Archive for the ‘Virtual Book Tour Guests’ Category

Deborah Serani is an award-winning author and psychologist who has been in practice for thirty years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University and is a go-to media expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. Dr. Serani has also been a technical advisor for the NBC television show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The recurring character, Judge D. Serani, was named after her.




Website:  https://www.drdeborahserani.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DeborahSerani

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Deborah-Serani-227062310643715/


Dr. Alicia Reese, a recent widow and a CODA – a child of Deaf Adults, takes on a new patient. Lucas Ferro reveals the reason for his consultation is that he wasn’t really open with his previous therapist. After gaining Reese’s trust, he shares aspects of his life that are clearly disturbing – experiences that create anxiety and panic, but also reveal horrifying psychopathology. Instead of referring Ferro elsewhere, Reese chooses to continue working with him, feeling reinvigorated by the challenge of his case.

As sessions progress, and Ferro’s disclosures become more menacing, Reese finds herself wedged between the cold hard frame of professional ethics and the integrity of personal truth – and learns just how far she’s willing to go, willing to risk and willing to lose to do the right thing.


Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y6qz2sto


Would you call yourself a born writer? Mmmm, no. I think I fell into writing by choice and became better at it as time went by. I don’t think I’m a natural writer as much as a person who loves to write.

What was your inspiration for THE NINTH SESSION? I wondered what a person would do in an unwinnable situation… would professional ethics or would moral truth be the victor. And how would one live with such a choice.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing? I like exploring different cultures, showing the inner workings of psychology – and how trauma effects people.

How long did it take you to complete the novel? It took about a year to write the novel. Getting it published took many, many, many years.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day. I’m not a scheduled writer. I write when I can, which is just about every day. Usually in the morning or late at night when everything’s quiet.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book? THE NINTH SESSION was the easiest book I ever wrote write from first page to last page. What was difficult, however, was building the tension and pacing the suspense as the story unfolded. That took a lot of effort. And time. And edits.

What do you love most about being an author? I enjoy words – and love how certain phrases and sentences move me. So, it’s nice to read or hear how my writing has touched a reader’s life.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision? I originally had an agent for this book and went the traditional publishing route. I was younger at the time, and found my voice as a writer was being edited by both the agent and the publishing houses. The book lost its uniqueness – and after talking with more seasoned authors, I fired my agent and left the traditional publishing route. It was really hard to bounce back from that experience, but in time, found my momentum again. I turned to Indie publishers – and found that experience so much more supportive and encouraging of my work. I’ve been published independently for almost a decade now, with many books in different genres.

Where can we find you on the web? Readers can find me at my website https://www.drdeborahserani.com


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Writer-actor-singer Leonard Bassed was born in the town of Middleburg, Mpumalanga and raised in Johannesburg.  He started taking vocal lessons at age eight and studied drama throughout his high school years.  A mentor encouraged him to pursue an acting career.  Leonard went on to complete acting classes in both South Africa and later Los Angeles.  Currently, when not writing or singing, Leonard continues to study acting techniques with the renowned Margie Haber Studio in Hollywood. In his free time, he enjoys travel, reading and movie going.  His latest book is The Witch Port Video Game.



Website: https://leonardbassed.com/

Facebook page for author: https://www.facebook.com/leobassed/

Twitter page for author: https://twitter.com/LeonardBassed


Leonard Bassed had no plan to write a novel titled THE WITCH PORT VIDEO GAME when he set out to create a movie script with a similar name.  “I had written the pilot script first and I kept the same ending for the novel…everything from the script I wrote found its way into the finished book version of ‘The Witch Port Video Game,’ said writer-singer-actor Leonard Bassed.  “I was able to spend more time developing the characters and their world…the whole thing was just such an organic experience and extremely enjoyable, creative for me.”

THE WITCH PORT VIDEO GAME tells the story through the lives of three ordinary teens who live in the fictional town of Cradle Creek, USA – a small town they hope to one day escape, attracted by the bright lights and promise of the Big City.  All three are students at a prestigious performing art school with hopes of one day making names for themselves in the entertainment world.

Mr. Bassed continued about his story, “A chance encounter the three have with a girl named Bianca Morris threatens to derail their plans. Bianca introduces them to an enticing video game, ‘The Witch Port Video Game’.  This encounter, coupled with the arrival of the MacQuoid brothers sets in motion a series of bizarre events that spins their lives into chaos and disarray as the three head into a world of sorcery with an ultimate fight for survival.”

As a young boy growing up in South Africa, Leonard dreamed one day of working in the arts.  He wanted to write, to act, to sing.  While drawn to acting and song writing, he was also a good story teller.  “The auditions I would go out for as an actor were never reflective of the kinds of roles I was after to play. It was this realization that led me to writing the pilot script which I planned to pitch to TV and movie producers.  But, once I finished the script I’d grown too attached to the characters and the wonders of their world that ultimately led the script into the shape of a full novel,” he went on to say.


“While the book’s final moments leave us with a rather sudden, enigmatic ending, an end note does indicate a sequel Witch Port Igniting the Coven on the horizon. For those who enjoy the entertaining literary chemistry that results from inquisitive teens and their foray into the mysterious world of sorcery, Bassed’s venture should prove an intriguing reveal.”

–Pacific Book Review


“Filled with cheeky references to famous pop-culture stories of sorcery and mixed with some classic teenage angst, this book is a fast-paced, suspenseful story. The novel’s premise that some teenagers gain special powers through a video game is an updated, modern take on magic and suits the story quite well for a 21st-century setting. The author sets up the story mechanisms so that everything that happens through the students’ video game play also happens in real life. The author states that this novel was originally a screenplay, and those elements shine through, from the descriptive settings to the fast pace in which the action occurs on the page. It will be interesting to see how the protagonists grow with their powers in the sequel.”

–The U.S. Review of Books

Book can be purchased at the author’s web site at www.leonardbassed.com


  1. Would you call yourself a born writer?

I’ve always enjoyed writing; it’s always been my way to make sense of the world around me. I’m very interested in people and what makes them tick. I guess that’s also what drew me to acting.

  1. What was your inspiration for The Witch Port Video Game?

I have always been intrigued by magical realism. I had the idea to write the Witch Port Video Game script in June of 2014 after I returned home to South Africa from Los Angeles, California, in the USA. While in the US I took classes at the Acting Corps, a place where I got the chance to meet and interact with interesting people from different places and settings. This resulted in me writing a pilot script that I planned to pitch for film/TV. Upon its completion I’d grown too attached to the world and characters I’d dreamt up. This ultimately led my story into the shape of a novel, the first in the series. I am currently writing the sequel.

  1. What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

I gravitate towards universally relatable themes such as the reluctant hero, the under dog that would normally fade into the background being called to greatness. Themes such as good vs. evil, power and corruption, and love specifically unrequited or forbidden love.

  1. How long did it take you to complete the novel?

It took me about six months to complete bearing in mind it was first adapted from a pilot script I wrote by the same name.

  1. Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

I’m fairly disciplined when it comes to my writing, but the caveat to that is you have to personally connect to the subject matter. A typical writing day for me is being holed up in my room taking frequent caffeine breaks. I definitely have some clichéd writer habits and idiosyncrasies.

  1. What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

The most challenging aspect of writing this book was definitely the fact that it’s written in a first-person account. When writing a book, one wants the characters to remain in discovery, and not come across as these all-knowing and indestructible beings.

  1. What do you love most about being an author?

I love the title author it sounds very prestigious [he jokes]. I guess I like the freedom it gives me. Knowing I’ll always have a creative outlet to express myself.

  1. Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

I self-published my novel. The whole thing was definitely a huge learning curve and the mistakes costly, but I’ve learned a lot through the process. I’m quite proud of the end product, more so because I know what went into it.

