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Monday, September 22, 2014

My Jungle

B
y Gabriel Timar
Mainstream, 538 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Purchase Line

The world is a jungle! To find happiness one must find his/her own patch. Gabriel’s adventurous life (actually, a fictionalized autobiography) is the search for a culture, which would accept him. As he travels five continents, his accounts reflect the true picture of society in the late twentieth century. The presentation of the world girdling corruption, violence, oppression, and prejudice are featured in the story.

Excerpt:
The elaborate way of paying bribes made my head swim.

“The civil servants of the newly independent nations learned corruption quickly,” Jeff remarked. “I wish they learned their duties as quickly. Can we have a vote on the ten percent administration fee?”

Duke and I nodded.

“There is another important item on the agenda: my man at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs suggested that the Mombasa Water Supply project will come up soon. The City wants the government to guarantee a loan from a commercial bank. Can Broughton Engineering tackle such work?” Duke asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“That is fine and dandy,” Duke remarked, “I’ll work on Satish. He is an Asian, the chief engineer at the Ministry. He would give me an inside line if the price is right.”

“You will have a lot of competition, because a Danish firm moved in to Nairobi last month. According to the rumors, they have a lot of money, but very little local know-how,” Jeff said.

“Peter told me about Warren Bentley promising a big structural engineering job to Broughton. Can you look into that?” I said.

“I think you should visit Warren yourself,” Duke said. “He doesn’t care who you are, but he is going to make sure of hiring the best structural engineer; nothing else matters. We cannot baksheesh him. I can fix up a meeting with him for tomorrow morning, if you’re ready.”

“I can meet him anytime,” I replied.

“Very well. Subject to your meeting with old Warren, I’m going to schedule your trip to Dar for next week, if it is all right with you.”

The rest of the meeting dealt with Jeff’s schedule. He had many clients from the US and Europe, including a two-week stretch with a director of Warner Brothers who wanted to scout the sites for a major motion picture.

“It is a shame they did not bring the leading lady,” Duke remarked. “I understand she’s a gorgeous blonde.”

“Duke prefers blonds,” Jeff added.

The meeting was over in an hour, and I spent the rest of the day preparing a portfolio of my structural engineering projects. I added a few sketches, thinking it may come in handy at the meeting with Warren Bentley.

At home, I sat on the patio, put my feet up on a stool with a gin and lime in my hand. It was the same drink I always had in Chittagong. I knew I had come to the right place. I had professional challenges, eternal summer, and reasonable salary. I considered myself very fortunate.

The meeting with the architect took place at ten o’clock. Bentley had his office in the New Reservation in a white painted, nondescript, large two-story residence not too far from my house.

The architect was a big man, at least fifty-five years old, with a flock of gray hair, wearing a well-starched safari suit. His office was similar to mine, but instead of the zebra skin, he had a large drawing of the futuristic airport terminal of Nairobi. We shook hands and sat down.

“We’ll build it in a few years,” Bentley said. He pointed at the picture on the wall. “I just won the contest.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “Perhaps we could have a piece of the action.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beresford at Bay

By Kev Richardson
Beresford Branson Series Book Four
Historical, 327 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald
Link

At the end of World war II, the Allied Control Council is given leave to decide on the rebuilding of Germany. Political infighting however, makes headway difficult as the Big 3 trip and stumble over each others’ feet.

Democracy and Communism cannot find a common path in leading Germany out of Nazism into a more meaningful nation in terms of international unity.

Can Beresford’s Red Cross influence help save what seems an inevitable failure of the Zoning system?

Excerpt:
We left as the early sunset began plunging Düsseldorf into darkness, arriving at our stake-out house and half groped our way into the room with its roof mostly intact, even though two of the brick walls had gaping rents. Even the door had been quite shattered. Scattered rat-shit was the only evidence of the room having been, at some time, inhabited by squatters. A sole blown-out window alone gave clear sight of the Ubahn entrance.

Already we were shivering.

“You guys were on the roof last night?”

“On the bit that remains, yes,” they said as if in chorus.

I shivered at the thought.

Wow, I was beginning to feel a real sleuth—my first such opportunity to help discover a covert operation, one of the very purposes Force 8673 was founded.

