Book Tour: Ekleipsis

Welcome to the book tour for Ékleipsis: The Abyss by Tamel Wino. I cannot think of a better book to read for Halloween! Read on for details and a chance to win signed copies of both installments of the Ékleipsis anthologies!

Ékleipsis: the Abyss

Expected Publication Date: October 29th, 2021

Genre: Horror/ Anthology

Ékleipsis: The Abyss is the second short story collection by the award-winning author.

Tales of depravation and insanity are woven together with unrelenting style and depth, scrutinizing human nature’s degeneration when compromised by tragic, vicious circumstances.

These complex, wretched individuals and the irremediable conditions they are desperate to claw out of—or into—invoke the unfathomable question: What devastation are we truly capable of when left with no way out but down . . . into the obscurity of the abyss?

 It is at times appalling, strange and outright frightening, but Wino’s way with character development is outstanding. The display of artistic creativity and character creation really sets “Èkleipsis: The Abyss” apart in the field of short story collections.”
― Reader Views

“The stories are well-packaged and generally have the feel of watching a syndicated crime drama. Fans of this form of entertainment will likely enjoy these well-crafted stories about everyday people whose lives are shattered by lunatics.”
― The US Review of Books

“Wino’s writing is vivid, unsettling and filled with brilliant hints that contribute to the exhilaration of its pacing. Ékleipsis: The Abyss is a clever and creative horror offering worth checking out.”

Independent Book Review

” Tamel really captured that essence of society and the dark side of people. Readers will appreciate the dark undertones of this horror anthology. Ekleipsis: the Abyss will surprise you more that you can imagine.”

Literary Titan

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About the Author

Tamel Wino is a Canadian fiction writer from the resplendent British Columbia whose works focus largely on degeneration of sanity and morality. He studied Health Sciences and Psychology, which only furthered his interest in human nature.

With inspirations including Alice Munro, Joe Hill, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Edgar Allan Poe; Tamel’s expositions are strongly grounded in traditions of dark fiction. Yet, with his bold narrative voice and incisive plot construction, Wino is paving a new movement within the space.

When he’s not reading or scribbling away on his laptop, Tamel loves listening to jazz, rewatching good ol’ classic shows and traveling.

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Giveaway: Signed copies of Ékleipsis and Ékleipsis: The Abyss

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Book Tour: Cut and Run

Cut and Run can be read as a STANDALONE, however book one, Dead Cat, Run will be available upon request!

Cut and Run 

Publication Date: August 14th, 2021

Genre: Contemporary Thriller

Their story continues . . .

The four Boston clairvoyants, blessed—or cursed—with special powers, must fight a ruthless enemy and stop injustice. In Dead Cat, Run, the Sisters of Fate drove them together, but at what cost? The God Apollo wasn’t playing around. He’s still dead set on vengeance.

Sinister forces will have a wicked agenda. An energy grab, a mineral rights war, and deadly mercenaries create a mortally serious game. But the psychics’ sibylline abilities aside, they’re only human. At least three of them are. (What’s up with that?)

Can they stop the killers? And who will survive?

An energetic contemporary thriller, Cut and Run will have you on the edge of your seat as the dance between good and evil resumes.

Goodreads

About the Author

AnnabelleLewisHeadshot small

Annabelle Lewis is a pseudonym for the author who lives in Minneapolis with her husband, children, and a wild thug of a dog who sleeps beside her. A multi-genre writer and publisher of 9 novels to date, her humorous mystery caper books have a theme – taking down the bad guy. Villains beware! She also writes a scathing blog and highly entertaining monthly newsletter. Sign up to follow at https://www.theannabellelewis.com

Book Tour: Fractured Lives

Welcome to the tour for another exciting Angela Hardwicke Sci-fi Mystery! This one is called Fractured Lives.

Read on for more details!

Fractured Lives (A Angela Hardwicke Sci-Fi Mystery)

Genre: Sci-Fi Mystery

Publication Date:  August 29th, 2021

In the cosmic realm of Eternity, there’s only one private eye to hire when your world gets turned inside out—Angela Hardwicke.

Darla Fyne, a college freshman and galaxy design savant, is suffering from a nervous breakdown—or is she the victim of an urban legend known as the Scarlet Raj?

As Hardwicke follows the intersecting worlds of art galleries, college dorms, and a semi-secret clan that patches up tears in the Universe, her investigation will either uncover a hoax gone wrong or a plot that could shift the balance of power across the entire realm. If only she can fight through her own paranoia to tell the difference.

In Russ Colchamiro’s new Sci-Fi mystery Fractured Lives, Angela Hardwicke is confronted by a PI’s worst nightmare—dark secrets from her past that will irrevocably change her future.

“Colchamiro’s heroine is a blunt, wry gumshoe battling her own demons.” —James McCrone, author of Emergency Powers

“I didn’t think Russ Colchamiro could surpass his previous novel. Fractured Lives proved me wrong. It takes readers into the workings of the universe and shows them the workings of the soul.”

—John L. French, author of the Bianca Jones series.

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Excerpt

I reach inside my jacket, hand on the grip of my weapon. I don’t want to use it. I don’t want to need it. I want this to be nothing more than another awkward, misconstrued moment in an awkward, misconstrued career taking on awkward, misconstrued cases.

I want to be free of danger. I want to stop putting myself in danger. I want to come home every night and hug my son. I want him to hug me back. I want to let go of the demons that haunt me, the past that defines me, and a future that frightens me.

I want to sleep at night.

I want to wake up in the morning believing my life doesn’t have to be one mystery after another, one dark path leading down a darker alley of a bitter, lonely labyrinth that inevitably reveals someone’s pain. Their ugly secrets.

But most of all, I want to be Angela Hardwicke.

Not Angela Hardwicke, Private Investigator. Just Angela
Hardwicke. Me. Whoever that is, and whatever that means. Which is all well and good, but if I don’t get myself out of this particularly awkward, misconstrued moment, I might not have the chance to find out.

Available on Amazon!

About the Author

Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the zany SF/F backpacking comedy series Finders Keepers: The Definitive EditionGenius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the SF anthology Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.

Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two ninjas, and crazy dog Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson KeepPangaeaAltered States of the UnionCamelot 13, TV Gods 2, They Keep Killing Glenn, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, Camelot 13, and Brave New Girls.

He is now working on the first novel in a new series featuring his hardboiled private eye Angela Hardwicke, and the first of three collaborative novella projects.

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Book Tour: Rising Star

Welcome to the book tour for Rising Star by Michele Kwasniewski! Read on for more details and a chance to win a signed copy of the book!

Rising Star (The Rise and Fall of Dani Truehart #1)

Publication Date: October 20th, 2020

Genre: Young Adult 

In the first book in THE RISE AND FALL OF DANI TRUEHART series, RISING STAR, fifteen-year-old Dani Truehart is living a life that is not quite her own. Driven by her mother’s desire for fame and fortune, she has spent her childhood dutifully training for a career as a pop star. On the brink of discovery, doubts begin to creep into Dani’s mind as she questions her own desire for fame, and she wonders whether she can trust the motivations of the adults who are driving her forward.

Following a brilliant audition arranged by her vocal/dance coach and former ’80s pop icon Martin Fox, Dani is thrown full-force into the music industry. She leaves her friends, family and scheming mother behind to move with Martin, who has become her legal guardian, into the Malibu compound of her new manager, Jenner Redman. Jenner, the former swindling manager of Martin’s boy band, leverages what’s left of his depleted fortune to launch Dani’s career.

Isolated from her life at home and trying to stay apace with her demanding schedule, Dani struggles to keep in touch with those she loves, connect to her withholding mother and find her voice as an artist. With Martin and Jenner at odds over their rocky past and finding herself unprepared to handle the pressures of her future singing career, Dani’s debut album and future stardom are at risk of falling apart.

