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Excerpt: The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons


Please welcome Matthew Fitzsimmons to The Qwillery with an excerpt from The Short Drop, the first novel in the Gibson Vaughn series.







         Gibson Vaughn sat alone at the bustling counter of the Nighthawk Diner. The breakfast rush was in full swing as customers milled about, waiting for a seat. Gibson barely registered the crescendo of knives and forks on the plates or the waitress who set his food down. His eyes were fixed on the television behind the counter. The news was playing the video again. It was ubiquitous, part of the American zeitgeist—dissected and analyzed over the years, referenced in film, television shows, and songs. Like most Americans he couldn’t look away no matter how often it aired. How could he? It was all he had left of Suzanne.
         The beginning of the video was grainy and washed out. The picture stuttered and frames dropped; distorted lines rolled up the screen like waves pounding an undiscovered shore. By-products of the store manager having recorded over the same video tape again and again and again.
         Shot down at an angle from behind the cash register, the footage showed the interior of the infamous service station in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. The power of the video was that it could have been anywhere. Your hometown. Your daughter. Viewed in its entirety, the silent security camera footage was a melancholic homage to America’s most prominent missing girl—Suzanne Lombard. The time stamp read 10:47 p.m.
         Beatrice Arnold, a college student working the nightshift was the last known person to speak to the missing girl. At 10:47 p.m., Beatrice was perched on a stool behind the counter, reading a tattered copy of The Second Sex. She would be the first to recall seeing Suzanne Lombard and the first to contact the FBI once the disappearance hit the news.
         At 10:48 p.m., a balding man with long, stringy blond hair entered the store. On the Internet he’d come to be known as Rif-Raf, but the FBI identified him as Davy Oskenberg, a long-haul trucker out of Jacksonville with a history of domestic violence. Oskenberg bought beef jerky and Gatorade. He paid cash and asked for his receipt but idled at the counter, flirting with Beatrice Arnold, in no apparent hurry to get back on the road.
         The first and best suspect in the case, Oskenberg had been questioned repeatedly by the FBI in the weeks and months after the disappearance. His rig was searched and searched again, but no trace of the missing girl was found. Grudgingly, the FBI cleared him, but not before Oskenberg lost his job and received dozens of death threats.
         After his departure the store fell still. An eternity ticked by…and then you saw her for the first time—the fourteen-year-old girl in an oversized hoodie and Phillies baseball cap, a Hello Kitty backpack slung over one shoulder. She’d been in the store the whole time, standing in the camera’s blind spot. To add a layer of intrigue, no one could say for certain how Suzanne came to be in the store in the first place. Beatrice Arnold didn’t remember seeing her enter, and the security tape offered no answers.
         The hoodie hung off her in great, draping folds. She was a pale, fragile stalk of a girl. The media liked to contrast the black-and-white footage with colorful family photographs—the smiling blonde girl in the blue bridesmaid’s dress, the smiling girl at the beach with her mother, the smiling girl reading a book and gazing out the window. They stood in bold relief to the grim-faced kid in the baseball cap, hands thrust deep in pockets, hunched low like an animal, watching warily from its burrow.
         Suzanne wandered up and down the aisles, but her head was cocked toward the front window. One hundred and seventy-nine seconds passed. Something out the window caught her eye, and her posture changed. A vehicle perhaps. She snatched three items off the shelves: Ring Dings, a Dr. Pepper, and a box of red vines licorice. A combination now known eerily as the Lost Girl’s Picnic. Suzanne also paid in cash, dumping crumpled dollar bills, quarters, and pennies on the counter before shoving her purchases into her backpack.
         The security camera caught her eye, and for a long moment Suzanne gazed up at it—an expression frozen in time and, like Mona Lisa’s smile, interpreted a thousand different ways.
         Gibson stared back, as he always did, locking eyes with Suzanne, waiting for her to smile shyly at him the way she had when she wanted to tell him a secret. Waiting for her to tell him what had happened. Why she’d run away. In all the intervening years, he’d never stopped hoping for an answer. But the little girl on the security video wasn’t talking.
         To him or anyone else.
         In a final gesture, Suzanne drew her baseball cap low over her eyes and looked away for good. At 10:56 p.m., she stepped out the door and into the night. Beatrice Arnold would tell the FBI that the girl seemed anxious and that her eyes were red as if she’d been crying. Neither Beatrice nor the couple pumping gas noticed whether she got into a vehicle. One more frustrating dead end in a case of dead ends.
         The FBI failed to turn up a single substantial lead. No one ever came forward to claim the ten-million-dollar reward offered by the family and their supporters. Despite the frenzied media coverage, despite her famous father, Suzanne Lombard walked out of the gas station and vanished. Her disappearance remained an enduring American mystery alongside Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper, and Virginia Dare.
         The news went to commercials, and Gibson exhaled, unaware that he’d been holding his breath. The tape always left him spent. How much longer were they going to keep showing it? There hadn’t been a development in Suzanne’s case for years. Today’s big breaking story was that Rif-Raf had cut his hair short and earned a college degree while in prison for a felony drug bust. The Internet, in its infinite snark, rechristened him Professor Rif-Raf 2.0. Other than that it was all a maudlin rehash of what everyone already knew, which was nothing.
         But the tenth anniversary of her disappearance loomed, which meant the networks would keep running their retrospectives. Keep exploiting Suzanne’s memory. Keep trotting out anyone with even a passing relationship to the family or to the case. Staging their tasteless reenactments at the service station in Breezewood and using computer models to project what she might look like today.
         Gibson found the mock-ups especially hard to look at. Suzanne would be twenty-four now, a college graduate. The images tempted him into imagining what her life might have been. Where she might live. Her career path—something to do with books, no doubt. He smiled at that, but caught himself. It wasn’t healthy. Wasn’t it time to give her some peace? Give them all some peace?
         “Heck of a thing,” the man beside him said, staring up at the television.
         “Sure is,” Gibson agreed.
         “I remember where I was when I heard she was missing—hotel room in Indianapolis on a business trip. Like it was yesterday. I have three daughters.” The man rapped his knuckles on the wooden counter for luck. “I sat on the edge of the bed for a couple hours watching. Just terrible. Can you imagine not knowing for ten years whether your little girl is alive or dead? Hell of a thing for the family to endure. Lombard’s a good man.”
         The last thing Gibson wanted was to get drawn into a conversation about Benjamin Lombard. He nodded to be agreeable, hoping to put a tourniquet on the subject, but the man would not be deterred that easily.
         “I mean, if some sick bastard, excuse my French, can grab the daughter of the vice president—and get away with it—what hope do the rest of us have?”
         “Well, he wasn’t vice president then.”
         “Yeah, sure, but he was still a senator. That’s no joke either. You don’t think Lombard had juice with the feds back then?”
         In fact, Gibson knew firsthand just how much influence Lombard wielded and precisely how much the man enjoyed wielding it. Vice President Benjamin Lombard was another subject he tried not to think about.
         “I think he’ll make a good president,” the man continued. “To come back from something like this? Get the VP nod when most people would curl up in a ball. And now a run for president? That takes a strength you can’t imagine.”
         As a two-term incumbent VP of a popular president, Lombard had been expected to nail down the nomination early—the convention in August a mere formality, a coronation more than anything else. But Anne Fleming, the governor of California, had come out of nowhere and seemed intent on playing spoiler. The two were currently polling virtually neck and neck. Lombard led in the delegate count and was still the favorite, but Fleming was making him work for it.
         That the tenth anniversary of Suzanne’s disappearance fell during an election year had, in a perverse way, been a boost to Benjamin Lombard’s campaign. That was nothing new, though: championing Suzanne’s Law through the Senate had propelled him onto the national stage in the first place. Of course, Lombard gracefully refused to discuss his daughter. The cynic would argue that there was no need, since the media couldn’t help but do it for him. And, of course, there was his wife. Grace Lombard’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children had been a staple of cable news outlets throughout the primaries. She was, if possible, even more popular than her powerful husband.
         “If he gets the nomination, he’s got my vote in November,” the man said. “Doesn’t even matter who the other side runs. I’m voting for him.”
         “I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Gibson said and reached for the ketchup. He poured a generous dollop onto one end of his plate, mixed it with a little mayo, and scrambled it into his hash browns the way his father had taught him when he was a boy. In the immortal words of Duke Vaughn, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, take a big bite and chew slow.”
         Words to live by.





