Format Your Book for CreateSpace

How to Format Your Book for CreateSpace

(updated 12/10/16)

Persnickety

I get a lot of formatting questions, so I thought I’d put it all down in one place. If you find it useful, let me know.

Note: I use Word 2016. Your version of Word might look a bit different, but it should be similar enough for you to figure out.

And now, without further ado, here is how I format a book for CreateSpace.

Ready, Set, Go

  1. Open your Word .doc
  2. Set the margins. Go to PAGE LAYOUT –> MARGINS –> CUSTOM MARGINS.
    1. Under the Margin Tab, make the top 1″, the bottom 1″, the inside .9″, and the outside .6″.
    2. Orientation should be Portrait.
    3. Multiple Pages should be changed to Mirror Margins. That’s it for the Margin Tab. Don’t close the box yet.
  3. Then under the Paper Tab, change the Paper Size to the size of the book you are planning to publish. I like my books to be 8″ by 5″ so I change:
    1. Width to 5″
    2. Height to 8″. Then click OK to close the box.
  4. SELECT ALL (it’s over in the top right-hand corner.) Delete all tabs by using REPLACE (also in the top right-hand corner.)
    1. Go to the Replace Tab
    2. Click More
    3. Click Special
    4. Click Tab Character
    5. Leave REPLACE WITH blank
    6. Click REPLACE ALL (Don’t panic.)
  5. SELECT ALL
    1. Click the corner box next to Paragraph.
    2. Under Indentation, go to SPECIAL
    3. Select FIRST LINE
    4. Under BY type .25 (Now you’re indented without tabs.)
  6. SELECT ALL
    1. Change line spacing to 1.5
    2. Click both REMOVE SPACE BEFORE and REMOVE SPACE AFTER so both read ADD.
  7. SELECT ALL
    1. Change your font and font size. I usually use Georgia 12pt.
  8. SELECT ALL
    1. Justify your margins. (Yes! Don’t argue with me.)
  9. SELECT ALL
    1. Under PAGE LAYOUT, click Hyphenation and Automatic.
  10. SELECT ALL. Make sure you don’t have any double spaces after punctuation. (This is for all us older authors because we were taught that in high school.)
    1. Go to the Replace Tab
    2. Under FIND WHAT, hit the spacebar twice
    3. Under REPLACE WITH, hit it once
    4. Click REPLACE ALL
  11. Make sure the end of every chapter/short story has a new page character.
    1. Go to PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS
    2. Under Section Breaks, click NEXT PAGE (One caveat to this is if you are publishing a book of short stories. You want each story to start on the right-hand side, right? Or some people want each chapter to start on the right. In that case, you would click ODD PAGE.)
    3. There should be no page numbers, headers, or footers on blank pages.

Front Matter Matters

In order:

  1. TITLE PAGE
    1. Use a larger font and make it bold.
    2. Type your book title about halfway down the page.
    3. Type your name at the bottom. (This should give you plenty of room to sign at book signings.)
    4. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  2. COPYRIGHT PAGE
    1. Type in your Copyright Notice.
    2. Example: This is a work of fiction. The characters and events described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or to living persons alive or dead. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher except for brief quotations embodied in critical reviews.
    3. Copyright © (date) by (your name)
    4. ISBN (Type in your own or the number provided by CreateSpace.)
    5. You can also add your publisher’s name, state, website, and logo if you have started your own company.
    6. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  3. DEDICATION PAGE
    1. This is optional. If you are dedicating your book to a loved one or to an organization, type it here.
    2. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  4. TABLE OF CONTENTS
    1. You should have a table of contents to list each chapter or short story.
    2. Go to REFERENCE and click Table of Contents.
    3. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  5. NOTE!
    1. If necessary, add a blank page at this point (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE) so that the first page of your story starts on the right-hand side.
    2. There should be no page numbers, headers, or footers on the FRONT MATTER (or the back matter either for that matter.)

Back Matter Matters Too

  1. Add a page for Your Author’s Bio, headshot (I mean a photo, not an actual… although if you’re writing horror and you’re good with makeup…) website, and email address.
    1. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  2. Add another page for a list of your previous works and where to buy them.
    1. End the page. (PAGE LAYOUT –> BREAKS –> NEXT PAGE)
  3. If you are writing a series, you can put an excerpt of an upcoming book here.
  4. Remember, there should be no page numbers, headers, or footers on the front or back matter (unless you want to use Roman Numerals.)

About Your Headers and Footers

  1. Go to the first page of your story. (Story, not Front Matter.)
    1. Click INSERT.
    2. Click HEADER.
    3. Choose your Header Style. (I usually use Blank.)
    4. Type the name of your book. (I recommend using a smaller font.)
    5. Highlight what you just typed and Right align it. (On the Home Tab.)
    6. Under HEADER & FOOTER TOOLS click ODD & EVEN PAGES.
    7. Make sure LINK TO PREVIOUS is not selected.
  2. Now go to the second page of your story.
    1. Click the Header and type your name.
    2. Highlight what you typed and Left align it.
  3. You should now have your Title on the right and your Name on the left on alternating pages.
    1. Check to be sure the header hasn’t shown up on your Front Matter.
    2. If it has, delete it and de-select LINK TO PREVIOUS on each page.
  4. Go back to the first page of your story.
    1. On the left-hand side of the HEADER & FOOTER TOOLBAR, you will see Page Number. Click it.
    2. Choose Bottom Of The Page.
    3. Choose your style. I use Plain Number 2.
    4. Note: You will have to do this twice—once for the right-hand (odd) side and once for the left-hand (even) side.
    5. Note: You may have to format the page numbers to get them to run consecutively. To do that, click Page Number again and scroll down to Format Page Number.

Easy Peasy

Kill the Widows and Orphans

Widow

  • A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the rest of the text.

Orphan

  • A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column.
  • A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.

Word kills your widows and orphans by default, but the result makes a ragged bottom margin. I’m one of those persnickety people who feel that when you open a book, the bottom margin on both pages should match up. So I kill them manually.

  1. Click the corner box on PARAGRAPH.
  2. Click the LINE AND PAGE BREAKS Tab.
  3. Uncheck Widow/Orphan Control.
  4. Go through each page of your 500-page book and look for Widows and Orphans, adding or deleting words until the page looks right.

And Another Thing…

The first paragraph of each chapter and after a drop should be flush left, meaning don’t indent. Also, the first letter of the first word of that paragraph should be fancied up. I’m sure you’ve all seen the first letter in a different font with scroll work, etc. The problem is that it messes with the line spacing of the paragraph. I’ve seen books that just bold the first letter and leave it in the same font as the rest of the paragraph. I’ve also seen books that bold the entire first line of the chapter (Lemony Snicket does this.) If you wish to have a drop cap, go to Insert then Drop Cap. You can change the font under Drop Cap Options.

Easy Peasy

When all looks good, you need to save the book as a PDF. Word can do this for you.

FILE –> SAVE AS –> PDF

Now you are ready to upload the .pdf to CreateSpace.

See? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3… 4, 5, 6… Oh, you get the picture.

An expanded version of How to Format Your Novel for CreateSpace is available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook formats.

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Sample Sunday – Mindbender

Did you ever wish you had a superpower?

When I was a kid, ESP was my superpower of choice, mostly so I would get the answer right when the teacher called on me in class. But as I got older and started to like boys, I saw telepathy in a different light. What if someone could read my thoughts?

That threw a goose into the ducklings. Did I hate telepaths or did I want to be one of them? Instant conflict. And conflict, as you know, is the basis of any good story.

The story became a world.

A terrifying world in which telepathic people were kept in concentration camps. Citizens were given tax allowances for turning in their neighbors. And a Gestapo-like psychic police force was given free rein to hunt down the filthy mindbenders.

But stories are populated with people.

Enter Taralyn, a streetwise eighteen-year-old with enough savvy to keep under the psychic radar. She has taken a homeless ten-year-old girl under her wing. Her unofficial adopted daughter. But the little girl is captured and mind-wiped, leaving her trapped in a nightmare world. With a psychic prowess that surprises even her, Taralyn steals her from Camp. Now they’re both on the run.

That’s only the beginning of the story.

Mindbender – The Telepath Wars is science fiction for young adults and older. It explores cruelty, prejudice, and intolerance. But it also questions what it is to be a mother. Do you have to give birth to bond with a child?

It is available in print at Amazon. If you prefer eBooks, you can find it at your favorite online bookstore. And it is soon to be an audiobook, which is my favorite way to read.

Here’s an excerpt:

mindbender-cover

MINDBENDER – THE TELEPATH WARS

by Roxanne Smolen

CHAPTER ONE

Taralyn Stone leaned against the wall in the darkened hallway. As with a hovering camera, her sixth sense saw the layout of the clinic, saw the elderly guard asleep at his desk. It had been easy to scan his mind, easy to extract the location of the shipment. Now she needed to get the drugs and get out before someone discovered her.

She swept ahead telepathically, scanning the shadows as she walked. A left turn. Another to the right. She was taking too long. Voices echoed in the corridor. Taralyn froze. Opening a door, she hurried into a room.

Footsteps passed. She waited, scarcely breathing. When no one entered, she relaxed her shoulders and glanced about. A cabinet stood against the wall. It held a standard keypad lock. Taralyn sighed in relief. She had imagined retinal scanners or voice-code recognition. Keypads were easy to bypass.

Closing her eyes, she peered into the mechanism. She saw which keys had been pressed often, which had been ignored. Delving deeper, she felt the combination surface—like playing guess the cards when she was young. After a moment, she punched in the seven-digit code, and the lock opened.

Taralyn moistened her lips. “Be there. Please be there.”

If her information was wrong, she didn’t know what she’d do. Desperation goaded her down this path, but luck led her to the clinic. She’d heard about the hijacked shipment of Mask via a storefront newscast. Through a series of psychic scans, she traced it here.

Switching on a small light inside the cabinet, Taralyn searched the vials and bottles. Her haste left the neat rows in disarray. On a lower shelf, she found what she needed. She pulled out the tray.

The room lit, startling her.

A man said, “If you’re looking for Parazine, we don’t keep it in stock.”

Taralyn stood, tray in hand, thoughts whirling faster than her body. She saw the man point a gun. For a moment, she considered planting a false image in his mind, making him think he saw a nurse or a cat. But the tray tipped, spilling the vials over its edge.

The medicine for Gloriana.

“No,” Taralyn cried as she juggled the tray. She dropped to her knees and chased the scattering bottles.

The man said, “Don’t move. I’m calling the police.”

“But you can’t. They’ll find me.”

He frowned. Taralyn sat on the floor and covered her face. Her hands trembled, betraying her panic, and she balled them into her eyes. They would find her. They would take her away.

Gloriana would be alone.

Stooping, he picked up one of the vials. “Mask? Why would you want—” He looked at Taralyn. “You’re a telepath?”

Without intending to, Taralyn scanned him. Images and emotions burst over her. He was a doctor, he was afraid—and he knew how to handle a linac gun.

Their eyes met. Taralyn sensed that she should trust him. But she didn’t want to take that chance. She’d already risked too much.

“Please,” she said, “I need the Mask. I need to keep them from tracking me.”

“Who?”

She swallowed. “Enforcers.”

He looked at her hard as if expecting her to recant. As if she should apologize for evoking the name of the dreaded psychic police force. He put the gun away. “Come with me.”

Taralyn blinked, confused. The doctor held the door open. With her head bowed, she got to her feet. As she did so, she picked up a handful of Mask vials and slipped them into her pocket. They walked down an adjoining corridor. A cluttered counter lined the wall, and file cabinets interspersed the examination rooms. Ahead, a yellow light fell from an open door. He motioned her toward it.

Taralyn felt an upsurge of doubt. She backed away. “I’m not a thief.”

“You’re a thief, all right. Just not a good one.” He motioned again.

She entered a cramped, windowless office lit by a flickering desk lamp. Cracks decorated the walls, and the ceiling showed water stains.

“Have a seat,” he said.

Choosing one of the mismatched chairs, she perched on its edge.

He tapped the desk with the vial. “Why would you steal telepathic suppressants? You know, of course, that the Association considers them a controlled substance.”

“It’s as illegal for you to steal them as it is for me.”

“If that’s your game, you have more to lose. Mask is illegal because the public doesn’t want people like you to hide their true nature. Now, answer my question. Or would you rather speak to an enforcer?”

Taralyn blanched. She thought of telling him about Gloriana. Ten-year-old Gloriana was Taralyn’s adopted daughter. Not legally, but the love was just as strong. The girl was empathic. Empathy was a rare form of telepathy that made Gloriana’s usual good mood infectious.

That good mood was gone. Now, Gloriana lay on a newspaper mattress alternately thrashing and unresponsive. Taralyn couldn’t take her to a doctor because doctors were the ones who did it to her. They broke her mind trying to understand what made her different.

She didn’t want to tell him that, so instead, Taralyn said, “I only want to use the drug until I can get to safety.”

“I see. Then you won’t mind if I give you your first dose?”

Taralyn fought to keep from shying away. She’d planned to give the suppressants to Gloriana, hoping to calm her telepathic abilities. Never had she expected to take the drug herself. The man’s eyes were bright. Testing me, she thought. Leaning across the desk, she offered her forearm.

He pounced as if to trap her. Breaking the tip of the vial, he injected the Mask. “You won’t feel the full effect for thirty minutes.”

Rubbing the sting away, she glared at the doctor.

“So, where are you from?” he asked.

“You expect to have a conversation now?”

“Are you married, single?” He spread his hands. “Do you have family here in LA?”

The question brought a jab of pain. She thought of her estranged parents and of Mirabeth, her older sister abducted by the Association. She had no idea where any of them were.

He moved to the door. “I trust you won’t be offended if I step outside a moment.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Don’t try to leave.” He walked out.

Taralyn hid her face in her hands. Foreboding trickled down her neck like ghostly fingers. She’d thought it would be easy—she’d grab the drug and get out. She hadn’t considered someone might catch her.

A flurry of angry whispers escalated outside. The door had closed but not latched. Taralyn moved nearer and peered out. Hushed voices came from the hall.

“What are you doing?” someone said. “You don’t know her.”

“We have no choice,” said the doctor. “The others will be here soon. We have to get her out.”

“She could be a spy, Ken. One of those psychic implants. She could expose us.”

“What do you want me to do, kill her?” A pause, then, “Look, if it will make you feel better, you can run a DNA scan on the needle. That will at least get her civicard number. But you’d better hurry because I’m placing the call.”

He moved away, speaking rapidly. Taralyn could not hear his words. She tried to reach with her mind but found it difficult to focus. An odd sensation. All her life, she’d relied upon her extrasensory talent and her wits. Soon her innate senses would be gone.

She still had her wits.

Placing her hand in her pocket so the stolen vials would not clink, she turned back to the room. Diplomas and awards staggered across the back wall, all of them in the name of Dr. Avon Emory. On the desk, she found a picture of a man standing with two boys—a fishing trip. They looked Middle Eastern.

Taralyn thought of the doctor detaining her. Green eyes. Freckled skin. Not Middle Eastern. He must hope to protect his identity by placing her in someone else’s office. She wished she’d gotten more information before the Mask kicked in.

She explored the burst of images she’d received when she first scanned him—flashes of carnage. He’d served as a doctor in the Three Moons War. Why had he been thinking of that?

She delved deeper into the instant of thought, peeling away layers to reveal a vague face. A friend he had made in the Service. Someone he was trying to protect. Xander Landsman.

Sighing, Taralyn sank onto the chair. Why had she allowed herself to be shot with Mask? She didn’t know anything about Ken the doctor other than he was involved in something illegal. Yet, her first inclination had been to trust.

He planned to run a DNA scan through Central for her name, hoping to find a police record. He would be disappointed. The last entry in her file would be three years ago as a runaway at age fifteen—if her mother had bothered to report it.

“Comfortable?” the doctor asked as he entered the room.

Taralyn stared at the ceiling. “It hasn’t been thirty minutes yet.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

“Of course. Settle something for me. Why would a small clinic in a ghetto keep a supply of a controlled substance?”

“Mask wasn’t always used to suppress telepathic abilities. It was originally an effective anti-depressant.”

“But you don’t use it to treat depression.” She looked at him, daring his denial.

He sat on the edge of the desk. “I hope you understand why it was necessary to inject you. There are places, people at risk.”

“And I can’t be trusted.”

“Your integrity is not the issue.”

“No. It’s how I’m perceived.”

He appeared relieved, pleased that she understood. But she didn’t. She never did.

“I have friends, acquaintances,” he said. “Some of them telepaths like you. We would like to help. If you’ll let us.”

Taralyn swallowed a laugh. No one had ever wanted to help her. She looked at him, at his bright green eyes and short wavy hair. “This isn’t your office.”

He shook his head.

“But you’re a doctor here.”

“I think it best we don’t get to know each other.”

She did laugh then, knowing that his search for police records came up empty. “If I wanted your life story, I’d only have to scan you, Ken.”

He hesitated just long enough to be noticeable. “That would be impolite.”

Of course, she thought. The refrain of the normal. Be like us or be cast out.

“I’ve arranged to have you smuggled from Earth,” he said. “It won’t be an easy journey. You’ll go to a place of sanctuary where you’ll be given a new civicard and the chance for a better life.”

Taralyn bolted upright. Hope. Why did he offer her hope? Had he looked into her dreams? Had he read the torment in her face? Don’t believe him, a tiny voice warned. He’s manipulating you. He’s afraid of you. Yet, Gloriana deserved more than a crate in a warehouse. They both deserved more. “What do you want in return?”

“Your silence.”

His answer surprised her. With more bravado than she felt, she said, “Tell me. Why would a doctor carry a gun in his own clinic?”

He gnawed his lip, probably wondering if she would know if he lied. “I’m afraid. Mostly at night. I volunteer my time, but I don’t live here. I’ve never gotten used to how unstructured the ghetto feels. No boundaries.”

“You have your police.”

“I call them three times a week. They never come.”

The truth. Taralyn nodded. “You have my silence. What’s your plan?”

He stood. “You’ll have to hurry. Go to the city spaceport. Shipping Bay 9.”

“Who should I ask for?”

“No names. Someone will contact you.”

He ushered her out the office and down the hall. Taralyn felt rushed and uneasy. She looked in vain for the owner of the other voice, the one who had warned against her. They were involved in a covert operation. An Underground Railroad, Taralyn realized, transporting truant telepaths off Earth. An image rose through her muddled senses. A place of sanctuary. Outpost Io.

