In the French Alps, the cable-cars are called telepheriques, and the Aiguille du Midi telepherique, in the French border town of Chamonix, is the godmother of them all. More akin to an elevator into space than a ski lift, it climbs an ever-steepening inverted arc to the summit crag. The final two hundred feet is a dead vertical pull, one of those experiences when most passengers find themselves offering silent prayers, searching for the comforting hand of whichever god they chose.
From its base on the valley floor, already at three thousand feet above sea level, the telepherique rises to a lofty perch at twelve thousand feet, an ascent of nearly the same change in altitude as the summit of Mount Everest is from her base camp. It was the most aggressive cable-car route in the Alps.
5.0 out of 5 stars
By D.E. Williamson November 21, 2017
Masterfully written! Riveting! Thought provoking and well thought out plot! Best action packed thriller I've read in years .I would give it more stars if possible.
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If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him; that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia," whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”
What most impressed Calder but also rankled the most was that these conspirators had chosen the weakest point in the electoral process. They were relying on the apathy and ignorance of normal citizens. At precisely the time when no one thought to look at what was going on—indeed when most thought the election was already settled—a small group had struck at the very heart of the process.
Fear ebbed slightly, as he was overwhelmed by indignation at the hubris of the criminals. Politics was a dirty pursuit, of course. Everyone knew that politicians twist the truth even when they’re not telling outright lies. But this wasn’t some cynical exchange of rhetoric and trumped up statistics to do with denying unemployment assistance in favor of funding something else; it wasn’t about gutting environmental law for private gain. Those debates, however full of trickery and spin, were nevertheless just that—debates—and they were more or less overt, carried out before the public and in the public’s name.
This plot, though, was covert, a nationally organized threat to the integrity of the office of the President. It was secret, precise in its economy, and deadly in pursuit of its goal. If the plot succeeded, the government would not legitimately derive its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Calder had spent more than twenty years studying and teaching about elections; and while his primary interest was academic, and despite his stated ambivalence about the “real world,” that theory and practice was underpinned by an abiding, visceral connection to what was it was all for—people: their rights, their lives and livelihoods; the just, lawful application and use of power. He found himself filled with outrage.
He wondered again about who the conspirators were. Calder couldn’t see the either party’s leadership doing something like this. It was too risky, far beyond the normal kinds of “dirty tricks” a party would be likely to countenance.
Did they know at the top level, like Watergate, and so would neither help nor hinder the conspirators? Or had some private, well-heeled and well-connected set of ideologues seen this dirty plot as a means to get their way, abetted by the confusion wealth in American politics affords?
Hours later, Calder was no nearer figuring out who was doing the killing and manipulation than when he sat down.
It has been years since Sebastian has visited any type of fitness or training facility,and even then by invitation from the Olympic Coach, so he looks more than a little awkward with his coat bunched in one hand and a walking stick, in the other.Just to top it off, a jacket and tie aren't exactly perfect gym attire either.Small details like these never really deter Sebastian as his thoughts are solidly focused on the job at hand.Even though he has mellowed and has become a little less self-conscious in recent times,his early, embedded beliefs still linger.His issue with the cane is more about being told what he must do rather than how he looks. How others perceive him is irrelevant; he contemplates such thinking as shallow conceptions of an idle mind; his own head is so occupied with other things there's no room for what he sees as wasted thoughts.
Sebastian is surprised by the enormity of the interior. The receptionist sits at a semi-circular desk directly across from the entrance and to the right and left,small booths sell gym equipment,health food and sports drinks. He informs the receptionist that has an appointment with the manager, Max Martin and she rings through to his office at the rear of the building and then points Sebastian in that direction.
The path to his office leads Sebastian directly through the workout area and his senses fill with an overpowering smell of liniment, the sound of clanging metal and muffled voices of patrons and instructors.He eyes everything around him in a desultory manner, as he strives to familiarize himself with the scene.
Only a few strides along, there is disharmony between a middle-aged pair. She is trying to encourage her partner to stay close and he is making it overtly obvious that he's there against his will. Sebastian slows his pace and continues to observe them.
