Excerpt From “The Knowledge Holder” by Harry Margulies

TKHFrontsmallGreg Simon is an ordinary man, a salesman, a father, a widower, who just happens to discover that he is “the Knowledge Holder,” the one person who knows a great secret the rest of humanity does not know, and with it comes a unique ability to help others. Nothing is standing in his way – except for a team of FBI agents who specialize in national security issues. Greg’s new-found knowledge, if unleashed on the public, would give life a new meaning, and change the world forever.

Chapter 1

The appointment unfolded with tiresome predictability. My client, wearing a finely woven pastel sweater and coordinating pinkish blush of anticipation, sat with an unsettled, erect posture across from me. She had just purchased a new home. With it came the standard new home backyard, which was nothing but dirt.

“Have you had a pool before, Ms. Becker?” A more clever opening I’m sure had not been discovered.

“No, but I’ve always wanted one, and I promised myself this would be the house.” This was really good for me to hear, as I not only had to design the pool but sell it as well. With her comment she was in fact assuring me that I had already closed the sale and that I’d have to be some sort of blockhead to screw it up. In sales lingo, this is known as a laydown. Losing a laydown sale is like missing your mouth trying to take a sip of water. Since my shirt had been soaked more than once, I proceeded with my usual professional presentation and hoped for the best.

Such is the life of a swimming pool salesman, or Design Specialist, as my business card so eloquently misrepresents. My office is situated along a quiet hallway in a medium-sized Phoenix homebuilder’s design studio, pressed between a landscaper’s botanically embellished space, and a lighting specialist’s optimistically luminous showroom. When a contract is written for a new home, the buyers are asked if they have any interest in adding a pool. A yes answer gets them a two-hour riveting sit-down with me, Greg Simon, Design Specialist.

Sales started to crumble for my homebuilder about a year ago, and seemingly the next day you could shoot a cannon through my leather-bound appointment book and not hit a drop of ink. Other reps in my company would have proclaimed impending doom and glommed on to an extra account or a part-time gig hawking suds at Chase Field by now. But fortunately for me, I had strung together a number of good years during the boom—very good years—and was quite content watching my workload atrophy into a part-time job. I wasn’t flush with cash or anything, but my intermittently functioning, fertile shard of brain somehow prevented quintessential me from squandering my hard-earned riches. A few good appointments a month and my wallet and I were both rosy with contentment.

In any case, Ms. Becker and I were getting along pretty well, as was her pool design. That’s when things took a turn.

I thought I was just as boring as hell, since she was nodding off listening to me ramble on about the virtues of an in-floor cleaning system. It wasn’t until she actually fell off her chair that I realized maybe it wasn’t just me.

I rushed around my desk to where she had been sitting, hoping she had just slid off during a mini lapse of consciousness. Who could blame her, with my monotone and all? Maybe it was the immediate change of the shade of her skin to something in the pallid family, or maybe it was the way her eyes were wide open while actually not looking at anything that tipped me off. She was dead. This was not the sort of laydown I was hoping for.

To my credit, I didn’t even consider the loss of a sale as I dialed 911. I was, I guess, more scared than anything. I had never seen a dead person before. I was sure though. As a big fan of television crime dramas, I’d had as much exposure to dead bodies as most detectives or old-timey, half-baked coroners.

It seemed that I had just finished my conversation with the 911 operator when the paramedics arrived. This was a good thing, as I was a little more than weirded out by the corpse on the floor of my office. Just before the cavalry appeared, my head was jumping with thoughts of what I should be doing. Was it appropriate or necessary to be thinking of CPR? Not that I knew how to perform this on someone, but again, you watch enough television you should be able to attempt almost anything. Once, I made chicken piccata after watching some Food Network show. It wasn’t bad really and not as hard to make as I thought it would be.

It turns out, the paramedics did all these things for me, or I guess instead of me and for Ms. Becker. After all was said and done, I was right. She was gone. She was packed up and rolled away. I was left with maybe even a more creepy feeling than I’d had when she was still lying there on my office floor.


harry mHarry Margulies has written about romance, money, women, and other subjects he thoroughly enjoys but knows nothing about. The balance of his precious time is misspent as an internationally published cartoonist.

Harry is the proud father of two little girls, Jessica and Jill, who somehow are old enough to have graduated college. He resides in the desert city of Scottsdale, Arizona, where it’s imperative to stay hydrated. He lives with Joann, his wife of thirty years, which is the real reason he drinks.

Click here to buy: The Knowledge Holder


RRBookThreemidsizeThe body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

A new chapter will be posted every Monday on the Rubicon Ranch blog. If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!

Excerpt from Chapter 2 by by J J Dare

Moody turned to see where everyone was staring and saw a police photographer taking pictures of a figure under a giant Santa decoration. How fitting for this place, Moody thought. A typical Rubicon Ranch gift—death.

In the light of the camera flash, she recognized Nancy Garcetti. The real estate agent looked as cold as she had in life. Moody stared at the clever handiwork of a realtor assassin. Out in the open and trampled by the crowds, what evidence was left to uncover the killer? Since the police department had been inept at running the Morris fans out of Rubicon Ranch, how in the world would they solve this crime?

Moody smiled as she thought of Sheriff Bryan interviewing the plastic Santa. Of course, with his wife in town, the sheriff was being kept on a tight leash. One of the deputies would probably end up taking the Christmas decorations downtown for a talk. The bulbs and wreaths would have to come in, too, as material witnesses.

Moody sighed. Sinclairs didn’t have feelings like normal people. Moody knew this and her smile faded. No matter what she did, no matter what she had to do, no matter what candy coating she put on, she would never fit in with the rest of the world.

She’d visited Jake regularly and, though she detested her brother, he was all that was left. Only he knew what it was like to be a Sinclair. There was no one else she could talk to. Well, the groupies, but they were worshippers, not compatriots.

“Morris did it,” she heard someone whisper behind her.

“Yeah, he did. Looks like something he’d do,” another voice answered.

“Dead don’t stop Morris,” the first voice said with a laugh.

“All he’d need is an arm and hand. Is that one of the pieces still missing?”

