An aria for lost souls
Fresh out of college, Christine Davis is thrilled to begin a summer internship at the prestigious Santa Fe Opera House. But on her first day, she discovers that her dream job has a dark side. Beneath the theater, ghostly music echoes through a sprawling maze of passageways. At first, Christy thinks she’s hearing things. But when a tall masked man steps out of the shadows—and into her arms—she knows he’s not a phantom of her imagination. What she can’t deny is that he is the master of her desire. But when her predecessor—a missing intern—is found dead, Christy wonders if she’s playing with fire…
Anything could happen. Anything.
The sky soared impossibly blue, studded with cotton clouds worthy of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Driving with the convertible’s top down, Christy soaked up the Southwestern sunshine as she planned to do with absolutely everything.
The wind blew her hair, the short ends whipping around her face, stinging her skin with the perfect thrill of being alive and the mistress of her own destiny. No more classes, no more books, she thought to herself with a grin. No more East Coast gloom and city pressure. Free to be her own person, she zoomed down the highway and into her brand-new life.
The Santa Fe Opera House came into view, the elegant, arching lines of it an extension of the red rock cliff it perched on. Like a raptor of copper and steel, it gazed over the vast basin, a temple to pure sound, a place for the worship of ancestral theater.
Following the signs, she found the backstage area and parked. Grabbing purse, cell phone, and tablet, she swung her legs out of the car. They looked damn decent, thanks to the time she’d put in at the gym. The new stiletto heels she’d squandered some of her graduation money on helped normously. She strode toward the building and around to the back apron, ready for her first day on the job.
The vaulting ceilings of the open-air theater, designed to look like swathes of fabric but made of steel, cast a deep shadow that made her shiver from the abrupt chill. Pushing her sunglasses onto her head, which also served to hold back her wind-ruffled hair, she opened the back door and peered into the gloom of below stage.
No one seemed to be about, though the door had been unlocked. Her heels clicked on the poured concrete floor, echoing in the perfect acoustics of even this dark working space. Here and there, shrouded stage pieces loomed with dusty magnificence. Where a cover had been shrugged off, a shoulder of gold filigree gleamed. In the deeper shadows, a mirrored sapphire elephant raised its trunk, forever frozen.
“Can I help you?”
Choking back a startled shriek, she whirled on the man who seemed to have crept up behind her. She threw an accusing look at his soft sneaker treads and he gave her a rueful smile.
“Sorry about that. Charles Donovan—Charlie—general manager of the opera. And you’re Christine Davis?”
“Everyone calls me Christy.” She shook the hand he offered. “Sorry—I wasn’t sure which way to go to find your office.”
“Some days even I don’t know.” He flashed her a comfortable grin and tucked his thumbs in the loops of his faded Levi’s. “For all that this theater isn’t as old as the European opera houses, somehow it ended up with labyrinths below stage. This way.”
She followed as he wound back in the other direction. “At least there aren’t catacombs or ancient sewers to get lost in.”
He chuckled, arriving at the door to a tiny office, bright with fluorescent light, and gestured her inside. “No. But to hear the New Agers talk, there’s plenty of Native American burial sites, hidden tunnels, subterranean dwellings, and so forth.”
Charlie shrugged and wedged himself behind the tiny metal desk, piled high with paperwork. Sticky notes covered every surface, including the glowing screen of an apparently ancient laptop perched precariously on one corner.
“You’ll find there’s every kind here, Ms. Davis. Hang around long enough and you’ll find someone who believes in it. Sacred spirals, peyote, reincarnation. You name it. And then there’s the talent.”
“Theater people tend to be superstitious, my dad always says. The smart manager learns to work with that.”
“You have no idea. Ah well, we’re here to keep ’em happy, if only for the season.”
“Mr. Donovan, I—” She’d rehearsed this speech and it came out in a rush. “I want you to know that I’m here to work hard. My dad might have arranged for me to take this apprenticeship at the last minute, but that was just the right opportunity. I want this and I’ll do what it takes.”
“Don’t worry about that. Apprentices are slave labor. You’ll put in your sweat and blood.” He extracted a file folder with surprising efficiency from one teetering pile. “You already have the show schedule. Here’s a preliminary list of prop and set items for each opera. And …” Charlie spun his chair around to the sagging industrial bookcase behind him and yanked out an enormous three-ring binder, dropping it on the desk in front of her with a bang and a poof of dust, “… our inventory.”
She stared at the binder in dismay. “On paper?”
Charlie grinned and poked a finger at the laptop, which was making an ominous grinding noise. “I’ve been meaning to get to it. And Tara—well, she was only a few days into it before …” He trailed off, scratching his scalp. “Most of the staff starts arriving next week—
you ought to have a chunk of it done by then. I have Tara’s notes. They might help.”
With a sigh, Christy propped the tome on her lap and flipped through the yellowing pages.
“The letters and numbers indicate location?”
“Yeah, in theory. That’s where you come in. The L number is the level. The other codes indicate the exact storage room. Here, let me grab you a map.” Charlie spun back around to frown at the shelves.
“Am I interrupting?”
“Roman!” Christy grinned at her old friend. “I was wondering when I’d get to see you.”
Handsome as ever, Roman leaned in the doorway. He looked to be doing well, from the expensive cut of his chestnut brown hair to the sleek shoes peeking out from under his impeccably tailored suit. He returned Christy’s smile with familiar charm. “I had to stop by, see my sweet girl. But I see that I’m interrupting.”
“Not at all, Mr. Sanclaro!” Charlie popped up from his chair, dusting his hands off on his jeans and leaning over to offer one in welcome. “You know you and your family can stop in anytime. How’s your father?”
“Busy as ever,” Roman replied easily, then turned to Christy. “How about a hug—or are you too grown up for that now?”
“Don’t be silly.” She returned the light embrace, accepting his polite kiss on her cheek—
something her ten-year-old self would have sighed over and embroidered into fantasies for weeks. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“I knew the Davises and Sanclaros have long jointly owned the property,” Charlie commented, “but I didn’t realize the families are close.”
Roman rolled his brown eyes. “When Christy and I were growing up, our fathers used to joke about our betrothal—that it would at last resolve the logistics of the Davises owning the actual opera house and mineral rights, while the Sanclaros own all the surrounding property.”
“It wasn’t funny,” Christy put in. That was putting it mildly. Any time Domingo Sanclaro and his son visited them in New York City, she’d been torn between a frenzy of anticipation at seeing her lifelong crush and dread at the older men’s teasing. They were two of a kind, Carlton Davis and the elder Sanclaro, living for the business deal. It never occurred to them that needling an adolescent girl who imagined herself in love with the dashing college boy
family friend was so cruel. Roman had always been so patient, however, treating her like a little sister. His sweet girl.
