Tag Archives: Zvonek 08 Feline Intelligence

The Outlander…

5 Jun

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Jim Woods.

The Outlander by Jim Woods

Ever wish you could call back a promise you’ve made? David Stone, American, has adopted South Africa as his home and Marjie van der Leun as his lover. It’s an on-again, off-again affair, but during one of the on-again stages, David made a commitment which would come back to haunt him. In a reckless moment, David said he would kill for her. Now Marjie wants to call in that favor.

The arrangement involves a lot of money and once David is “in for a penny, he is in for a pound,” as the saying goes.

The plot thickens, Marjie is prosecuted for the murder and David thinks he has gotten away . . . until . . .


Chapter One

David Stone seldom went to sleep at night without acknowledging he was perhaps the most fortunate bachelor on Earth. After college in California, he practically had fallen into his job, a well-paid management position, allowing him to return to the country of his birth, South Africa, a locale of which he held scant actual memory. Others’ recollections passed on to him, combined with old photographs, triggered false memories of a father he had never known. He knew now his father had been a professional hunter, a safari operator. It was rare for an American to hold such a position in this country and David treated the knowledge as a birthright of near royalty for himself. David had been on safari several times, enjoyed an impressive salary and social position, and all the female attention that money could buy. Life indeed was good; David Stone had everything to live for.

David stirred and groaned at the first summons from the distant kitchen telephone. At the second signal he tossed aside the light comforter and swung his long frame upright, legs dangling over the side of the king-size bed. By the third insistent chirp, he was awake enough to curse his boss in California, who refused to authorize the trivial expense of adding a second instrument for the bedroom of the company-leased condominium in Durban.

Alex Becker, absentee owner of PCI (Pty) Ltd, in addition to being cheap about minor expenses, also demanded the full attention of any employee who happened to be the object of his thoughts at any particular time. He reasoned with the nine-hour time differential between the United States west coast and South Africa, a call placed to South Africa during his local business hours stood a good chance of finding his area manager in bed instead of in the office or out on the road. He wouldn’t tolerate sleep-befuddled answers to his questions, so his scheme was to ensure David always had to be sufficiently awake to find the telephone at the other end of the house, and therefore be alert enough to reel off all the correct responses.

David once again resolved to put in the additional phone at his own expense, but knew that he wouldn’t, because Alex would raise Holy Hell about it when he commandeered the guest bedroom on his next unannounced visit. As much as he enjoyed thinking about crossing Alex, he knew that he would not. His position as almost total controller of the South Africa office provided him a very comfortable, even lavish, lifestyle he wouldn’t jeopardize. He was more or less fully functional when he snatched up the handset.

“Private Computers International,” he puffed into the instrument. “This is David Stone.”

The call had to be from Alex this time of night, David was certain, and his absentee employer demanded formal business telephone protocol. A clerk from the office who stayed late with David one evening, then on until morning, had been helpful in answering the telephone in order to let David continue his recovering slumber. Her pleasant and sensual hallo sounded anything but businesslike to Alex, and she was instantly dismissed from her job and David came perilously close to being yanked back to California. Since then, David’s guests were warned away from taking incoming calls and he was careful always to be professional on the telephone, no matter what the time of day or night.

“Dave? This is Marjie.”

The voice jolted him. She didn’t have to say Marjie Who. David remembered Marjie. When he first took the assignment in South Africa three years before, he’d taken stock of the local talent and identified Marjie as a sexy airhead. He was only half-right; she was sexy. She also was a very smart engineer who’d developed the power module allowing the PCI computer to work on the peculiar 50-cycle, 230-volt electricity produced and distributed by South Africa’s national electric power company, Eskom. Marjie worked for Eskom but, thanks to some expensive and persuasive encouragement from Alex Becker, her efforts had been instrumental in opening the Southern African market to PCI immediately after the post-apartheid government took over in 1994, when foreign investment in the country once again became an attractive proposition. PCI was able to beat the competition to the marketplace by several months, and still held onto that advantage.

David had been the recipient of a Masters fellowship sponsored by PCI, and his brilliant thesis on marketing opportunities in Third World countries won him the managerial assignment with PCI in South Africa. PCI joined with Eskom in a politically-motivated venture to bring technology to the underdeveloped nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Thereafter, at the local implementation level, David and Alex together coordinated closely with Marjie, a working threesome by day and, after hours, one or the other of them a playful pair with Margie, according to her fancy.

Marjie permitted both PCI-exec Alex and second-in-command David to court her, but she’d been promoted to an assignment to electrify the rural northern Transvaal a couple of years ago, and David had lost contact with her. Marjie’s departure apparently had been Alex’s reason for the abrupt decision to wrap up his personal control over the South Africa operation, ceremoniously turning it over to David and immediately returning to the company’s home base in California. Now Marjie was back in David’s life, and his groin ached pleasantly in remembrance of their times together . . . and Alex was not hovering nearby to claim a share of her.

“Marjie! How’ve you been? Where are you? What’s going on with you?” He wanted to say something clever and smooth, but felt tongue-tied and angry with himself because he couldn’t control his thoughts or his voice. What kind of schoolboy must she think I am? he wondered, but Marjie cut in with her assurances of how much she missed him. She explained that she had gone back to the family home in Cape Town for a while after her project in the north was finished. She had just returned to her own home in Pietersburg and wanted, no needed, to see him.

“Davie, do you remember when you . . .” she struggled for the words, “offered to eind die lewe of someone for me if I ever needed it? Well, I need to talk to you about that now. There’s twenty thousand in it for you. Can you come?”

Wheeew, he blew silently, and was quiet for just an instant too long. Marjie was necessarily fluent in English as the language of commerce and technology in South Africa as in most of the rest of the world, but in this very personal turmoil she reverted to her traditional language. She had used the Afrikaans, end the life. Murder someone!

“Daaave,” she came back impatiently, “didn’t you mean it?”
He remembered. When she found out he was keen on firearms, she pursued him with pleas to make her a shooter, and he enjoyed the attention. He instructed her in the use of several guns, from the FN-FAL battle rifle used by the South African military to his favorite personal handgun, the Browning Hi-Power nine-millimeter pistol. She was an eager pupil. The excitement of their shooting sessions carried over to the bedroom. Once, he teased that if she ever needed anyone removed, she had only to call on him. Her thrill at the prospect of him killing someone at her direction moved Marjie to even greater appreciation.

“Yes, I meant it,” he struggled to assure her. He’d lost her once. Now with the prospect of having her back, he wasn’t about to give her up again over some silly notion she harbored about killing someone. He had spent only a few weeks collectively in the United States over the past three years of being posted in South Africa and had become completely at ease with the local currency, rands. However, he still converted to dollars to know what prices were in real money. Twenty thousand rands was roughly five thousand dollars. “I can take care of that for you, but it’ll cost fifty thousand. Haven’t you heard about inflation?”