“Why do you do this?” she asked. She’d meant it as a general question—why would any of you, the normal population, want to help a group of people that you persecute and fear—but the doctor took the question personally.

“There was this kid in my neighborhood. I didn’t know him well. One day the Association came to his door. The kid was terrified, his parents anguished. They didn’t want him to go. He went, erased as if he’d never been. I remember thinking no one should have that much power.”

They reached the delivery entrance. An overhead light came on as the doctor unlocked the door and peered outside. Then he looked at her, and for an incredible moment, Taralyn thought he was about to offer her his hand. Imagine, a normal person touching a telepath. But he caught himself. His eyes hardened.

In that instant, Taralyn knew he told the truth about his distrust of the Association. He did want to rid Earth of its suppression. But even stronger was his distrust of her and her kind. He wanted nothing less than to ship every telepath off his world.

Old memories came rushing back—the fear in her mother’s eyes, her father’s disgust. Hot shame rose to her cheeks. She turned to leave.

“One more thing,” the doctor said. “There’s a story on the streets. A rumor actually. About two weeks ago, a ten-year-old girl escaped from an internment center. Have you heard anything?”

Taralyn froze. Gloriana. How did they know of her? What did they want? “No one escapes the Association.”

“Well, this one did. We’ve been looking for her since.”

“Why?” She faced him. “To interrogate her? If there is such a girl, don’t you think she’s been through enough?”

He raised his hands. “Our sources say the enforcers kept her in a secured wing. We’d just like to find out what the Association wanted with her.”

“What they’ve always wanted. To protect the population from us filthy mindbenders.”

“It may have started that way, but there’s something more now.”

“Like what?”

The doctor paused. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

CHAPTER TWO

Taralyn stepped into the cold night air. The clinic’s door latched shut behind her. Reaching into her pocket, she brought out the vials of Mask. Five. Only five. Taralyn winced with disappointment.

Her heels clicked as she followed the deserted streets. She watched the shadows. Trash blew like tumbleweeds along the sidewalks. Light glowed behind barred windows. She saw evidence of weapons fire—crumbled brick, melted glass.

Courtesy of the new linear accelerator guns, she thought.

Rumor held that linac guns were the product of Malocchian technology. She’d heard that Malocchians were benevolent travelers who stumbled upon Earth from another solar system. Taralyn had never seen a Malocchian. She didn’t believe they existed. Besides, if they were so benevolent, why would they give people guns?

She passed beneath a lamp that looked elongated and slanted. The Mask skewed her perceptions. In the back of her mind, she heard a strange hum—or possibly the absence of a hum, the dearth of background thoughts to which she’d become accustomed.

This is what it is like to be normal. So alone. So separate. No wonder they hate us.

Climbing to a public transit station, she boarded the roofless people mover. Even open to the air, the seat stank of urine and garbage. Only a few riders shared her section of the conveyor—a tired-looking woman in a threadbare coat and a pair of lovers who whispered and laughed as if oblivious to the world around them.

Taralyn slouched in the molded chair and looked up at the stars. What was the doctor’s connection to Outpost Io? Io was a mining co-op. It played a central part when the colonized moons of Jupiter tried to secede from Earth. The discovery of wormhole technology put a quick end to the uprising. Now it seemed the outpost harbored an Underground Railroad.

Who was Xander Landsman? How was he involved?

She rode the mover to the end where the seats cleaned themselves by tipping and traveling upside-down on the return trip. Stepping off the belt, she skirted the pools of light in the open station. No sense in advertising her presence. The doctor had complained of the rough neighborhood surrounding the clinic. Obviously, he had never visited this part of town.

Stealing into darkness, Taralyn accelerated to a brisk walk. She felt handicapped and exposed, unable to range ahead with her senses. This was the cusp of gangland territories. She knew of their patrols. It was because of those armed squads, rather than in spite of them, that she chose this place.

After she’d stolen Gloriana from the Association’s internment center, Taralyn was afraid to return to the apartment she rented. She knew the Association would be waiting. They’d want Gloriana back. So she moved into an abandoned, burnt-out warehouse where the current residents suffered their presence.

It was to this warehouse that she ran now, bursting through the door with the relief of reaching home. The air reeked of charred wood and plastic. Soot darkened the shadows. A hole in the ceiling opened the three floors above. Silhouetted against the sky, the pockmarked man peered down. After a moment, he disappeared.

She crossed to where she’d left Gloriana. The girl lay motionless except for shallow, erratic breaths. She wasn’t asleep. She was vegetating. Taralyn could hardly get her to eat anymore.

“I’m here, Glori.” She stroked the matted hair.

“She had a bad dream,” a man said.

Taralyn glanced toward the voice. It was Big Mike, their self-appointed guardian. The sheen of his dark face gleamed in the scant light. He sat upon a metal work table, one of the few furnishings that would support his bulk.

Dreams. He had no idea of the nightmare world that trapped the girl. But then, neither did she.

Taking out a vial, Taralyn injected the telepathic suppressant into Gloriana’s forearm. She hoped the drug would act as a psychic painkiller. A desperate ploy, but she didn’t know what else to do.

The newsprint mattress smudged the small face, but the skin beneath the grime was unblemished. Registered telepaths bore a branded T upon their cheekbone. Taralyn rescued her before the mark was bestowed. Before they sent her to Camp.

Tears filled Taralyn’s eyes. She couldn’t imagine life without Gloriana. They met two years ago and had become inseparable. Taralyn felt it was her purpose to keep the little girl safe.

Taralyn had been Gloriana’s age when the Association took her sister, Mirabeth. Suddenly, no one was there to protect her. She shuddered, remembering her terror and loneliness as she tried to hide her own psychic talents.

She couldn’t let that happen to Gloriana, wouldn’t leave her to fend for herself. It had been stupid to risk exposure, stupid to try to steal the Mask. But if she hadn’t, she would not have learned about the Underground Railroad.

Would she go through with it? Would she allow herself to be smuggled from Earth?

Her mind balked. No. It was too dangerous. She wouldn’t go to the spaceport. She didn’t know those people, didn’t know their intentions.

A tiny voice drowned her doubts. Somewhere there was a place where people like her could live in safety. Somewhere there was a haven. Outpost Io.

They had few possessions—a hairbrush, a blanket, a pair of chipped teacups. She bundled everything together and set them on the table beside Big Mike.

“I want you to have these,” she said.

“Leaving?”

“Yes. Tonight.”

“Best take your things, then. Don’t know but you might need them.”

She pictured herself carrying a knapsack in one arm, trying to support Gloriana with the other. She shook her head. “You could use a blanket, and you can sell the cups. It’s scant payment for all you’ve done these past two weeks.”

The large man picked up the bundle and looked away. Taralyn roused Gloriana. She obeyed complacently, gazing downward, unseeing.

“Where you headed?” asked Big Mike.

“Sanctuary. At least I hope.”

“Be careful of the dark places,” he said.

CHAPTER THREE

Taralyn stood on a scrub-laced hill gazing at Shipping Bay 9. The structure sprouted like a mushroom beneath a halo of lights. A low hum filled the air with an electric tingle. In the distance, departing flights streaked away like sparks.

Holding Gloriana’s hand, she shuffled down the sharp slope. Dust rose in a cloud. Gloriana sneezed, the first sound she’d made. Taralyn hugged her shoulders.

They’d had no trouble getting to LA Space Port. Gloriana walked stiffly, complacently—what Taralyn termed her auto-walk. The girl could walk for miles without showing signs of fatigue.

Taralyn, however, was drained. Doubt twisted her stomach. As a telepath, it was her nature to be paranoid. Even as a child, she was always alert, always poised to bolt. She didn’t trust easily, certainly not a stranger. “What am I doing here?” she whispered.

Gnawing her lip, she approached a cargo elevator. The door opened, and she ushered Gloriana inside.

“Don’t be afraid,” she told her. “Think of this as an adventure.”

The girl stared ahead in silence.

The elevator rose then opened onto an immense open-air platform. Monorail lines laced the edge. Squads of workers off-loaded the freight cars while others reloaded the cargo into outbound shuttles. Which of these people should she approach?

“Can I help you?” A man rushed toward them from across the compound. He had sharp, beady eyes and a communications tracer clipped to his pocket. More than likely a superintendent.

She smiled. “Yes. I’m meeting someone.”

“We don’t give guided tours.” The roar of a monorail cut off his words. He took her arm roughly and escorted her to an area between the hangars. “As I was saying, you’ve no business here.”

“I was invited.” She snatched her arm from his grasp.

His pocket beeped, and he spoke into the tracer. “Go.”

“Offline again,” a voice shouted.

“Damn.” He stamped his foot, then wagged a finger in her face. “Don’t move. Stay right here.” He hurried away.

Shielding Gloriana from the wind, Taralyn looked toward the gathering dawn. She watched a cargo shuttle touch down upon a landing pad. Across the yard, she saw the superintendent wave his arms and berate a man twice his size.

She wasn’t going to stand there waiting for him to toss her out. Moving along the back of the hangars, she followed a narrow path. Weighted-down newspapers and lunch boxes marked the places where workers took their breaks. Despite the brightness, the platform held impenetrable shadows.

One of the shadows spoke. “I was told you would be alone.”

She jumped and stifled a yelp. “Your information was wrong.”

Someone moved closer. This was their contact. This man could help them.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “There is only room for one.”

Taralyn froze as his words swept over her. Only one? Had they been offered hope only to have it dashed away because there was only room for one? “Well, what do you expect me to do? Leave her behind?”

“What’s wrong with her, anyhow?”

Taralyn swallowed a knot of frustration. “Look, I swear she’ll be no trouble. She’s helpless.”

He paused, then chuckled. “I think you’re both a bit helpless. I like that in a telepath. Stay here. And this time, do as you’re told.”

With a swish of a cloak, the man brushed past her. She peered around the side of the hangar and watched. He strode to the superintendent, spoke to him, then disappeared behind a shuttle.

The superintendent turned to stare at her.

Taralyn shied from his gaze, hating herself even as she retreated. “This adventure is out of control.” She was at their mercy, having to do their bidding, having to say please. Helpless, he’d called her. Well, she didn’t need his help. She could find a way out of the city on her own.

Then Gloriana sniffled and snapped her back to reality.

She cupped her hands about her little girl’s small face. “Don’t worry. I trust him.”

The cloaked man emerged behind her. “Time to go.”

Taralyn walked with him across the deck. “The superintendent appeared in awe of you.”

“Should be. I’m a pilot.”

“What did you tell him about me?”

He laughed. “I told him you were my girlfriend, and that we were taking your addled sister for a shuttle ride.”

“Sister?”

“You look too young to have a daughter her age.”

“Won’t they wonder about us when we don’t return?”

“Shift change. By the time I get back, everyone here will be gone.” He opened the port hatch of a cargo shuttle. “After you… darling.”

She bit her lower lip. With a protective hand atop Gloriana’s head, she climbed into a cramped cockpit. Cold air hissed from a vent in the ceiling. Lights winked upon the walls. The control panel ran with colorful displays, and graphics reflected in the forward view shield.

“Sit to the right.” He climbed behind the pilot’s console. “And be sure to get that harness over both of you.”

Taralyn crawled to the empty co-pilot’s chair. She sat on one hip and wedged Gloriana next to her before tightening the restraining harness about their shoulders. The girl’s emaciated body felt like bones.

“Ever been in space?” he asked.

“No.” Her voice sounded weaker than she would have liked.

“You eat recently?”

She shook her head.

He grinned. “Good.”

She watched him touch a series of glide points upon the panel. A vague rumble sounded behind them.

“Computer, I need clearance for flight path one-oh-five-seven.”

“Specified path has been logged and cleared.”

“Initiating.” He pulled back on the thrust bar and eased the shuttle off the platform.

Taralyn gripped the safety harness as she stared out the view shield. The platform lights fell behind them. In the darkness, LASP glittered like mounds of multicolored jewels.

“Entering window,” the pilot said. “Three-second burn. Three. Two. One.”

The shuttle angled upward and shot into the morning sky. Bands of sunlight layered the clouds in pink and blue and gold.

“Encountering turbulence,” the computer said.

“Buffers on full.”

Her head bounced against the headrest. They were leaving Earth. She felt a mix of dread and elation.

As if breaking through a barrier, the shuttle burst from the hazy sky into a crisp, bright star field.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

“Yes. That’s how it always starts.” He chuckled. “I’ve adjusted the oxygen content in the cabin. If you start feeling queasy, take a few deep breaths.”

Taralyn braced herself for weightlessness, determined not to feel ill. She wanted to shake Gloriana into sensibility, wanted to laugh with glee for the wonder of space.

The pilot’s fingers danced upon the control panel. “Approaching orbit. Computer, confirm velocity incidental.”

“Tangential readout at three-point-five-six-four kilometers per second.”

“Adjusting yaw to minus ninety degrees.”

“Orbit is stable.”

Her head swam with vertigo, and she took a slow breath. Streaks appeared among the stars. Other spacecraft.

Taralyn cleared her throat. “May I ask where we’re going?”

“The Princess of Mars. If you’ve ever wanted to see a luxury liner, now’s your chance. Of course, accommodations might not be what you’d expect.”

“Mars?” She frowned. “But I thought—”

“Careful. The Association has people who can wrench those thoughts right out of your head.”

“That’s hardly likely. No telepath would betray their own.”

“You’d be surprised.”

She recalled the doctor’s comment about the Association becoming something more. Was this what he meant? Were they recruiting telepaths to assist them in rounding up fugitives?

A ship came into view—two rings crisscrossing an egg-shaped propulsion unit. It shone bright red against the star-speckled backdrop. As they approached, she saw it was garishly painted. Spotlights glanced off its hull.

“Reference object sighted,” said the pilot. “Computer, cancel all orbital velocity.”

Her eyes widened as the cruise ship loomed. She cringed against the seat.

“Applying braking thrusters… now. Radial velocity at six… five… four… cutting thrust.”

The Princess of Mars filled the view screen. Taralyn fought a moment of disorientation. The rings of the ship spun one way while the egg turned the other. Her stomach lurched.

“Setting yaw to plus one-eighty. Computer, increase pitch.”

Slowly, the shuttle rotated until the cruise ship could no longer be seen. She swallowed the sickness in her throat. Were they going to dock backward?

“Pitch at plus ninety degrees,” the computer said.

“Counter outbound velocity.”

“Radial velocity at three hundred meters toward. Two hundred. One hundred.”

“Cancel all fine thrust.”

Again, the cruise ship dominated the view. They descended into it, lowering past receding doors into a shaft. Beams of light crosscut the walls. Stark shadows filled the cockpit.

“Vertical velocity at ten meters per second,” said the computer.

“Secure landing struts.”

“Secured.”

“As soon as we’re down, I want you to unhook the harness and get onto the floor,” he said in an undertone. “There’s not much room. Do the best you can.”

“All right.” She flinched as the shuttle settled.

“Now.”

She fumbled with the latch and slid to the floor, pulling Gloriana beside her. A tight fit, but they would manage.

He caressed the control panel. “Cutting all engines. Computer, open the bay doors.”

A puff of hot air circled the cabin. Rocket fuel and grease.

The pilot climbed toward the hatch. “Keep your head down.”

Then he left.

I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of Mindbender – The Telepath Wars. If you would like to read more, you can find it at Amazon or wherever eBooks are found. Happy reading!

Sample Sunday – Alien Seas

Who will forgive you when you can’t forgive yourself?

The Colonial Scouts are a group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

alien-seas-kindle

Natica is drowning in siblings. She hoped that if she became a Scout, she would rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she can’t forgive herself. She leaves the elite program and returns home a failure.

Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined, however. Her twin brother is missing, so she sets off to find him. Natica comes from a water world. Her search for her brother takes her on a high-speed boat chase through a floating city. She is kidnapped by pirates and attacked by a sea serpent. And her brother seems nowhere to be found.

Alien Seas is the third book of my Colonial Scouts series, fast-paced science fiction for teens and pre-teens. Buy it at Amazon in print or eBook. Soon to be an audiobook.

Here’s an excerpt:

Alien Seas by Roxanne Smolen

CHAPTER 1

PLANET 3459-3 SR7

Clear magenta skies. Bright white sun. Palm trees rustling in a breeze. A tropical paradise thought Natica Galos. At least, it would be if not for the ground-rending quakes and rivers of molten rock.

She motioned at the steaming fissure that cut across her path. “Looks like another dead end.”

Her partner, Davrileo Mas, consulted his sonic resonator. “We’ll have to split up. See if the fault narrows. If it does, we can use our jet packs to get to the other side.”

“Great. I’ve always wanted to fly above flowing lava with a combustible device upon my back.”

He turned toward her. His facemask reflected the orange-tinged steam rising from the rift, hiding his ever-present scowl. As he often said, he didn’t much care for her brand of sarcasm, and she didn’t care that he didn’t care. But he was the team leader of this excursion, so she shrugged and followed the fissure’s edge.

“Keep your com open,” Davrileo called after her.

She waved to show she understood. She didn’t like Davrileo Mas, and the prospect of spending a three-day mission with him frayed her nerves.

They’d arrived on the planet the previous night, traveling via an Impellic ring, a programmable wormhole. Interstellar probes reported a wealth of minerals on this world. As Colonial Scouts, Natica and Davrileo were dispatched to determine whether colonists could survive the planet’s violent upheavals.

Already Natica had endured showers of acid rain and blizzards of volcanic ash. She marveled that such an environment could spawn a rain forest—but no one needed to convince her of a planet’s will to live. A previous assignment took her to a fungus world that rose against her team in the form of indestructible mold monsters. The memory still brought a shudder.

With a grimace, she forced the image away. Think happy thoughts. Fungus World is behind you. Time to move on.

She kept to the edge of the lava flow as closely as she dared. Heat seeped through her skinsuit, and a vague sulfurous smell sifted through the filters of her mask. She heard a screech and looked up at a large bird circling overhead. It looked like a pterodactyl.

Wouldn’t surprise her.

Bushes with large purple flowers leaned over the bank. Their wilted petals and blackened leaves confirmed her guess that the fissure was a recent addition to the landscape. As she jogged past, clouds of yellow butterflies rose then resettled among the branches. Natica walked backward to watch them.

Within her mask, she heard erratic panting. Davrileo was breathing into the open com. Perhaps his path took an uphill turn. She smiled and pictured a tortuous track up a sheer cliff. With obstacles.