With a rush of warmth, Christy realized she had a hand on Roman’s arm. She let go and grabbed ahold of the unnaturally blue plastic binder.
“Have you seen much of Santa Fe yet?”
“No—I’ve barely just arrived. I’m surprised you even knew I was here.”
He winked. “Your dad told my dad—I’m to look after you.”
“I’m not twelve anymore,” she replied with a bit of irritation. Which immediately melted when Roman’s grin shaded to sexy and he swept her with an appraising look.
“No. You’ve definitely grown up. Let me at least take you to dinner tonight. We have more five-star restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S, you know.”
“I didn’t know.” Roman Sanclaro was flirting with her. Her adolescent self would never forgive her if she didn’t go. “Yes—I’d love to.”
“Excellent. At least we can appease the fathers. Shall I pick you up around eight, then?”
“Perfect. I’m at the El Rey on Cerillos until I find a place.”
Roman raised an eyebrow at Charlie. “Nothing but the best for our new staff?”
Charlie shook his head. “Not much of a budget for apprentices.”
“Surely your dad can spring for better than that place? I’m surprised he’d let you stay there.”
She maintained the easy smile on her face. She’d kept the car because that was practical, but the rest she was determined to do on her own. Daddy’s girl. One only needed to hear that so many times in a lifetime. “It’s nice. Clean. I like it. Eight o’clock, then?”
“I’m looking forward to it. And I’ll get out of the way now.” But he hesitated.
“Did you need something else, Mr. Sanclaro?” Charlie had his thumbs tucked in his belt loops, all courtesy for the son of the opera’s patron.
Roman glanced at her. Back at Charlie. “My father is wondering if there is further word about … our little problem?”
“No. The police have no leads. Tara’s family is pushing to have the lower levels searched again, but Detective Sanchez thinks she took off. Official stance is no evidence of foul play, there’s nothing more they can do.”
Roman cleared his throat and Charlie raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure Ms. Davis is
perfectly well aware of what became of her predecessor.”
“I don’t want you to worry.” Roman turned to her, his brown eyes warm. “All the fuss will die down. Tara was a bit flighty. Probably thought she fell in love and took off for Acapulco, eh, Charlie?”
Charlie nodded in slow agreement, a line between his bushy gray brows. He seemed about to say something but stopped himself. It hadn’t occurred to Christy to be concerned. Her father had made it sound as if Tara, the previous apprentice, had simply run off, much as Roman described.
“Is there reason to be concerned?”
“Would Carlton Davis send his daughter here if there was?” Roman waved his hands as if encompassing the greater world, then sobered, giving her a very serious look. “Besides, I’ll protect you. From the theater ghost.”
Christy laughed and Charlie shook his head. Every theater had some kind of ghost or legend. It was as necessary as lighting and curtains.
“They say,” Roman’s voice dropped an octave and he flicked his eyes dramatically at the floor, “that he lurks below, scarred, deformed even. At night, after the audiences have left and the stage crew is cleaning, they can hear him sobbing, calling out the name of his love, who had drowned in the underground lake. “Christine,” he keened the name. “Christeeen.”
The hair stood up on the back of her neck, a shiver passing over her.
“Was that her name?” she whispered.
Roman grinned at her. “Gotcha.”
“Oh!” Christy clutched the notebook to her chest, hating that she’d been so gullible. She tried to smile.
“New girl initiation—don’t be mad.”
“I’m not,” she assured him. Silly. He’d always been able to sucker her into his jokes. Apparently she hadn’t grown up that much.
“I’ll see you tonight.” With a jaunty wink and a wave, Roman left. “Sorry about that.” She Turned to Charlie, hoping she hadn’t seemed unprofessional. “I really had no idea he’d stop by.”
He shrugged. “We’re pretty low key around here. And I’m not going to argue about anything that keeps the Sanclaros happy.”
Christy took the map and the inventory book and gave herself the tour. Right after Roman left, the phone had rung and Charlie had rolled his eyes, shrugged his helplessness, and waved her on her way. Her dad always said managing a theater was 95 percent soothing ruffled feathers and it seemed that was what Charlie did.
The enormous freight elevator looked like standard institutional issue. She stabbed at the cracked down arrow and waited. The gears cranked more ominously than Charlie’s laptop, accompanied by the screech of a tormented belt. When the doors shuddered open—the floor of the elevator a good hand’s length above the one she stood on—revealing the garage-like interior, which smelled as if feral cats had pissed inside, she decided to save using it for transporting heavy stuff. And only when there would be a lot of people around to hear her if she got trapped in it.
Instead, she found the central spiral staircase and descended into the dimly lit lower levels, deciding to start at the bottom and work her way back up. The hollow clanking of her heels echoed through the silent rooms. In another week the space would teem with people and noise. Bursting with energy and excitement.
She couldn’t wait.
Until then, silence and peace reigned, which was why she took advantage of the time. Tomorrow she’d be back in jeans and tennies—and geez, maybe a sweater—ready to dig into the deep and dusty layers. Today was for orienting, despite the ultimately unnecessary interview outfit, which now felt way too skimpy in the chilly bowels of the opera house.
She flicked on another set of lights, the fluorescents taking a moment to catch, then flickering on with an insectile buzz. Beyond it, she caught another sound, a whisper of movement. A draft of colder air brushed past her, making the small hairs on her arms stand up and her scalp prickle.
Mice or rats, most likely. Or pack rats, in this area. The woman who ran the hotel had warned her about the pack rats.
Still, for a moment, she thought she’d heard music.
An echo, perhaps. The expectation of the space, the perfect acoustics. She fancied that the building absorbed all the music and played it back to itself when everyone was gone, the timbers saturated with it.
Soon, real music would crash through—out of tune, cadence, and context. The same phrases repeated in cacophonous opposition to someone else’s practice run. Chaos and tumult.
There it was again. A whisper of song. A honeyed tenor.
Curious, compelled, she followed it down the corridor, passing the various storage rooms, holding their eclectic treasures in darkness. The hallway ended abruptly in a dead end, a good thirty feet past the last lightbulb. Christy consulted her map in the dim light. If this was the right level, the hall should keep going to another set of storage rooms.
She retraced her steps, frowning at the map, then at the end of the hall again. The featureless wall hadn’t changed. Had the door been covered over or sealed? She set the map and inventory notebook down and walked back to the end of the hall, ran her hands over it. Not drywall, but solid plaster, cool and damp to the touch. If it had been closed off, it didn’t seem to be recent.
