Fate Accompli by MM Jaye

girlboycover_152x228_finalIt’s high time I hosted an excerpt of my own here! Fate Accompli is now available on Amazon in two heat versions: Clean (no bedroom scenes) and Spicy (explicit but not graphic intimacy). Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Eight.

Amazon Purchase Links

Spicy

Clean 

Goodreads

Excerpt from Chapter Eight

Alex prided himself on being the perfect gentleman even under severe stress, but on that godforsaken day, everything he knew about himself had crumbled. He had literally cornered his assistant, then nearly assaulted her—and would have taken her there and then if the fire alarm hadn’t gone off—and now, he’d abandoned his escort without any explanation.

He stabbed his fingers through his hair as he made his way through patrons who were lingering outside the tiny bar smoking and chatting. He’d walked to Psyrri in an effort to clear his head, and now he had to return to Arger Enterprises on foot to get his motorbike. He would ride it at breakneck speed along the coastal highway until his mind behaved in a way he could recognize and feel comfortable with. Then he would go home and sleep the day off. Hopefully, tomorrow he would be back to his old self-assured self and then he would find an efficient way to deal with this mind-boggling situation he’d gotten himself into.

Determined to put off unsettling thoughts about Monica until the morning, he took the scenic route to central Omonia Square, strolling along the sinuous cobbled streets branching out of the main highway. He made a conscious effort to relax and take in the ambrosial aroma of the evening primrose that tumbled gaily over walls and balconies, smoothly blending with the pungent scent of caramelized sugar wafting from cotton candy stalls. Skirting a young couple kissing fervently in the middle of the street and then a huckster hawking his “gold” ware, he thought he’d managed to slow his mind down enough to enjoy the moment, but the conniving day wasn’t through with him.

Because there she was.

Sitting on a backless street bench, a beer bottle in her hand, she was watching a fire performer juggling torches. Her beautiful face had taken on a golden glow from the swirling fire before her and, as she tipped her head back to bring the bottle to her lips, he saw her loose long hair cascade down her back in soft waves that almost touched her seat.

Just as his chest constricted at her sight, he swore lavishly. She wouldn’t give him a break now, would she? Of course, he could always turn around and leave. She hadn’t seen him yet. But just like earlier, he went up to her.

Because he had to.

She lifted her calm gaze to his face … and smiled!

***

 Of course, he would be here, Monica thought as she slowly rose to her feet, holding his piercing gaze. It wasn’t twelve o’clock yet. The day wasn’t over. In the next hour, she could see him turn into a frog and still not bat an eyelid.

No, that’s two different fairy tales.

Alex just stood there and stared at her. “Did you send those faxes?” he grated.

Monica rolled her eyes. Him and his faxes! “I did send the faxes,” she said in carefully spaced words.

Oh, this is fun.

Without warning, Alex took hold of her arm and dragged her to a corner where the din from the street was not so loud.

“Listen, Monica,” he rasped, “I was with a woman just before.”

Patience, she reminded herself, squelching the flutter of disappointment that dared mess with the good place she was in. Regaining her composure, she arched her brows expectantly as she did when she took dictation from him.

“I see.”

He yanked her arm. “Damn it, didn’t you hear me? I was with a woman!”

Extracting her arm from his grip, she gave him a sweet smile and blinked. “How can I help you with that?”

She could see that her calmness toyed with his temper dangerously. “You helped a great deal,” he hissed, “with your antics in the swimming pool and … after.”

“I’m sorry, I see no connection.”

Alex’s eyes darted to the street and he leaned closer. “I intended to be with that woman, tonight, but I … couldn’t, thanks to you.”

That revelation managed to shake her. She hadn’t expected it so soon. After what had happened earlier, she was certain as to where things between them would eventually lead, but she had settled in for a long wait until he’d come around.

Her breath audibly quickened, but she’d be damned if she’d show weakness. “Should I feel sorry about that?”

Alex’s dark gaze lost some of its fire. “No, of course you shouldn’t be sorry. However, it can’t happen between us.”

Although prepared, her heart sank.

“Damn it, not as long as you work for me.” His eyes softened and his hard grip on her shoulder became an intimate squeeze. “But if the deal with Roe is sealed, I will leave the company and then…” Raising his hands, he ran them through her hair, fanning it out.

Monica’s breath caught in her throat. What was he saying? Was he actually admitting that he wanted them to be together?

His face hardened again and he let his hands fall to his sides. “But until then, I’m your boss and you’re my assistant. That’s it,” he said, his stretched hand slicing the air to drive his point through.

Monica bit her lower lip, trying not to smile. He had all but said it. Not only had he accepted the powerful attraction between them, but he had even admitted it to her. Well, that was as close an admittance as she would get for the time being. Because when the deal was sealed… She felt her body shiver in anticipation.

“Tomorrow, I’ll fly to London. I might as well be there, since Roe might come up with all sorts of delays again. And I can’t afford to have any more delays.” With a sigh, he cupped her chin and his thumb caressed her lower lip.

“I could always send him some of my orgasmic pie—” Monica ventured, aware that it was her beer-boosted nerve speaking.

Alex’s gaze darkened, and she could see the juggler’s fire reflected in the depths of his eyes. Leaning down, he brought his lips a hairbreadth away from hers.

“Let me go home, little siren,” he said huskily, his hot whiskey-smelling breath further warming her flushed face. “Otherwise, you’ll tempt me to follow you and then, believe me, I’ll show you what orgasmic truly means.”

Spellbound in His Arms by Angel Sefer (Four chapters)

Spellbound in His Arms Official CoverSpellbound in his Arms is a #1 Barnes & Noble Bestseller, #2 Amazon Bestseller, Winner of the Crowned Heart Award for Excellence from InD’tale Magazine, and 2014 RONE Award Finalist. It is the first book in the Greek Isles series by Angel Sefer.

Also available: Deadly Secrets
and The Heiress of Santorini
(just released!).

Published by Booktrope.

For my 5* review of this book, click here.

Official Blurb

A mansion full of secrets…

From the moment investigative reporter Jackie Alexander steps foot inside the mansion dominating the Demiris estate on the beautiful Greek island of Corfu, her suspicions are on high alert. This is no ordinary assignment… the life of her beloved cousin, Aphrodite, is in grave danger, as the heirs to the incredible fortune of Greek tycoon Andreas Demiris are dying one after the other, under mysterious circumstances.

