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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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Governess and the Stalker

By Mark Morey
Historical, 281 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Blurb:

Jesse West is determined to destroy the family that wronged him so badly. For former governess Michelle Devine, it becomes a battle of wits to deal with Jesse, who has no other purpose in life than to kill her.

Excerpt:

Michelle watched two men carry the body of her husband down the stairs. Both were dressed in long black coats and black top hats and holding a stretcher covered in a sheet. James had died on a sheet in Michelle’s arms. She shivered and felt cold in her flimsy nightdress.

The servants silently looked down from above. She wondered what they were thinking, especially Mrs. Gillard and Ruth Johns. Serves her right, no doubt. Michelle shuddered and not with the cold. They hated her.

“Mrs. Devine,” a man’s voice broke the silence. “Mrs. Devine.”

Michelle realised Ben Morrell had arrived.

“Mrs. Devine,” he repeated. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Michelle wanted privacy but couldn’t go back to that bed. “Yes, please, Mr. Morrell. Can you ask Nora to prepare another room for me? I need to rest.”

“Of course.”

Michelle waited, wondering why she didn’t feel grief. Shock of course, but not grief. Amelia came to her. “Your room is ready, Mrs. Devine.”

“Thank you, Amelia,” Michelle replied. “I’m very tired but I don’t know if I can sleep. Best wake me later in the morning.”

“You can ring for me.”

Michelle vaguely remembered the cords and bells. She had only been mistress of the manor for a few short hours. “Yes, I will ring for you.”

Michelle and Amelia climbed the stairs to where the servants were gathered. Michelle stopped. “It’s over and you can go to bed now,” Michelle told them. “You too, Amelia; I will be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

A fire blazed but the room was still cool. Michelle slipped between icy sheets but didn’t notice the cold. The happiest day of her life had disintegrated in the most tragic way possible. She rolled onto her side but knew sleep would never come.

~ * ~
Jesse West hid behind trees at the foot of the garden and watched two gentlemen place his father’s body in the back of a cart. Justice: married and died the same day. Jesse was surprised his poison had worked so fast. The undertakers rode away with a half moon to guide them. One by one the lights at the house winked out, leaving Bagtor House in darkness. Jesse thought about Michelle Blissett, former governess now widow. Her turn would come, and the two bastard children as well. But first she would suffer for what she’d done. Suffer first in grief and suffer later in terror. He would terrorise her until death was a relief.

He climbed up the hill to the house and strode through the front door which was always unlocked. He went to the sitting room with his arms spread wide. “This is mine, this is all mine,” he said. “I’m the Lord of the Manor.” He walked around the room touching trinkets on the mantel above the fireplace, running his hands over smooth leather chairs, brushing timber furniture so polished that it sparkled in near-darkness. He spread his arms while roaming around the room, daring anyone to challenge that he wasn’t the lord of the manor. After a while it was time to return home.

Jesse left the house and headed to his hut at Mill Wood. Feeling happy that events had turned out better than he’d ever expected, Jesse looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

My Watcher's Eyes

By H. A. O'Connor
Paranormal Vampire Romance, 367 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Blurb:

It’s not normal to feel close to your watcher. No, it’s not normal to have a watcher. So, why is Tess Young comforted by her watcher’s presence? Why do his eyes fill her dreams? More importantly, will he become her greatest protector…or her greatest threat?

Excerpt:

Moments after she’s passed through my mind, my best friend spills from the darkness to my right. The scarlet light finds her chocolate-brown eyes and gleams warmly against them; it casts ruby-tinted highlights on her black, satiny hair and frustratingly-perfect cheekbones. My eyes skim over her plum-colored dress, which flatters her figure like it was custom cut; then they fall back to my own, plain black one. It manages to hide what few curves I have.

A little sigh escapes me. Whenever Anna’s next to me, I might as well be invisible; it’s the way things are and I’m okay with it. Well, I’m used to it.

Anna just has time to hug me and exclaim, “Happy nineteenth, Tess!” before we’re half tackled by another friend, Janie, whose teal-tinted hair has been altered to a strange shade of violet under the club’s red lights. Neither color is sufficiently alarming to compete with Janie’s personality, I decide. She’s got the dainty looks of a pixie and the demeanor of a fire station alarm.