He will often challenge himself to understand what others communicate with their bodies rather than orally and walking through the gym gives him an opportunity to hone his already exceptional skills. The woman consistently pulls at her jacket in an attempt to prevent it creeping upwards means she is carrying more weight than she would like. As the fellow is quite muscular and lean, Sebastian muses, she may have dragged him along because of her own insecurities. She flutters from one machine to the next in her matching pink tracksuit and joggers like a bee in a floral heaven. In contrast, her partners outfit camouflaged cargo pants and sleeveless checked-shirt isn't your regular gym attire but that of a woodsman, hunter or laborer.
Sebastian is soon bored with these two. Spying a spritely young woman about to board a treadmill,his mood soon changes to one of being inspired, as he ponders the thought of buying one for home. He murmurs to himself, "Mmm. That would certainly save me being late to breakfast again!"
Now Sebastian the 'real deal'; one rather solidly built fellow lays flat on a slab and above him sits a set of gigantic weights, held together with a bar surely way to lean for the enormous discs. A muscular friend, or perhaps trainer, is arched over, ready to take the torturous weight from its racks and lower the bar carefully down. There's no doubt in Sebastian's mind that these to are gym enthusiasts, disciplined and dedicated, something that he admires, even if he has no interest in the activity.
On he goes until his eyes abruptly shift to the right "Well,well, there's hope for me yet!" he exclaims as he catches sight of a massive form of a man trying to keep rhythm with his overlapping stomach on yet another treadmill.Sebastian is so enthralled he doesn't see a rather plump, middle=aged woman cross his path.As they collide, his had flies out and accidentally grabs hold of her ample breast."Sorry, sorry!"
She stands there smiling at him, glances down at the hand that has yet to disconnect from her bosom. Sebastian also glances down then back up. His mouth opens; his forehead wrinkles and he gives an involuntary smile before releasing the object like a red hot ember.To make matters worse he's so flustered he begins brushing down her breast in a reflex action.
"It's fine.You can stop now". She says smiling warmly and gently nodding her head.
Sebastian hesitantly smiles back and then leaves as quickly as he can, no longer interested in anything except his destination.
Dinorah Green was the exact opposite of me. There was not a single personality trait which was the same between us. She was the yin to my yang, the opposing side of me. I had done a paper on Chinese culture earlier that year. My research indicated that the dark and light weren’t good and evil but simply opposites. I was suddenly dark, living the life of light, ice in fire’s world.
That was not a comforting thought, though. I wanted back in my own world. I wanted to get out of Dinorah Green’s life. I wanted to be Dinorah Winthrop again. I was desperate to have my friends around me and my mom, who hugged me every morning before school. She had never given me the kind of look that Dinorah Green’s mom had given her . . . me, whatever.
Sean woke up from a dream, the same dream, screaming just as he had the previous three mornings. The vision of him strapped to a table and a doctor standing above him was still vivid in his mind. A bright light shone from above and everything was fuzzy. The doctor was masked and the scalpel glistened in his hand. Two masked nurses watched as the doctor made his first cut.
I’ve died and gone to hell, he thought. I’m not dead, but I’ve certainly gone to hell. The pain in his groin was not quite as bad this morning, but he still felt the lingering ache. He reached down and felt for the missing parts, and began to cry.
Why did they do this to me? What are they going to do with me next? Only questions. No answers. Then he began to remember. The men. They took my guns. I asked a question and a sharp pain in the back of my head. Then darkness. Why?
Sean got up and turned on the light. He went to wipe his brow but stopped short and looked at his hand. Blood. Not a lot, but too much. Sweat trickled down his cheek. He walked over to the sink to wash his hands and face.
A banging on his door. Sean looked over at the clock. Then he remembered Sonny, Marcia, and little Lola. Sonny had come to get him and take him to work. He felt tired, his groin ached, and he didn’t want to go to work. The blood reminded him of his sister, Debra. She was always so bitchy when she got her period. He couldn’t help but smile, but it was short lived.