“Done!” she exulted. “I would have given you a hundred!”

Hey, she’s serious! What am I letting myself in for? “Just who am I supposed to kill?”

“I don’t want to talk about this kind of business on the phone. Let’s meet at the Carlton. I’ll drive in and get a suite where we can talk in private. Can you fly up tonight?”

Durban—almost six hundred kilometers from Johannesburg, he computed quickly; Margie’s base in Pietersburg about half that. “No, I’ll drive up in the morning. In fact, I’ll leave in three or four hours and be there in the early afternoon. I’ll get the hotel and call you at home and we can meet there later that evening. What’s your phone?”

Now it was her turn to hesitate. Clearly she wanted to control the venue, but eventually she gave her grudging approval to the plan. She stumbled over the telephone number as though having difficulty remembering it, then blurted out the four digits. As David wrote them down on his phone-side pad, he automatically added the area prefix for Pietersburg. “I’ll ring you up from the city,” he said hoarsely, and hung up.

No, he thought, I’ll ring you up right now! Then, halfway through dialing he slammed down the receiver. Sprinting to the bedroom, he pulled on the navy-blue sweatpants he’d laid out in preparation for his early-morning roadwork regimen—eight kilometers at a dedicated runner’s measured pace designed to cover the distance in an easy half-hour—then struggled into the matching pullover top emblazoned with Santa Clara in yellow script across the chest, and Broncos on the back He snatched his keys, change and handkerchief from the dresser-top valet and jammed them into the muff pocket, then pulled on his tackies, stuffed the hanging laces into the shoes against his bare feet and rushed to the carport. The Mercedes responded to the turn of the key and squealed down the drive, then onto the street that would take him over to Windemere Plaza and the public phone.

If I’m right, he thought, she will have to go to the post office to find a coin phone in Pietersburg. Having driven extensively over the past three years through the sparsely settled Transvaal Province in presenting PCI’s computer system to potential clients—the exception to spotty populations that characterized the rural province being the Johannesburg/Pretoria megaplex—he knew that the post offices in the smaller towns were the only places to find public telephones this time of night, and generally they were located in the seedier parts of downtown. David reasoned that Marjie would have to drive several minutes, perhaps even a quarter of an hour or more, to get from the upscale Ster Park neighborhood where she lived to the only post office in Pietersburg, and her return trip might give him enough time to verify she did not call from her personal telephone. As he wheeled into the plaza parking lot, he spied the lighted phone pod and was relieved to note that it was not in use. Another problem with the public telephones, as he and all the whites were aware, was the instruments were normally tied up by the blacks who did not have phones at home; they monopolized them for hours. This time of early morning, even the street-blacks were not hanging around the telephone. His first thought, since the cubicle was unoccupied, was he would find only the broken and frayed, dangling cable but he was relieved again when he found the instrument, to be in working order.

Using his crisp, white handkerchief, he dry-sanitized the assumed-to-be-contaminated receiver and mouthpiece with a couple of determined rubs, and then tossed the streaked cloth in the nearby wire trash bin. He dropped a two-rand piece in the coin slot and determinedly punched-in the regional code for Pietersburg and then the home number Marjie had given him. It rang on the other end three times before an answering machine responded in her purring voice. Okay, he reasoned, she did not call from her home. She’s making sure, as I suspected, no record of the call from her telephone could ever be traced to my number. I’ll have to be just as careful from my end.

The leisurely drive through the few blocks to his neighborhood gave him time to muse over just how he would stay a step ahead of the beautiful lady Marjie while also getting her into his bed. Back at the condominium, he dropped into that friendless bed still fully clothed, with Marjie, not at all so encumbered, the prime focus of his schemes and fantasies.

Fighting to clear his head of drowsiness just half an hour ago, he found now he could not sleep. He stripped off the jogging clothes, ran the shower hot while he shaved, then lunged into the revitalizing spray and steam. In the kitchen, he switched the automatic coffee pot from his normal wake-up time to ON, and watched gratefully as the life-giving drip started almost instantly. Then he wet-tracked across the gray stone-textured tile to the bedroom. As he draped the towel across a maroon-upholstered chair he wondered, what does one wear when negotiating a hit contract?

After two cups of coffee, brewed to his still American taste—South Africa offered many culinary pleasures, but the provincials simply could not make decent coffee—and half a box of Baker’s Tennis Biscuits, one of those off-the-shelf culinary pleasures—he dressed for the drive to Johannesburg.





4 Jun

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Jim Woods

Oxwagon by Jim Woods

The story opens with a very strange cargo for an oxwagon driver—the comatose body of a woman whose passage is paid by a man fearing for his life. When the driver takes on the load, he also takes on unexpected adventure for everyone involved on the long and perilous overland trip.


“Are you sure she’s alive? She looks dead to me and I don’t transport dead bodies for any price. For that matter I don’t take passengers either, so we have nothing to discuss. No deal.”

“Verdoem, man. Cover her back up; I don’t even want to look at her again. I’ve got to get rid of this woman. She’s driving me crazy and she tried to kill me.”

“Then why didn’t you just kill her? If she tried to kill you, you’d be justified. Unless, of course, she had reason to. But actually, I don’t want to know. I’m just not taking her on this trek.”

“Man, you’re in the transport business, and this is cargo I need transported. Why can’t you take my business? I’ll pay to have her transported to Fort Salisbury. Tell me, what are your rates?”

“But I do not take passengers, much less a woman. This is hard country. We barely survive it ourselves, what with the rains, the mud and the fever. And we lose oxen on every trek, if not to the lions, then to their exertion of pulling too much weight over bad country. Their strong hearts simply fail, or they break a leg and we have to shoot them. And when they get tired and cranky they fight among themselves. That’s why we take along extra teams of the animals. We lose too many on a trek. Don’t you understand? This trek is too hard as it is. No passengers to make it even worse!”

“Verdoem, Clayworth, this woman is not fit to be called a passenger. She’s freight, pure and simple. And if she does not survive the trip, I don’t care. Dump her off just by the side of the road as you would any other damaged freight. So, tell me. What is your rate to Fort Salisbury?”

“See here, now, Hannes. You know my rates very well. They’re the same as any other transporter’s. This won’t do you any good, but Johannesburg to Fort Salisbury is a three-leg trek. The first leg is from Johannesburg to Palachwe; the next is to Bulawayo; and the final leg is on to Fort Salisbury. My rates are twenty-five shillings per hundredweight, per leg. That’s seventy-five shillings. Man, you could buy her a salted horse for that if she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury and she could join a train on her own.”