“Tess!” she shrieks into my ear, before squeezing both my shoulders and shaking me back and forth a few times. “You’re nineteen now! We should be dancing!”

My response is to break into a string of rough coughs; Anna’s is to give me a deep frown and Janie a little shove backward. “You’re still sick,” Anna mutters and starts digging around in her purse. “I thought you were getting better.”

I shrug, but thank her when she produces a couple of cough drops and presses them into my hand. Our other friends, Maria and Celia, arrive in the meantime and receive full-contact greetings of their own. By the time Janie’s through with them, Maria is frowning and tossing her dark hair in anger and Celia is nervously twirling a periwinkle-tinged curl around and around and around her finger. Each gives me a birthday hug and, moments later, we’re all dragged onto the dance floor in a Janie-led mob.

I’m fine for a while, thanks to Anna’s cough drops and some ibuprofen I took earlier, but deep down, I know it can’t last. I’m dancing on borrowed time.

My illness revives with a vengeance and my medications toss up white flags of surrender. My chest suddenly feels constricted and raw; my temples throb in time with the beats shuddering through the room. Bowing out of the action, I grab a soda and a seat, hoping the sugar will bolster my immune system, not to mention my wilting strength.

Janie spots me moments later. If I wasn’t sure before, it’s now glaringly obvious my evening’s a doomed one.

Making a phony, deep pout, Janie insists, “You can’t sit down! It’s your birthday and a guy over there—Jason—wants to dance with you!”

With wide eyes, I follow the direction of her outstretched, perfectly-manicured finger. Two guys stand still among the movement; both are turned in our direction. The taller of the two, a blond, is keeping Janie in his sights, but his auburn-haired friend seems to be watching me.

I quickly scan the features of this second one and, returning to his intense, brown-eyed stare, feel my face slip into a frown. “No thanks. I’m sick.”

“Come on,” she shouts, grabbing my arm and pulling me from my seat, “they’re playing your favorite song!”

She’s wrong. It’s her favorite song, but I couldn’t care less: an acute wave of nausea is on the rise, making me stop, mid step, and cover my mouth with both hands. Janie, feeling me hesitate, smiles back blindly and yanks harder.

Realizing it’s easier to submit than struggle against this petite, aqua-haired maniac, I pull myself together and trail along. At some point, I realize we’ve veered off our path. Panic sets in and I search for a familiar face among the crowd, while earth-quaking chills overtake my body.

This is when things take yet another turn for the worse. Janie tows me between a pair of dancing figures when the beat picks up and the guy next to me—clearly a football player in Goth disguise—sends a flailing elbow full force into my chest.

If I wore false teeth, they would have gone flying. As it is, every available ounce of air evacuates my lungs at the speed of light, leaving me gasping, clutching at my chest in agony.

“Watch it, you big dope!” Anna screams out, suddenly beside me. Her face turns to mine with a look nearly equaling my pain. “Are you okay?”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Midnight Mist

By Ralph E. Horner
Paranormal Romantic Suspense, 387 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Blurb:

An enchanted ring sends Melody ahead one hundred years in time to reunite her with her true love. Jeff is overwhelmed to see her, but discovers that Alice, Melody's mentally disturbed sister, has time-traveled with her. Jeff must locate Alice to regain possession of the ring, and at the same time protect Melody from her sister’s deadly attacks.

Excerpt:

From behind, Jeff held Alice’s face down, grasping her left hand, searching for the ring. It wasn’t on any of the fingers of that hand. She kicked back, slamming him on the shin. As she thrashed, Jeff put his knee on her lower back, trying to keep control over her. Pain coursed through him as Alice sank her teeth into his forearm. Clenching his teeth in misery, he held up her right hand and saw the gold ring on her index finger. She continued to bite hard on his arm, making it feel like her canines were going all the way through to the bone, but he still managed to grab the ring. Sparks exploded off his hand. Like touching a hot frying pan, he instinctively let go.

Several people watched, making no attempt to stop the fight, thinking they were both men.