Her fingertips caught on a small flaw in the smooth surface and she bent to see it better in the shadowy green light. A circle cut into the plaster, with what appeared to be a set of links dangling from it, like a collar and chain. It was crossed by a whip, the braided design painstakingly worked in.
She gasped, then swallowed it, glad no one had heard her.
She glanced around, uncannily convinced that someone watched, listened. Unable to help herself, she traced the emblem with her nail, wondering what it meant and why it was here. And why something about it thrilled her, sent her blood percolating with intrigue and a desire to know more. Along with a strange familiarity.
A breath of cold air swept across the back of her neck again, and she stood abruptly, spinning on her heels and putting her back to the wall.
No one was there.
And yet … that tenor voice, golden and sweet, sang somewhere far in the distance, too distant for her to make out the melody, but the notes strummed across her stimulated nerves, soothing and arousing. She wanted to find it, to hear it better.
The song ended in a soft laugh. And then a whisper.
Also available as e-serial – http://www.jeffekennedy.com/master-of-the-opera-act-1/
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. A fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under, followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.
I. Remember. Everything.
Only now I wish I didn’t.
When the fog is sucked away from my mind like smoke through a vacuum, the truth that has been beyond my reach for months finally reveals itself. But the relief I thought I would feel never comes, and I’m more afraid now than I was the morning I woke up handcuffed in King’s bed. Because with the truth comes dark secrets I was never meant to know. I will put the lives of those I love most at risk if I let on that my memory has returned, or if I seek help from the heavily tattooed felon who owns me body and soul. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to resist the magnetic pull toward King that grows stronger every day. He’s already saved me in more ways than one. Now it’s my turn to do whatever it takes to save him.
Even if that means marrying someone else…
King snarled. “You seem to have forgotten who the fuck I am, Pup. So I’m going to remind you.” He pressed his hips against mine. “I’m the man who took you against your will and handcuffed you to my fucking bed. I’m the man who wanted you, so I fucking kept you.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Do you really think you have a choice when it comes to being mine?”
King lifted me onto the dresser and pushed himself between my legs, forcing my legs apart. He held my wrists behind my back forcing my shoulders backwards and pushing my chest into his. My dress rode up to the tops of my thighs. King pushed a strand of hair behind my ears and leaned in to me, his lips just a breath away from mine. The room was getting hot. I couldn’t breathe. I needed…I don’t know what I needed. “No more questions.”
I opened my mouth to argue. “Stop fucking talking,” he snapped.
King lifted me off the dresser and carried me and set me down in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the closet door. He stood behind me. A head taller than me and outweighing me by a hundred pounds, our differences had never been more obvious. His dark jeans and dark tank top were a stark contrast to my little white eyelet sundress. My pale skin next to his tanned. My white hair to his black. It was a sight that made my knees weak. Because although the reflection in the mirror made our differences obvious, it also made me see how well the two fit together.
T.M. (Tracey Marie) Frazier resides in sunny Southwest Florida with her husband and three feisty fur kids. She attended Florida Gulf Coast University where she specialized in public speaking. After years working in real estate and new home construction, she decided it was finally time to stop pushing her dreams to the back burner and pursue writing seriously. In the third grade she wrote her very first story about a lost hamster. It earned rave reviews from both her teacher and her parents. It only took her twenty years to start the next one. It will not be about hamsters.
Daddy Morebucks: From the moment she laid eyes upon him, Marley knew in her heart that James was not just another client, and the difference wasn’t even the large sum of money he offered in return for a single night of submission. No, what set him apart was the fact that when she called James “daddy”, it was her own heart which beat faster and her own body which ached with need.
After that night, Marley does her best to put all thought of him behind her, using the huge payday he provided to get on her feet again and start over… until James knocks on her door and walks right back into her life. He makes her a simple offer: if she will live with him and submit to him whenever he wishes, he will provide for her every desire.
Even before she accepts his offer, Marley knows that what she truly wants is not money or clothing or even a fancy new car. What she longs for is a daddy who will give his little girl what she really needs… a daddy who will spank her bare bottom when she is naughty, tie her up and take her any way he pleases, and then cuddle her until she falls asleep in his arms. Can she dare to hope that James will be that daddy?
Daddy’s Game: Sparks fly when up-and-coming artist Carmen Harris meets football star Natron Dakers at her first gallery opening. Carmen soon discovers that Natron is the type of man who sees what he wants and goes after it… and apparently what he wants is her. Almost before she knows it Carmen finds herself taking everything Natron gives her and begging for more, and when he reveals that he wants to be her dominant daddy and her to be his submissive little girl, she doesn’t hesitate to agree.
At the top of his profession, Natron has money, fame, and all the perks that go with them, and now at last in Carmen he has found a woman he wants to share it with. His life feels complete… until in a split second everything comes crashing down when a devastating injury threatens to end his season—and maybe his career. Natron fears he will lose it all, but will he self-destruct or can he dig deep and fight hard for himself, his teammates, and his little girl?
Poor Little Daddy’s Girl: Twenty-four-year-old Charmaine Bainbridge appears to have it all—beauty, fame, and tremendous wealth—yet behind all the glitz and glamour hides a sad little girl who has been abandoned by every man she’s ever loved.
When firefighter Hunter Baldwin saves Charmaine from a fire in her penthouse apartment—a blaze started by her own carelessness—he’s appalled by her nonchalant attitude. Forced to carry her to safety, he throws her over his shoulder, but not before correcting her behavior with a well-deserved spanking. Something about Charmaine arouses him deeply, and it isn’t just her gorgeous looks. This girl needs to be firmly corrected and thoroughly dominated, and a part of Hunter demands that he be the one to take her in hand.
Though he’s used to charging into burning buildings on a daily basis, Hunter knows taming Charmaine’s wild ways may prove to be his greatest challenge yet. Undeterred, he takes on the role of Charmaine’s daddy dom in hopes of breaking down her defenses and healing her wounds. But can she bring herself to open her heart to him, or will she remain the lonely little rich girl forever?
A former psychologist, Normandie has always been fascinated by human behavior. She loves writing quirky characters that are all too human. Fiber arts, baking, and Pinterest are a few of her favorite pastimes. She lives on a farm with a passel of kids, an adorable husband, and a pet pig who’s crazy for Red Bull. If you’d like up to the minute new release info on Normandie’s books text RACYREADS to 24587.
All Gavin Walker, bass player for the multi-platinum selling band, Sphere of Irony, wants to do is surf, play music, and occasionally get laid. The problem is that Gavin has a stalker. A potentially deadly one. The threats he receives always mention something about Gavin being gay, which isn’t public knowledge since the record label wants to keep it quiet.
