I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.
–Dante Alighieri, Inferno 1. 11-12
Puerto Rico, 1973
Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss embraced us from both sides, but not enough to shield us from the prison that would be my home for the next seven months. The high stone walls and neo-Gothic bell tower loomed over us as my stepfather drove his Mercedes through the spiked iron gates and into the sloping, curving driveway.
A spider of dread crawled up my back. Prison indeed.
I couldn’t believe it had come to this. The way things had blown out of proportion. I’d only wanted to contact my dead father. Ask his forgiveness.
My mother reached for my hand from the front seat without turning around to look at me. I stared at her perfectly polished red nails and the glittery square cut emerald on her ring finger. Her fingers flicked, silently pleading for my attention, but I was frozen inside. Her hand retreated.
I stared at the convent, my eyes studying the dark arched windows, the worn, age-blackened stones. The place looked haunted. Perfect for my state of mind. What was my mother thinking?
Something moved behind one of the windows. A face. For an instant my pulse raced at the sheer paleness of it, at the two dark holes that made up its eyes.
“What are you looking at?” Sara, my six-year-old half sister, asked.
I pointed. “A girl.”
She followed my line of vision. “Where?”
“There. High up. In the window.”
She dipped her head so she could have a better look. “I don’t see anything.”
I felt a shiver, but not from the cold. It’s white. It’s watching us.
Then the car moved too close to the building, and the face vanished from view.
“Is this your new school, Paloma?” Sara asked.
I nodded. Sara was the child, female version of my stepfather. Her bottomless dark eyes, framed by velvety lashes, stared at me with misery. “I don’t like it,” she whispered, grabbing my hand.
“It’ll be okay,” I whispered back, and gave her hand a little squeeze.
“Well, here we are,” Domenico said in his strong Castilian accent, stopping the car in front of the entrance. He climbed out and opened the door for my mother. Then he proceeded to take out my suitcases from the trunk.
My mother was silent. She stepped out like a wooden mannequin, her eyes shimmery with unshed tears.
I climbed out, followed by Sara, the gravel crunching under our shoes. The early morning air was cool and a blanket of mist still lingered—not surprising, since the convent was on the outskirts of El Yunque, the island’s rain forest. More Spanish moss hung from the oak trees and rippled in the breeze like long, shivering memories. I could smell the dew on the leaves and the rich perfume of moist earth, redolent of open graves.
I glanced at the ominous clouds. “Beautiful morning.”
An ongoing distant hum resonated all around us. One, two beats passed, before it struck me: Waterfall.
Something within me shut down—or exploded, I couldn’t be sure.
I shut my eyes for a second, wiping out memories of chilled water searing my lungs.
I repeated the eighth multiplication table in my head.
“After you,” Domenico said, interrupting my thoughts.
I wanted to loathe him. Tried to, anyway. I could see what my mother saw in him: a powerfully charismatic, handsome man with the infinite skill to make people do his bidding. My mother, with her small delicate features and petite frame, looked invisible beside him. A mere spectre. But that was just a façade. I knew better.
The big oak door opened and a nun clad in black habit and a wimple came down the steps to greet us.
Sara wrapped her arms around my waist. Her gesture both comforted me and heightened my anxiety. Nuns in habit made me think of great black birds.
“Bienvenidos,” the nun said. Like my stepfather, she also had a Castilian accent. “I’m Madre Estela and I’m second in charge to Madre Superiora. You must be Señor and Señora de Aznar.”
They exchanged small talk. Madre Estela sounded polite enough, but she didn’t offer to shake hands with my parents, which I found strange. Maybe nuns weren’t allowed to shake hands. I wouldn’t be surprised. I noticed the wedding band on her ring finger. Married to God. Absurd.
“You must be Paloma,” she said tonelessly.
“Yes,” I said. Wasn’t it obvious? I didn’t know what else to say.
The cross on her chest caught my attention. It had a crucified Christ on it and I noticed the thorns cutting Christ’s forehead, the little drops of blood glistening on His fragile body.
“Welcome to our school, Paloma.” Her critical gaze scrutinized my makeup, my tight jeans. “I’ve heard much about you.”
I didn’t miss the hint of cold disapproval in her voice. I wasn’t sure how much my parents had complained about my behavior, but considering I had been kicked out—well, actually, kindly asked to leave—my previous school in the middle of October, it couldn’t be good.
“Are you ready to resume your senior year of high school?” Stress on resume.
“I can’t wait,” I said. There was no point in being nice—or pretending to be. That just wasn’t me. I felt miserable and couldn’t hide it. Besides, I could tell from our short exchange that she’d made up her mind not to like me long before meeting me, and I had the sinking feeling that no matter what I said or did, her opinion wouldn’t change. I had already been stamped in her Inquisition book, tagged a criminal.
Madre Estela’s stony eyes moved to Sara. My little sister’s arms clutched my waist even tighter. From the nun’s expression, I could tell she was wondering if I had infected Sara with whatever plague ailed me. She dismissed us and turned back to my mother and stepfather. “Madre Superiora is expecting you in her office. Let’s not keep her waiting, shall we not? Don’t concern yourselves with the suitcases. Someone will come for them shortly.”
They thanked her and followed her up the steps.
