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sealed-up

Title: Sealed Up
Author: Steve Dunn Hanson
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 402
Genre: Action/Adventure/Suspense

The Da Vinci Code unsettles. SEALED UP shakes to the core!

UCLA anthropologist Nathan Hill, in a funk since his young wife’s death, learns of staggering millennia-old chronicles sealed up somewhere in a Mesoamerica cliff. This bombshell rocks him out of his gloom, and he leads a clandestine expedition to uncover them. What are they? Who put them there? No one knows. But, self-absorbed televangelist Brother Luke, who funds the expedition, thinks he does. If he’s right, his power-hunger will have off-the-charts gratification.

Striking Audra Chang joins Nathan in his pursuit and brings her own shocking secret. As they struggle through a literal jungle of puzzles and dead ends, she finds herself falling in love with Nathan. Her secret, though, may make that a non-starter.

When a shaman with a thirst for human sacrifice, and a murderous Mexican drug lord with a mysterious connection to Brother Luke emerge, the expedition appears doomed. Yet Nathan is convinced that fate—or something—demands these inscrutable chronicles be unearthed.

And if they are . . . what shattering disruption will they unleash?

Intricately layered and remarkably researched, this enthralling suspense-driven and thought provoking tour de force begs a startling question: Could it happen?

Pick up your copy at:

Amazon

First Chapter:

Thursday, December 21, 2000

NAJA, CHIAPAS, MEXICO

Nacom was dying.

Guanacaste trees filtered the twilight into gold slivers that shimmered across Laguna Naja. The lake bore the name of the Lacandón Maya village nestled against it. Kish squatted on the ribbon of beach that framed the giant pond and stared at the darkening blue water. His black hair hung like string around his face, and his white tunic draped him like a sack. Koh Maria told him to wait there. She said her grandfather wanted to speak with him.

Kish knew what Nacom wanted.

“Who will follow a nineteen-year-old shaman,” he groused. Guttural growls of howler monkeys sounded like mocking laughter, and his shoulders slumped. A sharp tug on his tunic pulled him from his petulance.

“Now,” Koh Maria said.

Kish followed her to Nacom’s hut where she pushed open two square-ish boards hinged to weathered posts. Inside, roughhewn mahogany planks of random widths formed the walls. The shaman’s shriveled body lay in a hand-loomed hammock of faded palm-green and corn-yellow stripes. He cracked open his eyes as Kish stood beside him. With the back of his hand, he dismissed Koh Maria.

“You. Chilam.” Nacom whispered. “Itzamná speaks.”

“Priest? Me?” Kish stuttered as he shook his head.

“Obey!” Nacom responded, and his finger pointed to the arcane mahogany box beneath his hammock. Kish did not know what was inside, but something about the box unsettled him. The old man moved his fingers back and forth. Once. Twice. Kish was to pick it up. His hands quivered as he set the box on the simple table by the hammock’s side.

Nacom mumbled something. Kish bent closer. Nacom spoke again. “What day?”

Kish replied in Hach T’ana, the pure Mayan tongue: “Lahca baktun. Bolonlahun katun. Uuc tun. Canlahun uinal. Uuclahun kin.” December 21, 2000—winter solstice.

“Yes,” Nacom slurred. “You prepare. Lahca baktun. Bolonlahun katun. Bolonlahun tun. Uaxac uinal. Hun kin.” In four-thousand-one-hundred-eighty-four days. His hand moved to a thin cord around his neck. He labored as he pulled it from under his white tunic revealing a small key. Kish was to remove it.

With care he raised the old man’s head and slipped the cord over it. For a long moment Nacom lay still; his breath hardly there at all. Then the index finger of his right hand pushed toward the box and wiggled. Kish fought his anxiety as he inserted the key.

“Should I open it?” His voice was high, tense. Nacom’s head bobbed a little. Kish turned the key and raised the lid. A rectangular-shaped object on top was enfolded in white cotton cloth. The one on the bottom, shaped the same but thicker, was wrapped tight in the black pelt of a jaguar and bound with four cords. Kish reached to pick up the white one.

“No!” Nacom’s fingers lifted an inch as he forced out the word with startling firmness. “You. Prepare. Listen Itzamná.” His breath was heavy. “You. Keep box. Sacwa’an (white). Study. Follow. I’ic’ (black). No you. Give. Lahca baktun. Bolonlahun katun. Bolonlahun tun. Uaxac uinal. Hun kin.” In four-thousand-one-hundred-eighty-four days. His breath was a gasp and almost ceased. For a long moment there was no movement; no sound, except for Kish’s own nervous panting. Then Nacom whispered, “Not fail. Lock box. Koh Maria.”

Kish closed the lid and fastened it. His hands shook as he put the cord with the key around his own neck. He scrambled to the doorway and motioned to Koh Maria. She entered, opened her eyes wide at Kish’s ashen face, then went to her grandfather and held his hand. His face puckered into a tiny wrinkled smile. With effort he lifted his eyes to reveal red-veined film, and words like a ghost-rustle parted his lips. “The box. Kish.” Koh Maria nodded.

With a gurgle, Nacom breathed in.

Breathed out.

Then no more.

About the Author

steve-dunn-hanson

I’ve lived in places that grew me . . . from a small Idaho farm town, a run-down neighborhood in St. Louis, and a middle-class southern California community, to Sydney, Australia, and Bucharest, Romania. My experiences are as varied as the places I’ve lived. I have a hopper full of “reality” including being a volunteer jail chaplain and flying with a U.S. presidential candidate in his small plane when an engine conked out. And all of this is fodder for my writing.

My latest book is the action/adventure/suspense novel, Sealed Up.

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beethoven-in-love

Title: BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139
Author: Howard Jay Smith
Publisher: SYQ
Pages: 385
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction

At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.

As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.

Purchase Information:

Amazon

First Chapter

Prologue:

The Death of Beethoven

Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827

Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.

Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf Uhr. Five O’clock.

Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment.

Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.

Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness.

Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.

His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone…

Chapter One:

Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est

Applaud My Friends, the Comedy is Over

By all accounts my funeral was a grand success.

Despite the snow and slush soaking through their shoes, all Vienna turns out. Twenty thousand mourners or more, accompanied by the Imperial Guards, guide the grieving to my grave. Streets crowded, impassable. My coffin, lined with silk, covered in flowers, rolls through the chaos on a horse drawn bier. Paupers and princes; merchants and mendicants; menials and musicians; clerics and commoners; they all come for this, their Beethoven’s final concerto.

As if they ever owned me or my music…

Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est. Applaud my friends, the comedy are over. Inscribed herein rests my final opus.

Ja. Yes, they are all patrons and lovers… Lovers of my music, the very music the gods have forbidden me to hear. How cruel. To suffer my last decade without sound – any sound except the incessant surge of blood pounding through my veins – an eternity inscribed on the calendar pages of my life.

And so it is, these celebrants, anxious for one last encore, crowd the alleys and streets of the Hapsburgs capital in throngs not seen since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Grande Armee oh so many years ago.

The cortege rolls on past the taverns and cafés of this fair city where dark beer, schnitzel and sausages reward the day. Ah, the saints and sinners of Vienna have always loved a good party, never mind the excuse.

Are they singing? Alle Menschen werden Brüder. All men will become brothers. They must be, yet I hear nothing.

I wonder if she is among them. My muse; my love; my passion; my sacred fire; will she be there to safeguard my voyage through Elysium?

Or is she too denied me as was the sweet sighs of love and the embrace of family stolen by gods capricious and uncaring? Are they so vengeful? So embittered by spite? Like Prometheus, have I dared too close to revelations reserved for them alone?