“I never said she wanted to go to Fort Salisbury. I want her as far away as I can put her and Fort Salisbury fills that bill. Look, I know she’s swaarly, more than a hundredweight. I’ll double your price. One hundred and fifty shillings, a shilling for every pound, to take her with you all the way to Fort Salisbury. Dump her off there and she’ll never find her way back here again. What do you say?”

“I say no, just as I’ve been trying to tell you. No passengers. Passengers have to eat and the trip takes twenty to thirty weeks and that’s if we have fair weather. That’s a lot of extra food to carry or find along the way. A man could be useful on a long trek, but not a woman. A man can stand night watch. He can chop firewood. He can wade the mud to pull the trek-oxes through. A woman. Bah! On a wagon trek she’s good for one thing and one thing only. And not good at all when my partner and I would share her. No. I won’t do it. Take her away. I have to inspan and get on my way. Sunlight is a wasting.”

“Now see here, Clayworth. I’ll pay you triple. Two hundred and twenty-five shillings to take this problem off my hands and the load off my mind. What do you say?”

Jerrick Clayworth, grim and tight-lipped, forced himself to hold back lashing out again to the Afrikaner, Hannes Crouse. He considered the offer of two hundred and twenty-five shillings, more than eleven pounds, more than enough to pay for a replacement ox when he lost one, as he was sure to do somewhere, sometime on this trek. And if the woman died along the way, or went on her own way once they were a few days out of Johannesburg, then so much the better. But is she really alive? Jerrick lifted the woven-reed lid from the deep and sturdy woven grass basket once again for a confirming examination. The woman was dressed in man’s breeches and boots, with a shirt top that was male as well. She made no sound. He bent low to inspect her, noting no bleeding wounds, but more importantly no smell of death about her; an earthy odor but certainly not dead.

“How did she get in this condition? What’s the matter with her? Why is she unconscious and how long has she been this way?”

“She’s just knocked out for a while. She’ll come around.”

“What did you give her?”

“I got the potion from a sangoma. I don’t actually know what’s in it.”

“Then how do you know she’ll come out of it?”

“The old teef told me she would, and if she don’t, I’ll wring that witch’s scrawny black neck and take back the two goats I paid her.”

“Well she don’t look dead, but if she does come out she’s going to get really messy in short order when her body starts to function again. We’ll have to get her out of that basket. I’ll spread a bullock hide to lay her on so she don’t piss or crap all over my goods when she wakes up.”

“Danke, Clayworth. Here, I’ll help you with her.”

“Not so fast. I’ll take the shillings first; otherwise she stays in the basket and goes home with you instead of on the trail with me.”

Grumbling, Hannes counted out two hundred and twenty-five silver shillings, and in so doing, emptied the bag. Jerrick noted and realized Hannes knew all along how much he would have to pay and was prepared with just the right amount. Hannes cupped the coins, returned them to the pouch and handed it over to Jerrick. Together the two men spread the hide over the crates and baskets, and stretched the still inert figure on it.

“Does she have a name?’

“I always called her Gertie. Gerta, I suppose?”

“And her surname? Hell, man if she dies on me I have to be able to burn a name on the crossed sticks. I couldn’t leave her for the animals.”

“Verdoem, man. Don’t bother to dig the ground for her. As far as I know even she doesn’t know her father’s name or even who he was. She’s just Gertie and the hyenas won’t check her pedigree.”






GSP Author of the Week: Jim Woods

3 Jun

This week we honor the memory of Jim Woods. 

Jim Woods, Author of So you Want to be An Author?

im Woods wrote novels and short stories, many of which stand alone, while others are assembled into collections, in worldwide milieus. He was a world traveler, having researched numerous exotic locales as settings for his stories. Much of his world travel was for big game hunting which, coupled with his background as editor with Petersen’s Hunting, Guns & Ammo and Guns magazines, frequently allowed him to bring firearms into play in his tales. Jim Woods passed away October 8, 2012; he lived and wrote in Tucson.

Please watch this space for releases from the author.

Callie’s Fate

29 May

Another release from Author of the Week Lee-Anne Graff Vinson.

Callie's Fate by Lee-Ann Graff Vinson

When Callie takes the red-eye home to surprise her husband for their anniversary, she finds the surprise is on her. She watches as a blonde tart in six-inch heels teeters out from her home and toward a cherry-red Mustang, which is parked in her spot.

Enraged, Callie does the only thing she can do. She drives to her favorite coffee house, scrolls through divorce lawyers who claim to eat cheating husbands for breakfast, and cries. Her only consolation is Christian, a Marine, whom she befriended on a chat site almost a year earlier.

While waiting for her marriage to end, Callie agrees to finally meet Christian in person. She has always been a woman in control, but the mere touch of this man has her begging for more. Christian is only too happy to oblige, leaving Callie agreeing with the motto ‘The Few and The Proud’. She has never experienced a man who could make her see stars, but Christian does his duty, and does it well.

Unhappy circumstances bring them together. A week of sexual bliss makes it impossible for them to part, leaving them to wonder how they can, once again, test the hands of fate.


Callie parked her car across the street from her house. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she didn’t feel them. She was numb. Angry. Done. She had to hand it to him. Donald’s taste in women had improved since the first time she’d caught him cheating. The blonde, in her six-inch, cherry-red heels, clicked merrily across the driveway to her car. The Mustang was noticeably the same shade of slut as her shoes and was parked contemptuously in Callie’s spot. She scowled as the tart shimmied herself into the car. Her mini skirt was wrinkled and tight. She probably didn’t even take it off.


Callie had just arrived home from a five-day pharmaceutical conference where she’d been working twelve-hour days promoting one of her company’s new drugs. Exhausted, she’d caught the red-eye to make it back on time. Today was their fourteenth wedding anniversary, and she wanted to surprise her husband with a day of wine tours and food samplings she’d booked online while she was away. This was the second time the surprise had been on her.

When he’d done it the first time, she couldn’t believe the man she’d entrusted her heart to would hurt her in such a deceitful manner. She’d married him because he was safe. He definitely was not the partying type. He never stayed out late with the boys, and he’d always come home right after work. He was, well . . . boring. He was the one man she’d thought she didn’t have to worry about. Although they didn’t share the same interests—she loved the outdoors, running and biking and he was happy in front of the television drinking a few beers—she loved him and he loved her. Or at least he told her he did.

Back then she’d had an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt, thinking his affair was somehow her fault. Her job took her away quite a bit and when she was home, she worked such long hours they rarely had time for a quickie, let alone what he would call “substantial” sex.

She stared at the car backing out of her driveway. She didn’t have those same feelings of guilt, heartache and complete devastation as before. Only anger and emptiness remained. After eighteen months of counseling and thousands down the drain, this was what they’d accomplished? Well, not again. No more lies. No more wasted money. This time she was done for good.