We were lucky. Five fellows drove an ancient pick-up to the station entrance. All alighted, proceeding to haul stuff out of the back. One item was all we needed to see and there it was, one end showing through a rent in its wrapping, a brass banner, its apex the circle encasing what was today’s illegal emblem, the Nazi Swastika.

Oh! In our first few minutes of watching? Already here is proof enough to call in MI5’s muscle-men!

Tremors were coursing through me.

“Come on fellows, that’s all we need. Let’s get to safety. I’ll buy wine for celebrating!”

But had Ego been right, again?

~ * ~

I couldn’t help but feel it had all been so easy.

The very first arrival?

Yet an ominous sound reached all our ears, for we looked at each other in surprise. From the empty doorway came lights of several torches.

Too many, was my instant fear!

Much German swearing and guttural oaths broke the night’s quiet.

All at once, we realised the portent, fearful to say the least.

Philip had been on duty with the binoculars, Daniel and I crouched on the floor side-by-side close by. Daniel grabbed my arm.

“Quickly, Berry,” he whispered loudly enough for Philip to also hear. “Out the window.”

Philip, already on his feet, despite being near twice Daniel’s and my ages, was first out. I ushered Daniel out after him, and as I followed, I saw out of the corner of an eye, Philip drop the binoculars. In the dark he couldn’t see them.

“Forget them,” I called as I loped off after Daniel, expecting Philip would follow.

Daniel had dashed into the ruins of an adjoining building.

“They might think we ran down the laneway,” he whispered back at me.

I couldn’t hear noises close behind me, but could only wonder what might still be happening back in the room we had just abandoned.

But oh? Where is Philip?

Even Ego couldn’t answer.

Daniel kept running across the room we arrived in, to disappear through a half collapsed doorway. I had a snatch view of Philip struggling with two other dark forms.

I saw no option but to follow Ego’s advice.

“Run,” he was now urging me. “Follow Daniel. You can do nothing to help Philip. More of the critters are already coming through that window.”

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bells On Her Toes

By Diana J. Febry
Mystery/Crime, 439 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Purchase Link

DCI Peter Hatherall is called in to investigate a shooting on the Earl of Ditchburn’s country estate. The Earl’s activities have angered animal rights and environmental groups but subsequent deaths suggest Elmsgrove Racehorse Yard is the target. There is more at stake than a horse race and time is running out for Hatherall to solve the case before the culprit kills again.

Excerpt:

Jolted from her reverie, Gladys withdrew from the window when the golf buggy came into sight. She called to Bert to come in for lunch and headed to the kitchen. The kitchen was like everything at Elmsgrove…over-sized, expensively decorated with solid wood furniture and plastered with horse images. Gladys placed the plates on the heavy oak table as the three men, her boys, scraped their chairs along the stone floor. It was like clockwork, every day of every year. Gladys was sure…if she ran away, her absence would register only after they looked down to see empty table mats. Only Bert had the decency to wash his hands before sitting down. She had given up insisting a long time ago.

Through a mouthful of food, Ben said, “Did you give a statement to the police?

Gladys put down her cutlery and finished chewing before replying. “I don’t think so. They spoke to me, but nothing was written down.”
“Poor sod, shot through the head they reckon,” Ben continued as he slurped his cup of tea.”

“Must be some Townie,” Mike said. “A drug dealer or an addict, I reckon. Maybe they screwed the bird of the local gang leader and got caught.”

“Michael, not at the table,” Gladys said. She watched the three of them with heads bent over their plates, shovelling in the food without tasting it.

“Bloody fools the police are,” Ben said, waving his fork. “Don’t know their asses from their elbows. Would you believe they started asking questions about my insurance claim from years back? Complete idiots.”

“I expect the proper police will appear tomorrow, Dad. Today’s lot were just the local bobbies who deal with shoplifting and stuff like that.”

Picking at her food, Gladys imagined her picture in the newspapers with the headline, ‘Resting actress solves murder mystery.’ The report went on to say, “Gladys, a well-loved member of the community, solved the case when the local police failed. She gave up her glittering career on the brink of stardom to support her husband’s dreams of training a winner. She was coy and modest when the chief of police thanked her publicly for her gallant bravery and fortitude.