A low-pitched rumble broke into her thoughts. She frowned and looked around. With a sudden lurch, a quake hurled her to her knees. Trees snapped and toppled. Behind her, the purple bushes she’d passed slid over the crumbling bank.

Natica yelped and scrambled to her feet. She’d go over next if she didn’t move. But the ground heaved again, and her boots skidded. She sprawled back, her head hitting with a thud.

A tree fell into the rift. Lava splashed. A creature rose from the molten rock. It stood over five meters tall. Sheeting magma exposed a body of soot and stone. Rocks bulged from its torso like muscles. Natica gasped, and it turned.

At first, its face was a mere lump of rock. Then features emerged.

It was the face of the man she’d helped climb a barrier of logs—an injured man who slipped from her grasp and slid into a burning pit.

The man on Fungus World.

“But you can’t be.” Panic edged up her throat. “You’re dead. I saw you die.”

The magma creature stepped onto the bank. Flaming footprints dotted the grass. The quake ended—yet the ground trembled with its steps.

Natica skittered back. She had to get to her feet. She had to run. But she could only stare at the burning face.

He wanted retribution. It was her fault he died. She killed him. She let him go.

Hands fell upon her, and she fought them, batting them away before realizing Davrileo Mas knelt beside her. His voice echoed through the com. She couldn’t understand his words.

The magma creature advanced, looming over them. Davrileo aimed his stat-gun. The beam struck the thing mid-chest. It paused, dripping fire. He shot again.

It exploded. Chunks of rock flew through the air. The creature’s face landed before Natica. Its mouth gaped. Fire consumed its eyes.

Natica screamed. It felt as if the sound were tearing her inside out. Vaguely, she was aware of a wrenching sensation, of moving very fast, and then falling forward onto the Chamber floor.

Someone yelled, “Get her mask off.”

She felt her body turn, felt her facemask pop. Cold air bit her skin.

“Natica! Stop screaming!”

But her mind still held the burning face before her. She couldn’t let go.

“Get her to the infirmary.”

* * *

Impani stared at Natica across the cafeteria table. “You’re overworked?”

Natica sighed. “That’s what the doctor called it. Stress and fatigue due to the job.”

Impani sipped a hot cup of chai and cocked her head. Natica looked awful—dark circles, trembling hands. “But that was your first assignment in over a week. How can you be overworked?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m losing my mind.” She rubbed her eyes then lowered her voice. “I swear that lava monster had a face.”

“Davrileo says it was made of silicon, not lava.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s telling everyone it was no threat and that the reason he had to ring back early was you.”

“It’s the injured man I let die on Fungus World. He’s in all my dreams. I can’t sleep anymore. I think I see him everywhere. Glimpses from the corner of my eye.”

“Stop it.” Impani leaned forward. “This isn’t you. You’ve always been the stable one.”

“But I—”

“It’s been ages since we left the fungus planet. You can’t keep blaming yourself for something you didn’t mean to happen. If you keep this up, it could jeopardize your job.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You never watched anyone die because of you.”

Impani swallowed her answer. Once, she watched a hundred people die in an abandoned shopping mall. Members of a street gang she infiltrated. She led authorities to them not realizing they planned to wipe out everyone with flamethrowers. How long did it take her to accept that mistake?

“I have to go.” Natica gathered her uneaten breakfast onto a tray. “I’m meeting Anselmi. We ring out in an hour.”

“Another mission? What about being overworked?”

“I insisted. Have to prove myself. You know.”

Impani nodded. “At least, this time, you’ll be with a friend. Anselmi will watch out for you.”

Natica offered a fleeting smile, picked up the tray, and left.

Impani slouched in her chair. Her thoughts returned to the shopping mall massacre, dragging up images so real she felt she were living it all again. She saw people running, shadows in smoke, and the pounding flash of gunfire. She heard screams, children crying. Smelled the horrible reek of fuel.

It was known in the media as The Slaughter of the Headsmen Gang. She didn’t dwell on it so much anymore, pushed it to the back of her mind. But she never forgave herself. She always thought she should be punished somehow.

If she were to go home, there would be retribution. The surviving gang members knew what she had done, and although legally she was cleared of any wrongdoing, she was certain they would kill her.

She picked up her cup. It was cold. She pushed it away in disgust, then gazed across the busy cafeteria.

From several tables away, a boy stared at her. Impani lifted her chin and stared back. She was used to male attention, often used it to her advantage. However, this boy’s stare was more appraising than most. He looked younger than her—fifteen or maybe just turned sixteen. He was bald, as were all Scouts.

She hadn’t seen him before. Must be a new recruit. She should walk over and introduce herself—that usually embarrassed them enough to keep their stares to themselves. Yet, there was something odd about this boy.

Something about his eyes.

CHAPTER 2

PLANET 330-10 GEN

Natica stood on an icy bluff overlooking the frozen tundra. Windblown snow traveled the night like fog. She shivered, although the cold could not reach through her skinsuit. “Who would want to live in a place like this?”

Beside her, Anselmi’s pale, almost-human face beamed. “Just like home.”

She considered his reply. Anselmi had been her friend for over a year, yet how much did she know about him? He was humanoid—two arms, two legs, one head, but his eyes were solid black, his skin bluish-gray. She had no idea how old he was or what Veht, his home planet, was like. “You come from a frozen world?”

“The Colonial Expansion Board was looking for fresh water sources even in those times. They sent Scouts to my planet expecting to find oceans of barren ice. Instead, they were greeted by a thriving culture.” He chuckled.

“Well, this place is about as different as it could be from my home. Just once, I’d like to be sent to an ocean world.”

“Such worlds are rare. Your wish is fruitless.” He walked away, boots crushing the packed snow.

Natica felt a surge of anger she knew was due to lack of sleep. She dampened her ire, afraid Anselmi’s telepathic bent might pick up her emotions. Friend or not, he was team leader and would detail all aspects of their mission. She couldn’t afford another bad report.

They followed the ridge. Anselmi held his sonic resonator before him, searching for pitfalls or energy readings. Natica carried the tri-view glasses, which not only magnified the landscape but also kept a visual record of what the Scouts saw. As there wasn’t much to see on this world, she kept the glasses hooked to her belt.

Skidding down a slick hill, they approached a snowfield. The region reflected the moon so brightly, Natica’s mask darkened in response. A snow devil swirled her way, pelting her with sparkling dust. Could this be her home if an ice age hit?

Anselmi’s head jerked. “Did you see that?”

“What?”

“I thought I saw…” He looked puzzled. “Nothing.”

“Mirage. Too much white.”

He nodded, looking thoughtful.

They trudged across the vast expanse leaving footprints in the unbroken snow. The only sounds were the crunch of boots and the rattle of equipment belts. Moonlight disguised the distance, making the plain appear endless. If only she could return to the bluffs and rest.

A flicker of movement caught her eye. There came a muffled plop. Natica glanced about but saw nothing. Don’t mention it. He’ll want to investigate. Anselmi looked at her as if he heard her thoughts.

It was unfair that he could read her mind but she couldn’t read his. She felt disadvantaged. A sort of telepathy among siblings was common on her world, yet she never held such a bond with her brother, Eury. She often wondered why.

“You are distracted,” Anselmi said. “That’s not like you.”

“I was thinking.” She paused. “Maybe we should go back to the cliffs and look for a cave.”

“To rest?”

Her cheeks heated. “I’d hate to be caught out here in a storm.”

He consulted his resonator. “There are no atmospheric disturbances within range.”

“What a shame,” she muttered.

Anselmi smiled. “How tame you must find this frozen world. Too often our missions are labeled adventures.”

“It’s not that, it’s—”

“Look around us. See how the starlight glistens. Beauty in silence.”

Anger flared again. She wasn’t about to traipse around this wasteland while he reminisced. “People need more than beauty to live. This planet can’t support life.”

His smile broadened as he gazed beyond her. “Don’t be so certain.” He knelt in the snow.

Natica saw three plates of sculpted ice. “Artwork?”

“There are more.” He stepped into a field of crystalline disks.

She wouldn’t have noticed them if he hadn’t pointed them out. The disks ranged in size from a hand’s breadth to a full meter across. They looked carved from frosted glass.

“Someone’s been busy,” she said.

“However, you agree there is someone?” He held out the resonator, scanning the featureless horizon.

Natica walked among the plates. Their edges were smooth and slightly raised, forming a lip. They reminded her of the albino manta rays in the seas back home.

The thought struck like a slap. What was she doing? Was she so homesick she could think of nothing else? She was a Colonial Scout, not some rookie first time away from her mother’s skirt.

“This is stupid,” she cried. “No one will want to live here. Not even a water excavator. Not even a robot for a water excavator. And I don’t care who carved these stupid plates.”

She kicked the snow, and her toe caught a disk, sending it tumbling. It landed on edge and cracked. Natica hadn’t meant to break anything—still, she derived a vague sense of satisfaction as she looked down at the jagged pieces.

With the sound of a thousand angry hornets, the remaining disks rose from the ground. They hovered around Natica, whirring madly.

“Watch out,” Anselmi shouted.

Natica sidestepped as a smaller plate whizzed past her face. She flinched, her thoughts sluggish. Were the plates alive? She stared at the broken disk. What had she done?

Anselmi yanked her arm. “Run!”

Several disks cut off their escape. One dove toward Natica, and she swatted it. Wobbling, it turned and continued toward her. Anselmi snatched it from the air and threw it like a discus. At that, the whirring noise increased as if the plates were outraged. They attacked together.

For every disk Natica knocked away, four more took its place. They struck her shoulders, her back, her thighs, and she yelped with each blow. They flashed so quickly across her vision, she couldn’t track them, couldn’t dodge. She felt trapped in a whirlwind.

A large disk aimed at her head. Natica ducked. The plate hit Anselmi instead. He dropped to his knees, looking winded. It reared back and struck him again, roaring like a buzz saw. She grabbed it and threw it with all her strength. It collided with another plate. Both exploded, raining down in glittering specks.

A sudden wrenching sensation twisted her stomach, and she knew Anselmi had recalled the Impellic ring. She felt at once relieved and alarmed. How was she going to explain this fiasco? Two missions in a row had ended prematurely because of her.

She tensed against rushing vertigo—speeding through the universe while standing still. Then her momentum ended, and the Impellic Chamber materialized. Infinite images of herself watched from the mirrored walls.

Hopping down from the platform, she circled to the other side. “Anselmi, I’m sorry.”

She reached him just as he crumpled. With a gasp, she leaped forward and caught her teammate before he struck the floor.

“Help! I need help,” she shouted to an unseen technician.

She leaned Anselmi against the side of the platform. Two slice marks crossed his chest—the plate cut right through his skinsuit. She didn’t see any blood, but purple welts showed beneath the silvery material.

A terrible panic welled in her. This was her fault. He might die because of her.

The door opened, and a four-person medical unit rushed into the room. They wore bulky hazmat garb.

Natica grabbed the first one. “He’s hurt. You have to save him. The ice attacked and… and then he just fell.”

Elbowing Natica out of the way, the medic examined Anselmi.

“Erratic respiration,” he said. “Blood pressure is falling.”

“Get that oxygen over here,” said another.

“Will he be all right?” Natica cried. “Please. You can’t let him die.”

It was as if she hadn’t spoken. She watched with growing dread as the medics replaced Anselmi’s mask with an oxygen tube.

“Open wound in an alien environment. Better get him to quarantine.”

Natica bit back her tears.

* * *

Impani took Trace’s hand as she weaved between people and video machines. Laughter and the chimes of games rose in discordant music. She spotted Natica at a table in the corner. Her face looked puffy.

“There you are,” Impani said in a half-shout as she sat across from her at the mushroom-shaped table. “The game room is busy this evening.”

“Too busy,” Natica mumbled.

“A lot of missions must have ended.”

Trace gave them a bow. “Can I interest you ladies in beverages?”

Impani laughed. “Anything but that nutty vitamin drink you always get.”

“It’s good. You should try it.”

“I don’t drink anything that’s thick and brown.”

Chuckling, Trace walked away.

Impani placed her hand over Natica’s. “I just came from seeing Anselmi. He looks much better.”

Natica groaned. “He’s in isolation.”

“Just a precaution. They don’t want him catching a cold from one of his well-wishing friends.”

Natica nodded but wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Impani pursed her lips. “Those ice disks might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for you. Imagine if an excavation company settled there. You exposed a real hazard.”

“Stop it.” A scowl creased her friend’s face. “That’s not what they’re saying.”

“Here you go.” Trace set tall glasses upon the table. “Two Peach Snowcaps for you girls and a Health Nut for me.”

“Mmm, peach.” Impani sipped the icy juice. Tart sweetness burst over her tongue.

Natica punched the snowcaps down with her straw as if they offended her.

Into the prolonged silence, Trace said, “Did you tell Natica about our little mishap?”

“Oh, yeah. It was the strangest thing.” Impani leaned forward. “We were in the Impellic Chamber waiting to be whisked off-world and one of the main computers exploded.”

“It what?” Natica’s eyes widened.

“Almost like it was sabotaged.” He shrugged. “We were standing there, and standing there, and Impani said does it seem a little smoky in here to you?”

Impani laughed. “It’s funny now, but if that ring had engaged, we would have been fried.”

“What could have caused it?” Natica asked.

“No idea.” He took a drink. “I heard Chamber Four will be closed for a while, though. Strange accident.”

“Really.” Natica shook her head.

Impani sipped her juice then muttered, “There he is again.”

Trace glanced around. “Who?”

“That kid with the strange eyes. I think he’s a new recruit. I swear he’s following me.”

“Following?” He set his glass down hard.

Natica said, “Why would someone follow you?”

Impani shrugged. She glanced at the boy then looked quickly away.

“Which one is he?” Trace pushed back from the table. “I’ll have a few words with the guy.”

Impani grabbed his arm. “Come on, forget it.”

“I don’t like stalkers.”

Impani tried to smile in a soothing manner, but she felt alarmed. She couldn’t explain it. There was something odd about the boy. Something ominous. “He’s just staring.”

“And you like that, don’t you?” Trace’s voice rose. “You always enjoy being stared at by other guys.”

“Don’t be silly. He’s a kid.”

“I’m not an idiot, you know.”

Impani hugged his arm. “You’re jealous. It’s kind of sweet.”

Trace wrenched from her grasp and stormed out of the room. Impani gaped in amazed confusion.

“Nice going,” Natica said. “You hurt his feelings.”

“You know Trace. He’ll get over it.”

“There was never anyone following you, was there?”

Impani stared at her. “You think I lied?”

“You’re unbelievable.”

Impani shook her head. What was happening here? “Let’s just relax and finish our drinks. You’ve had a hard day.”

“So now it’s me? Why is it always my fault?”

“Who said anything about fault?”

“Couldn’t be you. Little Miss Perfect.” Natica pushed her glass away. “I don’t know why he loves you, but he really does. And you treat him like everyone else. If he were my boyfriend—”

“Is that what this is about?” Impani shouted.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve always had a crush on Trace.”

“And you’ve always treated him like drel.”

“You’re jealous of our relationship.”

“Jealous? Of you?”

“Admit it. You wish you could be more like me.”

Natica stood and lowered her voice to a growl. “I would die if I was anything like you.”

Impani watched her rush away. Her face burned, and her thoughts seethed. How could Natica accuse her of lying to make Trace jealous? What did she think—that she’d make a better girlfriend? Impani gulped her juice, and then glanced about the room.

The odd boy still stared.

CHAPTER 3

Impani woke later than she intended. She lay for a moment, cocooned in the warm berth, grasping at tendrils of a dissipating dream. With a sigh, she switched off the adventure novel she’d been reading when she fell asleep. Turning onto her stomach, she crawled from the compartment and down the honeycombed wall.

The sleeping berths were tubes open on either end, making the wall accessible from fore or aft. Many beds were occupied, showing heads here and feet there, and she was careful not to wake her fellow Scouts as she left.

Beyond the girls’ quarters, the corridor was bright with daylight. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed the morning sun. Staff members and technicians bustled about on workday errands. A few waved or nodded to her as they passed.

Impani stepped into a nearby restroom. Her nose crinkled at the antiseptic smell. She splashed her face and scalp with cool water then disrobed and pulled a crisp tunic from the communal laundry closet.

As she dressed, she looked in the mirror. Behind her stood shower cubicles. They were rarely used. Scouts endured a caustic chemical cleansing after each mission. The chemicals removed the threat of contaminants along with all hair and a layer of skin. It made normal showers less inviting, even for Impani who grew up homeless and, at first, reveled in the luxury of water jets.

Refreshed, she rushed to the cafeteria. It was always busy. Day and night held little meaning when Scouts came in from missions at any hour. However, Impani found that people tended to choose the same seats out of habit. So when she reached her usual table, she was surprised Natica wasn’t there.

She looked about, hoping to spot her, a greeting perched on her lips. No Natica.

Was she still angry about last night?

Impani frowned. Maybe Natica had overslept, too. That wasn’t like her—but lately, so much about Natica wasn’t like the girl Impani considered her best friend. If she wasn’t sleeping, where would she be? Had she set off again on another assignment?

That made perfect sense. Natica must be anxious to tackle a new mission and prove she’s still part of the team. Mr. Arkenstone would know where she’d gone.

Impani left the cafeteria and headed toward the program director’s office. Arkenstone’s door was always open, so she never thought of him as her boss. In fact, on more than one occasion, he’d acted as confidant and mentor.

She stepped into a room dominated by a huge, holographic seascape. A boat sailed in the distance. Natica often made excuses to see the director just so she could visit the holo.

“Morning, Leila.” Impani approached a woman behind a desk. “Is Mr. Arkenstone available?”

A voice called from an adjacent room. “Come in, Impani.”

Leila smiled and returned to her computer screen. Impani entered the director’s office. Everything in it was massive—the chairs, the tables. A bank of windows behind the huge desk showed the spires of surrounding buildings.

Arkenstone glanced up. “If you’re here about Anselmi, I have to tell you I agree with the doctor. He must remain in quarantine. Even though he’s no longer in danger, the ailment he contracted might yet prove fatal to humans.”

“I know. They let me wave to him through the glass at the infirmary. It’s weird to see him turned purple like that.” She stepped nearer. “Actually, sir, I wanted to know if you sent Natica on another mission.”

His mouth made a silent oh, and he stood. With his arm about her shoulders, he guided her to a couch and sat beside her. “Natica’s gone home for her birthday.”

“What?”

“Apparently, the sixteenth birthday is cause for celebration on her world. She wanted to be with family.”