The clouds grow ever darker, ominous.

Must I embrace death silently ere my last symphony suffuses the stage? Is this my end? To be cast out as by our Creator as history’s cruel joke, a deaf musician? A composer unable to know the vibrancy of his own scores?

Tell me why your Beethoven, your servant whose hearing once surpassed all others in sensitivity and degree, must suffer such humiliation and torment?

Are the crowds laughing? Ja oder nein? Yes or no. I know not. Am I such a failure, such a disgrace to be shoved off the stage without your mercy or compassion?

As surely as the warmth of summer vanishes and the leaves of autumn crumble beneath the crush of winter, has all hope been stolen? Can I escape this fate? What path must I travel? What tasks of redemption are to be mine and mine alone?

Come death; am I to meet your shadow with courage? Must I depart in this winter of anguish before the renewal of spring?

Can I not find release from this cycle of sufferings like a saint or a Hindoo holy man following the dance of Shiva or a Bodhisattva, back bent upon the path of the great Buddha?

The last echoes of joy inside my heart are already fading. Will I never hear or feel those vibrations again? Never? Nein. Forever. Lost for eternity in the fog on the road to Elysium; that is too hard, too harsh.

But surely a loving father must dwell in the starry canopy above. Are you there, oh sweet Isis, my goddess of compassion? Help me, help guide me.

Please Providence; grant me this, my final wish… Grant but one day, just one day, one day of pure joy to your poor Beethoven.

Is this too much to ask before I embrace darkness forever? Oh, to be in her arms once again.

About the Author

howard-j-smith-2

Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America” – and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.

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wanna-besTitle: WANNA-BE’S
Author: Mark Connelly
Publisher: Mark Connelly Productions
Pages: 188
Genre: Literary Fiction/Humor/Satire

With his new girlfriend – a soccer mom with a taste for bondage – urging him to “go condo,” failed screenwriter Winfield Payton needs cash. Accepting a job offer from a college friend, he becomes the lone white employee of a black S&L. As the firm’s token white, he poses as a Mafioso to intimidate skittish investors and woos a wealthy cougar to keep the firm afloat. Figure-skating between the worlds of white and black, gay and straight, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Yuppie and militant, Payton flies higher and higher until the inevitable crash. . .

For More Information

  • Wanna-be’s is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter

INSIGNIFICANT OTHERS

 

Winfield Payton awoke to a mother’s voice.  Not his mother—but someone’s mother. It was the commanding yet compassionate voice mothers develop, stern but apprehensive.  It was a voice rarely heard in Downer Estates, a brick apartment complex housing the usual collection of upscale “singles” who live within Frisbee range of urban universities, attend jazz concerts in the park, practice safe sex, drive alphabet cars (BMWs, SUVs, VWs), cybersex on company laptops, faithfully recycle Perrier bottles, and sip low-cal cappuccino in Starbucks while checking the fates of their mutual funds.

            It was a suburban voice, a beach voice, a picnic voice.  The voice of a concerned mother directing her brood.  “Now, look, Brandy, I told you before.  Mommy will be home in just a little while.  You can have cereal.  Where is Heather?  OK, tell Heather to give you some raisin bran.  Take your vitamin.  And don’t go near the pool until I get back. Do you understand? Don’t go swimming until Mommy comes home.”

As yet Win had not opened his eyes; he was too exhausted. Confronting daylight would be painful. Feeling the sun warm his naked back, he buried his face in the pillows.  For a moment he imagined he was at Bradford Beach, snoozing while mommies and kiddies trooped over him, sprinkling his blanket with sand and popsicle drippings.

But no, he was in bed.  His bed.  His fingers felt the familiar smooth lacquered headboard. The pillow bore the scent of Old Spice, his cologne—mundane but reliable.

Home. He turned his aching neck. This simple movement triggered intracranial alarms. Now everything hurt.  His head throbbed. His neck tightened. His back ached. Streaks of raw flesh burned across his chest and thighs.

Oh!  His body bore the imprint of what his clouded mind failed to recall. Opening an eye to the sun, he saw a gleaming bottle of Absolut on the bedside table.  The bottle was nearly empty.  Oh!  A ceramic ashtray held the twisted remains of weedy joints.  Oh!  Two broken poppers lay on the carpet.  Oh!  Leaning over, he saw—amid the tangled debris of his clothes—three lipstick-stained balls of Kleenex, each containing a spent condom.  Oh!

Rolling over, Win groaned, feeling like a crash victim.  The female voice in the other room called out to him.  No longer the mommy voice, it was the supportive, deferential, eager-to-please voice of a Sixties sitcom wife.  Mary Tyler Moore exuding “Oh, Rob!” compassion. “Do you want Motrin?” she asked, “I’m making coffee.”  He heard the sounds of housewife bustling in his bachelor kitchen.

“Motrin,” he croaked, like a wounded GI begging for morphine. Motrin, hell. He needed intensive care. IV’s.  Oxygen. And Band-Aids. Sitting up, blinking in the sun-light, Win noted the thin, blood-lined scratches and nicks across his chest and thighs. Steve McQueen tangled by barbed wire in The Great Escape.

“Here, baby.”

The woman standing in the doorway bore no relation to the voice flowing with flight attendant charm.  Despite the black eye makeup, false eyelashes, and hooker-red lipstick, she was clearly pretty. Her sensibly short blonde hair was cutely, boyishly cut. It complemented the husband-bought Mother’s Day earrings. No doubt she had been trying to look like Debra Harry since fifth grade.

Below the chin she was decidedly dissimilar.  Her neck was gripped by a two-inch leather choker studded with steel points. Metal chains led to a leather corset which maximized her cleavage and girdled her waist with tight belts and more chains. Handcuffs dangled over a thigh encased in torn fishnet. Her wrists and ankles sported matching leather cuffs.

Instinctively, Win drew back.  Only her soft voice re-minded him that he was not in mortal danger.

“Oh, baby, look at those scratches.  I’m so sorry!  I for-get about these nails.”  She wiggled the fingers of her right hand, their dagger-like points flashing blood-red in the sun-light.  Her left palm cupped three red caplets.

He took the pills, then, reaching for a water glass accidentally gulped three and half ounces of Absolut.  God!

“Oh, honey!”

Sitting up, Win rubbed his eyes and brushed his unruly hair.  The woman sat on the edge of the bed and began un-buckling her cuffs, dropping them into a black leather shoulder bag.

“Mind if I take a quick shower?  I have to get home to the kids.”

“Go ahead, Barbie.”  Barbie.  Gratefully her name came back to him. She disappeared into the guest bath. The architects of Downer Estates had thoughtfully equipped each two-bedroom apartment with two full baths.  Single tenants and their partners of choice could shower at the same time, going through their customary after-sex hygienic rituals in private.  Alone in the main bath, Win gargled with Scope, doused his sore member with hydrogen peroxide, then drew a bath.

 

Sitting in the steaming water, he felt his muscles un-wind. Since his thirty-seventh birthday, a loosening morn-ing bath had become a necessity before he could take a shower and actually wash. Rubbing his neck, Win heard water running in the next room.  The grip of alcohol fading, the night’s events played over in his mind.

Win had naively assumed that one had to call an escort service, troll BDSM dating sites, or stalk FetLife profiles to locate someone like Barbie Monreal. It seemed highly un-likely to run into a woman with her tastes at a real estate seminar.