“Gladys! Gladys! Are you listening, woman?”

“Sorry darling, what did you say?”

“I’m going to finish at least an hour late tonight, because of the time wasted dealing with the police.”

Gladys started to clear away the empty plates. “I’ll make supper an hour later, then, sweetie.”

“What are you planning to do this afternoon?”

Placing the plates in the dishwasher, Gladys said, “I might go out for a drive to look for clues.”

“Well for God’s sake, stay out of the way of the police.”

“Don’t worry, darling. I shall wear my invisibility cloak.”

Taking his coat from the stand in the hallway, Ben said, “I do wonder sometimes, what goes on in that daft woman’s head.”

“Nothing of any great interest,” Mike replied. Pulling on his work boots, he added, “I’ve arranged to go out with the lads tonight. Any chance you could lend me a few quid?”

Ben tousled his son’s hair. “Come and ask me later, after you’ve completed a full day’s work.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Happy Birthday, Wings ePress

Wings ePress officially opened its doors as a publisher in September, 2001. The first four books of their launch included my first ever published book, FULL MOON HONEYMOON. The book wasn't actually available until September 10 because a few glitches had to be resolved (the shopping cart I think). 

Do I need remind anyone what happened the next day, September 11, 2001? What should have been the most thrilling week of my writing career is forever connected in memory with those horrible terrorist attacks. Somehow, my book did sell, as did my three colleagues with releases that month. But it seemed in poor taste to do promotion. Thank you to all readers who took a chance on a rookie publisher and a rookie author.

Take a moment today to celebrate the 13th anniversary of Wings ePress's inaugural book launch. Then tomorrow take a moment to remember those victims of that infamous day. Americans now call it Patriot Day, but don't forget why.

Blessings,
Cheryl Norman

The first Wings Best-seller

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Vigil For Johnny's Mission

By DB Dakota
Suspense, 454 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Original design by DB Dakota
ISBN 978-1-61309-205-7   $4.99

Blurb:
The warlock, the foreman with the teen mistress, union honcho, pigheaded gambler … who's sabotaging, goofing off? Man by man the detective searches, fighting the main man's own superstition. Witchcraft trumps sweat anytime, and the wail of the banshee is the cue to knock off work.

Excerpt:
Arriving home, Daphine found it odd the way the doorknob turned with her key. Should she get the manager to go in with her? After what Johnny told her about being stalked, that meant she was in danger too. She didn't appreciate that, and began to fume:

Why is he so nonchalant about the risk of handling all that payroll money? Why, he never balanced a checkbook before taking that job. Now he's got the mayhem of record keeping, which takes up all his time. He's in over his head, and one out-of-control chump.

And Brochimeer calls him Starch to goad him into-what, more spirit and persistence and endurance? I don't know how Johnny could have more; he wrote the book on guts.

The picture I have of Heego is that it's an insidious caldron of backwater with no substance and no commitments to improving the society there. Heegs with their scatterbrained ways are embodied in outrageous figures, masquerading as humans. They're tossing about in a Byzantine swirl, clashing against a world that's foreign to them. The vortex roars and tightens, and Johnny's there in the raging maelstrom about to be destroyed.

In Daphine's rhapsodic presumptions, and although she had yet to set foot in Heego, she had the people of the shadows all sorted out, and Johnny too. She felt better about that.

But Johnny was not unusual. Strong, loyal business champions always fought to keep their enterprises afloat in spite of bad eggs who tried to confound the mission. Johnny foresaw an outcome that others did not, the reason why he stuck with chaos. And the money was good, his income staggering, comparatively.

Quietly, Daphine let go of her key ring, left the key in the lock, finished turning the knob and eased the door open. A rush of air and a floor-squeak made by her presence woke Johnny. He had fallen asleep and the gun slipped from his grasp onto the couch.

He bolted upright and she rushed across to embrace him.

"Whatcha crying for, honey?" he murmured, squeezing her, purse, packages and all. She clasped his neck and snuggled her face against his chest and did not move.

After a moment she sobbed, "How delicious to find you here."