  1. Where can we find you on the web?

Please check out my website: www.leonardbassed.com, all up dates will be posted here.



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Dr. Richard has been involved in the field of Photonics for over 30 years. He received his BA in physics (honors) from the University of California Fullerton. He was in a full scholarship PhD program in physics at the University of California Irvine and a PhD program in philosophy at Claremont Graduate School. Dr. Richard completed his two dissertations (involving human interpretations of laser and electro-optical images) while under top secret clearance. He also has an advanced placement teaching credential, an advanced certification (from the University of Wisconsin) in laser and optical design; and other advanced certifications in fiber optics, computer programming, technology business development, financial products, dance, anatomy and physiology.

website & social links

WEBSITE → https://www.tetrastatum.com


FACEBOOK → https://www.facebook.com/istarsfx

Would you call yourself a born writer?


Absolutely. I started writing advanced technology scripts for various industries 30 years ago.

What was your inspiration for Tetrastatum?

To create a new model of movie media that takes people to a more advanced mind set of viewing their own reality.

How long did it take you to complete the novel? 

My creative, academic skills and advanced technology skill set make it easy for me to write books in a short window of time —

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

I think and create 24/7.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

I wanted to incorporate a novel with a new form of image time travel that will help people better take charge of their understanding or reality and how to control their destiny. It can be done, with my model, for any media.

What do you love most about being an author?

To see people stimulated about there ability to understand their power.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

Tetrastatum was a self-published book, but there are infinite other publication and lecture platforms for this kind of work.

About the Book

In their debut novel TETRASTATUM, authors Dr. Richard and Tim Smith combine heady concepts about the universe with a thrilling science fiction story about the search for a new kind of time travel. The result is a stunning mixture of dense cosmology and old-fashioned storytelling that will appeal to a wide readership, from science professionals to lay fans of science fiction.

Dr. Richard” and “Tim Smith” are the pseudonyms of Dr. Richard Connor and Marcus Rodriguez, respectively.

TETRASTATUM (‘the fourth state’) is the culmination of my 30 years working in the field of photonics,” Dr. Richard says. “I am an avid reader of sci-fi, and I wanted to create a new type of work that is both educational and entertaining in the genre. TETRASTATUM gives the reader a unique understanding of the existing laws of physics and extends them to provoke further thought from novice readers as well as advanced experts in the field.”

Kirkus Reviews notes that “authors Dr. Richard and Smith … tell their cerebral story with a heady mix of dense theory and absurdist humor.”

The Independent Review of Books declares:  “TETRASTATUM is like nothing you have ever read before. This is an impressive work of science fiction …”

The San Francisco Book Review adds that, “These recurring themes of characterization and distortion feed into the concern that is being voiced over the current state of our political climate…The layering of these themes is ultimately what gives TETRASTATUM a relevance that will keep readers turning pages and asking questions.”

“The book ultimately explains how human perceptions alter the future and puts forth a model based on quantum physics to explain ‘reality’,” Dr. Richard continues.  He calls science fiction “the perfect genre to explore socio-political ideas within the context of futuristic technologies and scientific theories.”

Dr. Richard and Smith are currently working with Norith Soth on adapting TETRASTATUM into a screenplay. Mr. Soth has penned work for Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious”), Stephen Chin (“War Dogs”), and Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”).

order your copy below

Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y6tlmpbj


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TG Wolff writes thrillers and mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. Cause and effect drive the stories, drawing from 20+ years’ experience in Civil Engineering, where “cause” is more often a symptom of a bigger, more challenging problem. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. TG Wolff holds a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.


Website → www.tgwolff.com

Twitter → @tg_wolff

Facebook → www.Facebook.com/tina.wolff.125


One night in Rome. One car. One dead scientist. Italian police investigate, but in the end, all they have are kind words for the new widow. Months later, a video emerges challenging the facts. Had he stepped into traffic, or was he pushed? The widow returns to the police, where there are more kind words but no answers. Exit the widow.

Enter Diamond. One name for a woman with one purpose. Resurrecting her CIA cover, she follows the shaky video down the rabbit hole. Her widow’s run unearths a plethora of suspects:  the small-time crook, the mule-loving rancher, the lady in waiting, the Russian bookseller, the soon-to-be priest. Following the stink greed leaves in its wake reveals big lies and ugly truths. Murder is filthy business. Good thing Diamond likes playing dirty.

“TG Wolff’s novel is for crime-fiction fans who like it action-packed and hard-edged. Written with feisty panache, it introduces Diamond, one of the most aggressive, ill-tempered, and wholly irresistible heroines to ever swagger across the page.” –David Housewright, Edgar Award-winning author of Dead Man’s Mistress


Amazon → https://amzn.to/2NgYhGg


Would you call yourself a born writer?

I call myself a born puzzler. I live to wonder, figure, solve, and twist things around. When someone reads my stories, they are seeing the end result of combining these. Words are one of my favorite mediums because you can do so much with them. Long stories, short stories, poetry, anagrams, histograms, crosswords, etc., etc., I also enjoy playing with numbers, shapes, and music.

What was your inspiration for WIDOW’S RUN?

A while back, I had heard a discussion on NPR about the classic private investigator detectives. It argued that one common characteristics, thr one that made them who they were, was having nothing to lose. No family to protect. No reputation to preserve. None of the bright spots of life that keep most of us on the straight and narrow. The concept struck me as freeing. I wanted to create that kind of character and see what kind of trouble we could get in to together.

Thus, Diamond was born. As WIDOW’S RUN is an origin story, it was a natural for her first case to be the one that made her who she is: solving her husband’s death. With no concern for consequences, wicked skills, and suicidal tendencies, I had a detective who ate rules for breakfast.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

Color me embarrassed: I don’t know. I write for my own entertainment, so I didn’t sit down one day and decide to crank her out. I wrote Diamond as she came. First we toyed with each other, dancing around the structure that would guide us. I wanted short (because I tend to be long). She wanted fast. She wanted to do it alone. I knew she would need help. I wanted something people couldn’t put down. She wanted her husband’s killer. When we sat down to write, it happened fast. It was a few months to the first draft, since I do not write full time. Then came editing—my own, my beta team, and my professional editor. Pencil down was a year or so after I started. Didn’t feel like that long. But then, when you love what you’re doing…

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

Disciplined? I am when I need to be. Most of the time, I don’t need to be.

A typical day depends on which day it is. I have two kinds, we’ll call them internal and external. On an internal day, I’ll walk, swim, drive, stare off my back porch like I’ve overdone the meds. On the outside, it doesn’t look like anything special is going on. But inside…oh, inside I’m in my private movie theatre watching scenes unfold, refold, and unfold again but better. Scene by scene, step by step. Who said what? What did her face look like? What did he drop? Was it sunny? Did anyone let the dog out? If I need to research something, I do, but lightly. If I need to try something, I do. Mostly, I daydream. And then it happens: the scene is set.

Time to go external, translating the “movie” into digital letters. This is where I “look” like a writer, sitting still and in front of a keyboard. It can take up to three or four internal days to get to an external one. When I do finally sit, words pour out. My fingers can’t keep up with my brain, so I always have solid days of editing ahead of me. But it’s all good, and after editing, it’s even better.

I don’t set blocks of time or days to write. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to. When the details fall into place, the story writes itself. I just have to keep up.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

I said previously how Diamond and I wrangled over the structure of the book. Neither of us wanted something that was a copy of something I’d previously done. This was her story. I purposely constrained myself to let her voice come through. First, the story would be told in under 13 chapters. Second, each chapter was limited to about 5,000 words. Finally, each chapter would have a story arc of its own while moving the main story along. Plotting the mystery was challenging as there was limited room to introduce suspects, reveal clues, and tie up all the ends. I had to be ruthless evaluating the value of scenes. Widow’s Run moves fast, making every word count.