Blood ran down Jeff’s sleeve to the pavement as Alice finally let his arm go. She grasped her right index finger with her left hand. Jeff knew she was attempting to make an escape by going back in time. He grabbed her left hand, trying to keep her from removing the ring. Sparks exploded, as Jeff made contact with the ring again, but he held on this time, even though it felt as if he were holding a lit match. He watched in horror as Alice slowly slid the ring toward the tip of her finger. As hard as he tried, he could not stop her from slipping it off. He suddenly found himself struggling with her in the grass next to a narrow road. They had gone back to eighteen ninety-three together.

Alice held the ring tightly in her left palm. Jeff tried in vain to force her hand open. He pulled her short-haired wig off and her long black hair fell down onto her shoulders. As Alice tried to turn toward him, he slammed her wrist on the ground several times trying to break her grip. Jeff was stunned by an elbow crashing into his jaw, disorientating him momentarily. Alice twisted toward him and sprayed something from a tube into his eyes. Jeff covered his face and yelled, feeling like his eyes would burn out of their sockets. More of the mist hit the back of his hand. It had to be Mace.

“Hey, leave him alone,” came the sound of a man’s voice.

Now blind and helpless, pain shot through Jeff’s side as Alice kicked him hard in the ribs. Then came another rib-cracking blow to the same area. Jeff moaned and covered his head in fear she’d strike there next.

“I guess we’ll have to stop you,” still another man’s voice. Jeff realized there were two men coming toward them. He could hardly open his eyes and his vision was so bad it was like looking through wax paper. Jeff could see that Alice was running away. Then two men knelt next to him.

“Are you hurt badly, Mister?” one of the men asked. “Your arm’s bleeding.”

“What can we do for you, son?” The other man lowered his head, gazing into Jeff’s face.

“Water!” Jeff thrashed his head and rubbed his eyes. “Hurry! I need water for my eyes.”

“I’ll be right back.” The man took off on a run.

“Try to relax there, Mister.” The man rubbed his shoulder.

Jeff lay on his stomach moaning and shaking his head. His eyes were in too much pain to be concerned about the fact that he was trapped in another time. He was having trouble breathing.

“Here comes Larry now. He’s running with a whole bucket of water. I hope he doesn’t spill it all before he gets here, though.”

Larry set the pail down in the grass next to them. Jeff got up on his knees and bent over it, scooping out water with his hands and splashing his eyes as fast as he could. The water soon became a discolored red from the blood of his wound. He finally dunked his entire face into the water, rubbed his eyes and forced them open. When he took his head out of the bucket, his vision was slightly better, but his eyes burned as if someone had scrubbed them with steel wool. At the World’s Fair, he had used Mace on Alice to get her knife, and now she had used the same weapon on him.

“Are you feeling any better?” Larry asked.

Through blurred vision, Jeff saw a thin, blond man wearing a straw hat and a handlebar mustache.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Life's Journeys

By Laura Rittenhouse
Chick Lit, 339 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Blurb:

At 29, Sophie's future is clear, she’ll rise through the ranks to take the reins of an international conglomerate determined that neither mortal man nor corporate games can thwart her.

Not, anyway, until an international merger diverts her climb down a cul-de-sac where one hurdle too many provokes her to fight back.

Excerpt:

Ron is a great guy to work with and I rely on him to brighten my day with his high spirits and sharp wit. I’d call him a morning person but I think maybe he’s a twenty-four-seven person. I suspect he actually likes what he’s doing and who he is. I’d give anything for that outlook today.

As I’m cramming my oversized handbag into the undersized drawer designed for pencils, Ron swivels his chair to face my desk. He speaks to my rear end which may have some impact on his mood. “Tomorrow is payday and I am so glad. I’m tempted to resign because this place is driving me mental, but knowing that I’ll earn my scrap tomorrow, helps me soldier on.”

I smile to myself, maybe Mr. Sunshine suffers like the rest of us after all.

“Okay, I’ll bite. Something not right in your world?” I say this as I remove my backside from Ron’s field of vision and place it in its ergonomically designed chair. Maybe I’m not such a horrible friend after all. I still have the capacity to notice a friend in need when I see one.

“What do you mean ‘not right’?” he squawks. “What’s right? I work for two of the dumbest men in IT at a company designed to support the greed of the capitalist world, my daily tasks are mind-numbing and I suspect that in twenty years I’ll be working at this same desk, looking at this same computer and probably sitting in this same chair. At the risk of repeating myself, what’s right?”