Normally, Win avoided attractive professional women with wedding rings—unless he met them in a singles bar.  A real estate seminar held in the student union of his own college was an improbable place to get lucky. Money rather than lust was on his mind that afternoon. He accepted Barbie’s Century 21 card gracefully enough and was pre-pared to move onto the next booth when she suggested a rendezvous at Henri’s for drinks.

Barbie Monreal reminded him of Doris Day in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.  Attractive.  Cute.  But too domesticated to arouse any libidinous interests—until her third white wine spritzer, when, suitably lubricated, she calmly announced her motives.

“Now that the kids are older, and I have some time, I’d like to get back into psychodrama.”

“Acting?” Win asked naively.

“In a way,” she smiled, giving him a patronizing nod.  “Role play.  Fantasy.  I like the tension, the intimacy.  I like power. Both asserting and receiving. Strength and sub-mission.  It’s like sexual I Ching.  Give.  Take.  Dominate. Submit.  But nothing violent, you understand.  I play it safe, sane, and consensual,” she said as if repeating radio jingle.  “Nothing too perverse.”

“Nothing too perverse?”

“Consider it a hard massage.  I like it both ways, but nothing painful.”

“Nothing painful,” Win repeated, recalling his dentist’s reassuring lie about the ease of root canal.

“Not at all. I mostly like the costumes. It’s like adult Halloween.”

“Halloween?”

“Sure. Like playing dress up. Gives you a chance to let your mind go, explore the dark side. It’s the ultimate safe sex. You can’t even consider it cheating. Not really.  I never do straight. Well, maybe oral,” she added quietly, sounding like a dieter surrendering to a Weight Watcher sundae.

“I have the rest of the afternoon off,” she said, fixing her eyes on him with Nancy Reagan admiration.

Thus began the first of many encounters, most of which Win could only perform or endure under the influence of alcohol.

 

Lying in the tub, Win rubbed his temples, then forced himself out of the warm embryonic water to shower and, more tentatively, shave.

Clad in a bathrobe, Barbie was making his bed when he returned. She fluffed the pillows, smoothed the comforter, then collected the accouterments of modern romance—body oil, vibrator, adult DVDs, and five-inch spike heels.

“Honey, you really shouldn’t drink so much.”  She smiled, offering him coffee.

He nodded, taking burning gulps of Eight O’Clock French Roast.

As Winfield dressed, he watched Barbie slip into white pantyhose, cream skirt, white blouse, sensible heels, and gold Century 21 blazer.

“I’ve got to buzz home to check on the kids,” she said, consulting her smart phone. “I’ve got appointments the rest of the day.  Do you want to get together Thursday?  Around two?”

“Sure,” Win agreed, feeling like a casual user sliding in-to addiction.

 

The July morning was cool. He walked Barbie to her car.  “You know, I lived in New York right after college,” she said. “West Seventy-Second. I love that town. Went to Hellfire once.  Didn’t like it.” She wrinkled her nose as if recalling a disappointing dessert at Le Cirque.

Still the neophyte, Win volunteered an apology, “I hope I didn’t hurt your wrist.”

“Oh, this?” She pulled back her sleeve, revealing a circle of darkened flesh.  “My bruises fade.  I tell Jerry they come from aerobics.”

They reached her car, a dark blue Volvo bearing a “Have You Hugged Your Kids Today?” bumper sticker.  She opened the trunk and dropped in the black shoulder bag with a heavy thud.

Donning sunglasses, she smiled at Win. “Until Thursday.  If something comes up, text me.”

Win nodded, the fresh air reviving his headache.

“Look, Win, I’ve just gotten to know you.  I realize I shouldn’t make any judgments or tell you how to live your life, but I am beginning to care about you.  As a special friend.”  She paused, grating the steel tip of her heel against the curb.  “Win, I think you should seriously consider going condo.”

 

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your-body-your-style-amazonTitle: Your Body, Your Style
Author: Rani St. Pucchi
Publisher: Koehler Books
Pages: 150
Genre: Nonfiction

Rani St. Pucchi, a trend-setting designer whose designs have been recognized in Entertainment Tonight, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Town and Country, Bride’s, Cosmopolitan Bride, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot, can help define the style that flatters you most — no matter what age or stage of life you are in or what your body type is.

Women from all over the world have clamored to have a private consultation with Rani so they may benefit from her expertise and regain their self-confidence and shine.

In Your Body, Your Style, Rani shares with you her knowledge of the female form and guides you to find simple solutions to your most pressing body concerns. The focus is on you — and how you can make yourself more confident and appealing in almost every situation — simply by making a few changes and different choices in planning your wardrobe.

Once you embrace your unique attributes and dissolve your bad relationship with your body, you’ll be amazed to find how irresistible you are to others!

This simple and friendly guide reveals:

* What clothes and silhouettes are best for your specific body type

* Simple techniques to determine which colors flatter you most

* Solutions to common lingerie issues and the importance of fit

* The one dress that is a chameleon, and how to transform it into different looks

* How to travel stress free by planning your wardrobe well

* 101 styling secrets, professional tricks and fashion tips

RANI ST. PUCCHI  is an award-winning fashion designer, an author and relationship expert. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

PURCHASING LINKS:

AMAZON   *   B&N

Chapter One

If there is a seminal moment in my relationship to fashion and designing, the occasion that springs to mind is a summer in Bangkok, Thailand. I must have been about four or five years old. My cousin and I were running feverishly from the ground floor of our townhome to my mother’s bedroom on the fourth floor to get dressed for the movies and we were very late.

I looked at the choices I had and was very disappointed. Even though there were so many options I kept trying and tossing the frocks one by one on the floor. The cupboard now bare, I hit a wall: I’d run out of clothes. I remember so well the frustration and at the same time an ah-ha moment. I decided from henceforth I would choose my own fabrics and design my own clothes. After all who knew better than I what looks good on me?

I thank my parents for drawing me into the magical world of luxury fabrics and laces. As the largest purveyor of fine laces in Thailand their ateliers and showrooms became my playground where I would spend all my spare time. I had the opportunity to be around fine fabrics and get to touch and feel and know them well. I actively participated with my tailors in transforming these fabrics into unique designs for myself.

Fast forward to 1984. I was still living in Bangkok, Thailand and running my small tailoring shop in a prominent hotel, specializing in ready to wear and evening gowns, along with men’s tailored suits. A rare opportunity came my way when a client asked if I would be wiling to bring my collection to showcase at her charity event in San Antonio, Texas.

I was an avid fan of the TV sitcom “Dallas” and always fantasized living the life of such opulence and outrage as the characters depicted in the series! My wish to travel to the United States was a dream come true.

With great enthusiasm I prepared a collection of 54 pieces, comprising of jackets, skirts, blouses and dresses and some evening sheaths. I also thought it would be nice to have a finale piece, and so I designed my very first bridal gown for this purpose.

It was a blush colored wedding gown made of pure Thai Silk, entirely hand embroidered and hand beaded. Little did I know that the one wedding gown would receive so much attention as to catapult my whole life!

Next thing I knew I had already committed to showing a Bridal Collection in Dallas at the Dallas Apparel Mart, which was the ‘go to’ fashion platform where buyers from all over the world congregated. I registered my company on a wing and a prayer, and St. Pucchi was born.

When I launched my first bridal couture collection at the Dallas Apparel Mart in April of 1985 I was unsure if what I had so lovingly put together was of any value to the US bridal market. I was also clueless to the fact that white was the only color worn and accepted by the American bride at the time.

They say ignorance is bliss! By the time I learnt it was too late. My collection had already shipped from Bangkok to Dallas and there was not a single white dress among the sixteen styles I had designed. The colors ranged from ecru, blush, butterscotch and even pale blue.