A man with secrets of his own…

The only person who can help Jackie is Michael Apostolou, former Special Forces Officer and one of the finest detectives on the Athens police force. Jackie realizes soon enough that despite her simmering desire for him, she can’t really trust him, as the seductive detective seems to be investigating those mysterious deaths for reasons of his own.

Trusting the wrong person can be deadly…

Jackie and Michael are forced to work together, but the suspicions and unanswered questions are devouring them, just like their rising passion for each other. In games like this, the stakes are high and the players are ruthless. When Jackie is kidnapped by the most dangerous player of all, time is running out as Michael is forced to choose between jeopardizing his mission and personal quest for justice, or the life of the gorgeous intruder of his heart…

To read the first four (!) chapters of this books, click here.

Spellbound in His Arms Links:
Barnes & Noble:   http://buff.ly/1f1Vmq9
iBook on iTunes:   http://bit.ly/1fMwwu0

Author Bio and Links

Angel Sefer was born in Athens, Greece. She has studied and worked on both sides of the Atlantic. She holds a degree in Economics and divides her time between the corporate world and her true passion: reading and writing romantic mystery and suspense novels.

She lives in Athens, Greece, with the two loves of her life — her son and her husband.

 

 
Amazon Author’s page:  http://author.to/AngelSefer
Goodreads Profile:  http://bit.ly/15ePyoE

 

Mad Water by Nicholas C. Rossis

Yesterday’s crime. Tomorrow’s retribution.

 

This is the third installment of the exciting Pearseus epic fantasy series and the best book so far. For more on the book and my review, head over to my main blog here.

Book title: Mad Water
Author: Nicholas C. Rossis
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Purchase link: http://amzn.to/1wbajhP

 

Ephia

Teo

Why can’t things ever be easy?  An exasperated sigh escaped his lips.  Gella had insisted they test the cannon as thoroughly as possible before firing it.  She claimed it was the only way she would accept a possibly dangerous weapon around her men, but Teo suspected it had more to do with her desperate hope Ephia would surrender before they had to try out his new toy.

He caressed the warm metal, which pulsed under his hand as if alive.  It was a miserable morning, overcast and wet, with dark clouds smearing the sky, but the weapon radiated welcome heat.  There was still no sight of the sun, but at least the drizzle falling for the past few days had finally stopped.  He clasped his woollen coat tighter and patted the weapon.  Soon, you will heat things up for me, won’t you?

A slight tremor passed under the metal skin, as if the beast acknowledged his thought.  A sergeant barked a command behind him and Teo stepped back.  A nozzle lifted, allowing scalding steam to escape quivering safety valves.  With a loud groan and a tremor, the weapon stood still, ready for the first shot.

“We should wait a few more days, they will surrender by –”

The plea in the voice behind him annoyed him.  Not this again!  “We’ve waited long enough,” he snarled without looking at Gella.  This was his moment, and he would not let her ruin it for him.  What did Parad ever see in you?  Why don’t you go back to your tent – or, even better, The Capital – and let me win my war?

She said nothing, but her sullen silence annoyed him all the same.  “What’s taking so long?” he asked the sergeant.

“Nothing Sir, we’re ready.”

Teo’s eyes lit up.  “What are we waiting for?  Fire!”

“Yes, Sir!”

The sergeant rushed to the control panel and hit a multitude of buttons, glancing at Teo’s e-lib.  It had been hard enough to find someone who could read, let alone operate the ancient weapon.  Sergeant Sinan was one of a handful of people who could be trusted not to blow them all up.  The man swallowed hard and slammed his palm against a button.

The cannon hesitated for a moment, as if considering its options, then recoiled in anger.  Ba-Thump!  A thin line of smoke traced the missile.  It overtook the city to disappear behind it.

“Lower!” Teo commanded, and the sergeant hastened to move various sliders.  The barrel inched downwards and the sergeant cast an inquisitive look at Teo.  He nodded impatiently, his attention fixed on the city.  Ba-Thump!

A portion of the wall disappeared in the distance, leaving a gaping hole.  The wind brought the urgent ring of bells tolling from the city.

“A bit lower, and the hole will be large enough for an attack,” Gella said.  Teo stole a glance at her; she now seemed excited at the ease with which the wall had been breached.  A thin smile crept on his lips.

“Belay that order.  Shoot higher.  I want the next shot to fall inside the city itself.”

“Why the city?  It’s the walls we want to tear down!” Gella protested.

Teo threw her a dark look.  “Higher,” he ordered, and the sergeant hastened to obey.  Ba-Thump!

A thick column of smoke rose from the city.

“Again!” Teo ordered.  Ba-Thump!

Every bell in the city now rang, but the wind also carried the howl of people being cut to pieces from shrapnel.

“That’s enough,” Gella said and grasped his shoulder.  “We have what we need.”

He pushed her hand away.  “Again!  Continue until I tell you to stop,” he ordered.

The sergeant blinked, staring at Teo, then Gella, then back at Teo again.  “Left to right.  Raze the city.”  Sinan stared at him, bug eyed.  “You have your orders,” Teo snapped.

“Yes, Sir,” the man murmured and turned a wheel before hitting a button.  Ba-Thump!  Ba-Thump!

“This is madness!” Gella rasped.

Ba-Thump!  A large dome disappeared, covering the city with dust.

“Why did you become a soldier if you can’t stomach a little blood?”

Ba-Thump!  A minaret collapsed, the sound of its destruction reaching them as if they stood next to it.  The acrid stench of fire reached their nostrils.

“Not to slaughter unarmed civilians!”

Ba-Thump!  The centre of the city disintegrated into deadly debris

Teo let out a disappointed sigh.  A thick cloud of smoke and dust hid away the city, so he could no longer enjoy the sight of his weapon at work.

Ba-Thump!  Numerous fires now burned in the distance, choking the city.  The wails could be heard more clearly now, despite the heavy smoke.  Most of the bells had stopped ringing.

Gella slipped next to him.  “My greatest mistake was not killing you when I had the chance,” she whispered in his ear.  “A mistake I will fix very soon if you don’t stop right now.”  Ba-Thump!