Mitch Hale used to track serial killers for the FBI. A life-changing incident led him to quit the bureau and start his own company providing computerized security for Los Angeles’ wealthiest people. Mitch doesn’t know anyone when he moves across the country from D.C. to California, and all he has for companionship is a pathetic string of failed relationships with women.
When Gavin’s manager hires Mitch to find the stalker, the men instantly hate each other. Despite the constant fighting, attraction between the two blazes hot, confusing the former FBI agent. Spending time with Gavin forces Mitch reflect on what he’s denied about himself for the last ten years. Listening to Mitch’s plan to catch a madman thrusts Gavin’s personal life out in the open for the entire world to see.
Can Gavin and Mitch stop fighting long enough to stop a stalker before someone gets hurt? Or will they stubbornly resist the feelings that develop when they’re forced to work together?
This is book 3 in a 4 part series. It is a spin-off of the Famous Series. These can be read as standalones.
Before I can ask any more questions, there’s a knock and the door opens a crack. “Mr. Evans, Mr. Hale is here.”
“Send him in please, Donna.” Ross stands and adjusts his suit, straightening out the cuffs and fixing his expensive tie until it lays just so.
I rake a hand over my hair, but it’s pointless. I’m lucky I bothered to shower this morning after my company left. I’m sure I look like shit—with the lack of sleep and the constant stress I’m surprised I don’t look worse.
Good genes, I guess. I frown at the thought of my father.
I can hear Donna outside. “Go right on in.”
The door opens and a man enters. No, not just a man. A gorgeous man. Stunning, actually. For the second time in five minutes, my jaw hangs open.
The man is a study in opposites. His hair, swept back from his face and so dark it’s nearly black, is paired with bright slate grey eyes, a color I’ve never seen before. He looks rugged and dangerous, as if he could kill a man with his bare hands. Yet he’s wearing a tailored and expensive charcoal grey suit that showcases his body to perfection. He’s rough and he’s polished.
And I can’t stop staring.
“Mr. Hale, thank you so much for coming on such short notice.”
Ross has circled the table and is shaking the man’s hand.
“Call me Mitch, please.”
Jesus, even his voice is hot. Deep and silky, it’s as smooth as fine whiskey.
“This is Gavin Walker,” Ross introduces me, stepping aside.
It takes both of them staring at me and an uncomfortably long silence for me to realize I’m still gawking. Embarrassed, I snap my mouth shut.
“Sorry.” Jumping up from my chair, I extend a hand. “Gavin Walker. Thanks for coming.”
He clasps his hand around mine, large and hot and coarse, and pumps it firmly. “Mitch Hale, good to meet you. Wish it were under better circumstances.”
He smiles and I have the sudden urge to rub myself all over his beautiful, hard body. Heat spreads up from our joined hands, sending a flush of pleasure over my skin.
Mitch clears his throat and glances down where I’m still clutching his hand. Shit. I let go, flinching back in humiliation. I jam my hand into the pocket of my jeans, fingering the smooth, heart-shaped stone I keep there.
“Let’s sit.” Ross directs Mitch to the conference table. “Drink?”
Mitch holds up a hand. “I’m good.” I catch the slightest twitch in one of Mitch’s intriguing eyes.
“Okay. Here is the file we have so far.” Ross pushes a folder across the table.
Mitch opens it, scanning the contents. Waiting for him to read about the stalker that’s been harassing me is humiliating, yet it gives me a chance to study the man further. I should resist staring, but I can’t. He’s too gorgeous to ignore.
I flick my gaze over to Ross, who is busy returning emails on his laptop. Good. I don’t want Ross to catch me ogling the new guy. When my eyes land back on Mitch, I have to hold in a groan.
This guy is trying to kill me.
As he flips through the pages in the file—photos, descriptions, police reports—the end of his very wet, very pink tongue pokes out between his lips. Every once in a while, it sneaks back in so he can pull that lush red bottom lip between his teeth, biting on it in concentration.
Jesus. As subtly as I can, I shift on the chair to adjust the semi pressing against my pants.
More contradictions. That tongue, the biting of the lip, both so playful and innocent against the serious image he projects with the suit and the perfectly styled hair and the—I inhale deeply—hint of designer aftershave.
Suddenly, Mitch closes the folder and sits up, folding his hands on top of it. I jerk away, sitting back in my chair instead of leaning halfway over the table like a besotted teenage girl.
“This man is not to be taken lightly,” he cautions, his intelligent gaze traveling back and forth between Ross’ and mine.
Ross closes his laptop, giving Mitch his full attention. “We’re not taking it lightly. Gavin has security with him at all times since the…” Ross glances at me, “the incident in New York.”
“And before that?” Mitch asks. I stare at the hard line of his jaw then drop my eyes down to the curve of his throat where it disappears into the top of his crisp dress shirt. I pray that he doesn’t see the way my hands shake or the heat prickling my face as lust washes over me.
“Before that we weren’t documenting anything we received, just throwing them away. They were mostly letters, gifts…” Ross trails off.
“But no involvement by law enforcement?”
My eyes bounce back and forth between the two men.
Ross sighs. “Not until the New York incident.” When Mitch scowls, a look that makes him look even more dangerous and a hell of a lot sexier, Ross elaborates. “Do you know how many crazy fans are out there? Hell, Adam gets over a hundred bizarre gifts and letters a week. That’s just the strange ones. Plus, keeping this out of the media is important to the record label.”
Mitch nods. “I understand. I’m not judging. I’m just trying to get a feel for what I’ll be dealing with. That includes how long law enforcement has been checking into this guy.”
“Not long,” I whisper, surprised to hear myself speak. I’m used to being discussed as if I’m not in the room. It comes with the job—decisions made for you without your input.
Two sets of eyes focus on me and I feel my cheeks blaze hot. That intense grey stare has me squirming, and this time it’s not from embarrassment. Another rush of heat ripples down my spine. I run my hands through my hair to catch the beads of sweat that have popped up on my temples.
Mitch opens his mouth to say something then snaps it shut. He blinks a few times before speaking. “Tell me how this began, Gavin. What you’ve noticed personally.”
“Shit, how long do you have?” I scoff.
The corner of Mitch’s mouth quirks up. “I have time.” He puts two fingers into the collar of his shirt and tugs gently.
The subtle motion brings images of Mitch tearing off his clothes, sending another wave of sizzling need through me. Nodding, I take a sip of water to cool down the desire inspired by Mitch’s proximity.
Ross’ cell phone rings, startling me. I fumble with the glass, nearly spilling it.