I comforted myself into believing that perhaps the US bridal industry as it was could use a fresh perspective and hopefully my collection would, at the very least, bring some excitement.

It was pure pleasure to be totally immersed in an unfolding story, on a journey that is never forgotten. My first collection produced in me an intensely emotional and cathartic experience. After all I had invested all my resources and had used up my credit cards to the max. There was so much riding on my success that I could not fathom what the future would look like if…

The Dallas Apparel News ran a front-page story about my premier bridal collection and how it was a harkening of things to come. I was applauded for being a pioneer not only for using pure silks in bridal, which was unheard of at the time, but also for being so bold and daring as to introduce color to bridal wear.

The US bridal industry as we had known it would change forever.

Today, 30 plus years later, with more than 10,000 designs under my belt, I find myself very fortunate and humbled to write this book. The amazing women I’ve had the pleasure to work with during trunk shows, fashion shows, and on my travels across the globe have taught me much.

I have witnessed again and again how looking good can change a woman’s life. I have worked with numerous women, young and old, women getting married, mothers with teenage daughters, women going thru midlife crisis and those going thru menopause. The story they tell themselves is the same. Most are not happy with their bodies and wish they could change something or the other so they can feel confident in themselves.

A woman’s form is the most beautiful, most complex and the most intriguing. Yet we don’t appreciate it enough. We tend to hide parts that we feel are not attractive and we berate ourselves for being too much of this, and not enough of that. Rather than being in awe and working with the form we are blessed with, we spend more time and resources than most of us can afford, on diets and procedures that are rarely long lasting.

We’re on this constant merry-go-round and obsess about our body during every waking moment. Not only that, but the way we talk to ourselves we would not allow anyone to say those words to either our best friends or even our worst enemies!

This book does not pretend to be your road to perfection. The purpose of writing it is to guide you thru simple techniques and suggestions on how to look at your body and see what you can make better.

You are asked to assess and appraise your body type so that you can learn about the most flattering silhouettes to dress in.

You will learn how to dress your body in a way that will enhance your best assets and camouflage areas that you feel uncomfortable about or find lacking in any way.

You realize why it is so important to invest in the right lingerie. You learn the importance of fit and simple solutions to your common bra issues.

You are invited to learn a simple process to determine what colors flatter you most and which ones to part with. Color being one of the key elements that makes a woman look more interesting, more self-confident, more self-assured and in control.

You will learn about the one color that is a must staple in every woman’s wardrobe. The one piece of clothing that is a chameleon and that can be transformed into any myriad number of looks.

You are taken on a journey on how your style and taste evolves as you transition from your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, to your 60s and beyond. And you learn that sexy is never out of fashion, nor is it outdated. That in fact the older you get the more confident you become. And you realize that ultimately confidence is really what makes a woman sexy.

You become savvy on how and what to pack for your travels, whether you’re going on a month long vacation, a weekend romantic getaway to an exotic tropical island, or a short business trip.

You learn the simple four step process to sort-and-purge and organize your wardrobe so that no time is wasted in choosing what to wear each day allowing you time to become more productive in life.

You will be able to define your personal style, and become clear on how you wish to be seen in the world. This knowledge will help you embrace your own unique personality and shine.

In this book I share 101 tips and tricks on fashion fixes that help you gain self-confidence, on how to accentuate your strongest features, on dressing sexy. You will receive smart shopping hints and simple style advice for your body type and more…

In these pages I share with you the knowledge that I have garnered and reveal those secrets you will now learn so you too can look like a million regardless of the body you have, or the resources, to access trends that are so fleeting as to make our heads spin!

Thank you for the opportunity to share my knowledge. I hope it serves you.

About the Author

rani-st-pucchiThirty years ago, Rani St. Pucchi took the bridal world by storm, despite having no formal training in fashion. She is an award winning couture fashion designer and founder of the world-renowned bridal house St. Pucchi. A passionate and dynamic entrepreneur who launched her global empire in the United States in 1985, Rani’s vision was to create an avant-garde bridal and evening couture line with modern styling and classic details. That vision has been realized today.

Renowned for infusing her creations with touches of magnificently colored jewels, exquisite hand embroidery, delicate beading and sparkling crystals on the finest silks and laces, these inspired designs with innovative draping evoke the timeless elegance every woman desires. As one of the foremost designers to introduce exotic silk fabrics and hand embroidery, Rani is applauded for being a pioneer in bringing color to the United States bridal scene, having learned that white does not flatter everyone.

Rani has been recognized and nominated on multiple occasions for her design talent and won numerous awards as a Style Innovator. In addition, she has been honored with the Best Bridal Designer Award at the prestigious Chicago Apparel Center’s DEBI Awards (Distinctive Excellence in Bridal Industry).

Rani is famous for designing the wedding dress worn by “Phoebe” as she captured the hearts of millions when she said “I Do” in a unique St. Pucchi Lilac corset bodice A-line gown on the finale of the hit television show Friends.

Her range of avant-garde designs are worn by the world’s most discerning brides, including celebrities and style icons such as New York Giants’ player Aaron Ross’ wife, Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards; Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo’s wife Candice Crawford; Actress Tara Reid; Jason Priestley’s wife Naomi Lowde; actress Candice Cameron and Grammy Award winning country music singer Alison Krauss, who donned a specially designed Chantilly lace and silk gown at the Country Music Awards.

Rani has enjoyed much media attention. Her signature designs have been recognized in high profile media such as Entertainment Tonight, Harper’s Bazaar, WWD, Town and Country, Bride’s, Cosmopolitan Brides, Inside Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot.

Rani’s real passion other than the world of design is to help women who have suffered abuse and those who are struggling to find themselves. On her quest to empower women to be their best selves, she is passionate about helping them find their voice through building their self-confidence. She believes that confidence must start with a woman’s love and acceptance of her body.

Renowned for her savvy knowledge of a woman’s form and fit, Rani is eager to share her knowledge of more than three decades with all women so they can make better styling choices. In addition to the book you are reading now, Rani is the author of four upcoming books: The SoulMate Checklist: Key Questions To help You Choose Your Perfect Partner; Seven Types of Men To Avoid: Recognizing Relationship Red Flags; Designing with Heart: A to Z Guide to Bridal Designing; and Unveiling: A Celebrity Fashion Designer’s Story, a Memoir of her Life Journey.

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Rani now happily lives in Los Angeles, California.

Her latest book is Your Body, Your Style: Simple Tips on Dressing to Flatter.

 

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Scar TissueTitle: Scar Tissue
Author: MC Domovitch
Publisher: Lansen Publishing
Pages: 396
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Paranormal

When successful model Ciara Cain wakes up in hospital, remembering nothing of the weeks she has been missing, her only clues are the ugly words carved into her skin. According to the police she was a victim of the Cutter, a serial killer who has already murdered three women. For her protection the police and her doctors give a press conference, announcing that because her amnesia is organically caused, her memory loss is permanent. But, whether her memory returns or not is anybody’s guess.
Overnight, Ciara’s glamorous life is gone. Her scars have killed both her modelling career and her relationship with her rich boyfriend. With nothing to keep her in New York, she returns to her home town of Seattle, moves in with her sister and goes about building a new life. But when her sister lets it slip that Ciara’s memory is returning, the killer comes after her again. If Ciara is to stay alive, she must keep one step ahead of the Cutter.

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Chapter One:

 

I don’t want to die.

That single thought pounded through her mind as she hurtled through the woods. The blackness had dropped all at once, and now the trees were merely darker shadows against a dark night. The rain came down hard. Lightning cracked, sounding so much like a gunshot that she muffled a scream. But she had not been hit. She was still alive. She ran on.