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Excerpt

I walk back to the couch, sit down and stare at my parents.  I feel like I’ve aged a lifetime in the past few hours I’ve listening to my mom haggle over every detail of my contract like I’m a piece of meat at the butcher. “Mom, I’ve been working for this my whole life. Stop causing problems and let Martin do his job. You can’t threaten to stop me now after you’ve already given guardianship to Martin. Acting like a concerned parent this late in the game isn’t going to work. If you really wanted to protect me, you would have never handed me over to Martin.”

I shake my head and narrow my eyes at my mom, so furious I can barely speak. “I’m sorry that the money I make isn’t going directly into your pockets like you’d hoped. I promise the first thing I’ll do is to pay you and Dad back for all the lessons you’ve given me. You deserve some return on your investment. But if the past few hours have shown me anything, it’s why you really pushed me to do this all these years. I’m sorry that you won’t be getting the big payday you’d hoped for.”

My parents just sit there, stunned.

Tears stream down my face as I get up to leave. I’m a mess of anger and sadness, and I just want to be alone.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Technical Theater, Michele Kwasniewski spent over fifteen years in film and television production. Starting out as a film set assistant on movies such as INDEPENDENCE DAY, FACE/OFF, PRIMAL FEAR, and EVITA, she worked her way up to production manager on TV shows including BIG BROTHER, ADOPTION STORIES, EXTRA YARDAGE and MEET THE PANDAS. She is also a proud member of the Producers Guild of America. Michele’s colorful experiences in the industry inspired her to write THE RISE AND FALL OF DANI TRUEHART series. Michele lives in San Clemente, California with her husband, their son, and their disobedient dachshund. RISING STAR is her first novel.

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Giveaway: Signed Copy of Rising Star (US only)

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Book Tour: Behind Closed Doors

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Welcome to the release of the North American edition of Behind Closed Doors by bestselling author, Catherine Alliott! Read on for book details!

Behind Closed Doors

Original Publication Date: March 4, 2021

Genre: Women’s Fiction/ Romance

From the outside, anyone would think that Lucy Palmer has it all: loving children, a dashing husband and a gorgeous home.

But when her marriage to Michael comes to an abrupt and unexpected end, her life is turned upside down in a flash.

As the truth of her marriage threatens to surface, Lucy seizes the opportunity to swap her house in London – and the stories it hides – for a rural escape to her parents’ farmhouse in the Chilterns.

But Lucy gets more than she bargained for when she moves back to her childhood home, especially when it throws her into the path of an old flame.

Coming face-to-face with her mistakes, Lucy is forced to confront the secrets she’s been keeping from herself and those she loves.

Is she ready to let someone in? Or will she leave the door to her past firmly closed . . .

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Catherine has sold over 3 million bestselling novels worldwide and is translated into eighteen languages.

The first of these novels Catherine started under the desk when she worked as an advertising copywriter. She was duly fired. With time on her hands, she persevered with the novels, which happily flourished.

In the early days she produced a baby with each book – but after three – stuck to the writing as it was less painful.

She writes with her favorite pen in notebooks, either in the garden or on a sofa.

Home is a rural spot on the Hertfordshire border, which she shares with her family and a menagerie of horses, cows, chickens, and dogs, which at the last count totaled eighty-seven beating hearts, including her husband. Some of her household have walk-on parts in her novels, but only the chickens would probably recognize themselves.

All her novels are published by Penguin Random House internationally, and by No Shooz Publishing in America.

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Book Tour

Congratulations to author Fred Stuvek J.R. on the release of The Experience of Leadership. Read on for more details and a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card!

The Experience of Leadership

Publication Date: October 8th, 2021

Genre: Non-Fiction/ Career Guide/ Coaching

The Experience of Leadership is an anthology of stories, insights, and reflections from highly successful leaders that will motivate and inspire readers of all ages to embrace their journey as a leader.

With years of collective leadership experience, the 15 people featured share personal stories that illustrate that it’s about what leaders do, not just who they are that engenders trust, inspires action, and determines leadership. If you’re looking for practical, actionable and realistic insights into the leadership process you will love this book. Don’t just read about leadership – experience it.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Fred Stuvek, Jr. is the author and curator of The Experience of Leadership. He has achieved extraordinary success in diverse realms. Born in West Virginia and raised in Pennsylvania, he has been inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame for achievements in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy, after lettering three years as quarterback for the Midshipmen. After service as a Naval Officer, he transitioned to the business world where he has held senior leadership positions in private and public companies, both domestically and internationally. Key successes include an international medical imaging start-up that led to a successful IPO, and forming a private medical services company, which he subsequently sold. His first book, It Starts With You: Turn Your Goals Into Success, is one of the top ranked books for self-development, garnering praise for its no nonsense approach to going after what you want out of life. From the playing field, to the war room, to the board room his leadership and accomplishments have given him a distinct perspective and a results-oriented mindset. To learn more about Fred and his work, please visit https://fredstuvek.com/

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International Giveaway:

Click the link below to enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon e-Gift Card. Giveaway will close on Friday!

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New Book!

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I would buy this book based on the cover alone! Check out The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice by Fred Yu!

The Orchid Farmer’s Sacrifice (The Red Crest Series #1)

Expected Publication Date: October 5th, 2021

Genre: Asian Fantasy/ Epic Fantasy

He was born of prophecy. If he can’t embrace his destiny in time, his country is doomed.

Ancient China. Spoiled and overconfident, eighteen-year-old Mu Feng relishes life as the son of an honored general. But when his sister is abducted and his friends slaughtered, he flees home. He soon discovers the mystical birthmark on his body has attracted an enormous price on his head.

Pursued across the Middle Kingdom, Feng finds allies in two fierce warriors and a beautiful assassin. When he learns his ultimate enemy plans an incursion with advanced weaponry, he must call on his friends and his own budding military genius to defend his country. His plan is desperate, and the enemy outnumbers him twenty-five to one…

Can Feng fulfill a duty he didn’t know he had and unite the empire against a terrifying force?

Coming Soon!

Chapter One

Mu Feng woke to the call of a rooster, unsure where he was. He was staring into an empty flask flipped over and wedged against a stack of plates.

He pulled his silk robes tighter around his body. This was not his bed. His body lay bent and twisted against the hard edge of a wooden table, and his face was soaked from sleeping in a puddle of spilled liquor all night. He supported himself on one elbow to stretch his sore hip.

His three friends were still asleep, two of them snoring on the floor and another sprawled on a narrow bench, his arms and legs dangling.

Vague memories of the night before brought a smile to Feng’s lips—drinking, eating, and playing dice deep into the night. Empty flasks were scattered everywhere. Two large buckets of water remained half full.

Feng flinched against the dull pain at the base of his skull. He rubbed his oversized forehead and reached for a bowl. He hadn’t drunk enough water, and now the headache would nag him all day.

He sat back and gulped down the water, one bowl after another, and then paused to take a deep breath. He remembered coming to the Rider’s Inn with three of his best friends last night. The first floor of the little inn was packed. There were no rooms left upstairs, and the innkeeper was going to ask one of his customers to find somewhere else to stay because the general’s son, Mu Feng, needed a place to sleep.

Feng assured the innkeeper he would be drinking all night and didn’t need a room.

He remembered the innkeeper bringing him the very best drink they had to offer, a liquor made from sorghum buried in the ground for thirty years. It was something so exquisite only a Tiger General’s son could afford it. Feng remembered sipping the liquor and commenting that the taste resembled an onrush of invading cavalry, the sound of a thousand war drums approaching until it became thunder, then breezed by to leave an exhaustive state of calm. One of his friends laughed and told him to get drunk.

Feng needed to hurry home. The ride back would not be long—only a trip through a small forest. But he was to train his father’s pike unit that morning, and it wouldn’t look good for the instructor to arrive late.

The front door had been left open, and a little boy, his face filthy and his clothes in tatters, stood outside.

The boy’s a beggar and wants something to eat, Feng thought. He took a piece of copper from his pocket and stumbled to the door. The boy inched back, leaning away as if preparing himself to run.

Feng placed the coin on the table closest to the entrance. “Here, kid. Get yourself some food.”

Ding, facedown on a bench only a moment ago, was already on his feet.

“We need to go,” Feng said. “I can send a servant later to pay the innkeeper.”