He had to get dressed. Sonny was pissed yesterday and the day before because he took too long to come out. Besides, he would get no answers until he did. Sonny wouldn’t answer my questions. Will he answer them now? And what’s with Marcia? Every time I speak to her, she just gives me a dirty look then turns away. What’s the matter with these people? I’ll get some answers today.
Sean got dressed a little faster than he did yesterday. It was early, the same as the past few mornings. The clock said 4:20. He met Sonny outside and got into the back of their pickup truck. A sharp pain shot through his groin as he lifted his leg over the side. Marcia and Lola crawled into the passenger side. Sonny drove to the boat and cranked up the old diesel motor. While the engine warmed a bit, they loaded their gear onboard. Soon they were headed out to sea.
The shrimp boat slowly chugged along and exited the harbor. Sean sat on the railing around the rear deck. The gentle breeze rustled his hair and was cool on his face. The air was heavy with the smell of the bay. Sean liked the smells—the salty air, the sea water, the aroma of fish and sea grass. He focused his attention on the water quickly passing by the boat. The churning water stirred small jellyfish which glowed green when they were agitated. The luminescent creatures fascinated and mesmerized him. They took his mind off his pain.
Sean looked forward toward the cabin of the boat. He could see Sonny driving and Marcia talking to him. Sean could not hear them over the hum of the engine. He knew, however, the conversation had to be about him. Marcia would occasionally glance back at Sean. Yes, they’re definitely talking about me.
Sean turned his attention back to the water. Robbie and I came here to find wives. I can never have kids now. Can I have sex? If I can’t, what do I need a wife for? I’ll kill those bastards for what they did to me. But who are they? It wasn’t Sonny and Marcia, but who? Sean felt the tears welling up in his eyes again. Maybe I should end it all right now. Just lean over the rail. One second and I’ll be in the water. Let the fish and crabs have me. Take a deep breath of the salty water. I’ll be out like a light. No more worries . . . no more pain . . . no more problems.
A few miles away from the Bayfront, Sean’s best friend, Robbie, lay in a bed, out cold for several days now. His breathing was slow and steady. His face was flushed and a cool damp washcloth was across his forehead. He had not moved a major muscle since he was ambushed and brought here. His eyes twitched from time to time as if he were dreaming, but that was all.
“Why won’t he wake up, Mother?”
“I don’t know. They must have hit him awful hard for him to stay out this long.”
“Is he going to die?”
“He may very well if he doesn’t wake up soon.”
Juliet Adams is as normal as an Oregon thunderstorm, but working as a nurse allows her to live vicariously through the past adventures of her favorite patient, giving her hope for her future. However, when her fiancé dumps her six months before the wedding, that hope crumbles.
Brokenhearted and in dire need of support, Juliet gives into her sister’s request and agrees to spend a week on the coast. Unable to escape the reminders of her loneliness, she stumbles upon a mysteriously glowing cave and an equally mysterious man.
This chance encounter with the magnetic Marsh Darrow sends her on a whirlwind adventure, filled with myth, legend, and creatures beyond imagination. As her idea of normal falls apart, Juliet discovers an inner courage that shows her she is more than she ever dreamed— the prophetic key to a war that centers around centuries-old secrets.
A phone call at 9:05 on the first day back from holiday break can never bring good news, especially when it comes from the newly appointed, heavily coiffed, senior executive vice president Susan Thornton-Smith, dubbed STS by her corporate minions, who longed to create a sense of intimacy where none had previously existed. This, however, would not be the case for me. I was ready for my promotion; in fact, I had been at my desk for an hour already making sure everything was 100% perfect for today. My new hot pink crocodile iPad case was lined up with its office accessory family. The iPad itself was just one of the many things I was going to buy to celebrate my promotion to Publicity Director.
Being Assistant Director was a big job at my company, despite the fact that there had never been a director for me to report to. It had only taken me T-E-N Y-E-A-R-S to make it from Assistant to Assistant Director. When “STS” came up on my phone screen, my heart leapt in excitement. I got it, I thought. Maybe there was even a little surprise breakfast being planned.