What do you love most about being an author?

I love the “figuring” of the mystery. In order for the reader to have a credible puzzle to solve, all the details need to be developed and then sprinkled about in non-obvious ways. It’s like creating a scavenger hunt or hiding Easter eggs for kids. Playing the game is fun; creating the game is a thrill all its own.

I do love when people say I made them think or made them laugh. You always wonder if someone will connect with what you’ve created. When you write, it’s just you and a keyboard. It’s not like you’re on the Tour de France and people are cheering you along, ensuring you are on the right path. You put yourself out there in a very raw way. The positive feedback helps assure me that I’m not as weird as the voices in my head say I am.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

I am with Down & Out Books, who specializes in mysteries and thrillers. I am very happy working with Eric Campbell and Lance Wright. They understand the genre from both a reader and business standpoint, helping inform my stories and make them stronger. I believe in the value of a team. No individual can do everything well. When you have an understanding of your weak points and surround yourself with others who can shore you up, that’s when you get the best possible outcome. I don’t need someone who thinks like me; I got that covered. I need people who challenge me to make what is put in the reader’s hands better. That’s what Down & Out does.


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Author: Angela Smith
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 249
Genre: Romantic Suspense


She’s in love with her sister’s killer…

Lauren has loved Luke since first grade. They planned to marry—until he murdered her sister. The moment he was sentenced to prison, Lauren fled with her secret baby and made a new life. Now she’ll do anything to keep their daughter safe. But her hard won peace shatters when Luke is exonerated, and it sets her on a path of mixed emotions to discover the truth. Letting a killer into their tightly knit family is out of the question. Or is it?

She almost destroys her life by threatening his…

Prison stole his future with Lauren and twelve years of Luke’s life, so the last thing he needs from her is a knife in the back or a gun in his face. Lauren believes he killed her sister, and he has no plans to pick up where they left off. Luke can’t afford to trust her, but he wants nothing more than to convince her he’s worth fighting for.

Their daughter is in danger…

Luke is heartbroken when he learns they had a child together. Now his daughter is in danger. Lauren trusted the wrong person for far too long, but he hopes she’ll now trust him. Luke will risk everything to keep them safe. And Lauren will risk everything if she lets him into her heart.



Amazon → www.amzn.com/B07TZWHCC3

 Barnes & Noble → https://tinyurl.com/y4j5n4yd


Book Excerpt:

Luke—Twelve Years Ago


“All rise for the jury.”

I stand, my legs unsteady. The jurors filter in, one by one, their eyes downcast. Those who look, only glance at the prosecutor. Not me or my defense attorney.

Wayne’s breath hitches. It’s a whispery whoosh, a sound he likely doesn’t realize he’s made, but it tells me everything I need to know. I almost collapse in defeat.

He thinks they found me guilty. And by their expressions, I agree.

I size up the crowd gathering in the courtroom. Most of them sit on the prosecutor’s side. Clint is there. Once my best friend, but now I’m convinced he’s a killer. He’s next to Lauren. The love of my life and the one I presumed would stand by my side forever. But since she believes I killed her sister, I guess I can’t blame her for turning her back on me.

But Clint? Fear curls my spine. He’s charming, I’ll give him that, but he’s an absolute psycho. Nobody in Lauren’s family will listen, especially Lauren. And before all this, I wouldn’t have believed Clint is the killer. He killed her sister. How do I know she won’t be next? How can I protect her if I’m locked in prison for the rest of my life?

The judge drones on about the charge, then asks the jury if they’ve reached a decision. Wayne shifts and gives me a blink that tells me he wants to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on. I’m eighteen, for God’s sake. How could anyone my age understand criminal justice?

He’s warned me of how you can never predict a jury, but this group of fourteen holds their heads high as if they’ve never been surer in their lives. Two of them are alternate jurors, so it’s up to five men and seven women to decide my fate.

An older gentleman hands the bailiff the verdict. I hold my breath, and the judge reads. “We the jury find the defendant, Lucas Donovan Fuller, guilty of murder.”

Gasps fill the room. Chaos erupts, at least in my bones. More like a commotion, nothing too disastrous to alert the judge, and something he’s probably accustomed to. He only regards the crowd. A lot of loud talking, crying, and my mother’s wails. He’s way more patient than me and waits for everyone’s reaction to subside.

My muscles grow weak. I badly want to sit and wonder when I’m allowed. I want to reach out to Lauren. Tell her I’m sorry this happened, I didn’t do it, she has to trust me, and please, please don’t trust Clint. I open my mouth to say these things, but my attorney stations his hand on my shoulder, as if his one palm is going to keep me silent.

He warned me over and over not to react. I’m not allowed to speak. I am barely allowed to move, and I can’t look her way, although I shift to do so. The bailiff puffs out his chest and walks closer, as if I’m going to bolt.

“Calm down,” Wayne says. “We still have punishment. Don’t make a scene.”

Why shouldn’t I react? This is life changing. My life is over. I’m going to prison. The judge hasn’t declared a final sentence but after everyone’s testimony, I’ve started to believe my own guilt. I’m likely going to prison for the rest of my life.


Luke—Present Day


Luke Fuller’s pen scribbled across the page. His heart hammered while he wrote the words, ears filling with the deep drum of his heartbeat as if he was re-experiencing the event. Tired of writing, he shut the notebook and tossed it on the wrought-iron table beside him, along with his cap and shades. He stood and opened the grill to check the ribeye.

Food would be ready in a few minutes, and all he needed was right here. A little salt and pepper, paper plates and plastic forks to eat with, and a cooler full of drinks. Even a hundred feet from the river, the bullfrogs’ croaking put him at ease.

A sound he never expected to hear again.

He closed the grill, grabbed a beer from the ice chest, and lounged on the patio chair. It took a while for his heartbeat to settle. Writing these memories was difficult, harder than he expected, and his body ached from the flashbacks.

The sun descended, a showcase of gold fueled by rain clouds and humidity. He loved the open porch and didn’t want a screen to filter him and the outdoors. With bug spray, sleeping out here at night was a dream come true, despite the oppressive mugginess. Lightning flashed in the south, implying the much-needed shower was near. Nothing better than the clatter of rain on the roof.

Even the mosquitoes avoided the Texas July heat, but he’d take heat over the prison cell where he’d spent the past twelve years of his life. He’d take it over that any damn day.

LED lights strung across the porch offered a soft glow to ease him come sundown. He hated the darkness. Too many reminders of prison and the things he wanted to forget. But this darkness out in the country was peaceful, welcoming, different. Almost bearable.

A car drove up, the headlights zipping through the trees. His muscles tensed. He studied the nearby monitor attached to the front security camera. The car parked, the lights shut off. His lungs tightened, burned, then disintegrated when the woman stepped out and sauntered to the back.

She remembered. Friends always came to the back door. But she was no friend.

He blinked, his gut churning. Was he dreaming? Hallucinating after writing those memories? Lauren shone bright in his mind, even the seductive scent of honey and berries he once loved to sample behind her ear.

Her footsteps echoed up the stairs, and she came into view. She was no illusion. He remained sitting, nonchalant and drinking his beer as if he had no care in the world.

His mouth dried. The beer a sour tang. Her presence meant nothing good.

She thought he’d killed her sister. The entire community deemed him guilty before a jury of his peers sentenced him to life in prison. His sisters never stopped fighting to prove his innocence. He was released two months ago thanks to Adrienne and Charlotte and the team of defense attorneys who fought for him.