I try to rise to the challenge, but you have to admit, it is a rather large challenge. “Possibly accurate, but that’s not the same as true. You’ve withheld part of the story which is the salary you will draw to have your mind numbed over the next twenty years until you see the light and demand a desk by the window.”

“Great, that’s a big help.” Ron sweeps his arm expansively across the half-empty sea of cubicles. “And I thought I had nothing to look forward to here. But I see I missed out on a nice silver lining; another day, another dollar, another chance at a desk with a view.”

“That’s the spirit. With thinking like that, We Shall Overcome. Hell, we might even make a career of it.”

Ron holds up one hand to stop my taunts and wraps his other arm around his waist with great melodrama. “Stop right there. I can’t stomach listening to your career aspirations this early in the morning. When you are a mighty, powerful, boss of some international conglomerate, you can hire me and give me an office with a huge window overlooking the harbor, a fantastic salary package and some work that doesn’t actually put me to sleep. Then I’ll let you go on about careers all you want. Until then, I’ll keep bitching about my bosses, dreading my daily grind, and fantasizing about a life less ordinary.”

It’s obvious that Ron isn’t as upbeat as I imagined. Maybe it’s all relative. Lately he seemed upbeat compared to me, which made him seem totally glass-half-full. Anyway, who wants to sit next to an eternal optimist all day? I find it comforting that Ron agrees with me that this company and the jobs within it are not anyone’s idea of a dream—actually, it is a balm to my troubled soul. Maybe my impatience and sometimes-doubt about my career-path aren’t that unusual. Maybe I’m not the only one wanting more from the universe and wanting it now.

Suddenly all is right with my world again. Like I said, I love working with Ron. And I like my job. Soon, maybe not soon enough, but soon anyway, DK will be behind me and I’ll be facing the challenge of my next assignment, my next customer, my next step on my career ladder.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wings of the Past

Wings of the Past  
By Suzanne M. Hurley
Women's Fiction - 379 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Blub:
Zoey Avery thinks she is happy, until wedding thoughts infiltrate her marriage-phobic mind. Complications explode when she realizes the groom in her dreams is not her current boyfriend, but a man she hasn't seen in thirteen years. Confused, she sets out on a journey to uncover the truth of her heart's desires.

Excerpt:
"Hey, Marta." I leaned closer. "How weird is this? Lately, I've been having all these wild, crazy thoughts about getting married."

There, I said it.

I'd finally voiced out loud what I'd been thinking about for the past three months, still not believing that I-Zoey Avery, dedicated work-a-holic extraordinaire-would suddenly find myself afloat, lost in imaginary worlds, daydreaming about tulle and veils and gowns. Marta had gotten engaged six months ago, so I figured she'd be the perfect one to talk to about this.

"What'd you say?" she yelled. "I can't hear you over the music."

Damn.

Karaoke was in full swing at the Black Lagoon Bar in downtown Burlington, Ontario, and a trio of businessmen slugging back beer, jackets off, ties askew, were singing and gyrating to Gangnam Style. We were at our usual table, way at the back where it was quieter, for our weekly martini and chat. Karaoke night was new and Gangnam Style was revving the crowd up more than usual. The bar was the rowdiest I'd ever seen, with most people trying to emulate Psy's moves. Go figure-it just happened to be tonight, when I had something serious to discuss.

"I want to get married," I yelled, just as the song ended. My words rang out, hovered, and I swear every person in the bar turned to look at me. It was one of those 'time stood still' kinda moments, only not in a good way.

"Hey, I'll marry you."

I looked over to see a jean-jacketed man straddling a stool, leering at me. He looked totally out of place with his wide-brimmed cowboy hat, scuffed boots and scruffy beard.

Oh no!

He clambered off and swaggered over to our table, slowly and dramatically, as everyone in the room began clapping and cheering him on.

I could feel my face redden.

Did they think this was planned? That it was a real proposal?

"Hello, gorgeous," he said, tipping his cowboy hat.

I watched in horror as he slid a cigar out of his shirt pocket, pulled the band off and got down on one knee. Holding up the paper ring, he placed his other hand against his heart, exclaiming, "Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"

Immediately, the crowd started chanting, "Say yes. Say yes."