“You must have paid him four times already,” Ding said. He planted a sharp kick into one of his friends on the floor and squatted down to scream in his ear. “Get up, Wen!”

He proceeded to the next drunk, curled under a table and still snoring, and kicked him in the ribs. “Get up, Little Chu. Feng needs to go home.”

Little Chu groaned. He lifted his head, his eyes still closed. “I don’t want any breakfast.”

“You’re not getting any,” Feng said with a laugh. “But there’s plenty of water in that bucket.”

Ding headed for the door, his long sword dangling by his side. “I’ll get the horses ready.” He stopped by the table near the entrance. “Who left the coin here?”

“It’s for the kid,” Feng said, turning and pointing outside. The boy was no longer there. Feng walked to the door and pulled it wide open for another look. “He was just here.”

Wen lumbered to his feet, towering over the others. “What boy?” he asked, his voice booming across the room. He hoisted a heavy bucket to his lips for a gulp or two, then poured the rest of the water over his head.

“A young beggar,” Feng said. “So many of those little things around here.”

Wen’s laughter thundered across the room. “See? Even a beggar knows he can’t take money from a dead man. You drank so much last night the boy thought you were a hungry ghost.”

“Shut your mouth,” Chu shouted, clapping Wen’s back with the hilt of his sword. Wen laughed even harder.

Ding returned, pulling the horses with one hand and carrying all four saddles with the other.

Feng stepped into the morning sun and took a deep breath. He reached for the harness of a gigantic warhorse, a gift from Uncle Shu this year for his eighteenth birthday. He stroked the nose of the charger, then the mane, and took the saddle. The horse reminded him every day that he was an adult, despite his boyish features and lanky arms, and he was commander of the best pike men in the world.

Little Chu turned back to the mess they were leaving behind—the empty bowls, the plates, and the overturned liquor flasks. “Too bad Du didn’t want to come last night. Since when did we ever go drinking without him?”

“He wanted to,” Ding said, “but he was vomiting and couldn’t get up. Must have been something he ate at the whorehouse.”

“He ate at a brothel?” Wen asked. “What kind of meat do they serve there?”

Ding turned to his friend with a smirk. “Why don’t you ever go to the whorehouse, Feng?”

Feng finished saddling his horse and leaped onto his charger. “Let’s go.”

“Feng’s father is a Tiger General,” Little Chu said. “He can get any girl he wants.” He guided his horse toward the road and squeezed its belly with his stirrups. The horse lurched forward.

“But then he’ll have to marry her!” Wen shouted from behind, hurrying after his friends. “I’d rather pay some money to amuse myself than be stuck with a wretch in my house.”

In a moment they were on the main road, riding at a comfortable pace. After a while the path bent into a forest and narrowed. The four friends merged behind one another, proceeding in single file. The dirt trail was an easy ride, well maintained and free of overhanging branches and intruding vegetation.

It was still early in the morning, and the ride home would be short. Feng relaxed a little, but not entirely. His father would be furious if he found out his son was too drunk to come home last night and couldn’t return in time to train his pike unit. He might even forbid Feng from leading his men again, a position Feng had to beg for over the years.

General Mu, Feng’s father and one of four Tiger Generals in the empire, was known as the General of the Uighur Border. He guarded the westernmost fortress in the empire. The portion of the Great Wall that he protected and the North Gate, which opened into the City of Stones, faced the land of the Uighur. It was the final stop on the Silk Road before entering the Middle Kingdom.

General Mu’s city was one of few fortresses built in a valley along the northern mountain chains. It was low enough to lose the advantage of elevation, which so much of the Great Wall depended on, but flat enough for travelers and barbarian traders to meet in this border city. Over the years General Mu had imposed heavy punishments on anyone harassing or discriminating against the foreigners, and despite countless skirmishes at the Great Wall, the City of Stones was never attacked in earnest. Commerce thrived at a time of heightened tensions between the Middle Kingdom and the barbarian nations. Chinese and Uighur, Khitans and Mongols assembled in the same bustling marketplace in the center of town and bartered. The city seemed oblivious to the politics of the Asian kingdoms.

The general placed his only son, Mu Feng, in command of the pike unit, but he was never permitted to confront the barbarians. The archers, the cavalry, and the anti-siege personnel were all deployed during border skirmishes with the Uighur.

Feng’s pike units were never battle-tested, and he never understood why. In military matters his father always sought his advice and often adopted his strategies. For years he studied The Art of War and every other military classic his father could access. In simulated battle, Feng had proven again and again he was capable. Yet, his father never trusted him in a real war.

Feng and his friends breezed along the narrow forest trail with Ding in front, Feng following from a short distance, and the other two in the rear.

Moments later, Feng noticed two rows of armed men standing in a line, motionless, blocking the road.

“Slow,” Feng said, loud enough only for his friends to hear. “Bandits.”

The foliage around them was dense with thick trees and low branches reaching into every empty space. It would be impossible to penetrate the forest and ride around the blockade.

Ding reined in his horse and slowed to a walk. “Small-time bandits trying to rob the general’s son. Wait till they find out who you are.”

Wen sent his horse lurching forward and stopped in front of the outlaws, so close he could have easily barreled into them. “Why are you blocking the road?”

None of them answered. They simply stared.

“If you don’t step aside, we’re going to run you over!” Wen said, his booming voice echoing through the forest.

 The armed thugs remained silent, motionless. Wen reached for his sword. Feng held out his hand, fingers outstretched, and motioned for him to stop.

“There’s only ten of them,” Little Chu said in a low voice. “And they’re on foot.”

“Get out of my way,” Feng said to the bandits, his voice loud and firm. “We’re military officials. We have important business in the City of Stones.”

A short bandit with a gray topknot broke into a smile. “Military officials,” he said, speaking slowly as if to pronounce every syllable. “Exactly what we’re waiting for.”

Feng stiffened. Soldiers earned modest salaries. They were well trained and armed, and very few of them traveled this road. For a small team of robbers to block the road, waiting for soldiers to rob, didn’t make any sense.

“One of our women was raped last night,” the short one continued.

Ding moved forward to Feng, his hand on his weapon, and whispered, “There’s more of them in the forest on both sides. Maybe a hundred.”

Feng nodded and turned back to the short bandit. “You’re not listening. Civilian crimes should be reported to the magistrate, not the army.”

“The criminal was a military official!” the thug shouted over Feng’s voice.

“I see,” Feng replied, fighting to remain calm. His heart was pounding.

His hand crept into his pocket to touch a bronze plate half the size of his palm, a token he always carried with himself. He still remembered the day so many years ago when he was afraid to climb onto a horse for the first time. He went to bed that night feeling disgraced and useless. His father came to his bedside and gave him this little bronze plate embossed with an image of a fierce tiger. His father told him if he carried it in his pocket, he would be able to do anything he set his mind to because the tiger held the powers of the Tiger General, powers meant for the strong and courageous. Much later he realized it was a standard pass the Tiger Generals’ messengers used.

He kept this one particular plate on himself every day.

The situation in front of him required much more than strength and courage. A hundred bandits had gathered to surround a few soldiers when very little money could be made.

Something was very wrong.

“Bring your evidence to the magistrate, and he’ll assign officers to investigate,” Feng said. “But blocking the road and randomly harassing any soldier is plain stupid. Harm the wrong soldier, and you’re all going to be killed.”

Chu pulled up behind Feng. “They’re behind us as well. We’re surrounded.”

“The criminal may be you!” the bandit continued, pointing the butt of his saber at Feng. “Why don’t you come with us to the magistrate, and we’ll talk about it in front of him?”

So, they didn’t intend to rob. They were looking to abduct, and they were waiting for the right moment to strike. The group of friends was in grave danger. Feng drew his horse back, opening up the space in front so he could see everything around him. How could this be happening?

Feng’s heart raced faster than he could withstand. They were on horses, and the bandits were not. That extra speed was their only advantage. He didn’t notice anyone on the road earlier, so they couldn’t have installed too many traps or ambushes behind them. Turning around, charging through the bandits in the rear, and riding the main road back toward the Rider’s Inn seemed like the sole course of action.