The Short Drop
Gibson Vaughn 1
Thomas & Mercer, December 1, 2015
Hardcover, Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 395 pages

A decade ago, fourteen-year-old Suzanne Lombard, the daughter of Benjamin Lombard—then a senator, now a powerful vice president running for the presidency—disappeared in the most sensational missing-person case in the nation’s history. Still unsolved, the mystery remains a national obsession.

For legendary hacker and marine Gibson Vaughn, the case is personal—Suzanne Lombard had been like a sister to him. On the tenth anniversary of her disappearance, the former head of Benjamin Lombard’s security asks for Gibson’s help in a covert investigation of the case, with new evidence in hand.

Haunted by tragic memories, he jumps at the chance to uncover what happened all those years ago. Using his military and technical prowess, he soon discovers multiple conspiracies surrounding the Lombard family—and he encounters powerful, ruthless political players who will do anything to silence him and his team. With new information surfacing that could threaten Lombard’s bid for the presidency, Gibson must stay one step ahead as he navigates a dangerous web to get to the truth.





About Matthew

Serena Kefayeh, Creative-Ideation.com
Matthew FitzSimmons was born in Illinois and grew up in London, England. He now lives in Washington, DC, where he taught English literature and theater at a private high school for over a decade. The Short Drop is his first novel.










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Twitter @MatthewFitz_1



Excerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. Moores


Please welcome M. J. Moores to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Time's Tempest, the first book in the Chronicles of Xannia.



Excerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. Moores




Time’s Tempest
Book One of the Chronicles of Xannia

Chapter One
A Fine Line


Ducking through one of the large, back double doors of Professor Denali’s cube-rider, I second-guessed myself as I scanned the open shelves. Every fibre of my training as a Contractor with the Facility tore at the ethical implications of digging through a client’s personal files. But this is important, Taya. It goes way beyond job ethics. Silence is not an option.
         I forced my breathing to deepen, slowing my heart rate, to clear the adrenaline from my body. It was one of the first techniques taught at the CTF – Contractor Training Facility. The idea of ‘mind over matter’ had not been easy in practice, but once I learned it, nothing could stop me.
         The files themselves were pristine red folders of varying thickness located in chaotic and random stacks on the clear shelving unit. They looked identical, save one with a thin vertical black mark on the base. The paranoid professor did not want anyone going through his research. He almost fired me, the day I started on the project, for trying to categorise and organise his haphazard stacks, but not before I noticed the file with the mark and looked at it.
         A crackling sounded outside. Dammit! He’s supposed to be across the lake. My shoulders stiffened. I listened carefully for any other sign of the professor’s reappearance. The wind shifted and a faint rasp wavered in the mid-morning heat from the dry grasses surrounding the smallest of three lakes in this region.
         No one appeared.
         I turned from the shelving and strode back to the double doors. If I was caught, I needed a good excuse for being in here. I pocketed one of the stoppered vials I needed for the research from a rack by the doors. The reflective metal above the triple row of individually- suspended samples caught the edge of my sightline. For a fraction of an instant, I stared back into my large black eyes beneath my work cap, framed by bronze skin and red s-shaped tattoo-like birth markings of various sizes, known as coliths. It was an imperfect reflection, but then again, so was I.
         My eyes asked the questions I fought to ignore. So then, what are you doing? Do you realise the consequences? I snapped my head away from the reflection and returned to rifling through the wall of folders.
         Three weeks ago, when I’d learned that Professor Denali registered with the office for a Contractor to fill a three-fer, a position equal to three lab technicians, my radar for the unusual triggered. Less than a year ago, the professor had been discredited in court and his ecological research into the stability of verrin, the life- sustaining liquid for all Xannians, was deemed compromised, due to report falsification. The scientific community ostracised him. Only the Facility knew he’d reactivated his research into the natural sources of verrin and the liquid’s chemical makeup. I capitalised on his request for a Contractor willing to enter the Expanse on a daily basis. The controversy surrounding the work, and the man himself, bothered me from the start.
         The fact that Denali was taking his theories so far beyond civilization and so near the death zone of the Deserts, made even the top Contractors nervous. With my habit of craving challenging assignments, this not only gave me the opportunity to work in one of the scientific fields I excelled at, but also to learn the truth about his research.
         I moved from one stack of files to the next, from one shelf to another. He never puts it in the same place twice.
         The Press hadn’t been permitted into court hearings, and the Kronik, the governing body of councillors and the honorific term used for the head ruler of Xannia – made the final ruling on Denali’s case behind closed doors. I allowed myself a brief smile as I thought of Zaith, my best friend, who happened to be one of a few reporters to interview the professor after the trial. She too believed a cover-up was in play, and she knew the right way to break a story. My contract forbade me from discussing work-related issues with non- Facility personnel but Zaith had taught me when to bend the rules.
         Zaith didn’t know it yet, but she needed this information.
         The thin black mark called to me like verrin to a dying man. Gingerly, I slid the file out from the bottom of one of the precarious stacks, past the raised base of the clear Plexiglas cabinet. Shifting through previously scanned pages, I spotted fresh ink in the middle of the folder. With Vitexid’s Lakes lying so close to the Deserts’ border, the professor did not want to risk losing any data stored electronically, should a pocket of charged magnetism blast through the Expanse. I never thought I would have need of the old skill of writing without a stylus and responsive screen, but here it was a daily occurrence.
         Yes. This is it – he’s getting closer to the truth. I scanned the new notes, committing to memory each paragraph as a separate picture and internalizing my sense of the current atmosphere as a trigger.
         As the weight of Denali’s words registered in my mind, I rasped air into my throat. The letters swam on the page. A convulsion shivered its way from the base of my neck down through my arms and into my fingers. The pages I held echoed my shudder.
         “Holy Trinity,” I whispered.
         A twig snapped. I shoved the file back in place, steadying those above it, closed the protective door, and backed out of the vehicle. Taking the vial from my pocket, I held it up to the bright rays of the second sun, Beta, to better illuminate the thick pearly-orange liquid inside. Although I faced the tube, my eyes tracked the professor as he flattened more of the reeds and grasses between the current verrin sampling station and the rider.
         I walked several paces back to my spot by the lake, the smallest site we’d visited during our first week out here, and set the vial on the trampled grasses. I made comparison notes between the sample and the lake before me.
         I heard the crisp sound of a page turn as Denali flipped through the report I’d printed for him that morning. A grimace crawled across my face as I thought about riding to work with the professor. He was usually late, and he was always grumpy. It was so much easier to get lost in a crowd on public transport and be left to my own thoughts, than riding with a miserable old photon who wanted nothing to do with me. Owning my own rider wasn’t practical. Contractors had free access to public transportation, and usually the jobs I took were within city limits.
         The rider creaked as he entered the back. I sighed, shaking the tension from my shoulders. Trailing my fingers back and forth in the verrin, I created deep swirls in the viscous liquid. I hadn’t realised just how thin the verrin back home was becoming. Looking at the thick, life-sustaining ripples, I leaned closer for a better view. Denali had said to check for darker, muted patches of orange.
         Scanning the surface, I focused on the hazy reflection bobbing back. The natural hue of the verrin distorted my Matin heritage by washing out the bronze skin and turning my deep-red coliths a hue closer to rusty orange. There were few colith markings on my face, as was normal for most Xannians, but a particularly long thick wave extended from the right side of my chin and down the length of my neck. A shorter, thinner squiggle nestled by my left ear along my jaw line.
         I marvelled at how the loose strands of black hair escaping my cap and the unique black tracings around the red coliths stood out bold and clear. Strange how the colour black is altered so little by verrin.
         I stared at the reflection of the embossed emblem on my black hat. A light-grey inverted triangle sat beneath the outline of a dark-green circle that crossed the tips of the triangle. What caught most people’s attention though was the thin, three-sided natural bolt of red lightning crashing through each side of the triangle. The red capped letters, CTF, were more a formality than a necessity. Every citizen learned to distinguish that symbol from a young age. It represented more than its slogan of Strength, Power and Unity.
         As a member of the Contractor Training Facility, I represented less than one-percent of Xannians who were capable, both mentally and physically, of graduating the daunting prerequisite training in order to work for the government’s most esteemed public service outlet. Held to a higher standard than most people, I still managed to fight my way through the trials at the Facility faster than anyone before me.
         My mind flashed images of the pages I’d just scanned, taunting me. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the code but sometimes interpreting the ethics of a situation were far greyer than I liked. Even so, I would never compromise a Contract.
         I took a shallow sample of the darker patch of verrin and wiped the excess drips from the tube onto my dark-green, Facility-issue work pants. I labelled the newest sample, making sure to keep a steady hand for clear and legible letters. The professor and I collected data from various sites in and around the Expanse, with particular attention to the natural verrin lakes first discovered by the early immigrants travelling from the Ancient City. Vitexid the Waylayer was the first to map this area, and so the lakes and this region were named after him.
         As Denali and I studied the local flora and fauna, we extracted verrin samples on a regular basis, not only from the main lakes but via exploratory holes, using compact boring machines to get to areas where the underground springs and rivers flowed closest to the surface. This week we were back at the third lake – the most dramatic data coming from this site.
         Holding the two vials against the arm of my lab coat, I compared colour and viscosity. Lifting both tubes up to Beta, I squinted. The back door of the rider slammed shut, and the crackling of dry grasses drew nearer. Another page flipped.
         I could sense what was coming by the way Denali held his body and the aura of tension clinging to him, but I tried to analyse the two tubes anyway. With so much information vying for precedence in my head, it was no surprise that I couldn’t concentrate. Besides, if I didn’t look at him, he might not speak to me. I could only hope.
         I had learned not to converse with the professor for any reason, shy of a major revelation in the research. A guarded and fickle man, his suspicions of everyone and everything irritated me from the moment we met. He constantly hovered over me as I worked; an irritation I managed to deal with, so long as he didn’t actually call my efforts into question.
         Setting down the vials, I hastily wrote out my notes. Denali’s double shadow crossed over me as I set down the clipboard beside my knees. I could imagine his mind buzzing as he flipped through the report. Stay calm. Breathe.
         “Ms Jutaya,” he blustered moments later. “You failed to state in this summary the development of new life forms in the surrounding soil bed.”
         I stood up.
         “Professor Denali–”
         He shook the report at me, inches from my nose. I did not flinch. Being shorter than this middle-aged man nearing his seventies, he often attempted to use his height as an intimidation tactic.
         Usually, I could meditate through it, zone out. But the file with the black mark changed all that.
         “I can’t afford mistakes. There can be no question of authenticity. You have no idea the severity of the situation face…”
         “On the bottom of page–”
         “I should have known you weren’t old enough…” His vocalised thought trailed to a murmur.
         “Professor, if you would–”
         But he wouldn’t listen. He turned from me and stalked away, grumbling about the current state of the planet and the impertinence of youth today.
         I frowned. I knew very well what he was up against, but he was mistaken about that report. He’s mistaken about me.
         Shouldering my canteen and grabbing the two vials, I followed him over to the sampling site. He’d been working to fix the machine for the past two days. We needed viable samples from the bottom of the lake – comparative samples necessary today or he stood to lose the overall results of the last week’s worth of findings.
         Stiff shoulders crept towards my ears, matching the tension in my fists; they throbbed as my nails dug deeper into my palms. Calm down. Back away. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.
         Moments of his persistent griping about my organizational habits slammed into my mind, his constant complaining about my age, his lack of trust toward me. Regardless of my own agenda, I would never endanger anyone or anything as important as this project. My title alone demanded respect, and he hadn’t shown a nanite of confidence in me or my training. My jaw clenched as the anger of the past three weeks mingled with the return of frustrations I hadn’t faced in nearly eight months.
         Denali hunched over the verrin-sampling device to watch as the latest trial sample rose out of the pond. The seal appeared intact and the vial pristine. It worked. My breathing technique forgotten, my patience training now battled with a high-strung will.
         Logic nipped at my neural pathways, but something deeper in my soul clawed to the surface and broke through the carefully-mortared bricks of my wall of calm. I leaned over and snatched the vial with the latest sample from the machine. This was the only way for him to listen to me. Denali bolted up and slipped on the mucky bank, temporarily submerging his left foot.
         “What are you–?” he sputtered, shaking his leg.
         “Now, you listen, Professor.” I twirled the tube through the fingers of my free hand. “I can understand and even sympathise with your nervousness about the need for complete accuracy on this project. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re anxious about someone ruining your work again, but I am a Contractor.”
         And even though I plan to leak this information, it won’t be done in a damaging way. I had to believe that – it had to be true. I gripped the oh-so-important vial in my fist. My mouth went on autopilot.
         “My meticulous training to be a knowledgeable and efficient assistant and to uphold moral guidelines most commoners don’t even know exist should always remain paramount in your mind. That report…” I pointed with the vial to the pocket of his lab coat, “… has extensive information about new life forms in its detailed, highlighted subheadings.”
         I stared the old Shimug down. The professor’s breathing betrayed his waning years. He stared back at me with dark-blue coliths scrunched around haughty black eyes, stark against his grey skin. He looked like a fool. Now that the beast was free, I stopped fighting and gave over fully.
         “The point of a summary is to be brief and give an overview of the main report. I clearly mention the evidence of new life at the end of the last paragraph on page three.”
         “They give me a child to work with,” he said. “They restrict me to dealing only with the CTF, and only with one assistant, and expect me to maintain perfect records for their eyes only – impossible! If I hadn’t checked up on you, my notes would be a mess. Am I to believe that you are actually capable of handling the positions you’re here for? The Kronik is delusional if it thinks I can make progress by triple checking a teenager’s work while completing my own studies. This is preposterous.”
         Heat flared up the skin of my neck, warming my cheeks.
         In a low voice I said, “And you never found a single error in all that time, did you Professor?” I spat his title at him and tossed all three verrin samples at his chest. He fumbled the catch but ended up holding the vials tight. Safe. I turned, chin up, and walked away.
         Knowing my voice would carry, I didn’t bother to turn around as I said, “Don’t forget to text ‘position legitimately terminated’ when you submit my last credit statement to the Facility.”
         I now had a couple of miles to trek before I could catch public transport back to Darzeth-Prime. It was a dry, dusty, dirt road that meandered its way back to Vrazeth’s borders, the last town before the Expanse. The breeze cooled my cheeks and my temper. Where did that come from? I rubbed a hand over my face as if to scrub away the memory. This wasn’t how a job was supposed to end, and I certainly didn’t need my superiors at the Facility judging my work ethics again.
         Lately, I’d found it difficult to complete an assignment to its official contracted date. Sure, the shorter tasks were easier to finalise, but on the longer projects, something always happened.
         Over twelve months ago, I worked with a local architect as Liaison and Design Interpreter with the construction crew for a new public recreation centre; he blamed me for misreading the specs, and costing the company extra in materials and supplies that hadn’t been budgeted. An Ethics Committee representative agreed that I had not been mistaken but still removed me from the project because the architect claimed I was too green to realise the error between the accounted budget and the required materials.
         And then, nearly eight months ago, I was fired from the Platinum Hall Contract when the Site Manager refused to use me to string the lights, even though they were short-staffed and I’d been hired to fill that position. As the CTF’s first graduate under the age of twenty-one, and a teenager looking younger than I actually was, these kinds of issues had never really cropped up with the Facility before. I was ready for anything, but the world, it seemed, wasn’t ready for me.
         The Gamma sun, smallest and palest of the three, crept above the horizon as Alpha, more commonly known by its spiritual name, Zola, squatted mid-sky, halfway through its daily cycle. I straightened the canteen around my neck, and removed my cap to let the breeze dry my sweat.
         My watch-com beeped. It was the Training Facility’s tone. Denali wouldn’t have reported me yet and, since it was just a text, I flipped up the face of the watch-communicator.
         ‘New Possible Assignment’ flashed across the small grey screen. Clicking to accept the one-liner, a concise synopsis of the available work appeared. Jobs only came through my request portfolio if they didn’t conflict with a current contract. I rarely got updates since my selection parameters were a little out of the ordinary – but then, so was this new job.
         ‘Position for a guide into the Deserts.’ The trip date and duration were listed as ‘TBA’.
         “This is insane, even for me,” I said, and hit the delete button. Nobody went into the Deserts voluntarily. Nobody was that irresponsible; it had to be a joke.
         I tapped the screen for voice recognition. “Zaith Beji.”
         Since I now had the rest of the day off, I had to get a hold of Zaith. We had a lot to discuss. Tossing my cap up in the air with my other hand, I caught it on my head, jammed the bill down to shade my eyes, and kicked at a rock on the road. After the third buzz, Zaith answered.





Time's Tempest
The Chronicles of Xannia 1
Infinite Pathways Press, September 24, 2014
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 378 pages

Excerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. Moores
Embarking as a guide into the death zones that are the Deserts, Taya leads a group of civilians who blindly follow a prophet obsessed with preventing the planet Xannia from environmental self-destruction. Here, fate and destiny wage war propelling an epic search for truth amidst 2000 year old lies, in opposition to a government bent on burying ancient secrets and anyone who goes looking for them.