Her first instinct was to throw open the front door and wipe that smirk off his face with a baseball bat, screaming every obscenity she could think of. She wanted to cause him extreme pain. It’s our stupid anniversary!

As much as physically beating him appealed to her, she needed to hit him harder, in a way that made complete recovery impossible. No, violence wasn’t the answer. Her next move needed to be one that would hurt him as much as he’d killed their marriage. She needed professional help. It was time to consult with the people who knew him best––The Law Offices of Divorce-A-Cheating-Ass.

Callie started her car and gunned it down the street. She expertly cut off Donald’s newest ride, eliciting quite a resentful honk from her, which she quite happily returned with the full length of her middle finger. She sped down the street and away from her beloved home.

The Starbucks parking lot was almost empty as she maneuvered her shiny, silver Chrysler 200 into a lonely spot. She popped her trunk and got out. She always bloated on long flights and her black suede platform heels were beginning to pinch. She tugged at the ruffled skirt she typically wore on business trips, which was now cutting into her waist. She was about to grab her jeans and sneakers from her suitcase to change into, when she heard the vocal admiration of a passing, very well-built, fetching, young male cyclist. She decided against comfort and tossed the items back in. Damn right, I’m sexy.

At thirty-seven, Callie still had a great figure. She wasn’t statuesque, but her legs were muscular, giving the illusion of length. Her waist was narrow. So was her chest, but nothing a Victoria’s Secret push-up couldn’t cure—and she wore it well. Her blonde hair was long and straight, fanning out across her shoulders to mid-back. However, her eyes were what gave Callie her power. The large cobalt orbs could stop men at twenty paces. A flutter of the eyelashes followed by an intent gaze could get her anything she wanted. She used her power well; it had gained many large contracts for her company.

She pulled out her laptop bag and closed her trunk. It was going to take a lot of research to find the perfect attorney who would represent her in the courtroom. Donald wasn’t going to get away with it this time. The son-of-a-bitch!

She found a table and took out her laptop, then stood in line to order while she waited for it to boot up. Now, what type of coffee does a day like today require? When it was her turn to order, Callie spoke with no emotion. “May I please have an I-just-caught-my-loser-of-a-husband-cheating-with-a-whore-and-I’m-going-to-take-him-to-the-cleaners grande, skinny, extra-hot, caramel macchiato?”

The barista stared at her for a brief moment before replying “Of course, and how about we just go ahead and make that a venti at no extra charge?”

The wink she gave Callie was one of a woman familiar with her kind of day, and Callie knew she’d chosen her sanctuary well.

Coffee in hand, she sat down in front of her laptop and sighed. She shook her head as she searched through the myriad of divorce attorneys. How did she get here again? How did she not see this coming?

Tramp-happy Donald was currently between jobs, as he liked to tell anyone who cared to ask. A plumber by trade, they’d met when the pipe in her en suite bathroom burst one Sunday afternoon. She’d called the first company listed in the yellow pages and paid an arm and a leg for the repair, but thoroughly enjoyed the view as she waited for it to be fixed. Donald’s well-rounded, firm, plumber-butt definitely drew her away from her laptop, and she was thrilled when he’d asked for her number. However, his idea of a stellar evening included darts and drinks at his favorite pub, which was where he took her on their first date. And the next five. She’d always dreamed she would find a man who was kind, loving and, of course, fabulously sexy. Instead, she’d found Donald. He drew her in with winks and compliments. He held mystical powers when it came to bullshit, which he opened up like a clogged drain when he was with her. They used to talk a lot back then. She was attracted to his easy-going confidence. She was comfortable in his company and satisfied in his bed. Now, Callie realized he’d played her. She was merely his meal ticket with the option of sex.

Callie had never had a long-term, serious relationship before she met Donald. Her drive to climb the proverbial ladder had kept her from having time to socialize outside of work. Somehow, this man had wrenched his way into her heart. She’d allowed him into her life, her home . . . and now she was paying for him to plumb someone else’s pipes.

“Idiot,” she said.






Love’s Trust…

28 May

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Lee-Ann Graff Vinson.

Love's Trust by Lee-Ann Graff Vinson

Daphne Lambert left the comforts of home to spend three months living a soldier’s life in Iraq. A reporter for the Boston Globe, Daphne patrolled along side some of the Army’s finest. When their troop triggered a planted IED, Daphne never expected to find true love in the arms of her savior. A man who, she would later find out, was the intended target of the bomb.

Sergeant John Ramos was a well-respected leader of his platoon. A routine search for IED’s ended up in the death of two good soldiers, and the loss of a leg for John. One year later, John finds himself the target of a court martial and the only person he can turn to for help is the woman he saved, the woman he loves.