“After all, you look like a sleazy rapist to me!” the bandit shouted for all to hear. There was a roar of laughter.

“How dare you!” Wen shouted, drawing his sword. “Do you know who he is?”

Feng reached out in alarm, trying to grab Wen’s attention. He was too far away. Wen’s loud voice pierced through the thundering laughter.

“He’s General Mu’s son! Do you all want to die?”

The bandits fell silent, but only for a second. With a roar the men from both sides of the forest charged. Feng drew his sword, spun his horse around, and shouted, “Retreat! Back to the Rider’s Inn!”

His friends reacted, turned, and broke into a hard gallop. The bandits swarmed in like floodwater. Feng had never encountered a real battle before, but if they were out to kidnap for ransom, then he—not his friends—would be the prized possession. He needed to lead the bandits away from his friends if they were to have any chance of escaping.

Feng turned around and attacked the short bandit with the topknot, flying past him and slashing him across the face, almost cutting his skull open. The thug died instantly. Feng stabbed left and right, kicking his horse’s belly to urge it forward, struggling to break through the ring of hostiles.

Then he heard Wen shouting from behind. “Feng’s stuck back there! Feng’s stuck back there!”

“No!” Feng screamed as loud as he could. “Back to the inn!”

He knew they heard him, but in the distance he saw them approaching as fast as they could.

“No!” he shouted again. A spear flew across the air and struck Wen in the belly. He bowled over and fell from his horse. The bandits surrounded him and stabbed him over and over again.

Feng stared in disbelief. “Wen!” he shouted. They weren’t out to kidnap. They intended to murder. He kicked his warhorse and pummeled into the dense rows of bandits, slashing and stabbing as hard as he could, hoping to get to his other two friends before it was too late.

Chu’s horse screamed, lurching back and dismounting its rider.

They were attacking the horses. Without horses there would be no hope of getting out alive. Feng leaped off his mount and sent his horse away, wielding his sword with both hands like a battle ax and carving a path to Little Chu.

It was already too late. Chu was surrounded and stabbed from all directions at once, multiple spears and swords buried in his body. Dark blood poured from his mouth, and with his last breath, he screamed, “Run, Feng!”

Feng stabbed a bandit in the rib cage, pushed his sword all the way in until the hilt slammed against his chest. With a roar he shoved the writhing body into a crowd of enemies. He grabbed someone’s saber and swung and thrashed behind himself, fighting off those attacking his back while shielding his front with the dying bandit. He planted his feet on the hard ground, sensed Ding’s location, and pushed his way through.

Ding had already fallen off his horse, but he was hiding behind two trees standing very close together in front of a narrow gap only one person could penetrate at once, allowing him to hold back his attackers.

Feng forced his way to the two trees and dumped the dead bandit from his own sword and into the gap to seal it. He then circled around the smaller tree. “My horse is still alive,” he said. “Let’s go!”

He whistled for his horse and grabbed another saber from a dead bandit, and with a weapon in each hand, he leaped out from behind the trees and slashed at his nearest enemy.

The bandits were hardly skilled swordsmen. They were poorly coordinated and clearly had never trained to fight together.

But there were so many of them.

Feng created an opening when his warhorse broke through from behind. The massive charger was kicking and stomping the enemy, pressing them back, throwing them into disarray.

Ding stood right beside him, covered in blood—perhaps some of his own blood. “Go!” Feng shouted. He slashed another bandit in the neck, lodging his blade in the man’s collarbone.

“Careful!” Ding shouted from behind. Out of the corner of his eye, Feng noticed a spear flying toward him. Ding leaped in, crossing in front of Feng and blocking the spear with his body. He collapsed, the warhead plunged in his abdomen.

“No!” Feng wrenched his weapon free, hacked down another enemy, and leaped onto his horse. He grabbed Ding and dragged him onto the saddle, smacking the horse with the side of his saber. The charger surged forward. They were on a warhorse, one of the best in the army, and the bandits originally sealing off the road were out of position. Many were killed. Others couldn’t climb over the dead bodies littered across the narrow path. Feng’s warhorse met little resistance.

Ding yanked the spear out of his belly, and with a shout he threw it into the closest bandit. A stream of dark blood flew from Ding’s mouth.

Slowly he leaned his full weight against Feng’s back, fading out of consciousness. Feng threw away his saber and reached back with one hand to clutch his friend’s belt, preventing him from falling over. He urged the horse on, and the powerful stallion responded, charging forward at breakneck speed. The shouts and insults from behind were fading. In a moment, Feng found himself riding in silence.

His back was soaked with Ding’s blood. Ding’s breathing was becoming shorter and quicker.

“Ding! Wake up, Ding!”

How could this be happening? To think a few hundred untrained ruffians would dare confront a Tiger General’s army for mere ransom was hard to believe. Besides, they could have captured Wen and Little Chu when they fell off their horses. But they rushed in to kill without hesitating a step, as if taking them alive was never considered.

Feng felt a squeezing pain in his chest at the thought of Wen and Chu. They were gone. They were drinking and laughing and bickering only last night, and now they were gone.

A little side path branched off from the main road, and a small house hid behind a row of trees. He pulled his horse’s reins toward the house. It looked like the home of a local peasant, with coarse mud walls and an old wooden door once painted red. Feng had never spoken to a peasant before, much less asked one for help. He was the son of a Tiger General, high above the rest. Normally the peasants would be kneeling in front of his father’s mansion.

With Ding dying behind him, it didn’t matter if he had to bow to a beggar.

Feng reached the front door of the hut, dismounted, and dragged his friend’s unconscious body with him.

He took a deep breath and pounded the door with his fist.

An old woman with a wide gap between her oversized front teeth opened the door. She looked at Feng from head to toe, then at Ding. “Come on in,” she said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t knock. He’s bleeding to death, you know.”

Feng was more thankful than surprised. He lifted his friend as gently as he could and dragged him into the little hut. There was nothing inside except for a small bed, a table, and a brick cooking stove in the corner.

“We were attacked by bandits. There were four of us, and—”

The old woman sneered. “Stop barking like a neutered dog. You lost a fight, and you want to hide here. Put him in the bed. I’ll boil some towels to clean his wounds.”

Feng ignored her insolence, dragged his friend to the bed, placed him on his back, and tucked a coarse pillow under his head. Blood dripped everywhere. He yanked open Ding’s shirt and sucked in his breath. “No,” he whispered. “No.”

Ding looked up with a blank, lifeless stare.

The old woman brought a bucket of water and with one glance turned around to leave. “You should’ve told me earlier. I wouldn’t have brought the towels if I knew he was almost dead.”

Feng climbed onto the bed with trembling hands, lifted his friend’s head, and wrapped his body in his arms. “How do you feel, Ding?”

“I’m cold.”

“I-I’ll find you a blanket. I’ll—”

“No. Don’t leave.”

Feng held his friend tighter. “I’m here. I’m here.”

“What happened, Feng?”

Feng’s entire torso shook. His quivering lips were barely able to speak. “I don’t know.”

“Wen and Chu. They’re gone?”

Feng nodded.

A sob escaped Ding’s lips, and a trickle of tears rolled down his face. “I’ll . . . I’ll see them soon.”

“No!” Feng said. “Stay with me, Ding. Stay with me.”

“I’m sorry, Feng. You and Du are left behind. It’s still better than drinking alone. Tell him to stop eating at the whorehouse.” Ding tried to laugh at his own joke but only managed a choked sob. “How could there be so many bandits here?”

Feng shook his head, unable to respond.

“I’ve never heard of . . . of so many bandits . . .” Ding’s voice trailed off, and then the room was silent. Even his light gasps for air faded.

“How did we fail the people?” Feng whispered, struggling to speak so Ding could hear him. “Why did so many turn to crime?”

Ding took his last breath, his cold, limp body sinking into Feng’s arms. For a moment, the tears wouldn’t flow.