Fear and rage rushed through Teo, each fighting for supremacy.  Before he had a chance to put her in her place, the gun howled and screeched, stopping its relentless fire-spitting into Ephia.  It started to tremble and shake, as if the weapon had a seizure.  “That will do, sergeant.  We don’t want to tire her on her first day,” Teo said in alarm.

Sergeant Sinan was already sliding various sliders and stamping switches on the control panel.  “I’m trying, but she’s fighting me,” he said through gritted teeth, then punched a big button.  With a loud screech, steam escaped valves and the gun lowered its barrel in shame.  Men hurried around it, covering it in oiled blankets, as if it were an exhausted boxer.  Warm vapour rose from the scalding metal.  Sinan wiped his brow, a deep crease of worry on his forehead.  “That was close,” he murmured.  “I don’t think we can do that again for a while,” he shouted at Teo.

Teo nodded absent-mindedly, observing the ashes that had started raining around them, like grey snow.  The wind carried screams and curses from afar.  That will teach them never to mess with me again. 

The smell of smoke made him think of food.  I’m starving!  He clapped his hands and his servant rushed to his side.  “I’ll have my breakfast now.”  For the first time in weeks, something stirred in his loins as he swaggered towards his tent.   “And send for some women.”
Nicholas C. Rossis bio:

Author. Avid reader. Web developer. Architect by training, holder of a PhD in Digital Architecture from the University of Edinburgh.

Nicholas loves to write. Mad Water, the third book in his epic fantasy series, Pearseus, was just published, while his first children’s book, Runaway Smile, is currently being illustrated. He has also published The Power of Six, a collection of short sci-fi stories.

He lives in Athens, Greece, in the middle of a forest, with his wife, dog and two very silly cats, one of whom is always sitting on his lap, so please excuse any typos in his blog posts: typing with one hand can be hard…

Book links:

• Pearseus: Schism, Book 1 in his epic fantasy series is available on http://amzn.to/1aDgXDA
• Pearseus: Rise of the Prince, Book 2 in his epic fantasy series is available on http://amzn.to/1jlXLj6
• Pearseus: Mad Water, Book 3 in his epic fantasy series is available on http://amzn.to/1wbajhP
• You can also read Books 1 & 2 (special edition) on http://amzn.to/RqjNbU and
• The Power of Six: 6+1 Science Fiction Short Stories can be found on http://amzn.to/1kKVduI
• Also available: Tao Te Ching (translated into Greek) on http://amzn.to/1ovrc4n

Web presence:

https://twitter.com/Nicholas_Rossis
http://www.nicholasrossis.me
https://www.facebook.com/NicholasCRossis
https://plus.google.com/+NicholasRossis
https://www.goodreads.com/nicholasrossis

Black Rook by Kelly Meade

Cornerstone Run is a paranormal romance trilogy, set in a world of hidden loup garou, their mystical Magi enemies, and the occasional vampire. The small, reclusive town of Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, houses an almost entirely loup garou population—one of only thirteen towns around the country that serve as a sanctuary for their nonhuman inhabitants, where the loup garou are free to be themselves. When a neighboring sanctuary town is attacked by a vicious, unknown enemy, the three sons of Cornerstone’s Alpha must stand together to protect their people—and the women who steal their hearts.

This excerpt is from Book One – Black Rook. Check out the release dates below:

Cornerstone Run Trilogy:

Black Rook: July 15, 2014 – http://amzn.com/B00I8R61LY

Gray Bishop: October 21, 2014 – http://amzn.com/B00I8RB1WS

White Knight: January 1, 2015 – http://amzn.com/B00I8RB100

Excerpt – Chapter 1

Brynn Atwood observed the entrance to McQueen’s Auction House, as she had done for the past few minutes while she gathered the courage she needed to leave the safety of her rental car. A steady stream of vehicles entered the parking lot and ejected browsers and buyers, all eager to view today’s auction and visit with acquaintances seen only during these once-a-week sales. Not Brynn. She was certainly the only person who’d showed up today intending to prevent a murder.

Walking alone into a town populated with and run by loup garou wasn’t the smartest thing she had ever done in her twenty-four years, but it certainly counted as the bravest. If she managed to achieve her goal, even her father would have to admit to her courage and to the validity of her visions. He didn’t trust in her seer ability, nor did he believe that her vision of him being murdered by a loup garou would come true.

“Surely you know I would never put myself into a situation that would result in such a calamitous outcome,” her father, Archimedes Atwood, had said the previous day. And as with every chilly encounter between them in the last few months, he’d spoken with the impatience of a strict teacher correcting a belligerent child. “Perhaps some of your visions have come true on occasion, but do not use me to distract attention from your own disgrace. I have no more time for this nonsense.”

Her visions were always nonsense.

Archimedes was a Prime Magus in the Congress of Magi, one of four, as well as a powerful practitioner of elemental magic. He’d never hidden his disappointment over Brynn’s uncontrollable precognitive powers—powers he had yet to acknowledge were real—or her inability to one day claim his spot on the Congress. She was too weak, a failure as a Magus. She couldn’t even manage to keep her job as a Congress tutor for more than two years. All she had left were her infrequent visions, in whatever time or manner they chose to come.

And worse yet, he had all but accused her of fabricating this vision and the need to save him in order to make up for the shame she’d brought to their name when she was fired. She didn’t want the vision to be true. She wanted her father alive for many years to come.

She would figure out how to save him on her own. She would prove her value.

Brynn climbed out of her car and surveyed the quickly filling parking lot. In any new situation, her best first step was to observe her surroundings, study others, and discover the way to best fit in. She had never before attended a public auction of any sort; she knew only that antiques and other goods were bid upon and purchased, sometimes at outrageous prices. Some patrons walked into the building carrying their own boxes, clearly expecting to purchase items. Others entered carrying only cups of coffee or soda, or small children.

The variety of patrons surprised her: young and old, scruffy and well-kempt, couples and singles and large groups, and families. Some drove up with pickups and vans; some parked expensive cars in the narrow, crowded lot. Everyone seemed at ease.

I must stick out like a smoking vampire in daylight.

Standing there like a fool would only garner her unwanted attention. Subtlety was the route to accomplishing her task. Brynn forced her feet to carry her forward, past other vehicles, toward the main entrance. Everyone seemed to be entering the large, barnlike building through those glass double doors. A few people came back to the parking lot from the side of the building, which indicated a back entrance/exit, as well. She’d tried to find blueprints of the layout before her arrival, but getting any sort of in-depth information on Cornerstone, Pennsylvania, was next to impossible.