 Daphne threw the car into reverse and backed out of the driveway. She could see her now ex-boyfriend, Mike, yelling at her, but the driving rain drowned out the possibility of hearing his scathing comments as it thundered down on the canvas roof of her Mercedes.
    Daphne would have laughed at the comical nature of Mike’s actions if it hadn’t been for the last six months of crap she had taken from this man. Another relationship bites the dust, and along with it another chance at happily-ever-after ground out like a spent cigarette. The possibility of finding a man who would treat her with the respect, hell even the common courtesy she deserved, seemed non-existent. As the car reached the edge of the driveway, Daphne turned the wheel and took one last look at Mike, standing there in his boxer shorts, giving her the finger. She felt dead inside. She focused on the road ahead and drove away from the promise of love.
    Daphne wondered how she had ended up here again, how she always ended up here. She’d worked hard and won scholarships to put herself through university, graduating from Harvard with a degree in journalism. Daphne was smart and successful, so why could she not seem to find a man who appreciated her instead of always belittling her efforts? She shook her head as she drove along Pine Street, very thankful now that she hadn’t given up her apartment downtown when Mike had told her to. That had caused yet another argument but Daphne was not about to let go of her rent controlled, fully furnished apartment a mere two blocks away from her job as a reporter for The Boston Globe. No man was going to dictate where she lived or what she did again. Ever.
    Daphne pulled into her designated parking spot at the newspaper. She turned off the engine and dropped her head back against the leather seat. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the glitter of the parking lot lamplight reflecting off her stall nameplate in the downpour. Her boss had tacked a metal replica of a purple heart to it to remind her how close she had come to losing it all on her last assignment.
    Daphne had been a slave to reporting the military political injustices of the world for the past eight years. She loved her job, which included travel to many war-torn areas. She’d seen the devastation caused by years of bullets and brutality. Her most recent trip to Iraq was one she’d steeled herself for. This time, instead of simply observing, Daphne got the chance to become part of the troops, and live the life of the American soldier. The assignment was one of the most difficult she’d ever taken, and she’d found that studying up on a topic and actually living it were two different things. She’d seen the terror on the faces of small children when the MRAP vehicle she was in rumbled along the dirt roadway through their village. Daphne had witnessed the missing limbs and scarred flesh of the civilian Iraqi men, women and children as she walked the dirt roads looking for (Improvised Explosive Devices or IED’s) with her assigned platoon. She was shown pictures of the enlisted friends of her troop members who no longer walked alongside them, but would never be forgotten. She saw first-hand the pain and suffering caused by militant war-mongers and it sickened her.
    In her three months in Iraq, Daphne had gotten to know the soldiers very well. She’d watched as four young, vibrant, enthusiastic recruits became despondent shells of their former selves dealing with their injuries and the pain of being knocked down so early in their military career. In their eyes, the stigma of failing their country was worse than the injuries. The minds of soldiers were directed to giving their all for their country, and being sent home alive but crippled left them with a feeling of inadequacy almost unbearable to behold.
    Daphne also remembered Sergeant John Romero, a well-respected leader amongst the men and women in his platoon, and the man who saved her when their patrol had triggered an IED. John lost his leg getting Daphne to the safety of the following MRAP vehicle. Two soldiers lost their lives on a day that was supposed to be a routine sweep. It continued to haunt Daphne that the IED wasn’t found when Sergeant Romero walked over it with his bomb detector. She wanted to do a follow-up story delving into the equipment failure rates of the military, but decided against it. She didn’t want to cause John any further angst over an incident he blamed himself for. John was thorough in his job. He never made errors. The day the explosion took the lives of his platoon members, his friends, he shut down. Daphne had tried to get him help, tried to make him keep the appointment with the psychologist the Army set up for him, but he refused.
    John and Daphne were close, as close as the Army allowed without a reprimand. They drank many bottles of water together and shared a lifetime of memories in those months. Daphne was impressed by this quiet leader of men, who gave his all for his country and his platoon. He was the type of man you never forgot. Honorable. Courageous. Worthy.
    Shortly after her return, Daphne wrote an award-winning article about her time in Iraq. It was an in-depth piece compiled from hours of interviews Daphne had conducted with the soldiers while they were in the field. It was her way of trying to help them heal. Once the piece was done, Daphne lost touch with the four wounded soldiers she flew back with after the accident, as well as with John. He’d told her that he needed to get away, needed to make sense of things. Daphne let him go, but her heart broke the day they said goodbye.
    Still sitting in the car, Daphne closed her eyes and thought about one of the first nights she and John were on duty together. It was shortly after she had been trained to use the M9 9mm pistol. There was no way Daphne was going to be the weak link in this platoon. If she was going to live the life of a soldier, she needed to be trained as a soldier. Given the time constraints, she worked harder than she ever had at anything in her life. She was not going to let her platoon down. It paid off, she was a damn good shot with her weapon, even Lieutenant Jekholf was impressed.
    John led Daphne around the perimeter of the camp, on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary. John had stopped to speak with one of his platoon members who had a few questions about the next days mission. Daphne thought she spotted movement behind one of the buildings. She did not want to interrupt them if it was nothing so, armed with her M9 and ready to shoot, Daphne walked in the direction of the possible intruder. She knew she was a decent shot and she momentarily got a little excited about the possibility of showing off her newfound talent. Daphne was close to rounding the corner of the building when common sense kicked in. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. The thought of coming face to face with the enemy scared the hell out of her. Sweat trickled down her back. She needed to pull it together and fast.
    There was no way she was going to allow herself to lose it here. If mere kids could handle the stress of this type of situation, so could she. Daphne rounded the corner and could hear some rustling coming from a small shack that held sandbags. Before she could take aim, she was pressed roughly against the wall of the building and told to be quiet. Daphne’s heart was racing before, now it damn near exploded in fear. Her mouth was scared shut. She recognized the voice to be John’s and prayed that her stupid decision to go off alone wasn’t going to get them killed. John’s movements were quick and efficient. His gun was drawn and pointed as he silently made his way across open ground, and stood to the side of the doorway.
    John nudged the door open further, using the tip of one boot to keep his hands free and on his weapon. Lighting was minimal in this area. Daphne felt her pupils dilating to compensate, almost willing herself to see something before it was too late. The shape was fast as it shot out past John’s boot. Daphne held a scream in her throat as she pulled her weapon to cover him. John took aim and shot. In less than a second, the form lay limp on the ground. Men and women came running from all directions with their weapons drawn.
    Daphne was shaking and unable to move. Her hands trembled from the tight grasp on her weapon still aimed in the direction of the lifeless body. She stared at her platoon members now gathered around it, hearing a few of them laugh. She watched as someone patted John on the back before turning away and walking back to the camp. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. They were laughing. Someone was dead, and they were laughing. Daphne felt the heat as it rose within her. Her anger forced her shaking limbs to close the distance between her and the rest of her team. 






GSP Author of the Week: Lee-Ann Graff Vinson

27 May

Congratulations to GSP Author of the Week: Lee-Ann Graff Vinson

Lee-Ann Graff Vinson, author of Georgia's Smile

Of herself Lee-Ann says: ” Thirty-nine years and two children later, my life finally came back to my passion—writing. Every author knows it is passion, perseverance and a thick skin that breeds success. Hell, that is what breeds success in every walk of life. Success to me is the completion of a rather good piece of writing, if I do say so myself. Luck is the ability to have it published for everyone else to read.
     So, to hurry along my passion of becoming successfully lucky, I entered into the Winghill School of Writing, joined various writing groups, and follow diligently the advice Writer’s Digest sends to my email box almost daily. It is safe to say that the pipe dream of becoming a professional writer is no longer just that. I have worked in various fields in my life, some fulfilling, some not. But, as you know, a career is not what makes you. It is the full aspect of family, friends, loved ones and work that give you your joy or edge. All gave me insight into the way in which the world, and the people in it, revolve. Now that I am, dare I say, older, I am able to look at these “experiences” and channel them into a therapy like no other—writing. 
     Life is full of mysterious, romantic, hurtful, joyous, painful encounters. What would the world be without its pain and suffering or its ecstatic happiness? Real life occurrences are what make us who we are. They also make up the majority of my writing style. I can create fantasy and spiritual as well. Let’s face it, life without a little fantasy now and then can seem quite daunting, and we are all spiritual creatures, whether we like it or not. What intrigues me most is the ability of the human mind and heart to overcome.
So, here I sit in my suburban home office, watching all the trials and tribulations of life, and living some of them, forever in hope of creating the next best-seller. Until then, I am enjoying all the bumps and rejections I receive along this journey and am a firm believer in “what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”

Learn more about Lee-Ann here:

Watch this space for releases from the author.

The Will and The Way

22 May

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: Hendrik van Oordt.