Seriously, these people were complete and utter morons. Sinclairs were special, but not that special.

However, wouldn’t it be something if this murder could be pinned on Morris? Although he’d been identified, Morris had been an anomaly during his lifetime. What if he really could come back? His books suggested it was possible.


Click here to read more:
Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 2: Mary “Moody” Sinclair — by JJ Dare
Rubicon Ranch: Secrets ~ Chapter 1: Melanie Gray — by Pat Bertram

Excerpt from IMAGES OF BETRAYAL by Claire Collins

Abandoned by her family, Tysan works as a waitress in a cheap diner. One cold evening, a beguiling, rugged young man barges into her life. He possesses the remarkable ability to take photographs of events that have not yet happened. Ty narrowly avoids a harrowing death in a disastrous explosion, only to be drawn into a dizzying cascade of conflicts involving a new family that takes her in, Walker-her apparent savior, David-her new admirer and her own family. Kidnapping, betrayal, obsessive love and courageous lovers co-mingle in this romantic thriller.


His eyes darted to the envelope on the table. He took a drink of coffee, swallowing too hard. When he turned back to me, his eyes were haunted. He reached out, grasped the envelope, and pulled out another picture. As he handed it to me, his words registered.

“You’re supposed to keep yourself safe.”

The photo I held was taken in the restaurant. I was standing behind the front counter, the picture taken from across the room. A man sat in front of me, only the back of his head visible in the picture. He was covered in soot and ashes. Pieces of his clothing were burned away and blackened. My skin was blistered and the remnants of my hair were singed. My uniform had burned to my body, sticking to me as I stood there, coffee pot in hand. The ceiling of the restaurant was behind me, or at least part of it. Grey, cloudy skies formed a backdrop where some of the ceiling and the wall to the kitchen used to be. The pieces of the restaurant in the picture were burnt; smoke still rising from the embers surrounding me.

The picture was dated two days from today.I dropped the picture like the paper itself was on fire. I didn’t want to touch it. In the photo, I stood there with a coffee pot in my hand, while everything around me and my clothes were in utter destruction. Walker snatched the picture from the table, dropping it back into the envelope.

“I’m sorry,” he said, taking my hand in his again. “Short of kidnapping you that day, I didn’t know any other way to tell you about this.”


Claire Collins resides in North Carolina and writes across many genres. She loves reading when she gets the time around her family and her work schedule. She currently has two novels available through Second Wind Publishing and is working on her third, Seeds of September. 


Click here to buy: Images of Betrayal

Excerpt From “She Had to Know” by Coco Ihle

After the deaths of her adopted parents, Arran discovers her long lost sister’s name and, despite a terrifying premonitory dream, embarks on a quest to find Sheena. After reuniting in Scotland, the sisters search for the reason their birth father and his housekeeper mysteriously died and why Sheena’s life is being threatened. Led to a cryptic rhyme rumored to map the way to an ancient hidden treasure buried deep in the bowels of Wraithmoor Castle, the sisters follow the clues. A murderer follows the sisters. Will the secret passages lead them to discovery and triumph, or death and eternal entombment?


Hours of compiling, arranging, rearranging and packing had left Sheena’s body fatigued, but her brain wouldn’t rest. She kept thinking about her father’s unknown cause of death. Something distracting would help, perhaps a book to read. Several were on the nightstand, and she looked through them. The Magus, by John Fowles, she’d already read. The next was Barbarians at the Gate, by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. No, not in the mood. The third book was most curious. The aged volume of The Nature Library on Birds, by Neltje Blanchan, seemed especially heavy for such a small size. Sheena was immediately intrigued. The front cover had an illustration of a bluebird family: male, female and chick. How odd. This hardly seemed the kind of book her father would read.

The shock came when she opened the front cover. Inserted in a precisely cutout hole in the pages was a gun. Carefully, she extracted the weapon by the wooden grip and held it in the palm of her hand under the bedside lamp to get a better look. “MADE BERETTA USA CORP” was etched on one side of the blue-black metal barrel. The .22-caliber semi-automatic, just like the one she had learned to shoot a few years ago, was loaded.

As she was carefully returning the gun to the hiding place, she noticed a folded piece of yellowed paper tucked in the bottom of the hole. Laying the gun on the bed, she reached in to retrieve it and noticed the edges of the folds were weak and brittle. As she was carefully unfolding them, she felt a firm lump between her finger and thumb. A cracked piece of cellophane tape was stuck to one side of the paper, and under that, a key. A safe-deposit key. Stamped into the flat surface, were the initials, “CMB.” Chase Manhattan Bank on Madison Avenue, a few blocks away, was the bank on her father’s monthly statements. Why wasn’t this key in Father’s study with his other papers?

Turning the book over, she discovered another surprise. Inside this cover was another cut out section containing a small leather notebook, underneath which, a thick piece of cardboard separated the two compartments. She opened the notebook to the first page. In the upper right corner was written, “Oct./Nov.” Centered below was “This Book Belongs To: J.W.B.,” her father’s initials.

She plumped up two pillows and leaned back against the headboard, excited by this new discovery which appeared to be a journal. The entries were sporadically dated, and the writing, in her father’s hand, was scribbled and barely legible, as though written in a hurry. He had used initials rather than full names throughout. She read aloud the last entry dated the week before he died:

“Have the feeling I’m being followed. Yesterday, a car almost hit me outside the hotel. Driver didn’t stop, too dark to see license plate. Wonder if it has something to do with running into P.S. last week? Never liked that greedy snake.”

Sheena’s intake of breath was followed by an icy chill shivering through her body. With pounding heart she looked across the room at the photograph of her parents, singling out her father’s image and said, “What in the world happened to you? Did you die naturally? Or were you murdered?”


Coco, a product of foster care and adoption, spent over fifty years searching for her sister, whom she found in 1994. Thus the idea for SHE HAD TO KNOW was born. She discovered Scottish roots and plays harp and bagpipes, along with piano and cello. The Florida Writer’s Association published a short story of hers in 2009 in their first anthology. Coco is a member of MWA; SinC; FWA; The Alma Society, which aids in family searches; the DorothyL Digest and the Scottish St. Andrew’s Society.