“But she didn’t tell me.” Impani frowned. “Didn’t say goodbye.”

“She’s burnt out. I’ve seen it before.” He looked into Impani’s eyes. “I fully expect Natica to quit the Colonial Scouts.”

Impani felt her stomach disappear and all her insides slide to her knees. “No. She can’t.”

“I’d hate to lose her. She’s one of the best.” He squeezed Impani’s arm. “I’m going to schedule a break for you. A needed rest. I hope you’ll take advantage of it.”

Impani wasn’t aware of leaving the office, didn’t remember walking away. She found herself several corridors down, standing against the wall, trembling, seething with outrage.

How could Natica let one tragedy paralyze her? And how could she leave without saying anything? Impani never even knew it was her birthday. Why would Natica keep that a secret? What kind of friend was she?

“Impani? Are you all right?”

She looked up at Davrileo Mas. You’re part of it. You gave Natica a bad report. But Davrileo wasn’t the problem. It was Natica. Her friend was making a terrible mistake.

Impani straightened her shoulders. “Have you seen Trace?”

“Sure. He’s still in bed. Grumping about something.”

“Where?”

“C Wing. But you can’t go down there. Boys only.”

“Watch me.”

She took off at a trot into the forbidden Boys Only zone, vaguely disappointed that it looked so much like the girls’ area. She was aware of startled looks, but no one tried to stop her.

She turned down C Wing and stepped beside the sign that labeled it a quiet zone. The sound-dampening floor cushioned her feet. She gazed up a wall honeycombed with twenty sleeping berths. A few reading lamps glowed from the compartments, but most were dark and silent. How would she find Trace?

Screwing up her courage, she shouted, “Trace.”

She heard an answering chorus of groans. Only one face showed. Trace was on an upper tier. He scrambled from his berth and hurried down the ladder.

“What are you doing?” he whispered.

“Natica’s gone. She quit the Scouts.”

Someone called sleepily, “Give us a break.”

“Yeah, take it outside,” another boy moaned.

Trace took Impani’s arm and led her from the sleeping berths. He sat with her on a bench beneath a window. “Start from the beginning.”

“Natica and I had a big fight last night, and I was looking for her so I could apologize.”

“You?” Trace smiled.

“But I couldn’t find her. So I checked with Mr. Arkenstone, and he said she’s gone home.”

“Just like that?”

“And do you know what else? He said it’s her birthday. Why didn’t she tell me? That’s not something to keep private.”

“Calm down. There must be more to the story. What were you fighting about?”

Impani looked away. “Girl stuff. You know.”

“And you think she was angry enough to leave the Scouts?”

“I don’t know. I keep running over the argument in my mind.”

“Well, I don’t think you could have said anything that would make her quit. She’s been off her game lately. Distracted. Overreacting.”

“Because of Fungus World.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“I swore I’d never tell anyone.” She looked at him. “But I don’t think she’d mind if I told you. It happened back when you ordered a moat dug around the colonists’ camp. You were going to create a ring of fire to keep the mold men away, remember? You sent us up the hill to cut logs and roll them down to you.”

“And the mold men attacked.”

“We had to retreat.” Impani frowned, dredging up the memory. “Natica and I ran carrying an injured man. The logs were deep, a solid wall, but we finally got him to the top. And we saw the fire around the camp had been set too soon and was burning out of control.”

He grimaced. “I remember.”

“What was I supposed to do? We had moss men behind us, fire ahead. We couldn’t just stay there. So I left the man with Natica and climbed over the edge. I figured that if I could reach the ground, she could drop him down to me. I never got that far. The fire weakened the pile, causing the logs to slide into the blaze. Natica lost her grip on the guy, and he just kind of rolled along with everything else and disappeared in the flames.”

“Oh, no.”

“It was an accident. No one was at fault. But Natica blames herself. She’s obsessed.”

“No wonder she freaked at that lava creature.”

“She has to snap out of it.”

Trace paused then met her eyes. “You should go to her.”

Impani blinked at him.

“I mean it. Take a leave of absence and go to Natica’s home world. You might not talk her out of quitting, but at least she’ll know you care.”

Impani sat forward. Why hadn’t she thought of that? She had more than enough credits in her expense account. And hadn’t Arkenstone said he was scheduling a break for her?

She smiled and cupped his cheek in her hand. “What would I do without you?”

He pulled her close, holding her, but didn’t answer.

Like what you’ve read so far? Alien Seas can be found at Amazon in print or eBook.

 

 

For Young SciFi Lovers

I have great news for young science fiction lovers. The first three Colonial Scouts books (Alien Worlds, Alien Jungle, and Alien Seas) are now in one eBook titled Alien Beginnings. You can get it at your favorite online bookstore.

alien-beginnings-ebook

Or if you prefer print books, as so many teens do, you can get the books separately at Amazon. And don’t think you have to read them in order. They’re good on their own.

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes. 

Alien Worlds: Impani, a brilliant girl with a dark past, dreams of escaping the streets by becoming a Scout. Because she is homeless, she feels she must study twice as hard to get AlienWorldsKindleCover (Small)into the program. The day before her final exam, however, a transporter malfunction sends her jumping uncontrollably from planet to planet. Although the error could be corrected from inside the wormhole, the Board decides she is too young to understand that level of tech.

Will she prove them wrong? Or will she die on an alien world?

Alien Worlds is available in print and eBook at Amazon.

It’s also available, and this is really exciting, as an audiobook at Audible. Pretty cool.

You can listen to a sample here.

Alien Jungle: This one is my favorite. Trace, a new Scout, wants desperately to prove himself to both the Board and to his girlfriend (who is Impani, by the way.) But when he leads a rescue party to a failing colony, everything goes against him.Alien Jungle Kindle Cover

His estranged father turns out to be the leader of the settlement. The colonists think he is inept because he is a teenager. And his disgruntled teammates believe he was named team leader because of his dad. He can tell no one about his secret mission to save only fifteen of the seventy people.

Will he follow orders and leave the colonists to die? Or will he find a way to save them all?

Alien Jungle is available in print or eBook at Amazon.

The audiobook is in production now. I hope to have it out at Christmastime, 2016.

Alien Seas: Natica is drowning in siblings. She hopes that if she becomes a Scout, she will rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she leaves the program and returns home a failure.

alien-seas-kindle

Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined. Her twin brother is missing. Despite warnings from the authorities, she searches for him and embroils herself in a growing mystery with far-reaching consequences.

Will she save her brother from himself? Or will he save her?

Alien Seas is available in print or eBook at Amazon.

The audiobook should be out early 2017.

 

 

So there you have it. The Colonial Scout Series. If you love science fiction adventures on distant planets, you’ll love these books!

Countdown Deals – Colonial Scouts

Kindle Countdown Deals are in progress for my Colonial Scouts books, Alien Worlds and Alien Jungle. If you haven’t read them yet, now’s your chance.

 

Alien Worlds: The Girl and the Wormhole

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

Impani, a brilliant girl with a dark past, dreams of escaping the streets by becoming a Scout. Because she is homeless, she feels she must study twice as hard to get into the program. The day before her final exam, however, a transporter malfunction sends her jumping uncontrollably from planet to planet. Although the error could be corrected from inside the wormhole, the Board decides she is too young to understand that level of tech.

Will she prove them wrong? Or will she die on an alien world?

Alien Jungle: When the Jungle Fights Back

The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

Trace, a new Scout, wants desperately to prove himself to both the Board and to his girlfriend. But when he leads a rescue party to a failing colony, everything goes against him.

His estranged father turns out to be the leader of the settlement. The colonists think he is inept because he is a teenager. And his disgruntled teammates think he was named team leader because of his dad. He can tell no one about his secret mission to save only fifteen of the seventy people.

Will he follow orders, leaving the rest of the colonists to die? Or will he find a way to save them all?

A Little Background

Readers always ask where I get my characters. Are they part of me? No. Are they based on people I know? No. Here is a little background on my two main Colonial Scouts.

Impani was found in a shoe box beneath a bus stop bench. She’d been making a mewing sound, so the old woman who found her named her after a cat she’d once had. Although they lived on the streets, Impani never felt homeless. The streets were her home. The old woman looked out for her and taught her right from wrong. But she died when Impani was ten. Not long after that, Impani got trapped in a trash compactor while searching for food. She spent the night in the dark with insects skittering over her arms. When the workers came to compact the garbage, they heard her screams. She was remanded to a local orphanage. The institution was not for her; she hated the structure and the rules but was thrilled to finally learn how to read. She ran away two years later but continued to read all she could. That was how she learned of the Colonial Scouts. It became her dream.

Trace Hanson is the only child of a wealthy and influential landowner. His mother, a biologist, was lighthearted and loving and kept his brusque, domineering father in line. When Trace was fourteen, his mother contracted Maramus Disease, a rare, disfiguring cancer. While his father toured the galaxy on a fund-raising mission, Trace struggled to care for his mother. Watching her die was devastating. Worse, when his father returned home, he never mentioned her. Instead, he began hosting gala events designed to find Trace a suitable spouse. At sixteen, Trace left home and found a job as an off-loader for a galactic shipping firm. While on leave on a distant world, he stumbled across a man assaulting a girl in an alley and stepped in to save her. The man turned out to be a local politician who, trying to salvage his political career, claimed Trace had robbed him. The girl settled out of court and wouldn’t corroborate Trace’s story. Trace was sent to a penal colony. But when the courts found out he was underage, they pulled him out of the colony and sent him to the Colonial Scouts.

So you see, my characters aren’t like me at all.

I hope you’ll take advantage of this Countdown Deal for Alien Worlds and Alien Jungle. And keep watch for Alien Seas, coming soon.

Sample Sunday – Alien Jungle

When the Jungle Fights Back

Alien Jungle takes place on a beautiful yet dangerous world where plant life grows impossibly fast. The book has the happiest ending I’ve ever written–but you be the judge. Buy it now at Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt:

Alien Jungle Kindle Cover

Alien Jungle is available at Amazon.

Alien Jungle

Chapter One

PLANET 327-01 DG TAURI B

Ice exploded like a shot, filling the air with crystalline shards. Trace Hanson dove behind an outcropping, drawing his stat-gun. The cavern was large and laced with passages, slicked over with ice glowing blue with trapped gas. Ledges rose in levels from the curved floor. Nothing moved. He leaned forward, searching.

A blast shattered the frozen ridge, stinging his face. He ran for a tunnel and pressed against the wall. Who? Where? The cavern was filled with places to hide. Think. Think.

Ice blew apart above his head.

Trace ran. The weight of his footsteps jolted his body as he thundered through the tight corridor. This was ridiculous. He was a Colonial Scout, trained in first contact situations. If someone was shooting at him, he needed to take control.

He’d arrived on this world the day before, dropped onto the middle of a glacier by an Impellic ring, a programmable wormhole. He had three days to prove the planet worthy of colonization—and he didn’t want to activate the ring prematurely.

A bang rang his ears. Slush struck his cheek. Trace ducked and fell, sliding down a slanted tunnel, arms and legs flailing, fighting for purchase. He came to rest against a blue-splotched embankment. He looked back. No movement. Get up. They might be following.

Who might be following?

Struggling to his feet, he crept along the new passage, wiping gloved hands over his dripping face. He pulled his mask down from atop his head and snapped it into place, keying the mike with his tongue.

“Davrileo, what’s your position?”

Only static. Trace winced. Why had he listened when Davrileo suggested they split up to search the caves? He was team leader—his partner’s safety was his responsibility. Leave it to him to screw up his first command.

“Davrileo! Come in!”

“Right here, boss,” said Davrileo Mas.

Trace sagged in relief. “Where are you? Are you all right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Someone’s shooting. An energy weapon.”

A pause, then, “That doesn’t add. I’m seeing evidence of a primitive race—nothing to indicate high-level weaponry.”

Trace scowled. “I’m telling you, your primitives are armed.” He shook his head. “Look, just get back to the mouth of the cave. Keep your eyes open.”

“Roger, that.”

The com clicked off. Trace continued forward, eyes darting, cursing himself for his cowardice. As team leader, he was expected to be equal to any challenge. His job was to certify a planet safe. He’d wanted this mission to be perfect, wanted to impress his superiors, show them what he could do.

But most of all, he wanted to impress Impani. He groaned. Impani had already been named team leader three times. She embraced each new planet like a fascinating puzzle. Like he should be doing—instead of running away.

He slumped against the wall. His body ached, crawling with sweat, the skinsuit unable to compensate. Growing circles of fog marred his faceplate. He lifted his mask.

Cold. So cold. His nostrils crackled. Breath hung in a frosted cloud. Pulling off his gloves, he wiped his eyes and breathed the warmth of his fingers. He imagined steam rising from his overheated body.

The ceiling shattered. Trace dodged into a narrow passage, running full out with arms over his head. Ice pelted his back as blasts rang behind. The tunnel twisted. His feet shot from beneath him, and he skidded on his backside into a large cavern. The gun clattered away.

Movement caught his eye. He looked over at a scrawny, hairless humanoid swaddled in strips of fur. It was the size of a child. Its mouth dropped open, showing blocky teeth.

Trace scuttled backward, boots slipping on the slick floor. He fumbled blindly for his gun, not willing to take his gaze from the alien. The ice felt hot against his bare palm. It felt wet, as if melting. Cracking and popping, the ground burst into slush beneath his hand.

Trace froze as if time had ended. Ice. Trapped gas. The ice exploded beneath his hand. Realization thudded against his stomach. The blasts started after he removed his mask. No one had shot at him. His body heat caused the gas in the ice to explode.

He stared at the alien, saw the beaded necklace about its neck, saw the emptiness in its hands. Then he saw Davrileo Mas step from a tunnel across the cavern, raising his gun.

“Wait!” Trace cried too late.

Davrileo’s shot illuminated the alien, encasing it in a bright aura, holding it upright. Its body was whisper thin. It fell in slow motion.

Time released him. Trace rushed toward the fallen alien. Scorch sizzled in its back. He turned the body over, searching for signs of life, not knowing where to look for a pulse.

“You told me they were shooting at you,” Davrileo said, his voice sharp with recrimination. “You said they were armed.”

Trace looked at him, words caught in a knot. It was a mistake. A terrible mistake. No one had shot at him. Then his thoughts settled on Impani’s mantra: we aren’t here to butcher the locals.

<<>> 

PLANET 1186-9 HH30

How could things go so wrong? Impani wondered, gazing over the turbulent lake. Driving rain pounded her body.

Her partner climbed beside her. “You can’t be serious.”

She looked at him, past his rain-streaked faceplate and into his large black eyes. Anselmi was humanoid—two arms, two legs, one head—but so pale he was silver, so thin he appeared brittle. People said that he and his kind were telepathic. Not many Scouts wanted to work with him. But Impani liked having a partner who knew her thoughts. Until now.

“You said it yourself. There is nothing here,” she shouted over the rain. “We have to cross the lake.”

“It’s too wide. Even your resonator can’t reach the other side.”

She looked back at the craggy, scabrous land. No animals. No plants. A paradox. I’m team leader, she thought, and I make the decisions—then wondered if he heard her.

“Impani, not every mission has to be spectacular.”

True. But she had gained a reputation as a risk-taker who always learned something extraordinary—and she found that she liked being a rogue.

“I’m going.” She switched on her jet pack. Its power rattled her teeth.

“Why?” shouted Anselmi. “Why is it so important?”

“Because there is air,” she shouted back. “An m-class oxygen atmosphere. There must be plant life somewhere. And I intend to find it.”

She lifted from the rough bank. Rain lashed as if to push her back to ground. With one hand on the control pad, she rose over the churning water. The land disappeared as if it had never been, obliterated by the sheeting storm.

Impani felt enveloped in gray fog. She felt that she could fly for days and not see anything. No visibility. No resonance scans. What was she doing?

She thought again about being a rogue. She knew not everyone admired her for it, even suspected that several of her peers avoided her. Reckless, they said. It didn’t matter. She didn’t need anyone’s approval.

But then Anselmi pulled alongside, hanging like a shadow. Immense relief flooded her.

The com clicked in her ear.

“Something is there,” Anselmi said.

Impani squinted through the rain. A jagged mass loomed ahead. Most likely it was rocks on the opposite shore. She smirked with vindication. Then the mass moved.

“Look out!” yelled Anselmi as a huge tentacle splashed down between them.

Impani reeled to one side, caught in its wake. She struggled for altitude, felt a sickening drop as the pack sputtered. Before her, a massive balloon-like body broke the surface of the lake—and part of her thought, this is new, we haven’t seen a giant squid monster before. It appeared transparent in the dark water. Tentacles waved around a beak-like mouth. Reaching for her.

Impani screamed. She mashed the controls of her jet pack, kicking her feet as if she would run away. With horrible slowness, a tentacle curled about her chest. Impani arched her back, clawing at the crushing pressure. Flashing stars encroached upon her vision.

A spear of light shot through the haze. The grip about her slackened. Impani wheezed and gulped the air. Anselmi fired his stat-gun again. Tentacles thrashed. For a dizzying moment, Impani was hoisted upward. Then the creature plunged her into the water as it dove beneath the surface.

Chapter 2

Trace stood at a window on the ninety-fifth floor of Colonial Bureau Central. He stared at the sparkling spires of surrounding buildings and the ribbon of yellow cabs gliding between them. In his mind, he saw the fur-clad alien encased in bright aura falling in slow motion to the cave floor.

He could blame Davrileo Mas or shrug the incident away as an unfortunate accident. But as team leader, the mission had been his responsibility, and he took full blame for it at the debriefing.

“Heard you had to ring home early,” someone said behind him.

Trace winced, recognizing the voice. It was Robert Wilde, the person he least wanted to deal with right then. Keeping his voice level, he said, “The planet was occupied. There was no reason to stay.”

“Still. Losing an ice world with all that potential water.” Wilde stepped to the window and gazed out. “Won’t look good on your record.”

“I explored the planet, found out what we needed to know,” Trace said. “The mission was a success.”

Wilde sniffed. “Your first and doubtless last mission as team leader.”

“At least, they gave me a chance. How many times have you been chosen?” Trace cut himself off. He hated rising to Wilde’s taunts, hated the constant competition between them. He wished they could work together.

For in truth, Robert Wilde was an excellent Scout. He had an uncanny intuition that made him quick to understand an alien environment. Trace felt that they might have been friends—if not for that one thing between them.

“She doesn’t love you, you know.” Wilde sneered. “She’s just using you to make me jealous.”

“Give it up,” Trace said.