The Will and the Way by Hendrik van Oordt

Cellist Kim Chalmers is in Paris preparing for a world tour when her fiancé, yaughtsman John Dunesne, is caught in a storm and reported missing. Haunted by John’s loss and a failed childhood love for which she still feels responsible, Kim gets deeply depressed and ready to give up a promising career.

Agent and friend Anne Moorecroft discovers the whereabouts of Kim’s childhood love, Will Evans, now a wild-cat oil operator in the Sahara, and tries to rekindle the fire between Kim and Will. Just then John Dunesne is found alive on the Irish coast. Kim’s heart is in a turmoil. She is faced with a terrible choice. Will she make the right decision?


“You didn’t bring any bedding?” Will Evans sounded almost sympathetic in his perplexity. “What did you expect to find here? A hotel?”

A smile briefly lit up his face, and Anne could once again feel the powerful attraction exuded by this man. But he didn’t explain the reason for his smile and it was gone in an instant, leaving the same handsome mask as before. He had probably been laughing at her.

“I’ll give you my tent for the night.”

Anne didn’t argue. She was a modern woman who valued her gender equality, but she was far too scared of what was happening to protest that she could sleep under the stars as well as any man. She had never camped out in her life and she had already come to the conclusion that she would never ever do so again. Something was rustling somewhere, and something else was calling to the moon. Away to the right she could make out the silhouettes of the men talking quietly among themselves. Meekly she followed Will Evans to her quarters, a triangular tent so low you had to crouch to get in.

“No extra blankets, I’m afraid. You better keep your clothes on. The tent is insulated, but it’s a lot colder out here than at Fort Khaldun.”

He took out his bedroll, which he dumped right in front of the shelter.

“This is where I’ll be sleeping. If you need to go to the bathroom, it’s back there.” He pointed beyond a hillock and looked at her with an amused air. “Just don’t expect a bathroom.”


“It’s a good thing your parents don’t know I’m here.” The girl laughed breathlessly.

The boy and the girl were running through the orchard by Hardwood River. Ahead rose the old boathouse, derelict and abandoned since the construction of the new shed near the manor.

It was raining heavily. Both adolescents were drenched. The boy’s heart ached at the sight of the running girl in her bedraggled summer dress, clinging wet to her skin as though it never wanted to let go. It was the way he wanted to hold onto her.

When they reached the door, she turned and smiled through the wet strands of hair plastered against her cheeks and forehead. She took the boy’s face in her hands and kissed him.

“You look so serious,” she whispered. “I want you to tell me your problems. But first I want you to make love to me. That’s all I want from life. Happiness. You.”

“No!” The boy tore himself away, staring wide-eyed at her. “No,” he said again. He was crying soundlessly. “Laetitia knows and is threatening to tell Mom.”

The girl sagged to the ground against the building. “Aunt Mary will kill you,” she said, “if she finds out.”

He shrugged, unable to express himself. How could he explain that he wouldn’t mind whatever punishment his mother had in store for him as long as he could have her?

“I’m leaving home,” he said softly.

The girl looked up sharply. After a moment she laid a hand on his knee. “And me?”

He shook his head in silence. She scrambled to her feet.

“I’m coming with you.”


“You can’t stop me.”

No, but society can, he thought sadly. “You’re seventeen, without a passport, and you’re my cousin. If we ran off together, Laetitia would be sure to tell Mom what was going on between us and the police would haul us back in no time. Your life would no longer be worth living. And if I stayed, we’d try to continue what we’re doing. We wouldn’t be able to stop ourselves.”

He stood looking at her for a long time, unable to tear his eyes away from her face.

“I love you, Kim,” he said at last. “I’ve loved you forever, it seems.”

She took his face again in her hands and whispered, “Make love to me.”

He closed his eyes against her searching look. She was scanning his face as if she wanted to reach inside his mind for an argument that would convince him to stay. She bit his ear and put one of his hands on her breast. “Make love to me,” she said again.

He took her hand in his and kissed it long and desperately.

“I’ve signed up on an oil rig for the season. I’m flying out tonight. I’ll be stationed in Greenland. I’ll write.”
The girl began to cry, burying her face in his chest.


The neighborhood had that old-world charm you find in so many European cities, with deep courtyards, alleys at odd angles, old and rather dusty shops, bars and restaurants everywhere, and far too much traffic for the narrow streets.

It was a beautiful day in Paris, and Kim Chalmers stood lazily watching a couple of teenagers from her second-floor apartment window, enjoying the heat of the late summer sun on her face and upper body. The two kids in the street below were flirting heavily, laughing and showing each other pictures on their cell phones, with just enough body distance to suggest that they might not yet be together. It wouldn’t be long before they found each other, she thought. They would make a cute item. If John were here, he would have concluded cynically that they were negotiating a temporary truce between the sexes. But that was John, and she loved him for what he was, macho warts and all. For all his outward display of cynicism, she knew him for a softy who could not get enough of her and who would stand by her come hell or high water. Literally. John had seen enough rough weather and human misery while sailing around the world on his yacht to be ready to fight for the true things in life, and for reasons she could only marvel at, he thought she was the truest thing in his life.

She thought they would soon be married, if his parents had anything to do with it. His people were the type to keep pushing and arranging until everything was boxed tidily and prettily where it belonged, with the lid on and a neat label, ready for sailing on the great ship of life. Kim and John definitely belonged in the box labeled marriage. John’s mother kept saying so, and Kim had to admit they made a handsome couple. If she had qualms about the freckles on the bridge of her nose and a constant fear of growing fat, she had no doubts at all about John’s physique. He was easily one of the best-looking men she had ever seen, with the sort of carefree walk that made him stand out from the crowd wherever he went; dark, with untamed eyes that made any woman’s heart race faster, and a smile that opened all doors for him.

The sun had dipped behind the buildings across the street, and the kids below her window had moved on, absorbed by the shadows and their own private world. She turned toward the room, wondering what life was all about anyway. All day long she had been feeling strangely nostalgic and rebellious. She loathed anything smacking of self-pity and nostalgia, and yet she was feeling homesick for a past that was utterly irrelevant to her life and future. Perhaps it was the two kids with their cell phones or the burnished copper of the setting sun, reminding her of an Indian summer just like this when she had passionately loved and lost. More likely, the growing pressure on the part of John’s mother highlighted her own doubt that marriage was what she wanted right now with her career taking off. But wherever she looked, things seemed to be throwing up memories of years gone by.

She sighed and looked at her reflection in the mirror and at the comfortable room behind, with its pleasant clutter and spacious dimensions. Even if she did not share John’s unbridled admiration for her looks, the mirror told her she was good-looking by any standard, while her apartment spoke of a life without financial worries. In the words of the magazines, she had it all—talent, beauty and, if not wealth, enough money to lead an independent life. She had no reason to feel sorry for herself. She was twenty-seven and engaged to a dashing adventurer, a once-in-a-lifetime man who was also a gentleman in this graceless day and age, with a circle of friends that was equally glamorous and wild. A man who paid the daily compliment of telling her she was the most beautiful woman in the world and who backed it up with endless gifts. She had no right to indulge in that sort of nonsense.

