Taking the stairs two at a time, Kayla nearly tripped. The world tilted, her vision blurred, and her stomach lurched. She grabbed the handrail. Icy coldness stung her fingers and she jerked free. A miasma enveloped her senses. The smell of lavender and kelp drifted like a heavy mist through the open glass doors from the moonlit deck outside. Light fixtures shaped like seashells flickered, illuminating gold carpet and avocado green walls. She clutched a folded note between gloved fingers…
I’m not wearing gloves! Kayla thought and shuddered. A loud “ding” announced the arrival of the elevator. Expecting to see the Lady standing inside, Kayla tried to run but stood frozen in place. The doors slid open and her mouth felt too dry to swallow. Her vision blurred—and cheerful passengers walked lazily from the elevator to the sunny deck outside. A balmy breeze filled the corridor and a shaft of golden sunshine gleamed across salmon-colored carpet and coral walls.
Kayla’s knees buckled. She gripped the solid wood handrail to steady wobbly legs and gulped deep breaths. What happened to me? Glancing at her shaking bare hands, Kayla wished she’d read the note before it disappeared.
Other books in this genre:
A sudden shift in the physical world plucks me from a pretty dream and hurls me into the land of the waking. Caught in the drugged haze of a sleeping pill, I struggle to grasp where I am. Oh yes, I’m on a plane. But where, geographically, am I now? In a proper place or still hovering somewhere over the Atlantic? I raise the shade on my window and am met by the sharp light of morning. It burns. When my eyes finally adjust, I see land. Runways. Terminal buildings. A gray world, slicked and shimmering. Heathrow. London. Home. Funny, the last bit I remember was the flight attendant going through safety procedures and thinking that I wouldn’t mind at all if the plane went down and killed us all.
The old, beat-up Chevy pickup came to an abrupt stop about a foot from the back of Ruby’s prized Jeep. She scowled with disapproval as the driver shoved open the door and dropped to his booted feet before the engine even had a chance to shut off.
"Help you, miss?" he asked, with a slow, deep twang, wiping the dirt from his hands with a handkerchief he’d pulled from his back pocket.
She squinted against the midday sun a little harder now as his voice rang a touch familiar. She watched him for an over-long moment, the mother cat twisting her lithe body around his legs in greeting. Sweat glistened on his tanned, muscular arms as he bent to pick up the kittens that came out to join their mother.
She smiled. There had to be something special about a man who elicited the love of animals. He was at least six foot two, and built like he could lift a hundred pounds straight over his head with no problem at all. A smudge of dried mud followed the line of his strong, stubbled jaw. He could be the most handsome man Ruby had ever seen. Not a sophisticated, city kind of handsome. More a Russell Crowe, gladiator, kind of handsome.
The irritated scowl returned to his face after he put the tiny, tabby kittens down, almost like he’d just remembered he wasn’t pleased about being pulled away from something important. This made him all the more interesting. Part of Ruby was glad she'd been such a bother. The day just became more intriguing.
“They’re adorable. And they seem to like you.” She tried to break the awkward silence.
Curious, soulful green eyes peered out from under his dusty Stetson hat. He gazed first at her well-worn Justin cowboy boots, then slowly up her long legs to the khaki shorts, pausing momentarily at the denim shirt she had tied loosely around her waist, showing just a hint of pale skin. His gaze stopped momentarily at the mess of red-blonde hair she’d pulled away from her face, before he finally met her eyes.
Ruby held her giggle as he finished his perusal, not wanting to make him self-conscious since she’d recognized him. Billy MacCallister. Had to be. My, how he’d grown from the runny-nosed brat who used to follow her around so many years before. He’d been the pain-in-the-butt, kid brother of her best friend.
But, this grown up Billy MacCallister was a whole different creature. Mercy, he’s definitely a full grown man now. Ranch life looks good on him.
"So," Ruby avoided his eyes to keep him at a disadvantage for just a bit longer. She reached down to pet the dogs again, calming them. "How's your sister these days, Billy?"
He stopped wiping the dirt from his jeans and searched to get a better look at her face.
"What's the matter, Billy? Think you're seeing a ghost?" A smile crossed her lips.
"Ruby?" he asked, quietly at first then louder. "Ruby?" This time with unashamed excitement. Billy took two long-legged strides toward her, tilting his hat to get a better look. "Well, look at that, it is you."
Before Ruby had a chance to respond, he lifted her off the step and twirled her around, not caring at all that she now wore half the dirt he once had all over him.
The enticing scent of musk shampoo, salty sweat, and horses swirled around her, drawing her in. How could a man smell that good after working in the mud? It took all her strength to keep from leaning in and making a fool of herself. He smelled like home to her and she had to admit, it felt good to be held.