As Taya desperately attempts to keep the prophet and his followers alive, this journey forces her to grapple with the circumstances of her past which have aligned to hurdle her into her darkest memories; making choices she never wanted to consider; learning truths she was never meant to know.




Cadence of Consequences
The Chronicles of Xannia 2
Infinite Pathways Press, September 28, 2015
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 382 pages
She risks losing her life above-ground, in the city she loves, and for what? Possibly harming the innocent if she remains hidden below...

Excerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. Moores
Trapped in a foreign Underground world, Taya battles inner demons and alienation as the man she promised to protect... to love... remains firmly planted in the government’s cross-hairs; hell bent on fulfilling his destiny to change the world. Constantly accosted by a fanatic sect of the Followers of Light, praising her as a false goddess in a religion she never truly believed in, Taya searches for something to return a sense of meaning and purpose in her life. As her skepticism for the impending coup grows so too does Gerrund’s lack of trust, undermining not only her sense of self-worth but their ability to overthrow a corrupt government.

Even as Taya desperately works to establish a communication network spanning the Deserts in an effort to keep a promise she never should have made, her past interferes causing any sense of the future to spiral out of control. It is up to Taya to fix herself and her fractured relationships in order to embrace her destiny and help two very different men attempt to alter the course of history.





About M. J. Moores

Excerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. Moores
Since the dawning of time (or at least since the time of her birth) stories have cradled, and enveloped MJ in a world of possibility. She relishes tales of adventure and journeys of self-realization. MJ runs an Emerging Writers website called Infinite Pathways where she offers editing services and platform building opportunities, has an essay in The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer, and is a freelance contributor to Authors Publish Magazine and Indyfest Magazine. The first two novels in her Chronicles of Xannia Quartet, Time’s Tempest and Cadence of Consequences, are currently available in print and e-book.


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Guest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The Forgotten


Please welcome Bishop O'Connell to The Qwillery. Three Promises, a collection of 4 short stories set in the American Faerie Tale world, is published in digital format today. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Bishop a Happy Publication Day.



Guest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The Forgotten




Do you want proof that God has a sense of humor?

I’m a writer, and nothing drives me battier than the sound of typing on a keyboard. I can handle it for a little while, but after five minutes or so, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Oh, and when I’m not writing (day job), I do a lot of developing and programming. Yeah, the irony is palpable. This, combined with the fact I’m very visual in my writing—I “see” the stories like a movie playing in my head, and transcribe what I see—is why music is so important to me when I write. What’s a good movie without a killer soundtrack? Bonus that is also drowns out the maddening sound of striking keys.

For every book I’ve written, I’ve made multiple playlists. They typically surround characters, or specific scenes. Sometimes, when I’m working on a particularly powerful scene, I’ll put a single song on a loop and listen to it continually till I’m done. Music is so important to me that all my characters have favorite musicians and songs. Listening to those artists fuels me emotionally and also helps me get into my characters’ heads. Edward is a Tom Waits fan, followed closely by Diana Krall, Leonard Cohen, and Dave Brubeck. For Caitlin it’s Gaelic Storm, The Elders, Sarah McLachlan, and The Cowboy Junkies. Brendan leans towards The Pogues and The Wolfe Tones, and, despite his anachronistic tendencies, Dropkick Murphy, Flogging Molly, and Flatfoot 56. Dante is more eclectic as a result of his age, and his tastes range from Vivaldi (he’s a sucker for a solid cello concerto) to John Legend, to J. Ralph.

Wraith was a bit more complicated. As I worked on The Forgotten, the music was more about the story. The songs were dark and brooding. “Ain’t no Grave,” by Johnny Cash saw quite a lot of play, and if you’ve read The Forgotten, you’ll understand why. It made sense I wasn’t focused on music for Wraith as a character. After all, she was a homeless kid struggling to keep sane from one day to the next. She didn’t have a lot of time to listen to music. That changed when I started writing Three Promises. Wraith came to life in a way I never imagined, or dared to hope. Her story opens in the aftermath of The Forgotten’s end. I knew she’d be battling severe depression and trying to find a sense of purpose. As someone who struggled with that as a teenager, and still do at times, I know personally how much music can help. I wanted Wraith to have the same experience, to find refuge, and possibly hope, in music. But what songs? What artists? When I found not just the artist, but the song, it was so perfect, that I knew I had to include some of the lyrics in the story itself. The song was “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” by The Doubleclicks.

I was introduced to The Doubleclicks through John Scalzi’s blog when he posted the video to “Nothing to Prove.” It’s perhaps their most famous song; an anthem for geek girls. The song is great, and the video is not just powerful, it’s empowering. Fans of Angela and Aubrey, the sisters who make up The Doubleclicks, know that most of their songs are all kinds of nerdy fun. They sing about cats, board games, dinosaurs, burritos, lasers… well, you get the idea. But some of their songs are more personal, and are deeply moving. Their song “Bad Memories” really resonated with me and their cover of “In the Middle” is fantastic. I thought about using “Nothing to Prove” to give Wraith hope, but it just didn’t seem right for her. Then I heard “Wonder (Wonder Woman Song)” and I knew that was Wraith’s song. The Doubleclicks were good enough to let me license the lyrics, and I was thrilled to be able to (legally) include some of them in the story. How does a song about a super-powered Amazon inspire a homeless girl fighting depression? You’ll have to read the story, and I suggest listening to the song as well. Not because you’ll need to know it, just because it’s an awesome song.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of music. Like any art form, it’s emotionally evocative. Most people know the shameless joy of singing to a favorite song at the top of their lungs while driving, not caring who sees you. We find solace and comfort in songs when we have a broken heart, we celebrate with music and dancing (though if you’re like me, it can only loosely be called dancing), we find comfort in our sad times with the perfect track. Songs mark the passing of the years like signposts. And sometimes, just sometimes, you hear a song and it reaches into your soul from the very first time you hear it. For me, those songs tend to be the bittersweet ones; sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. What can I say, I’m a romantic. The emotion, the magic, the power of music fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, every kind of art, it all serves to connects us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. The stories in my books are my snapshots and the tales in Three Promises feel like my best work yet. 
I hope you read them, and that you enjoy them, maybe connect with them or the characters within. If you’d like, I’d be happy to suggest some music to set the mood before you start reading though.

You can pick up Three Promises in ebook anywhere (see below), but if you preorder the paperback (on sale 1/8/16 for only $3.99) from The Fountain Bookstore, not only will it be signed, but you’ll get an exclusive gift, too (and it will be awesome). As a nice bonus, you can also order signed copies of The Stolen and The Forgotten while you’re there, and don’t worry, they ship worldwide.





Three Promises
An American Faerie Tale Collection
Harper Voyager Impulse, December 8, 2015
     eBook, 160 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, January 5, 2016
     Mass Market Paperback, 160 pages

Guest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The Forgotten
Promises bind, but some promises break…

From the author of The Stolen and The Forgotten comes a collection of stories between the stories, a glimpse of the American Faerie Tale series characters in a whole new light.

For more than fifty years, Elaine has lived the life of an outcast elf, stripped of her rank and title in the fae court. Surrounded by her beloved collection of stolen artwork, we may just learn the secret behind her exile, and the one promise too important to break…

It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for—Caitlin and Edward are getting married! But few weddings ever go without a hitch. Old promises were broken, and new vows will be made…

In The Stolen, Brendan vowed to help Caitlin rescue her young daughter from the Dusk Court, even if it meant sacrificing himself. Alone and in torment, he has come to accept his fate. Until an unexpected visitor finds her way into his life…

Plus, an exclusive bonus story about the mysterious Legion of Solomon.



Qwill's Thoughts

Since these are short stories I'm not going to delve too deeply into plots. The stories fill in pieces of the lives of characters from the first two novels in the American Faerie Tale series. The first three stories - Elaine's, Caitlin's and Edward's and Brendan's are each moving in their own way. The 4th bonus story about the Legion of Solomon sheds a bit of light on one of  The Legion's recruits first encounter with them.

I enjoyed each of these stories very much. For readers of the series these stories add more depth to the characters or fill in the blanks on what has happened to them. For those of you waiting to find out Brendan's fate you are in for a treat, but may be hoping for more of his story in the future. If you haven't read the novels, Three Promises is a wonderful introduction to and a terrific place to start before reading The Stolen and The Forgotten. Three Promises is a very well done, illuminating and outstanding collection of stories set in the American Faerie Tale world.



