveaway where you could win the prequel novella in the in the series called Moon Hunted!
Moon Scorned (Raven Moon Wolves #1)
Expected Publication Date: January 5th, 2022
Genre: Upper YA/ Shifter/ Paranormal Romance
I fell hard and fast for the alpha of an elite pack.
Then he rejected me.
Asher took off when I needed him most, rejecting me and my inner wolf. Then my half-sister is murdered at an exclusive college that’s enshrouded in magic and secrets. When the school offers me a scholarship, I accept and move onto campus. I’m going to find out who killed her, then rip them apart. And if I run into Asher while I’m there? He’ll learn I’m no longer his sweet little thing. He’s about to taste the fury of a wolf shifter scorned.
Everly’s everything to me, but to protect her, I had to shove her away. If I go near her, the Drudge Pack will discover who she truly is. My father—their enforcer—will kill her. But when she shows up at Ravenmire College, my inner wolf hungers. I’ll do anything to keep her safe—even if that means sacrificing myself and betraying my dangerous family.
Asher was waiting for me outside work, standing in the darkness below a burst of evergreens. When he saw me, he strode forward and cupped my face with his warm hands.
Likes him, my wolf sighed within me.
“Missed you,” he whispered.
“You, too.” My heart rate picked up to double time.
His lips captured mine, softly at first, then harder and with growing need.
I wasn’t sure where this was going between us, but I did know one thing. Cats might rule and wolves might drool, but Asher was my catnip. Whenever he touched me, I purred.
Pulling away, he took my hand and guided me across the sidewalk and out onto the beach.
During the day, crowds of humans mobbed Old Orchard Beach. Once the sun had set and the tourists headed to their rented condos and hotels, the locals could breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the quiet. And late at night, especially when the moon bathed the sky with her milky gaze, wolves like me and Ash could run.
I kicked off my shoes and shimmied out of my jeans and long-sleeve shirt—I wisely wore thin shorts and a tank underneath.
Asher watched, his smoldering eyes tracing my every curve as I moved. We’d come close to going all the way but hadn’t done it yet. I wasn’t sure why I resisted. He made it clear he wanted to. The heat simmering in my veins told me I did too. I guess I wanted to wait. We’d only known each other for a few months.
He had to leave for college soon, but he said he’d come back for each of his breaks. We had plenty of time to do things then.
We strode down to where the water licked at the shore and stood, staring out at the shimmering sea.
“You ever gone skinny dipping?” The grin Ash shot me was full of mischief.
He lifted his shirt and ripped it over his head, tossing it aside. Moonlight teased across his muscular shoulders and defined abs. He told me he played soccer in college. Worked out now and then in the gym at his dad’s estate.
This was pure Asher. His amazing body was the alpha wolf in him shining through.
He reached for the button at the top of his jeans.
My breath jerked out of me. “I haven’t skinny dipped yet.” I nibbled on my lower lip.
With his jeans gaping open, he took my hands and squeezed them. His voice softened, something he did only with me. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“The water’s cold. It barely gets above sixty this time of year.”
“It’s not that bad. I promise I won’t touch…too much.” He shucked his jeans. “I’ll even leave my boxers on.”
“It’s not quite skinny dipping if we’re not naked.” My swallow got caught in my throat. I couldn’t drag my attention away from the corded muscles standing out in his thighs. The bulge in his shorts.
“Ev?” he said, his voice calling to everything inside me like a siren from deep beneath the sea. He lifted my chin, and our eyes met. His freakin’ smoldered.
“Okay, I will,” I said.
His fingers caressed my bare arms, and my skin tingled.
He splashed into the sea and turned when he was in waist-deep water. A wave crashed against his back, trying to thrust him back to me, but he maintained his position, watching.
I wanted to tease him, to shimmy my hips and dance while I did it, but I wanted to be close to him even more. I tugged off my shorts and tank. They fell from my limp fingers to the sand with a soft rustle.
Asher groaned. “You’re gorgeous.” His fingers swirled through the water at his sides.
Holding his gaze, I ran down into the water, dressed only in my underwear.
Asher reached for my hand and tugged me right up against him. He ran his palms up and down my arms. As if that would warm me up?
Actually, his touch did. It warmed me up too much. Maybe tonight, we’d…
Likes, my wolf said. More kisses.
I jumped up and he caught me. He’d always catch me. My legs went around his waist, my arms, his shoulders.
His lips sought mine, searing through me. His tongue stroked the seam of my lips, and I opened my mouth, letting him inside. I didn’t need to build a rocket ship to take us to the moon or the stars. Asher’s kiss took me there already.