"Billy, good grief, put me down." She tugged at her shirt to keep it down, embarrassed. The pups jumped up, anxious now to play, as Ruby tried to gain composure. Not an easy task when being twirled around by a handsome cowboy.
"Ruby Lattrell, it’s so good to see you. How the hell are you?” The honest joy in seeing her poured from him. “Oh my God, you look fantastic!" He set her down and brushed the hair away from her face, looking her over now with those same hungry eyes he'd had as a love-struck kid.
She glanced away, self-conscious. When she finally mustered the courage to gaze up at him, she couldn't help but return his infectious smile. There was no worry there, or pretense. The tiny lines around his joy-filled eyes showed only that he knew how to smile. How to laugh. Something she’d forgotten how to do a long time ago.
"Well, that’s certainly more of a welcome than I expected." She stepped back to get some space and a better look at him. He had to be coming up on thirty now. Strapping. Still driving his mom crazy with that unruly chestnut hair tucked behind his ears, no doubt. Same innocent, broad smile that held secrets.
He continued talking and following her every move, anxious to know everything all at once. Where had she been? How had she stayed so perfect? Finally, he realized she hadn’t said a word. He stopped then, smiled that secret smile again, his eyes slowly filling with concern. "Ruby, I'm sorry I'm just going on. How are you? Are you all right? Oh Lord, I'm so sorry about your grandmother."
Ruby flushed when he caught her staring. "Oh, I ah, I'm fine. Thank you, though. I can’t believe she is gone. This place will be really weird without Granny Rube here." She took a step back toward the door, gathering herself, hoping she'd find the key in the usual hiding place so she could make a graceful exit.
"You don't act fine." He caught up with her, supporting her elbow like a real southern gentleman. "Let's get you inside."
Ruby didn't protest. She kind of liked the fuss he made. This was someone she'd known for nearly all her life. It felt good to know he'd missed her.
"Just wait till Claudie finds out you're home. She's going to just die." He reached behind the rusted iron pot for the key and turned it in the lock. "She's not living out here anymore. She's got a place in town. Married a nice city guy who moved here from Arizona, Mike Calloway. They bought old Fike's Market and fixed it up real nice. Doing real well with it. She likes living in town so much better than out here." He kept talking as he closed the door behind them.
The familiar smells of the house hit Ruby first, distracting her from what Billy was saying. Gingerbread cookies, Pledge furniture polish giving off an ever-present hint of lemon.
Ruby stopped in the entry, closed her eyes, and visualized her mother and Granny Rube laughing in the kitchen, handmade aprons tied around their waists, shoving cookies in that old Wedgewood oven, sharing private giggles.
Ruby stood for a long while as she replayed the memories over in her mind, only vaguely aware Billy had gone silent and held a supportive hand at the small of her back.
"Welcome home, Ruby," he whispered, his sweet eyes searching hers.
She didn't know why, but just then she couldn't keep herself from turning and wiping the dust from his cheek, feeling more true compassion from this one understanding look than she'd ever felt before.
"Thanks, Billy." She realized suddenly her eyes filled with tears. "Thanks for making me feel so welcome. I'm glad to be home."
She felt as if she’d stepped back in time. She was just a teenager when she left home almost two decades ago. Nearly everything in the house remained in the same place. The fireplace room still held the same worn velvet couches and mahogany side tables. The faded ivy wallpaper she'd helped Granny hang curled at the corners where moisture and age had gotten to the glue. The heirloom rug passed from her grandfather's family, now worn and fraying around the edges.
The same photos capturing a more innocent time continued to be displayed on the dusty river-rock mantle. Yellowed images of Granny Rube's parents looked too small and frail to have endured such a rough pioneer life. Next to that picture, Ruby saw the photo of her Grandpa Mac, taken only days before he was trampled to death by his prized bull, Heathen.
Ruby picked up the tarnished frame and held it close, realizing only now how handsome a man her grandfather had been, tall and lanky, his deep set eyes full of the devil. Reminded her of her mother.
"Granny used to say it served him right to get taken by the one beast on the ranch that was ornerier than him." Ruby wiped the dust from the frame and replaced it back on the mantle in the exact place it was before. "Momma told me Granny put Heathen down herself with a twelve-gauge shotgun the night he killed Grandpa Mac, but I still don't know if that's true. She had such a flair for the dramatic, it was hard to tell fact from fantasy."
"Your granny was a good woman, Ruby," Billy finally offered, a measure of respect in his voice. "Always remember that. She helped me out more times than I can count."