The town had a small population of six hundred forty-one residents, and Brynn could guess that about ten percent were human. Cornerstone was founded by a run of loup garou nearly two centuries ago, and was one of a dozen similar safe havens around the country. Much like the Congress of Magi and a few surviving nests of vampires, loup garou runs required secrecy and anonymity to survive in the modern world. The weekly auctions at McQueen’s brought outside income to the town without the interference of tourism or industry, and it kept them from appearing too insular to the outside world.

Her father stubbornly refused to have any faith in her abilities, but Brynn’s visions of the future came true without fail, and the most recent had led her here to McQueen’s Auction House. Led her to the loup garou she’d seen standing over her father’s broken body. The man her careful research told her was named Rook McQueen.

The boy, she corrected.

As a general rule, her people did not trust technology. The Magi trusted tradition and magic above all else. Growing up an only child with few friends, Brynn spent hundreds of hours on her computer—a gift awarded by her father on her twelfth birthday, as a means to keep her mind occupied beyond the limited resources of their home’s physical library. Only weeks before, she had spoken to him of her first vision. In the middle of reading a book, she had seen a clear image of a baby bird falling from a nest. It disturbed her so much that she’d fled into the backyard in time to see it happen. She scooped the tiny robin up and climbed the tree where she spotted the nest, returning the lost baby to its siblings.

She was so proud when she told her father about it that night—not only the bird, but the premonition. Her very first display of a Magus power. “Manifestations of a child’s overactive imagination,” he had scoffed. “Do not bother me with these small things, daughter.”

The computer became her gateway to the outside world, a link to knowledge far beyond the borders of her home in Chestnut Hill. And like the young sleuths in the slim novels she’d loved so much, Brynn taught herself how to research and investigate—skills that had served her well these last few days as she raced to identify her father’s killer.

One of three sons of Thomas McQueen, the auction house’s owner, Rook was two years younger than herself, a recent college graduate, and the former lead singer of a popular local rock band—not exactly the portrait of a killer, loup garou or otherwise. And yet the brief glimpse of him in her vision, skin marked with tattoos, human teeth bared, and hands covered in her father’s blood, showed him capable of violence, as all loup garou inevitably were.

She would not allow her father to become Rook McQueen’s victim. Archimedes Atwood was too important, not only to herself but to the Congress of Magi. The Magi were small in number, and they relied on their leaders to protect them from their enemies, including the volatile, deadly loup garou. And as an elemental Magi, he was among the most powerful. Few others shared his ability to manipulate fire. Their people needed him, so Brynn needed to protect him. She had to find a way to prevent her father’s murder before it occurred.

The biggest blank in her research was Rook’s relationship to the run’s Alpha. Brynn had no access to the Congress’s files on the loup garou, and she couldn’t directly ask her father for the name of Cornerstone’s Alpha—her father had no idea she’d identified his would-be assassin, or that she was in central Pennsylvania doing reconnaissance on said assassin, instead of at the family home wallowing in her professional disgrace.

A random loup killing her father carried a very different meaning than a loup from within the higher ranks of the run’s Alpha family—the latter could easily be considered an act of war against the Congress of Magi. A foolishly begun war, as the Magi and loup had maintained an uneasy peace for the last sixty years.

Concentrate, foolish girl, before you get yourself killed. This isn’t one of your novels, this is real.

Brynn smoothed her palms down the front of her green t-shirt and tugged at the hem. She stopped, recognizing the nervous gesture, a habit from the two years she’d worked as a Congress tutor, which required skirts and blouses and high heels. The t-shirt, denim shorts, and Keds combination she’d chosen for today’s mission had been partly for comfort in the August heat and partly to blend in. The final piece of her costume was the Magus pendant hidden behind the t-shirt, which would act as a sensory mirror and hide her natural scent—any loup sniffing her for signs of “other” would smell a common human female, instead of a Magus. The auction attracted dozens of human buyers, but the people who ran it and worked there were still loup. The pendant was her only real protection against their sense of smell.

The stolen pendant, you fool. Plucking it from her father’s office had nearly given her fits, and her father would be apoplectic when he discovered it was missing—yet another reason to finish her task and return home posthaste. Maybe, just maybe, she could prevent this vision from coming true. She had to try.

Nerves twisted her stomach into a tight ball that nearly squeezed the air from her lungs. The thump of music and drone of voices greeted her as Brynn pushed open the door and stepped inside McQueen’s Auction House.

Avesta, protect me, your loyal daughter.

Plea to the Magi’s patron sent, Brynn forced her anxiety into the background and paid closer attention to her surroundings. The entrance was spacious, with a short hallway and a brightly painted “Restrooms” sign on her immediate right. On the left was a bulletin board covered in layers of posters and flyers advertising yard sales and on-site auctions. Past it was a roped-off stairwell going up to parts unknown. A handsome young man in cowboy boots and a matching leather hat leaned near the stairwell, sipping from a Styrofoam cup, as though he lived solely to hold up that particular wall.

His intent gaze landed on her, and she didn’t have to search for the copper flecks in his brown eyes to know he was loup garou. Brynn’s insides froze, but she forced out a calm, flirty smile. She knew she was attractive enough to gather a few second glances, and he was what she might hesitantly call beautiful—if a man could be considered so—with a slim nose and perfectly symmetrical features. However beautiful, this man was also her enemy. His body was fit, impeccably toned, and even at ease he thrummed with the power of his caged beast. He also wasn’t Rook McQueen, so although he was quite pleasant to look at, he did not hold her interest.

He tilted his head in a friendly gesture, then winked. Brynn blushed and ducked her head, a reaction she did not have to fake. Male attention of any sort nowadays left her insides squirrely, a sense of bitter panic residing where her confidence had once dwelled. She also needed to remain inconspicuous while here, and flirting with a local cowboy was not the way to stay alive.

Brynn followed an elderly couple out into the main room. She slipped over to her left, out of the flow of traffic, and absorbed the scene of orderly chaos. An elevated pair of cash registers stood near the entrance, with lines on each side. The customers in line traded personal information for a large index card with a number written in black marker. Cards in hand, the customers went to one of many places in the cavernous room.