Branches and bushes whipped at her, scratching her arms and legs. She tripped over an exposed root and crashed to the ground, but was back on her feet in an instant.

A brilliant flash of lightening was followed by thunder. Ka-boom. Everything that had been black a moment ago became white. Had she been spotted? No, surely not.

A crunching sound came from her right. She whipped her head toward it and picked up her pace. Her breathing was ragged, short puffs of steam in the frigid April air. It couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees. Sweat and rain mixed with the dirt and blood from her countless wounds and ran down her face and neck in rivulets. Thanks to the adrenaline pumping through her veins, she was numb to the cold and the pain, but she would feel it later—if she got out of here alive.

Please God, let me live.

But she’d had no real food for days, no water except the occasional sip. Her body couldn’t keep going much longer. She was close to collapsing.

Must. Keep. Going.

If she wanted to stay alive, she needed to put as much distance as possible between herself and her captor. She had no idea how long she’d been running or in which direction she was going. Had her kidnapper even noticed she’d escaped? Was that monster already on her trail, getting closer with every passing second? A horrendous thought came to her. She could be running in a circle, her every step bringing her closer to her jailer. A sob escaped her throat.

Dear God. Please. Please.

She squinted, trying to see through the inky night. There had to be a road, a house, something, and then she saw them. Some distance away there were lights, and her last vestiges of hope crashed.

Flashlights.

Had a posse been formed? Were they closing in on her? In her panic, she tripped and came down hard, again. This time she thought she might have broken an arm. She was crying now. She’d come so close. But she would be caught. And she would die.

She looked up at the lights moving through the trees, and blinked. Could her imagination be playing tricks on her? She stared, and in moment of clarity she understood. Those weren’t flashlights. They were headlights. Headlights meant cars, and cars meant a road. Just ahead, maybe a few hundred yards farther, lay safety.

She had to keep going. She struggled to her feet, cradling her sore arm. She made her way, pushing through brambles and bushes until she came to a steep embankment. She crawled up and then over the guardrail. A car whizzed by, blaring its horn.

“Wait. Stop!” she yelled at the next one when it was still a distance away, but it drove by too. “Help me!” she shouted after it. She limped into the road, determined to make the next one stop. Tires screeched. There was a thud. And then she went flying through the air, coming to a bone-crushing thump on the hard pavement.

Through the mist in her mind she heard the sound of running footsteps, then a woman’s voice. “Oh, my God. Is she dead?”

A man’s voice, pleading. “I swear. It wasn’t my fault. She ran right in front of me.”

The woman again. “I think she’s still breathing. Call an ambulance. Now!” She leaned into her. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

The words came to her from a great distance, growing further and further away, until they were only a faint echo. She drifted into nothingness.

 

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Cable Car MysteryTitle: Cable Car Mystery
Author: Greg Messel
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing
Pages: 180
Genre: Mystery/Romance

On the hottest day of the year in San Francisco in 1959, Private Detectives Sam and Amelia Slater are contemplating fleeing the city for their Stinson Beach house. However, when Sam decides to take a cable car ride to run some errands on the lazy summer day, he’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight when he rescues a woman who fell onto the busy street. Sam pulls the mysterious red haired woman out of the path of an oncoming cable car in the nick of time. The entire incident is captured by a newspaper photographer who splashes Sam’s heroics all over the front page. Sam is troubled not only by his new status as a city hero, but by the rescued woman’s plea for help. She whispers to Sam that she didn’t fall from the cable car but was pushed. She is frightened and disappears into the crowd before Sam can get more details. A San Francisco newspaper launches a campaign to find the mystery woman and Sam hopes to cross paths with her again.

Meanwhile, Amelia is troubled by the sudden disappearance of her elderly neighbor. Two thuggish younger men who now occupy the house next door say he took a sudden trip. One night when she’s alone Amelia grabs a flashlight and finds some disturbing clues in her neighbor’s garage. What really happened to her neighbor? Amelia is determined to find out.

Award winning author Greg Messel spins a new tale of intrigue in Cable Car Mystery, the sixth book in the Sam Slater Mystery series set in at the 1950s in San Francisco.

For More Information

  • Cable Car Mystery is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

 

THE DARK APARTMENT

May 29, 1959

It had been a beautiful early summer day in San Francisco but the evening fog was rolling in, seemingly pulling a cozy blanket over the sparkling city as 28-year-old Debra Norton returned from her Friday night date with John D’Angelo, a tall, handsome, dark-haired man she had met at work.

It was their first date. He was so unlike the men who had been part of her life in recent years. He seemed kind and gentle. John seemed like just what she wanted in a companion but she reminded herself it was too early to make such an assessment. It could be the beginning of something good for Debra who, at the urging of her sister, had fled Seattle to make a new start in San Francisco.

John was truly an artist and Debra’s job had been the most unusual experience of her life.

She began working at the wax museum on Fisherman’s Wharf at the beginning of May, where she performed a variety of tasks. Debra had secretarial and clerical duties but at times she was a ticket taker. Over the four weeks she had been at the museum, she had learned enough about various exhibits that she directed patrons and answered their questions. That part was really fun.

John, on the other hand, was the creative talent behind many of the museum’s famous wax figures. He actually created the figures which attracted tourists who visited Fisherman’s Wharf. She’d met John on the first day at her new job, but initially their paths didn’t cross because he was always in the upstairs studio.

Nevertheless, recently, John had been finding excuses to leave his work studio and chat up Debra. A few times she looked up and noticed him watching her.

Now on their first date, John had taken Debra out to dinner. He was very attentive. There were nice little touches many women would probably take for granted, such as pulling out her chair to seat her at the table and opening the car door for her.

After the dinner, they went to the late show at the Embassy Theatre on Market Street and saw “A Summer Place” with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. It was just the kind of romantic movie Debra loved but had never seen.

She shared a popcorn with her handsome co-worker. About halfway through the movie, he took her hand. His hands were manly but soft. He held her hand as if it were some delicate object of art which might break if treated carelessly.

They continued to hold hands until he gave her a good night kiss on the steps by the front door stoop near the entrance of her San Francisco-style townhouse apartment building. She seemed euphoric as she began to descend the steps to her second floor apartment. Debra stopped halfway up the steps and turned to look at the front door. She could see John standing outside the glass door watching her ascend the steps.  She smiled and waved before resuming her climb up the stairs.

She smiled to herself knowing John was watching her.

Debra’s lighthearted contentment was shattered when she slowly walked towards the door of her apartment. Her sixth sense kicked in. Something just didn’t look right.  A little voice in her head told her to bolt and go retrieve John, but instead she pushed ahead.

About the Author

Greg Messel

Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg lives in Edmonds, Washington on Puget Sound with his wife Jean DeFond.

Greg has written nine novels. His latest is “Cable Car Mystery” which is the sixth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. “Shadows In The Fog,” ”Fog City Strangler,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Deadly Plunge” are sequels to the first book in the series “Last of the Seals.” His other three novels are “Sunbreaks,” “Expiation” and “The Illusion of Certainty.”

For More Information

 

BOOK TRAILER:

 

                                                                                                                 

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Giveaway!

Greg Messel is giving away an autographed copy of his book, FOG CITY STRANGLER, & an autographed copy of his book, SHADOWS IN THE FOG!

 

Terms & Conditions:

  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive an autographed copy of his book FOG CITY STRANGLER and one winner will be chosen to win an autographed copy of SHADOWS IN THE FOG
  • This giveaway begins May 2 and ends on June 30.
  • Winners will be contacted via email on July 1.
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply.

Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

 
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The Moreva of Astoreth banner

The Moreva of AstorethTitle: THE MOREVA OF ASTORETH
Author: Roxanne Bland
Publisher: Blackrose Press
Pages: 607
Genre: Science Fiction

Moreva Tehi, scientist, healer, priestess of the Goddess of Love and three-quarters god, is a bigot. She hates the hakoi who are the Temple’s slaves. When she misses an important ritual because the enslaved hakoi are participants, her grandmother, the Goddess Astoreth, punishes her by exiling her for a year from her beloved southern desert home to the far north village of Mjor in the Syren Perritory, (where the hakoi are free) to steward Astoreth’s landing beacon. But Astoreth forbids her from taking with her scientific research on red fever, a devastating scourge that afflicts the hakoi. She does so, anyway.

The first Mjoran she meets is Laerd Teger, the hakoi chief of the village, who appears to hate her. She also meets Hyme, the hakoi village healer, and much to Moreva Tehi’s surprise, they form a fast friendship. This friendship forces her to set upon a spiritual journey to confront her bigotry. While doing so, she falls in love with Laerd Teger, who returns her love. She eventually has a revelation about the meaning of love, and rids herself of her bigotry. And she develops a cure for red fever, and is the first healer to do so.

But there is a price for her love for Laerd Teger, and that is her certain execution by the Goddess Astoreth upon her return home because she has broken her sacred vows. But then, through Laerd Teger, she learns a terrible secret about her gods, that they are not gods at all, but aliens, and rather than being part god, she is part alien. Her world destroyed, she turns on Laerd Teger for showing her the truth. They eventually reconcile. But there is still the problem about her love for Laerd Teger. Astoreth will know what she has done and will execute her. She formulates a plan, involving the erasure of her memory, in which she will bargain for her life by giving Astoreth the formula for red fever. Astoreth agrees. For breaking her vows and disobeying a direct order not to take her red fever research to Mjor, Astoreth strips her of her morevic status and exiles her again to Mjor. Back in Mjor, she recovers her memory and sends the red fever formula to Astoreth. Now freed from the constraints of being a Moreva, Tehi and Teger embark on a new life together.

For More Information

  • The Moreva of Astoreth is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

“I could have you executed for this, Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth said. My Devi grandmother, the Goddess of Love, scowled at me from Her golden throne in the massive Great Hall of Her equally massive Temple.

Sitting on my heels, I bowed my head and stared at the black and gold polished floor, trying to ignore the trickle of sweat snaking its way down my spine. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“You blaspheme by not celebrating Ohra, My holiest of rites. And this one was important—the worthiest of the hakoi, handpicked by Me, celebrated with us. ”

“I can only offer my most abject apologies, Most Holy One.”

“Your apologies are not accepted.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Where were you?”

“I was in the laboratory, working on a cure for red fever. Many hakoi died last winter—”

“I know that,” my grandmother snapped. “But why did you miss Ohra? Did you not hear the bells?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. I heard them. I was about to lay aside my work when I noticed an anomaly in one of my pareon solutions. It was odd, so I decided to investigate. What I found…I just lost track of time.”

“You lost track of time?” Astoreth repeated, sounding incredulous. “Do you expect me to believe that?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. It is the truth.”

A moment later, my head and hearts started to throb. I knew why. My grandmother was probing me for signs I had lied. But She wouldn’t find any. There was no point in lying to Astoreth, and it was dangerous, too. Swaying under the onslaught from Her power, I endured the pain without making a sound. After what seemed like forever the throbbing subsided, leaving me feeling sick and dizzy.

“Very well,” She said. “I accept what you say is true, but I still do not accept your apology.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.” I tried not to pant.

A minute passed in uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable for me, anyway. Another minute passed. And another. Just when I thought maybe She was finished with me, Astoreth spoke. “What do you have against the hakoi, Moreva?”

The change of subject confused me. “What do you mean, Most Holy One?”

“I’ve watched you, Moreva. You give them no respect. You heal them because you must, but you treat them little better than animals. Why is that?”

The trickle of sweat reached the small of my back and pooled there. “But my work—”

“Your work is a game between you and the red fever. It has nothing to do with My hakoi.”

I didn’t answer right away. In truth, I despised Her hakoi. They were docile enough—the Devi’s breeding program saw to that—but most were slow-witted, not unlike the pirsu the Temple raised for meat and hide. They stank of makira, the pungent cabbage that was their dietary staple. From what I’d seen traveling through Kherah to Astoreth’s and other Gods’ Temples, all the hakoi were stupid and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

I did not want my grandmother to know what was in my hearts, so I chose my words carefully. “Most Holy One, I treat Your hakoi the way I do because it is the hierarchy of life as the Devi created it. You taught us the Great Pantheon of twelve Devi is Supreme. The lesser Devi are beneath You, the morevs are beneath the lesser gods, and Your hakoi are beneath the morevs. Beneath the hakoi are the plants and animals of Peris. But sometimes Your hakoi forget their place and must be reminded.” I held my breath, praying she wouldn’t probe me again.

Astoreth didn’t answer at first. “A pretty explanation, Moreva. But My hakoi know their place. It is you who do not know yours. You may be more Devi than morev but you are still morev, born of hakoi blood. You are not too good to minister to the hakoi’s needs, and you are certainly not too good to celebrate Ohra with them.”

I swallowed. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Look at me, Moreva.”

I raised my head. My grandmother’s expression was fierce.

“And that is why you let the time get away from you, as you say. You, Moreva Tehi, an acolyte of Love, are a bigot. That is why you did not want to share your body with My hakoi.” She leaned forward. “I have overlooked many of your transgressions while in My service, but I cannot overlook your bigotry or your missing Ohra. I will not execute you because you are too dear to My heart. The stewardship for Astoreth-69 in the Syren Perritory ends this marun on eighth day. You will take the next rotation.”

My hearts froze. This was my punishment? Getting exiled to Syren? From what I’d heard from morevs serving in Astoreth’s other Temples, the Syren Perritory in Peris’s far northern hemisphere was the worst place in the world to steward a landing beacon. Cold and dark, with dense woods full of wild animals, the Syren was no place for me. My place was Kherah, a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator, where the fauna were kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment. As for the Syrenese, they were the product of one of the Devi’s earliest and failed experimental breeding programs, and were as untamed as the perritory in which they lived.

But I knew better than to protest. Astoreth’s word was law, and it had just come down on my head. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, my voice meek.

“Mehmed will come to your rooms after lunch tomorrow so you can be fitted for your uniform.”

“My uniform, Most Holy One? I will not be taking my clothes?”

“No. As overseer of the landing beacon, you are the liaison between the Mjor village as well as the commander of the garrison. Your subordinate, Kepten Yose, will report to you once a marun, and you are to relay the garrison’s needs to Laerd Teger, the Mjoran village chief.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“I will make allowance for your healer’s kit and a portable laboratory, but you are not to take your work on red fever. I’m sure you have other projects you can work on while you are there.”

“But—”

“No, Moreva. It is too dangerous.”

“I can take precautions—”

“No. That is my final word.” Astoreth leaned back in Her chair. Her eyes narrowed. “One more thing. You will be the only morev in Mjor, but that will not prevent you from observing Ohra. And you will do so with the garrison stationed there. Go now.”

I stood on shaky legs, bowed, and backed out of the Great Hall. Once in the corridor, I turned and fled to my quarters. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed. It was bad enough to be exiled to the Syren Perritory, but Ohra with the garrison? Only the hakoi served in Astoreth’s military. I felt dirty already. And not allowing me to work on my red fever project was punishment in itself.