But Wilde was already walking away. Trace frowned as he watched him. Wilde had no chance with Impani. Neither did he. For Impani would never truly love either of them. She was in love with the job.

The thought broke in a wave of helplessness. He pictured her before him—green eyes flashing with excitement as she described the planet she’d just seen, laughing as she recounted this daring escape or that grand discovery. She was so alive, so… brilliant. It was enough for him to bask in her light. And as he looked out at the bright blue day, he hoped that wherever she was, she and her partner were having better luck than he’d had.

<<>> 

PLANET 1186-9 HH30

Impani gazed upward as the squid-like creature dragged her into the lake. Murky water enveloped the light. The filters of her mask closed. She had only what air remained inside, only minutes to decide what to do. If she activated the Impellic ring while still in the squid’s stranglehold, the creature would transport with her back to Central. But if she waited too long, she would either suffocate or be squeezed to death.

Part of her quailed in panic, yet a larger part appraised the situation calmly, and she surprised herself by hoping she’d sealed her backpack. She carried a small holo of Trace and didn’t want it to get wet.

A streak of light jarred her thoughts. Anselmi had followed them down. She felt both relieved and irked. He fired his stat-gun. The energy rippled over the squid’s massive body to no lasting effect—but Impani felt awash with electric pinpricks. Her ears popped as the creature took her deeper.

Anselmi fired again, but the shot sputtered and the beam died. With odd clarity, Impani remembered that stat-guns were powered by static in the air. Underwater, they would hold only a residual charge.

“Go back!” she gasped into the open com.

Before her partner could respond, the creature struck out with its many limbs and swatted him. Anselmi flipped end-over-end then drifted into darkness.

“Anselmi!” Where was he? She pounded the tentacle about her chest.

The creature thrust ahead. Its hold upon her shifted. She squirmed to pull her gun from her belt. A violent jerk threatened to snap her spine. She clung to the weapon with both hands. Tentacles gyrated around her as the creature reeled her closer. Its beaked mouth opened and closed.

Impani fired. The shot hit inside the mouth. The body flashed and heaved. Energy waves radiated outward, encasing her. She thrashed in heated pain, nearly blacking out. Lights crowded the periphery of her vision. She was aware of movement in the dark, aware that she was running out of air. Tensing for recoil, she shot again.

Abruptly, the squid released her. With a single stroke, it darted away. Impani wheezed and clutched her chest. She turned to look for Anselmi—and the lights moved. For a moment, all thought paused, and she stared mesmerized at the beings around her.

Their faces were fish-like with the frowning expressions of largemouth bass. Dark fins ran down their backs. Their bodies tapered into scaly tailfins, but their front flippers elongated into arms and fingers. Each creature held a glowing spike of phosphorescent coral.

First a sea monster, now mermaids. She wished she could stay longer, wished she had explored the lakes in the first place. But she had only moments of breathable air left. She had to find Anselmi and ring home.

Kicking hard, she swam in the direction she had last seen her partner. The mer-people flanked her, keeping their distance. She clipped a flashlight to her wrist, although its light did little to dispel the murk.

“Anselmi,” she panted. “Anselmi, do you read?”

No answer. A sob crested her throat, and she fought it down. Which way did the current flow? How far would he drift?

Then she saw him, his body eerily green in the lamplight. Impani blinked rapidly, fighting a sudden lethargy. Her arms and legs felt numb, her chest crushed with lack of oxygen. She propelled forward then pulled her partner close and activated the Impellic ring.

Immediately, she sensed the ring spiral nearer, felt its tug within her stomach. The mer-people swam away as if losing interest. She followed them with her eyes and saw a glowing city upon the lake bottom. Shining domes clustered like bubbles, and silhouettes of mer-people swam through the light. Forests of seaweed waved in the current. The plant life she’d expected to find.

Then the ring enclosed her, pulling her from the watery world into the void of the wormhole. She closed her eyes against a sensation of extreme velocity, her body wrenched by vertigo, her numb arms wrapped, unfeeling, about Anselmi’s slight form.

Was he dead? Did he die trying to save her? She shouldn’t have tried to cross the lake. If only he hadn’t followed her into the water.

Light seared her senses and something hard struck her legs. She dropped to her knees amid a great splash of water. Immediately, a claxon sounded.

She heard a voice over the loud speaker. “Hazardous Materials crew to Impellic Chamber 110B.”

Impani clawed off her mask, wheezing and retching, nearly blinded by the mirrored room. She leaned over Anselmi. His mask was askew, the hinge broken. His face swam in lake water.

He wasn’t breathing.

Want to read more? Alien Jungle is available in print and eBook at Amazon. Get your copy today! Coming soon to Audible and iTunes.

Sample Sunday – Werewolf Apocalypse

Werewolf Apocalypse is the fourth book of The Amazing Werewolf series, the story of a teen werewolf growing up in South Florida. I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

apocalypse cover (Small) (2015_08_05 22_05_00 UTC)

ONE

 

June 27, 2008 Loxahatchee, Florida

 

I ran through the sawgrass, my sleek, silver paws eating the miles. Ayanna stayed on my flank. Perhaps she thought I planned to ditch her in unfamiliar territory. True, alpha werewolves tended to kill other alphas, but I wasn’t going to harm Ayanna.

I was her pack master. Even thinking the words made my stomach ache. I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone. I didn’t want to boss anyone around. I couldn’t imagine why the pack would want to follow me anyway. I was just a sixteen-year-old kid. All I wanted was to listen to my tunes and spend time with my girlfriend, Brittany. I wished things could go back to the way they were.

But I was pack master. A kind of mental web connected me to the others: five werewolves, three witches, and two medicine men who could turn into bears. I felt their presence in the back of my mind. Always there.

And just like that, something twanged in my head, and I knew William was nearby. I pulled up short, bristling. It was the middle of the night in the middle of the Everglades. What was my apprentice medicine man up to? I turned in the direction of the link, Ayanna trotting at my side.

We came out of the trees into an area of scorched land. I recognized where we were. I remembered this place as a sea of sawgrass—until a brushfire destroyed it. Acres of sweeping yellow-tipped grass became clumps of misshapen charcoal. Ash made me sneeze. As I stepped, puffs of black dust rose around my feet. Ayanna hesitated. I nuzzled her to keep moving. My responsibility.

Ahead, I saw the charred remains of a fishing cabin. William’s campfire flickered. We crossed the basin of a dry pond, the mud scarred and cracked. William’s voice drifted on the breeze, some sort of incantation. Then the breeze intensified.

Crap. I knew what he was doing.

The unnatural wind rose to a whirlwind of soot. Ayanna huddled against my side in the screaming air.

William’s voice bellowed, “To me.”

The wind dropped, ash bouncing down. William stood with his arms raised. Three golden panthers stood outside his conjuring circle. They snarled. William’s eyes widened as they attacked.

With a maddened roar, I leaped onto the panthers. They were quick, but I was bigger. And I had Ayanna, the she-devil. She fell upon them, all fangs and claws. We pulled them off William and chased them away. Ayanna wanted to pursue, but I called her back.

William was bloodied. He staggered to his feet. As he did, I shifted into my human form. That used to be a painful, drawn-out process, but now I could transform with barely a grunt. I stormed toward him. I don’t think I ever felt so angry.

“What did you think you were doing?” I yelled. I’d seen him conjure before, but smaller animals—like bunnies.

William’s eyes flashed. “I had it under control.”

“They would have killed you. Are you an idiot?”

“I was summoning,” he shouted. “I’m trying to learn.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should ask your dad for help instead of winging it alone out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Howard Shebala, William’s father, was a Navajo medicine man. I knew he wouldn’t approve of what William was doing.

“His talents lean in a different direction,” William said. “He has no interest in controlling nature.”

“Maybe you should listen to him. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

“And who are you all of a sudden, my second father?” he yelled. “Cody Forester, our great pack master. You think you can lord over me, tell me what to do?”

“I’m trying to help.” You’re my responsibility. I sighed and rubbed my face. “Look. Next time, wear your hide belt so you can transform into a bear if you get into trouble.”

He looked like he wanted to argue. Then he dropped his head. “Yeah.”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “What do you say you go home now?”

“Perhaps you should go home as well. And put on some pants.”

My stomach sank with dawning realization. I was naked. I looked over at Ayanna. She gave me a doggy grin. Crap. Why did everything happen to me?

It hurts to become a werewolf. Your bones shift, your joints pop. A tail grows out of your spine. Because of that, I learned to transform quickly. Much faster, in fact, than any of the other werewolves I knew. It still hurt, but then it was over.

Without looking at Ayanna, I changed into my wolf form. I didn’t want her to know how embarrassed I was that she’d seen me naked—but she probably knew. The link again—the pack could sense my emotions. I shook myself from snout to rump, then glanced over my shoulder. William climbed onto his dirt bike. I heard the whine of its motor and smelled a gust of exhaust.

I trotted across the charred land into charred forest. The trees were black and broken. There were no raccoons, no armadillo. No wildlife at all. It struck me how far those panthers had to travel to answer William’s call. No wonder they were testy.

Even amid so much destruction, however, there were sprouts of green. Mother Nature was reclaiming what was hers.

Abruptly the forest became lush again, as if a line had been drawn. I nipped Ayanna’s ear and loped ahead. I would have loved to play tag, but it was getting late. I had to get her home.

By the time we reached our clothes, the sun was rising. All it meant to us was that we might be seen. Ayanna and I were both alphas. We could shift our forms even without a full moon. Ayanna’s father, Dick Richardson, crowed in delight at her abilities. In contrast, I think my uncle was a little leery of mine.

Ayanna stepped behind some bushes. She coughed and gagged as she shifted back into a girl. I quickly transformed and put on my pants. I’d hung my shirt on a branch as a sort of marker. I pulled it down and popped my head through. Ayanna stepped out of the bushes fully dressed as I was tying my shoes.

“That was exhilarating.” She grinned. “I never met a bloody cat like that.”

“Florida panthers,” I said. “Big ones, too. I don’t know what William was thinking, summoning them all by himself.”

“I think it’s brilliant he can do it at all.”

I nodded. It was kind of amazing. Maybe I should tell him that the next time I saw him. “Let’s go home. Your mother worries.”

“That stroppy cow. I’ll not have her squashing my fun.” But she followed me through the woods anyhow.

Her parent’s ranch wasn’t far away. It was only a ranch in the technical sense—there were no horses. They planned to renovate the vacant stable into a home for Uncle Bob, Rita, and me. I hoped they wouldn’t go through with it—I didn’t want to live within shouting distance of the Richardsons.

But as we stepped from the trees onto the wide expanse of yard, I saw a large dump truck pulled onto the grass and workers buzzing around the structure. My shoulders slumped.

Ayanna laced her fingers with mine. “It will be okay.”

We walked together past empty corrals and the fake baobab tree her father had made to mimic the ones at Animal Kingdom. Water danced in the waterfall my uncle and I built—but I couldn’t hear it over all the pounding coming from the stable.

Ayanna’s father stepped around the corner. Tall and dark, dressed in a bright African dashiki, Dick Richardson looked as out of place as his baobab tree. “Haloo,” he called to us. “Back from your midnight run?”

“You’re up early,” I said.

He rubbed his hands together. “First day of construction. I thought it best if I supervise.”

“I’m sure they appreciate that.” I winced at the noise. A worker came out the wide door carrying a load of wooden planks that he tossed into the dump truck. I shook my head. “I hate to see good wood go to waste.”

“Bah. It reeks of horses.”

“Maybe you can have them build a deck in the back. Rita would like that.”

Dick bowed. “As you wish, young sir.”

“Please don’t call me that,” I muttered, but he was already striding away into the stable.

Ayanna said, “Will you come in and break your fast? I’m sure Concepcion can fix us something.”

Concepcion was a great cook, and I was starving. But I didn’t want to watch the dreaded renovation. “I have to get home.” I led her to where I’d left my bicycle propped against the waterfall. “You did good today. Thanks for the help with those panthers.”

“My pleasure. Shall we go out again tonight then?”

I hid a grimace. I was responsible for her training, but I didn’t want to spend every night with her. “I’ll let you know.” I climbed on my bike.

As I pedaled across the grass, Dick called after me, “We shall have to get you a motorized bike. It is unseemly that our illustrious leader should pedal in such a manner.”

I raised a hand to let him know that I heard, and continued riding down their long private road.

When I got home, I was drenched in sweat—even seven o’clock in the morning was hot in South Florida. I dumped my bike in its appointed spot and skipped up the porch steps. My uncle and I rented a two-bedroom house that was set back from the street. It was similar to a shotgun house because the front door and the back door were in a straight line—you could shoot a shotgun through and not hit anything. I figured that was a Southern thing. We didn’t have houses like that in my old home in Massachusetts.

As usual, the door was unlocked. But I was surprised to find it was cool inside. Uncle Bob had turned on the air conditioner. I wondered if he would have done that if Rita hadn’t started living with us.

They were both still asleep, so I went into the kitchen and poured a tall glass of chocolate milk. Haff came around the corner, nails clicking on the tile. Haff was Brittany’s dog, but he was staying with us while he recovered from a beating from a nasty werewolf named Bodark. I patted his head, then filled his bowl. I sat at the table, drinking my milk and eating a red Pop-Tart.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Who could that be so early?” I asked Haff, who perked his ears and wagged his tail.

I walked to the front room and caught a whiff of a familiar scent a moment before I opened the door. “Dad?”

“Hello, son.” My father smiled sheepishly. “Your mother and I have separated.”

 

TWO

 

Brittany huffed out a breath. “Dad? My dad?”

“And your ma,” Lynette told her.

“But why would they come to dinner today? It’s Saturday.” She sighed. “Will Butt Crack be with them?”

“’Fraid not. He’s found himself a little playmate and he’s spending the afternoon on a real live fishing boat.”

Brittany sank onto the bench behind the kitchen table. It had been little more than a week since her mother and brother moved to West Palm Beach to live with her father. Brittany missed her little brother terribly and worried about him all the time. Who would have thought? He was always such a butt crack. “What are we going to eat?”

“I plan to have us some country ham and hushpuppies.”

She perked up. “Grandma’s hushpuppies?”

“The very same.”

“That ought to put Dad in a good mood.” Although she wasn’t certain he had a good mood. “I suppose I’ll have to tell them I quit my summer job.”

“That will be a problem. We can’t very well tell them we decided your time was better spent studying to be a witch.”

Brittany smiled, then fell silent at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.

Eileen came in, mussed and naked. “Good morning.”

Eileen was a nudist and a member of their witch’s coven. She was also Brittany’s best friend—but being friends and living together were two different things.

Without looking at her, Brittany said, “You’ll have to put on clothes today. My parents are coming for dinner.”

“Oh. Okay.” Eileen poured herself some orange juice.

Just then, Lynette’s cell phone rang.

“Who could that be so early?” Lynette said. “Hello? Blessed be. Myra? Here, let me put you on speaker.” She set the phone on the table. “It’s Myra.” Myra was Lynette’s ex-girlfriend and a member of Lynette’s old coven.

“Hi, Myra.” Brittany grinned. “How are you?”

“Hi, Myra. It’s Eileen. Remember me?”

“Of course, I remember,” Myra said. “It’s so good to hear everyone’s voices. All together.”

“This here’s the beginning of my new coven.” Lynette nodded at them.

“Oh.” Myra sounded surprised.

“I miss you,” Brittany said.

“We all do,” Lynette told her.

“Oh, Lynnie, I miss you, too. It’s so beautiful in the mountains this time of year. Remember how we used to hike? And the mornings would be all misty? And that time we found a field of wildflowers? And remember the deer?”

“How’s the candle shop?” Lynette asked.

“Fine. About as well as can be expected. Of course, without you here to keep us in line—”

“Glad to hear it.”

There was a pause, then Myra said, “So tell me, what’s happening with that werewolf problem you have down there?”

“All resolved,” Lynette said. “There are no more hostiles about.”

“Really?”

“Yes’m. Brittany’s beau really came through.” Lynette smiled at her. Brittany smiled back.

“Oh.” Myra sounded perplexed again.

Brittany laughed. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

“It’s not that, it’s just… There were rumors, but…” She sounded like she was starting to cry.

“Myra,” Lynette said, “what’s wrong?”

“Werewolves are in McCaysville,” Myra blurted.

Eileen gasped and covered her mouth.

Brittany’s eyes widened.

Lynette said, “But that’s why we moved the coven there. To get away from them.”

“I never thought they’d come this far up the mountain.” Myra sniffled. “The scuttlebutt is that the head werewolf, Bodark, is no longer making a move on Florida. He plans to go north into Tennessee.”

“And McCaysville is smack dab in the middle.”

“They’re here, bold as you please, hanging out on street corners, hassling our customers. I don’t know what to do.” Her voice rose to a squeak. “There are reports of people gone missing, and I just know it’s them taking thralls.”

“That’s horrible.” Brittany remembered her encounter with thralls—they were Night of the Living Dead-ish.

Lynette stiffened. She folded her arms.

Myra cried, “Please, Lynnie. Please come home. We need your help.”

“I can’t,” Lynette said. “I have responsibilities in Florida. But you can come here if you like. We’d love to have you.”

“Sure,” Brittany said. “You’ll be safer with us.”

“No.” Myra took a shuddering breath. “This is home. I can’t leave my sisters.”

“The offer stands if you change your mind,” Lynette told her. There was a lengthy pause. “Myra?”

“Lynnie, please,” she whispered. “I’m so afraid.”

“Talk to the others about everyone coming down.”

“All right.” Myra hung up the phone.

Lynette returned her cell to her pocket.

Into the silence, Brittany said, “I feel responsible. If we hadn’t booted Bodark out of Florida—”

“Don’t think that way,” Lynette said. “He must’ve been planning to go north all along, or he wouldn’t have gotten his men in place so quickly.”

Eileen said, “Maybe it was Plan B.”

“We couldn’t have let him stay here in any event,” said Lynette.

“But what do we do, now?” asked Brittany. “We can’t just leave Myra to—”

“She left me,” Lynette said. “I just hope she has the sense to come back.”

 

 

THREE

 

I gawked at my dad. “You’re back?”

He raised his eyebrows. “May I come in?”

“Oh, yeah.” I opened the door wider. “Come in.”

As he stepped into the house, Haff circled him, sniffing his shoes and smiling in welcome.

“You have a dog,” Dad said.

“That’s Haff,” I told him, not wanting to get into the particulars. “He seems to like you.”

Dad set a suitcase and a computer case inside the door then embraced me. “It’s good to see you.”