“I don’t want to go in,” Sara said.
“It’ll be okay,” I said. I glanced at the window. I wanted to see the pale face again. But there was nothing.
A drop of rain hit my cheek and I wiped it off. Then I held Sara’s hand and together we walked up the steps and through the arched doorway.
I felt my throat closing up.
Seven months wasn’t that long, was it? Besides, Thanksgiving break was just around the corner. Six weeks, to be exact. I had already marked my calendar. I couldn’t wait. I would go through the motions, no need to make friends that I’d never see again. When you get close to people, you end up getting hurt.
Excerpt 2 (from Chapter 9):
Madre Estela remained standing by the door. “Get a bucket and fill it with water.”
Her hypercritical eyes sliced through my self-worth as I grabbed one of the metal buckets, lifted it into the sink, and turned on the faucet. I watched, transfixed, as the water gushed like a torrent spurting from an open artery. The cold spray raised goosebumps on my arms.
Madre Estela snapped her fingers. “Move.”
As I hauled the bucket to the door, some of the water slushed over the edge and splattered to the floor.
“Add the detergent,” she said stiffly, irritated by my clumsiness.
I chose a green bottle, twisted the cap, and poured. The acrid pine smell stung my nostrils.
“Get a sponge and a brush from there. Get going. We don’t have all evening—unless you want to work in the dark.”
I gritted my teeth, but pretended not to be bothered. I suspected that the one thing that this nun couldn’t stand was indifference.
Outside, it was almost dusk. In spite of the intense screeching of the coquíes, the drum of the waterfall hit my ears. It was louder now than the last time I’d been here. How was that possible?
I felt a drop of rain. Great.
Madre Estela put one hand out, palm up. “My, my. What’s this?” She looked chagrined, and I suddenly realized why. If it rained, I would have to go inside, ruining her plans. “What are you standing there for? Start scrubbing.”
I was tempted to throw the bucket of greenish water at her face. Instead, I prayed for rain as I walked across the rose garden. Once at the gate, I glanced back at her.
“You’ll work until I come for you, understood?” she said, hands on hips in her usual stance. She pointed to one of the second-floor windows. “I’ll be watching from there.”
And that was it. She was gone.
For a moment I just stood there. If only my friends could see me now. They would never believe it.
I opened the gate and walked into the graveyard. The statue of Gabriel greeted me, its face fiercer in the dusk. The temperature must have been in the low seventies. I was glad I had my cardigan.
Suddenly, the garden lamp post lit up. I turned, startled. I wasn’t sure if it had automatically switched on or if someone, maybe Madre Estela, had done it from indoors. I glanced up at the second-floor window, expecting to find her face. I had the chilling sensation of being watched. There was nothing. The windows glowed with yellow light, a multitude of feral eyes keeping guard.
However, behind one of the ground-floor windows on the right, a figure appeared. Tall, blurred. Madre Superiora? I was sure that was her office. Yet, something about the shape of the head and the shoulders made me think of…Rubia. What was she doing in Madre Superiora’s office?
Just as abruptly as it’d appeared, the figure vanished from view.
The incident left me strangely unsettled.
I splashed some of the water on one of the tombstones and got to work. The sound of hard bristles against stone blocked the hum of the waterfall. Almost.
Go away, damn it.
As I crouched to work on a second tombstone, doing my best not to get wet in the process, something shifted at the edge of my vision. I jumped to my feet, my heart thudding. Gabriel. Its wings had rippled with movement.
Dear God…what’s happening to me?
I rubbed my forehead and grimaced, my fingers shaking.
I felt another drop of rain. If it was going to rain, why didn’t it? The sky was playing with me, too. Mocking me.
I cursed the clouds and started scrubbing again.
I had another sensation of being watched and this time, yes, it was Madre Estela behind the window. I pretended I hadn’t seen her and tried to keep focused on the task at hand. The water had turned blackish with grime.
I don’t know how long I scrubbed. I lost track of time. But it was dark. My back and shoulders were sore and my hands stung from the harsh detergent.
Madre Estela was long gone from the window.
Half panting, I sat down on the edge of the tombstone and tossed the brush aside in disgust. I looked at the statue again, but it was motionless. I turned to the windows again, my eyes slowly moving from one to the other.
From one to the other.
Expecting to see the face. Wanting to see it.
Yet, that weird sensation of being watched, again.
My gaze shifted to the woods, to the exact place where the cemetery ended and the forest started. There was a path there. Narrow, obscured by the trees. For a long moment I sat, mesmerized. Then I stood up and began to approach it. The breeze picked up as I got closer, carrying with it the cool, slightly pungent smell of the waterfall.
I stopped at the very edge, the darkness enveloping me, the dampness seeping through my clothes.
The wind sighed, rustling the leaves and fluttering my hair.
Icy breath, on the back of my neck.
I’m in here… a voice whispered from the shadows.
I spun around in terror.
Then I hit something hard.
Excerpt 3 (from Chapter 11):
The foliage swallowed me. Sodden leaves gave under my shoes. Twisted limbs and giant ferns reached out to scratch my arms, my legs.
“Adelita!” I called, hastening my pace.
Flash of white ahead.