A few minutes later I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Tehi, what’s wrong?” a worried voice said. It was Moreva Jaleta, one of my friendlier morev sisters.

“I-I’m being sent to the Syren Perritory to steward Astoreth-69,” I wailed.

Jaleta sat on the bed. “But why?”

I sat up. “I missed the last Ohra and n-now Astoreth is punishing me.”

Jaleta gave me an unsympathetic look. “You’re lucky she didn’t have your head. Be thankful you’re Her favorite.”

I sniffed but said nothing.

Jaleta patted me on the shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Tehi. The year will be over before you know it. Come on, it’s time to eat.”

 

<<<>>>

 

The next day after the morning service I walked along the hallways of the Temple, avoiding eye contact with everyone I encountered. Jaleta could be kind, but she had a big mouth, and by the time dinner had concluded last night everyone had known about my punishment for missing Ohra. “About time she was punished for something,” someone said. Holding my head high, I ignored the snickers and other snide remarks as I made my way along the corridor.

Instead of going to my lab, I headed for the Temple’s cartography section. Morevi Reng, our chief cartographer, was an ass but a brilliant one. No one in Kherah made maps more accurately and seamlessly than he did, and the other Temples paid dearly for his talent. But Reng hated me. Until I came along, he’d been the best at all of our sports, dancing, music, and other skills the morev were required to learn. My extra dose of Devi blood gave me the ability to top him, and he was jealous.

I wound my way around the cubicles where Reng’s students were working until I reached his office. I knocked on his door, wondering if he would help me. He could be stingy that way. I’d have to resort to flattery if I was to get anything out of him. “Come in,” a voice said. I opened the door and stepped inside.

Reng looked up and gave me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Greetings, Moreva Tehi. I hear you’re taking a little trip.” His voice dripped with false good cheer.

“Greetings, Morevi Reng. Yes, I am.” I smiled back, my grin just as fake. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Reng’s grin faltered a bit. He obviously wasn’t expecting my reply. “So,” he said, recovering his composure, “what can I do for you?”

“Well, I’d like to know more about the Syren Perritory. Everyone knows you have the best maps in Kherah, and I’d like to take a look at it before I leave.”

Reng preened a little. “Of course. Just let me get the projector.”

I waited in silence while he cleared his cluttered desk. Then he stepped over to an enormous cabinet. Opening the door, he pulled out a squat, black box with five striations on one side. I watched him set up the projector and switch it on. Nothing seemed to happen. Even with my Devi-enhanced hearing I couldn’t hear anything from the black box, not even a quiet hum.

Turning back to the cabinet, he studied its contents. Then he removed a small tube from its slot. Twisting off the lid, he shook an even smaller clear cylinder into the palm of his hand. Walking back to the desk, he dropped the cylinder into a little round hole on top of the projector I hadn’t noticed. As soon as he did so, a picture bloomed on the other side of his office. It was like looking through a window.

“Ready?” Reng said.

I nodded. Together, we walked across the office to the picture. I halted. “Now what?”

“Step inside.”

I did and wished I hadn’t. I was at least a thousand šīzu above the ground. I windmilled my arms as if that would do anything to keep me from falling.

Reng grabbed one of my arms. I looked up. He was smirking. “Relax. This is just a holo, remember?”

I ducked my head, feeling sheepish. “Sorry—it seemed so real.”

“I aim to please.”

I gazed down at the land, crisscrossed by paved roads and bridged rivers. Peris’s three suns—in the hologram, it was summer—reflected off the water, bright pinpoints of light that winked in and out like a festival display. I was surprised. I’d expected to see dirt paths instead of roads and certainly no bridges.

“So where do you want to go?” Reng said.

I raised my brows. I hadn’t thought about that. “I don’t know…I guess I just wanted to see it.”

“Let’s go for a walk, then. Here—hold on to me.”

I took his hand, and we floated downward. Along the way, I marveled at how life-like everything looked. We reached the ground and landed on a wide, paved road with a light green stripe snaking along its middle. We walked. I took a deep breath. I smelled the trees and flowers. Birds sang. The pavement was hard beneath my slippers. A slight breeze ruffled my hair. I would never have believed I was inside a hologram.

“Reng, how do you know what the Perritory smells and sounds like?”

His face lit up with a delighted smile. “I don’t. I made it up based on what others have told me.” He turned. “Do you like it?”

“It’s amazing.”

Reng preened again.

We had walked about seventy or eighty nindan when I stopped in my tracks. A series of huge caves had been cut into the mountainside, dwarfing the pieces of what looked like machinery crawling before them. I gasped. “What is that?”

“The thalin mines. Most of our supplies come from here.” He turned to me. “Not much more to see in this segment. Want to go back? I could show you Mjor, the village where you’ll be staying.”

I shook my head. “That’s all right. I just wanted to see what the Perritory looked like, that’s all.” A rumbling sound, very close by, made me turn. My eyes widened. A blue, monstrous-looking vehicle was bearing down on us, and it was too late to run. “Reng!” I screamed.

He turned around and smiled. He spread his arms wide. “Watch.”

I couldn’t have looked away if I’d tried. My feet were rooted to the spot. All I saw was the vehicle’s grill growing closer and closer until it was all I could see. I waited for the impact.

There was none. I goggled and spun around. The huge vehicle trundled away. It had gone right through us as if we weren’t there.

Reng grinned. “We’re in a holo, Tehi. Did you forget again?” He sniffed. “I can’t believe they still use wheels. Air vehicles are so much more superior. Well, they are a little backward up here. You’ll see.” He looked at me. “Ready?”

“Yes.” We rose from the pavement. I watched the perrain recede. We glided through the air and in moments were back where we started. “All right, here we are,” Reng said. “Just step forward.”

I did so, and then I was back in Reng’s office. I turned. The holo map was still there. Reng walked over to his desk and behind my back. The window disappeared before my eyes. I looked over my shoulder. “You mentioned this was a segment. Are there more?”

“Yes. When I’m finished making this portion of the map, I’ll put them together so you could go on for da-na.”

I nodded and made to leave. “Thank you, Reng. That was simply wondrous. You really are a genius.” My admiration was heartsfelt.

Reng narrowed his eyes as if judging whether I was serious or not. He apparently decided I was, because a wide grin split his face. “Anytime, Tehi. Anytime.”

I left Reng’s office and made my way back through the cubicles. It was past time for me to be in my lab. Thank Astoreth I wasn’t on clinic duty today. All those stupid, stinking hakoi… I cut off the thought. That kind of thinking was what got me into trouble in the first place. I exited the cartography department and took the elevator down to the basement floor, where my lab was located. Pushing the door open, I noticed several of my morev colleagues hovering over their stations, their expressions intense. I arrived at my station and put on my protective jacket. I wouldn’t be working today, but habits are habits. I picked up my electronic tablet, opened a new page, and wandered about my station deciding which items to take. I spoke my needs in a normal voice, disturbing my colleagues without a care on my part. Of course, I wouldn’t be taking anything from this lab. I couldn’t. A portable lab is just that—portable. The equipment is half, and sometimes a quarter of full-sized. The only equipment that was full-sized was things like forceps and droppers. But by judicious choosing, I could have a full-fledged lab in Mjor, if only in miniature. My lips twisted. What difference does it make if I can’t work on finding the cure for red fever? I’ll lose a year’s worth of effort, and someone else might find it before I do. Then my eyes widened. Wait. I can still work. If I take a portable sterile environment, the lab will have everything I need. And the red fever vials are small enough I can easily sneak them out of here. Besides, I only need one. Well, maybe two. And I need hairless skratzes for other experiments, anyway. Then I thought about Astoreth’s order not to take my project with me. If I find the cure while I’m in the Syren Perritory, I doubt she’ll punish me. And if I’m the first to develop it, my cure could make the Temple a lot of talents. She might even make me the head of research. I smiled at the thought.