I dreamed of that office deliveryman bringing trays of treats to successful executives. Really successful people never sneak a bagel with a schmear at their desk, but are served mini-muffins on faux silver trays and drink their coffee out of real china cups and saucers. Finally, I thought, this would be me.
Hours later, Ophelia stood in front of her kitchen counter, cursing a blue streak. “Shit, fuck, son of a bitch! This fucking hurts like hell!”
Her front door slammed open, and suddenly she was in Daniel’s arms, sitting in his lap in the nearest chair, his hands running up and down her arms in jerking, frantic movements.
“Phia! Are you okay? Who hurt you? What’s wrong?”
Ophelia laughed weakly, but didn’t unwrap her right hand from her left. Instead, she took a chance and held both hands up—showing him the blood seeping out from between her fingers. Daniel gritted his teeth, but he made no move to attack, and Ophelia’s respect for him raised another notch. He pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his shirt and gently pried her hands apart, clucking his tongue over the two-inch-long cut that was still oozing blood.
“How in the world did you accomplish this, Phia?” he asked, his ministrations tender as he blotted the wound.
“I cut myself trying to cook,” Ophelia mumbled, “obviously not my most graceful moment.”
Daniel chuckled. “At least you didn’t sever a digit, so it’s not that bad.”
Ophelia sniffed, tears brimming. “Yeah, but it freaking hurts! It might even be deep enough for stitches, and I really don’t like needles.”
Daniel pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I may have a solution, if you’d trust me.”
“Does it involve your fangs?”
He shook his head. “No–” his eyes gleamed mischievously– “but it does mean I’d get to taste you.”
Ophelia wiggled in her seat, and Daniel groaned. “On second thought,” he said with a wicked grin, “keep moving like that, and I’ll have a different way to distract you.”
Eyes wide, Ophelia jerked to a stop, but not before the damage had been done, and the physical proof of his desire poked the side of her leg. She flushed. “Uh...” She licked her lips. “the pain. What about...the pain?”
Daniel laughed and pressed a kiss just below her ear. He took the handkerchief away from her wound. She hissed in pain as it stuck. “I’m sorry,” he murmured as he pulled it free. “I really can help, but you might rather put a bandage on it and let me drive you to the clinic.”
Ophelia bit her lip. He looked so uncomfortable, and even though his remedy had to do with him being a vampire, she wasn’t nearly as put off by the notion as she would have been a few days prior. She looked into his eyes and shook her head.
“What do you need to do?”
He sighed with relief. “Vampire saliva can either stop bleeding, or make a person bleed more, depending on whether we’re drinking or ending the feeding. Unfortunately for you, to stop the bleeding and trigger the numbing agent that will help with your pain, the fangs must be triggered, which means a drink has to be taken. However, that doesn’t mean I need to bite you–” he paused and winked– “unless you want me to, of course.”
Ophelia swatted his shoulder with her good hand. “I thought your saliva is what makes a person a vampire?”
“It is, but it’s…complicated. Mortal blood is designed to fight the infection, so to speak. I would have to consciously force it into your bloodstream for a minute or more for there to be any chance of it taking hold. For this, and for any pleasure feeding–” he gave her a wicked grin that made her laugh– “my saliva merely interacts with the skin around the wound, preventing it from trying to close until I’m ready to stop. Are you okay with this?”
Ophelia bit her bottom lip. “You won’t bite me?”
He shook his head. “I won’t. My fangs will descend, but I won’t bite, I promise. I’ll only drink for a moment, and then close it.”
Taking a deep breath, Ophelia nodded, emitting a startled squeak when his eyes glowed bright blue and his fangs shot out. With his golden hair, and lightly stubbled jaw, he was sexy beyond belief, and the look on his face had her nearly giving in to the urge to tilt her head to the side and offer him everything. Taken aback by the direction her thoughts were headed, Ophelia blinked rapidly, and raised her hand.
He took her wrist in one of his, and her fingers in the other, turning her hand until the cut along the side was near his mouth. “Last chance to change your mind,” he whispered.