“Adelita!” No response. “Damn it. It’s getting freaking dark!”
Voices? I halted, panting.
Then broke into a run again. The mist, carried by the waterfall, clung to my lashes, my cheeks, my lips. I tasted its bitterness on my tongue.
“I’m here!” Adelita called.
I slowed my pace. Toward the end of the path, fibrous vines hung from branches like a curtain of snakes. I pushed them aside and staggered forward. Slowly, I looked up.
Against the blackening sky, the monster roared, cradled by twisted, stunted trunks and wisps of fog, looming over me in all its brutal magnificence. Its crystalline waters gushed ferociously, cascading into a murky, swirling pool that spiraled into a descending rock-studded stream gurgling with white iridescent foam.
A cloud of spray enveloped me, cold and impersonal like the wings of some giant bat. Had it not been for one of the vines, I would have fallen to my knees.
Cold water, sucking me down, searing my throat, my eyes. Can’t see, can’t breathe; his hands grab me; blackness, like tar, steals its way down my lungs, spreading its web and filling every corner, every crevice; utter agony before oblivion settles—
The sight of Adelita, standing at the edge of the pool, shook me out of my trance. She was very still, her skirt puffing from the thundering falls.
“Step back!” I shouted.
Slowly, Adelita lifted her arm and pointed to the center of the waterfall. “She’s in there.”
“Who?” When she didn’t answer, I answered for her. “The ghost? Your invisible friend?”
Adelita lowered her arm. She seemed to have fallen into one of her sudden spells.
“Is that who you were speaking to?” I said urgently.
She was silent.
“Adelita,” I coaxed. She was about ten yards from me. I took one step toward her, my toes curling. “Please… step back.”
“She wants to speak to us,” Adelita said, moving closer to the edge.
“What’s wrong with you? Stop!”
She turned her head to look at me. When she smiled, her teeth looked unnaturally white, as if the iridescence of the foamy water reflected on them.
I edged a little closer and extended my hand. “Please.” I clenched my teeth. “I can’t come any closer,” I said, stressing each word. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing reality to go away, willing it all to be a nightmare. But when I opened my eyes, Adelita’s toes stood just over the edge. For an instant, as if suspended, she seemed to sway, before she opened her wings like an angel about to take flight.
“No!” I sprang forward and seized her arm. She twisted, lost her balance and clutched at my gold chain—“No!”—The gold snapped. I grabbed her shirt and jerked her toward me. We staggered in a drunken embrace before stumbling to the ground. My hand groped wildly around my neck, but my pendant, the most precious object I possessed, was gone. I searched for it on my hands and knees, my flesh sinking into the cold, wet earth.
Then I stood and stared hard at her.
Smudged with dirt, she sagged against a moss-covered boulder. “It’s in there,” she said, her gaze lowered, pointing to the water.
“How do you know?”
“I saw it fall,” she said.
A jolt of nausea hit me and I held my stomach. “That can’t be.”
I stared at the swirling pool and thought I saw it twinkling in the depths. I squeezed my eyes shut—for an eternity, it seemed—before I spun and grabbed Adelita and shook her violently. “You’re lying! That’s what you do. You lie.” I kept shaking her. I wanted to hurt her, hurt her. That was the only way to ease my pain.
She started whimpering, in a manner not unlike my sister Sara. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she kept saying.
I shoved her away and reeled backwards. I felt breathless, delirious.
I glanced one more time at the swirling pool, before I grasped her muddy hand and we headed back. She didn’t resist, an obedient, repentant little child.
By the time we got back to the graveyard, it was already dark. The lamp post cast an iridescent glow on the white roses and tombstones.
To my dismay, Madre Estela had just stepped out of the garden gate and was marching in our direction. With the light behind her, her face was a black mask. But her chin was high and her stride purposeful.
As if out of habit, she went for Adelita first. “What are you doing here? You haven’t done any of your chores.”
I stepped forward and shielded Adelita with my arm. “This isn’t her fault,” I said quickly. “I told her to come and help me.”
She bared her teeth. “Help do what?” she said, her eyes sweeping over our dirt-covered hair and clothes.
“We heard voices coming from there,” I said, gesturing. “We thought one of the girls had gotten lost, so we decided to take a look.”
This made her pause, but only for an instant—before her hand came down, hard and brutal. I staggered backwards, more from shock than pain. No one had ever slapped me before. I touched my burning cheek and just stared at her.
“Voices here, voices there,” she said, disgusted, as if she couldn’t stand to hear more of it. “There are no voices, do you understand? No voices,” she repeated, as if she were trying to convince herself of the fact. “You should know better than listen to Adelita’s lies.”
Adelita didn’t even flinch when Madre Estela twisted her ear. I thought she was going to wrench it off her head right in front of my eyes.
“Pick up the things and go change immediately, both of you,” she ordered, “before you catch pneumonia.”
Before we went inside, I glanced back at Madre Estela. The vegetation rose up behind her, dark and menacing. Her eyes seemed strangely unfocused. She was clutching her wooden cross and murmuring a prayer. A gust of wind rattled the branches.