Click here to buy: She Had to Know

Excerpt from “Cat Moves” by Karen E. Rigley

When Sharly Johnson finds her cousin, best-selling author Trina Golden, murdered and a kiss and tell autobiography manuscript missing, Sharly plunges into danger, betrayal and deception as she and Ripper the Cat unravel layers of the mystery.


The storm blew into Moon Bay, billowing with thunderous violet-black clouds to smother the night sky and anger the waves. Surf crashed and pounded the shore in deafening roars. Wind churned ocean scents up from the deep to saturate cold blasts of sand and sea.

The girl shivered in her brief sundress, wishing she’d dressed for warmth instead of sex appeal. Flaxen hair flying, she picked her way down to a beach swallowed by heavy darkness. Shells and driftwood crunched underfoot as her sandals squished along the shoreline. Blowing sand stung her eyes.

When Megan reached the edge of the water, she found it difficult to see the huge rock outcrop she knew loomed there.

“Did you bring the note?” came a voice from the darkness.

“Right here.” Opening her fist, she revealed a crumpled square of paper. “Hey, you aren’t Trevor! Who are you?” Confused, she tried to distinguish shapes in the darkness. “Who’s there?”

A biting gust of wind fired sand grains at her bare limbs. The damp cotton of her dress whipped against her body and she hugged herself for warmth. She could just barely make out the rock outcrop, a craggy silhouette in the inky darkness.

“Who’s there?” she repeated. As she waited for an answer, human shape separated from the rock.


Karen E. Rigley is an internationally published writer/poet/designer who’s won numerous awards for her work. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Red River Writers.. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications including: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Love Stories, Science Fiction Review, Grit, ComputerEdge, Andre Norton’s Tales of the Witch World 3, CATFANTASTIC Edited by Andre Norton & Martin H. Greenberg, CATFANTASTIC II and CATFANTASTIC III, Underwired Magazine, On the SingleSide, Magic, The Magic Within, Romance Writers Report, MysteryTime, Today’s Woman, Strange Wonderland, Warrior WiseWoman 2, etc. Her novel, That Carrington Magic was a launch books for Soul Mate Publishing and the sequel Wild West Cupid was released December 2012. A number of her other books are available through Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nookbooks. Also she’s co-editing The Spirit of Poe anthology which is a fundraiser for the House of Poe museum in Baltimore.

Click here for an interview with: Karen E. Rigley, Author of Cat Moves





Excerpt From “Red Magic” by Juliet Waldron

Red-headed Caterina von Velsen, a tomboy and superb horsewoman, detests her older sister’s husband-to-be. Christoph von Hagen is handsome and brave, but he is also a Casanova, a man with a reputation that stretches from his mountain manor all the way to Vienna. When Caterina’s older sister dies in a riding accident only a week before the wedding, she is forced to take her place. Now Caterina belongs to the very man she believes to be “a cold-hearted rake.”

Set in 18th Century Germany, RED MAGIC tells the story of a young woman’s transition from rebellious girl to adored–and adoring–wife.


“Ha! See her coming out of the pines over there?” Christoph von Hagen, his hazel eyes narrowing, lifted a muscular arm to point. “Just as I thought. She went through the rocky thicket south of von Beilers’s woods. Now she’s angling this way, the crafty vixen.”

The red Arabian mare with the taffy colored tail had begun a wild gallop across the pasture. The breakneck daring left no doubt that a superbly confident rider was astride.

It was a game, a game played by young aristocrats, a wild and dangerous game of “Fox and Hounds.” Several “Foxes,” given a head start, must reach the safety of a goal, riding across rough country, while the “hounds,” rode after them in hot pursuit.

The well‑to‑do players wagered among themselves on every possible outcome, but the prize for any fox who escaped was largest, particularly because it so rarely happened. Today escape was to be rewarded with a spirited yearling colt.

“But,” the speaker went on, a wry smile on his handsome face, “no one will ever catch that whirlwind of hers on the flats.”

Christoph von Hagen and his cousin Max had ridden fast, intent upon getting ahead of the hunt and setting an ambush for the last uncaught ‘fox’ at a steep hill just before the goal. Sitting easily on a powerful bay, Christoph was an Austrian nobleman in his middle twenties. He was tall, erect, and, under the fine tailoring of his elegant clothes, muscular. His dark, curly hair was captured in a black queue ribbon, and his large eyes flashed with intelligence and humor.

Along with an exceptional body, men and women alike agreed that von Hagen was good looking. Men described his face as “open” or “forthright.” The praise of the women was a good deal warmer, tending towards the classical. “Like some pagan god” was the phrase most frequently whispered behind fluttering fans.

Von Hagen’s companion shaded his eyes with his hand, trying to get a better look at the horse blazing across the flower dotted green below. His more ordinary blonde good looks were diminished by proximity to the dark giant.

“Hers? A female? Riding like that?” Fox and Hounds was considered too dangerous for the gentler sex. And wasn’t this fox astride? Astride and wearing trousers?

“The Devil,” the smaller man abruptly exclaimed. He’d answered his own question. “It’s Caterina von Velsen and her red Moroccan.”

“And you know how well that rascal rides.” Christoph said with a broad grin. “Besides, there’s not a horse around that can catch that mare of hers over the flat, not even my Brandy.” One strong hand gave his mount’s glossy, sweating neck a pat.

“We’ve got to get her, Max. Right now.”

As if he understood the urgency, the bay stallion reared. In the next instant horse and rider were plunging down the hill, showering earth and green grass behind.

“Christoph,” called his companion, hurriedly spurring after. “The dike! You can’t go that way!”

If von Hagen heard, he paid no attention. The big bay, black mane and tail flying, continued on course straight towards a lethal looking heap of broken stone. It would have to be taken in one leap, for landing atop it, would certainly break the horse’s legs.   No one had risked his mount across von Beiler’s dike in a generation. Max could hardly believe Christoph would. Cousin von Hagen’s horse was a rare Prussian, bred in the stables of the warrior Elector Frederick, and worth a small fortune.