This time, Mitch smiles. My eyes fixate on that mouth as his lips part to reveal two rows of perfect teeth.
“I have to take this,” Ross confesses. He glances over. “You okay to do this without me?”
No. I’m not okay. You’re going to leave me in a room with one of the hottest guys I’ve ever seen while I’m a nervous, blundering wreck.
That’s what I’m thinking. What I say isn’t even close.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
Ross stares at Mitch. “I’ll be back to discuss the specifics of your contract.”
“No problem,” Mitch agrees. Leaning back in his chair, he crosses one ankle over his knee.
Now he’s given me a direct view of his crotch, hugged tight by those tailored grey slacks. There’s a lot to look at. Jesus. If what I’m seeing isn’t an illusion, he is hung. I don’t realize that I’m staring right at Mitch’s dick until his leg drops and he leans forward, elbows on his knees.
“It’s okay to be nervous.”
Blinking, I look up to see those deep gunmetal eyes waiting patiently for me to respond.
“Ummmm, I’m not nervous.”
I am, but not for the reasons you think.
Mitch puts his large hands back up on the table, his eye twitching again. “Do you mind if I get a drink?” He gestures towards the tray Donna set out.
“Not at all.”
“So,” he continues as he removes his jacket, hangs it over his chair, and circles the table. “Tell me about the letters.”
Mitch picks up a mug, turning his back to me to prepare his coffee. My mouth goes dry at the sight of his perfect, round ass showcased by the tight grey fabric that clings to every curve.
I can’t do this here with him. Alone. With that ass, those eyes, and the scent of whatever cologne he’s wearing. My brain won’t function properly while bombarded from all sides by filthy sexual fantasies starring Mitch.
“I-I forgot. I have somewhere to be.”
Jumping up, I catch a surprised expression on Mitch’s face right before I bolt out the door.
Incite (Book One) The Sphere of Irony Series
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Strike (Book Two) The Sphere of Irony Series
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Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1HaMTE2
After growing up in New England, I currently live just outside Atlanta, GA. I love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees. I love hot, sexy romance novels, but hate long, drawn out misunderstandings as a plot line. I love book series, but hate cliffhangers. I love alpha males, but hate when they borderline on abusive. Mostly? I love love love chocolate.
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley. Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal’s daughter, Megan. Though he’s reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date. The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing. Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
Charley Cotton, Megan’s best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn’t trust John because of his past. John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley’s death, though—it’s destroying his life. With Charley’s help, he learns that others in Megan’s life had a motive to keep her quiet. But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murderer with everything to lose.
Riley’s drunk, and it’s all my fault. Swaying near the blazing bonfire with a dozen other kids, she’s guzzling beer from a red Solo cup. They laugh, jostle, and slop beer over themselves.
Damn! I should have been paying more attention to her. I should have kept better track of time. You idiot, John! I need to get her home and tuck her into bed—now—or we’ll both be in deep crap. I step up behind her in the brilliant firelight. The heat feels good on my face and arms, but the smoke curls into my nostrils, and I cough. Someone must have piled wet logs onto the blaze.
I touch Riley’s shoulder. “We better go.”
She whirls. “Where have you been?”
“Checking out Brian’s weightlifting equipment. I forgot the time. Sorry.”Flames leap and crackle into the crisp night air, casting flickering shadows across Riley’s face. Her eyes glitter like stars in the inferno. A few kids rotate, trying to keep all sides warm. Earlier, we roasted hot dogs, bratwurst, and marshmallows over the oak blaze.
“What time is it?” she asks, her words slurred a little.
“Midnight.” I’d promised her folks I’d have her home already. I don’t need them yelling at me again. Or breaking us up. That thought jars me. I’d rather lose an arm and a leg than lose Riley. She’s the only thing good in my life, except wrestling.
“They never come home before two or three,” she says and gulps her beer.
“Let’s throw that away. You’ve had enough to drink.”
She smiles, her mouth crooked. “Look who’s talking.”
“I haven’t had a sip.” True statement. I never drink the night before a wrestling tournament. I dump Riley’s beer but hang on to the cup—I don’t litter. I also help little old ladies cross the street. “I can do without your folks being pissed at me. They already don’t trust me.”
“Yes, they do.” Riley grabs my free hand and squeezes.
After planting a kiss on her forehead, I say, “C’mon, pretty lady. Home we go.” I guide her by the elbow away from the fire.
The party was a spring break bash at Brian Holdorf’s parents’ farm pond. Dense woods block out half the sky, and a breeze ripples the treetops. My arm around her waist, I guide Riley across the pasture to my car, which is parked by the farmhouse. A squatty barn and a tall silo loom close by. Brilliant stars and a huge moon light our way. Laughter drifts up from the pond, and the scent of pigs floats in the air.
Opening the car’s passenger door, I toss Riley’s cup in the back. Then I slip her into the seat and close the door. After I climb in, I close my door and poke the lock button to make sure we’re secured. “Buckle up.”
Rather than take Interstate 80, I drive a ribbon of country blacktop that twists through hilly farmland. I think I can drive the blacktop faster than the highway—hardly any traffic and less chance of the cops picking me up for speeding. I don’t need another face-off with them.
“I’ll bet my parents aren’t home,” Riley says after we’ve been on the road a minute or two. She leans over and kisses my cheek. “Let’s park somewhere. This road’s dark.” Her hair smells of wood smoke, her breath of stale beer.
I smile. I wouldn’t mind parking for an hour or so and making out. “We need to get you home and into bed.”
Wisps of fog curl in my headlights. I’m zooming downhill toward the Des Moines River, and the curtain of fog thickens quickly. I cut my speed from seventy to fifty, then to thirty. I don’t want to be going too fast if a deer darts into the road. Fifteen…
The fog turns dense—a gray, billowing wall that reflects the glow of my headlights back into my eyes. I squint and dim the car lights. I swallow and slow the vehicle to a crawl: ten miles per hour. I glue my eyes to the yellow center line and guide the car’s left fender along the line.
“Why are you slowing down?” Riley asks.
“Can’t you see how soupy it is out there?”
I’m not sure when I cross the bridge over the river. The fog is too thick to see even the side rails. But when I head uphill, my grip on the wheel eases. I fill my lungs and exhale slowly. I’ve escaped the danger. The moment I can see ahead of me though—still going ten miles an hour—I spot headlights racing toward me. They blind me. I barely have time to swear.
This can’t be!
Even Riley sees the headlights. She screams, and the next sound is the wail of my horn and the hideous grinding shriek of brakes as I try to swerve and evade the headlights.