“Why are the people discontent?” Feng’s broken voice managed to say. He held his friend’s body closer. He felt ill and dizzy, as if he might vomit and faint all at once. He squeezed his eyes so tightly together that his tears couldn’t flow.

He threw his head back to scream.

“He had a gaping hole in his chest,” the old woman shouted from across the room. “Did you expect him to live?”

Feng collapsed on his friend’s body and wept. He shook with every sob, his clenched fists pounding the bed with every convulsion.

The door flew open so hard the old iron hinges rattled. A group of peasants carrying thick bamboo poles charged in, all of them young and strong. They moved in lock step with perfect discipline. They formed an arc around the door, each facing a different direction with their bodies poised to react. Feng recognized them.

“How dare you break my door!” the old woman shouted. “Get out of my house! I’ll report you to the magistrate!”

One peasant drew a sword halfway out of his bamboo pole, and the old woman fell silent.

A tall man with thick eyebrows and a short beard stepped in. He acknowledged the old woman once, then turned to Ding’s body.

“I’m sorry.”

“Uncle Shu,” Feng said, his voice trembling. His father’s brother was here, a powerful man of great skill and military prowess. At least he was safe now. “Wen, Chu, and now Ding. They’re all gone.”

Uncle Shu came to the side of the bed.

“How did you find me?” Feng asked. “How did you know?”

His uncle pulled a ragged sheet over Ding’s face so the horrid look of death would not stare back at them. The little hut was silent while he took Feng’s hand and led him to the table on the other side of the room. “Sit. I need you to calm down and tell me what happened.”

“I . . . we . . .” Feng couldn’t find words. He was so relieved to see his uncle and even more relieved to see the army’s elite, personally trained by his uncle, gathered around him. Strange, they were dressed in the coarse gray fabric of peasants, and their weapons were concealed in bamboo poles. Why would his uncle need to travel under disguise?

“You’re safe now, Feng,” Uncle Shu said. “Tell me what happened.”

Feng’s hands were still shaking.

Uncle Shu motioned for one of his men. “Bring the young master some liquor.”

Just the night before, they were drinking the finest liquor the little inn had to offer, laughing and playing dice late into the night. Feng remembered debating Mongol military tactics. Little Chu’s words echoed in his head. The Mongols may have the strongest cavalry in the world, but horses can’t climb walls. I can drink a bucket of liquor and still defend the country.

One of the soldiers placed a flask of liquor in front of Feng.

“I let my friends die,” Feng whispered. He didn’t wait for his uncle to respond. He grabbed the flask and emptied it in his mouth, guzzling the hard alcohol without taking a breath. He planted the flask on the table and tried to shake his head clear as his vision already began to blur.

“You shouldn’t be drinking like that, young man,” he heard the old woman say behind him. “Here, drink some water before you vomit all over my table. Not that I don’t have to spend all day cleaning up your friend’s blood.”

Feng grabbed the bowl of water placed before him and drank everything in one gulp.

“Take her outside,” Uncle Shu said to one of his men. “Give her some money for her troubles and ask her to leave us alone.”

Feng felt dizzy, incredibly drunk for a single flask of liquor. Maybe that was what his uncle wanted for him, something to numb his senses and help him forget. “Where is my father?” he asked.

He lowered his head onto his arms, leaned against the table, and closed his eyes. He had slept in the same position on a similar table the night before. His friends were alive then.

Nothing made sense anyway. His uncle was here, and very soon he would be taken home. His father would summon the army, they would round up all the bandits, and soon after he would find out why his friends were slaughtered in broad daylight, why even a Tiger General’s son could be attacked on his own land.

But in that moment he was dizzy and intoxicated, and he wanted to let everything go.

Very quickly the effects of the alcohol disappeared. He didn’t want it to leave his head, didn’t want his escape to be over so soon. He remained still, head in his arms, resting on the table with his eyes squeezed shut. Maybe if he tried not to move, he would eventually fall asleep and have sweet dreams.

“Sir, the young master is unconscious,” one of the soldiers said.

“Bring him to the carriage,” Uncle Shu replied.

“Do we need to secure him? In case he wakes up before we get there?”

“No need. He won’t wake up for another day.”

Feng’s heart beat so hard he thought his ribs would crack. He waited. Two men lifted him off his seat, wrapped his arms around their shoulders, and dragged him outside. Feng was determined to find out where they were taking him and whatever Uncle Shu wanted to do to him. He kept his eyes closed, his arms limp, his head hanging.

They lifted him into an enclosed carriage, settled him on his back, and walked away. Outside, at least a hundred men and numerous horses and carriages shuffled around. Feng heard his uncle giving orders to depart.

“You stay with the young master,” Uncle Shu said.

The operation was well planned and rehearsed. No one asked a single question after that.

Someone climbed into the carriage with Feng. The soldier placed his sword on the floor and shouted, “Go!”

The driver cracked his whip. They eased forward, then pulled into a steady speed. Feng waited. The road became smoother, and the horses picked up the pace. The heavy pounding of warhorses shifted to the front of the carriage, leaving only a few soldiers to protect the rear. The attack units had moved, and it was time.

Feng grabbed the sword lying on the floor of the carriage, drew the weapon, and pinned the blade against the soldier’s throat before he had time to react.

“Where are you taking me?” Feng asked in a quiet voice.

The soldier shook his head. “You—you were supposed to be unconscious . . .”

Feng pressed the tip of the sword harder into the base of his throat, piercing the skin. Blood trickled at the tip. The soldier froze.

“Answer me!”

“We’re going to the City of Eternal Peace.”

Feng’s eyebrows knit together. “General Wu’s fortress?”

The soldier nodded. “Young master, we didn’t mean to—”

“Why is my uncle doing this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why am I being escorted to another Tiger General’s city? Where’s my father?”

“I’m just a soldier, young master. You know we only receive our orders.”

Feng took a deep breath. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me.”

The soldier’s face was blank, his lips pressed together.

“I’m the general’s son. I can kill you for entertainment, and no one would do a thing.”

“We’re the general’s soldiers, young master. But we’re also your soldiers.”

Feng paused, lowering his sword. “You’re the people’s soldiers. You fight to defend the people, not my father or me. Don’t ever forget.”

“I won’t, young master.”

Feng spun his sword around and hammered the soldier’s head with the handle. The soldier collapsed.

Feng reached for his peasant clothing, about to strip him, and hesitated. He had never worn the coarse fabric of a common man, much less the filthy rags of a peasant. He could almost smell the soil stains on the straw sandals.

His own clothing reeked of dried blood, so changing into dirty canvas would not be so bad.

Feng cursed himself for worrying about the quality of his clothes at a time like this. He stripped the soldier and dressed him in his own bloody robes, then lifted the unconscious body with one hand and the sword with his other and kicked the carriage door open. He threw the soldier halfway out, facedown, and released a long, tortured cry.

“Young master!” one of the riders in the rear called. The soldier hurried forward, closing the distance between himself and Feng’s carriage. Feng threw his sword out the partially opened door. The soldier outside evaded the flying sword and was barely recovering when Feng leaped out, slammed into him, and sent him toppling off his horse. Feng recovered his own position on the speeding mount, grabbed the reins, planted his feet in the stirrups, and squeezed the horse’s belly. The other guards were charging up behind him. A side road appeared ahead. Feng saw his opportunity and brought his horse thundering down the little path.

The guards followed. Feng reached for the sword hanging from the saddle, spun around, and charged into his pursuers.

“Young master!” one guard shouted. They recognized him and pulled back. No one wanted to fight the general’s son.

He tried not to think of how his friends had died that morning, how hundreds of bandits waited for him in ambush, how Ding died in his arms. The little beggar at the inn that morning, who watched them from outside and didn’t bother to collect the coins Feng left for him, must have been there to report when they began their ride home. The ambush was prepared for them and only them.

His uncle could have encountered the slaughter in the forest and traced his tracks and Ding’s blood to the peasant woman’s house. There was no way to understand why his uncle was out there looking for him, his elite unit dressed as peasants, or why he drugged his own nephew.