But he favored prison over the look of revulsion on Lauren’s face. A flowing skirt skimmed her knees, the imprinted flowers rivaling the charm of the countryside. Her slender body was as gorgeous as ever, heating him in ways better left ignored. She wore open-toed sandals. He never understood why she chose those shoes while hiking. They had to stop many times during their treks to pluck out grass burrs.

At one time, they didn’t mind the interruption.

Her dirty blonde hair was darker, accented by rich caramel, and the image of her ocean blue eyes burned in his memory. Despite the similarities, she wasn’t the same woman who once loved him.

He didn’t flinch when she pointed the pistol his direction. He continued to sip his beer, his ears tingling with the chatter of June bugs and crickets. If she wanted to shoot him, so be it.

Although he hadn’t killed her sister, he was just as much to blame. He had been selfish in spending his time with Lauren and didn’t mind leaving her sister alone. He trusted his best friend, had known him since grade school, but ignored his recent questionable tendencies. The town of Terrence was quick to point fingers while the real killer roamed free.


Lauren—Present Day


Lauren Cooper pointed the pistol at Luke, knees knocking and thighs quaking. She was proud of herself for keeping a steady grip despite her sweaty palms.

She’d practiced plenty, eyeing her target, strengthening her resolve. Today, Luke Fuller was her target. Maybe her first moving target—although he didn’t move, didn’t even flinch—and definitely her first human target. Still, she’d often imagined him on the other end of her gun.

What was she thinking? She risked losing her job over this, even facing jail time, for threatening with a firearm. Was it worth it to lose everything she’d worked so hard for? Even worse, to risk her daughter’s wellbeing?

Luke had murdered Elizabeth, was released, and now another man accused. But not just any man. Clint Merkel. A close friend. Almost family.

Thousands of times she’d confronted Luke in her dreams. Robbed him of life as brutally as he had robbed her twelve-year-old sister’s. More like nightmares. The man she once loved with all her heart. The jury had convicted him, but now he was exonerated. Doubts still clouded her mind. The newest facts couldn’t obliterate twelve years of certainty, no matter how credible.

Her spine clenched. She had tossed and turned and cried herself to sleep for years. Her emotions skyrocketed all over the place. Suppressed memories jumbled out of her. Memories of his kiss, his embrace, their shared lives, their plans. In high school, they’d been dubbed Luke and Lauren. She didn’t want to plan college without questioning where he’d go. They were a team, a couple and everybody—including her—presumed they’d stay together after high school.

Stupid to give her life away to a man, to halt her ambitions and plans. And then one fateful night the truth had been discovered, and the cops had placed the cuffs on his wrists.

He was still the most handsome man she had ever seen. Still captivated her. The sting of attraction needled through her muscles, her bones, her heartbeat. Her pulsed thrummed into her toes. She fought to stand her ground and reveal nothing about his effect on her.

Thunder boomed. She jumped. The rain began a harsh and fast hammering on the roof.

He sipped his beer, body relaxing as if knowing she wasn’t about to pull the trigger. He remained unaffected by the thunder, by the deluge, and by her presence.

“You going to shoot me or not?” He shrugged one shoulder, his drawl tightening the shivers in her stomach. Heat flared under her skin, the familiar anger—the reason she came here—blazed to her core. Him all casual, enjoying a beer while smoke billowed from his fire pit. The spices of the steak tore knots in her throat.

But she wasn’t only angry at him. She was angry at herself for letting him charm her.

The storm doused the dusk, but miniature lights lined the porch. She saw every inch of him and the way his gaze slid over her. They had studied each other for hours when they were younger, in love and carefree. The green of his eyes soaked up the earth and emitted the colors of eternity. They were harder, his face bearing a few scars only she might notice.

He dropped his beer to the table beside him. “What are you doing, Lauren? Just shoot me already. I’ve practically been dead these past years, anyway.”

Her throat closed. She refused to imagine what he experienced these last few years.

Luke shifted forward and frowned, let out a rickety cough, then perched his elbows on his knees. He swiped a hand over his face, then continued. “Look. I’m sorry about everything. Sorry you had to go through the loss of your sister and you believed I did it. Sorry I couldn’t comfort you. I’m… just sorry.”

His wobbly voice shattered her reserves. His movements broadcasted an unexpected nervousness. She let out a whoosh of breath, every fiber of her being sinking into a black hole of misery. Tears rolled out of her, hot and choking. Her grip on the gun wavered but remained clasped in her fingers.

He stood and swaggered toward her. His heavy-booted steps on the wooden planks thudded in her ears. She wanted to back away, but her butt rested against the porch railing and an invisible anchor rooted her to the ground.

She swayed.

Her hands shook, and her best interest was to put down the gun before somebody got hurt. Most likely her.

She lowered the pistol. He stopped in front of her and took it. She was too weak, too helpless to fight. His presence suctioned every bit of her power.

He set the gun on the ground. She jumped as another round of thunder boomed. Rain pounded the roof. Droplets hit her skin, but not enough to matter. She craved the cool refreshment. He stood facing her, his eyes boring into hers. She licked her lips as if drawing sustenance from that one small move, a move that drew his gaze to her mouth.

She swayed again, about to fall. He grabbed her and pulled her into his arms.

“Careful.” His words wisped across her ear and trailed down her spine to spool into a reservoir of lust in her loins.

She planted the top of her head against his chest and sobbed as he held her. Her shoulders shook, the tears escaping in violent torrents. She couldn’t stop no matter how hard she wanted to.

He smelled like mesquite smoke and musk, along with crisp grass cuttings under Texas sunshine. Stupid, stupid to imagine such things.

The tears were a release. A goodbye she never had a chance to say.

Had she believed he was capable of murder? She refused to listen to his sister when she begged. All the evidence pointed to him. The police, the prosecutor, even the city mayor had convinced her.

How could they all be wrong? Her mind churned with questions. Questions she should have asked before she’d threatened him with a gun.

His fingers skated up her hair, and he tucked a piece behind her ear. She straightened her spine and lifted her head, willing her body to fight the attraction as her tears dried.

“I don’t know if I believe it,” she finally said.

“What? That I didn’t do it?”

She nodded, her limbs weak and trembling.

“Well, if Clint didn’t do it, why did he run?”

She wondered the same thing, but Clint being a killer was terrifying, even more so than Luke, considering she’d entrusted her daughter with him.

She lowered her head and sniffled. He placed his fingers under her chin and forced her to look at him.

Not a force but a slow, gentle move. He had always been gentle. Clint had been the edgy one, the one who tested her nerves. And yet after Luke had been accused of murdering her sister, she had turned to Clint as a friend and let him take part in her life. How had he manipulated her? How had she allowed it? Her belly flopped, the drying tears searing her throat.

She’d always felt safe with Luke. Safe, yet vulnerable, because her heart was at risk.

He dropped his hand from her chin and finger brushed her hair. Her neck tingled. She longed to savor his mouth on hers after all these years.

“I’ve imagined being in front of you, begging you to listen.” His voice was a slow deep penetration to the core of her being. Something impossible to pull away from. “I did not kill your sister, and as much pain as I knew you were in, it broke my heart you never gave me a chance.”

She lifted her chin higher and stared straight into his eyes. “And I imagined having the chance to stand in front of you and kill you.”

A strangled sob escaped him. His eyes flickered. Her body grew warm with regret. Regret for her words, regret for refusing to hear him out so many years ago, and regret for wanting him so much she hurt.

“You’ve got that chance now. Why don’t you take it?”