Dozens of tables of merchandise were set up along the perimeter of the room, three rows deep, and at the center of it all was a dais, two stools, and a microphone. Directly behind the dais was a long row of antique furniture and four glass cases. Rows of mismatched chairs covered the rest of the floor space, facing the dais. At least half the chairs were marked by either sitting bodies or empty boxes waiting for their owners. In the far back of the room, close to Brynn’s position, was a food counter advertising sandwiches and chips and cold sodas, and it produced the bitter scent of over-brewed coffee. Opposite Brynn was another set of propped-open double doors, and a steady stream of people moved in and out of a second room that seemed crowded with boxes.

Someone jostled past on a waft of coffee-scented air, alerting Brynn to the competing odors in the room. The food counter fought with the tang of human body odor, as well as the musty stink of old paper and leather. A damp smell, like rain, hung over everything else, reminding her that even though she was surrounded by human beings, nonhumans also mingled. Every loup in the room posed a threat to her safety.

Brynn walked along the back wall, out of the heavier flow of people, alert for her prey. She spotted three other men who set off her loup alarms. Each wore a black t-shirt and jeans, just like the man outside in the cowboy boots.

McQueen employees. They must be.

One of them lingered near the dais, chatting with an older woman in a purple caftan, giving her his full attention while still managing to observe the room. He had a strong facial resemblance to the loup in the entrance, and a stronger resemblance to the photo she’d found of Rook. Each could easily be one of Rook’s two brothers. Brynn swallowed hard, mouth dry. If two of the three McQueen brothers worked here, maybe Rook did, as well. He could appear at any moment.

Your brother may one day murder my father.

The thought saddened her. Rook wasn’t just a potential murderer. He was also a brother and a son, and his family would miss him if he were gone. They would also fight to protect him the moment they considered her a threat.

You can’t think about that now, foolish girl.

Brynn inhaled a steadying breath. She palmed her right hand in her left, the fingers of her left hand smoothing over the gold band of the ring she wore on her right index finger. The top of the ring appeared to be a piece of costume jewelry, a blue gem the size of a nickel. A blue gem filled with a paralytic poison, developed decades ago to specifically target the loup garou’s nervous system. One tap of the ring would send a dose of poison down the ring’s band to her hand, and one firm handshake with any loup would put enough on his skin to kill him within an hour. No one would suspect such an innocuous item to be a deadly weapon, which was exactly the reason she’d stolen it from her father’s study.

As a small child, she had once overheard him boasting to another Magus of using the ring to drug an unsuspecting loup garou, and they were none the wiser. She had thought this made her father particularly clever, and the moment had stayed with her. Brynn Atwood might walk alone into a loup sanctuary town, but she wouldn’t walk in unarmed.

She had a single dose of the antidote hidden in her car in case she accidentally poisoned someone—no sense in leaving that to chance. She might be willing to kill to protect her father and she would defend herself if attacked, but she would not hurt an innocent loup.

If loup could be considered innocent. Her father would scoff at the notion.

She had considered her plan a dozen different ways before engaging. She didn’t rush blindly ahead. She rarely undertook any sort of action without having first clearly considered the potential outcomes. The only action guaranteeing her vision never came true was her removing Rook from the equation. Murdering him first. That was, however, a last resort action that almost guaranteed her own death at loup garou hands, as well as bringing the full power of her father’s anger down on their run.

She preferred the plan where she observed, gathered information, possibly discovered who the run Alpha was so she could introduce herself, and then took steps to prevent her vision that left all involved happy and healthy—her father especially.

Awareness prickled up her spine just as a male voice said, “You look a bit lost, miss.”

Brynn turned, not terribly surprised to find the cowboy from the entrance watching her. The cup was gone, but he still wore the silly leather hat, which cast a shadow over his eyes. It didn’t hide his beauty, though.

“I was supposed to meet someone here, but I don’t see them yet,” she said, the rehearsed lie falling easily from her lips.

“That explains it, then.” His tone was light, his voice lyrical and calming, but it still held a hint of danger. And challenge.

“Explains what?”

“Why you looked like you were casing the place.”

She laughed without forcing it, finding actual humor in the comment. “Do you often have problems with armed robbers staging stickups here?”

“No, but we’ve caught a few thieves over the years, trying to break in and steal items before they go up for sale.”

“Are you saying I look like a thief?”

“You just looked a little lost, that’s all. This your first time here?”

“It’s that obvious?”

He lifted his left shoulder in a shrug. “My father owns the place, and I’ve worked for him since I was a kid. I know all of the regulars, and most of the semi-regulars. New faces are easy to spot, especially faces as pretty as yours.”

Two things solidified for Brynn then: this man was definitely one of the McQueen brothers, and he was definitely flirting with her. Inbred disgust at the loup’s attention seized her, and she barely managed to stall a physical reaction.

He jumped, then his hand went to his jeans pocket. Brynn’s rising alarm calmed when he whipped out a vibrating cell phone and checked a message. “Damn,” he said as he tucked the phone away again. “Work calls.”

“Don’t let me keep you.”

“I hope your friend shows soon. In the meantime, take a look around. We’ve got a lot of great stuff today.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

He eased past her and walked straight up the center aisle of chairs to the dais, directly to the other man she suspected of being a McQueen. She watched them from the corner of her eye, but the other man gestured at the furniture behind the dais. They didn’t seem to be talking about her. She’d just had a conversation with her target’s brother and no one suspected a thing.

Don’t get cocky. Things could still go badly in a moment’s time.

She pushed away the voice of reason. A little more confident now, Brynn gave herself permission to look around. It was her first auction, after all. She wandered to the other side of the room, as much to make a show of belonging as to check out some of the items for sale. She’d always assumed auctions were full of dirty antiques and shiny glass baubles, but the table nearest her was covered with books. Boxes and boxes of books—hardcovers, paperbacks, textbooks, in all genres and on all subjects. The reams of knowledge in those boxes made her chest ache for the satisfaction she used to get from teaching.

Until last month, when she was fired from her tutor position and found herself with zero standing among her people, and with no hope for her future.

Maybe after this you’ll find a new calling as a Congress investigator.

Smiling at the ridiculous notion, she picked up a thick copy of the annotated works of Homer and smoothed back the torn corner of its dust jacket. Nostalgia for school and learning settled heavily in her chest, so heavily it tried to force up tears. She’d briefly considered returning to school and earning a new degree, since history and education hadn’t served her very well. Briefly. If the Alpha reacted badly to her presence in his town, or Rook took issue with her allegations, she’d never get the chance to reconsider her education more thoroughly.