He sank his face into her auburn curls and clung to her. They broke; he kissed her eyes and spoke into them: "For a while I was pretty sure I'd never get to do this ever again."

He gripped her arms momentarily, strained to make an imitation smile and hastened to lock the apartment door. "But it's all in a day's work. Everything's fine now. Great to be home. One helluva day."

"Whose gun, honey?" she asked upon spotting the firearm. Still clutching her things, she lifted them to her face to hide from the ghastly weapon.

"Oh, it's mine, sort of."

"Where'd you get it? How long have you had it? What do you intend to do with it?"

"Aw, no big deal," he waved, put out that she had to find out about it.

"That's a handy article to have around when I'm handling the payroll. I'll unlock all the secrets for you, but if I don't get a drink-"

Quickly into the kitchen, he unscrewed a cap, not noticing what it was, and guzzled. He could count on one thing: He couldn't get drunk when he wanted to on purpose; his mind fought it. He'd give it one soaking try, though.

Daphine watched. Will he never stop swilling? So much drinking lately, so much. But don't lecture Johnny, she thought; oh, please, don't let him ruin himself.

"Okay, honey," Johnny announced, rummaging for the 7Up, intending to mix up something diluted, slower and more courtly. "Sitting down? I wanna tell you a wild tale about how the big operators operate."

He leaned against the kitchen doorway, figuring he'd better not alarm her. "I guess I need to sit down. See, that's Bonapa Toulec's pistol. He let me have it to scare heegs and troods off the money, which winds up his money. The charming Mr. Bo is now my step-boss.

"Coming up the stairs, I thought somebody like Farlone was following me. I figured I'd offer him a lead projectile to transport to the hospital. But his watchdog dozed off, ha, ha.

He briefed her on the colliery ownership change and the new bank, but withheld details about the return trip...and Feiner's probable setup.

Nor did he mention the thirty grand, which she had yet to notice in back of her chair. He wouldn't bother her with gun talk, how he had used it. He'd skip the arsenal in his office closet, how he had sprayed the weeds for the bomb prankster.

"Hell, woman, Heego is no-man's land. It's George Neccopolus and José Gallegos having it out over Necco's wife, or live-in Dorema right there in my lobby.

"First, I confess I decided not to warn José to make tracks out of town, like Necco wanted me to do. I was pretty close to dispatching that louse myself. I was itching for Necco himself to get it over with."

"Kill him! That, I didn't know about," she sighed, thinking that would make a meaty article.

"So there in the lobby it's about time for the slaughter. Necco's finally had it up to here with José, and draws a bead on him."

"With a gun?" she asked, wide-eyed and breathless.

"Too sanitary."

"No, with a frog-sticker," Johnny chuckled. "José's there at my office window with his back to the entrance.

"I see Necco sneak in and up behind José, inching closer and closer. He throws his arms out and downward with his fists clinched, gripping that blade. He bends over and begins slow, heavy strides like a rhino waddling on hind legs. Necco mumbles, 'Hey, you no-good spic.' You can barely hear him in that rasping voice. 'See this?'

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Maidens in the Night

By Mark Morey
Historical, 569 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
ISBN 978-1-61309-201-9 $4.99
ISBN 978-1-61309-807-3 $11.95

Blurb:
It is Whitechapel in London, November 1888. Young, attractive prostitute Mary Kelly is stalked by someone, but who? Former client Joe Flemming, the serial killer Jack the Ripper who has murdered four or five prostitutes already, or someone else? She knows any man she meets could kill her, but she has no choice other than to work the streets.

Excerpt:
Sixty-six 
A beautiful Sunday for the walk to Saint Peters in Eaton Square. A lovely, sunny autumn morning. Michelle, Brett and Julia headed to Belgravia’s church, surrounded by nobility, aristocrats and ladies. Hypocrites, every last one of them, Michelle thought. It was the one thing about living in Belgravia she didn’t like. They closed on neighbours from the same terraced block, but not surprised they were heading in the same direction at the same time of day. Mr. and Mrs. Thurland and Mr. and Mrs. Folkes were walking rather slowly as was the way with many women. Michelle overheard Mrs. Folkes say “it’s quite inappropriate for a woman in her position to go outside dressed like that.” Mrs. Thurland responded, “she looks like a servant dressed in black with a white apron; barely a hat and no gloves.” Mrs. Folkes said, “If she wants to be a servant she cannot wear gloves.”