Here’s a sample from one of the short stories, “The Legacy of Past Promises”:

       Elaine stared at the painting. While her body didn’t move, her heart and mind danced in the halls of heaven. The depth and intensity of mortal passion was astounding to her, and her ability to experience it through art was like a drug. The heavy silence that filled her vast loft was broken by the high-pitched whistle of the teakettle. Elaine extricated herself from the old battered chair, which was so comfortable it should be considered a holy relic. She crossed her warehouse flat to the kitchen area, purposely stepping heavily so the old hardwood floor creaked. She smiled at the sound. It was like a whisper that contained all the memories the building had seen. Unlike the fae, the mortal world was constantly aging. But for those who knew how to listen, it sang of a life well lived in every tired sound. The flat took up the entire top floor of a warehouse that had been abandoned in the early 1900s. She owned it now and was its only permanent tenant. The lower floors of the five-story building were offered as a place to stay to the fifties—half-mortal, half-fae street kids, unwelcome in either world—she knew and trusted. But with all the unrest in Seattle, she was currently its only occupant.
       She turned off the burner and the kettle went quiet. Three teaspoons of her personal tea blend went into the pot. The water, still bubbling, went next. The familiar and comforting aroma filled the air, black tea with whispers of orange blossom. Light poured in from the south-facing wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. But she ignored the view of the Seattle skyline. The twenty-foot ceiling was constructed of heavy wooden beams and slats, broken only by the silver of air ducts, a relatively recent addition. The floor was oak, original to the building but well maintained over the years, as were the exposed bricks of the walls and pillars. The flat was large, 5,000 square feet of open space, sparsely furnished with secondhand pieces. They had been purchased so long ago, they were technically antiques now. But she looked past all that to the paintings that covered the walls, collected over centuries and not always through strictly legal means. Nearly every school was represented by at least one piece. Her eyes followed the heavy strokes of a Van Gogh, thought lost by the general public. The emotions and impressions left behind by the artist washed over her. The melancholy and near madness, the longing and love, all mixed together like the colors of the painting itself.
       The smell of her tea, now perfectly brewed, broke her reverie. As she poured tea into a large clay mug, her gaze settled on a Rossetti. Elaine smiled as she remembered seeing the painting come to life. Gabriel Rossetti—Elaine could never bring herself to think of him as Dante, it was such an absurd name—had captured Jane’s beauty spectacularly. Jane Morris had been a truly beautiful mortal; it was no wonder Gabriel so often chose her as a model.
       Elaine carried the mug back to her chair, sank into the plush cushions, and hit play on the remote. Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto no. 4 in A Minor filled the space. She closed her eyes, letting the music fill her soul. The mournful cello danced with the playful harpsichord. She sipped her tea, opened her eyes, and her gaze fell upon another painting, the one she’d almost lost. Unwanted memories rose to the surface—and just like that, she was back in France, deep in the occupied zone.
       The war—or more correctly, the Nazis—had mostly turned the once beautiful countryside and small villages to rubble. The jackbooted thugs had marched with impunity, leaving only death and destruction in their wake
Even now she could almost hear the voices of her long-dead friends.

       “Êtes-vous attentive?”
       Elaine blinked. “Pardon?”
       François narrowed his eyes. “I asked if you were paying attention,” he said, his French heavy with a Parisian accent. “But you answer my question anyway, yes?”
       There were snickers from the collection of men, scarcely more than boys, gathered around the table and map.
       “Sorry,” Elaine said, her own carefully applied accent fitting someone from the southern countryside. “You were saying a convoy of three German trucks will be coming down this road.” She traced the route on the map with her finger. “And this being one of the few remaining bridges, they’ll attempt to cross here. Did I miss something?”
       François turned a little pink, then a deeper red when the chuckles turned on him. When Paul offered him the bottle of wine, François’s smile returned, and he laughed as well.
       “Our little sparrow misses nothing, no?” he asked, then took a swallow of wine before offering her the bottle.
       Elaine smiled and accepted.
       Six hours later, just before dawn, the explosives had been set and the group was in position. She sat high in a tree, her rifle held close. Despite having cast a charm to turn the iron into innocuous fae iron (a taxing process that had taken her the better part of three weeks), she still wore gloves. On more than one occasion she’d had to use another weapon, one that hadn’t been magically treated.
       As the first rays of dawn touched her cheeks, she had only a moment to savor the sublime joy of the morning light. Her keen eyes picked up the telltale clouds of black diesel smoke before she ever saw the vehicles. She made a sparrow call, alerting her fellow resistance fighters.
       A thrush sounded back.
       They were ready.
       Elaine hefted her rifle and sighted down the barrel, her fingertip caressing the trigger. She watched the rise, waiting for the first truck to come into view.
       Her eyes went wide and her stomach twisted when she saw the two Hanomags, armored halftrack personnel carriers, leading the three big trucks. That was two units, more than twenty soldiers. She made another birdcall, a nightingale, the signal to abort.
       The thrush call came in reply, repeated twice. Proceed.
       “Fools,” she swore. “You’re going to get us all killed.”
       She sighted down the rifle again and slowed her breathing. They were outnumbered almost three to one and up against armor with nothing but rifles and a few grenades.
       “Just an afternoon walk along the Seine,” she said. Of course Germany now controlled Paris and the Seine, so maybe it was an accurate comparison.
       The caravan crawled down the muddy road, inching closer to the bridge. Looking through the scope, she watched the gunner on the lead Hanomag. His head was on a swivel, constantly looking one way then another. Not that she could blame him. This was a textbook place for an ambush.
       The first Hanomag stopped just shy of the explosive charges.
       Her heart began to race. Had they spotted it? No, it was buried and the mud didn’t leave any sign that even she could see. No way could these mortal goose-steppers have—
       An officer in the black uniform of the SS stepped out of the second Hanomag, flanked by half a dozen regular army soldiers. Elaine sighted him with her scope, noted her heartbeat, and placed her finger on the trigger.
       The tingle of magic danced across her skin as the officer drew a talisman from under his coat. “Offenbaren sich!” he shouted.
       There was a gust of wind, and the leaves on the trees near her rustled. She whispered a charm and felt it come up just as the magic reached her. The spell slid over her harmlessly. Her friends weren’t so lucky. A red glow pulsed from the spot where the explosives had been set, and faint pinkish light shone from six spots around the convoy.
       “Aus dem Hinterhalt überfallen!” the officer shouted and pointed to the lights.
       The gunners on the Hanomags turned and the soldiers protecting the officer took aim.
       “Merde,” Elaine cursed, then sighted and fired.
       There was a crack, and the officer’s face was a red mist.
       Then everything went to hell.
       Soldiers poured from the trucks and the Hanomags, the gunners turned their MG-42s toward the now-fading lights marking François and the others. The soldiers took cover behind the armored vehicles and divided their fire between her and her compatriots. She was well concealed, so most of the shots did nothing more than send shredded leaves and bark through the air. Only a few smacked close enough to cause her unease.
       Elaine ignored them and sighted one of the MG-42 gunners.
       “Vive la France!” someone shouted.
       Elaine looked up just in time to see Paul leap from cover and charge at the soldiers, drawing their attention and fire. She watched in horror as the Nazi guns tore him to shreds. Somehow, before falling, he lobbed two grenades into one of the armored vehicles. There came a shout of panic from inside the Hanomag and seconds later came two concussive booms. Debris flew up from the open top of the halftrack and the shouts stopped.
       François and the others took advantage of Paul’s sacrifice, moved to different cover, and started firing. A few Nazi soldiers dropped, but the remaining MG-42 began spraying the area with a hail of bullets.
       Elaine gritted her teeth and fired two shots; both hit the gunner, and he fell. This again drew fire in her direction.
       The fight became a blur after that. She took aim and fired, took aim and fired, over and over again, pausing only long enough to reload. It wasn’t until she couldn’t find another target that Elaine realized it was done, and all the Nazis were dead or dying.
She lay on the branch for a long moment, until the ringing in her ears began to fade. When she moved, a sharp pain in her shoulder brought her up short. More gingerly, she shifted and saw tendrils of white light filled with motes of green drifting from her shoulder. At the center was a growing blossom of gold blood. She rolled and dropped from the tree, landing only slightly less gracefully than normal. Still, the jolt made the pain jump a few numbers on the intensity scale.
       She clenched her jaw, hefted her rifle, and carefully inspected the scene. The Germans were all dead, but the driver of one of the Hanomags was still alive. He took a couple shots at her with his Luger, but he’d apparently caught some ricochets or shrapnel because he didn’t even come close. Elaine put him down with a shot through the viewing port.
       “Please, help me,” someone said in bad French.
       Elaine spun to see a German soldier lying on the ground. He was little more than a kid, maybe sixteen; it didn’t even look like he’d started shaving. She just stared at his tear-filled eyes, blood running down his cheek from the corner of his mouth. He had at least half a dozen holes in his chest. He was already dead, he just didn’t know it.
       “Ja,” she said.
       “Dank—”
       His thanks were swallowed by the loud report of the rifle as she put a bullet between his eyes. There was nothing she, or anyone else, could’ve done for him. She wiped tears away and muttered a curse at Hitler and his megalomaniacal plans.
       After double-checking that all the soldiers were dead, Elaine made her sparrow call. Her mouth was so dry, the call was hardly recognizable.
       Only silence answered her.
       Swallowing, she hardened her heart and went to where François and the others had been taking cover. She couldn’t bring herself to look down at the bloodied mess that had been Paul. She just kept walking. Her rifle fell to the ground, then she went to her knees, sobbing, covering her mouth with her good hand.
       They were dead, which wasn’t a surprise, but it didn’t make finding them any less heartbreaking. Rémy was almost unrecognizable. If it wasn’t for his blond hair, now matted with blood—Elaine’s stomach twisted and she retched to one side. Michel, Julien, Daniel, Christophe, and Christian were in slightly better shape, for the most part. Julien’s left arm had been chewed up by the machine gun, and Christophe’s torso had been ripped open, allowing his insides to spill out. Elaine sobbed and turned to François. His rifle had been discarded and his pistol was still clutched in his left hand, two fingers having been shot off his right.
       Sadness mixed with anger, and she screamed curses at him.
“You arrogant fool!” she said between sobs. “Why didn’t you just call off the operation? You got them all killed!”
       It wasn’t long before Elaine grew numb inside. She used her fae healer’s kit to remove the bullet from her shoulder, and a liberal smearing of healing ointment numbed the pain enough to give her almost full use of her arm again. Lastly, she set the pinkish, putty-like dóú craiceann over the wound, sealing it like a second skin. She’d never been much of a healer herself, but she got the job done. With effort, and still careful of her wounded shoulder, she dragged Paul into the cover to join his brothers-in-arms. Elaine whispered a charm and the earth drew itself up and over her friends. A moment later, lush green grass covered the seven mounds.
       “Adieu, mes amis,” she said softly.