Themes in the JTR Victims Series
(Although this list is rather dry reading, imagine they are not just themes in a set of novels, but aspects of a reality that had an impact on the lives of real people)
Women’s issues and how they evolved in Victorian England
1)Women as the property of their husbands, having to obey, with little or no recourse against physical, psychological, or sexual abuse.
2)The slow evolution of these issues in Victorian England.
3)The worth of a woman in society having much to do with the worth of the man to whom she is wed.
4)The relative worth to society and employers of single middle-aged women with no family ties.
Poverty and social conscience
1)The relief system—the workhouses, out-relief, casual wards, and infirmaries.
2)Opinions based on social Darwinism that helped maintain a class system. The oppression and suppression of those of a lower station in a class system.
3)The various approaches of the innumerable beggars in the streets.
4)The use of child labor.
5)Scavengers of Victorian London, such as bone grubbers, toshers, pure finders, and mudlarks.
6)The struggle for survival in a time of societal change, great advances in technology, and a rapidly changing economy.
The industrial revolution and unemployment
1)The advantage employers had over workers with high-unemployment during the industrial revolution: low wages, abusive practices.
3) Piece work for manufacturers, such as finishing articles of clothing, making small items, adhering labels, or whatever small factory work a laborer might take home to be done in spare time or by children in the evenings. The term “piece work” comes from the fact that the worker is paid by the completed piece.
4)The dangers of the workplace in a society with few industrial and employment safety regulations: exposure to poisonous chemicals, powered equipment, and the stresses of highly repetitive labor over long work shifts with little variety.
1)The availability of drink (considered by many in that time another form of food).
2)Alcohol used to treat water to make it potable. Such water is given to children even at a very early age.
3)The use of alcohol to dampen feeling and the escape intoxication provides.
4)The bargaining alcoholics do with themselves as the disease creates ever more physical and social difficulties for the sufferer.
5)The availability of opium in various forms for children and adults.
The evolution of education for the children of the poor—the slow introduction of mandatory education.
Who engaged in prostitution and why the practice could seem attractive—see all categories above.
Alan M. Clark’s Jack the Ripper Victims Series is comprised of five novels, one for each of the canonical victims of the murderer. These stories are not only meant to appeal to those interested in the horror that was the Autumn of Terror, but also those interested in the struggles of women in the 19th century. They are well-researched, fictional dramatic stories meant to help readers walk in the shoes of the victims and give a sense of the world as each of the women may have experienced it. The timelines for the stories run mostly concurrently, so it doesn’t matter in what order the books in the series are read. They are simultaneously drama, mystery, thriller, historical fiction, and horror. They are novels concerning horror that happened.
A Brutal Chill in August
The First Victim of Jack the Ripper
by Alan M. Clark
Genre: Crime Horror
Print Length: 348 pages
Publisher: IFD Publishing
Publication Date: December 7, 2019
We all know about Jack the Ripper, the serial murderer who terrorized Whitechapel and confounded police in 1888, but how much do we really know about his victims?
Pursued by one demon into the clutches of another, the ordinary life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols is made extraordinary by horrible, inhuman circumstance. Jack the Ripper’s first victim comes to life in this sensitive and intimate fictionalized portrait, from humble beginnings, to building a family with an abusive husband, her escape into poverty and the workhouse, alcoholism, and finally abandoned on the streets of London where the Whitechapel Murderer found her.
With A Brutal Chill in August, Alan M. Clark gives readers an uncompromising and terrifying look at the nearly forgotten human story behind one of the most sensational crimes in history. This is horror that happened.
Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man
The Second Victim of Jack the Ripper
Print Length: 158 pages
Publisher: IFD Publishing
Publication Date: June 9, 2017
This novel is part of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series. Each novel in the series is a stand-alone story.
Annie Chapman led a hard, lower-class life in filthy 19th century London. Late in life, circumstances and her choices led her to earn her crust by solicitation. After a bruising brawl with another woman over money and a man, she lost her lodgings and found herself sleeping rough. That dangerous turn of events delivered her into the hands of London’s most notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper.
Contrasting her last week alive with the experiences of her earlier life, the author helps readers understand how she might have made the decisions that put her in the wrong place at the wrong time
Say Anything But Your Prayers
The Third Victim of Jack the Ripper
Print Length: 224 pages
Publisher: IFD Publishing
Publication Date: June 11, 2017
This novel is part of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series. Each novel in the series is a stand-alone story.
An imaginative reconstruction of the life of Elizabeth Stride, the third victim of Jack the Ripper. The beast of poverty and disease had stalked Elizabeth all her life, waiting for the right moment to take her down. To survive, she listened to the two extremes within herself–Bess, the innocent child of hope, and Liza, the cynical, hardbitten opportunist. While Bess paints rosy pictures of what lies ahead and Liza warns of dangers everywhere, the beast, in the guise of a man offering something better, circles ever closer.