As he came parallel to the dike, Max reined in to watch the impossible. First came the gathering of the powerful burnished hindquarters of the Prussian, then the breathtaking leap as the bay tucked up his high black stockings and rose skyward.

Max gave a whoop as giant horse and rider flew over the murderous pile with all the elan of a bird of prey. The clean landing on the other side led at once to a resumption of the same regular hoof beat thunder, a relentless charge. Giving another sportsman’s cheer, Max kicked and used his whip, beginning a hasty circumnavigation of the dike.

As he rode forward, he could see the hurtling fox‑-‑Caterina von Velsen‑-‑speeding on a parallel course. Her mare was fully extended, never more than one foot on the ground. The girl’s hat, which she’d worn to hide her hair, had blown off and now her thick braid writhed like a red snake behind her.

More riders, a troop, boomed over the hill. Throwing a glance over her shoulder, Caterina knew that of two foxes, she must be the only one left.

There was a momentary flash of triumph. The yearling would be hers, and how proud Papa would be!

On the other side of the willow banked river she could see the beginnings of the manicured grounds attached to the von Beiler’s Schloss. Anticipating the bridge‑‑the goal, the ground on the other side‑‑Caterina’s gaze swung ahead. That was when she saw a rider coming towards her from an impossible direction, the other side of the insurmountable stone dike.

Gottesblut!” Cursing was unladylike, but it was precisely what she felt. She had at once recognized the big Prussian bay and his equally imposing rider.

Christoph! The only one with the horse, the skill and the guts to try it…

Both horses thundered towards the bridge. For a moment it looked as if they would meet head on. Caterina reined her red mare hard. An impossibly sharp turn later, horse and rider plunged off the high bank, landing with a huge splash in the river.

It was deep here, perhaps deeper than Caterina expected, for it had been awhile since she’d been hunting around von Beiler’s. Her mount came up swimming. Swollen by a recent rain, the water was rushing, carrying them swiftly downstream beneath the bridge.

“Come on, Star,” she urged, grasping the mare’s flowing mane. The bank was lower on the goal side; the water was shallower. It would be easy to get up. She could still win.

As horse and rider swept beneath the bridge, there was a drum roll of hooves above and then an overwhelming deluge. Caterina was still blind and gasping when a man’s big hand came out of the water and seized her braid.

“Got you! Got you, Fraulein Fox.”

“Ow! Let me go! You cheat!”

Furious, struggling with him in the water, she let go of the horse and began to lash at him with her riding crop.

“Hey! Foxes don’t carry those,” he cried, wrenching it out of her hand. “And I didn’t cheat. Brandy jumped the dike fair and square.” Firmly putting one big hand on the top of Caterina’s red head, he dunked her.

In the meantime, the mare had continued her push to the bank. When Cat came up again, choking and sputtering, the first thing she saw was Star scrambling out, her flaxen tail a darkened, dripping tatter.

Christoph, so tall, soon found the bottom as well. With an arm around his coughing quarry, he breasted the water. In another few minutes, he dumped Cat unceremoniously onto the bank.

“Bully! You didn’t have to drown me.”

Grinning, von Hagen threw his considerable length onto the grass beside her. He was equally sodden, but his expression was one of complacent satisfaction.

“You hit me with your crop, so I defended myself. Don’t be a poor sport, Caterina. You were a clever fox, absolutely the best I’ve ever chased.”

“Why did you have to come back from Vienna? And what are you going to do now that you’re here‑‑tell Wili more lies and then let her down again?”

“Scratch, scratch, fierce Cousin Cat.” Christoph pinched her nose. “You know your sweet sister always forgives me. Some day you’ll fall in love yourself and then you’ll be some fellow’s pretty toy too, Stork Legs…”


Available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Red-Magic-ebook/dp/B00774BXDA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329195754&sr=1-1

Excerpt From “Demon Hunter: Saga” by Cynthia Vespia

Book Synopsis: Do you know what horrors lie beyond these pages? Costa Calabrese has just uncovered the truth about his past. Some truths should never be revealed. When you learn you’re the son of the worlds foremost and feared hunter of demons, life’s rules inevitably change. Now Costa has been chosen to walk in his famed father’s footsteps and take up the role his bloodline demands of him…whether he wants to or not. He is a killer of killers, laying waste to the scourge of evil that threatens the existence of mankind. He is the chosen one. He is the Demon Hunter.


As the mighty hunter of demons, Costa Calabrese has known wealth, fame, the fear of men and true love. Now one brush with The Destroyer is threatening the life he treasures. Costa’s entire world is being exposed as nothing but a lie. Costa’s greatest and final battle is at hand as he battles the darkest demons of all…the ones in his head.

A thousand possibilities ran through my mind. I tried to persuade myself that he was right. Talisa would come back and everything would be as it was before. Deep in my heart I knew the truth. And then I saw it, the marking on the wall just as in my visions. It read: “I am sent here by the chosen one. So shall it be written. So shall it be done. Child of light, be it daughter or son, is to be destroyed.” She was gone just like that. Vanished without a trace or an explanation. The only thing that made any sense to me were the visions. Something dark and sinister had invaded our home and swept Talisa off into the night. How could I have let this happen? I speak all the time of not having regret and now I had to live with another. I would never, ever forgive myself for leaving her that day. I had tried to make peace within myself, saying it would only be for a little while and then I’d return to her and we’d live out our lives together until we were old and gray. But suddenly my perfect world had been turned upside down and I’d somehow lost the love of my life. I fell to my knees, shattered with despair. Paralay tried to comfort me to no avail. Nothing he could say would make me feel any better. The only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I couldn’t find. My breath caught in my chest and I started to shudder. I couldn’t speak. Pain hollowed out my insides like a searing hot knife and I felt as though my heart might literally shatter. I couldn’t catch my breath and when I did I only managed to utter one word. “Destroyer.”


Find out more about Cynthia Vespia and Demon Hunter:Saga at her website: http://www.CynthiaVespia.com, on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cynthia.vespia, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Click here for an interview with: Costa Calabrese from “Demon Hunter: Saga” by Cynthia Vespia

Click here for an interview with: Cynthia Vespia, author of “Demon Hunter: Saga”

Excerpt From “Reconstructing Charlie” by Charmaine Gordon

Charlie Costigan has a secret. Home life gone from bad to the worst when she protects her mother from another vicious attack by her drunken father. Midnight. Clothes thrown into an old suitcase, she races for the bus with a letter to an unknown aunt and uncle. “This is my daughter. Embrace her as if she were your own.”