"I'm just sad I missed so many years with her. All I have are old memories of how things used to be. Silly stuff like, I remember when she calmed Jake and me during those hell-raising thunderstorms, and chased us into the pond when we were driving everyone nuts because we were so bored." Ruby turned away from the photos and took in the room once again. "She always had time for us. I can't believe I let her die alone."
“So, James.” Knowing how much it was always Captain Flint to him, she said it deliberately. “What brings you here?”
As if she could not guess. There was only one thing he could want: money.
Removing his hat, he eased down into the satin upholstered chair. Of course, he wasn’t going to look anything other than ridiculously uncomfortable on that, with his long legs and tall body. Flint Blackmoore and cream satin. It was probably why his sigh came all the way from his bones.
“What do you think? I’m Malmesbury’s valet.” He adjusted his beige coat.
Why read 7 short stories?
7 is a special number for people all over the world. There are 7 days in a week; 7 deadly sins, 7 virtues; 7 colours of the rainbow; 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – and, of course, the 7 year itch!
These 7 stories are special, like the number itself.
Why an extra ½?
We all like a little extra and this extra comes with a bonus.
You get to decide how the last story ends. ‘The Night Before Christmas’ leaves Emily with a choice – and it’s not an easy one! Read her story and go for what you want to happen. Wonder what you’ll decide.
Grimly he shuffled forward a decisive five centimetres. Nothing was ever going to change the world or his place in it. Just one second of courage,then it would be over. He would be over, on his way to the pavement and certain death.
This novella will bring you closer to the Mancini family during the holidays.
Isabelle Mancini, the matriarch of the family, really misses her children. Except for Bella, who is now a senior in high school, her sons are spread out all over the U.S. and overseas. She decides to do something a little different this Christmas and rents a gorgeous cabin in the mountains to get everyone together. But it’s not just their company she’s craving. Isabelle has an announcement to make, one that will shock her family.
When a blizzard strands a dinner guest on the side of the road, four of the Mancini brothers leave the cabin to brave the elements, find this guest, and bring him and themselves safely back to the cabin.
A slippery drive down the mountain, in search of the missing guest, brings unexpected suspense from both the wilderness and bad guys as a man-versus-nature challenge juxtaposes with a man-against-man danger that threatens their very survival.
The Mancini family invites you to a very special--and very exciting--Christmas Eve adventure. Don’t miss it!
Ellie pulled the gun out of a shoulder holster that was just a touch too big for her. Its heft calmed her nerves. That lump of cold metal helped to ground her. She couldn't help the hope that lit up like a spark. The chances of Edward being in there were slim; still, she missed him so much. Ellie wanted him to be. She wanted this to be the one. Ellie thought back counting the labs like this they’d hit. The total was much higher than she ever wanted to admit.
She glanced across the seat at Reese. The truck sputtered as it idled. He stared up at the building, searching for anyone moving inside. She didn't bother. Ellie could barely see it. Only a few floors lit up by the streetlights. The building rose high into the sky, a veritable wall of glass. The upper floors lost to darkness. The parking lot was all but empty. The moon hung high and fat in the velvet black of the night sky.
“Check the clip,” he told her, tongue dancing over his full bottom lip. Reese hadn’t taken his eyes the building.
Ellie smirked and pulled back on the slide. The bullet popped out. Her hands shook so hard it rolled over the side of her palm onto her lap. She narrowed her eyes angry at her own clumsiness. Ellie moved to grab it, and it slipped between her thighs. She shook her head, awkwardly reaching for it. He laughed at her. Ellie did her best not to take it personally.
The bullet in her left fist, she hit the button. The clip shot out into her hand. Ellie stared down at the first bullet. It was full. She knew it was. The lesson Reese was trying to push was that you should always check your sidearm. Ellie pressed the bullet into the top of the clip rolling the gun up. The firing pin was difficult to see in the darkness of the cab. She had to look hard for it.
Satisfied that it was straight, Ellie slipped the clip back inside the bottom of the Glock 26, giving it a hard slap. Listening for the click, she pulled back on the slide to chamber the top bullet. Lastly, she checked the safety. That made Reese smile. She was finally getting to the point where he didn't have to drill it into her every time. Maybe she could learn after all.
He turned his head to look at her, long black hair falling into his handsome face. A sharp breath out the side of his mouth blew his bangs out of his gray eyes. A smile pulled up at the corners of his sensual lips. Eyebrows dragging inward, he sighed. His eyes danced over her heart shaped face.
“I don't suppose I could talk ya into staying in the car?”
“Not a chance. You go in, I go in.”