Feng kicked his horse and rode as hard as he could, heading south for Major Pass toward the City of Stones. Major Pass, the main artery running across the north of the empire and parallel to the Great Wall, connected the city fortresses of all four Tiger Generals. It used to be named something else, but the people called it Major Pass because it was the widest, most well paved road north of the capital. Armies and their supply wagons could efficiently move on this road.

As far back as Feng could remember, the empire was at peace within its borders.  Aside from skirmishes with the barbarians in the north and short wars with the island nations in the south, people lived well in China.

He remembered the quick briefing he received from two officers right before he left for the Rider’s Inn. They had told him the Venom Sect was recently active in this area, but no one knew why. Feng recalled asking the local government to involve themselves, saying that the military shouldn’t interfere with civilian criminals.

The Venom Sect was a powerful group of poison users rumored to be four hundred members strong and headed by a ruthless leader named Red Cobra. The officers told him yesterday that Red Cobra was also spotted in the area. Feng laughed and asked how much snake venom it would take to poison an army.

Then they informed him that the Silencer had killed Tiger General Lo. They had expected this news ever since he was ordered to invade Mongolia and capture the undefeated barbarian king known as the Silencer. General Lo walked into Mongolia with only two hundred men in an apparent act of suicide. As of yesterday they still hadn’t found his body. All his men were dead, and the Silencer took no prisoners. Some even said the Silencer was spotted killing off the Chinese soldiers by himself. General Lo guarded the easternmost fortress in the empire facing the Khitans. For the emperor to order him to march away from the barbarian nation he was guarding against to attack an undefeated Mongol king made no sense at all.

None of these events should have had anything to do with what happened that morning. The bandits were clearly not members of the Venom Sect. They were thugs carrying steel weapons they didn’t know how to use, fighting in plain view instead of killing from the shadows.

It was almost noon by now, and Feng was rapidly approaching the City of Stones.

Available October 5th!

About the Author

 As a lifelong student of martial arts, and growing up watching martial arts flicks in the 80s and 90s, Yu decided early on that he would write in this genre. Inspired by George RR Martin’s work, he decided he would write a series in English in this centuries-old Asian genre. Yu has written three previous novels, The Legend of Snow WolfHaute Tea Cuisine and Yin Yang Blades. Yu has aBFA Film and Television from NYU Tisch School of Arts. He was born inGuangzhou, China, but presently lives in New York City.

Fred Yu  

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Book Tour: Of Black Bulls and White Horses

Welcome to the book tour for thriller, Of Black Bulls and White Horses by Roland Ladley! It’s also on sale for just $0.99 for Kindle. Read on for more details!

Of Black Bulls and White Horses

Publication Date: December 14th, 2020

Genre: Thriller

Emily Copeland is a young teacher at an inner city school. And she’s good at it. One Christmas her mother shares a long held secret of a teenage affair with a French fisherman. Months later her mother is killed in a hit and run and Emily’s life is dislodged from its axis.

With the school summer holidays approaching, Emily decides on a cathartic journey to revisit the French seaside village where, all those years ago, her mother enjoyed her summer fling. Clutching a series of old holiday snaps, she sets off with the ambition of closure. However, the Camargue – where the mighty Rhône meets the Mediterranean – holds deep secrets. It’s a lawless place of cowboys and gipsies, of mudflats, lakes and meandering tributaries … and of black bulls and white horses.

Emily’s journey soon ends up being more than just a rehearsal of her mum’s past. As she traces her footsteps, the romantic memories she unearths of a previous summer paint an altogether more sinister picture of the present. And Emily’s trip turns out to be one of enlightenment and of deceit; and of abuse and of greed. Ultimately it’s a story that ends in death … and in love.

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Chapter One

Four months previously

Emily had her back to the class, facing the whiteboard. She had to stand on tiptoes to reach the top. Some bright spark from maintenance had fitted the new interactive boards last summer and she was sure they had purposely put hers a few inches higher than the original. She wasn’t short. Not short, short. At 155cm she was hardly legs up to your bottom tall, but she always considered herself to be an endearing height.

Whatever.

It made reaching the top shelf in her kitchen cupboards a struggle without a stool. And – on her feet all day with her spine contracting by the hour – after lunch the top of the whiteboard was an effort.

She bit her bottom lip as she wrote out, ‘Pythagoras’s Theorem’, in capitals. In blue. She underlined it. And then turned quickly on her heel. You didn’t want to have your back to Year 9D for any longer than was necessary.

‘OK, team, let’s recap …’ She stopped mid-sentence.

Something was up.

There usually was.

There were sixteen pupils in this, the fourth maths set of five in Year 9. When the classes had been divvied out at the beginning of term INSET training, her class had been described by her head of maths as ‘lively’. That was like calling a great white shark, ‘a bit bitey’.

But they were her Year 9 set. And, bless them, they weren’t nearly as bad as her predecessor had made out. Alison, who was now off on maternity leave, had taken most of Emily’s current class last year – and she hadn’t made it to Christmas. After weeks of staffroom tears, there had been an incident with a textbook that had mysteriously shredded itself and ended up out the window, its pages fluttering across the games field. Alison had, apparently, confronted a boy who was big for his age and had a tongue on him. The word ‘bitch’ couldn’t be ignored, even if it had been under the lad’s breath. As a result Alison had stormed out of the room leaving the class to fend for itself until the next door teacher recognised the noise of near-anarchy for what it was.

Alison didn’t teach her Year 8 set again.

So far though, Emily was keeping a lid on them. And they were learning something. Albeit in fits and starts.

With some classes you often just had to let kids’ frustrations play out. Especially in the last period on a Thursday, having come straight from PE where stale sweat was a stronger essence than even the spray-on, carcinogenic board cleaner.

Now looked like it was going to be one of those times.

Emily’s nose twitched. It was an instinctive reaction.

She looked up and down the classroom. Three rows of tables, each row broken into four so that she could navigate the room quickly and not get stuck top left when all hell was breaking out at the bottom right.

Like most teachers she designed her own seating plans. There were unwritten rules, borne of previous teachers’ experiences of the same pupils. Who should not sit next to whom. Who had learning difficulties. Which children were classified as ‘Pupil Premium’ and, therefore, came from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. They needed special care and attention both in terms of the questions you asked them and the tone you used.

For example, it was no use asking Shaun to complete work using the internet as he lived with his gran, who didn’t have Wi-Fi … and, in any case, Shaun didn’t have a computer. Harriet, Mobina, Massimo and Darren couldn’t afford dinner money, let alone a calculator.

And there was Lauren.

She respected no one. As far as Emily knew, Lauren lived a half-itinerant life, moving from her aunty to a friend’s house, and back again. Her father was locked up for armed something or other, and her mother was either an alcoholic, or drugged up, or both, most of the time. So Lauren had no adults to respect. So she respected no adults.

Emily included.

But Emily was against wholesale, teacher-led segregation when it came to the seating plan. Other than her sixth form, where she allowed her students to sit anywhere they wished, she started the year with a best guess – putting kids in places she thought would suit them. And then she let the arrangement change as the year developed and friendships and conflicts emerged.

With just sixteen in this class and thirty-five chairs – the sets got smaller the further down the ability ladder you slid – she had been able to group her Year 9 class into enclaves of reasonable behaviour, which in turn sometimes encouraged half decent work. It was never easy.

Bless them, though. Apart from Madi, who should be moving up to Evan Jones’s set some time soon, maths was none of her class’s favourite. Every topic was a struggle. Every ‘x’ a smudge on the board. Every ‘y’ a question rather than a letter representing a variable.

No wonder they misbehaved.

‘I’ve lost all my pencils, miss.’ It was Ben. An almost adorable short lad who was the class clown. On his left was Will, son of a bricklayer, who was brighter than he thought he was. On Ben’s right, Karim, a Sudanese lad with an incongruously massive afro, who was definitely brighter than he thought he was.

‘Shu’ up, Ben.’ Lauren’s surly retort cut through rising tension from the other end of the classroom.