Determined, Charlie begins again. Alone with her secret.




In 1996 I killed my father.

Dear old Dad was great with a belt. A belt of whiskey. A belt from around his waist unbuckled when you least expected it and later I knew when it was coming and some of us escaped. Not me, not Mom. Never Mom. I’m the oldest. I didn’t want the little ones to see the okay dad turn into a monster on payday.

Chapter 1

I heard the television turned up loud before I opened the door. Mom always hoped for a distraction. Maybe this time instead of beating up on us, he’d watch the Minnesota Twins beat the hell out of the Boston Red Sox. Rant over every play, curse the umpires, yell that the Hubert H. Humphrey Stadium wasn’t good enough. 1996. Not a great year so far for the Twins. On this payday, after I dropped the kids off, I raced home just in time to be with Mom.

The front door banged open hard enough to rattle dishes in the cabinet. Mom’s treasure—a painted porcelain egg—rolled to the edge, teetered for a second and fell end over end to the hardwood floor. The small egg cracked with the force of a bomb. Mom stared at broken pieces from a life she had long ago. Her face turned white, every freckle showing, and my fists clenched.

He staggered around waving a tire iron in the air; muscled from working a jackhammer for the city all his sorry life and ugly drunk. Flowers flew off the table with sprays of water and shattered glass. Cursing, he went after Mom. This time I was ready. I wrestled it out of his filthy hands and hit him good. He lay torn up, didn’t move, blood everywhere on Mom’s clean kitchen floor. I stood there looking down at my father and thought how hard it was going to be for Mom to get the blood up. And how come he was the worst father in the world scaring all of us, hurting Mom and me. I breathed too fast and almost threw up. We were safe now because I’d done this terrible thing and I didn’t know how I could live with it.

Mom’s thick auburn hair came loose from her bun and she looked so pretty bending over him, a finger pressed to his neck as if she was a cop. On tiptoes, she pulled the ceiling fan chain and her sleeve rolled back. Black and blue marks covered her arm. I counted them. Mom had a lot more than I did. The breeze felt good. Then she wiped my fingerprints off the tire iron and replaced them with hers.

I watched Mom change from quiet refined Liz Costigan to someone I didn’t know.

“No more sweltering in my house,” she said.

She reached in his pants like a pickpocket and came up with a handful of dollars and coins. Handing me the money, Mom said, “I guess he drank the rest of his pay. Sorry it’s not more. Let’s get you packed.”

She was in charge, this new mother, and I didn’t question her. Icy cold inside myself, Mom dragged me along to my bedroom. I kept looking back expecting him to come after us.

“Reach up high on the top shelf, Charlie. Bring the suitcase down.”

Mom’s hands caressed the leather case I’d never seen.

“I packed my clothes and ran away sixteen years ago,” she said. “I was wild, out-of-control.”

“Were you ever sorry, Mom?”

“I have you and Jimmy, and my little girls. Take a shower. I have things to do.” She pushed me toward the hall.

I heard Mom opening and closing drawers, knew she’d be too busy to worry about me for a while and crept back to the bloody mess to make sure he really was dead. His dark eyes had turned to an empty stare. Shivering, I ran for the bathroom. Even a hot shower couldn’t warm me and blood refused to wash off. Words spun around in my head. ‘Out, out, damned spot.’ I scrubbed ‘til it hurt. Lady Macbeth, that’s me.

Wrapped in a towel, I watched Mom empty my clothes into her suitcase. I couldn’t move. He’s dead in the house and she packed my clothes for what? Mom added a dress hanging at the back of the closet, folded and placed it on top. The sound of the zipper closing on the suitcase startled me into action. I pried up the board in the closet, removed my money, and secured it into a money belt I’d bought in a second hand shop. Mom nodded approval.

“Wear this,” she said, handing me jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt. I dug some underwear out of the suitcase and dressed. “Take a windbreaker. Air conditioning on the bus.”

Unfastening a gold locket on a long chain she wore around her neck, she said, “Hold up your hair, my girl.”

We stood face to face, her hazel eyes looking into mine. I heard a tiny click when the clasp was in place around my neck. She kissed the locket and let it slide under my shirt.

“What’s in the locket, Mom?”

“Two sisters, my dear Charlie. One wise. One foolish.” Mom smiled the saddest smile. She held my face in both hands. “Yes, I have a sister, your aunt Eleanor. Now listen hard. Money and education. Most important. And one more thing, precious girl, don’t let boys catch your scent. Keep clean. That’s something I forgot.”

Scared and bewildered, I wasn’t used to her making fast decisions. Any decisions.

“I’ll call the police after you’re gone. It was self defense. There are hospital records of abuse for years. The Union will take financial care of us. Your job is to make a new life. Catch a bus to Chicago. My sister is there.”

She pulled a box out from a drawer in my small desk and opened it. Fancy stationery paper, the old fashioned kind with the scent of flowers. Taking a deep breath, mom wrote in her perfect handwriting. I always believed mom had a lot of secrets. Now I got a peek at some just before I was leaving. Not fair and I felt like my little sisters when they stamped their feet against the world. I didn’t want to leave. She tucked two sheets of paper in a matching envelope and added an address.

“Don’t lose this, Charlie. It’s your passport to a new life.”

I couldn’t speak. Somehow words got stuck in my throat so I read the name Mom had written. Mrs. Stuart Alfred. I unzipped a side pocket on my backpack and placed the envelope in with care.

“Don’t let her turn you away. She’s my older sister. She hated your father.”

I never saw her cry before and when tears fell, she brushed them away.

Panic set in. “What if she’s not there?”

“She’ll be there, same as always. I’ve kept in touch with her. Not often. Just enough.”

So sure of herself, this new mother.

“Charlie,” Mom looked in my eyes so deep as if she was taking a picture, “don’t call. I’ll call you when I have something to say. Now hurry. It’s not too late to catch the bus.”