After Jon retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as a young adult author. His credits include eight published YA novels, including Red Adept’s The Weight of Guilt. His wife and he live in Davenport, IA, where their six children and their families also live. Jon and Colette are the proud grandparents of twelve granddaughters, a grandson, and three great grandchildren. When not working on the computer, crafting his next YA novel, Jon enjoys playing pool and spending time with his family.
Her voice is enchanting; his soul is black…
Madison Carter has been terrified of Scott Lee since the night he saved her from an evil sorcerer – then melted into a man-eating monster before her eyes. The werewolf is a slave to the moon, but Madison’s nightmares are not. Despite her fears, when Madison’s brother, Clinton, is bitten by a werewolf, she knows there is only one man who can help. A man who frightens her all the more because even in her nightmares, he also thrills her. Together for the first time since that terrible night, Scott and Madison drive to Clinton’s home only to discover that he’s vanished. Frantic now, Madison must overcome her fears and uncover hidden strengths if she hopes to save him. And she’s not the only one fighting inner demons. Scott’s are literal, and they have him convinced that he will never deserve the woman he loves.
Madison clutched her cell phone as, for the dozenth time in less than a week, her call went to voicemail. Her younger brother’s too-cheerful voice started to ask her to leave a message, but she hit “end” before it finished.
“Where are you, Clinton?” Madison wondered out loud. It had been a month. An entire month since the last time they’d spoken on the phone. Sure, he was in college, young and having fun, but he had never been irresponsible. He had never gone this long without at least sending her an e-mail. And while he wasn’t a Facebook regular, he would normally have posted something about the end of finals. That, more than anything, had led to the frantic flurry of phone calls this week.
The school year was over for Madison as well. She had brought her fifth graders to tears when she had sung them a final good-bye that afternoon. There hadn’t been a dry eye in the room, not even on the stonier faces of the tough boys. She hadn’t meant to do it. She was normally very conscious of the power her songbird voice had to evoke emotions in those who heard it, but she had been distracted. Not thinking clearly. The prospect of a lonely summer loomed ahead, her fifth graders would move on to middle school where she would never teach them again, and worst of all, her anxiety over Clinton grew stronger as each new day passed without a word.
Clinton was, after all, the only family she had left. The only one who had never hurt or betrayed her. If anything happened to him …
Her mind started sorting through possibilities once again, but nothing made sense. She was Clinton’s “in case of emergency” contact at school, at work, and on his phone. If he had gotten into an accident, she would know. Which left what, exactly? That a straight-A student had suddenly dropped out of school and joined a rock band?
It was probably nothing. He had probably been busy. They didn’t hang out in the same circles, she wasn’t his mother, and for all she knew he could have dropped his phone in a toilet. Weeks had passed between calls before – rarely.
But she had nightmares. These days, she almost always had nightmares. Madison knew better than most what sorts of dangers lurked in the night, but Clinton had always been separate from all of that. On the outside. He, unlike her, was the product of two normal people having a normal child.
She dialed again, this time calling Clinton’s housemate, who had always struck her as being irresponsible. She wasn’t surprised when he didn’t answer her call, nor that he hadn’t responded to the three messages she had left for him. She did not leave another.
Now what? The sun had set, but the moon had not yet risen. It wouldn’t be full tonight, but it was close enough to make her shudder with remembered fear.
There was one final call she could make, one she had been putting off making for days. She had not spoken to her adoptive father, Phillip Carter, since the day he had betrayed her – selling the identity of her biological father to that man’s enemies for the bargain-basement price of $10,000. In the end, that was how much she’d meant to him.
But she and Phillip (she sometimes still thought of him as Dad, but she was getting better) had one thing left in common: Clinton.
She did not have Phillip’s number programmed into her phone, but she dialed it from memory, her fingers automatically jumping from digit to digit. Those fingers stayed curiously still and calm as she waited through four rings. Then she heard the familiar gravelly voice for the first time in over a year.
“What?” he demanded without preamble.
Her breath caught, something got lodged in her throat, and it was a moment before she managed a “Hi.” Stupid girl. Why do you still care?
“What do you want, Madison?” Phillip asked in the clipped, distant tone he’d always used when she misbehaved.
“I haven’t heard from Clinton in almost a month. I was wondering if you have.”
“No.” There was a pause. “I’m worried.” He probably was. Clinton, he cared about. Clinton was really his son. Clinton had never even accidentally brushed up against the world of sorcery.
Madison might have felt jealous, but Phillip didn’t know how to show affection to anyone, not even his son. Which was why Clinton often agreed with Madison that they were all the family each other had.
“I’m going to drive to Springfield tomorrow to look for him.” She hadn’t made the decision until she’d said it, but now she knew it was her only choice. Maybe she was overreacting, but if that was the case then so be it.
“Have him call me when you find him.” That was it. Phillip didn’t want to hear from her, only from his real son. Otherwise, she could turn right back around and go to the devil, where she’d been heading.
Well, what had she expected? A sudden change of heart? A declaration of love?
“I will. Bye, Da–” Madison just stopped herself. Old habits. “Bye.”
Phillip ended the call without saying another word.
Madison tried to push thoughts of Phillip from her mind as she prepared for bed. She called Clinton one last time, not because she thought he would suddenly pick up the phone but because she wanted to leave one last voicemail telling him she’d be making the two-hour drive from Eagle Rock, Missouri to Springfield in the morning. Then she set her phone on the nightstand and started humming to herself.
The tune was a familiar one, a song she’d been working on for years. She had the melody right, but she still had not found the words to go with it. The song needed words full of hope and love, but nothing in her life had inspired that kind of poetry lately.
Not for the first time, Madison wished her songbird gift would work on herself – that she could sing a joyful song and draw that song’s happiness into herself. But that was not how it worked. In fact, she didn’t make people feel the song’s emotions as much as she made them feel her own. The melody and lyrics helped set a tone she could embrace, but she had once managed to make someone cry singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Today was that kind of day. Music was her refuge, but tonight worry followed her within its sheltering embrace. She gave up by nine o’clock, thinking she should at least try to get a good night’s sleep before setting off in the morning. She only prayed that her nightmares would give her respite.
Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.
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A Pirate’s Time Served is a layered quest. The first quest is the lost treasure of pirate Bartholomew Roberts—Black Bart. The second layer is finding just how much you can endure to get what suddenly means more than anything else you’ve ever wanted. The third layer is discovering who you are and what you want from life. Important questions all for any young adult.
Brian and Sarah Schilling are two over-privileged, self-absorbed teens living in New York City with their parents. When their parents argue too much they decide to leave home for the summer. They wrangle an invitation to their Aunt and Uncle’s home on St. Croix. Uncle Jack and Aunt Helen possess rare and unique skills that qualify them for hosting this “special” summer.