Triangulation was going to be difficult now. Ben was clearly making a play, which Emily would be happy to see through if it didn’t go on for too long. Lauren, who took no prisoners and scared the wits out of everyone in the class including the boys, was bored and might well kick off at any moment which would leave someone in tears.

And Pythagoras was still asking for all of their attentions.

Emily raised a gentle hand in Lauren’s direction.

‘Try not to use that language, please, Lauren.’ She shot the girl a half-smile and then almost in the same sentence, ‘Where are your pens, Ben? Tell me.’

Ben, Will and Karim were all smiles. Ben, who could be cute, cheeky and bloody devious all in the same breath, snorted, his eyes damp with suppressed laughter.

Where’s this going?

She had no idea. So she went on the offensive.

‘Can you borrow one? Say from Karim … or Will?’ Emily, armed with a straightened index finger, pointed at both boys, one after the other.

More sniggering.

‘… grow up, morons.’ The first part of Lauren’s sentence was a mumble, but it might have included the words ‘fucking’ and ‘well’. Emily knew she was close to losing control and might have to resort to a sanction; maybe even ask someone to leave the room. Early intervention was key. But, for her, sanction was always a last resort and she saw it as a failure. On top of that it disrupted the class and always shattered any ambience she had managed to create.

She waited for an answer.

Ben, who even sitting down was nipple-height to the much taller Karim, turned to his friend and said, ‘Can I borrow a pen?’

Karim stared straight ahead impassively. Lauren tutted. Loudly.

‘Say please,’ Karim said.

Will was also struggling to contain himself. Emily still had no idea where this was going, but so far it was pretty harmless … and might be very funny. They managed that sometimes.

‘Please,’ Ben replied, his shoulders lifting and falling below his soundless giggles.

Karim, still looking straight ahead and with a deadpan face, lifted a hand and pointed to his afro.

Emily could see it then.

Karim’s hair was full of pens and pencils. She could see the red rubber of a pencil sneaking a peep from the black, curly mass of Karim’s 80s-style hairdo. Alongside it was the silver top of a biro. You could hide the stationery store in there.

‘Thanks,’ Ben said, gulping down a snort.

He then stood and carefully and thoroughly removed six pens and two pencils from Karim’s hair. And still none of the three broke into laughter. But the rest of the class, who might well have seen the trick before, couldn’t stop themselves.

Apart from Lauren.

‘My mum’s taxes pay your wages, miss. D’you wanna start earning them?’

‘Sure, Lauren. Sure,’ Emily replied, smiling and shaking her head at the same time.

As the giggles lost their momentum and Ben finished systematically collecting the contents of his pencil case from Karim’s afro, Emily put up both hands to try to bring some gravitas to the situation …

… just as the classroom door opened.

And the headmistress came in.

‘Miss Copeland. May I borrow you for a moment?’

The headmistress never visited Emily’s classroom. Behind her was one of the deputy heads. This was odd … and ominous. Emily’s brain spun … and she noticed the class had gone unnaturally quiet.

‘Sure.’ Emily shook her head for a reason she didn’t understand.

‘You might want to bring your things.’ The head nodded at her rucksack which was by her chair.

What?

Was she being arrested? Was the head here to sack her? Images of failed bankers pushing open large glass doors with their hips, their arms overloaded with boxes full of personal possessions, flashed through her consciousness.

‘Ehh. Yes. Of course.’

The head smiled, more a grimace than a smile. The deputy was already in the room. He was looking up at the board.

‘Pythagoras,’ Emily said, as she loaded her rucksack.

‘Got it,’ was his reply. He was now looking at the class with trepidation.

‘Good luck,’ she whispered, and then she slipped out through the door the head was holding open. The corridor beyond was dark and faintly oppressive.

Emily heard the clunk of the door closing, stopped and turned back towards the head, who was a few feet behind her.

The head’s face told the story. Whatever news was coming next was bad. The worst. Emily instinctively knew. 

‘Who?’ she said.

The head stuttered. She started to put her hands up to hold Emily by the shoulders, but the distance between them made the attempted hug impossible. So, she dropped her arms back to her side.

‘Your mum, Emily. I’m so, so sorry.’

Available on Amazon

About the Author

I am an ex-British Army colonel with operational service in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. I was subsequently a secondary school maths teacher for 8 years. And since 2014, my wife and I have been itinerant, driving around Europe in our motorhome, penning the Sam Green thriller series.

In 2020, during lockdown and on advice from a publisher, I wrote of Black Bulls and White Horses, my first and only non-Sam Green novel.

Book 2 in the Sam Green series, Fuelling the Fire, won a Kindle Scout publishing contract. And, the as yet unnamed, book 8 in the series will be published in 2022.

Roland Ladley | Goodreads Amazon

Twitter Tags: @rolandtheauthor @RRBookTours1 

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Book Tour

Who loves bad-boy, Sport Romance?

We’re celebrating the release of Jenni Bara’s latest novel, More than the Game! Read on for more details and a chance to win a $25 Amazon e-gift card!

More Than the Game (Becoming and Evans #1)

Publication Date: September 14th, 2021

Genre: Contemporary Romance/ Sport Romance

Trending on social media is her nightmare.

Beth Evans, former Olympic golden girl, known for a national scandal and daughter of a rising political star, is more than happy to stay out of the spotlight, living life as a normal single mom in a small Jersey town. The last thing Beth needs is Twitter’s favorite bad boy–Marc Demoda–walking into her life to stir things up.

Marc lives for the three b’s; baseball, bars, and ball bunnies, until the unthinkable happened. An accident destroys his shoulder and his career, leaving him desperate to get back in the game. Too bad no one hires notorious bad boys to coach. With his reputation on life support, Marc finds his saving grace might be the feisty blonde he can’t get out of his head.

When pictures of Beth and Marc’s chance encounter blow up on Twitter, they strike a deal to avoid further scandals and fix their image. But even in the harsh public spotlight, their fake relationship begins to feel real. Beth’s growing feelings for Marc have her questioning if she can permanently handle the limelight, just as Marc wonders if Beth might mean more than the game.

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Excerpt

Marc walked down the ramp over the dunes in front of his house with his water bottle, cooling off after his evening workout. He took a selfie and sent it to Austin, telling him to post it with a comment about keeping in shape. For fuck’s sake, he wouldn’t let anyone think he was getting fat. He pulled his shirt back on and leaned against the railing overlooking the Jersey coastline.

Who knew getting good media was so hard? When he’d been pitching, even bad press wasn’t that bad. He’d been patient with being called a drunk, a drug addict, a hothead, even a whorish disease-infested sleaze bag, but he drew the line at fat.

His eyes scanned the beach while he sucked in a breath of salt air. He sank into one of the two chairs he’d placed on the wooden planks, watching the runners who dotted the sand this time of night. Nothing caught his eye until he landed on slender, toned legs in a pair of tight Sideline shorts. The woman reached down to tie her shoelace, allowing him to catch a glimpse of her heart-shaped ass.

He swallowed, feeling relieved. For days he’d tried to drudge up interest in the women he met in bars and clubs, but he couldn’t. It had been years since he spent so many consecutive nights alone.

Seeing this woman, watching her bend down, Marc found himself interested. He smiled as he brought the water bottle up to his lips, but it stopped halfway to his mouth when the woman turned around, and he realized it was Beth. Shit. How had he not known this was the same woman he’d spent days uselessly trying to forget? He shook his head in frustration.

Ever since that night, when he’d been close to placing his lips on Beth’s, he’d spent most of his waking hours thinking about her. He couldn’t believe how badly he’d messed up by asking her to go out with him. He winced.

But he’d have to think about what that meant later if he wanted to catch up with her now. Marc left the bottle sitting on the chair’s arm and took off down the ramp towards the water.

“Beth,” Marc called, but she didn’t hear him. When he got closer and she still didn’t answer, it became clear she was ignoring him. No one ever ignored him–especially not women. Marc picked up his pace, putting himself in her path, forcing Beth to acknowledge him. Her eyes tracked over him, and his stomach tightened before she glanced away.

 “Marc,” she replied coolly. Her tone clearly showed her annoyance. He’d have to try harder.