The American Faerie Tale Novels

The Stolen
An American Faerie Tale 1
Harper Voyager Impulse, July 22, 2014
     eBook, 464 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, August 5, 2014
     Mass Market Paperback, 464 pages

Guest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The Forgotten
Tonight, for the first time in over a century, a mortal child will be kidnapped by faeries.

When her daughter Fiona is snatched from her bed, Caitlin's entire world crumbles. Once certain that faeries were only a fantasy, Caitlin must now accept that these supernatural creatures do exist—and that they have traded in their ancient swords and horses for modern guns and sports cars. Hopelessly outmatched, she accepts help from a trio of unlikely heroes: Eddy, a psychiatrist and novice wizard; Brendan, an outcast Fian warrior; and Dante, a Magister of the fae's Rogue Court. Moving from the busy streets of Boston's suburbs to the shadowy land of Tír na nÓg, Caitlin and her allies will risk everything to save Fiona. But can this disparate quartet conquer their own inner demons and outwit the dark faeries before it's too late?




The Forgotten
An American Faerie Tale 2
Harper Voyager Impulse, March 17, 2015
     eBook, 448 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, April 14, 2015
     Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages

Guest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The Forgotten
Across the United States, children are vanishing. Only this time, faeries may not be to blame …

Dante, Regent of the fae's Rogue Court, has been receiving disturbing reports. Human children are manifesting magical powers in record numbers. Shunned and forgotten, they live on the streets in ragtag groups with the already-booming population of homeless changelings. But the streets aren't a haven; someone, or something, is hunting these children down.

Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, has no home, no family, and no real memories of her past. She and her friends SK, Fritz, and Shadow are constantly on the run, fleeing from a dark and unknown enemy. But when her companions are taken by "the snatchers," Wraith is their only hope. Her journey to find them will test the limits of her magic—and her trust. A dark force is on the rise, and it could spell the end of our world as we know it.





About Bishop

Bishop O'Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos. While wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he experienced autumn in New England. Soon after, he settled in Manchester, NH, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed "visionary" of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.

A Quiet Pint  ~  Twitter @BishopMOConnell

Excerpt from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride!


Say Yes to the Death, the latest novel in the Debutante Dropout Mystery series by Susan McBride, is out today from Witness! Say Yes to the Death has high-society dropout Andrea Kendricks thrust back into things when her mom drags her to a fancy wedding. A wedding where, of course, somebody dies. And that's just the beginning!



Excerpt from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride!



Prologue, Say Yes to the Death, by Susan McBride

Millicent Draper yawned and nudged her owl-like glasses back up the bridge of her nose, leaving a smudge of ivory fondant on the tortoiseshell frames. Her plastic-gloved fingers were smeared with the stuff. Her knuckles felt stiff, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She’d worked through the night on a wedding cake for Senator Vernon Ryan’s daughter, Penny, and she hadn’t slept a wink.
        Olivia La Belle, the bride’s wedding planner, had phoned at six o’clock the night before— just as Millie was closing up shop— demanding an early delivery. “Sorry, Millie, but the ceremony’s been pushed up a wee bit,” Olivia had said in a honey-sweet twang that implied softness when Olivia was anything but.
        Four whole months was “a wee bit”? Millie thought with a groan.
        “We must have the cake by three o’clock tomorrow sharp,” Olivia had insisted, her sugared drawl turning hard. “The ceremony’s at five with a sit-down dinner reception to follow. If you don’t get this done, it will make me very unhappy. Do you understand what I’m sayin’, sugar?”
        Oh, yeah, sugar, Millie understood. Ticking off Big D’s premier event planner was a big no-no. Olivia might as well have said, “If you don’t get this done, you’re as good as dead in this town.” Ever since Olivia had done weddings for an Oscar winner and the spawn of a former president, her head had blown up as big as Texas. She’d become society’s go-to girl and, not only for Dallas royalty, but honest-to-God foreign royalty and Hollywood’s A-List. She’d even finagled her own reality TV show on a cheesy cable network and used it to promote herself and to punish those who displeased her. Anyone who dared defy The Wedding Belle risked hanging a “Going Out of Business” sign on the front door.
        Millie had seen it happen most recently to Jasper Pippin, a floral designer in Big D for decades. Fed up with Olivia’s lies and demands, he’d finally drawn a line in the sand. “She lied her tight little ass off and said the tulips I had flown in from Amsterdam for the mayor’s wife’s birthday were wilted,” Jasper had told Millie, moaning. “She threatened a drubbing on her TV show if I didn’t eat the cost. I’m going to lose my shirt if she keeps pulling these dirty tricks.”
        “What will you do?” Millie asked him.
        Jasper had drawn in a deep breath and said, “I’m going to let her have it. I am not going to give in.”
        So the always civil Jasper had finally squared his thin shoulders and stood up to Olivia, sure that other vendors who’d been jerked around would follow suit. Only no one dared, and Olivia had bad-mouthed him on her reality show. His orders dried up one by one until Jasper had to shutter his doors, claiming early retirement, though Millie knew better. He’d withdrawn, refusing to return her calls. She had no clue what he was up to, but she knew he wouldn’t give up so easily. Millie hoped he would rise like the phoenix and stick it to Olivia somehow.
        That evil woman had her French-manicured fingers in so many pies around Dallas that everyone who worked with her was scared to death. Even Olivia’s current assistant seemed skittish, and with good reason since the job seemed to involve a revolving door. The gangly twenty-something, Terra, followed her everywhere, taking notes. She never seemed to say anything but “Yes, Olivia” and “Of course, Olivia,” like a well-trained parrot.
        Millie wished she’d had the gumption to tell Olivia that she could take this impossible cake deadline and stuff it, but she couldn’t risk losing everything she’d worked so hard for. She’d started Millie’s Cakes in her own kitchen thirty-five years ago and had built her impressive client list from scratch. She wasn’t ready to give it all up because she’d ticked off the very fickle Ms. La Belle. Unlike Jasper, she had no intention of being forced into early retirement.
Millie swallowed, glancing at the clock on the wall. With a noisy tick-tick, its hands crept toward seven.
        She only had eight hours left and still had to attach the two hundred handmade sugar orchids she’d painted a delicate shade of purple. Her feet ached from standing, and her arthritis was acting up so badly that her fingers felt like unbendable sticks. If the shop wasn’t so busy, she would have turned the whole shebang over to her staff, but they had other orders to fill, cakes that had been on the docket for months and were equally important.
        No, this monkey was squarely on her back.
        If she blew this job for Senator Ryan’s daughter, it would be on her head, no one else’s. She tried to convince herself that she couldn’t blame the bumped-up time frame entirely on Olivia. It was Penelope Ryan who was truly at fault.
        “Silly girl got herself knocked up,” Millie muttered, having heard the gossip that the bride’s belly had begun to pop and that the senator— a button-down conservative if ever there was one— wanted his daughter legally wed ASAP. He couldn’t afford to have the nineteen-year-old college sophomore he’d painted as pure as the driven snow during his campaign get photographed walking down the aisle in a maternity gown.
        “You can put her in a big white dress and marry her off but that doesn’t change anything,” Millie murmured, and she pushed at her glasses again.
Was the senator going to pull one of those “the baby came prematurely” routines when his grandchild popped out in another five months or so? People didn’t seem to have a whole lot of sense these days, but most of them could count, so long as they had enough fingers and toes.
        Ah, well, Millie mused, there would always be brides who got knocked up before their vows. There would always be disappointed fathers who wanted to pretend their darling daughters stayed virginal until their honeymoons. And there would always be bitches like Olivia La Belle behind the scenes, wielding a phone in one hand and cracking a whip with the other, either telling everyone off or telling them or telling them what to do.
        Millie sighed. “Enjoy your moment while it lasts, Queen Olivia, because it won’t be forever,” she whispered, thinking of Marie Antoinette and her date with the guillotine. “As for me, I will let them eat cake,” she added, knowing that Olivia would get her comeuppance one of these days. Women like her always did. She just hoped she’d be around when it happened. Heck, she’d pay good money for a front row seat.
        But for now Millie blinked her bleary eyes and tried to keep her hand from shaking as she delicately affixed the edible orchids to the seven-layered concoction she’d created overnight.
        She would get this damned cake done or die trying.