“Can't blame a guy for trying,” he mumbled. Ellie got the distinct impression that he wasn't talking to her. It was mostly because his eyes slid past her, looking over her shoulder into the shadows of the backseat. She caught herself turning to look. His eyes slid back over her face. “Ya stay behind me. No stupid heroics this time.”
Ellie frowned. She popped the latch on the passenger side door. It groaned loudly as she forced it open. The side of the Chevy was dented severely above the wheel well on her side. The craters and scratches spilled across her door almost to the edge of the cab. She hopped down and pulled her navy pea coat in close against the cutting wind that tore at her long, blond hair.
Ellie shoved the door closed and had to try a second time putting her shoulder into it to get it to stick. She was so ready to ditch this truck and get a new one. Ellie was surprised after the last time the thing still ran. She came around the front end her Glock held close to her thigh. Her fingers kept tightening around the grip, trying to get the perfect hold. It eluded her. The fear she refused to admit to had hold of her second and third thoughts.
She heard Reese's door shut and he just appeared next to her. Ellie took in a dragging breath. She was sure she would never get used to that. There were so many things she was sure she would never get used to. He was so damn fast she couldn't even see him move. Ellie had to jog to keep up with him when he was just walking regularly. His stride was much longer than hers. Reese stood at a tall and lean six foot two, where she was fighting to make five foot even.
“Leave the guards to me. Ya go straight for the…whatever they call it.”
“Serum. Miller called it the Serum.”
Reese gave her a noncommittal shrug that irritated the hell out of her. Ellie took in a deep breath just to blow it back out again, tilting her head to one side sharply. The parking lot felt much larger than it really was. The closer they got, the building seemed that much farther away. Her eyes were wide, showing too much white. Ellie glared down at her hand trying to get it to stop shaking. People were about to die, and Ellie knew that some of them would be at her hand.
She looked up at Reese. His expression was calculating. He was concentrating hard, and Ellie thought she knew why. “Thank you,” she blurted out.
“Thank you for doing this. I know what it takes out of you, Reese. I'm grateful.”
His boyish grin melted her to her very core. “Hey, anything for ya, sweetheart. Ya know that.”
“Yeah, I know that.” Ellie bit down on the corner of her bottom lip. “Ready?”
“Guess we're about to find out.”
There comes a point in everyone's life when they realize the fairy tales they have been told are nothing but lies. A little something to help you hide from the cold darkness of the real world. Ellie learned that lesson both, early, and hard. She let go of fairy tales a long time ago. Ellie stopped believing in happily ever after and embraced that darkness. Monsters, on the other hand, she knew were quite real. The world was full of big bad wolves.
There were rampaging beasts. Horrible, cruel, and twisted freaks that had no thought for human life. Devils, who delighted in the pain they caused. Savage fiends who destroyed those tiny pockets of light, of hope, that still by some miracle managed to survive in this bleak existence. Oh yes, there was evil in the hearts of men, and all of them wear human faces.
The past eight months had been quite an eye opening experience for Elliot Jo Fredricks. She experienced pain, both physical and emotional. She cowered in fear so powerful that it gripped her heart and paralyzed her at times. The cold rock of regret still sat in the pit of her stomach. She also felt love, and that taught her just because you're a monster, doesn't necessarily make you a bad person.
Ellie sat in the dark confines of the stolen Cherokee with the creature responsible for each of those lessons. Snowflakes whipped in the car's headlights. The wind blew hard, rocking the SUV, pushing it toward the center of the deserted road. The whistling sound of it ripped through the trees. Vincent took his eyes off the passing scenery to glance at her. His eyes roiling like approaching storm clouds. He touched her hand. Ellie laced her fingers between his and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. The shadows pushed in around them.
Vincent leaned in close, those swirling grey eyes dancing over her face. She smiled through her pain and touched her other hand to the side of his face. Slathered in dried blood, it flaked in places. The contrast made his skin look so pale in comparison. Vincent pressed a gentle kiss against her mouth. A brush of silken lips nothing more. Ellie moved wrong and winced with the ache of it. Vincent hated seeing her like this.
Bruises covered the side of her adorable, heart shaped face. They spilled over her right eye, her high cheekbone, a bit of the side of her button nose. Blood dripped from a nasty cut that peeked out of her hairline. Her long blond hair was falling out of the ponytail she wore. Vincent carefully pulled it free of the rubber band. Let it fall snarled with a few clumps of dried blood over her slender shoulders.