Brian and Sarah soon realize that this is definitely not the summer vacation they planned. Waiting for them on this peaceful island in the Caribbean is a full curriculum of assignments and goals to accomplish before they leave. There’s rebellion at first. But soon they lose the extra weight they brought to the island. They can run five miles and swim 500 yards using the high-speed combat swimmer’s stroke. They become certified open water divers. And they learn to shoot every weapon in Uncle Jack’s extensive arsenal. They master the science of navigation—on land, underwater and in the air. Uncle Jack has a Mallard seaplane (who doesn’t?). Brian and Sarah learn something about flying. Turns out Brian and Sarah will need every one of their newly acquired skills to survive what comes next.
During a routine dive Brian and Sarah discover both the map to the lost treasure of pirate Bartholomew Roberts and encounter his ghost. Bart is caught in the Neverland between the living and dead. Moving Bart from his in-between existence drives Brian and Sarah to prevail in what becomes a life and death battle.
Not only does Bart prove an incompetent mapmaker, but modern day pirates catch wind of their quest. Two attempts to steal Bart’s treasure almost finish off Brian and Sarah. They find that they can trust no one—not even the police. Once again the Schillings jump into the breach to rescue Bart’s treasure. In the process they learn two important lessons for life.
A Pirate’s Time Served takes place on the beautiful Caribbean of St. Croix. Brian and Sarah find that among all this beauty, the calm lagoon, warm, crystal clear waters and everything else, all is not as it appears. Ghosts can do that to even the best settings.
“Nice job, Jack,” says Helen as she pulls back the fluffy white summer comforter on her side of their bed. Then she pulls Jack’s T-shirt—the one with US Navy stenciled in gold on the front—over her head, sets it on the bed-side table and climbs in beside her husband. She sinks into bed with a comfortable sigh after a long day. “What do you mean?” Helen turns on her side, facing her husband, “I mean how you concocted your legend of Black Bart the pirate.” She chuckles as she squirms in up against Jack. “Planting that antique metal box with an animal skin treasure map inside. Then bringing Bill in for credibility. Priceless.” “Bill is an expert on Caribbean pirates,” says Jack. “That’s what is so perfect about casting him. What I don’t understand is how you managed to get Brian’s air turned off this afternoon. Sara’s in on it, right?” Out the open window the full moon cast a silvery shine like a ribbon-straight road on the water as it leads straight into Bart’s Cove. “Hon, the legend of Black Bart is a historical fact. Neither Bill nor I are cast members and nobody planted the metal box that Brian and Sarah found this afternoon.” Helen lies there and says, “I checked on the kids. Right now Brian and Sarah are both sitting at the kitchen table mapping out how they’re going to get Bart’s treasure. Can you imagine?” But she is talking to an empty bed. Jack has already left for the kitchen.
“What might you be havin’ in mind there, laddy?” asks Jack in his guttural pirate’s voice. I lay down my pencil. “Well, I’m thinking, what does Bart want?” “He wants to kill us,” says Jack, “he’s tried twice already.” “If he wanted us dead he’d have done it by now,” says Sarah. “Underwater is a dangerous place. He could have done it any number of ways.” “Then what?” asks Jack. We’re sitting under the soft light of the lamp hanging over the kitchen table. Sounds of splashes from the fish jumping in the lagoon come through the open window. A warm breeze blows in off the ocean. I start, “Bart is just scaring us. He
really wants us to just leave him alone. But now we have something that belongs to him—” “The metal box with his treasure map,” says Jack. “Exactly,” I reply. “And he wants it back. So let’s give it to him.” Uncle Jack raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you want to find his treasure?” “Brian thinks we can get Bart to help us find it if we ask politely—” “The map may not be accurate,” I say. “Back then pirates were not map makers.” “Cartographers,” corrects Jack. “Right. Look here, Bart’s map only shows three islands out there and he didn’t name them.” “He buried his treasure on three islands to spread his risk,” says Jack. Sara says, “Yes, but there are other islands in this part of the Caribbean. We checked the naval charts. There’s St. Thomas and St. John, of course. Then there are Saba, Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Martinique, St. Lucia—” “Got it,” says Jack. He scans the map again. “Bart’s three islands all could be about the same distance from our cove as any of the closer islands. We don’t know.” “Right,” I say. “But we three know someone who does.” Uncle Jack nods his head, “Black Bart. So we need him to interpret his own map?” “Listen to my theory,” I say. “Bart made this map for himself in case he forgot. He probably figured he would never forget which islands he used, so he didn’t label them on the map. Once we find the correct islands, his notes of direction and distance from shore look pretty good. It’s just finding the right islands that’s the problem.” “So how are you two going to enlist the late Bartholomew Roberts’ help? What’s in it for him?” “Brian and I thought we’d just ask him.” “Sarah is right,” I agree. “What’s in it for him is a chance to spend his treasure.” Uncle Jack lays his hands on the table, “He’s a ghost. He can’t spend his treasure.” “We’ll do it for him,” reasons Sarah. “We’ll take his share and spend it on something really good. He can’t use a fancy car or a boat or any earthly possession really. But maybe we’ll use his share to build a school or a hospital if we find enough of his loot. It’ll give him a new place to hang out.” My Uncle Jack sits there staring at the map, then at both Sarah and me. For a long time no one speaks. The two dogs, Carrie and Dove, suddenly jump up from their dog beds. The sharp knock on the door makes all three of us jump. Then the back door creaks open. Both dogs stand there wagging their tails in greeting. “I saw your light from across the cove,” says Bill Lama. “I was too agitated to sleep. Figured you were too. So I thought I’d come over. What’s up?” I run through my idea of enlisting Bart’s help to find his treasure and what we might do with it once we find it. Bill sits there listening. When we finish he asks, “How do you intend to communicate with Bart?” “Ah, we haven’t got that far.” Then I ask, “How do you talk to a pirate ghost?”