Of Thimble and Threat
The Fourth Victim of Jack the Ripper
Print Length: 168 pages
Publisher: IFD Publishing
Publication Date: September 28, 2017
In Victorian London, the greatest city of the richest country in the world, the industrial revolution has created a world of decadence and prosperity, but also one of unimaginable squalor and suffering. Filth, decay, danger, sorrow, and death are ever-present in the streets. Catherine Eddowes is found murdered gruesomely in the city’s East End. When the police make their report, the only indicators of her life are the possessions carried on her person, likely everything she owned in the world. In Of Thimble and Threat, Alan M. Clark tells the heartbreaking story of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper, explaining the origin and acquisition of the items found with her at the time of her death, chronicling her life from childhood to adulthood, motherhood, her descent into alcoholism, and finally her death. Of Thimble and Threat is a story of the intense love between a mother and a child, a story of poverty and loss, fierce independence, and unconquerable will. It is the devastating portrayal of a self-perpetuated descent into Hell, a lucid view into the darkest parts of the human heart.
The Prostitute’s Price
The Fifth Victim of Jack the Ripper
Print Length: 342 pages
Publisher: IFD Publishing
Publication Date: August 30, 2018
A novel that beats back our assumptions about the time of Jack the Ripper. Not the grim story of an unfortunate drunken prostitute killed before her time, but one of a young woman alive with all the emotional complexity of women today. Running from a man wanting her to pay for her crimes against his brother, Mary Jane Kelly must recover a valuable hidden necklace and sell it to gain the funds to leave London and start over elsewhere. Driven by powerful, if at times conflicting emotion, she runs the dystopian labyrinth of the East End, and tries to sneak past the deadly menace that bars her exit.
Although THE PROSTITUTE’S PRICE is a standalone tale, and part of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series, it is also a companion story to the novel, THE ASSASSIN’S COIN, by John Linwood Grant. The gain a broader experience of each novel, read both.
About the Author
Author and illustrator, Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. His awards include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of seventeen books, including twelve novels, a couple of novellas, four collections of fiction, some of them lavishly illustrated, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 42 titles of various editions, including traditional books, both paperback and hardcover, audiobooks, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. www.alanmclark.com Visit his blog: https://ifdpublishing.com/blog
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!
Out Now—Stateless (Stateless Series, Book 1) by Meli Raine (@meliraineauthor) #romanticsuspense #romance #suspense #newrelease
Release date: October 15, 2019
Genre: Romantic Suspense
When you’re born without a trace, no one knows you’re a weapon.
I lie for her.
I hunt for her.
I kill for her.
And above all, I betray my mission for her.
She doesn’t know why. She doesn’t care why.
Treason comes in many forms.
Love is one of them.
Our training taught me to be a sociopath. A machine. A pawn. Nothing more than a tool for a larger goal, without attachments or feelings.
Our teachers forgot one important detail:
Pawns shouldn’t have hearts.
Yet we do.
It turns out our emotions are our greatest weapon.
And I know exactly where mine are aimed.
The Stateless Series also includes:
Traceless (releasing 11.19.19)
Fateless (release date TBA)
Amazon (everywhere): https://geni.us/statelessAMZ
Apple Books: https://geni.us/statelessApple
Google Play: https://geni.us/statelessgoogle
Audiobook narrated by Joe Arden and Andi Arndt!
Audible (preorder now!): https://geni.us/statelessAudible
Amazon audio (preorder now!): https://geni.us/statelessAMZaud
Excerpts & Teasers (PLEASE CHOOSE ONLY ONE TO USE WITH YOUR POST)
I do not sleep.
Kina does, though, and that matters more.
Sleep is a luxury when we are in Woods. She knows it. I know I should catch an hour or two, especially with my five-night punishment and determination to go for six, but I can’t.
What did I just say?
What did I just do?
Kina has the dreams. I have the dreams. I’ve never told anyone else anything that wasn’t one hundred percent part of The Mission.
To confess emotion, to confess my own dreams that do not fit The Mission, could be punished by death.
Or worse. What if I really am so weak? Emotion is shameful. It’s disgusting.
We fail every time we feel.
She knows this. I know this.
And yet we both spoke. Shared.
What does this mean?
With her sleeping beside me, I let my mind wander, giving in to the luxury of imagination. For years, the dream has been the same.
A burning wood fire.
A screaming boy.
A woman with long hair being shot.
A man with a shaved head and blue eyes like mine beaten by another man with a log.
And me with my bow and arrow. My hands are tiny, the skin around the knuckles dimpled. I’ve worked with the four-year-olds here at the compound. I know what young hands look like.
Why would I dream like that?
Meli Raine writes romantic suspense with hot bikers, intense undercover DEA agents, bad boys turned good, and Special Ops heroes — and the women who love them. Meli rode her first motorcycle when she was five years old, but she played in the ocean long before that. She lives in New England with her family.
Social Media Links:
Reviews and Endorsements for Meli Raine Books:
“The first book in the False trilogy is a psychological thriller worthy of Hitchcock, keeping you guessing until the very end.” — Apple Books Editors
“…intrigue and dark humor on display in this thriller…”
While the immediate—and more compelling—tension in Raine’s (A Shameless Little Bet, 2018, etc.) heart-pumping series opener comes from Lily’s constant proximity to her would-be killer, the action takes place against a backdrop of secret government scandals. The “screwed-up D.C.-insider scandal,” as it is clumsily summarized early on, is pleasingly twisty…
Fortunately, Lily’s voice is captivating, wry, and tough enough to sell this thriller. The novel ends with a cliffhanger that startles, if only because readers will have become so attached to Lily.