She’d never get the chance to do a lot of things. Her father once said that loup justice was swift and merciless.

She put the book down and pinched the bridge of her nose, damming the tears and steeling her nerves. She would not cry, not here in public. Not when she needed to accomplish a job that required her full attention.

A flash of movement caught her attention, and Brynn turned her head toward the entrance. Her gaze drifted up. Above the entrance, probably accessible from that roped-off staircase, was a large window and a room behind. Two men stood at the window, talking and gesturing, in what looked like an office. Probably the manager’s office, which gave him a bird’s-eye view of his business.

The shorter of the two men captured and held her attention. Hints of a tattoo peeked out from beneath the sleeve of his black t-shirt. Metal glinted in his right earlobe, and another tattoo—or possibly the same—crept down his ear to his neck and disappeared into the collar of his shirt.

Even in profile, Brynn knew him. Fear and rage collided in a storm of cold and heat, and she clenched her hands into tight fists.

Rook McQueen. Her father’s future killer.

Blood rushed hot in her veins, and her heart thumped harder. He wasn’t just a face in a vision any longer. He was real.

“Ma’am?” The strange male voice alarmed Brynn into spinning around too fast. Her elbow clipped the voice owner in the chest and he grunted. Brynn’s stomach bottomed out. The man from the front of the room, her second McQueen brother suspect, frowned darkly, and she saw her own death there.

“I’m so sorry,” Brynn said. “Are you all right?”

“Fine. I’m sorry to bother you, but do you drive a white Dodge Neon?”

She blinked at the odd question about her rental car. “Yes, I do.”

“Someone reported that they backed into your car. You may want to come with me and exchange insurance information.”

“Oh for Av—God’s sake.” Brynn mentally slapped herself for the near slip. Using “Avesta’s sake” in the presence of a loup garou was as obvious as wearing a t-shirt that said “Yes, I’m a Magus Spy. Kill Me.”

“Small lot, so it happens once in a while,” the man said. Up close, she better saw the resemblance to the cowboy-wannabe in his narrow nose and hooded eyes. However, the slight roundness in his cheekbones and higher forehead showed a more pronounced similarity to Rook. And he was definitely older than the other two. “The auction doesn’t start for another forty minutes, if you’re worried about missing something.”

“No, it’s fine,” Brynn said, even though it wasn’t. The coincidence unnerved her, but she had no choice except to see how this played out.

He stepped to the side. “After you.”

She walked to the end of the row of chairs and made her way back toward the auction house entrance, keenly aware of her shadow’s presence, and that she’d just turned her back on one of her people’s greatest enemies.

Author Bio

Raised on a steady diet of Star Wars, Freddy Krueger and “Fear Street” novels, Kelly Meade developed a love for all things paranormal at a very young age. The stealthy adolescent theft of a tattered paperback from her grandmother’s collection of Harlequins sparked an interest in romance that has continued to this day.

Black Rook is the first novel in her Cornerstone Run series, a paranormal romance trilogy from Berkley Intermix that also includes Gray Bishop and White Knight. It follows three loup garou brothers who will do anything to protect their town, their family, and the secret of their existence—and maybe fall in love in the process.

Writing as Kelly Meding, Three Days to Dead is the first book in her Dreg City urban fantasy series. The series follows Evangeline Stone, a paranormal hunter who is resurrected into the body of a stranger and has only three days to solve her own murder and stop a war between the city’s goblins and vampires. Additional books in the series, As Lie the DeadAnother Kind of Dead, and Wrong Side of Dead, are available in both digital format and mass market paperback from Bantam. Book five, Requiem for the Dead, is available digitally through all platforms.

Trance begins the story of the grown-up children of the world’s slaughtered superheroes who receive their superpowers back after a mysterious fifteen-year absence, and who now face not only a fearful public, but also a vengeful villain who wants all of them dead. Trance and Changeling are available now in both digital format and mass market paperback from Pocket Books. Tempest and Chimera are available in digital format only via Pocket Star. All four MetaWars books can also be purchased as a digital bundle.

 

LINKS

Website: http://www.kellymeding.com

Blog: http://chaostitan.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/KellyMeding

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kelly-Meding/84164375745

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kellymeding

Tumblr: http://kellymeade.tumblr.com

 

 

Greek Expectations: The Last Moussaka Standing by Ekaterina Botziou

With a degree in Law and a passion for the Arts, Ekaterina has worked on a whole host of different projects ranging from film to fashion, and has even been cast in Hollywood movies. Born to a proud Greek father and a ballerina mother with roots as mixed as a tequila sunrise, Ekaterina spent her formative years learning that every word comes from the Greek language and that no other nation compares to the might of the Hellenic realm. Published last year, her debut book “Greek Expectations: The Last Moussaka Standing” has enjoyed great success.

You can taste this savory book below and also get a sneak preview of Ekaterina’s new project, a humorous retelling of Greek myths.

Also, don’t miss my WIP interview with Ekaterina here!

Title: Greek Expectations: The Last Moussaka Standing
Author: Ekaterina Botziou
Genre: Humorous non-fiction / memoir
Purchase Link: Amazon.co.uk (paperback)
________________________________________________________

Primary important facts about Greek men:

  • Their mother is number one.
  • Their father is number two.
  • Their sibling(s) are number three.
  • Their cousins, uncles and aunts are number four.
  • Their pet(s) are number five.
  • Their village community is number six.
  • Their car is number seven.
  • You do not have a number – your opinion is not valid.

Growing up in a big, not-so-fat, semi-Greek household, Ekaterina Botziou spent much of her childhood defying her father’s wishes for her to learn to play the bouzouki, and refusing third helpings of moussaka.

Determined never to be the stereotypical Greek woman stuck in the kitchen, she chose to while away long summer days holidaying in Greece playing, “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” with her 101 Greek cousins, rather than be stuck inside learning to cook with Yiayia.

Unfortunately Zeus had other ideas, and in a twist of fate some years later, Ekaterina found herself married to a Greek-Cypriot and battling against the stale old laws of Greek tradition.