“It’s beautiful this time of night,” he said awkwardly.

That was the best he could do?

He shook his head as he moved in step beside her, slowing his long legs to match her shorter strides.

“I usually enjoy it alone.” Her eyes took in anything and everything apart from him.

“Lucky you; now, you don’t have to,” he joked sending her a smile—knowing full well by her body language that she didn’t see it as lucky.

She didn’t even crack a grin back.

“I realize I owe you an apology.” Her glare turned softer as, at last, she snuck a glance at him, so he continued. “Beautiful women make men nervous and we say stupid things.”

“It’s been two weeks, and that’s the best you got?” She shook her head and tried to speed up, but he easily matched her pace.

“I was trying to ask you out for a drink or dinner or something, and it came across like I was trying to get you into bed. That’s not what I meant.” Those words felt strange coming out of his mouth. They were true now, but for most of his life that statement would have been a lie.

“You think I don’t know Marc Demoda’s reputation?” Beth rolled her eyes, but Marc almost missed his footing.

“You know who I am?” He made a poor attempt to keep the shock out of his voice.

“Of course.” Beth stopped suddenly and turned in the opposite direction. “This is where I head back. Enjoy the rest of your run.”

Marc stood frozen after her apparent dismissal.

In hindsight, it was obviously she knew who he was. His father had called her a VIP client, and his sister spoke about Beth as if Glory knew her. On top of that, repeatedly Beth called him Marc without him having to introduce himself.  But he’d assumed as soon as she discovered who he was, she would be falling over him like every other woman he met. She was so different. 

“Beth,” he called, taking off down the beach after her. She seemed not to hear him, or maybe she was ignoring him again, but that didn’t stop him. “Did Steve know too?” He slowed down and matched her stride again.

“Yes.”

“He didn’t care either?” Damn, kids were always impressed with him. She shot him a look that said, Are you kidding me?

“You’re definitely not going to be his pick for a teammate anytime soon.”

“I had an off night.” He couldn’t even blame it on his bad arm; it was her fault. “Normally I’m more impressive.”

“Marc, you flooded my kitchen and played bad baseball. That’s the extent of my impressive experience with you.”

“Then give me a chance to do better.”

“I’ve told you I’m not interested,” Beth sighed.

Couldn’t she spend some time getting to know him before she decided he wasn’t worth her time?

“Well, I am,” he huffed. Wow, that was his comeback? Maybe even given a chance, he wouldn’t impress her.  

“Why, Marc?” Beth stopped running and looked at him.

It was a good question, and one that he damn well wished he could answer, but he didn’t know. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. His eyes slid over her sweatshirt and then lingered on her hips. He reached for curl that had fallen out of her ponytail and tucked it behind her ear.

“I can think of a few reasons,” he said, his voice low and throaty. Without consciously deciding to, he’d fallen back into seduction mode.

Instead of backing away, Beth let her hand run down his arm before grabbing his wrist and pulling him closer, so almost no space existed between them. She stood up on her toes and let her mouth move to within a centimeter of his ear. His gut clenched as a jolt shot down his body and he licked his lips in anticipation of what she’d do. He finally had her.

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About the Author

Even as a young child Jenni Bara would conjure up all kinds of tales with her endless imagination. She’s improved her skills since the days of scaring her younger cousins with ghost stories, but her love for books and stories has never changed.

In her everyday life, she is a paralegal for family law writing unhappily ever afters for people every day. So in turn she spends her free time with anything that keeps her laughing including life with her four kids, or five if you count her husband!

All joking aside she is blessed to have not only a very supportive husband but super supportive parents as well as a loving extended family always happy to share their opinions! 

Her favorites spots all have the best views of the sunsets and she loves to share the views through photos

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Welcome to the blog tour for romantic historical fiction novel, The Colour of Rain: A Kansas Courtship in Letters by author John W. Feist. Read on for details and a chance to win a $25 Amazon e-Gift Card!

The Color of Rain

Publication Date: September 1st, 2021

Genre: Historical Fiction/ Romance/ Based on True Events

Publisher: Winter Wheat Press

Separated by a great distance in the 1890s, can a widower and a schoolteacher overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their love and commitment? John Feist unfolds a true-love story, old-fashioned letter style, in his historical romance novel, The Color of Rain.

Handsome, well-respected local banker, now eligible bachelor, Frank Wilson is nothing less than a hot-ticket item with “the path to [his] home? a pilgrimage for unmarried women bearing casseroles.” He’s not interested in remarriage right away-except for Irene, a schoolteacher living two train connections away. A long-distance courtship commences. The lovers keep to weekly letter-writing since they barely have the chance to see each other, especially when trials and tribulations convolute their individual lives.

“Feist’s rich writing style stitches historical details, providing a seamless flow from letters-writing to narrative sections that capture everyday life’s realities amid unsettling times. A true-love historical romance that will have readers riveted to the page. Highly recommended!” -Chanticleer Reviews, five stars

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Excerpt

Frank could not converse in the carriage Ethan Alton drove behind the green wagon to the railway station for his train home. Frank had brought Allie to the St. Joseph hospital twelve days before she died. Their family doctor had run out of anything meaningful to do or say about whatever it was that put her in bed a week before that. Between visits to her bedside, Frank had talked with the Altons about sickness and mortality until he, too, had run out of meaningful things to say. Today, the Altons did converse but accepted his silence. He looked from one side of the street to the other. A normal day. But the sun-splashed houses, buildings and people he saw were water-colored contrivances not from his world.

The Altons sat with him in the St. Joseph terminal until his train yanked him toward home, toward two sons, their thirty-seven-year-old father now widowed. Their mother would be buried beside two infant siblings in a graveyard which he was later to design as a more formal cemetery. It was now an unshaded patch of hill in the northeastern Kansas town of Horton, founded just ten years before. 

The train crossed the railroad bridge over the Missouri River to the Kansas side and started to speed up its run toward Horton, putting soot into the cloudless sky. The tracks of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway would not pass such a waterway again in their transit of the vast Kansas wheat fields and prairie grasses. But, for the next three hours, Frank’s journey would be only fifty miles across wrinkled hillocks of sorghum, oat and corn fields, and over streams lined with willows and cottonwood trees. Soon farmsteads came into view that he knew by name. He had financed those farmsteads. He was banker to these farmers. Today he saw that his fields of collateral needed rain badly.

Seeing familiar crossroads and steeples brought back thoughts of the girl he fell in love with.  The smile he fell in love with. Allie lived the love commandment. She held a constitutional belief in the goodness of others. She delighted in her encounters with everyone without reservation or exception. Whoever felt her smile felt improved. Frank did so daily. It was not some occasional, wordless expression to signal mood or assent. It was the emblem of her soul.  Her smile was her distinctive song, regular as dawn, constant as breath.

Frank had seen life leave Allie. He had watched the swarm of nurses drift away while he stood stationed at the foot of her bed. A doctor he had never met before declared, unnecessarily, that she had expired. It hurt to hear it. It hurt to smell the still, sultry air. What exactly she died of had not been evident or ever explained. I’ll forever wonder why, he thought. No, please . . . not on the train. He stiffened. His mouth bent downward. He stifled himself. The whistle shrieked.

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About the Author

John W. Feist is the American author of a series of political thrillers, “Night Rain, Tokyo” (2018), “Blind Trust” (2019), and “Doubt and Debt” (2021), plus a literary novel, “Diamond Mornings” (eLectio Publishing, 2016). He is semiretired from a career in business law in California and government relations advocacy in Washington, D.C. His work experiences planted the seeds for his thrillers with their lawyer-protagonist, observations of Japanese culture, and high-stakes international business deals.

Having inherited from his mother, an Equity actor, a love of drama and literature, Feist has appeared on Washington, D.C.-area stages, and provided live audio descriptions of theatre and opera performances for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He holds a BA in philosophy from the University of Kansas and a JD from Stanford Law School. Feist lives in Falls Church, Virginia. He has two sons and two grandchildren who live in California.

John W. Feist

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