— Kirkus Reviews
“Fresh, riveting, and thrumming with emotion and romantic suspense, False Memory is absolutely unputdownable. You need this book!” – New York Times bestselling author Meghan March
“I accidentally lost a day to this trilogy! It is unputdownable. Apparently I’m on a dark-and-twisty binge, and this book is addictive.” – USA Today bestselling author Sarina Bowen (review for Harmless series)
Release blitz organized by Writer Marketing Services.
Out Now!—Hard Pressed by Queenie Black (@queenieblackwr1) #books #novella #newrelease #BDSM #EroticRomance #HEA #amreading #ebooks #spanking
Master Lucien has one night at Club Hard.
One night…to show bodyguard Rose Dainty that he can be the Dom she needs,
One night…to show her that submitting to him doesn’t make her weak, that true submission requires strength and trust.
Will pushing Rose to her limits prove to her she can trust him with her body and heart, and can she let go of her deepest fears long enough to enjoy her surrender?
They both have everything to prove and everything to lose.
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2Nv7Umr
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2OaD6qg
I’ve always loved writing and I won my first prize for a short story when I was still at primary school. I’m an avid reader of romance and erotic romance and can usually be found with my nose in a book. The dynamics and sheer variety of human relationships fascinate me, and this is what I like to explore in my writing. I live in North Yorkshire with my husband and cat where I enjoy running and Tai Chi.
social media links:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/queenieblackauthor/
I mounted the six shallow steps and faced the double front doors. Twin carriage lights cast a soft gleam over the brass plaque with its discrete lettering:
Private Members Only
I desperately wanted to run back down the steps, leap into my car, and drive home, but if I did, nothing would change, and I’d go back to dividing my time between working out, Candy Crush Saga, and the occasional night out with my friends. I might miss out on learning something about myself, something that could make a difference in my sex life. Worse, I might miss a chance at love.
I stayed, my feet rooted to the floor, but the insides of my hands were so damp, my finger slipped on the brass bell, setting off a short, discordant jangling. I winced as I rang it again properly this time. That certainly wouldn’t endear me to anyone.
Shifting from foot to foot, trying to keep the blood circulating in my toes, I looked around. Behind me, the gravel drive snaked away to a discreet carpark, and trees and shrubs created shadows within shadows. Autumn had finally reached London and in this exclusive part of it, crisp, clean air and earthy leaf mulch replaced the smell of fast food and exhaust.
I shifted again, starting to get irritated. If you were going to demand a woman wear nothing but a skirt that barely covered her butt, and a top that was little more than a bit of elastic bandage—on me it was ridiculous, if I sneezed, I’d pop out over the top—then you should damn well open the door promptly. Now, despite wearing my warmest coat over the absurd ensemble, there was a distinct draught zipping under my hem and freezing my exposed butt cheeks.
I lifted my finger to stab the bell again, and the door swung open.
Bloody hell. A real butler. I was no stranger to mansions with staff. Working as a bodyguard meant I saw the inside of a lot of wealthy homes, but so far, a liveried butler was a new one to me.
“Can I help you?”
I cleared my throat, wondering if there was any etiquette for addressing a butler, aware that my finger was still lurking in the vicinity of his eye. “Umm, I’m, ah, it’s Ms. Dainty. To see Mr. Dufort. I’m expected.”
He waved me through into a large marble-floored hall with a fire burning at one side. A wide, elegant staircase at the back curved away to the upper floors.
“I’ll inform Mr. Dufort that you’re here, if you’d like to take a seat.” He indicated a collection of sofas and easy chairs huddled as if for warmth around the fireplace. I made a beeline for the heat.
“May I take your coat?”
I crossed my arms tightly. No way was I exposing my scantily clad self. “Ah, thanks, but I’m a bit cold.”
“I see my guest has arrived, Henry.”
I turned away from the fire to see Lucien Dufort crossing the hall toward me. The floor seemed to drop a few inches and I had to grab the back of a chair to steady myself as his delicious, rich chocolate voice with its faint French accent wound around me, setting my heart hammering.
A tall, elegant man, he moved toward me with predatory intent, covering the floor in loose, confident strides, but it was his eyes that held my gaze, dark eyes, sharp with intelligence and power. He wasn’t a handsome man. His narrow-bladed Gallic nose, inherited from his mother, was slightly overlarge for that, but his lips were sensual, and the mix of tenderness and lust in his expression as he looked at me sent electric tingles charging down my spine.
“Rose, welcome to Club Hard.” He lifted my hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it, his tongue flickering into the little hollow between my two smallest fingers, mimicking the act of sex. Normally, that would be an instant turn-off, but when Lucien did it, everything inside me melted. I tugged my hand free and shoved it into my coat pocket. This was bad. We hadn’t even started yet and my hormones were doing a happy dance.
“Your coat, ma petite.”
I undid the buttons reluctantly and he stripped it off my shoulders, giving it to Henry before indicating my feet. “Barefoot, please.”