I relaxed into his warm arms in spite of myself. “What’s this about Mom?”

He pulled away, looking chagrined. “We’ve separated. Actually, things have been a bit rocky between us ever since you moved down here. I didn’t agree with the way she treated you.”

I groaned. Great. Something else I was responsible for.

A bedroom door clicked, and Uncle Bob strode down the hallway. He was dressed, but his gray hair stood up at all angles. He did a double take. “David. This is a surprise.”

They shook hands.

“Didn’t mean to barge in on you so early,” said my dad.

“Nonsense. Come into the living room. Have a seat.”

We stepped out of the doorway and into the house. As usual, Haff stretched out in front of the television.

My dad sat on the red couch. “The old place is looking like a home.”

I winced. He’d sent a bunch of furniture down after he lost the custody battle. Uncle Bob didn’t approve, although he never said so. I knew he liked to live light in case he had to get out fast.

“What brings you to sunny Florida?” my uncle asked.

“I was just telling Cody that Marie and I have separated.”

Uncle Bob blinked. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

The bedroom door opened again, and Rita came down the hall. “I thought I heard voices.”

“Oh.” My father stood. “I didn’t know anyone else was living here.”

“Yeah, this is Rita,” I said. “She’s great. And this is my father, Dr. Forester.”

“David.” He stretched out his hand.

She flashed him one of her dazzling smiles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, David. I was just going to make some coffee. Would you like a cup?”

“I would. Thank you.” He sat back down.

“So, where are you staying?” Uncle Bob asked.

“Nowhere, yet,” he said. “I don’t want your sister to track me down. I was hoping you could give me the name of a local bed and bath. Just until I get on my feet.”

Uncle Bob stroked his stubble. “I can ask around.”

“You can stay here,” I blurted. “Take my room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out.”

From the kitchen, Rita called, “David, don’t be silly. We’d love to have you.”

Uncle Bob gave a strained smile. “Until you get back on your feet.”

Or until we have to go live in the horse barn.

“All right,” Dad said. “But I take the couch.”

“We wouldn’t hear of it,” Rita called.

“I insist.” He thumped the cushion. “Me and this couch go way back. I’ve spent many a night on it.”

That was news to me.

Rita brought in a tray with three cups of coffee and a refill of my chocolate milk. “So, which one are you, David? The heart specialist or the brain surgeon?”

“I’m the heart specialist.”

“You must have built up quite a practice. What are you going to do with it if you move down here?”

“I sold it to a colleague.”

She snuggled next to my uncle in his big old recliner. “That must have been a tidy sum.”

Oh-oh. I could see where this was heading. I shot Rita a disgruntled look then cleared my throat. “Ah, Dad, what happened to my support payments?”

“What do you mean?” He set down his coffee and looked around at us.

Uncle Bob said, “I haven’t received a cent.”

“That’s impossible. I know they’ve gone out.” He retrieved his computer case from beside the door.

We sat in silence as the laptop booted up. My cheeks heated. I shifted in my seat. I hated bringing up the subject of child support so soon after he arrived. Hated having to bring it up at all. But I knew Rita was about to say something. It was a sore spot with her. Then Uncle Bob might have gotten mad at her, and my dad might have gotten mad at everyone, and—

“Here.” He showed me the computer screen. “Right on time.”

I goggled at the numbers on his bank statement.

“Wait a minute,” he murmured. “It appears they’re being diverted.”

Uncle Bob gave a mocking laugh. “My wonderful sister.”

“I’m sorry, Bob. I had no idea.” He tapped the keyboard. “Yes, here they are. She set up a trust fund for Cody. Everything’s going in there. I suggest we just let that ride. Make a nice nest egg for you, right son?”

I frowned. Didn’t he understand? “We need the money now.”

“And you’ll get it. Bob, if you’ll give me your bank account number, I’ll set up the payments from my personal account.”

Rita leaped up. “I’ll get the checkbook.”

“And of course, I’ll pay you for the use of your couch.”

“David, no.” My uncle looked embarrassed. “Really. Just bring in a little food now and again.”

My father smiled. “That’s a deal.”

“Here you go.” Rita came around the corner and handed him the checkbook.

He leaned over the laptop. “First I’ll transfer the funds you are owed. It might take a couple days to settle.” His fingers tapped loudly in the falling silence.

“Um, Dad? While we’re on the subject of money, I had to buy a new phone a little while ago, and there was still cash on my debit card.”

“Of course.” He kept working on his computer. “We never stopped your allowance. You’ve accrued a nice balance.”

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t see the statements.”

He looked at me. “Then we should fix that. Do you still use the same email account? I’ll have them copy you in.”

I grinned. “That would be great.”

“I think I’ll make some pancakes. Is everybody hungry?” Rita bustled from the room.

Dad said, “Done and done. The full amount has been credited to your account and new payments will start on the first.”

Uncle Bob sighed and spread his hands. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“No thanks are necessary. I’m just sorry it took so long to straighten out. Marie can be…”

“Domineering?” my uncle offered. “Aggressive? Reactionary?”

“Sometimes I wonder if she has a bit of the wolf in her.”

“She’d tack it up to PMS.”

Both my father and my uncle laughed, but I was alarmed. I’d heard of people who weren’t full-fledged werewolves. They never transformed, just got achy and grouchy with the full moon. Did my mother wish she were a true werewolf? Was that why she hated me so much?

 

If you liked this excerpt, you’ll love the book! Buy it now at Amazon.

How To Be a Werewolf

Werebeasts and shapeshifters are mentioned so often in history, they gotta be real. Right? Kind of like Santa Claus. I mean, just look at this:

Those in Argentina call their werejaguars runa-uturungu.

Brazil has a weredolphin called Boto.

Canada has the famous wendigo.

France has the Loup-garou, also famous if you read Harry Dresden.

Scandinavia has the varulf which prefers to drink beer rather than blood.

Then we get to America. Native Americans have an assortment of skin walkers too numerous to list. They can’t all be wrong.

Or so I fully believed as a child. Werewolves fascinated me, and I read every book and watched every movie about them that I could. My favorite was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein . I had a secret crush on Lon Chaney, Jr. His Wolfman character was pathetic and powerful at the same time. But even as a kid, I didn’t think his movie transformation was the way it really happened.

To me, morphing into a different creature would be painful and exhausting work; popping your joints out of their sockets and rearranging your bones doesn’t sound like fun. It wouldn’t be the cute and cuddly way Dee Wallace transformed on The Howling or Jack Nicholson’s enjoyable romps in Wolf . I also doubt that a human could shift into a wolf in mid-leap as they do in Twilight’s New Moon, although I admit it is a beautiful effect.

When I wrote The Amazing Wolf Boy, I tried to incorporate three elements into Cody’s transformation: pain, fear, and embarrassment. I wanted him to walk the line between pathetic and powerful, not so whiny as the Wolfman yet not as aggressive as the Wolf. Most of all, I wanted to keep him human, because despite his strength and enhanced senses he’s still just a kid trying to get along. The result is a bumbling, likable teenager with a secret. I hope you enjoy the story.

Sample Sunday – Satan’s Mirror

This book is dedicated to Persephone,
my constant inspiration.

SATAN’S MIRROR

Prologue

Saint Augustine, Florida 1967

“No, Joey. I can’t.”

“Come on, Vanessa,” he said in a low voice. “You know you
want to.”

He swept back her hair to kiss the nape of her neck, and she
felt the familiar tingle, felt her resolve weaken. She stepped away.

“No. It scared me last time.”

“If it gets too scary, we’ll stop.” He grinned at her—a lopsided
grin that always turned her knees to jelly. “Come on, Vanessa.
You’re the only one who can do it for me.”

With a sigh, she looked at the abandoned house, resting her
hands on the wrought iron fence. A stray breeze chilled her cheek.
She knew the other kids were standing behind her, awaiting her
answer. “All right.”

“Yes!” Joey pumped a triumphant fist. He motioned to a boy
carrying a gunnysack. “They brought everything you need.”

Vanessa shook her head, her stomach already sick. “Let’s
just go.”

She led them along the fence, away from the old yellowed
street lamp. She entered a hollow between the houses, slipping on
damp grass, tramping toward a chain-link fence with a yawning
hole. Thrill seekers used this entrance so often a path had formed.
She stepped through to the yard. The fence snagged her long
skirt as if to hold her back. She waited for the group to catch up.
Eyes downcast, she sifted through several strands of beads to the
Maltese cross she wore about her neck.

Behind her, Joey said, “Wait until you see. It’s like looking
into hell itself. You can even smell the smoke.”

His words made her wince. Vanessa climbed through a broken
casement window into a dining room. The others clambered
after her. She walked through the dark with her hands stretched
ahead as she felt for psychic vibrations.

“We have to go upstairs,” she whispered around the lump
in her throat.

“Why?” asked Joey, sounding nervous. “Last time you did
it down here.”

“This time is different.” She looked at him, willing him to argue
so she could refuse and leave. The presence was strong. She
didn’t want to go up there.

He grinned his best grin. “Lead the way.”

They followed her through what was once a living room.
Large, empty windows looked out upon the front porch. The
street lamp spilled amber light over the bare floor.
Vanessa walked as if condemned, her limbs stiff, her gait
slow. Dust kicked up, tainting the stale air, and she wondered if
the stench of brimstone would soon replace such mundane odors.

She paused at the staircase, listening, gazing upward, drawn
like a dog to a harsh master. As if her sandals were mired in muck,
she climbed the stairs. No one spoke, but she heard quick breathing
and knew the group was excited, anticipating a great show.
She shuddered with an unwelcome thought—not all of them
would be leaving tonight. The devil was hungry.

At the upstairs landing, she hesitated. Joey slipped his arm
about her as if to keep her from running. She shrugged him off.
“This way,” she said, entering a room on the right. She glanced
about. Yes, this was the place. “Do you have the powder?”

The boy rummaged inside his sack, pulling out a pouch of
pickling alum.

Vanessa took a penknife from her pocket and punched a hole
in the burlap wrapper. She drew a large pentagram on the floor
with the powder.

Shoulders slumped, she held out her hand. “Candles.”

“Here.” The boy brought out a thick red candle. “I brought
a lighter.”

“It has to be wooden matches,” she told him.

“I’ve got some.” Joey rattled the box as he handed them to her.

She lit the candle. In its glow, she saw the rapt expressions
of the four newcomers—three boys and one girl, their hair held
back by beaded headbands, their clothing laced, not buttoned.
She didn’t know them. They were probably part of the multitude
of college kids who flocked to Saint Augustine each spring. She
wondered how much they’d paid to witness the ritual.

With the candle held sideways, she dribbled a puddle of wax
onto the floor and set the candle upon a point of the pentagram.
As the boy held out more candles, she set one at each of the other
four points. At last, she stood back to appraise her work.

“Hand me the offering plate,” she said.

He gave an excited giggle, and then pulled out an ornate
brass dish on a pedestal. The discolored center boasted of service
many times before. He offered it to her along with a final candle.

Vanessa knelt in the center of the pentagram. She lit the candle
and set the dish over it, allowing the meager flame to heat
the brass. Smoke rose, drawing leftover scents of incense and
soot and blood.

From his sack, the boy drew out a baby rabbit. She cradled it
in her hands, stroking it, feeling its tiny heart race in terror. She
looked up with a last plea—did they really want her to do this?

The boy tossed the sack behind him and lit a joint.

Vanessa closed her eyes, wishing she were anywhere but there.
She was innocent. Just doing as she was told.

The rabbit squirmed within her fingers. Nose wrinkled, she
cupped the animal on its back in one hand and grasped her penknife
with the other. She felt a pop as the point pierced its flesh—
then she opened the rabbit from groin to gullet. Blood dripped
down her wrist.

She held the creature over the offering plate and scooped out
its innards with her fingers, careful to include its heart so the legs
would stop kicking. The intestines sizzled as they hit the plate.
Silence filled the room.

After a moment, the boy who was passing around the joint
said, “Shouldn’t you say some special words?”

“Yes,” Vanessa whispered. A familiar coldness coursed
through her. “Be ready to run.”

The wall before her shimmered as if a portion had turned
to water. The patch solidified into an oval, shining like a silvery
mirror—Satan’s Mirror. A face grew within. Brimstone overpowered
the smoke of marijuana and entrails.

Someone gasped. “Wow.”

Lightheaded, Vanessa sat on her haunches. She felt both exhilarated
and disgusted. She had done it—she had called forth
the devil once again.

The face observed them malevolently. It looked like a caricature
from a comic book—red skin, yellow eyes. Its lips parted in
a sneer or a grin, showing sharp, needle-like teeth.
Vanessa froze as its gaze passed over her. Maybe if she held
perfectly still, it wouldn’t see her, wouldn’t know she was responsible.

“Is it real?” the girl asked, her words slurred as if she were
stoned.

The face in the mirror laughed and said in a voice that sounded
far away, “You are so weak, yet you come so willingly.”

Its words did not match its lips, and Vanessa wondered whether
it was speaking English or she was merely hearing English.

The others moved as if entranced, stepping to either side of the
pentagram. Vanessa looked up just as a second mirror formed in
mid-air behind the boy with the joint. A bright red demon leaned
out as if through an open window. It grabbed the boy before he
could turn and pulled him through. The window vanished.

The girl screamed. Vanessa covered her ears. The remaining
two boys scrambled around.

“What happened?” one of them yelled. “Where is he?”

In the mirror, the devil laughed.

The other boy ran toward the door. Before he could reach it,
a new mirror swirled into existence, and he ran straight into the
arms of a waiting demon. He struggled and kicked as it lifted
him from the floor. “Help me! Don’t let it take me!”

The third boy stepped forward then hesitated, his face stark
with horror.

“Help me! Please!” His friend reached as if across a great
distance.

The window closed on his cries.

“No!” The last boy rushed to where the mirror had been. He
stared at the doorway, his face echoing a longing to go through
it and a fear of being snatched if he did.

Joey leapt into the pentagram beside Vanessa, hunkering beside
her. He was not grinning now.

The girl stumbled away, sobbing. She fell over the sack the
first boy carried. On hands and knees, she crawled to the pentagram,
blowing out the candles and shoving them into the bag.

“Put it back,” she said. “Put it all back.”

Behind her, the air shimmered.

The boy yelped and ran out the open door, pelting down the
stairs.

She looked up, her long, blonde hair spilling over her face
just as the demon grabbed her. “Nooo,” she wailed, trying to run
away. “I’ll be good. I won’t do it anymore.”

The demon’s fingers raked her face, leaving dark trails. She
screamed, arms flailing as it yanked her through the mirror. The
window vanished, leaving silence.

Vanessa buried her face in Joey’s chest. She smelled the smoke
from the offering plate, smelled the stench of her fear. Her shoulders
trembled as if she were having a fit, but she looked at the
devil watching from the wall. With a bravado she could scarcely
believe, she said, “You were supposed to take only one.”

Its yellow eyes glinted. “Perhaps we should take you all.”

Her stomach leapt. “You cannot touch me here.”

“Do you honestly believe you summon me with your offering
of smoke and blood? Do you think you are safe in your drawing?
That mark is for me, not for you.” The face grew as if leaning forward.
“You serve us.”

Vanessa felt hot tears on her cheeks. She served the devil?
Shame overwhelmed her—a deep shame that made her feel unclean,
unworthy to walk the streets of decent people. How could
she face anyone, let them look at her, with this secret gnawing
her soul? Yet even as she cringed from her mantle of disgrace,
she felt something more—pride for being chosen.

She stared at the devil. Behind it, another image coalesced—
a figure running forward. The mirror popped out of existence,
but as it did, a red, raw-looking mass of flesh vomited outward
onto the floor.

Vanessa leapt to her feet, scattering the pentagram, spilling
the plate. She pressed her knuckles against her mouth.
Joey approached the thing before them.

“What is it?” she asked in a quavering voice.

He looked at her, his face ashen. “It’s breathing.”

ONE

Present Day

Emily shaded her eyes, trying to make out the creature in
the trees. It paused as if to allow her to catch up—and in that
moment, she glimpsed its face, pointed and upturned with two
long slits for a snout. It appeared she’d found what she’d come
to see—the Bat Boy.

“This way, Dan,” she called to her cameraman. “We’re going
to lose it.”

Dan Hart panted in answer, running behind her, carrying his
equipment. Perspiration mottled his denim shirt. He was a trim
middle-aged man, but he was city fit—more used to running on
a treadmill in a gym than traipsing the wooded hills of Pennsylvania.
She, on the other hand, had grown up in such an area.

She gave him a sympathetic smile before taking off again.
The Bat Boy glided through the trees, seeming to fly. Its dark
wings looked fluffy, not leathery.

Emily bounded after it down the root-strewn path. She felt a
thrill of anticipation. I’ll catch you, she thought. I’ll find you out.
That’s what was expected of her, after all—Emily Goodman,
host of Do You Believe It?, a small budget yet immensely popular
cable television program. She was known for her penetrating investigations
into urban legends. She’d exposed many hoaxes in
the two years she hosted the show. Not all her stories were perpetrated
by tricksters, however. Most legends were rooted in fact—
their explanations logical rather than supernatural.

Now she was investigating the Bat Boy, an enigma seen only
by day and blamed for the deaths of several local cows. Emily
thought the creature seemed more at home in the treetops than
in a pasture. But the question remained—what was it?

“Over here,” she told Dan. “I think it went— Oh, no. Where
did it go?” She spun about, searching the trees.

Dan trotted up behind her. “Gave us the slip?”

“We can’t lose it now. We have no story. Did you get any
shots?”

“Are you kidding?” he asked, gasping and holding his side.

Emily laughed. “Well, I thought that since you are a cameraman
and we are on assignment—”

Dan screwed up his face and gave a tremendous sneeze. “Sorry.
Must be roses around here.”

“What did you say?”

“Roses. I’m allergic.”

Grinning, she put her hands on his shoulders and turned
him to face the path. “Okay, bloodhound. Lead me.”

“No way. I run from gardens.”

“Roses don’t usually grow wild in the woods,” she said, “and
the Post Office didn’t list a residence out this far, remember?”

“So now our Bat Boy has a green thumb.” Sniffling and rubbing
his nose, he left the path.

Emily followed him into the brush. Twigs and dry grass
crunched beneath her feet. “Are you sure we’re going in the right
direction?”

Dan sneezed again. “Trust me.”

He stopped, and she bumped into his back. Over his shoulder,
she saw a sunny, green yard. It was so flat and precise it looked
cut out of the forest.