Ophelia gulped, her body tingling beneath his heated gaze. “Do it, Daniel, please.” The last word came out on a whisper as she subconsciously flipped her long hair behind her back, exposing the smooth column of her throat. Daniel’s eyes darkened, and keeping his eyes on hers, he pressed his hot mouth to her skin, sucking gently at the wound.
The tingling in her body intensified as he laved his tongue over the cut, raising his head a few seconds later. Ophelia’s breath came in short pants as moisture pooled between her legs. She’d never felt like this, and she wondered if it was part of the saliva interacting with her skin. Ever logical, she cleared her throat.
“Am I—uh—is this because of…?”
Daniel smiled, fangs flashing. “No, Phia. I would never use power on you like that.”
Ophelia sucked in a breath. It was because of him. /For heaven’s sake, take for once. Take without question. Love./ Her eyes widened at her own thoughts, and she made a split-second decision—he was her vampire, after all. Adjusting her position, she straddled him, the proof of his desire a hard spear aimed straight at her core. Cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him, relishing when his breath caught in shock. His hands gripped her hips, rocking her against him as she deepened the kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth, uncaring of the fangs he possessed.
With a moan, she nipped his bottom lip. “Do you want to bite me, Daniel?”
“Yes,” he groaned.
Ophelia pressed a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him forward until his mouth rested above the pulse at her throat. “Then do it.”
His lips grazed her heated skin, his fangs scraping lightly. “Are you sure?”
She moaned, the pleasure building as she continued to move against him. “Yes!” Without another word, he plunged his fangs deep, and she shattered, realizing the absolute truth:
She was in love with a vampire.
Saying goodbye to the company commanders was difficult. Saying goodbye to First Sergeant Tanneyhill was especially difficult. Conor promised Chaplain Yancey that he would attend as many of his services as possible, as he had been doing, and Conor thanked him for his support and friendship. The brigade commander, Colonel Baker, agreed that Captain Willingham would be the best choice as Conor’s replacement, and the three of them met for two hours to transition the regiment.
In the late evening, Conor was walking the regimental line with Captain Willingham when three soldiers called out from their trench.
“We hear you’re leaving us, sir. Before you get away, we’d like for you to join us down here.”
Willingham and Conor jumped down into the trench with the three young soldiers. One man reached into his coat pocket and brought out a handful of shelled, roasted peanuts. He passed three of the peanuts to Conor, three to the others, and they toasted each other by tapping the shells together. “To the Thirty-eighth Georgia,” they all repeated.
The peanuts were damp and stale, but Conor didn’t care. It was the purest, most unselfish, most cherished gift he could remember.
“We’ll miss you, sir. We walked a lot of miles together, didn’t we?”
“We did. And I appreciate what you men have meant to this regiment, and to me personally. I’ll ask you to give Captain Willingham the same great support you gave me.”
“We will, sir. Good luck to you.”
Conor mentioned to Willingham as they finished the inspection of the line, “Where did we get such men as these? How could I have been so blessed to command them? To have gone into battle with them, and bled with them, and watched so many of them die? These men have carried me from the field after being wounded. I have seen them march for days on dusty roads, wade fast-flowing, rain-swollen rivers, trudge through hard rain and thick mud, and lie down on the grass and be asleep in a matter of seconds. I have looked into their eyes just before we faced an enemy of superior strength and seen their determination, and knew they would be right there with me as we moved forward each time, every time. I have watched them freezing in the cold, half-starved, homesick, lovesick, physically sick, and yet they manned their posts. I have written to their mothers of their astonishing bravery and of how proud they should be of their dead heroic sons. I have listened to their ribald humor, their cursing, their sarcasm, and their prayers. I know that no matter how long I live, no matter what else I do in this life, I will never see their equal again. Just where did we get such men as these?”
Afterwards, when he got back to his hut and thought about those young, undernourished, loyal soldiers so eagerly sharing their few remaining peanuts with him, an act of extraordinary generosity matched only by their magnificent valor, Conor sat on the ground and wept.
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