I obeyed, steadying myself with one hand on Lucien’s forearm. I could have rested it there all day, enjoying the feel of thick bone and the flex of hard muscles, but I quickly unzipped my boots and gave them to Henry, who took them as solemnly as if I was handing him the crown jewels for safekeeping. He disappeared, taking my things with him, and I stood shivering, waiting for Lucien to say or do something. I shouldn’t have felt vulnerable. I fought with this amount of flesh on display, so it shouldn’t have bothered me, yet insecurity and apprehension crept hand-in-hand up my spine. “Lucien?”
He cupped my chin, his palm warm and sure, his thumb stroking my cheekbone in a gesture I found calming. “Tonight, you will address me as Monsieur, or Sir.” His words sank deep inside me, reaching a place I wasn’t aware existed. A place I didn’t want to believe existed. I stepped back, dislodging his hand.
Lucien’s cheek creased in amusement. “So, ma belle perle, the challenge begins. Are you ready?”
Release blitz organised by Writer Marketing Services.
Out Now—Eyes Wide Open – MMF BDSM Erotic Romance by Lucy Felthouse (@cw1985) #menage #BDSM #MMF
A chance meeting opens Fiona’s eyes to some very sexy possibilities.
Recent graduate Fiona Gillespie is stuck working in a grimy pub in London’s East End, and living in a horrid flat. It’s only while she figures out what she wants to do career-wise, but that’s easier said than done.
When she sees an advertisement for a job at a plush Mayfair hotel, she jumps at the chance. Determination and a spot of luck land Fiona her dream role—and it comes with accommodation included.
Her job and living situation sorted, things are on the up. Unfortunately, her personal life is lacklustre. It doesn’t bother her, though—not until she meets businessmen James and Logan, and her head is well and truly turned.
When a misunderstanding leads Fiona to James and Logan’s sumptuous top-floor hotel suite, she has no idea what she’s about to uncover. Her imagination runs wild, but not wild enough to get to the truth—James and Logan are a couple, and they’re into some seriously intriguing activities.
Fascinated, she launches herself into a whole new world with the two men. But is this just physical, or is their arrangement set to become something more?
*Eyes Wide Open has been re-released with a stunning new cover and has been re-edited.
Universal link: http://books2read.com/eyeswideopenV2
Continuing to surreptitiously peer at the men over the rim of her glass, it hit her that this was the first time in months she’d looked at a man with interest, much less two men—and at the same time! She was ready to snatch her gaze away if one of them happened to glance at her, but it wasn’t surprising the pair had attracted her attention.
The tailored business suits would draw the eye even on someone unremarkable. But on these two, the fine clothing was practically an orgasm for the gaze. They sat opposite each other, and their angle to her meant she had a view of both their profiles—lucky her.
The one to her right had very dark, almost black hair, with a bit of a curl to it, a long straight nose, a trimmed goatee and, if she wasn’t mistaken, deep blue eyes. It was hard to tell for sure from this distance and perspective.
The one on her left had lighter, shorter hair, stubble that by some magical feat still looked smart, and the most sinful lips she’d ever set eyes on. And speaking of eyes, she thought perhaps his were green. What she wouldn’t give to go and check both of them out close up, preferably naked.
Shocked at her own sudden lustful thoughts, she inhaled more than drank another sip of the juice. Unfortunately, it hit her throat all wrong and she almost slammed the glass down as she started to cough. She tried so hard to suppress the cough, eager not to draw attention to herself, that she made it worse. Snatching up the thick linen serviette from the table, she held it to her mouth as she spluttered in a most embarrassing manner, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. By now, she was sure the whole damn restaurant was staring at her, and she wished the tablecloths reached the floor, like the ones in the restaurant upstairs, so she could hide under the table until she regained her composure.
Swallowing repeatedly to try to soothe her irritated throat, she gasped as a gentle hand laid on her shoulder, which set her off all over again.
“Oh God,” came a voice. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. See if I could help.”
Unable to speak, Fiona waved a hand to try to signal that she’d be okay, but unless the guy was a mind reader, he’d have no luck figuring that out. Blinking through the tears that marred her vision, her urge to hide underneath the table grew stronger. Christ, it was only the hottie with the blue eyes. And, if she wasn’t mistaken, his sexy friend with the green eyes was also hovering close by, concern etched into his handsome features.
Managing to drag in a breath, she huffed out, “Thank you.”
Just then, Jeremy arrived with a carafe of water, complete with ice, and poured her a glassful. “Here you go, Fiona. Drink this. Are you all right? Anything else I can get you?”
She picked up the glass and took a tiny sip of the freezing cold liquid, hoping it wouldn’t make her cough again. She seemed to have got a handle on it, though her now-sore throat wasn’t at all happy with her. After taking several more tiny sips, she let out a sigh of relief—it seemed her mortifying coughing bout was over. Then she moved on to bigger gulps, buying herself some time to think of something witty to say, anything to convince the three men looking at her that she wasn’t some kind of imbecile who couldn’t even manage a glass of juice without choking.
Unfortunately, her creative brain, which had been on fire up until she’d started lusting over the hotties, had taken its leave. So she decided to opt for the truth. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. My juice just went down the wrong way, that’s all. I’m fine, really. I’ll just finish my drink and be on my way. Thank you for the water, Jeremy.” She aimed a weak smile in his direction.
Blue Eyes turned to Jeremy. “Yeah, thanks, buddy. If you need to get on, we’ll keep an eye on her for a bit, make sure she’s okay. Don’t worry.”