He gathered it, guiding it around the right side of her neck. Vincent pulled her coat open gazing in at the gunshot wound in her shoulder. It was bleeding again. The bandage covering the six-inch long cut on the outside of her thigh was holding well. Only a few half dollar sized circles of blood had seeped through. She was a mess. Vincent frowned. He looked up at the scenery flying by them. They were almost there thankfully.
Vincent caught himself staring at her. He still wasn't used to the fact that she was his. That she chose him. Couldn't get past that not only did she let him touch her without cringing in fear. Ellie demanded he lay his hands on her. Things had certainly changed within the past few months. He ran his thumb across the back of her palm, over her knuckles. The softness of her skin sent a thrill down his spine.
“You need another pain shot?” he asked in earnest, reaching across the tattered seat for her blood stained and ripped black backpack.
Ellie blinked large, apple green eyes with a ring of licking gold around her pupils. “Are you kidding, you pump me full of more of that stuff and I'll go into a coma,” she said through clenched teeth. Moving just that tiny bit sent fire curling in her chest.
“Kind of the point,” Vincent said. His thick brows came down between his lovely gray eyes in a deep V shape.
Ellie held his gaze, chewing her lip thoughtfully. Vincent sighed. He could play this game too, be just as childish, as stubborn. No. He had to take that back. There wasn't anyone he had ever known that could be quite as stubborn as Ellie. “I can barely see as it is, Vincent,” she told him. “I need to be able to aim my gun in case any of the mercs followed us.”
Even the sharp jolts that made it through the drugs couldn't stop her from flying high. Her brother was safe, sitting in the driver's seat. After eight months of dread, spilled blood and death, they had saved him. They tore him free of the vile hospital that took him from her. Experimented on him, and infected him. They turned him into a monster, not unlike the man she had come to love. The man Ellie curled comfortably against.
“You really think they're going to follow us, Squirt? You blew that place to hell,” Edward said looking at her in the rearview mirror. He gave his almost shoulder length, wheat colored hair a flip. “Take the shot, Elliot. You won't let me take you to a damned hospital take the shot.”
Ellie frowned. Happy as she was to have him out of there Edward’s need to take control was seriously getting on her nerves. After everything that happened, he seemed to think the world would fall right back into the line it followed before those mercenaries busted down their front door and stole him away from her.
Their lives were different now. She was different now. Changed irrevocably by the things she had seen. The things she'd done.
The adrenaline-racing second book in The Imprint Series
Fugitives from Startech, Jade and Aric follow their map to Dieter Copeland's house in the backwoods of Rutherford. While in hiding, Dieter teaches them how to connect with their alien metal. But their teacher is keeping his own deep, dark secret--a secret that could affect both their lives.
Aric and Jade grow closer, falling more in love, but being on the run has its drawbacks. When it becomes apparent that Startech will stop at nothing to recover their technology, the pair comes face to face with imminent danger, their fears and the truth behind the company that threatens their existence.
Ultimately, as Jade and Aric fight for their lives, they discover there is only one place they can go...
When Charli and her husband, Pud, enter retirement, Charli mistakenly believes that paradise is just around the corner. Unfortunately, instead of spending their days soaking in matching hot tubs and admiring each other’s wrinkles, Pud lives on the links and Charli cleans out the basement. Still, they press on, eventually becoming closer while bonding with young relatives through a love of fine dining. Now the couple faces new and weighty challenges.
Charli and Pud’s days are filled with more excitement than AARP discounts and Lawrence Welk reruns—and more calories than they ever imagined. Realizing they are out of shape and slipping mentally, Charli and Pud check their BMIs and immediately decide they need to change their ways. With a goal of becoming healthy sooner than later, the couple embarks on a roller-coaster ride through calorie counting, label reading, and laborious exercising. But when Pud begins making mysterious phone calls and acting strangely, Charli cannot help but wonder if more problems are lurking around the corner.
The Golden Age of Charli continues the delightful tale of the energetic, friendly, and positive McAntics as they cruise through their retirement years and discover the consequences of too much of a good thing.
Mary Shelley dedicated Frankenstein to her father, her greatest champion. Charlotte Brönte dedicated Jane Eyre to William Makepeace Thackeray for his enthusiastic review of the book’s first edition. Dostoyevsky dedicated The Brothers Karamazov to his typist-turned-lover Anna Grigoyevna. And, as this collection’s title indicates, F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated his masterpiece The Great Gatsby to his wife Zelda.
Often overlooked, a novel’s dedication can say much about an author and his or her relationship to the person for whom the book was consecrated. Once Again to Zelda explores the dedications in fifty iconic books that are an intrinsic part of both literary and pop culture, shedding light on the author’s psyche, as well as the social and historic context in which the book was first published.
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