Meet the Author

Angela Smith is a Texas native who, years ago, was dubbed most likely to write a novel during her senior year in high school. She always had her nose stuck in a book, even hiding them behind her textbooks during school study time. Her dream began at a young age when her sister started reciting ‘Brer Rabbit’ after their mom read it to them so often. She told her mom she’d write a story one day and never gave up on that dream even though her mom was never able to see it come to fruition. By day, she works as a certified paralegal and office manager at her local District Attorney’s office and spends her free time with her husband, their pets, and their many hobbies. Although life in general keeps her very busy, her passion for writing and getting the stories out of her head tends to make her restless if she isn’t following what some people call her destiny.


Website → http://www.loveisamystery.com

Blog → www.loveisamystery.com/my-blog

Twitter → www.twitter.com/angelaswriter

Facebook → www.facebook.com/authorangelasmith

Goodreads → https://tinyurl.com/y48996ej

BookBub → https://tinyurl.com/yxr9ezxy

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New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored 13 books, ranging from narrative nonfiction to memoir and crime fiction. Her latest titles are the true-life thriller Hunting Charles Manson and her memoir short, Secrets, Lies, and Shoelaces. A former investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 19 years, Rother has been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and Daily Beast. She has appeared more than 200 times on TV, radio and podcasts internationally, including Australian Broadcast Corp’s “World News,” “Crime Watch Daily,” “People Magazine Investigates,” “Nancy Grace,” “Snapped,” and dozens of shows on Netflix, Investigation Discovery, Oxygen, A&E, Reelz, C-SPAN and various PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a writing-research coach and consultant, leads writing workshops, and plays keyboards and sings in an acoustic group called breakingthecode. She is working on two new books, one titled “Justice for Rebecca,” about the Rebecca Zahau death case, and one about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo. Please visit her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or visit her website at https://www.caitlinrother.com.


Website → https://www.caitlinrother.com

Blog → https://www.caitlinrother.com/blog

Twitter → https://twitter.com/CaitlinRother

Facebook → https://www.facebook.com/caitlinrother

Goodreads → https://tinyurl.com/y3oy4cwp


Would you call yourself a born writer?

I have been writing stories ever since I was a little girl. I also used to speak them in different voices, talking to each other, to keep myself amused when I was growing up as an only child. I read a ton of books, too, which is crucial to learn how to be a good writer. That said, even after 13 published books, I’m still learning and growing as a writer. And because all but one of those books are narrative non-fiction, I don’t create, exaggerate or embellish any details. With the exception of one mystery novel, NAKED ADDICTION, all my books are deeply researched true accounts. Because, as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

What was your inspiration for DEAD RECKONING?

This true crime story tells the story of the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks by transgender killer Skylar Deleon and a crew of twisted misfits. Skylar, who was still presenting as a man at the time of the murders in 2004, was married to a woman named Jennifer. They had a 10-month-old daughter, and Jennifer was pregnant with their second child. They used their daughter and their pregnancy to gain the Hawkses’ trust, posing as a family that wanted to buy the Hawkses’ boat and run a charter business on it. When Skylar came back with two other men for a sea trial, they forced the Hawkses to sign power-of-attorney documents, tied them to the anchor of their yacht and threw it overboard, drowning them alive. Skylar’s primary motive was to get money to pay for gender confirmation surgery, which she is still trying to get on death row at San Quentin, a men’s prison, where she has transitioned to a woman, using hormones. She just legally changed her name and gender to female, and wants to be transferred to a women’s prison. You can’t make this stuff up.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

My true crime books explore murders involving addiction, mental health issues, psychological manipulation for financial and emotional gain, predators and sexual deviancy, and sociopathy. I try to educate people with this information to help protect them and to place a spotlight on flaws in our systems that allow these tragedies to occur, so we can learn from them. My hope is that we can prevent such tragedies from happening again, or at least catch the bad guys (and women). In addition to writing memoirs both for myself and with my co-authors, I always enjoy finding non-fiction topics that will have a positive influence or inspiration on readers, such as my current project about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

This is not a novel, it’s a true crime book, and I’ve been covering this case for longer than any other one in my entire career as a professional investigative journalist and author. The first edition, which came out in 2011, involved going to three trials over several years and then a couple more to research and write. I’ve continued to gather fresh material for this latest updated editions, which brings me to 15 years total.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

Yes, very much so. It’s imperative. But being a professional full-time author of non-fiction is far more involved than just writing. Each book has a series of phases, and with non-fiction, I can go for months just doing research and interviews, while I plan the narrative structure and story arc of the book. Only then do I start writing, because otherwise, I will just have to rewrite entire sections. I first do research to put a book proposal together, which may entail going to an entire trial for months at a time. Then my agent has to sell the proposal to a publisher. After that, I do more research and interviews before I even start writing the book, which usually takes about nine months. But books don’t sell themselves. Once I get going on the next book, I still have to promote the one that just came out. So depending on where I am in the process, I do different tasks all day long, dedicating a certain number of hours to writing or editing, some hours to continued research and follow up calls and emails, until I finally finish the manuscript. Toward the end, I will spend entire days writing and/or editing.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, many characters, and a large span of time to cover. I had way more story than I had space for, which meant I had to cut 35,000 words from the first draft. This time, because the book was long already, I had to go through it again to find ways to cut 4,000 more words to make room for the updated, fresh material. The trick is to make the story seamless, fast-paced and suspenseful, and still maintain accuracy. I also felt it was important to be sensitive to the victims’ families as well as to the LGBTQ community, which was a tough thing to balance.

What do you love most about being an author?

I enjoy the freedom of being able to choose the stories I want to write about vs. when I was a newspaper reporter and often got assigned stories I didn’t care about. I also enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for myself. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but I’m constantly stimulated by my varying tasks and by always learning new things.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

The original version of this book was with a traditional publisher. When it let the book go out of print, I got my rights back and did this re-release with WildBlue Press, which is an indie press. For the first time, I got to have input into the cover design, which was great fun, and I think the book and cover turned out very nicely. Statistics show that 70 percent of readers buy their books online vs. in bookstores these days, so this publisher is geared more toward those readers.

Where can we find you on the web?

My website and blog are at https://www.caitlinrother.com. This book is sold at wbp.bz/deadreackoning. The photo gallery, with tons of color pics of the key players, is at wbp.bz/deadreckoninggallery. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just type in my name.

Author: Caitlin Rother
Publisher: WildBlue Press
Pages: 504
Genre: True Crime


Tom and Jackie Hawks loved their life in retirement, sailing on their yacht, the Well Deserved. But when the birth of a new grandson called them back to Arizona, they put the boat up for sale. Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer showed up as prospective buyers, with their baby in a stroller, and the Hawkses thought they had a deal. Soon after a sea trial and an alleged purchase, however, the older couple disappeared and the Deleons promptly tried to access the Hawkses’ bank accounts.

As police investigated the case, they not only found a third homicide victim with ties to Skylar, they also uncovered an unexpected and unusual motive: Skylar had wanted gender reassignment surgery for years. By killing the Hawkses with a motley crew of assailants and plundering the couple’s assets, the Deleons had planned to clear their $100,000 in debts and still have money for the surgery, which Skylar had already scheduled.

Now, in this up-to-the-minute updated edition, which includes extensive new material, New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother presents the latest breaking developments in the case. Skylar, who was ultimately sentenced to death row for the three murders, transitioned to a woman via hormones while living in the psych unit at San Quentin prison. Recently, she legally changed her name and gender to female, apparently a strategic step in her quest to obtain taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery and transfer to a women’s prison. Combined with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent moratorium on executions, this only adds insult to injury for the victims’ families, who want Skylar to receive the ultimate punishment for her crimes.

“Rother gives readers compelling insight to an unthinkable American nightmare. A gripping read… frank and frightening… it sizzles.”