A little warily, Jeremy looked at the two men, then at Fiona. “Are you going to be all right, Fiona? Do you need me to call someone and let them know you’ll be late or anything?”
She shook her head. “Honestly, Jeremy, I’ll be fine. It was just a coughing fit, that’s all. No lasting damage, except maybe to my makeup. And no, nobody will be missing me yet. It’s fine. Thank you so much, though.”
“Just give me a wave if you need me,” he said, backing away.
With that, he morphed from concerned acquaintance into an efficient waiter in an instant and went back to looking after his tables and the patrons frequenting them.
Knowing she’d now have to address the two men who’d caused her blush-worthy incident in the first place, she took yet another huge gulp of the icy water, then dabbed at her face with the serviette. Putting it down, she turned to Blue Eyes, who still stood by her side, but had removed his hand from her shoulder, with a wide smile.
“I’m so sorry,” she said again. “Please excuse the state of me, I’m sure I must look terrible. Thank you so much, both of you, for coming to check on me, but I’m really fine. No Heimlich manoeuvre required. I’ll just finish my drink… drinks… and be on my way. Please feel free to go back to your meeting.”
Green Eyes stepped a little closer. “You look just fine, sweetheart, except for being a little flushed, but that’s no bad thing.” He shot an almost imperceptible glance at Blue Eyes, and Fiona had to wonder if she’d imagined it. And if not, what on earth did he mean by that, anyway?
“Yes,” his friend chipped in, moving around so that he, too, could look at her face. “You look great. We’ll be just over there if you need us, all right? Don’t you hesitate to call out or wave, okay?”
Fiona wished they’d stop making such a fuss. But they were just being polite, she supposed. So, fixing the smile back on her face, she said, “Thank you. And I will. I promise.”
She waited until they’d retaken their seats before she started to make preparations for leaving hers. She didn’t want to dash off straight away as that might concern them further and send Jeremy into a tizzy, so she acted as coolly and calmly as possible, finishing the water, then the juice, as she continued making notes on her tablet. Finally, feeling able to leave without raising any eyebrows, she got up and collected her things.
Her movement attracted the attention of Blue Eyes and Green Eyes, and she gave them both a smile and a nod before moving off. She didn’t see Jeremy, who must have been in the kitchen collecting something, so she made a mental note to thank him when she next saw him. That was the downside to posh material serviettes and electronic devices—it meant there was no paper or pen handy to scrawl him a little note with.
She wasn’t quite ready to head back to the PR & Marketing Suite yet, at least not until she’d fixed her no doubt ruined makeup—which would raise a few eyebrows and spawn some questions—so she decided she’d dash up to her room for a few minutes and sort herself out.
After pressing the button for the elevator, she swiped through some of the photos she’d taken on the tablet as she waited for it to arrive. A couple of minutes later, the car arrived with a ping and a swish of doors. She stepped in, pressed the number for her floor and moved back. Just as the doors began closing, she realised the table the two men had been sitting at was visible from her position.
They were still there, and she was glad no one could see or hear her reaction as she looked at them, only to find two pairs of very arresting eyes looking right back at her—with interest.
And, as her view of them grew narrower and narrower until only a sliver was left, Blue Eyes flashed her a positively wicked grin just before he disappeared altogether.
Clinging onto the brass handrail behind her to steady herself, Fiona willed herself to get a grip. She’d been having a really good day, right up until those two had somehow awakened her hormones and made her bloody fruit juice go down wrong. And the way they’d clearly been watching her… and that smile! Shaking her head, she wanted desperately to believe they were some kind of dodgy perverts who frequented hotel restaurants to prey on lone young women, but common sense and cold, hard facts told her that wasn’t the case.
For one, what had they done? Offered help, and concern. That was all. What had they gained? Nothing, except maybe peace of mind in knowing she was okay. Her tablet and phone were still in her possession, so they weren’t thieves. Dodgy folk didn’t spend time in The Portmannow Hotel. It just didn’t happen.
So if they weren’t dodgy perverts and were just two relatively young businessmen, why had they been watching her like that? Their expressions, the looks in their eyes, indicated something altogether different from innocent concern for her wellbeing. The smile Blue Eyes had thrown her had been nothing short of sinful. Lustful, even. One Lucifer himself would have been proud of.
God, was it possible that they… found her attractive?
Lucy Felthouse is the award-winning author of erotic romance novels Stately Pleasures (named in the top 5 of Cliterati.co.uk’s 100 Modern Erotic Classics That You’ve Never Heard Of, and an Amazon bestseller), Eyes Wide Open (winner of the Love Romances Café’s Best Ménage Book 2015 award, and an Amazon bestseller), The Persecution of the Wolves, Hiding in Plain Sight and The Heiress’s Harem series. Including novels, short stories and novellas, she has over 170 publications to her name. Find out more about her writing at http://lucyfelthouse.co.uk, or on Twitter or Facebook. Join her Facebook group for exclusive cover reveals, sneak peeks and more! Sign up for automatic updates on Amazon or BookBub. Subscribe to her newsletter here: http://www.subscribepage.com/lfnewsletter
Release blitz organised by Writer Marketing Services.