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.
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The year is 2319. Lt. Comm Roy O’Hara leads his squadron against the enemy’s latest Super Destroyer and is shot down over an unexplored planet. The planet holds secrets to a long lost alien weapon and the key to Roy’s own destiny. Near death Roy is found by Katreena, a beautiful and mysterious woman. When she finds Roy, he’s broken and battered, and saves his life with the Boto Stone. She is unaware that by doing so she will create a deep bond and awaken an affect not seen for hundreds of years; the ability to communicate to each other in dreams. An unguarded moment leads to a forbidden night of intimacy; an act of betrayal to the crown, an act that will put both their lives in jeopardy. Katreena flees to save them both. Danger increases as their secret may be discovered and war erupts on their planet.
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.
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.
The aid workers fed the children and were attending to the needs of the mothers when Frank noticed a group of small boys kicking a football. He commented to John, “No matter how grim things may be, kids will always find a way to play.” One of the mothers told him that they had found the ball in one of the deserted, burnt out villages they passed through.
During a break, Emile was able to share a coffee with some of the aid workers. He was told that the North Vietnamese had set up overnight camps close to the Ho Chi Minh trail, right through the border region. They were usually under heavy vegetation cover and usually near fresh water. This particular camp was not used as it didn't have enough cover. However, it was used a few times. It was common practice for their camp to be surrounded by several land mine fields. The fields are usually well defined with signs in Vietnamese, along with “skull and cross bone” signs. They were made because they figured that any enemy would attack under the protection of darkness, and if this happened, they would not see the signs.
While Emile talked to the aid workers, Frank and John looked around the camp.
A group of small boys was kicking the ball when suddenly a gust of wind blew the ball into the land mine area. One small boy ran after it. He grabbed the ball and turned to the other boys. The huge grin on his face showed how proud he was. He then heard the other boys shouting at “Stand Still!” He looked bewildered until he saw the skull and crossbones sign. His grin turned into a look of horror as he realised where he was standing.
John was the first who heard the commotion and ran to see what was going on. Frank followed him. When they saw the boy in the mine field, John shouted to the boy. “Vẫn bình tĩnh, và chúng tôi sẽ đưa bạn trở lại đây một cách an toàn, nhưng bạn phải ở lại vẫn rất yên tĩnh.” which meant “Stay still, and we will get you back here safely, but you must stay very still.”
The boy nodded. John ran back to the Land Rover and grabbed a long piece of rope. When he returned, he tied one end around a large tree and the other end around his waist. He then said to Frank, “Feed the rope out as I go towards the boy, but make sure you keep it taunt.” He then shouted to the boy in Vietnamese that he was coming for him.
John carefully and slowly edged towards the boy, at the same time he was looking for any signs of the boy’s footprints. There were very few as the ground was fairly well compacted over time. Finally, he reached the boy who at this time was clearly frightened and a stream of urine running down his leg was obvious.
In one movement he picked the boy up and turned around and faced Frank. By now the entire camp had gathered at the site, including Emile.
John then shouted to Frank to pull the rope tight and tighten it around the tree. No sooner had Frank tied it around the tree, he walked out to John and the boy, using the rope as his guide. When he reached John, he took the boy in one arm and the rope in the other and slowly edged back out of the mine field. As he reached the edge, the whole camp roared into applause. He handed the boy to Emile and turned back to John.
John called to him to untie the rope from the tree and to place it on the ground. John then undid the rope around his waist and placed it the ground. He then took a step towards Frank and then another. Everyone was quiet until he took the third step and the sound of a “click.” John froze, and everyone else gasped. John had stepped on a Jumping Jack land mine.
John had a little knowledge of how it worked. He remembered his father telling him years ago that when someone stepped on it, the fuse was dislodged. Then, as the target person stepped off it, the main fuse ignited the first charge and propelled the unit about 2 metres into the air, where it then exploded. This way one mine could injure everyone within range.
He also remembered his father once telling him that, if you lie flat on the ground and a grenade was set off next to you, you would be unlikely to be hurt. This was because of the angle of the explosion. Provided that both you and the grenade were on the ground.
With this in mind, he shouted to Emile, “move everyone away for at least fifty metres, no, make it a hundred metres.”
“I am going to jump down and lie flat on the ground, If I am lucky, the explosion will go above me, and I should be alright. You both move back a bit!”
As soon as they moved back, John jumped forward, but before he reached the ground, the device exploded in the air.
John was killed instantly!