“You…” he said when he lifted his head. “Have I told you yet how much you mean to me?”
“You can always tell me again.”
“Ev.” His fingers teased my spine, and I quivered, wishing now I’d taken off all my clothes. He kissed the nape of my neck. I melted, my knees pure mush.
Frigid water might bathe my skin, but Asher was the fire keeping me warm
Marty lives in New England, where you’ll find her plotting and writing while walking in the park–yes, at the same time! Otherwise, you might find her sitting in the shade with her feet up, reading everything she can get her hands on.
Supernatural beings are hiding among us. The Psi have remained secluded from humans for far too long, and there’s a faction that is conspiring to break the veil and use their powers to take their rightful place among humans – as our rulers and conquerors.
Wren is a college student who didn’t think her life could get much worse. That is until she’s kidnapped by the Psi and questioned about her closest friend. But the Psi offer her something no one else can – the truth about who she is.
But can she trust the Psi? Can she trust her feelings towards her irritatingly charming captor? Or is she just a pawn in a very dangerous game?
Once the door closed, I flung the blanket off. The room looked like it could be someone’s study or office. I hurried to the windows and yanked open the drapes and the room flooded with sunlight. Daylight! I’d been out for hours!
There were no bars on the windows, but a quick glance outside revealed that I was on the second floor of wherever this was. Climbing or jumping down could be an option. A second story jump wouldn’t kill me, but it would likely hurt like hell.
I groped around the window frame for a lock or way to open it. I found nothing. Hurrying over to the next set of drapes, I yanked them open and found a set of French doors. Behind the glass, I could see a little balcony, and I reached for the door handle.
“Damn it!” The knob moved, but when I shoved against it, it didn’t budge. I shook my head. “People don’t go to the trouble of kidnapping someone, only to leave them in an unlocked room, you idiot,” I muttered to myself. Nothing was ever that easy.
Something heavy—that’s what I needed. If I couldn’t just walk out, I would break out!
I turned, and for the first time, I noticed the fire cracking in the fireplace along the far wall behind the couch I’d woken upon. On a second glance, the room looked more like an old library than someone’s personal office. The walls had deep mahogany wood paneling and were lined with books from floor to ceiling. There was a large matching desk stationed on the far side of the room. The room was almost the size of my entire apartment and was full of plenty of things that looked nice and heavy.
I pushed my mussed hair out of my eyes and walked over to an end table by the couch and picked up a large, very ugly candelabra. I studied it for a moment taking in the fat bronze cherub with its vacant and creepy looking eyes and grimaced. “Who would buy something this ugly?” I muttered as I moved back to the window. I would need to move quickly once the glass broke.
I moved swiftly across the room to the French doors, lifted the candelabra and swung—
“There’s a deadbolt at the top,” a voice spoke, stopping me mid-swing.
I shrieked, and whirled around to see a guy had entered the room. He held a tray in his arms, his lips quirked up in an amused half-smile.
“Um—what?” My heart hammered in my chest at the sudden appearance of someone in the room. How had I not heard him?
“Up at the top of the door.” The guy jerked his chin in the direction of the French doors. “There’s a deadbolt you can unlock if you need to get some air that badly. No reason to break perfectly good windows.” He crossed the room and set the tray down on the coffee table. “Not that you’d break them anyway. They’re made of unbreakable glass,” he added as he poured himself a cup of what smelled like coffee.
I watched as he added heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of cream before heading to the couch, where he sat down like everything was totally normal and took a sip of his coffee. But normal people didn’t kidnap people or need unbreakable windows.
“You can put that down.” He motioned to the candelabra still held tightly in my grasp. “You won’t be needing it.”
“You going to let me leave if I do?” I dared to ask.
The amused smile that hadn’t left his mouth since he had first spoken grew. “I can’t let you leave, but I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.” He lifted the cup to his lips and took another sip of his coffee.
I tightened my grip on the candelabra, the hard bronze managing to give me a small measure of comfort as I said, “I’d feel more comfortable holding onto this then.”
“Fair enough.” He nodded.
“Why bother telling me about the lock on the door if you aren’t going to let me go?” I asked.
“Letting you go outside and letting you leave isn’t the same thing.” He set his cup down and strode towards me.
Every muscle in my body tensed as he stopped a foot away. He wasn’t much older than me, and only a few inches taller, but his confidence made it feel like he was towering over my five foot seven inches. The smile had left his mouth as he studied me. His eyes were a light golden brown that could only be described as honey-colored, and they almost glowed against his light brown skin. His hair was a dark wavy mass that reached his collar.