Part memoir, part rant, part survival guide, Ekaterina’s cautionary tale of Greek love and life gives a hilariously witty insight into the trials and tribulations of being a modern woman tormented by guilt-inducing mother-in-laws, pandofla-wielding Grandfathers, and oppressively hairy husbands.
___________________________________________

And here’s the introductory snippet of Ekaterina’s new project:
___________________________________________

Greek mythology was one of the most interesting and exciting topics of my primary education. Of course, I was the only one in the class who knew that all the myths were in fact absolute truth. My father is the original Zeus. Known as Dimitrios the Great, he ruled the skies for thousands of years before spotting my mother, the sea nymph Suzie the Innocent and setting up home with her on Earth. He then had to find someone to stand in his place up on Mount Olympus and thus his cousin Zeus took over. Or so I’ve been told.

The word “mythos” in Greek, means “story” – it is also the brand name of one of Greece’s best beers. Never mind the Cypriot Keo, grab yourself a Mythos!

Greek mythology is essentially a collection of stories (supposedly fiction) created by the ancient Greeks back in the day when there was no TV or Internet so everyone actually spoke to each other and had to use their imagination to entertain themselves.

Despite their notably incestuous beginnings in the era of the Gods, the stories broaden their scope when mortals are introduced in the age of Heroes, and this romantic theme is continued throughout the subsequent Hellenistic epics.

Through poetry, song, and now even film, these vivid tales of heroic deeds, of love and beauty, of teachings and punishment, of good overcoming evil and of light shining through the empty darkness, continue to entertain audiences to this day.

And now it’s my turn to re-tell them.

Author Links

Website: http://www.ekaterinabotziou.com

Twitter: ebotziou

Facebook: Artist Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ekaterina-Botziou/195992653784893

Facebook Greek Wives Club:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Greek-Wives-Club/347105182030245

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/ekaterinabotziou

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Greek-Expectations-Last-Moussaka-Standing/dp/1492710032/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397556727&sr=8-1&keywords=ekaterina+botziou

Goodreads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7337342.Ekaterina_Botziou

The Dreamshifter by Elle Boca

Elle Boca is the author of the Weeia urban fantasy series set in Miami, Florida in the United States. Unelmoija: The Dreamshifter and Unelmoija: The Mindshifter, the first and second books of the series respectively, are available as ebooks on Amazon.com. Unelmoija: The Spiritshifter will soon follow.

Elle has been kind enough to offer an exciting excerpt of The Dreamshifter, the first book in the series. For more about Elle Boca and her work, check out her WIP interview on MM Jaye writes.

Title: The Dreamshifter
Author: Elle Boca
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Purchase Link: Amazon

 

Something about his face seemed familiar. He was older, about Mom’s age, attractive, tall and distinguished looking. When he noticed me looking at him he smiled and I turned away. I didn’t want to give this strange man the wrong impression. It was clear he was looking at me so I entered the mart, seeking the safety of the store, and bought a bottle of water. When I left the shop he was waiting for me.

“Amy, do not be frightened. It is you I came to see. If you give me a moment I will explain.” His words, the unexpected familiarity and friendliness shot me with adrenaline. This man had found me, after I’d only just moved the night before, during my morning jog. I kept my distance and remained silent while I considered the situation.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how the recent kidnapping attempt had shaken my trust in strangers. We escaped our captors under the cover of a storm, but our comfortable lives hadn’t returned to normal. I didn’t think he was one of the men who had taken us to the Caribbean. They acted like military men; they used physical force and veiled threats. This man looked more like an executive.

He appeared to be alone, but he might have me under discrete surveillance. If he’d been keeping tabs on me, it was better to discover his identity and agenda; but I needed a safer place than standing on the street alone before dawn.

“Who are you?” I couldn’t help blurting. It would be useful to make mental note of as much as I could to describe him to Mom. I noticed he had straight brown hair that was graying in parts.

He spoke without contractions, like someone who preferred formal English or spoke English as a second language. There was something deeply powerful about him. It was more than that. He looked like a man accustomed to being in charge and giving orders.

“My name is Thomas McKnight.” “What do you want with me? Why are you here?” I kept my voice down, looked at his eyes. “Please give me a few moments and I will explain. If you do not like what I say I will leave you alone.” He looked at the store and back at me. “How about if we sit inside? Would you like a cup of coffee?” It occurred to me that it had been a long time since anyone had refused his commands. He probably gave orders and people obeyed. He was going out of his way to be friendly, but I wondered for how long he’d hold back and what he wanted with me.

I entered the twenty-four hour mart and chose a table in the small coffee shop. In this ritzy neighborhood, the mart was stocked with exclusive brands and expensive merchandise. It appeared that most of the patrons lived in one of the nearby residential towers. At that hour, they were grabbing a light breakfast, out for a morning jog or walking their dogs. The occasional office worker or executive on the way to the office a few blocks north filled foam cups with coffee, and bought lottery tickets and newspapers. Although our corner of the store was deserted, there were cameras and a couple of employees who would notice if he got physical or blocked me from leaving.

He followed at a measured pace, stood in line to buy an espresso and sat down across from me at the table. I sat in silence, except for the pounding of my heart which sounded loud in my ears, while I waited for him to speak. He was the one who wanted to talk to me. Let him say what he had to say. He had a radiant smile like he’d just won the Lotto or found the fountain of youth. A dark suntan made the blue of his eyes seem intense.

Manicured hands held the cup of espresso which he drank in a long swallow without sugar or milk, just like my sister Kat. I missed her more at moments like this; she always knew what we should do in any crisis. I hoped Mom had found her and would return soon.

His well tailored suit was expensive. Custom-made, I speculated, and the way it hung on his trim frame and his graceful movements told me he was in excellent physical condition. If I ran, he could chase me. And, he was dangerous. I could tell by looking at him he was strong and lethal. This man had killed. I didn’t know how I knew but I knew it was true. There was a darkness to him that had nothing to do with the tan.

“Your mother has done a phenomenal job, better than I imagined. You are smart, cautious and have excellent self-control. And your special abilities are starting to develop.” I must have reacted to the last words because he smiled at me. “Yes, I know about your abilities Amy. It is a gift you must learn to use with care but a gift to be used nonetheless.” I lowered my eyes to keep him from seeing the burning curiosity and temptation they held.

“I ask you again, who are you Mr. McKnight and what do you want with me?” I figured he was going to give me some lame answer and was unprepared for his next words.

“I am your father.”