Mom hugged me and I ran.


Charmaine Gordon is the author of seven books all published by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

Excerpt From “Exchange” by Dale Cozort

Exchange, by Dale R. Cozort is an outstanding new science fiction adventure.  A series of Exchanges swaps town-sized realities with dangerous places and other times. Such  Exchanges have become ‘routine catastrophes,’  creating a new frontier — a wild, dangerous place that people can go to start a new life if they’re brave enough and/or crazy enough. Sharon Mack wants no part this frontier, but when her anarchist ex-husband takes their seven-year-old daughter into the alternate reality she has no choice but to follow, fighting her way through threatening animals, a brutal street gang, escaped convicts, and the “Church of the Second Chance” to rescue her daughter before the Exchange ends.


Sharon stood at the top of a knoll. She stared across the EZ into Bear Country. Wind stirred a vast grassy sea marked with islands of trees. There was no sign of human impact to the landscape except for ruts ripped in the soil by trucks; ugly, alien slashes through thick savanna grass.

I shouldn’t have stopped.

Tracking the convoy kept her mind and body distanced from the pain and despair that threatened to overwhelm her. Stopping gave a foothold to the pain of her bruised jaw and rope-burned wrists and ankles. Pain she could deal with, but Anthony or maybe Sister West’s collection of loonies had Bethany.

Bethany, her fixed smile hiding what? Terror? Bewilderment?

A flicker in her peripheral vision startled her. She reached for the gun on her belt—Elroy’s heavy .45, retrieved from her car. A grasshopper-sized green and yellow bat hopped from a grass stem and fluttered away.


As she studied the horizon, details jumped into focus. In the distance, hairy, elephant-like mastodons tested the breeze with questing trunks while green monkeys scrambled between their bulky forms. Nearer, a prairie dog, big as a raccoon, stood at attention next to its burrow—watching her with suspicion. June’s hot late-afternoon sun made her squint through her sunglasses.

“You have to keep moving if you don’t want someone sneaking up behind you.”

The calm but unfamiliar voice was close. Reflex sent her hand streaking toward her belt, but he was quicker—he smoothly plucked her gun from its holster. Spinning, she turned toward the voice, acutely aware of her empty hand.

The man was tall, well over six feet, and husky. He had deeply tanned skin; his head was topped with blond hair mussed by the wind. His khaki pants and polo shirt were unwrinkled and clean, and he appeared cool in spite of the heat of the day. He smiled sheepishly—showing white, even teeth set in a square jaw.

“Childish of me to sneak up on you and take your gun. However, you looked like you were out to kill someone. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t me.”

Sharon blinked to see if he’d vanish as suddenly as he’d appeared. She moved back a step, then her anger boiled.

“I’m extremely tired of people sneaking up behind me,” she said. “If you’re real, I’m probably going to kill you.”

The man stepped toward her.

“So you are in the mood to kill someone, which is why I grabbed your gun. I’ll give it back if you promise not to shoot me.”

“I’ll think about it. Who are you?”

“My name is Leo, and who are you?”

“Sharon. To sneak up on me, you must move like a ghost—except you leave a trail.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Sneaking up on me or leaving a trail?”

“A little of both.”

“What are you doing out here?”

Leo smiled. “Good question. Wandering about in another timeline? Risky. We could get eaten by a sabertooth or we could stay out too long and get stranded. They say Exchanges last two weeks, but who really knows? Sooner or later, the Exchange will reverse itself and Rockport will disappear. Like getting off on the wrong floor and having the elevator door shut behind you, except that the elevator never comes back. Just you and me. Well, not quite. You and me and whoever made the ruts.”

“Like Adam and Eve.” Sharon intended the comment to come out sarcastic, but she heard a wistfulness in her voice that made her cringe. She hastily added, “The elevator does come back. There have been a couple hundred Exchanges.”

“But they never happen twice in the same place and only rarely even close together.”

Leo slowly extended the grip of her pistol—she grabbed it. He hurried along the ruts Sharon had been following, speaking over his shoulder.

“I can’t help but think of the Exchange fifty miles west of here, the one where the prison came back, but the guards were murdered and the prisoners were missing.”

Sharon hesitated for a second and then followed him.

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing out here.”

“That makes us even. What are you doing out here?”

“I started out in a jeep—swerved to miss a badger. Hit a stump and broke the radiator.”

“But you kept going,” Leo said. “Determined. Well, Sharon, I think you’re trying to catch someone who stole something important. Money? Jewelry? Heirloom? What’s important enough to risk your life for?”

“How do you—”

“What’s with the bruise on your cheek?”

“Whiskey bottle.”

“Ah. And you have rope marks on your wrists, plus shallow cut marks,” Leo said. “Someone clubbed you, tied you up and robbed you of something. But what could it be? Money’s worthless here and it’s too soon for food to be as valuable as gold. And you don’t seem the type to worry over jewelry.”

“My daughter. My seven-year-old daughter.”

Leo stopped abruptly and turned to face her.

“One of the people who made these ruts took her?”

“My ex-husband. Anthony.”


Sharon turned so that the tall man couldn’t see the tears on her cheeks.

“He wants to live out here. He thinks the cult will help him.”

“Cult? Sister West and her flock?”

Sharon nodded. “A bunch of them got arrested for kidnapping and murder a few years ago.”

“I heard about that.”

“Anthony was a member until they kicked him out. He says he still has friends there who’ll help him.”

“Friends in Sister West’s flock, huh?”

“I think Sister West plans to stay over here,” she said.

“That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“It should surprise you.” Sharon brushed a grasshopper-sized mosquito off her arm. “They couldn’t survive out here.”

“It would be a tough life if you weren’t prepared. What will you do if you catch up with them?”

Sharon sighed. “I don’t know. Grab my daughter and bring her back. If they’re guarding her too well, I’ll go back for help.”

Leo nodded. “Did you ask the Marines to help?”

“I didn’t bother,” Sharon said. “They have bigger problems on their plate.”