"It's not real," I screamed out. "I don't even know this guy."

Frantic, I looked around for some help but my best friend Marta, ignoring my dirty look, was laughing so hard, tears streamed down her face.

Oh hell, I knew it was in fun and in another place or time I might have found it hilarious, but not tonight. I was in somber mode.

"No, thank you," I said firmly, shrinking down on my chair, wishing I could disappear.

A groan echoed through the room. Someone led a chorus of boos, another hissed.

"Well, you're an old sourpuss," he said, looking indignant, as he stood up and swaggered on over to a young woman yelling, "Hey stud, I'll marry you."

Fortunately, another trio, this time women, jumped on stage and grabbed the microphone.

Good. Everyone would get off my case and focus on the new singers, but much to my horror they started singing Bruno Mars Marry me, urging on the new love match, all the while shooting daggers at me every five seconds. I sunk even lower in my seat, anymore and I'd be on the floor.
Marta, wiping away her tears, sputtered out, "I must be hearing things. Did you really say you want to get married?" She started to laugh even harder.

Glancing over at the singers to make sure they weren't going to stop any time soon, especially since I was about to answer Marta, I was happy to see they'd given up on me. Instead, everyone was now clapping for cowboy guy who had dragged his latest conquest onto the dance floor and was hamming it up, serenading her with exuberant gestures that went along with the music. Judging by her giggles, she seemed to be loving it. I decided I was in the clear.

"Just thinking about it," I answered.

Okay, to most people, the idea of getting married one day, or living with someone, or even looking for a relationship, was the norm. As evolved as us women were supposed to be, a lot of females I knew still dreamed of their wedding day and had been since they were tiny tots. Over the years, I'd been privy to many of their confidences at sleepovers, coffee dates, parties, or late night chats on cell phones. Dreams flew high as they conjured up long, flowing gowns, handsome grooms in tuxedoes and sentimental, teary-eyed vows in churches, barefoot on the beach, in the backyard, living room or any other favorite place of their choice. And of course, ear-splitting receptions that lasted all night and let's not forget-lavish honeymoons in exotic places, unless it was a destination wedding and they were already in paradise.

Oh sure, times had changed and lots of people lived together first, often for financial reasons, sometimes forever, but wedding days still seemed to worm their way to the forefront and multiple, endless plans were made. Especially, if they had children or were deciding to have them.

I was not among the norm.

I did have a boyfriend-Liam O'Reilly-even lived with him, but wedding plans did not exist in my take on life. I never thought of them-not even once. Nada. Never entered my mind. In fact, if even a whiff of a vow drifted up into my conscious level, it was crushed instantly in my quest to be the best ever vice principal to the teenagers at Maitland High, as well as a humanitarian to the many causes dear to my heart. Yup, I was one of those hard working, do-gooder types of people and proud of it. I was happy, content and thoroughly enjoying life.

So why, seemingly out of the blue, would marriage thoughts come crashing down, disturbing my sleep, my focus and turning me into a tired, confused, old hag? At least, that was how I felt lately-like tiny fissures were spreading throughout my perfect world, exhausting me and throwing me off kilter.

I just didn't get it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Letters to Mary

Letters to Mary
By Marge Burke
Historical Women's Fiction - 579 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud

Blurb:
Mary Crouch and her two young children are as much casualties of the Civil War as the soldiers themselves. Mary is afraid of losing her Daniel, afraid of all the dangers she must face with her children, and of failing at the work it will take to keep their lives going. What her trials prove is that Mary is as courageous as Daniel.

Mary struggles to keep her focus, longing for words of love and encouragement but receiving empty words on the pages of Daniel's letters. Daniel's journey takes him to southern battlefields; Mary's journey is one of determination and faith, and finding answers from very unexpected sources.

Excerpt:
Daniel got off the train and stood on the wooden platform of the Pittsburg train station, watching great gulps of gray smoke puff into the air. A white fog rose to meet the smoke, lifting from somewhere underneath the engine. In the dim light of the early September morning, it looked to Daniel as though the train were an apparition, a ghostly object that did not really exist.