The air from my tank hisses into the air hose. I glance down at my dive watch—midnight. The full moon lights up the dock and the lagoon before us in a silvery glimmer. Still, it’s creepy. Uncle Jack turns on the underwater lights. Suddenly I can see the bottom stretch out into the lagoon. There is Merryweather, sitting upright and bathed in a white glow. All of her corals look like brightly colored overgrown decorations—orange, purple, red, blue. What must she look like from the air, all lit up at night? We are four divers doing a night dive to talk with a ghost. Bill already has his tank and fins on. He’s sitting there on the edge of the dock, fins hanging over the side into the water with his mask resting on his forehead. “Here’s what we’re out to accomplish,” he says. “First, as young Brian said, we’re returning Bart’s metal box with his treasure map back to where he found it. Since Brian took it, he’s the one returning it.” “Then, we’re going to try communicating with Bart’s ghost. It may not work. Probably won’t. But we’re going to give it a try. “I need you to believe, really believe that Bart’s ghost exists. Our intentions are pure—we’re returning something we should not have taken in the first place. Keep thinking that way. There must be kindness in your heart. We are here on a mission to help Bart’s ghost. Notice any cold or warm places when we’re down there on Merryweather. Let me know if you get tingles or prickles on the back of your neck. If you get scared or apprehensive, let me know that too. Above all, listen. It’ll be noisy down there with your bubbles and the fish making their sounds. But listen for anything out of the ordinary.” “Like what?” Sarah asks. Bill shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t know. I’ve never talked to a ghost before. If Bart is down there, he just may want to chat. Ready?” Uncle Jack, Sarah and I all nod our heads. I reach behind Sarah’s tank and make sure her air is on. She does the same for me. I check my pressure gauge to be sure my tank is full to the max of 3,000 pounds (pounds per square inch of air pressure). All three of us lean over the dock and just fall into the warm water, leaving Carrie and Dove laying on the dock watching us leave. A night dive is much different than in the day. First off, some of the fish are just hanging there in the water, asleep. Some—like the king crabs—are out walking around looking for something to eat. Bill takes the lead. I’ve made this trip enough times that I know some of the landmarks down here. Our swim takes just a few minutes. Soon Merryweather looms into view. She’s lit up from bow to stern with the underwater lights Uncle Jack installed. The old lady is a riot of color.
Merryweather’s rudder glows, buried in the sandy seabed beneath the glare of Uncle Jack’s underwater lights. It towers upward, rising up out of the light and into the darkness overhead. The only sounds are popping noises the fish make and the rush of air from our tanks followed by the explosion of bubbles as we exhale. Uncle Jack, Bill, Sarah and I form a circle, kneeling in the soft sand near Merryweather’s rudder where I found the box with the map. Sarah grabs Bill’s hand on one side and mine on the other as if we’re at a séance.
Imagine, midnight, sixty feet underwater. We’ve been waiting down here for fifty minutes already to maybe see the ghost of Black Bart, the pirate. My tank
was full when I submerged—3,000 pounds of pressure. Now my air gauge shows 550 pounds of pressure—near where I should think about surfacing. Then the current shoves me. Goose bumps rise on my arms and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. All of us look at one another. Bill is the famous expert on the supernatural. He uses a grease pencil to write on the waterproof white board—about the size of an iPad—he brought down here for just this purpose:
“Don’t move” Then, “Welcome Capt. Roberts”
My air gauge now shows just 350 pounds of pressure left in my tank. Past time to surface. A few big breaths would exhaust my tank. If that happens I’ll run out of air down here. Another minute passes. I look again at my air gauge—well in the red, just 219 pounds now. My heart beats faster; breathing accelerates. Still, Bill told us not to move. And I’m not leaving without returning Black Bart’s box and treasure map. He’s plenty pissed off that I took it. The next visit he might actually kill someone rather than just scare us. I try taking slow, shallow breaths. Impossible. I want a huge gulp of air. I can see Uncle Jack’s air gauge beside me. He has over 1,000 pounds of pressure left. Plenty for us both. He’s a more experienced diver who doesn’t over breathe getting excited. Unlike me. Then it happens. At first it’s just letters in the sandy bottom. If it really is Black Bart, he’s staying invisible for now. Then entire words appear in the sand: “Why ye be botherin’ me?”
Bill writes on his white board: “Returning box & map”
Bart’s earlier words suddenly sink into the sand. They’re replaced with: “I be upset. The map be mine. The box too. Why’d ye take them?”
Bill writes furiously: “Didn’t know”
“Ye shouldn’t take what don’t belong to ye.” “Sorry” Then Bill waits for the response to appear again in the sand.
If I didn’t see this with my own two eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. I set the old, dented metal box containing the treasure map in the center of our circle. The sandy bottom opens up and immediately swallows it without a trace. In its place on the sandy bottom is: “No harm done, I guess. Hearty thanks for returnin’ me property.”
Little dots explode before my eyes from the shallow breaths. I urgently tap Uncle Jack’s leg and hold up my air gauge. I don’t want to spook the spook. Jack nods, then reaches into the pocket of his buoyancy compensator and hands me his spare safety regulator. Problem solved. I take my first deep breath in minutes and
immediately feel better. I flash a quick OK sign to Jack. He nods. We keep kneeling there in the sand, unmoving. I watch Bill write again on his white board: “We want to help you” “And how might ye go about doin’ that?” writes Bart in the sand.
“Spend your treasure wisely”
“Aye. That be mighty considerate. Talk more. Meet up with ye on the dock.” Bart’s words appear in the sand, then slowly fade away. He’s gone.
Black Bart’s ghost is amphibian? Of course he is. He’s a ghost. What’s this 250 year-old pirate ghost look like? Seems we’re about to find out. When we surface Jack whispers in my ear, “Good job on the air management, Brian. We were down a long time. That’s why you ran low. Don’t mention your little air problem to Helen. She’ll gut both of us with the fish boning knife. We good?” Then Uncle Jack raises his hand up out of the water for me to shake, sealing our secret pact.
Chris Malburg is a widely published author, with work spread over 11 popular business books–including How to Fire Your Boss (Berkley) and Surviving the Bond Bear Market (Wiley, March 2011). In his other life, Chris is a CPA/MBA, a former investment banker and now the CEO of Writers Resource Group, Inc., providers of professional financial literary content to corporations (www.WritersResourceGroup.com). That’s the professional side of Chris’ career. The fun side began when UCLA’s Writers’ school taught him to transition from biz-speak to fiction. GOD’S BANKER and the first installment in the Enforcement Division series, DEADLY ACCELERATION, both combine Chris’ natural talent for story telling with his professional command of the high-stakes investment world and what money and power do to some people.
GOD’S BANKER came to fruition from Chris’ hospital bed while recuperating from an athletic injury. As a long-time endurance athlete, Chris is no stranger to the surgeon’scalpal. Over 130,000 words later, GOD’S BANKERwas complete. “It just poured out me,” says the author. “I carried my note pad to physical therapy; made plot notes during the hours in the gym doing rehab; even while on my long bicycle rides through the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we live. Slowly endurance returned and with it, GOD’S BANKER.”
Chris Malburg lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Marilyn. Their hobby is raising service dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As of this writing, they have raised eight Labrador retrievers and have had three make the cut for placement with their disabled partners.
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