Resolutely, she turned on the light, took her cello from its stand and placed it between her knees. With just three months to go before a series of concerts that would take her to major concert halls around the world, on the verge of an international breakthrough, this was not the moment to pretend a mid-life crisis. Besides, it was extremely unfair to John. The past was over and done with. She had cried enough to fill a bathtub after Will’s departure and it hadn’t brought him back. For years she had thought she would never forget him and now, when she had finally forgotten, a red sunset and a few rose-colored memories were going to bring him back and spoil the party? Teenage love. Never again, thank you very much. Look at the puppy love of those kids passing below her window. Think of the tears they would shed, only to go off and make an entirely different life with someone else, all promises forgotten.

Angrily she tightened the bow of her instrument, snapping several horsehairs.

“Stupid girl,” she muttered, anxiously eying the wood for cracks. Her bow was a beautiful example from a 19th-century maker, a gift from her teacher when she graduated with honors from the conservatory, and she’d never forgive herself if she damaged it. “No man is worth your ruination, you hear?” she crooned as she loosened the screw. “Not John, not Will, not any man.”

She played old folk tunes of the kind that wailed about broken promises and impossible loves, until the professional in her took over and she settled down to playing scales. She had been at it for over an hour, almost satisfied with the blur of her fingers as they slid, stopped and vibrated across the fingerboard, when the doorbell rang. She wondered who it could be. She did not encourage unannounced callers when practicing.





The Mystery of Whale House…

21 May

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Hendrik van Oordt.

The Mystery of Whale House by Hendrik van Oordt

Shipped off to an aunt and uncle on remote Rew island while their parents are moving house, Frank, Dana and Martin are bored to death in a place without internet or even proper cell phone reception. All the locals talk about is the lobster catch. But just when our city-bred heroes decide to start boycotting their aunt’s fish soup, they hear a story about a mad woman and her son living in Whale House, a gothic monstrosity perched on an isolated peninsula up north. Cut off from the remainder of the island by a sudden storm, the three teens are forced to seek refuge in Whale House, where they discover a terrible secret. After considerable adventures, they come face to face with their captors, who cannot afford to let them escape…


Whale House stands at the end of the world. Everybody on Rew Island has heard the story of the boy who tried to cross to the House for a dare and was swept away by the waves and drowned. For most of the year it is blanketed in fog and rain, making it impossible to reach. Even when the weather is fair, the ocean washes over the slippery causeway at high tide. And fair weather never lasts long over there. Aye, it is a dangerous place to visit.

     Thus began the story Mr. Buirr told Frank, Dana and Martin one morning in the little harbor of Rew.
     How the children hated Rew! They were on the island under serious protest. They disliked everything about it, particularly the total absence of internet connections. In fact, they considered their holiday a punishment and a ploy to get them away from their computers and their mp3 downloads.
     Of course, the trip was not meant to be a punishment. It was merely a practical solution to give their parents the breather needed to decorate the family’s new home. But try telling that to a boy who has to trade his videogames for old-fashioned board games or a girl who can no longer spend her evenings chatting online with her girlfriends!
     Only Martin, who was the youngest, had liked the idea of going to stay with an aunt and an uncle they had never met. He enjoyed adventure stories and he was sure Rew Island must have loads of hidden treasure. He had therefore been deeply disappointed when Uncle Robert told him laughingly that no pirates had ever visited the coast.
     “The only treasure we have is the oysters in the bay,” Uncle Robert said. Martin secretly disagreed. Oysters were no treasure. They looked disgusting when you opened them and they tasted worse.
     Even worse, Uncle Robert and Aunt Nelly expected you to eat everything on your plate and somehow, when Aunt Nelly looked at you, you didn’t dare to object that you’d rather have a hamburger than some slimy animal from the sea.
     Yes, Frank, Dana and Martin couldn’t wait to go home after their first few days on Rew Island.
     And they had just resolved to write their parents (their aunt had no telephone and mobile phones just didn’t seem to capture a signal on the island) when they met Mr. Buirr. They immediately forgot all about their plans to go home. It was the start of an adventure, though they didn’t know it yet.
     Aunt Nelly had become so tired of their hanging around the house that she had said, quite crossly, “It’s a beautiful day and I’ve got work to do. Why don’t you go and see Mr. Buirr? He’s that old man with the pipe down by the harbor and he’s got all the time in the world to tell you stories and keep you occupied.”
     “What kind of stories?” Martin asked eagerly.
     “Oh, I don’t know. He loves telling stories. Ask him about Whale House; that will keep him talking. After all, the whole island’s been on about it forever. Now, off you go!”
     She had only said it to get them out of the house, but she had been right. When they saw Mr. Buirr they were delighted. He was the best thing they had come across so far on the island. Even Dana, who was really only into animals, had to admit he was interesting.
     He looked as if he had sailed every one of the Seven Seas. You just knew that he must have lots of interesting stories to tell. In fact, he could have stepped straight out of a television series with his weathered face and deep blue eyes. The only thing missing was a parrot on his shoulder.
     And so they said politely “Good morning” to the bearded old sailor and stood waiting patiently while he finished mending his net, secretly hoping that he’d talk to them and tell them a thrilling story about Shanghai (which Martin wanted to hear), wonderful animals (Dana’s wish) or life on board a ship (Frank’s preference).
     Finally he put down his tools with a sigh, took out a pipe and said, “You’re the kids staying with the Coulders, ain’t that so?”
     The children nodded eagerly.
     The old man lit his pipe and, between puffs, said, “I guess Mrs. Coulder told you I’ve been round and about, right?” He chuckled when they nodded. “Well, I’ve seen a scary thing or two in my time and I didn’t have far to go. Them winter storms can put fear into the strongest fisherman. Aye.” He puffed quietly for a few moments.
     Before he could open his mouth to continue Martin interrupted, “Please, sir. What is Whale House?”
     The old man frowned unexpectedly in annoyance. “Who’s been telling you about Whale House? Your aunt, is it? Don’t she know better? Them women chatter far too much. They’re garrulous creatures and talk about things best left alone. Don’t you go to the House, I’m telling ye! It’s a dangerous place.
     “And the folks there don’t like visitors. They never did. Aye, the House is at the end of the world. I went there when a lad. I weren’t older than you,” (here he pointed his pipe at Dana, who was thirteen) “and I were that scared. The waves was crashing all over and when you saw one coming you had to run like the Divvil to miss it. I was nary swept away twice. These days the weather ain’t what it used to be.
     “You kids could cross now and no harm come to you but I wouldn’t recommend it! The House is a strange place. And it sure is the end of the world. Now you listen to me because I’m going to tell you a secret. But you’ve got to keep it secret, mind!”
     The children nodded enthusiastically, thrilled by Mr. Buirr’s hushed voice. They were ready to promise anything to hear his secret. The old man looked at them suspiciously, as if not certain how far he could trust them.
     “Tell us, please!” said Dana, who felt she would die if Mr. Buirr didn’t reveal his secret.
     “All right then. Ye won’t believe what I’m about to tell you and yet it’s the solemn truth, so help me!”