The great black engine slowly began to move, and Daniel stood watching as his last link with home clattered off down the tracks, headed back to Albion, to his Mary. He shifted his knapsack to his other shoulder, trying to ease the burden. He realized suddenly that the weight he struggled with was not on his shoulders but deep in his chest. It threatened to suffocate him, and he gulped in several deep breaths. His thoughts swirled around him like the gray smoke.

He glanced around him at his regiment. Most of the men on the platform with him looked as disoriented as he felt, although a few were relaxed and joking with each other. Daniel could see Sergeant Prentis across the platform by the depot, conversing with another officer. He watched as the senior officer saluted and then turned and strode off. Sergeant Prentis lifted his hat from his head, rubbed his other hand through his matted hair, and replaced the hat snugly. Then the sergeant turned toward his new recruits.

For the next several minutes the soldiers stood at attention, struggling to understand all of the information being hurled at them. Daniel heard the how to, where, when, why, why not, cannot, do not, who, and in what condition he was expected to perform. The words buzzed around him like a swarm of bees.

Daniel was used to hard work and considered himself in good physical shape, but standing erect with a fifty-pound knapsack slung across his back for so long at a stretch was taxing his stamina. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the slight shifting in the position of the men down the line.
"Eyes straight ahead, soldier!" Sergeant Prentis barked.

Daniel snapped his eyes forward.

The train ride from Girard to Pittsburg hadn't been as uncomfortable as Daniel had expected. He had heard horror stories of men being piled into cars shoulder to shoulder with no room even to sit down. They had all been seated, for which they had been thankful, and had even been served a breakfast of biscuits and fruit. It was undoubtedly the last bit of comfort they would experience for a long time.

Laying his head back in the seat, he had closed his eyes and transported himself back to Mary and little Alice, standing in the yard where he had left them. Alice had his black felt hat nestled on her head, and she could barely see out from under it. Daniel's breath caught in his throat as he saw again the unshed tears glistening in Mary's eyes as she struggled for composure. Daniel knew she did not want his last sight of her to be one of despair or anger. His Mary. He loved her for a thousand reasons, and he could have named them all right then.

He could still hear Charlie's loud good-byes at the station as he and Uncle Minos had seen the train off. Daniel had leaned out the window, waving his army issue hat from the train window above the crowded platform.

"That's my pa, the one waving to me," Charlie had proclaimed to anyone who would listen. "He's going to fight Rebs."

"Private!"

Daniel jumped, bringing his thoughts back to the present. He focused on the wide eyes staring him in the face. Sergeant Prentis spat his words so that Daniel felt a spray of accompanying spit showering over him. The sergeant then continued his tirade at the other soldiers. They dared not move.

The gray skies began to close in around the soldiers on the platform, and a fine mist materialized out of nothing. It was not rain; it was just there, like a thick fog suspended above the ground. Despite his hat, Daniel felt the dampness against his face, even settling on his eyelashes.

Sergeant Prentis glanced upward, scowling. It was as if he dared the skies to defy him. Finally he drew his men into two columns and sent them marching from the platform onto the muddy street in front of them.

Daniel's backpack weighed him down, and his feet sloshed in the mud, making a sucking noise as he lifted them. What was really only a mile stretched out like two, and when they finally stopped to make camp he was surprised to find it was barely ten o'clock in the morning.

The great wooden building in front of the recruits offered little comfort. When the command to fall out came, each man trudged up the steps to find a place to call his own. Daniel was appalled at the sight that greeted them. The floor was covered with ashes and mud. Straw from old mattresses was strewn about, matted together and dried in clumps. Cobwebs clung to the corners and the windows. Tobacco spit stained the walls and floors.

A cold dampness permeated the room, even though the windows had been boarded up from the outside elements. The stench was overwhelming. He gagged at the rot and waste and turned away.

"Move in, there, Crouch," called a voice behind him. "It's wet out here."

"At least we can breathe outside," Daniel muttered as he stepped into the building.

"Your first assignment, men," Sergeant Prentis spat, "is to get this place in shape. You'll find supplies in the lean-to outside the back door. Snap to it. We don't have all day!" With that, the sergeant stomped through the archway and disappeared into the mist.

"Maybe the mist will swallow him up, and he won't come back," muttered the man beside Daniel, looking for a clean place to drop his knapsack. Instead, he walked across the room and stuck it on a protruding nail. Daniel and several others did the same. It promised to be a long afternoon.