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Thurland; Mr. and Mrs. Folkes,” Michelle said firmly but nicely.

“Ah, Mrs. Finlay,” Mrs. Folkes said. “It’s good to see you. How is Mr. Finlay these days? It’s been a while since we have seen him.”

Michelle smiled. “I don’t know about Mr. Finlay but Mr. Price here is feeling particularly fine. Are you not Brett?”

“Indeed I am,” Brett replied.

Michelle glanced at her now walking companions having slowed to their pace. She smiled sweetly at them.

“How are you this morning, Mrs. Finlay?” Mr. Folkes asked.

“I am well although I have been very busy these past weeks and months,” Michelle replied. “You may have seen me dressed for work at our charity refuge.”

“I can’t say that I have.”

“I wear East End attire: a black dress with a white apron, a simple white bonnet and no gloves of course. I find such an outfit works well in Whitechapel.”

“Is that right?” Mrs. Thurland asked.

“Indeed it is,” Michelle said. “East-enders don’t trust us; they see us as wealthy hypocrites. To go there dressed as we are now would be a waste of time.”

“But surely they can see that we’re all the same regardless of the clothes we choose to wear?”

“I don’t truly know.” Michelle pondered a retort. “We could show by example. I could arrange several dozen former prostitutes and other inhabitants of the slums to attend our lovely church next Sunday. There’s room for them and they would add colour, I feel. Then they would see that we’re all the same, more or less.”

Michelle glanced at Mrs. Thurland who was bright red with either embarrassment or rage. “Do you think we ought to invite several dozen to share the Lord’s Day with us Mr. Price?” Michelle asked innocently.

“I’m sure the inhabitants of Whitechapel would find sharing our church to be most uplifting, Mrs. Finlay,” Brett replied.

“Then it’s settled.” Michelle smiled at Mrs. Folkes and Mrs. Thurland. “I am so glad we had this little chat this morning and I am sure that next Sunday will be interesting indeed.” They reached the steps. “Well, here we are, Mr. Price. If you shall excuse us, Mr. and Mrs. Thurland; Mr. and Mrs. Folkes.”

They paused just inside and allowed their upper-crust neighbours to seek out similarly upper-crust friends.

“That was rather cruel, Michelle,” Brett whispered.

“They started it,” Michelle said. “Let’s sit at the back where we belong.” They took a pew at the rear of the church.

“Will they come from Whitechapel?” Julia asked.

“No, never,” Michelle said. “The working-class labour twelve hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week, and Sunday’s the only time they have to themselves. Church is their last priority.”

The vicars appeared way off in the distance.

“We should pray,” Michelle whispered, changing her mood to reverence as best she could. She dressed like an East-ender at times but she was still middle-class. The service was uplifting while the organ and choir were magnificent. It was one thing about living in Belgravia that Michelle adored. Few churches brought their congregation closer to God than Saint Peters.

The reverend climbed the steps to the pulpit and looked down on the congregation. “Let us pray,” he said. Michelle closed her eyes and bowed her head.

“Dear God, bless the souls of the two women tragically murdered in Whitechapel this very morning. Show them Your mercy when judgement time comes, and remember the opportunities denied to them in this life. Amen.”

Michelle raised her head and looked at the reverend way off in the distance. One part of her cried ‘no’ but she bit her lip to keep it inside. No, not again. Not two! For three years Whitechapel had been part of her and she had been part of Whitechapel. The people of Whitechapel suffered every day and they didn’t deserve it. Nobody deserved it but least of all those people. When would it end? Michelle sat through the sermon in a daze; not a single word registered. She had to get out of church, get home, get changed and get to the people she truly cared for.

Michelle strode to her home with Julia while Brett went to buy a newspaper. They met at the front door and went inside.

“The reverend was right,” Brett said. “At one this morning the body of the first victim was discovered in Dutfield’s Yard in Berner Street. This victim had her throat cut but was not mutilated. Forty-five minutes later the body of the second victim was discovered in Mitre Square behind Mitre Street. This victim had her throat cut and was badly mutilated. Both were middle-aged and of the unfortunate class.”