“Lovely.” She stepped into the clearing.

In reply, Dan sneezed three times straight. His eyes streamed.
She could see why. The yard held thousands of blooms. Roses
grew up trellises and cascaded from birdbaths. They lined a
winding walkway of garden stones. A whitewashed park bench
sat beneath an arch of flowers as if cued for a wedding.

Emily strolled over the lush grass. She noticed a small house
just as a woman stormed out a back door brandishing a broomstick.

“Get out! This is private property!” The woman stopped
dead. “Glory be. Are you Emily Goodman?”

Emily was used to being recognized. She stepped forward.
“Yes, I’m Emily. This is my co-worker, Dan Hart. We were following—”

“Sakes alive, I’m all a flutter,” said the woman, fanning her
face with stubby fingers. “I never miss a show. When Sheldon
told me he saw people in the woods—”

“Sheldon?”

“My son. He doesn’t cozy to people much. Mostly they throw
rocks at him and call him names.”

“Like Bat Boy?”

The woman glanced about as if casting for words. Before she
could speak, Dan gave a loud sneeze and blew his nose with a
honk. Both women looked at him.

“Nice garden,” he murmured, sounding nasal.

“It’s my Sheldon’s,” the woman said. “He has a lot of nervous
energy. I thought tending flowers might be calming. He started
with that little patch behind the house, but over the years his garden
has become a show piece.”

“I’d like to meet Sheldon,” said Emily. At the woman’s frown,
she added, “I hope to start my own garden someday. Maybe he
could give me some pointers.”

“Well, y-yes. I suppose that would be all right.” She stammered
like it never occurred to her they might ask to see him.
“Come in. The least I can do is to offer you something to drink.”

“Thank you.” Emily grinned, feeling a familiar dance of
butterflies in her chest. She was about to break the story wide
open—a story about a gardener, not a bat. This was what made
her job worthwhile.

She followed Sheldon’s mother toward a back porch.
Weathered, gray shingles paneled the house. The wood was
warped and cracked, and looked like it had never seen a coat of
paint. In contrast, fresh whitewash covered the porch and stairs.
Baskets of peach-colored moss roses hung from the railing.

Dan leaned toward Emily as they walked. “You live in a row
home. Where are you planning to grow a garden?”

“If you must know,” she whispered in mock offense, “I thought
I might grow flowers on my grandmother’s grave. Grandpa is
having trouble keeping up.”

Dan nodded then blew his nose again. Emily climbed the
wooden steps.

“Imagine. Emily Goodman in my kitchen.” The woman tittered,
holding the door open. “Make yourselves at home.”

Emily glanced about a cheerful, yellow kitchen. Checkered
curtains framed the open window. A round-cornered refrigerator
rattled in the corner. Emily thought it might be an antique.
She sat at an old-fashioned metal table with a silver-flecked Formica
tabletop and pulled a notebook from her bag. “Do you mind
if I take notes?”

“Of course not.” The woman drew cookies from a pig-shaped
cookie jar. “Do you want lemonade or would you rather coffee?”

“Umm, coffee sounds good,” Emily said.

“Coffee for you, too, Mr. Hart?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Dan set his equipment on the table, withdrawing
his favorite Olympus digital camera. “May I take your
picture?”

“Oh,” she said, blushing and patting her hair.

She wore her hair in a high ponytail tied with a blue bow.
Her shirtwaist dress was also blue. She seemed a well-preserved
fifty-plus, Emily thought and was suddenly reminded of her
grandmother.

Emily opened her book. “What is your full name?”

“Anna Kraft.” She set a flame beneath a percolator. After a
moment, she carried the plate of cookies to the table.
Dan leapt up, scraping his chair. “Here, ma’am.”

“No, no, you sit. We don’t get much call for extra seats around
here.”

“There’s just the two of you?” Emily asked. “No Mr. Kraft?”

Anna laughed. “My man ran out right after he got a good
look at his son. Ain’t seen him since.”

“I know what that’s like.” Emily nodded. “My husband left
when I told him I was pregnant. When I say left, I mean out of
the country. Turned out he wasn’t the responsible type.”

“Well, good riddance, I say. We can get along without them.”

Emily smiled. She listened to the sound of percolating coffee.
“Tell me about Sheldon.”

“He’s not part bat, I can promise you that. He was a breech
birth is all. Poor child. His spine got so twisted up his legs never
grew. And his face was kind of pulled.” She made upward movements
with her hands.

“How old is he?”

Anna looked away, her voice turning husky. “Twenty-five.”

“The farmers near here claim he’s killed their cows.”

“That’s ridiculous.” She poured coffee into three cups. “He
don’t never go out except to get the mail from the box out on the
main road. No. Sheldon’s a good boy. So smart. Home-schooled,
of course. I taught him the basics best I could, but he always wanted
to know more. ‘How does this work?’ he’d say. ‘What happens
to that?’ So when he got a little older he studied by mail. Sugar?
Fresh cream?”

“Cream, please.” Emily accepted the steaming cup. “You said
he took mail order courses. What did he study?”

“All sorts of things. He has a degree as a television repairman
and as a legal assistant. But it wasn’t until I bought him his
first computer that he found his life’s calling. It opened the whole
world to him.”

“I imagine so. Computers have changed the lives of many
disabled people.” Emily sipped her coffee. “Have you tried surgery
to correct his spine?”

“He was turned down. Not a good candidate.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” She took another sip and set down her cup.
“It’s so nice here. You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you. It’s not much, but it suits us fine.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how do you support yourselves
living way out here on your own?”

“I got a large settlement from the hospital,” Anna said, “which
I put into a trust fund for Sheldon. With the stock market being
what it is, he’s got himself a nice nest egg. We don’t need to
touch it much, though. As I said, my son’s found his calling in
computers. He’s started a computer debugging business that he
runs from his web page. People post their computer problems,
and for a fee he explains how to fix them.”

“Ingenious,” Dan blurted. “You’ll have to give me his website.”

Emily glanced at him, silently chastising him for the interruption.
“Your son sounds brilliant. May we meet him now?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Anna became flustered. “As I said, we
don’t get many visitors. But he did lead you here instead of getting
you lost in the woods.”

“At the very least, my story can drive more traffic to his website,”
Emily said.

Anna sighed. “All right. He’s upstairs in his workroom.”

Emily set her cup in the sink and followed her through a
sparse yet comfortable living room. A single, overstuffed couch
faced a television. An aquarium of bright tropical fish bubbled
and hummed beneath a beautiful painting of trees and sunlight.

“Sheldon painted that,” Anna said over her shoulder.

“Be sure to get it,” Emily whispered without looking at Dan.
She knew he’d have his digital camcorder out, recording the room.

Framed certificates lined the stairwell, and as Emily climbed,
she read them: Presented to Sheldon Kraft for outstanding achievement
in woodwork, automobile mechanic certification, physical
therapist degree, septic tank conditioning. There was even an
award in journalism, she noted with a smile. Either Sheldon was
a true genius or these mail-order courses were way too simple.

She reached the landing and stood behind Anna who was
looking flustered once more.

“Sheldon?” Anna knocked at a door. “Emily Goodman is
here wanting to speak with you. She’s the lady from TV. You
know she’ll be fair.”

There was no answer.

Anna glanced at Emily as if frightened, then said, “We’re
coming in.” She opened the door and stepped inside.

Compared to the rest of the house, this room was in disarray.
Tables lined all four walls. They held computer monitors,
cables, and green circuit boards along with scattered pliers and
screwdrivers. In the center of the room, nearly hidden by a stack
of boxes, was a paper-strewn desk. Behind the desk sat Sheldon.
He held so still, Emily didn’t notice him at first.

His face seemed too high, as if it sat atop his head. A double
cleft palate split his mouth and nose; his ears were long and
pointed. He turned his head, watching her—his eyes were spaced so
widely apart, he could see out of only one eye at a time. He slid
his chair back from the desk, hopped to the floor and walked toward
her on his knuckles. His shoulders were thick and muscular,
his arms overlong. He wore a large, charcoal gray sweatshirt
that gave him the appearance of wings. His legs, or what Emily
could see of them, were shrunken, curled, and useless.

The Bat Boy. Another myth exposed. She’d have those farmers
eating their words.

TWO

“He’s intelligent,” Emily said to her managing editor, Ross
Devine, as they stood in his New York office. “He has this quirky
sense of humor.”

“Is that so?” Ross thumbed through the photos of Sheldon
Kraft. “Maybe we should change his nickname from Bat Boy to
Dream Boy.”

She slapped his arm, smiling. “Don’t get cute.”

“I’m not joking, Em. You’ve painted this kid with a pretty
rosy spotlight. You’re supposed to be impartial.”

“I investigated a Bat Boy who was accused of terrorizing a
community and sucking the blood of cows. As far as those allegations
go, Sheldon is innocent.”

“Just once I wish you’d find a real bogeyman.”

She laughed. “No you don’t.”

“You’re right.” He slid the photographs into an envelope.
“Have you turned in your expenses?”

“I was about to. I also want to stop by editing and check on
Dan’s video.”

“I’m the editor around here,” Ross said, smiling. “You’re always
pushing.”

“That’s because you have the cushy job.”

“You wouldn’t like it,” he said, sitting behind his desk. “Go
on home. Tell April I said hello.”

She grinned. “If you insist.”

He called to her as she reached the office door. “It’s a good
piece, Em. Well done.”

“Thanks. I just hope we can quell the sightseers and give the
man his dignity.”

“Me, too. Goodnight.”

Emily stopped at her office-slash-dressing room, chuckling
at a question her daughter once posed about whether she was a
reporter or a TV star. She picked up her purse and a copy of her
expenses and headed to Accounting.

“Here you are, Marge.” Emily placed the report on the elderly
woman’s desk.

Marge blinked, her watery eyes magnified by oversized glasses.
Wisps of white hair stirred around her face. Marge always
complained she was cold. The multitude of space heaters she hid
around the room warred with the air conditioner, making it seem
almost breezy. Emily often teased that between the space heaters
and the papers, the Accounting Department was a fire hazard.

“All right, honey,” Marge said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks. See you later.”

With her purse over her shoulder, Emily hurried toward the
lobby. Many of the offices were already dark, but the lobby was
bright and pleasant. She waved at the security guard sitting behind
the reception desk. “Hello, Frank.”

“Evening, Miss Goodman. How are you tonight?”

“Tired.” She sighed. “I’ll be glad to get home, put my feet up.”

“I doubt you’ll have time with that little one of yours.” Frank
laughed.

“How’s your family? Kids still have the flu?”

“Nah, they’re fine. Back to school.”

“That’s good.” Emily smiled. “Can you call a cab for me?”

“My pleasure.” He turned his attention to the desk.

A short time later, a yellow cab pulled up.

“Thanks, Frank,” she said. “Have a nice night.”

“You, too, Miss Goodman.” He locked the door behind her.

Emily settled in the cab’s back seat. It stank of mildew and
citrus air freshener. She gazed out the window at a waning sunset
and brightening storefronts. It felt good to be home.
But as she thought that, she recalled Sheldon’s roses and remembered
Dan asking where she would put a garden.

Emily lived in a brownstone—no real yard, one spindly tree
out front. She didn’t hate it there—it was close to the studio and
the neighbors were nice. But she often wondered if it was the best
place to raise a child. As a result, she took April on weekend outings
and spent as much time as she could on Grandfather’s farm.
When she was young, Emily spent every summer with her
grandparents. That was where she found her love of archery. She
wished her daughter could visit there more often.

The cab stopped at her house. She gave the driver a smile
and a generous tip. She always tipped well—Lord knows service
employees made little enough. And she found her reputation as
a healthy tipper brought better service.

Emily got out of the cab and gazed up the eight steps to
her door. She felt so tired they seemed insurmountable. But she
climbed and soon had the front door open. The wonderful aroma
of dinner oozed out—along with the song of a Strawberry Shortcake
video played at full blast.

“Mommy!” Her six-year-old daughter bounded down the
hallway.

Emily knelt and hugged her. “How was school?”

“Good,” said April. “I made you a picture. Esmeralda put it
on the refrigerator.”

“I can’t wait to see it.”

She cupped her daughter’s little face in her hands. April had
inherited Emily’s hated freckles and upturned nose. But she had
her father’s pouting lips, reminding Emily of him, even after six
years.

She kissed her forehead. “You’re getting so big.”

“Welcome home, Miss Goodman.” Esmeralda stepped into
the living room. Esmeralda was April’s nanny, but she also worked
as the housekeeper, cook, and household accountant. “We held
dinner for you.”

“Baked chicken,” April said. “I helped.”

Emily stood, smiling. “I’d better get washed up, then. Let me
see. Which way is the bathroom?”

“I’ll show you.” April took her hand and tugged her up the
stairs.

In the living room, Esmeralda turned off the video.

Emily tossed her purse on her bed as she passed the master
bedroom and allowed April to pull her into the bathroom. It was
the only bathroom in the house, much to Esmeralda’s dismay. Her
room was off the kitchen. April pumped a handful of soap from
a purple heffalump dispenser and helped wash Emily’s hands.

“Did you do your homework?” Emily asked.

“Yep. We had math today.”

“That sounds fun. You’ll have to show me after dinner.”

“All right.” April grinned. “Race you.”

They clambered downstairs and into the dining room. Esmeralda
gave them both a disapproving glance.

“This looks wonderful,” Emily said, hoping to distract her.

The table was beautiful. Esmeralda had brought out the good
plates and lit a tapered candle. The meal was one of Emily’s favorites—
baked chicken breasts with gravy, mashed potatoes, and
fresh green beans with mushrooms.

Emily helped April sit, and then pushed in the heavy, wooden
chair. “Napkin on your lap, please.”

She sat across from Esmeralda, who bowed her head to say
grace. Emily never discouraged this, although she didn’t join in.
She believed in God, but she felt religion was a man-inspired attempt
at social control. However, she wanted her daughter to make
up her own mind and encouraged her exposure to many beliefs.

After grace came the clink of plates as they set upon the delicious
fare. Emily was ravenous. She started on a second helping
before speaking.

“Any problems while I was gone?” she asked Esmeralda.

“None at all.”

“Tommy Bernstein chased me around the school playground
yesterday,” April said. “I told the crossing guard on him.”

“Really?” said Emily. “Why was he chasing you?”

“He wants me to marry him. Yuck.”

“Well, you did the right thing, going to the crossing guard.
Always tell a grownup.”

“I bet he wouldn’t chase me home if I had a dog.”

Emily and Esmeralda exchanged amused looks. This was a
popular dinnertime topic.

“I’ve already explained to you why we cannot have a dog,”
Emily said.

“But everyone else gets to have one,” April whined.

“Is that true? Everyone has one?”

Esmeralda cut in. “If you’ve finished eating, you may carry
your plate to the kitchen. Bedtime at nine o’clock sharp, young
lady.”

“Thank you for the delicious meal.” April slid off her chair.
As she passed them on her way to the kitchen, she muttered, “I
don’t know why I have to be the only person in the world…”

Emily stifled a laugh. “Maybe we should consider getting a
puppy for Christmas.”

“Don’t expect me to train it.” Esmeralda tossed down her
napkin and got to her feet. “You coddle her too much.”

“Maybe so.” Emily shrugged, and her smile faded.

She helped clear the table, and then sat on the living room
floor with April, doing simple addition. They were having so
much fun that when the grandfather clock chimed nine, Emily
was almost resentful.

“Come on, I’ll tuck you in,” she told her daughter.

“Can I sleep with you tonight? I don’t want to stay in my
room,” April said.

“Why, sweetheart?”

“Because there are monsters.”

Emily paused. For a moment, she flashed back to when she
was six years old. She had confided in a schoolmate that a monster
lived in her closet—and that friend promptly told everyone
in her class. Emily couldn’t remember the little girl’s name, but
her face still stung when she recalled the humiliation.

“Well,” she said as she guided her daughter upstairs, “what
do you think the monsters want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Not all monsters are mean, of course. Some of them want
to play.”

“They do?” April’s eyes widened.

“Sure,” said Emily. “The next time those monsters come to
your room, you ask them why they are there. I’ll bet they just
want to have fun.”

“What if it’s for the other thing? To bite me,” she whispered.

“Then yell for me, and I’ll come running.”

“To save me?”

Emily hugged her. “I will always come to save you.”

THREE

Emily woke smiling. She was in her own bed—not a hotel bed
and not, God forbid, another sleeping bag on assignment somewhere.
She breathed deeply of the fragrant, gingham sheets, and
then sat, dangling her feet to the floor.

Voices traveled up the stairs—April and Esmeralda were in
the kitchen. Emily caught a faint whiff of brewing coffee. Follow
that smell, she told herself. After she donned her slippers, she
went downstairs.

April sat at the kitchen table behind an enormous bowl of
Cookie Crunchies. She grinned. “Morning, Mommy.”

“Good morning, sweetheart.” Emily kissed the top of her head.

Esmeralda poured egg batter into a skillet, which sizzled
and hissed. “I wasn’t sure when you’d be getting up. I’m making
omelets.”

“Sounds good. What flavor coffee is this?”

“German Chocolate Cake.”

Emily poured a cup, chuckling. “You are such an adventurer.”

“Mommy, can you walk me to school?”

“I’m sorry, baby, but there isn’t time. I’m not even dressed.”

“You never want to.”

Emily sat at the table. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll hurry and get
ready, and we can share a cab.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Now if you’ve finished your breakfast, go upstairs and
brush your teeth.”

“Yes, ma’am.” April put her bowl in the sink and bounded
out of the room.

Esmeralda sniffed. “You spoil that child.”

With a shrug, Emily sipped the hot coffee. “This is really
good.”

Esmeralda placed two cheese omelets on the table and turned
to get the toast.

Emily took another sip. “So, what have you got planned for
today?”

“Groceries. Errands.” She sighed as she sat. “I expect you’ll
be out on the range.”

“I thought I might.” Emily dug into the omelet.

The range she referred to was Clive’s Archery Emporium.
Emily’s grandfather had started her bow hunting as a kid, and
she competed in tournaments through college. Let the neighbors
take up racquetball or golf if they like—she preferred the skill
and concentration needed for a good target shoot.

“Will you be home for dinner?” asked Esmeralda.

“That’s the plan,” she said between mouthfuls. “I doubt Ross
will send me out again for a few days.”

“I’d like this evening off, if you don’t mind.”

Emily grinned. “Got a date with Dan?”

“We’re just friends.” Esmeralda blushed, shrugging.