Good looking didn’t even begin to describe this guy. He was the type of subject I’d normally love to sketch or paint, but given my current position, I wasn’t really in the mood. Although my situation didn’t stop me from noticing his strong nose and narrow jaw, or the way his lashes were long enough for a mascara commercial. I couldn’t help it. I saw potential art in most everything, especially beautiful things. And damn it, he was beautiful.
His mouth quirked to the side as if something amused him, but he didn’t say what. He just continued to look at me.
I straightened to my full height, refusing to shrink away. “Why am I here? Or are you not important enough to tell me either?”
He took a step closer, closing the gap between us and leaned in, his face a measly couple inches from mine. “I’m the reason you’re here.” He didn’t move away, and I glared at him.
“You’re in my personal space.”
“Am I?” He smirked as he flicked the end of my nose.
“Don’t touch me!” I smacked his hand away.
His teeth gleamed as he flashed a cocky grin, “Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” The grin didn’t leave his face, but he took a step back and moved behind the desk. “Come sit down, Wren, and we’ll talk.” He sat in the deep brown leather chair.
The use of my name caught my attention. “How do you know my name?”
He nodded to the chair in front of the desk.
“I’m not sitting until you tell me how you know my name.” I stormed toward the desk and slammed the stupid ugly candelabra down in front of him with as much force as I could muster.
The jerk didn’t even flinch.
“I’m the one who arranged for you to be brought here,” he said. “It helps to find out the name of the people you’re kidnapping.”
He had me there.
“Now, sit down, please.” His words were calm but firm as he nodded once more towards the chair and crossed his arms, waiting.
I complied. For now.
He was silent as he shuffled through some files on the desk. A wiser person might have stayed silent and waited for their captors to speak, but I’d never been accused of ever being especially wise.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. “And why am I here?”
He glanced up and folded his hands on top of a manila file. He didn’t speak, he just studied me, his gaze dark and intrusive.
I shifted, clenching my fists so tightly, my nails bit into my palms.
“My name is Darshan, and you’re here because I need something and I’m hoping you can help me.”
“What makes you think I can help you?”
I searched my mind to come up with something, anything that these people might think I could do for them. I had little to offer anyone. I knew that. I wasn’t stupid. But, obviously, he didn’t know that, or maybe I’d been mistaken for someone else?
Darshan leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. “I know you can help me, Wren.”
“I swear I have nothing of any value to you.”
“It’s not about what you have, but who you know.”
“What are you talking about?” I shook my head. Who could I know that these people would want?
Darshan flipped open the file and pulled out a photo. He slid it towards me. His face was hard without a hint of humor. “We want to know where this woman is.”
I looked at the photo to see… me. So not a case of mistaken identity, but very creepy. It took me a moment to take in the rest of the picture and notice the person next to me. My eyes widened.
“Her name is Maeve.” His voice pulled me from my thoughts. “But I believe you know her as Wendy, and others know her as a murderer.”
Natalie J. Reddy is a Canadian Author who spends her days trying to escape reality by making up stories about the characters in her head.
Natalie realized at an early age that she had a passion for storytelling and that passion followed her into adulthood. There is nothing she loves more than to be pulled into a fictional world whether it’s in her own writing or the writing of others. Natalie is the author of the Scar of Days Forgotten series, a New Adult Urban Fantasy series with characters who have supernatural abilities and dark and sometimes unknown pasts to overcome.
When she’s not writing, Natalie can be found having all sorts of real-life adventures with her husband and daughter or curled up with a good book and a cup of tea.
To keep up to date on upcoming books, subscribe to Natalie’s newsletter at nataliejreddy.com
Welcome to the mini tour for fantasy novel, Unicorn Farmhand by Samuel Yaw Jian Fong. Read on for more details!
Publication Date: December 2019
Every horse has a talent or two. Some can sit, some can jump over obstacles, and some can select a button for a treat. For one particular draft horse, Dok Saau, his talent is in writing. He does not just scribble letters in the ground as a trick, but he also uses his talent to express his own thoughts to his bemused owners. Surprised by his strange talent, his owner Chang Gao brings him to the Horse Fair, where he beats the other horses by writing proper answers to several questions. After a DNA scan, he is revealed to be a unicorn: even though he was supposed to be released into the wild, the authorities let Chang Gao keep him so that he might become a local attraction. Yet even as he tries to adjust to his new life as an animal celebrity, every now and then he faces recurring nightmares from his troubled past. As he seeks Chang Gao’s help, will he be there to help him defeat his fears? Or would they instead attract something much worse: something that could threaten his comforts or even his own life?