“Do you wish to go to Whitechapel, Mother?” Julia asked.

“Yes, of course. You should come.”

“I will.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aadita




By Palvi Sharma
Mainstream Horror, 320 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
ISBN 978-1-61309-206-4 $4.99

Blurb:

A bullied girl must learn not only to fight her bully but also a ghost who is intent on harming her. When she learns the shocking identity of the ghost and the conspiracies surrounding her family, she must solve the mystery quickly before she becomes the next victim

Excerpt:
Seven
The room suddenly felt too quiet and the only sounds came from the machines that were kept by her grandfather’s bedside. Raina’s eyes scanned over the heart monitor and saw his pulse increasing.

She swallowed and jumped when her uncle called her.

“Raina, why don’t you go to your room and unpack?” he said without looking at her.

She looked at her grandfather and wanted to know who he was talking about, but she knew that even though her uncle wasn’t looking at her, he was waiting patiently for her to leave.

“I’ll... go unpack. See you later, Grandpa.” She half waited for her grandfather to reply back, but seeing his condition, there was very little chance he had even heard her.

She walked out of the room and a maid gestured for her to follow. As they went up the stairs, Raina marvelled at the chandelier that hung from the ceiling. The window near the spiral staircase showed her a small garden and the lake she had seen when she had arrived.

“This is your room,” the maid said and opened the room.

Her luggage was already inside and another maid was already unpacking it. Raina shrugged her shoulders and climbed onto her bed. She lay down and stared at the ceiling wondering what she was going to do. There wouldn’t be any chores to do here and a maid was already unpacking her things and putting them into the wardrobe. She got up and looked out the window. The ride over here had been pretty exhausting, but she had slept and now she wanted a little exercise.
She jumped off her bed and walked out briskly. There were several rooms along the corridor, but she didn’t feel like exploring them right at the moment. Cold weather made her lethargic and the weather in this town was a lot cooler than it had been at her uncle’s.

As soon as she was downstairs, Raina realised she had no idea which door led outside. She walked towards one of the doors and gave it a gentle push.

The door revealed a large kitchen, where five chefs were busy stirring something in pots. One of them, a woman, looked up at her.

“Do you need anything? Lunch will be ready soon.”

Raina shook her head and closed the door. Lunch? She hadn’t even had breakfast yet. Still, the aroma from the kitchen smelled delicious and she couldn’t wait to eat. She walked along the passage and stared at the photographs that hung from the walls.

She stopped suddenly and looked at a picture of her grandfather when he was young. He and his father stood, while his mother sat in a chair, looking stern and proud.

She smiled as she saw her great-grandfather. Uncle Rabindra looked so much like him, except for the hair, of course. Uncle Rabindra was bald while the man in the picture had thick wavy hair. She walked past the other photos of the family and then stood back. She looked at the last photo of her and her parents and then back at the others.

Apart from the wives of her uncles, there weren’t any other girls in the family except for her.

“That’s so weird,” she said to herself. Was Ahan really right? And hadn’t she heard Aunt Lily also proclaim that there was a curse on the family? She shook her head. That was absurd. Just because her father and his brothers hadn’t had girls didn’t mean that none of her cousins wouldn’t have any either.

She found another door and opened it to find that it did lead outside. She took a deep breath and smiled as a breeze swept over her face, bringing along the sweet scent of flowers that grew in the garden.

Raina walked over to a tree and leaned against it with her hands behind her. It was such a beautiful day and such a perfect view.

A gardener walked right past her and she straightened up. “Hi,” she said.

“Hello,” he replied solemnly and started to pull out weeds.

“Such a beautiful garden this is,” she said and smiled, but the gardener seemed reluctant to talk, which was understandable considering the owner of the house’s failing health. She walked towards the garden gate and decided to go see the lake instead, when a familiar sweet scent rose up to her nostrils. She paused and placed her hand on the small white buds of jasmine growing on a shrub.

“I thought these weren’t winter flowers.”

“They aren’t,” the gardener said and stood up. He dusted his knees and walked towards her. “This one, however, is.”