Aphrodite Jones, host of True Crime on Investigation Discovery and bestselling author


Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y3jr7mk3

 WildBlue Press → https://tinyurl.com/yyj9xlvk


Book Excerpt:


Alonso Machain was unemployed, with bills to pay, so he took up his friend Skylar Deleon’s offer to help restore a family boat at the Cabrillo yard in Long Beach, California.

As they were sanding the Hatteras together, Skylar boasted about his plans for fixing up his new toy, which he’d gotten from his grandfather. Then Skylar offered his twenty-one-year-old buddy a much more lucrative job.

“How much are you talking about?” Alonso asked.

“A couple million dollars,” Skylar said.

“Wow. How do you make a couple million dollars without it being illegal?”

“Well,” Skylar said, “it’s not really illegal, unless you get caught.”

As Skylar’s plan evolved in the coming days of October 2004, the promised payoff for Alonso soon increased to “several million” dollars to help Skylar “take care” of some people who had done something bad and pissed somebody off.

Skylar wasn’t usually paid for these gigs, he said, but he got to keep the assets of the “targets,” who were typically well-off. His first contract, for example, was a guy who’d been selling drugs in Huntington Beach schools and owed money to the wrong people.

Skylar said he’d split the proceeds of his next job with Alonso, but didn’t give him much time to mull it over.

“So, you want to do it or not?” Skylar asked a couple days later.

Alonso wasn’t really sure what to think. Skylar was always talking about how rich he and his family were, and Alonso believed him. Although he knew Skylar liked to tell stories, he never stopped to consider that the few times Skylar had thrown him a mere twenty dollars for the boat restoration work, they’d had to drive to an ATM to get it.

After Alonso decided to take the job, Skylar went into more detail about the plan, showing him photos of a yacht called the Well Deserved, whose wealthy owners had put it up for sale. Alonso’s role was to help Skylar get “in” with the owners, Tom and Jackie Hawks, then hold them down.

The fifty-five-foot trawler was moored in the upscale community of Newport Beach in Orange County, a sharp contrast to the sprawling mix of urban, industrial, and suburban areas of Long Beach, where Skylar lived with his wife, Jennifer, in neighboring Los Angeles County.

Unlike the spacious homes in Newport, decorated in the mute beiges and sandstone of the wealthy, home for Skylar and Jennifer was a cramped converted garage behind her parents’ duplex. Space was so tight the Deleons had to stack their belongings on the floor and hang their clothing from a pole lodged between two dressers next to the bed. It was a far cry from the opulent mansions featured on The Real Housewives of Orange County and The O.C.

Contrary to the story he’d told Alonso about the $3 million a month he’d earned working with Ditech Funding, Skylar had been fired from his job as appraiser’s assistant there and looked at his wealthier neighbors in “The O.C.” with envy. He coveted their waterfront homes, boats, and private planes that he couldn’t afford, and he lied to persuade folks that he could.

Although he wasn’t anywhere near as smart or capable as Bernie Madoff in building a complex financial scheme, Skylar’s scam was just as—if not more— deceitful. And when it came to lying and manipulating people, Skylar was pretty good at that, too.

The next time he and Alonso met, Skylar said he’d analyzed photos of the boat’s interior for radios and weapons, such as spearguns, and had determined the best way to overcome the couple. Using stun guns and handcuffs, Alonso would grab Jackie in the galley while Skylar took down Tom in the stateroom, where no one could hear him scream.

Skylar said he’d considered taking Tom scuba diving and finishing him off underwater, but he’d realized that would preclude the Hawkses from signing over the boat title and power-of-attorney documents he was going to draw up.

“What I’ll do is just take them out to sea and toss them overboard,” he said.

They purchased two stun guns together, then Skylar sent Alonso, a former jail guard he’d befriended while serving time for armed burglary a year earlier, to buy two pairs of handcuffs.

The next day, November 6, Skylar said it was time to do the deed. By now, Alonso felt it was too late to extricate himself from the situation. If twenty-five-year-old Skylar really was a hit man, what would prevent him from harming Alonso?

As they drove to the dock, Skylar stopped a couple blocks away to scope out who was aboard, then called Tom to pick them up in his dinghy. The Hawkses were expecting them.

On board, Tom proudly gave them a tour of his home, but Alonso could see from Skylar’s tone of voice and body language that he’d changed his mind. Skylar seemed far too relaxed to kill anyone as he chatted with Tom for forty-five minutes about possible modes of payment. Before they left, Skylar made sure that Tom and Jackie knew he was definitely interested in purchasing the vessel and would be back for a lesson on how to operate it.

Skylar told Alonso afterward that he’d changed his mind once he’d realized that Tom was too muscular for the two of them to overpower alone. They really needed a third man. Skylar also sensed some discomfort on the Hawkses’ part, so he called Jennifer on his cell phone as soon as they got back to the car.

“Hey, you need to come down, take a look at the boat, to make these people feel a little more at ease,” he told her.

After sending Alonso on his way, Skylar and his pregnant wife went back on board, pushing their ten-month-old daughter, Haylie, in a stroller, to do just that.




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Author: Shami Stovall
Publisher: Capital Station Books
Pages: #437
Genre: YA Fantasy


While protecting the newborn griffins on the Isle of Landin, Volke Savan and his adopted sister, Illia, run afoul of the Dread Pirate Calisto, the same cutthroat who carved out Illia’s right eye. As a master manticore arcanist, Calisto’s strength and brutality are unrivaled. When Illia suggests they bring him to justice, Volke wonders if they’ll have what it takes to fight the corsairs on the high seas.

A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.

Praise for the Frith Chronicles!

Perfect for those who enjoy the Codex Alera series, the Homas Wildus series, and the Harry Potter series. Stovall is quickly becoming a name I look for.”

Seattle Book Review

An addictive series. Shami Stovall has produced a mesmerizing story of magic, intrigue, and true adventure.”


Absolutely brilliant.”


Now continue the Frith Chronicles with the second book, Dread Pirate Arcanist!

Amazon —-> https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WK2H37L




Today the griffins of West Landin would choose who to bond with. The city officials gathered before the dawn, prepping for the evening celebrations. I watched from afar, on a rocky cliff that overlooked half the isle, the pre-morning winds disheveling my inky black hair. I had never visited the Isle of Landin before now, but I had heard amazing tales of their fearsome griffins since I was old enough to remember stories.

My pulse quickened with anticipation. For fifteen years I had imaged bonding with a mystical creature and becoming an arcanist. Eight months ago it had become a reality, but it hadn’t yet sunk into my heart and gut. Giddiness twisted my insides with each new breath.

While the citizens of West Landin would have to prove themselves to the griffins in a Trial of Worth, I had already been tested and found worthy.

I turned to the shadows next to me, well aware that my mystical creature—my eldrin—lurked in the darkness.

“Luthair,” I said. “Do you know much about griffins?”

“They are stubborn beasts,” he replied from the void of my shadow, his voice more sinister than his true demeanor. “And griffin arcanists are strong, courageous, and skilled at combat.”


As a knightmare, Luthair lived among the darkness, merging with it like salt in water. He didn’t need to materialize to speak, and he could slink along next to me without anyone knowing. While some would consider that creepy or unsettling, I enjoyed his presence and trusted him in all things.

I returned my attention to the sprawling city. Unlike the Isle of Ruma, where I grew up, West Landin housed thousands of people, had a massive port, and had constructed a seaside fortress to deter pirates. Their cobblestone roads, twice as wide as home, snaked beyond the city limits to a valley filled with sheep, goats, and horses.

When the sun rose, the oranges and reds of dawn cascaded over the island, washing it in a familiar glow. The Isle of Ruma had wonderful dawns, just like this one. The nostalgia overwhelmed me for a moment, so powerful it almost hurt.