The bells rang for lunch. I put down my tablet, took off my jacket, and hung it on its peg. Then I followed the other morevs to the dining room. When I arrived, I saw Moreva Quora, my archenemy, sitting in my accustomed seat. Fifteen years older than me, Quora detested me because until my birth she’d been Astoreth’s favorite.

“Out of my seat, Quora.”

Quora looked up and smiled. “Why, Tehi—we’d thought you’d be in the Syren Perritory by now.”

“You know very well the supply airship doesn’t leave until the day after tomorrow. So out of my seat.”

“No. I don’t see your name on it. What are you going to do, run to our Most Holy One and complain?”

Now it was my turn to smile. Standing at the far side of the round table, I placed my hands on the table’s edge and leaned forward. “If you don’t, I’ll put a simi in your bed. Maybe two.” Simi were long, thin, harmless snakes with a penchant for hiding in crevasses. A bed, with its sheets, mattress, and pillows, was an ideal place for them. And Quora was afraid of snakes.

Quora’s face paled. She knew I’d do it, too.

Without another word, Quora rose from my seat and went to find another one. I straightened, walked around the table to my chair and plopped into it. I looked around. Everyone was staring at me. “What?”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Morevi Sabo said. Sabo worked in the lab with me.

“She was in my seat.”

Just then, our food arrived, and conversation ceased. I sniffed the delicious aroma of my plate of sagra, maeli, and other assorted vegetables. I was famished. I wanted to devour it, but we had to wait for the blessing. Morevi Prian rose from his chair. I let out a little groan. He was one of the older morevs, well-respected for his work in astronomy. The only problem was that he tended to ramble.

After what seemed like an hour, the blessing had been given, and we were allowed to eat. Now, instead of hot, my food was just warm. Normally, I would have sent it back to the kitchen for reheating but I was hungry enough not to care. I finished before anyone else at the table. Etiquette dictated I should wait until at least two other morevs had finished eating before getting up from the table, but I didn’t feel like being polite. I rose from my chair and took my plate to the cart positioned at one end of the dining room. One of the kitchen hakois would come for the cart when it was full of dirty dishes.

I returned to the lab. I had only a few more decisions to make before I’d deem my portable lab workable. I put the finishing touches on my list and was just about to drag one of the trunks from the closet to start packing when the round, faceted jewel below my right shoulder holding my robe together beeped. I tapped it. “Moreva Tehi.”

“Moreva, this is Mehmed. Please come to your room. I am ready for your final fitting.”

“Can’t we do this later? I was just getting ready to pack up my lab.”

“No, Moreva. I must have enough time to make your uniforms. Any later than now and you will not be ready to leave on the supply airship. The Most Holy One would not be pleased.”

“Oh, all right.” My grandmother was already angry with me, and it wouldn’t do to anger her even more. I set the trunk down in front of my workstation and left the lab. My lab mates were just coming back from lunch. I didn’t speak to them nor did they speak to me. I walked along the hallway until I came to the bank of elevators. Pressing the button, one set of elevator doors whisked open. I stepped aboard and rode to the main floor. Exiting this elevator, I traversed another, longer hallway until I came to another bank of elevators. These would take me to the morev dormitory. I pushed the call button and waited, growing more irritated by the second. The dormitory elevators, unlike the elevators in every other part of the Temple, were notoriously slow. A cab arrived four minutes later. I stepped inside. “Three.”

Reaching my floor, I exited the cab and walked to my room. The door was standing open, which meant Mehmed was already inside. My lips tightened. There was precious little privacy in the dormitory. Our rooms had doors, but they didn’t lock. Anyone could walk in at any time. Everyone knew better than to walk into my room without being invited because, with my extra dose of Devi blood, I could not only sense someone had been in there but her identity, too. That person might enter their room next to find clothes strewn about on the floor, or the mirror smashed. But Mehmed, though a hakoi, was a special case. He made all of our clothes and could easily alter a garment so that it did not fit perfectly, which is what the Most Holy One demanded from her morevs. A morev in ill-fitting clothes was subject to punishment in whatever way suited Astoreth’s whim. Sometimes those whims included torture—the kind that left no marks.

I entered my room to find Mehmed and a fitting robot standing before a three-way mirror they’d brought with them. “Here is your uniform,” Mehmed said, handing me a dark red blouse and a matching pair of trousers. “Please put it on.”

I stripped to my undergarments and put on the uniform. The legs were slightly too long, as were the sleeves. It was made from some heavy material that felt uncomfortable given that I usually wore light gowns beneath my robe. “Stand here, please,” Mehmed said, indicating a small stool positioned in front of the mirror. I took off my slippers and mounted it.

“Do not move, please.”

I centered myself and pretended I was one of the metal flagpoles in front of the Temple. “Excellent, excellent,” I heard Mehmed’s voice. He spoke in whispers to the robot, which I assumed was dutifully storing my exact measurements into its memory. “Now please hold your arms out to the sides.”

I did so. Mehmed whispered some more. Just when I was getting bored with being a flagpole, Mehmed announced he was finished. “This is your winter uniform. You will also have summer uniforms made of a lighter material. You will have plenty of each to last you a year. Your uniforms are embedded with an enzyme that will keep them fresh and crisp for about five days before you must change into a new one. I will also include extra uniforms in case you need them.”

I looked down at a small dark rectangle sewn into the blouse under my right shoulder. “What’s this?”

“It is a timepiece. All of the timepieces on your uniforms will be set to Syrenese Perritory time before you go. It will also be set for the time for Temple services. It is touch activated. Tap it once, ask for the time and it will give you the time. Ask how long before services begin and it will tell you that, too. It is also your alarm.”

“How will I know it’s on?”

“It will light up.”

“All right. How do I turn it on?”

“The timepiece will activate when you put on your uniform and stay activated until the battery wears out. The battery will last for half a marun, like the enzymes in the fabric.”

I took off my new uniform. After I had, I folded the blouse and the trousers once and gave them to Mehmed. He took them from me and made ready to leave.

“Thank you, Mehmed. May the Most Holy One turn Her face to you.”

“And to you, Moreva Tehi.” Mehmed nodded once and, with his fitting robot trundling behind carrying the mirror, left my quarters.

I dressed in my gown, sat on my bed, and blinked. This is really happening…I’m leaving Uruk for the Syren Perritory in less than two days. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’d been hoping Astoreth would change hers, but I now knew it wasn’t going to happen. Tears sprouted from my eyes and ran down my cheeks. Soon I was sobbing again, except this time there was no one around to hear it.

Eventually, my tears dried and I rose from the bed. If I was to be sent into exile, I needed to get my portable lab packed. I left my room and retraced my steps to the basement lab. Inside, I opened the trunk I’d placed in front of my table and picked up my tablet. I looked over the notes I’d made. Then I started packing.

I didn’t think as I packed. Like an automaton, I simply followed my notes, retrieving conical flasks, beakers, pipettes and the like, and stowing them away in the first of two white trunks. By dinnertime, I was almost finished. Just a few more pieces of equipment and the vials of red fever and the portable lab would be ready to go to the Syren Perritory.

But would I?

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