Raina looked at him and saw him staring with unblemished pride at the small shrub. “This one’s been here for almost six to seven decades.”

“I didn’t know they lived that long.” The gardener stared at her and she pointed towards the flowers. “I mean, I thought they bloomed in the summer or something. Unless these are winter jasmines?”

“Winter jasmines are yellow,” the gardener said dryly. “These flowers never die, the leaves never die and it has never dried out. There was this one time when Shaun forgot to water it for a month. I was on a sick leave. When I asked him about it, he told me he had forgotten and I was sure that plant would have been dead.”

“A month without water? And it still survived?”

“During the summer,” the gardener said, as if delivering the punch line to a joke. “We’ve had heavy snowfalls, unforgiving storms, yet the jasmine endured it all and still stands even when none of the trees and plants had.”

“I didn’t know they were native to this place. Then again, I did see them at my uncle’s house too.”

The gardener looked at her with a strange look on his face. “No, jasmine isn’t native to this part of the world at all. This plant was a gift from a family friend, I think.”

“But...”she started to argue and then closed her mouth. The gardener started to talk about the leaves and buds, but Raina felt her mind reeling. Something didn’t seem to fit and it was making her feel like she was supposed to know something. She turned towards the house and looked at the window where the curtains were drawn. Maybe, she should have tried to listen about what they were talking about.

She took a deep breath, said her goodbyes to the gardener and walked out the gate towards the lake. This wasn’t her problem. Her problems were going to begin when her dad would arrive day after tomorrow and take her back to Willow City. But he wasn’t here right now and neither was Mallika. Finally, after a month of hard labour, she was getting a little time off to relax.

She climbed up the dock and walked over to one of the chairs. This was probably grandfather’s chair and she could imagine him, sitting here and looking at the sun setting over this lake. She sat and stared at the lake. The sun was warm, but the breeze was cool. She sat there for a few minutes and then got up. Removing her jacket, she threw it on the chair, before lowering herself on the dock. She lay down on it and closed her eyes.

“Now this is a vacation,” she said. Her grandfather was fine; Uncle Rabindra wasn’t the villain she had thought him to be and Ahan...

Raina smiled to herself as she remembered the way he had taken Samar away and spared her an embarrassing situation. Ahan was nice and nothing she had expected him to be. Her heart ached as she realised she wouldn’t get to see him before she left.

Maybe she should have invited him and Samar in. Samar would have found something to amuse himself with and she would have gotten a chance to talk and get to know Ahan. Maybe they would have even exchanged numbers. But Raina knew that would have never been true. She had and would always be too shy of boys.

She turned her head, and started to feel herself falling asleep. Everything seemed perfect and even though Ahan and she would never meet again, she still felt a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach.

In the distance she could hear a bird, and the wood beneath her creaked suddenly, but Raina paid no heed. Her mind was starting to drift off and she was about to fall into deep slumber, when a sound roused her. It sounded like water dripping off a partially open faucet.

Raina turned away and ignored it. There was probably a leak somewhere or maybe her water bottle had sprung a leak. She opened her eyes then. Except, she hadn’t brought her water bottle. She got up slowly and wondered why it had become so quiet all of a sudden. The breeze had stopped and the birds no longer chirped.

Raina held her breath and realised that someone was behind her, dripping. She tried to relax her shoulders and tell herself that it was probably one of the servants who had gone to take a bath in the lake, but her heart still thudded loudly.

She turned around and uttered a shriek. A girl in her teens stood barefoot in a lavender dress that was torn and soiled. Wet tendrils hung over the girl’s face and her fists were closed. Raina pushed herself back, finding it difficult to breathe. The girl stared at her intently with dark eyes that shone in contrast to her bluish-purple skin.

Raina’s eyes travelled lower to her feet and saw that she was dripping wet. Her feet started to move then and Raina quickly got up.

 “No!” she cried, but the girl, her head slightly bent, walked closer to her and started to raise her arm.

“No!” She screamed again and started to run the other way, when her feet slipped and she fell into the lake.

The water was deeper than she had expected and as it swept over her head, Raina realised to her horror that she didn’t know how to swim.