Samuel Yaw Jian Fong is an amateur author and artist from Seremban, Malaysia. Due to a lot of time spent on the Internet, he enjoys making his own fictional worlds inhabited by dozens of quirky characters Would you like to check them out?
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… four migraine headaches, three massive ulcers, two aching ear drums, and a hole where my heart ought to be,” Maggie sang quietly to herself as though Max wasn’t sitting right there. She cracked herself up and switched off the unmarked Suburban’s FM radio with a flourish, and Max could swear he caught a whiff of cinnamon.
“Maggie Kyle, your Christmas spirit confounds me,” he told his partner. He was pretending to watch a Buick creep down the street a little too slowly so she wouldn’t guess how attuned he was to the earnest timbre of her voice or the wry quirk of her lips. She was trying too hard to act casual with him, and he couldn’t figure out why.
Maggie forced another laugh. “Christmas spirit,” she repeated, skimming the crossword puzzle in her lap before glancing back across the street at the rundown residence of Bobby King. Its peeling paint, once white, was now a weathered gray, and of the four green shutters meant to frame the front windows, two were broken and one was missing altogether.
“What is a six-letter word for ‘lack thereof,’ Alex?”
“Jeopardy’s not a crossword puzzle,” she said, making sure he saw her eye roll.
“Dispatch, we need to put out an APB on Officer Kyle’s missing Christmas spirit.”
“You going to call in that Buick?” she changed the subject.
“I wrote down the plates,” he lied, squinting to make them out so he could record the vehicle in his logbook.
Maggie picked up the radio. “51-19?”
“51-19, go ahead,” another officer responded from his own unmarked vehicle around the corner.
“10-15 headed your way. Tan Buick, early 2000s model, traveling east. Manitoba plate: Yankee Lima Echo seven seven eight.”
“Copy,” 51-19 replied.
Maggie replaced the radio and turned her attention back to the crossword. “Frankie wants to enter that gingerbread contest, and her mom’s been playing Christmas carols since before Halloween. I’m not sure how much more I can take.”
“Got it. No Christmas carols.”
Max drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. When exactly had she lost her Christmas spirit? He could picture her as a little girl—in his mind she wore two long braids and was constantly shaking her bangs out of her eyes—staring up at the sky waiting for Santa to ride out of the stars like a meteor with the same patience she now bestowed on their stakeout. “But peppermint lattes are okay?”
She grinned. “I’ll allow it.”
“So you only hate Christmas a little bit then?”
Time was, Max didn’t mind the odd stakeout. It beat writing parking tickets or chasing shoplifters through the snow. Play some tunes, shoot the shit, pee in a bottle if things got urgent.
With the right partner it could seem like a day off. But everything was like eggshells with Maggie lately, and he couldn’t figure out when exactly things had changed.
Today he felt a special kind of twitchy, the kind that made you want to peel off your own skin. Max loved the city—sometimes he hated how much he loved it—but sitting still all week, downtown where the Toronto high-rises blocked out the sky, he was starting to feel caged, like the buildings were closing in from every direction.
Maybe he was psyching himself out after the whole ancestry test situation. The dichotomy of an Indigenous urbanite was turning his brain against itself. Maybe he just needed a vacation.
“Do you believe in nature versus nurture?” he asked.
“What, you mean like, mama tried but Bobby King was born rotten and no amount of church or cuddles or bedtime stories could have stopped him growing up to be a cop-killing gun runner?”
“Something like that.”
Maggie shrugged at him. “You missed a button.” She pointed at his shirt. “Girlfriend didn’t catch that?”
She was obsessed with the idea that he and Selina from next door shared more than a wall. It had only happened once—okay a handful of times. But it was five years ago, and there was no way Maggie could have known, except somehow she did. Even back then there’d been something, in his gait as he walked to the patrol car or a half-guilty look in his eyes; she had known, and if he protested now she’d take it as some kind of proof.
Not that it should even matter. They were partners, not lovers, and he’d certainly been her shoulder to cry on when the asshat from college dumped her and split back to Edmonton.
Max should have made a move on Maggie then, but he was still her TO and besides, he’d been a rebound before. He didn’t want to be one for Maggie, and she didn’t want him anyway. She’d been singularly focused on making detective since her first day at Fifty-One Division. Until, somewhere along the lines, she hadn’t.