Leo nodded. “Their mission is to protect Rockport—enforce quarantine and get the city back to the world in one piece, if possible. I imagine chasing down a stray girl doesn’t weigh much on their scale. So, you’re out here alone. Brave. Stupid, but brave.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Like you did when you went up against the whiskey bottle?”

“He won’t find me so easy to surprise next time,” she said. “I have a black belt.”

Leo stopped and smiled down at her. “A martial artist. How interesting. Going to use your black belt against a bear?”

He turned and walked quickly.

Sharon hurried to catch up. “The plan is to stay out of the way of bears. Or shoot them.”

“Well at least shooting one might make it mad. A karate chop wouldn’t even do that.”

“So what’s your plan to stop a bear?”

“Play dead and hope he’s not hungry.” Leo stopped and scanned the horizon. “Hold up. I hear something. Sounds like horses.”

“Are there any over here?”

“Yeah, a species of mustangs that died out at the end of the ice age back in the World. They’re close. Almost on top of us.”

He crouched in the grass and tugged her to join him. A dozen men on horseback abruptly appeared over a low hill. They wore the tattered remnants of orange jumpsuits.

“Convicts! So much for Adam and Eve.”

Leo frowned. “Two years without women. I’m sure they’d be happy to be Adam to your Eve. I hope you know how to use that gun.”

“If they try anything, they’ll find out.”

The convicts rode up, deploying in a semicircle.

A wiry man with a pockmarked face said, “What have we here? Strays from the flock?”

The man glanced at Leo, froze and stared. His face turned pale under the dirt. He talked quietly to his buddies. A short, balding convict shook his head.

Sharon heard a fragment of the reply, “…don’t care who he is. I haven’t had a woman in years.” She eased the pistol from her belt.

Not a man. Just a target.

The balding convict spurred his horse and approached at a gallop. He raised a stone-tipped spear. The others eyed Leo and stayed put. Sharon raised the pistol, thumbed the hammer back, and aimed at the center of the man’s chest.

“I’ll shoot.”

He grinned and kept coming. Sharon hesitated. The sight wavered.

No choice. Do it.

She fired. The pistol jerked against her hand and the bullet’s crack echoed in the still landscape. Above his paunchy stomach, a red stain blossomed on the man’s tattered shirt. The spear dropped at Sharon’s feet. The convict fell with one foot still in the stirrup, spooking his horse, and the animal ran off, dragging his unconscious rider. Sharon caught a glimpse of a rifle tattoo on the convict’s flailing forearm—AK. She shuddered when his head bounced off a rock outcropping and turned away, only to find the convicts’ semicircle had dissolved into chaos. Another convict fell off his bucking horse, which kicked him in the chest with both hind feet when he started to get up. The man flew backward and twitched in the grass.

When the remaining convicts got their horses under control, the man with the pockmarked face spoke to Leo.

“Don’t imagine you’d sell the bitch?”

“You can’t afford her,” Leo said.

Sharon stared at her companion. A strange, eager expression faded from his face as she watched.

“Let us just get what’s left of Joe and catch the horse that ran off. Then we’ll be on our way.”

“Good idea.”

While Sharon and Leo watched, the convicts hauled up the bodies and arranged them on horses. They rode off, several looking over shoulders to stare or gesture at Sharon and Leo.

Sharon kept her pistol pointed warily toward them until they disappeared over a hill.

“They didn’t seem like the kind of men to give up that easily,” she said. “He was an AK. I think they all were.”

“Aryan Kings? Probably. They’re in most prisons and a lot of cities in the Midwest.”

“Not people to run away from a fight.”

Leo grinned. “Maybe you scared them off. Only three of them had guns and who knows if those guns had ammunition. Could be a lot of things.”

“I don’t think so,” Sharon said. “I think you scared them.”

Leo smiled. “You had the gun.”

“I had the gun but they weren’t afraid of me. Who are you?”


“That’s not enough.”

“No, it probably isn’t. You just shot a man. Are you okay?” Leo peered down at her.

“I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet.”

Sharon turned away, then felt nauseated. She fell to her knees

Leo rested a strong, callused hand on her shoulder. The touch felt right, desperately needed.

Don’t trust him! Don’t let him see you’re weak!

She stood up too soon and swayed, knees locked, dizzy but trying to look strong. It took a minute, but the sickness passed. While scanning the horizon for more trouble, she unconsciously replaced the spent cartridge in the pistol.

“Sorry,” she said.

“I understand. Taking a life is no trivial thing.”


“You won’t kill him. It won’t come to that,” Leo said. “Follow me.”

He veered off to the right of the ruts they’d been following. Sharon stopped. “Where are you going?”

“I think one of Sister West’s trucks broke down and they pushed it this way to hide it. If there’s nothing seriously wrong, maybe I can get it going.”

Sharon tried to spot a trail in the knee-high grass.

“I don’t see anything,” she said.

Leo nodded. “They hid the trail. I almost missed it myself.”

They trudged several hundred yards before Sharon spotted the truck hidden in a gully with branches piled over it. Leo opened the hood and poked around. He pulled open the driver’s side door and turned the key. The truck started.

He grinned at Sharon.

“Battery cable worked loose. They reinforced the suspension but didn’t tighten the battery cables. So, walk or ride, your choice.”

Sharon shook her head. “Good set of choices there.” She climbed in.

Leo drove back to the ruts they’d been following and swung onto the trail. Sharon looked out at the Bear Country prairie and forced her body to relax—pushing pain and worry to the back of her mind. She watched the little dramas of life around her. A tiny brown bat landed on the mirror outside her window. It glared at its reflection in the mirror, raised its wings, hissed, and flew away. A bird swooped on the bat. Sharon didn’t see if it got away. Half a dozen birds flew over the truck, darting and snapping at insects and small bats disturbed by their passage.

They drove for nearly an hour before the truck crested a hill and nearly hit a sabertooth cat feeding on a buffalo calf. The cat backed off, hissing and baring large blade-like teeth. It crouched, then charged the truck, but stopped before making contact. Leo slowed, but kept edging forward. Sharon took out her cell phone and took a picture as the sabertooth backed off. The cat came back once they were past. After growling disapproval, it went back to feeding.

“I’m glad we’re in this truck. I wouldn’t want to meet that beast on foot.”