GSP Author of the Week: Hendrik van Oordt

20 May

Congratulations to GSP Author of the Week: Hendrik van Oordt.

Hendrik van Oordt, author of The Mystery of Whale House

Dutch sculptor and occasional writer. Two non-fiction books (Le lexique bilingue d’analyse financière, Accent International, France and Bloemen, Taal & Symboliek; Elmar, Netherlands), some loose stories, a romance under the pseudonym Alicia Holland (The Woman’s Story, Wings ePress, United States), a storybook for young children under the pseudonym Mols Hoop (Van Beesten en Monsters; Free Musketeers, Netherlands)

Watch this space for releases from the author.

The Wrath of Leah….

16 May

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: G. E. Stills

The Wrath of Leah by G. E. Stills

Leah’s home has been burned to the ground and a man she once loved has killed her mother. She is taken to a new world, held captive and tortured by a ruthless sorcerer. Jan helps her escape and takes her to his village. The people there look to her for salvation. How can she, a simple woman from Earth with no special abilities, possibly live up to their expectations?


Crossing the clearing between her house and the barn where she kept her horses, Leah glanced around. Tall pines surrounded the clearing containing the buildings. Only a slight breeze whispering through the pine needles disturbed the early morning silence. She loved the silence and the solitude her remote location in the mountains provided. The last of the snow had melted away and the first tiny sprigs that would grow to be a riot of beautiful wildflowers had pushed up from the ground to the right of her wooden cabin.

It’s so much different here than in the town fifteen miles away, where I spent my first twenty years.

Leah stepped into her cabin and poured a cup of coffee. As she sat at the table with her hands wrapped around the steaming cup, she thought back to her high school days and specifically, Mike. For two years, they’d dated and made plans for the future, like going to college together. Maybe even living together. Reaching up, she twirled a lock of her chestnut-colored hair, wondering what it would look like next week when she had it cut to off to shoulder length.

Her memories turned once more to Mike. He was an only child and lived with his parents half a mile from her house. She remembered the day as if it had happened yesterday. Mike was supposed to call that Saturday morning and together they would make plans for the senior dance. He didn’t call. By midafternoon, she tired of waiting and called him. The phone rang and rang.

I was worried. He never broke a promise before. The next day, she borrowed her mom’s car and drove to his house. It was vacant. Glancing through the curtainless window, she saw that the room was bare. The front door was unlocked. She strolled through the empty house in disbelief.

She searched, using every means she could think to locate them. Nothing—not a single clue, as if they had dropped off the face of the Earth. She was crushed. The boy who owned her heart had simply vanished.

A few months later, her dad died, killed in a car accident. The two most important men in her life had been ripped away from her in less than six months. She graduated from high school, but delayed entering college. Instead, she moved here to the cabin her parents owned. Pleasant memories from her childhood surrounded her. She begged her mom to come with her, but she refused, remaining behind to work at her job. Her mother, in turn, expressed deep concern that her daughter would be living in the mountains alone.

“I need time to think, to grieve,” Leah explained. “I’ll go to college soon.”

It was still hard for her to fathom—three years had passed. She would be twenty-one next month. She took a sip of coffee. I kept my promise, Mom. I’m enrolled in college. I start this fall.

The crunch of gravel jerked her from her melancholy thoughts and alerted her of visitors. Leah strolled toward the door and answered at the knock. Her mother, Janice, stood framed in the doorway.

“I would’ve called, but I just had to see the expression on your face.”

Leah moved back to let her mother in. “What’s going on, Mom?”

Janice stepped to the side and Leah saw for the first time her mother hadn’t come alone. Her jaw dropped and her knees wobbled when she saw him. His piercing blue eyes, wavy black hair and great physique left no doubt. “Mike?”

“One and the same,” he said.

She wanted to rush into his arms, and at the same time wanted to beat on his chest for never having contacted her over the years.

“I answered the door this morning,” her mother explained, “and there he was.”

Leah stumbled back and sat in her easy chair heavily. “Where have you been?”


“Away! That’s all you can say?”

“Don’t I get a hug and a kiss?”

She wanted to. She wanted to fly into his arms, but at the same time displeasure with his response held her back. “Not until you can give me a better answer for where you’ve been the last three years.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Her displeasure was escalating into anger. He was avoiding her question. “Try me.” Again, she heard the crunch of gravel. Now who?

Car doors slammed and a burly man darkened the doorway. She could see there were two others behind him.

“About time,” Mike snapped.

She glanced at Janice, who looked just as surprised as she felt. She looked up at Mike, waiting for an explanation. His eyes had taken on an iciness that sent a shiver racing through her.

“We got here as quickly as possible, Lothar,” the first man said.
Lothar? Who’s Lothar?

“Is that the bitch?” the man asked, indicating her.

Anger having come to full bloom, Leah sprang to her feet. “I don’t know who you are, but I didn’t invite you into my house and I won’t be called names. Get out! All of you get out. Mike, who are these men?”

He ignored her question. “That’s her, Olaf. The other one is her mother. Secure them both.”

Olaf and one of the men surged at her. The other man angled off toward her mother. Leah fought like a tigress, but the strength and size of the men quickly prevailed. In a short time, plastic ties secured her arms and legs. Olaf ripped a piece from her now-buttonless blouse and shoved it in her mouth, cutting off her swearing. He stood behind her, holding her down in the chair. She glared at Mike for a moment and glanced at her mom. Her arms and legs were also bound.

“We’ll take the witch with us. What about this one?” the man holding her mother asked.

Mike directed his gaze at her. In a voice cold enough to freeze a bonfire, he said, “She’s of no further use. Kill her.”

Leah struggled, attempting to rise, but Olaf held her in place. She watched the third man draw a wicked-looking knife and plunge it into her mother’s heart while holding his hand over her mouth to keep her silent. After twisting it several times, he pulled it free. Leah watched in shock until her mother’s wild bucking and twisting stopped. A spreading stain of blood spread over her green blouse as the older woman twitched. Her head bobbed, and she was gone.

Callously, the man wiped the blade clean on her mother’s clothes.

The gag in her mouth muffled Leah’s choking sobs. Tears stung her eyes. She closed them, attempting in vain to shut out the awful sight of her mother being murdered. Pain lanced through her heart.