Frank and Emile were also struck! Emile had several shrapnel wounds on his arm, chest and leg. Frank had his left leg severed. Several of the aid workers gave first aid while their leader had called over the radio for help!
“Oh, honey, we're fine. Your dad is watching TV with Emily. I'm working on another blanket for Carol. Since my son isn't doing his part to give me more grandbabies.”
Less than a minute on the phone and already she’d managed to chastise him for not having kids. The woman was diabolical. “Mom—”
“Everett, the shower is all yours—oh! Sorry.” Corrine stopped when she noticed him on the phone.
But not before his mother heard her voice. “Oh, honey, did I hear a woman in the background?”
“Yeah, Mom, but—”
“Who is she? Are you dating? Do you have a girlfriend I don't know about?”
“She's…” He glanced up to her. She mouthed an apology. She glowed with freshly scrubbed pink skin while rubbing her hair with a towel. Her trim legs were showcased in short yoga shorts, a tank top, and no bra. He cleared his throat “…a friend.” He winked at her.
“What friend, honey? You didn't tell me about bringing a friend on your trip.”
“I wasn't aware at thirty-three I still had to clear my friends with you,” he said before he could think about how his words sounded.
Now, curled onto the love seat, Corrine choked on a sip of wine.
“Don't take that tone with me, young man.”
“Mom, I’m sorry. I didn't mean—”
“You've always been a good boy.”
“Well, other than the time you ordered three hundred dollars of porn on pay-per-view.”
He winced. Now he and Corrine were even with the embarrassing stories. When he dared to meet her eyes, he found her with her mouth agape, eyes wide. Could a hole just open up and swallow him now. “Mom! Listen!”
“You're on speaker. Say hello to Corrine Anderson. Corrine, meet my mother Barbara Harden.”
“Oh, hello, sweetheart! I'm Everett's proud mama.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Harden.”
“None of that Mrs. Harden business. Call me Barbara. I insist. I apologize for the porn talk. I hope you won't think any less of my son. He was fourteen, after all, and fourteen-year-old boys have one hand in the fridge and the other in their underwear. My son was no diff—”
Everett scrambled for the end button, and for the first time ever in his life, he hung up on his mother. He braced his elbows on his knees, holding his head in his hands, and heard Corrine try to suppress a giggle.
“It wasn't that bad.”
“How nice of you to lie to make me feel better, but we both know that was the equivalent of having your breasts out at the water park.”
She asked the driver to turn around. Her cabbie could not drive fast enough to suit her. When she walked through the lobby of the Cinema 18, everyone was buzzing. She ran toward the crime scene but authorities had closed the hallway where she had been attacked. Her superhero had vanished.
Too late. Now what? Brandi’s hands were still shaking. Her palm felt cold against her forehead. Then, deep in thought, she was startled to hear a raspy male voice behind her.
“Brandi? Hi, my name’s Cody.”
She turned around. Her stomach, still in knots, leaped into her throat. His chiseled face was handsome in a home-on-the-range sort of way. His sculpted cheeks were partially masked by a rough-hewn beard — the obvious cover-up for scars visible through his whiskers. His nose had been broken at least once. This guy had been in some fights.
The Pirates cap he had worn earlier was now in his back pocket and his sandy blond hair wet around the sides. Did he know that his shirt had turned pink on the front? The blood spatters had faded together, partially washed off by heavy rains.
Was she face-to-face with a superhero? He was not as tall as she remembered. His fiery eyes that could have intimidated Lucifer earlier were now softer, like quiet blue waters. He offered his hand, but his shallow, forced smile told her he was not certain how she would respond. Was his shyness just an act?
Whew! His extended hand was attached to a massive forearm. His neck was wide and muscular, his body built to last, rough-cut from head to toe — a description that would make good print in her eyewitness report for the Gazette.
“I wanted to thank you,” Cody told her, “for savin’ my life earlier.”
She could hardly believe her ears. Was it a come-on? Was his voice naturally that raspy, or just a poor attempt to imitate Batman?
“You want to thank me? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
She extended her hand. It was cold and unsteady. Would he notice? His handshake was warm, ardent, but gentle — the same paw that had just mauled three professional tough guys. She tried to swallow her stomach back down into place but her mouth was too dry.
“Well, I would’ve been a sittin’ duck if you hadn’t deflected that guy’s arm. You showed presence of mind and courage.”
“Presence of mind and courage?” She snickered. “You mean for a girl?”
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.”
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!
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.
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