And she was right about the button. His black undershirt was peeking through. Did he bother to look in the mirror this morning? After a dozen years on the job, he knew what he’d see. Not his father, not even his grandfather—just a sad imitation, like a kid who got the wrong size costume at Halloween.
Her phone began to vibrate then, and she, too, silenced it without answering.
“Your mom again?” he asked.
She didn’t respond, which meant yes.
“She giving you a hard time about staying here for the holidays?”
“I’ll take ‘Does the earth orbit the sun?’ for a thousand, Alex.”
“Weren’t you going to invite your folks out here for Christmas?”
“That was last year.”
An uncomfortable mixture of lust and shame surged through Max, from the tips of his ears to his belly, at the thought of last Christmas. He tried to remember her parents being in town, but all that came to mind was the department holiday party and sweaty fumbling in a dark interrogation room. And cinnamon. She had smelled like cinnamon then, too.
Rose Prendeville is a librarian and honorary Canadian with a passion for stories about found families and flawed people doing their best.
She’s been devising such tales for as long as she can remember, including secretly in the back of her tenth grade French class (Pardon, Madame Gonzales), and she went on to double-major in screenwriting and creative writing.
Hydrangeas are her lifeblood, hot baths and hiking are her solace. She adores baking (and mostly eating) macarons, and she can’t wait to share this and future books with you.
We are so excited to share the next installment of the Order’s Last Play series, The Third Gambit! Read on for more info and a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card!
The Third Gambit
Publication Date: November 2nd, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy/ Sci-Fi
Publisher: 48Fourteen Publishing
Lines about ‘prophecy’ and ‘destiny’ are best used in epic fantasies about heroes who like to wear capes. Too bad the living gods rolling the dice in this game forgot to include those characters.
After saving their older brother, Evan, and being forced to leave the lives they knew on Earth, Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence train to become the leaders of Rema—a planet they’ve never even heard of. And if that isn’t enough, they also have to rebuild a relationship with the brother they haven’t seen in over a decade as they struggle to control powers they didn’t hone on Earth. All so they can become the prophesied Four of Rema—whose choices will decide the outcome of an intergalactic war.
Separated and sent on quests to find power-magnifying gifts from a goddess, the Lauduethe brothers uncover devastating truths behind the war that lock the existence of everything they love in a deadly game of divine jeopardy. As they watch entire planets and their populations get eradicated, Devon, Lyle, Lawrence, and Evan must choose to either play the roles assigned to them by Order or be erased from existence with everything else.
WINNER OF THE READERS’ FAVORITE BOOK AWARDS 2017 YA FICTION, BRONZE MEDAL
Admitting what you are will end everything you know. Embracing who you are will start a war…
Life is great when you’re good-looking and popular…so long as no one knows you’re a vulatto. Being half-alien gets you labeled “loser” quicker than being a full vader. So it’s a good thing Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence can easily pass for human—until the night of the party. Nothing kills a good time faster than three brothers sharing a psychic vision of a fourth brother who’s off-world and going to die unless they do something. But when your brother’s emergency happens off-planet, calling 9-1-1 really isn’t an option. In their attempt to save a brother they barely remember, Devon, Lyle and Lawrence expose themselves to mortal danger and inherit a destiny that killed the last four guys cursed with it.
In 2022, there are humans and aliens, heroes and monsters, choices and prophecies—and four brothers with the power to choose what’s left when the gods decide they’re through playing games.
Ardell spent her childhood in Houston, Texas, obsessed with anything science fiction, fantastic, paranormal or just plain weird. She loves to write stories that feature young people with extraordinary talents thrown into strange and dangerous situations. She took her obsession to the next level, earning a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Southern Maine where she specialized in young adult genre fiction. She’s a big kid at heart and loves her job as a librarian. When she’s not working, she’s reading, writing, running writers critique groups, producing a web-show, and even writing fan fiction as her guilty pleasure. Her first YA science fiction novel, THE FOURTH PIECE (Book One, in the ORDER’S LAST PLAY series), was released by 48fourteen Publishing in July of 2016. THE FOURTH PIECE went on to win the bronze medal for YA Science Fiction in The Readers’ Favorite Book Awards 2017, Most Promising Series in the Red City Review Book Awards 2017, and to be a finalist for the 2017 RONE Awards for YA Science Fiction/Paranormal. THE THIRD GAMBIT is the second book in the ORDER’S LAST PLAY series and has an eBook release date of November 2, 2021.