Excerpted from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride. Copyright 2015 by Susan McBride. Published by Witness, an imprint of HarperCollins. Reprinted with permission.





Say Yes to the Death
A Debutante Dropout Mystery
Witness, September 29, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Excerpt from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride!
Someone old, someone cruel

Debutante dropout Andrea Kendricks is beyond done with big hair, big gowns, and big egos—so being dragged to a high-society Texas wedding by her socialite mama, Cissy, gives her a bad case of déjà vu. As does running into her old prep-school bully, Olivia La Belle, the wedding planner, who's graduated to berating people for a living on her reality TV show. But for all the times Andy wished her dead, nobody deserves Olivia's fate: lying in a pool of blood, a cake knife in her throat—but did the angry baker do it?

Millicent Draper, the grandmotherly owner of Millie's Cakes, swears she's innocent, and Andy believes her. Unfortunately, the cops don't. Though Andy's fiancé, lawyer Brian Malone, is handling Millie's case, she's determined to spring Millie herself. But where to start? "La Belle from Hell" had enemies galore. Good thing Andy has a BFF who's a reporter— and a blue-blood mother who likes to pull strings.





About Susan

Excerpt from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride!
Photo by Sarah Crowder/Ladue News
Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Blue Blood, the first of the Debutante Dropout Mysteries. The award-winning series includes The Good Girl's Guide to Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, Night of the Living Deb, and Too Pretty to Die. She's also the author of The Truth About Love and Lightning, Little Black Dress, and The Cougar Club, all Target Recommended Reads. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and daughter. Learn more at her website or on Facebook.











Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner Rogue


Please welcome Seth Skorkowsky to The Qwillery. Sea of Quills is published today by Ragnarok Publications. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Seth a Happy Publication Day!



Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner Rogue




Our Inner Rogue

People usually gravitate to heroes that represent what they want to be or what characteristic they wish they had. That might range anywhere from physical strength, to a cool magical ability, or simply the freedom to perform the tasks that we secretly wish we could do.

For me, that secret desire is crime.

Now, I’m not a criminal. I have moral hang-ups and a fear of being in trouble that has kept me on the straight and narrow path. Yet, deep down, there’s a part of me that wishes I could somehow shed those scruples and fears and perform some daring caper.

There’s a wide array of thieves in fiction, ranging from conmen, cat burglars, spies, and assassins. Of course these are romanticized ideals, and nothing like in real life, but that’s the fun. We can take an imaginary tour of a seedy existence without the risk of dirtying our hands or souls.

Thieves represent the underdog. They’re usually alone or in a small gang and are tasked with beating the impossible by going where no one can go, and taking what no one can take. Instead of armies, magic swords, and power armor, a rogue’s arsenal consists of disguises, technical knowhow, a mastery of lying, infinite patience, and a physical prowess worthy of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat.

In Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, he sums up what we love in fantasy rouges as, “Richer and cleverer than anyone else.” And that’s what it’s really about. We love the idea that someone can outwit any obstacle and stick-it to whomever they please.

Got an impossible safe to crack? They crack it.

Got a hundred guards protecting an impenetrable fortress? They’ll get inside.

Booby traps: No problem. Laser grids: Try harder.

There’s a side in each of us (at least in me) that when we’re at a museum, staring at a priceless relic secured behind glass, alarms, cameras, security guards, and a hundred witnesses, that whispers, “How could I get that?” And we begin that fantasy where we’re not afraid of getting caught, or of heights, where we know how to bypass these defenses through wit or gizmos and say, “You thought you were so safe, but I got it. I beat you.”

Very rarely does the prize of a fictional heist matter. What’s important is seeing the style and finesse in which our roguish hero accomplishes their goal. Once they have it, we can share that sense of victory that we too have outwitted and stuck-it to our opponents.

Fiction, especially fantasy fiction, is about escape. Some might dream of being knights riding across fantastical landscapes and saving kingdoms. I dream of dark alleys and a dagger up my sleeve.





Sea of Quills
Tales of the Black Raven 2
Ragnarok Publications, September 28, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 296 pages
Cover by Alex Raspad

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner Rogue
For Ahren, it’s no longer a question of someone trying to kill him but who will try next.

Still on the run for a murder he didn’t commit, Ahren adapts to life as an outlaw and the reputation of the Black Raven grows. But nothing comes easy. Dogged by bounty hunters he finds himself crossing steel with pirates on the high seas and battling monsters in subterranean cities. If that wasn’t enough, he’s paid to assassinate an immortal and must break out of a heavily-fortified prison.

Just another day in the life of the Black Raven.

Sea of Quills is the second book in this collection of tales by Seth Skorkowsky, the author of Damoren and the best-selling Valducan urban fantasy series.



Excerpt

Ahren removed his tools and easily picked the simple lock. He pulled it open, revealing a set of shallow shelves nestled in the hidden space behind. Folded documents and jeweled trinkets dominated the hidden cache. A flat wooden box rested alone atop the highest shelf. Inside, Ahren found a brass disk composed of four moving rings around a central hub adorned with a blood-red stone. Removing it from its velvet lining, Ahren held it up to see a small hole punched through three of the moving rings, all engraved with random letters, words, and numbers. Time was precious, but he had to be sure.

Placing the coded note on the desk, Ahren set the disk in the center and slid the rings until they aligned with the crimson dots. A small point protruded from the outmost brass ring. Rotating it around the cryptogram’s letters he could decipher their meaning.

Relief coursed down his body. Ahren quickly slipped the parchment and key into pouch at his back, and removed a black feather. He returned to the hidden shelves and placed the quill atop the key’s box with a grin. As he reached to close the bookshelf door, a sharp point dug into his neck.

“What are you doing, lover?” Karolina whispered behind him.

Ahren hadn’t heard the study door open. How long had the dance been over? “I’ve found the Count’s hidden documents. The Tyenee plan to blackmail him.”

“Hmmm,” she purred in his ear. “But that’s not what you stole. What is the brass disk for?”

Ahren cursed mentally. She’d been in the room for some time. “It’s a sentimental trinket the Count stole from an old business partner after backing from a deal,” he said. “My job is to take it to prove a point.”

“And that point is?” The night ruby clacked inside her mouth with every word, making her invisible whenever her lips closed around it.

“No man is invincible.”





Previously

Mountain of Daggers
Tales of the Black Raven 1
Ragnarok Publications, March 9, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 294 pages
Cover by Alex Raspad 

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner Rogue
Some call him hero. Others, a menace. But everyone agrees that Ahren is the best thief in the world. Whether he’s breaking into an impregnable fortress, fighting pirates, or striking the final blow in political war, Ahren is the man for the job.