“Of course I don’t mind. It will give April and me some quality
time together.” She stood and rinsed her plate. “I’d better get
moving. Call a cab, okay?”

She rushed upstairs and dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a wooly
cardigan she could knot about her waist later. She put on her favorite
hiking boots—squashed-looking but comfortable.

In the bathroom, she heard April singing Row, Row, Row Your
Boat as she washed her hands. The tap was open to full force, and
Emily imagined water splashing the mirror and down the sink.

“Better not be making a mess in there,” Emily called.

The water stopped, and April paused in her singing. “I’m not.”

Emily smiled. She stepped into her walk-in closet and drew
out a long, thin case from an upper shelf—a recurved bow and
arrows. She’d received it on her fifteenth birthday—the only gift
Aunt Lucy ever got right.

“I’m ready,” April said from the doorway.

“Just in time.” Emily slung the case strap over her shoulder.
“Want me to carry your book bag?”

“No. It’s not heavy.”

They went out into the bright morning. The September breeze
was cool, but the sun was still strong, making the weather perfect.
They were practicing hopping down the stone steps as the
cab pulled up.

Emily recognized the driver. “Good morning, Davis.”

“Morning, Miss Goodman. Where we off to so early?”

“First stop, Lincoln Elementary.”

The cab glided forward. Emily settled beside her daughter,
who looked mesmerized by their mode of transportation.

“What do you say we do something fun after school?” Emily
asked. “Just the two of us.”

“I want to go to the nature trail park.”

“I was thinking more like dinner and a movie. We could go to
that video-game pizza parlor you always like. What do you call it?”

“We can go there any time,” April said. “But pretty soon it
will be too cold to go to the park. I want to eat sandwiches on the
picnic table like we did before and watch the sun set.”

Emily hugged her, touched by her daughter’s values. “You
have a wise soul, and I love you very much. And you’re right; it
will be getting colder. Pretty soon it will be Halloween, and then
Thanksgiving—”

“I don’t want Halloween to come. I hate it.”

“You do?” she chuckled. “You don’t like candy?”

April stared out the window.

Emily nudged her. “You can’t get to Christmas without passing
Halloween.”

“I don’t care.”

Emily frowned, realizing her daughter was sincere. “Why
don’t you like Halloween?”

In a small voice, April said, “That’s when the monsters come.”

Emily swallowed a groan of exasperation. This monster fixation
had to stop. “But, honey, Halloween monsters aren’t real.”

“Yes, they are. I know they are—because that’s what you do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your job. You find the monsters.”

Emily felt her jaw drop.

“Lincoln Elementary,” the driver called.

She glanced out at an expanse of chain-link fence and bicycle
racks—the school playground.

“My job,” she said slowly, “is to find monsters that people think
are real and prove they aren’t monsters at all. They’re pretend.”

“But what if one of those pretend monsters are real, and they
take you away?”

She held her. “No one’s going to take me away.”

“Don’t go today when Uncle Ross calls.”

“Ross won’t call. I just got back. Besides, we have a picnic in
the park to attend. Right?”

April smiled.

The cab stopped at the student drop-off in front of the school.
Emily got out, holding the car door open. “You have a nice day.
And think of somewhere you want to go after our sunset dinner.”

“Like roller skating?”

“We’ll have to talk about that one.” She gave her daughter a
quick hug, and then watched until she disappeared through the
school’s wide doors.

“Second stop?” the driver asked.

“Clive’s Archery Emporium.” Emily sat again in the cab. She
stared unseeing at passing traffic as they entered the freeway.
Was she to blame for her daughter’s fears? She had no idea her
job would affect her like that.

Twenty minutes later, they pulled before the archery range.
From the street, it looked like just another storefront, but Emily
knew the real action took place out back. She found the Emporium
shortly after she started at the station two years ago.

“You made good time, Davis. Thanks.” She paid him. Tucking
her bow case under her arm, she entered the building.

Clive was a muscular man a few years her senior. He wore his
dark hair tied in a ponytail and his bulging arms sleeved in tattoos.
He stood at the register with a customer, but when he saw Emily,
he flashed a smile and a peace sign with his palm facing inward.

That was his joke. During the Hundred Years War, the French
would cut off the index and middle fingers of any English archer
they caught, insuring they could never draw a bow again. So on
the battlefield, Englishmen flaunted their intact digits in an infuriating
gesture of a V with the palm inward.

The customer left with his purchase.

Emily crossed the room. “Morning, Clive.”

He clucked his tongue. “When are you going to upgrade yourself
to a modern bow? I have a nice compound on sale this week.”

A compound bow had pulleys at either end, allowing the bow
to be held fully drawn, giving more time to aim.

She laughed. “Not my style. I’ve carried a recurved since I
learned they’re the only bow allowed in the Olympics.”

“I didn’t know you were interested in the games. Ever try out?”

She nodded. “It was exciting, even though I never made the
team.”

“Let me see. That would have been the year archery was reinstated
as an event. Nineteen seventy-two, Munich.”

She slapped his arm, grinning. “I was born in seventy-six,
thank you very much.”

“You should try out again. You’re good enough.”

“I’ll stick to recreation. Do you have any room for me?”

“Sure. It’s been quiet this morning.” He checked a chart.
“Why don’t you take lucky seven?”

Emily grabbed a paper target from the counter and stepped
out the back door to the range. Clive wasn’t joking when he said
it was a quiet morning—she was the only person on the field.

She pinned her target face to a straw mat at 240 feet. The target
rings were gold, red, blue, black, and white, with ten points for
gold down to one point for white. She remembered target practice
as a kid—Grandfather would think of a number, and it was
up to her to score the right amount of points.

She walked back to the seventh slot and assembled her bow.
The ends of a recurved bent away from the archer in a gentle S
shape, making it easy to string. The shape also gave extra spring
to power the arrows.

A deep breath helped calm her mind. That was what she loved
about archery—you had to concentrate so fully on the target, you
couldn’t allow daily worries to intrude.

She took her stance, drew the bow, and let the arrow fly. It
was a good shot, perhaps even a bull’s eye. Emily smiled, thinking
that maybe she should try out again for the Olympic team.

The ring of her cell phone broke her thoughts. Emily cursed
and, for a moment, considered not answering. She checked the
number—it was Ross Devine. “Hey, boss,” she said into the phone,
“you can’t possibly be ready for my voice-over yet.”

“I’m not. I have another assignment for you.”

“What? No, no, I just got home.”

“Sorry. This can’t wait,” Ross said. “There have been disappearances.
I want you to follow up while they’re still fresh.”

“Recent? That means I won’t have any police support. They’ll
think I’m mucking up their turf.”

“They might not mind so much. Rumor has it there is sorcery
involved.”

“We’ve already done a piece on Wiccans.” She shook her head.
“We should leave them alone for a while.”

“This isn’t Wiccan. It’s haunted houses, devil worship, and
something called Satan’s Mirror. You need to get down there.”

“Where?”

“Saint Augustine, Florida.”

She groaned. Florida in September would be stifling. “Set me
up for tomorrow morning.”

“Today.”

“I’m not going today. I have plans that can’t be broken.”

“All right, then. In the morning. Good hunting, Em.”

Emily hung up the phone thinking about what her daughter
said in the cab—don’t go when Uncle Ross calls.

FOUR

Emily drove the rented van down Avenida Menendez beside
the Saint Augustine Municipal Marina. The Intracoastal Waterway
shone bright blue in the morning sun, decorated with white
sails and masts. She, Dan, and his camera equipment had arrived
at Daytona Beach International Airport an hour before. The drive
north gave her a chance to acquaint herself with the area.

“It’s beautiful here,” she said with more of a sigh than she’d
intended.

“Hot.” Dan scowled, adjusting the air conditioning vents.
His hair blew with the force of the fan.

She smirked, shaking her head. “I think I’ll stop here for gas.”

“We have plenty.”

“I know.”

She pulled onto a cracked driveway and parked the van beside
a pump with a Pay Inside First sign. Moist air and birdsong
flooded the van as she opened the door. With a groan, Dan followed
her out.

Lotto posters dotted the windows of the small building.
On either corner, wilted impatiens in barrels begged for water.
Bells clanged as she pushed open the heavy door and entered a
cramped room. A paunchy man in stained overalls looked up
from his crossword puzzle.

Emily smiled. “I’d like five dollars on pump number three,
please.”

His eyes darted from her to Dan, who stood at a display of
brochures. “Regular or premium?”

“Regular.”

“Five dollars won’t get you far, nowadays.”

She leaned forward. “What we’d really like is information.
The secrets of Saint Augustine.”

“Oh.” He brightened. “You want the St. John’s County Visitor
Center, sure as can be. Head east on State Road Sixteen to Ponce
De Leon Boulevard then turn right and go to Castillo Drive, the
second traffic light—”

“Thank you, but we’re not tourists. We’re investigators. We’re
here about the recent disappearances.”

“That senator’s kid and his girlfriend.” He sniffed, taking the
five-dollar bill from the counter and putting it in an old-fashioned
cash register. “Probably took his party down to Key West is all,
lapping up them margaritas. People disappear around here all
the time, only to show themselves elsewhere. It’s a tourist town,
after all.” He stared at her as if to say the subject was closed.
“Pump three is ready.”

“One last question. I heard Saint Augustine has a haunted
house.”

“Ghosts. You can’t spit but hit one. Half the residents hereabouts
will swear to one sighting or another.”

“You ever see anything?”

He shrugged. “Never tried to.”

“Thanks.” Emily stepped outside into the stagnant humidity.
She could almost feel her hair curl and frizz. “Strange he didn’t
recognize me,” she said when they were away from the building.

Dan laughed. “Do you expect everyone to know who you are?”

“I just mean—”

“When you think about it, our show might not be popular
around here. A lot of these people make their living exploiting
the paranormal. They wouldn’t be quick to support a program
that debunks their bread and butter.” Dan circled to the back of
the van.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You paid for gas.” He took the hose from the pump.

Emily climbed behind the wheel. If he was right, the locals
might make their job that much more difficult. She gazed out the
windshield and noticed the gas station attendant watching them
from the window. He dialed the phone and spoke, still watching.
Emily was no longer certain she hadn’t been recognized.

“Where to now?” Dan slid into his seat.

Emily started the van. “We have a couple of suites at the
Please and Plenty Inn. It’s the bed and breakfast where Mickey
Raynes and his girlfriend were staying. Might as well check in.”

“Please and Plenty. I have something on that.” He pulled a
packet of brochures from his pocket. “It’s on Cedar Street. Supposed
to be one-hundred and ten years old.”

She laughed. “What are you doing with all those? I don’t think
we’ll find what we need in tourist propaganda.”

“Don’t be so sure.” He slapped pamphlets on the dashboard.
“We’ve got sightseeing trains, trolley tours, and horse drawn carriage
walkabouts.” He raised his voice over Emily’s scoffs. “We’ve
also got Ghost Tours of Saint Augustine, voted the number one tour
in Florida, horse drawn Ghost Rides, the Trolley of the Doomed—”

“I see what you mean about people making a living out of
this sort of thing. Any haunted houses?”

“Everywhere. There’s a haunted bed and breakfast, a haunted
lighthouse, the Old Drug Store, and the Old Jail complete with gallows.
And look at this, the Spanish Military Hospital was certified
as actively haunted by the Northeast Paranormal Association.”

“Sounds like we’re not the first myth busters in town.”

She merged into traffic and continued driving along the Intracoastal.
Ahead, she recognized the Bridge of Lions. Emily had
studied a map on the plane. When they reached the bridge, she
knew to turn the opposite way.

Dan tossed the pamphlets into the glove compartment. “What
I don’t understand is, with all the ghostly sightings, why weren’t
we sent here before now?”

“I never knew Saint Augustine was haunted. But I did a piece
on Cassadaga once. That’s a spiritualists’ camp not far from here.
I think that’s what landed me this job.” She turned onto Cathedral
Place. “What a pretty park. Oh, it has a gazebo. Maybe we can
have lunch there.”

Dan chuckled. “I thought we weren’t tourists.”

A flashing light behind them quelled Emily’s reply. She pulled
the van to the side, watching the squad car in her rearview mirror.
After several moments, a policeman stepped out and approached
the driver’s side.

She rolled down the window. “Is there a problem, Officer?”

“Driver’s license and registration, please. I notice you have
a brake light out.”

“I’m sorry, sir. This is a rental, and—”

“That’s not an excuse.” He glanced at the camera equipment
on the floor of the back seat. His eyes were dark and his skin
tanned. Curly, black hair showed around his hat. “Emily Goodman?
I thought I recognized you. I’ve never seen your show myself,
of course, but my kids watch from time to time. They’re five
and seven.”

“Oh.” Emily recognized the veiled insult. “I’m glad they enjoy
it.”

“You aren’t here about our missing Virginia College students,
are you?”

“Mickey Raynes and Renee Lambert. Yes, sir. Would you
care to comment?”

“It’s an ongoing investigation. One that doesn’t involve you.”

“And yet, aren’t there rumors that devil worship and haunted
houses are involved?”

“Sensationalism. Tabloid reporting.” He handed back her
license and registration. “Have that brake light repaired. This is
a warning.”

Emily watched him walk away in the mirror.

“I’ll bet it’s a warning,” Dan said. “We’ll have to be discreet.”

“I have a bad feeling,” Emily said, pulling from the curb.
“This assignment is going to be trouble.”

She drove slowly along Cathedral Place. Such a beautiful
city, she thought. Who would expect ghost lore to be a mainstay
of this community? And Dan was right—why hadn’t she heard
of it before now?

Dan let out a low whistle, motioning ahead at an ornate,
domed building. “Look at that.”

“Cathedral-Basilica.” She ducked to read the sign. “Established
in fifteen sixty-five.”

“There must be a heavy Catholic presence here. So why Satan
worshippers?”

“One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.”

“Just seems strange.”

“These streets are strange. Half of them are one way. Check
the map, please, navigator.”

“Cardova takes us away from Cedar,” he told her, “but we
can use it to swing around Flagler College and come back via
Grenada Street.”

Emily grinned. “The old slingshot maneuver, eh?”

She wound around Victorian houses on narrow, brick-lined
streets. Many yards were overgrown and bound by wrought iron
fences and arched gates.

“This architecture is breathtaking.” She looked at a home with
a wicker veranda. “What era do you think that’s from?”

“I read that Spanish colonists settled the city over four-hundred
years ago, before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.”

“I wonder how many of these buildings are original and how
many are made to look old.”

“Thirty-six,” Dan said, “and forty reconstructed.” He looked
at her and grinned. “You can learn a lot from a brochure.”

“Let’s hope we can put your trivia to good use.”

“There.” He pointed at a large, whitewashed home with overshadowing
trees and a white fence. “I think that’s our Inn.”

Emily pulled into the drive and parked in a small lot. “This
is lovely. How could a kid like Mickey Raynes afford a room in
a place like this?”

“His father was a senator, remember?”

“Right.” She hopped down from the van. “Let’s get our stuff.”

She slid open the back door, and then grabbed her old denim
duffle bag and her computer. She chuckled as she hefted them
onto her shoulders—she’d gone through the trouble of finding
the lightest laptop she could, and then packed it in a case that
weighed twice as much.

She looked at Dan, who had camera cases dangling from his
neck. “What can I help you with?”

“Here.” He slung the straps of his video camera and his digital
backup over her head. “Can you take a tripod?”

“If you can tuck it under my elbow.”

“Thanks.” He closed the door, and then picked up his own
duffle and three cases of lighting equipment. “Think they’ll recognize
us now?”

“Who knows?” She shrugged, walking with him toward the
house. “I’m sure lots of people come here toting cameras.”

They entered a large room with a sitting area. Doilies covered
the arms of the chairs. The antique furniture seemed in keeping
with the house’s ambiance.

A man in a Penn State T-shirt looked up from a desk. “Welcome
to the Please and Plenty. I’m Craig.”

“Hello.” She smiled, setting down her load. “I’m Emily Goodman,
and this is Dan Hart.”

“We’ve been expecting you,” Craig said, taking out a register.
“We have two suites available—the Comity and the Affluence. I’m
sure you’ll find them to your liking. All our suites feature fourposter
beds, whirlpool baths, and electric fireplaces.”

Emily signed the book. “Can you see the ocean?”

“Not even from the roof.”

“That’s a shame.” She motioned at his T-shirt. “I see you are
a Nittany Lion fan.”

“My alma mater.”

“Mine, too. Sometimes I miss it.”

Craig grinned. “I don’t miss the weather.”

“No. I imagine you don’t,” she said. “This is a beautiful house.
Are you the owner?”

“My family.”

“I’m pleased and a bit surprised you had two suites available
on such short notice.”

“Well, it’s not season yet. And we had two people leave unexpectedly.”

“Really?”

He gave a knowing smile. “I know who you are, Ms. Goodman,
and I can assume your purpose. You want to find the missing
students.”

“Not at all,” she said, raising her hands. “That is police business,
and I have no intention of getting in their way. I’m covering a
story about a haunted house and an object called Satan’s Mirror.”

“I’ve heard the term. Aren’t you supposed to be able to see
into hell itself?”

“You tell me. You’re the one living in spook central.”

“Actually, I heard about it while I was in Pennsylvania.”

“You did?” she said, taken aback. “Then Mr. Raynes and Ms.
Lambert never asked you about—”

“They asked me about normal things. The San Sebastian Winery.
The Saint Augustine Alligator Farm. I got them discounted
tickets to the Colonial Spanish Quarter. That’s a kind of living
museum where people dress as eighteenth century settlers and
show how they cooked, tended livestock, that sort of thing.”

“Sounds fascinating,” Emily said. “So you’re saying our missing
students never asked you about the ghost trade around here?
Haunted houses? Palm readers?”

“No,” Craig said. “Wait. Yes, they did. The girl, Miss Lambert,
was interested in seeing a psychic. I told her the best were
on San Marco Avenue.”

“Why did she want to see a psychic?”

“The most common reason is a person’s love life.”

“I see.” She picked up her duffle bag. “Perhaps the two of them
were having relationship problems.”

“That train of thought might impinge on the police investigation.”

Emily smiled. “Could you show us to our rooms, please?”

“Of course. Come make yourselves comfortable. I’m afraid
you’ve missed breakfast, but our chef has a delicious cake planned
for our evening treat.”

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Emily whispered to Dan. “We’re
going psychic hunting.”

Want to read more? SATAN’S MIRROR is available in print or ebook at Amazon.