I missed my adoptive father, Gravekeeper William.

The days spent as his apprentice seemed torturous at first, since I had never wanted to be become a gravedigger, but now I understood how much he had influenced my life. He had been the best father I ever could’ve hoped for. I last saw him after I bonded with Luthair, a short time after my fifteenth birthday.


“Yes?” I replied, recognizing Illia’s voice straight away. I didn’t even need to turn around. I knew she would walk over to speak with me.

Sure enough, she ambled to the edge of the rocky cliff, one hand on the brim of her sailing cap. Then she offered me a smile.

“Are you out here daydreaming?”

“No.” I slipped my hands into my pockets. “I wanted to spot some of the griffin cubs. I’ve never seen one in person before.”

Illia sarcastically lifted an eyebrow. “You weren’t thinking about the Isle of Ruma?”

“W-well, I might have thought about it for a moment.”

“Yeah. I know.” She stared down at West Landin, her one eye unfocused. “I’ve been doing the same thing.”

The wind played with her hair, revealing the twisted knife scars on the right side of her face. Her sailing cap kept everything in place, so I didn’t catch sight of the old wound for long, but I knew it was there.

I still remembered the first night that Gravekeeper William had brought her home. She had been five years old, and the injury hadn’t yet healed. The pirate fiend who had taken her eye had cut in deep, damaging the socket. She had to rest in bed for weeks, her skin pale and dappled with sweat.

Illia glanced over. “Volke?” She frowned. “What’s wrong? You’re not thinking about home anymore, are you?”

“It’s nothing,” I said as I stared at my boots. Illia didn’t like having attention brought to her scars, and I didn’t want to upset her.

“You can’t hide things from me.” Then she smacked my shoulder and half smiled. “You’ll tell me sooner or later.”

Instead of arguing, I nodded and allowed the conversation to end. The morning sun warmed the isle, and the breeze brought ocean mists. I could’ve stayed on the rock cliff with Illia for the entire day, enjoying the atmosphere.

A small ferret-like creature—a rizzel—bounded up toward us, hopping along like only weasels could. His snow-white fur shone in the morning light, and his silver stripes had a metallic sparkle.

“Illia!” he cried out as he scampered over to her feet. “Why would you leave me?”

In a flash of sparkles and sorcery, the rizzel disappeared and then popped into existence on Illia’s shoulder. She stroked his head as he curled around the back of her neck, hiding in her wavy brown hair.

“What is it, Nicholin?” she asked.

“Master Zelfree wants us all to gather near the edge of the woods.”

“Right now?”

“He said before dawn, but it took me forever to find you.” He arched his back and squeaked. “I can’t believe you left me! I’m your eldrin! Arcanists don’t leave their eldrin—it’s unheard of!”

Illia chuckled, but gave no explanation.

All arcanists had a mark on their forehead—a seven-pointed star etched straight into their skin. Illia’s, while faint, had the image of a rizzel intertwined with the star, symbolizing her connection with Nicholin. When I touched my own forehead, I could feel the cracked arcanist star just below my hairline. Unlike Illia, my star had a sword and cape, representing my bond with a knightmare.

“Did you see any griffins?” Illia asked.

I had almost forgotten the reason I perched myself on the cliff. I shook my head. “No. I can’t see their aerie from here, and the bonding ceremony doesn’t start until dusk, so I’m sure they’re still resting.”

“Do you want to wait until you see one? I bet they’ll wander around town before the Trials of Worth begin. We can always tell Master Zelfree that Nicholin got lost or something. It won’t be a big deal.”

“I wouldn’t want to lie. Honesty. Without it, we cannot learn the truth about ourselves.” I said the last bit with dramatic emphasis.

Illia groaned. “Please, Volke. For me. Stop quoting that damn staircase.”

“You know I like the lessons from the Pillar. I think they’re good rules to live by.”

Nicholin crossed his little ferret arms. “You’re wrong. They’re lame.”

“What?” I balked. Then I turned to the darkness. “Luthair, back me up. They’re good, right?”

“Indeed,” he said, his gruff voice echoing from my shadow.

“See? Luthair agrees with me. They’re definitely awesome.”

Nicholin and Illia exchanged knowing glances and huffed in sarcastic exasperation. If it were anyone else, maybe I would be bothered by the mocking, but I knew Illia didn’t mean it. She gave me hard time, just like when we were kids. With all the nostalgia in my veins, I welcomed the teasing.

“I guess we have to find Master Zelfree,” Illia said. “C’mon. Let’s go.”

We walked away from the cliffside, seagulls serenading the dawn with a symphony of caws. The rocks created a natural path, making the trek down an easy one. Illia kept close to me—closer than usual—and I wondered if she was awash in sentimentality as well.

Today would be easy. As members of the Frith Guild, we had been called to the Isle of Landin to protect those attending the griffin bonding ceremony. Until the celebrations began, however, we didn’t have much to do. Perhaps Illia and I could convince Master Zelfree to allow me to reminisce in town.

“I’m glad we became arcanists together,” Illia said. “That’s how I always imagined it when we were younger.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

She smiled and took in a breath, as if she might continue the conversation, but the words never came. We got all the way to the edge of the trees before she turned her attention back to me. She met my gaze with her one eye. I think she wanted me to say something. Maybe about our past? I didn’t know, and the longer she stared, the more disappointed she looked.

Illia lifted a hand and covered the scars over her damaged eye socket.

“Uh,” I began.

Illia waited.

Nicholin perked up, his ears erect. “Hm? What’s that?”

My breath caught in my throat. What did Illia want me to say?

Thankfully, Master Zelfree emerged from the woods, saving me from the awkward moment. He sauntered over, bags under his eyes, his black coat and pants wrinkled from long hours of work. He ran a hand through his black, shoulder-length hair. His fingers caught in a few places, betraying the fact he hadn’t brushed it in a while.

If I didn’t know he was a master arcanist from the Frith Guild, I would’ve assumed he was a hungover drunkard who stumbled away from the festivities.

“Master Zelfree,” Illia said, her eyebrow high.

Unlike me and Illia, Zelfree had a strange arcanist mark—his star had nothing intertwined with it. His eldrin, Traces, was the shape-changing mimic, after all. The bangles on his left wrist were most likely her. That was how she had hid herself in the past.

“You two finally decided to show up, huh?” Zelfree said. “You’re late for the exercise.”

“What exercise?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. It’s something simple.”

Zelfree’s shirt—black, like the rest of what he wore—was open enough to expose his bare chest and guild pendant, a silver symbol that marked him as a master arcanist. My bronze pendant told the world I was an apprentice, but I wasn’t ashamed of my low status. I loved my pendant with every ounce of my being.

“You all have been through a lot,” Zelfree muttered. “And your training as arcanists has been erratic. For the next couple of months, everything will be simple. We’ll take it slow while I assess your abilities, and then we’ll work our way to more challenging assignments.”

“I thought we didn’t have to do anything until dusk?” Illia asked.

“We don’t have to do anything official until dusk.” Zelfree pulled a flask from inside his coat and unscrewed the top. “But I want you all to practice your magic in the meantime. I split the other apprentices into pairs and sent them on their way.”

Nicholin bounced on Illia’s shoulder. “On their way? Where?”

“I hid apples around the daisy woods and I want you to collect them using your magic and your magic alone.”

“What? That’s kids stuff! My arcanist and I can handle anything. We took on Gregory Ruma’s leviathan. We stared into the jaws of death and survived!”