He grinned. “I agree.”

His grin faded when Sharon pulled out her pistol and pointed it at his head.

“Too bad your ride ends now—before you drive me into Sister West’s compound to deliver me to them.”

Leo chuckled. “I knew finding the truck was too obvious, but I don’t want to be on foot out here at night. I didn’t think you bought it. Which is why I switched guns with you. The one you have is empty.”

Sharon frowned at the unfamiliar weapon. She shifted her aim a couple of inches from his head and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Sharon stared at the gun, then at Leo. All the anger, frustration, and pain of the day was in her voice.

“If the mind games don’t stop right now, I’ll tear off one of your arms and beat you to death with it. Let’s start with a full name; who are you?”

Leo laughed. “I have the gun and you’re making threats. I like that.”

He stopped the truck and shifted in his seat to face her. He held out a hand for a handshake.

“My name’s Leo West.”


Dale Cozort lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. Dale is a computer programmer and teacher as well as a long-time science fiction fan. He has a huge and diverse range of interests, ranging from computers and history to martial arts. He loves animals and did a stint as a foster home for orphan Samoyeds. You can find Dale at his website: http://dalecozort.com/index.htm or at Stairway Press: http://www.stairwaypress.com/bookstore/exchange/

Click here for an interview with: Dale Cozort, Author of “Exchange

Click here to read a fascinating article: Three Things Television Tells Us About The Future of Writing by Dale Cozort

Excerpt From “Blood On His Hands” by Mark P Sadler

Blood on His Hands is one man’s tale of the inner struggles that we all deal with in our lives. Mike Renton struggles between doing the right thing or doing that which will benefit himself; taking the road to righteousness or the one the one leads to deceit.

His life seems to end the moment he pulled the trigger sending his unfaithful wife and her lover into oblivion.

On the lam, his journey takes him from rural Oklahoma to the glitz of Las Vegas. He had not however, anticipated the determined tenacity of private investigator Ian Walker, who tracks him down to northern Georgia on to the Appalachian Trail just outside of the sleepy hamlet of Helen. Was the path chosen by both men the trail to redemption, forgiveness and repentance, or was it one that will eventually pull them into tempest and despair; a black hole into oblivion?

Nine months later, in the spring of the following year human remains are discovered by a hiker just off the Appalachian Trail. How will the decisions made by the White County coroner’s office affect the final outcome of the journey Mike Renton started when he killed his wife and will he be able to deal with the repercussions that come along with the choices he made? Blood on His Hands leads us from wanton despair to the promise of a new life no matter the cost.


The truck seemed to feel its way over the red dirt road. Although he had not returned home in the past twelve years Mike navigated each crook and gully as if he had been here just yesterday. A barbed wire fence still separated the ranch from the road, but when he came to the gate, it was off its hinges, rusting in the tall weeds. The branded wood sign that read Circle Y was swinging by its chain from one end of the frame work that he passed under. He drove slowly over the cattle grid, bumping and swaying.

The bank had never been able to sell the foreclosed land and it had sat, deteriorating slowly. With each gust of wind that blew across it, the dirt shifted, helping the ranch seem more desolate. Tumbleweeds danced, twirled and weaved in the wind, like straw ballerinas who finally sacrificed themselves on the barbed wire.

The house was silhouetted with the moon in back, but still he could see that the windows were boarded up. For a moment, in his mind’s eye, he saw his folks; Dad sitting out on the front stoop, in his rocking chair, corn cob pipe in his hand, and a hound dog or two at his feet. Mom, out in back, in her white linen apron, hanging freshly laundered sheets on the line, and himself as a toddler stumbling and bumbling along chasing horny toads and getting under her feet at every opportunity.

Shaking his head, to clear the memory, he drove forward, picking out the remains of the old barn just down a way. It was barely standing; just a skeleton of planks held together with rusty nails, chicken wire and cobwebs. A few old rusting tractor parts and tools still clung to the work bench and walls, a vice stood open, probably rusted solid. He pulled in and shut off the engine.

Here will be a good place to die. Popping the lid off the aspirins he palmed a handful of little white pills into his mouth and chased them down with a swig of liquor from the whiskey bottle. Tears ran down his face as he stared at the photograph of Caleb and Seth, still in their pajamas, sitting around the Christmas tree a few months ago. My boys, oh my boys. Slowly but surely his eyes closed. He sunk sideways into the passenger seat. The ball cap slipped from his head and the bottle fell from his grasp.

He opened his eyes. If this was hell it smelled an awful lot like vomit. Choking, coughing he sat upright. The spew was dried and stuck to his face and t-shirt. Wet hair was plastered to the side of his head from the cold sweat he had been in all night. Outside the wind continued to howl and light flickered in through the broken slats of the barn. Another day. Still alive. What a fucking failure.

Getting out of the truck he walked around to the passenger side and opened the door. Bending over he picked up the puke covered ball cap, and used the bill to scrape the chunks off the seat. He flung the floor mat into the dirt, followed by the ruined cap. The remaining aspirin rattled around and the whiskey bottle rolled under the seat. They could be left there; a reminder of his botched attempt. After removing as much of the dried vomit as possible he rolled the window down.

He unzipped and peed over behind the tailgate of the truck. His kidneys ached. Climbing back into the cab he turned the engine over, and put the truck into first gear. Edging forward he pulled out of the old ramshackle lean-to barn, and headed back out past the house without even a sideways glance. This place had killed his parents but rejected him. He needed to be on the road. Down the highway was Albuquerque and beyond that Phoenix. It had been a mistake to come back here; too many ghosts and memories. Without a backward glance in the mirror he peeled out off the cattle grid, leaving behind the desolate shadows of the ranch in a cloud of dry dust.


After a bitter divorce a walk on the Appalachian Trail blossomed into a murder mystery set in the hills of northern Georgia, near the picturesque town of Helen. Mark P Sadler set his first novel in a scenario he was familiar with and loosly based his book on the true-tale of his hike (He divorced his wife yet gave his character the ability to murder his fictional wife). Now ten years on he is happily remarried and working on the next novel. Find Mark at his website: http://markpsadler.com