After being framed for murder, his reward posters named him the Black Raven. To survive, Ahren finds himself drafted into the Tyenee, a secret criminal organization whose influence stretches across the world. Their missions are the most daring, the most dangerous, and the penalty for failure is death. When no one else can do it, they send the Black Raven.





About Seth

Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner Rogue
Seth Skorkowsky was born in Texas in 1978. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife, and works for the University of North Texas. His short story "The Mist of Lichthafen" was nominated for a British Fantasy Award (long list) in 2009. Dämoren is Seth's debut novel and was recently nominated and shortlisted for the Reddit Fantasy Stabby Award for "Best Debut Novel."

He recently signed a two-book deal with Ragnarok for his "Black Raven" sword-and-sorcery collection. When not writing, Seth enjoys travel, shooting, and tabletop gaming.

Website  ~  Twitter @SSkorkowsky   ~  Facebook

Excerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015


Please welcome Sean Chercover to The Qwillery with an excerpt of The Devil's Game, the 2nd novel in The Game Trilogy, which was published on June 16, 2015 by Thomas & Mercer.



Excerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015




          Today is a good day to die.
          Daniel Byrne handed the counterfeit identification card to the soldier be-hind the metal desk. To the left of the desk another soldier stood blocking the solid steel inner door. Mounted to the cinderblock wall beside the door, an electronic palm-print reader. A third soldier—the one cradling an assault rifle—stood behind Daniel, blocking the larger metal door through which he’d entered, and which he knew was the only exit. They wore plain green uniforms, no identifying patches or insignia.
          Today is a good day to die. But I’ve decided to stay alive until tomorrow.
          The soldier at the desk examined the forgery, which identified Daniel as Colonel Walter Pomerance of the Defense Intelligence Agency, then tapped on the computer keyboard and looked at the screen. His mouth twitched once and he became very still. The sentry of the inner door moved his hand an inch closer to his holster.
          The soldier at the desk said, “Sir, there’s no record—”
          “Typical,” snapped Daniel. The persona he’d created for Colonel Walter Pomerance was that of an insufferable bastard—he would play the role all the way, whatever the outcome. “Is it too much to presume your computer is at least capable of providing you the phone number of the Pentagon?” He resisted the urge to adjust his uniform. Putting ice in his voice he added, “Don’t waste my time...Sergeant.” Forcing that last word, having no way of knowing if the man was in fact a sergeant.
          During the pre-insertion briefing Raoul told him the one behind the desk would be a sergeant and said to address him by rank. And Daniel had just now bet his life of the accuracy of that intel. Intel provided by a man he’d known less than three months.
          He raised his left wrist and pressed the button on the side of his watch—starting the chronograph—and shot the young man a look. From the soldier’s perspective, the move would scan as an ego-driven high-ranking officer tossing his clout around. But Daniel needed to track time. From the moment the soldier had entered Daniel’s cover name into the computer, he would have one hour. That is, if the Foundation computer geeks, tapping away furiously 538 miles away in New York City, were successful.
          If they were successful, the phone call would be intercepted by the Foundation, who would also take control of the local computer network and upload the military file for Daniel’s legend—not a complete file, because much of the fictional Colonel Pomerance’s file would be classified even above the level of this place—but a file even more impressive for what was redacted than for what it contained. Colonel Walter Pomerance. A very powerful DIA spook.
          Not a man whose time you wanted to waste.
          Daniel watched a half-dozen seconds tick by—he loved the smooth micro-ticks of his new watch’s automatic movement—and when none of the three soldiers put a bullet in his head, he figured the guy was really a sergeant. He dropped his wrist to waist level.
          The room was a perfect square, 20 feet wall-to-wall. No furniture beyond the steel desk and single chair, nothing on the desktop but the computer and a telephone. LED light fixtures set into the ceiling, protected by thick sheets of clear bulletproof plexiglass. Nothing on the walls. No military shields or symbols, no flags, no official portrait of the Commander-in-Chief. Of course, there wouldn’t be. Officially this facility, which ran twelve stories down into the earth, did not exist. Black Ops, according to the case file Daniel had spent two days studying. It was once a coalmine, and hundreds of West Virginia men and boys had died here in the early 1900s. How many men died here now, and what they died of, was not in the case file.
          The sergeant at the desk picked up the telephone receiver and pressed a speed-dial button. He offered a verbal passphrase, paused for confirmation, and began to explain the problem. There was nothing Daniel could do now but act inconvenienced and wait for it to play out.
          And breathe.
          He took his mind back to the zazen meditation that had started his day. Sitting seiza—kneeling, sitting on his feet with his back straight and his hands cupped together in his lap—on the impossibly plush royal blue carpet of the Greenbriar hotel’s Congressional Suite. Counting breaths, mentally tuning out the riotous floral print that assaulted him from the draperies, headboard, duvet cover…the smell of coffee beckoning from his room-service breakfast table…the sound of a distant woodpecker working to find its own breakfast. Tuning out thoughts, worries, fears about the day ahead. Tuning in to counting breaths. Then moving past counting, tuning in to breathing itself.
          Tuning in, to the now.


Excerpted from THE DEVIL’S GAME by Sean Chercover. Copyright 2015 by Sean Chercover. Published by Thomas & Mercer, a Division of Amazon Publishing. Reprinted with permission.





The Devil's Game
The Game Trilogy 2
Thomas & Mercer, June 16, 2015
Hardcover, Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 336 pages

Excerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015
The universe is trying to tell us something.

Daniel Byrne spent ten years as a Vatican investigator, scrutinizing and debunking miracle claims—until he burned that life to the ground when one investigation shook his faith and revealed disturbing earthly conspiracies. Determined to find the truth, he steps into a new life of secrets and lies, joining a powerful group that wields hidden influence over world events.

Daniel infiltrates a covert government facility and uncovers a bizarre new strain of the Plague that seems to flood the minds of its victims with visions of the future. Teaming up with disgraced physician Kara Singh, a woman beset with inexplicable visions of her own, Daniel traces the root of this deadly pathogen around the globe, and discovers a terrifying truth.

In this fast-paced sequel to the bestselling The Trinity Game, can Daniel navigate a shadow world of secrets and conspiracy to stop a pandemic with devastating global consequences?




Previously

The Trinity Game
The Game Trilogy 1
Thomas & Mercer, July 31, 2012
Hardcover, Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 430 pages

Excerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015
2013 International Thriller Award Nominee

Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s secretive Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the department that scrutinizes miracle claims. Over ten years and 721 cases, not one miracle he tested has proved true. But case #722 is different; Daniel’s estranged uncle, a crooked TV evangelist, has started speaking in tongues—and accurately predicting the future. Daniel knows Reverend Tim Trinity is a con man. Could Trinity also be something more?

The evangelist himself is baffled by his newfound power—and the violent reaction it provokes. After years of scams, he suddenly has the ability to predict everything from natural disasters to sports scores. Now the mob wants him dead for ruining their gambling business, and the Vatican wants him debunked as a false messiah. On the run from assassins, Trinity flees with Daniel’s help through the back roads of the Bible Belt to New Orleans, where Trinity plans to deliver a final prophecy so shattering his enemies will do anything to keep him silent.





About Sean

Excerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015
Sean Chercover is the author of the bestselling thriller The Trinity Game and two award-winning novels featuring Chicago private investigator Ray Dudgeon: Big City, Bad Blood and Trigger City. After living in Chicago; New Orleans; and Columbia, South Carolina, Sean returned to his native Toronto, where he lives with his wife and son. Sean’s fiction has earned top mystery and thriller honors in the US, Canada, and the UK. He has won the Anthony, Shamus, CWA Dagger, Dilys, and Crimespree Awards and has been short-listed for the Edgar, Barry, Macavity, Arthur Ellis, and ITW Thriller Awards.


Website  ~  Tumblr

Facebook  ~  Twitter @SeanChercover

Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin - The World Behind VendettaExcerpt: The Short Drop by Matthew FitzsimmonsExcerpt: Time's Tempest by M. J. MooresGuest Blog by Bishop O'Connell, author of Three Promises, The Stolen and The ForgottenExcerpt from An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear and GiveawayExcerpt from Say Yes to the Death by Susan McBride!Guest Blog by Seth Skorkowsky - Our Inner RogueExcerpt from Farryn's War by Christie MeierzHexomancy by Michael R. Underwood - Excerpt and GiveawayExcerpt: The Devil's Game by Sean Chercover - July 27, 2015

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