“As an arcanist of the Frith Guild, you won’t always be fighting giant leviathans in the waves of the ocean.” Zelfree cocked half a smile. “Sometimes we’ll be asked to find missing mystical creatures or locate hidden caches. Since none of those things involve traumatizing duels to the death, I figured this would be a relaxing exercise to practice your basic magic.”

“They’re hidden throughout the entire wooded area?” I asked.  The daisy woods covered a few acres of the island. The task felt daunting, even if it didn’t involve combat.

Zelfree shrugged. “Apples aren’t native to the islands. They’re bright red, and I’ve placed them in precarious spots. It shouldn’t take the six of you long to find them all.” He took a swig from his flask. “Whichever team comes back with the most apples will get to spend time with the griffins before the ceremony.”

My chest tightened. “Really?”

“And the pair who finds the least amount will have to wipe down the deck of our ship.”

Illia and I both groaned. No one wanted ship cleaning duty, especially since the sailors would get a good laugh at our predicament. Arcanists stood at the top of social hierarchy, and seeing one swab a deck was a novelty—like watching a crown prince take out the garbage, or a knight commander cleaning all the training weapons. We’d be mocked for the entire journey home.

“Interacting with the griffin cubs sounds amazing,” Illia said.

Zelfree nodded. “The mayor of West Landin asked the Frith Guild to protect the new arcanists until they reached the mainland. We’ll be sailing with them all the way there.”

“Protecting them from what, exactly?” she asked. “You never told us why they wanted the Frith Guild.”

“Pirates are in the area.”

The statement killed all mirth in the conversation. Illia grazed her fingers over the scars on her face. I had seen her react that way a million times before, every time someone mentioned nearby pirates.

The last thing I wanted was to deal with sea thieves and cutthroats.

“Any questions?” Zelfree asked. He swirled his flask as he spoke, and I couldn’t help but take note of it.

I pointed. “I thought you said you were cutting back on the drink.”

He downed the rest of his “breakfast” and walked past us. “Don’t worry. I’ve limited myself to a single serving. Soon I won’t need it to wake up.”

Normally I was the tallest person in any group—six feet—but when Zelfree went by, he straightened his posture, standing an inch or so higher. I never noticed before, probably because he slouched most times. It surprised me.

“Okay,” I muttered. “I suppose we’ll get started with the apple hunt then.”

“Treat this like an urgent mission. The apples are baby mystical creatures. Recover them quickly and efficiently.”

My thoughts didn’t dwell on his statements long. The idea that I could see the griffins up close—before the ceremony!—excited me more than anything else. We had to find enough apples. It would make for a perfect day, and an amazing tale to write to William about.

Illia took my elbow and pulled me toward the trees, a smile on her face.

The slender daisy trees grew sixty to ninety feet into the air, and in dense clusters. Their wide canopies caught the humid breeze and rustled with excitement. The white trunks, striped with brown, would make it easy to spot something crimson.

I kept my gaze up, hoping to catch a glisten of fruit among the branches.

“I’m going to make sure you see those griffins,” Illia said as she let go of my arm.

“Me?” I asked. “But aren’t you excited too?”

“Of course.” She smiled, more to herself than to me. “When I was younger, griffins were my favorite mystical creature. I used to daydream that one would hear I escaped from pirates, and that it would think I was so courageous it had to fly to our island just to bond with me.”

Nicholin swished his tail. “I don’t know if I should feel jealous or sad that I’m not a griffin.”

“No, no, no,” Illia said as she hugged Nicholin close. “That was me as a little girl. Now I know I wouldn’t want to be bonded with anyone but you.”

He made an odd purring noise, like he wasn’t built for it, but still attempted regardless. “That’s right! We’re meant to be together.”

Still—I had heard the excitement in her voice. If Illia wanted to meet a griffin, I would make sure that happened.


Thirty feet into the daisy tree woods and I spotted a rodent hole. While Illia went off to check some shrubbery, I knelt on the dirt and examined the burrow. I had dug enough graves to recognize when soil had been freshly tossed, so it was clear to me the entrance had been tampered with by human hands. Would Zelfree hide an apple here, of all places? I thought he had said they would be clearly visible. Best to check, regardless.

“What’re you doing?”

The snide voice snapped me out of my concentration. I glanced up and all excitement curdled in my system. Zaxis Ren. He stood with his arms crossed and his green eyes narrowed in a condescending stare.

“I’m searching for apples,” I said.

“In the dirt? Like an animal?”

I got to my feet and brushed the soil off the knees of my trousers. “Sounds like someone hasn’t had breakfast.”

“Heh. You think you’re so funny.”

Zaxis confused me more than anyone else. We had known each other our whole lives, and while it had been antagonistic when we were young, I thought we had worked past that during our time in the Frith Guild. Still, he fluctuated back and forth on whether we were being cordial.

Today wasn’t one of those days, it seemed.

His phoenix, Forsythe, glided through the trees on scarlet wings edged with gold. Occasional dustings of soot rained down from his body as he moved, and he swirled around us once before elegantly landed on the ground next to Zaxis. Phoenixes had the bodies of herons, with long necks and delicate frames, but their majestic tails appeared similar to a peacock, with vibrant designs and curved feathers.

Zaxis’s arcanist mark had a phoenix laced between the seven points of his star. I admired it for a moment, remembering the Trials of Worth of our home isle. I had wanted to bond with a phoenix more than anything back then.

Forsythe’s gold eyes stared at me for a moment. “Good morning.” His voice was imbued with a regal cadence.

“Morning,” I replied.

Zaxis huffed and then motioned to a cloth sack of apples sitting behind him. “Forsythe, don’t bother talking to this biscuit. We have a game to win.”

From what I could see, Zaxis had already gathered four apples, all glistening red, almost the same dark shade as his hair.

“I’m not stopping you,” I said, motioning to the woods. “You can leave and keep searching if you—”

Illia stood from the nearby shrub, an apple in hand. “Volke, look. I already found one!”

“Oh, Illia,” Zaxis said as he brushed off his coat. “I didn’t see you.” He straightened his posture. “Beautiful island, right?”

She acknowledged him with a quick nod and then smiled at me. “I think we should hurry. If there was an apple here, I think the others might not be searching as thoroughly as they should be.”

“Okay,” I said.

Before I could return to searching the rodent hole, Forsythe investigated the burrow with his long neck and beak, rooting through the fresh soil. He grabbed the stem of a hidden apple and plucked it from the dirt. He set it at Zaxis’s feet and fluffed his feathers, revealing the bright glow of his fiery body underneath.

“I found one, my arcanist. Aren’t you proud?”

Zaxis flashed me a smirk as he stroked his phoenix’s head. “Oh, yeah. Good job.”

I gritted my teeth, half-irritated at myself and half-irritated at Zaxis. I should’ve ignored him and focused on my searching. Then I would’ve had another apple for mine and Illia’s collection.

Illia walked over and took me by the elbow. “C’mon. What’re you waiting for?”

“This is nice weather we’re having,” Zaxis said to her, smiling wider than usual. “Pleasant and cool without too much wind.”

“Uh-huh,” she muttered. She tugged my arm. “Volke?”

I nodded. “Right.”

I shot Zaxis a look before walking off, amused by his failed attempts at engaging Illia. Did he really think the weather would interest her? He wasn’t as suave as he thought, though I did feel sorry for him. Not many people tried to strike up a conversation with Illia. For both their sakes, I wish he had done better.

Once we had left Zaxis’s presence, I turned my attention to the shadows. “Luthair, help us look for the apples.”

“By your command, my arcanist.”


About the Author

Shami Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family earning a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.

As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was at that moment Stovall realized story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world and she hopes you enjoy.


Website: https://sastovallauthor.com/

Blog: https://sastovallauthor.com/blog/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GameOverStation

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SAStovall/


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