As soon as the words left his mouth I knew they were true. I didn’t know how I knew. I just knew. The powerful man before me was my father. Before I’d accept that statement I wanted answers. My mouth became dry, my heart raced, I felt overcome with conflicting emotions. All my life, I waited to be reunited with my father, an idealized figure perfected over the years in my mind. Here he was before me and I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. I should be happy, but I wasn’t. I was afraid of this man.

“You can’t be my father.” His puzzled look made me continue. “My father was captured years ago by our enemies. The same men who took him kidnapped my mother and me a few weeks ago.”

“I was captured, but it happened before you were born.” I knew again he spoke the truth. “Your mother told you the truth, but not the whole story.” He had ignored the revelation that we had been kidnapped; I wasn’t sure what that meant. Did he know about it? Had he been involved? More than anything, I wanted to talk to my mother at that moment.

“The real question is what you want with me. Why are you here? How did you know where to find me?” I worried that I didn’t dislike him and I didn’t like that he knew far more about me than I knew about him.

Author Links

Website:

http://elleboca.poyeen.com/

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/elleboca

Amazon author page:

http://www.amazon.com/Elle-Boca/e/B00HRCBEYK/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7499807.Elle_Boca?from_search=true

Lost On The Edge Of Forever by Michael Haley

 

 

 

 

Michael Haley is the author of “Lost on the Edge of Forever,” a spiritual romance of the Fantastique published by Curiosity Quills, released on February 2, 2014. You may read his inspiring WIP interview on MM Jaye writes.

 

 

Lost on the Edge of Forever – Prologue

Genre: Spiritual/paranormal romance

IT HAPPENED TODAY

The morning I died wasn’t unique. I hit the snooze alarm twice, checked e-mail for word on grad school, gawked over celebrity gossip, threw my hair into a ponytail, and begrudgingly crawled to class. A typical day, with an insane to-do list: code data for Dr. Trudard’s lab, turn in a cap and gown order for graduation, work ‘til ten at Gramps & Gran’s, and write a twelve-page Bio Honors Seminar paper on necrosis due the next morning. The air was spring-chilly warm, and the sky was clear. A busy day, yet an ordinary one.

By noon, my name would be among the twenty-four students and teachers killed during the Prairie State Shootings, often considered to be the worst school shooting in the state’s history. I knew death would come someday, obviously, but only after I’d pioneered numerous life-saving breakthroughs in cancer research, visited every country the entire world over, and raised an awesome family with an awesome husband.

Apparently Allah had other plans.

At roughly a quarter ‘til eleven, I walked into Barker East, Prairie State University’s then newly renovated lecture hall. I waved to Kiko, my lab partner and friend since freshman year, and sat next to her. I had barely taken off the backpack when Kiko tapped my arm. “Hey, Leila? This is like―I don’t even know.” I peered over Kiko’s shoulder at a message highlighted yellow on her laptop:

To all my FRIENDS, WHO EVER u are! We’re fucked! It’s that MENTALITY OF the normals, and they’re the ONES who deem US inappropriate! INAPPROPRIATE! you know what I mean! For all of those who THINK THEY CAN JUST mess with us downtrodden, IGNORE OUR humble pleas and ELONQUENT declarations of ENDLESS LOVE will receive their SALVATION and MY mercy! God bless YOU!

Kiko stared at the screen. “What. The. Hell.”

I read the message a few times. “Probably a bizarre joke. What do you think that meant?”

“It’s nonsense. Guy’s name is Lenny, and he was a grad assistant in my sophomore poly-sci course. He actually friended me and like, no one else in the class apparently. His personality’s just, like, I don’t even know.”

Both our phones beeped.

University alert―Male seen with gun at the corner of 14th and Baker Street. Do not approach if you see him and seek shelter immediately.

“You don’t think this is serious?”

“Not likely. This is like the fifth alert we’ve gotten this semester. Probably someone stealing from Mildred’s again.” Kiko shrugged. “So I’ve given it, like, a ton of thought and decided we have to go to Cancun for our final spring break. It’d be so perfect.”

Cancun, really? Although the idea of hundreds of bodies getting drunk and horny on a beach sounded more fun than my inner feminist should probably admit to, I still had reservations. “Kiko, I’d love to. But Cancun is so typical―why not Paris? Barcelona? Hot Spanish guys could teach us how to flamenco dance, and I’m sure they’d be a little more sophisticated than white farm boys on a beach. We got enough of them here at Prairie State.”

“I don’t want sophistication. It’s our last spring break. Why not have some crazy-wild fun before we have to get serious with our lives?”

Our phones beeped again.

University Alert―Gunshots Reported―Ellison and Ezra Halls. Two potential shooters. Stay inside and secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 9-1-1 for assistance.

“Another one?” Kiko asked. “What the hell?”

Beeps, ringtones, and vibrations cascaded from student’s backpacks and pockets throughout the room. Scores of faces morphed from curiosity to horrific shock as they stared at the devices.

“What’s all the commotion?” Professor Trudard asked from the podium, the moans and whispers of the class increasing in volume.

One person yelled from behind, “There’s a fucking shooter at Ezra! That’s across the street!”

Dr. Trudard raised his hands and motioned for the class to calm themselves, but by then nearly everyone had read the text messages streaming into their phones. They insistently muttered, stuttered, and whispered:

Is this real?

Are the police coming?

They can’t be in the building.

Has anyone been killed?

Oh my God, oh my God.

Oh my God, oh my God.

The unmistakable sound of gunshots rang in the hallway outside the doors. Kiko screamed along with everyone else. The gunshot was immediately followed by another. And then another. Someone screamed we needed to run. Someone yelled the doors needed to be locked. Someone cried we’re all going to be killed.

The door blew open. Everyone gaped with quiet paralysis at the man who stepped through. Two bullet sashes across his chest. An assault rifle caked with grime. An empty face, splattered with someone’s blood. He looked up and lazily scanned the room with dull, dumb eyes, settling on Kiko. He aimed the weapon at her head, and without hesitation, fired twice.

Kiko’s neck snapped with an audible crack as the bullet’s propulsion whipped her head over the chair’s small back. The classroom erupted into a chorus of screaming and crying, Kiko’s legs, arms, and fingers chaotically twitching and contorting upon themselves in the throes of death. I laid myself against the floor, shut my eyes tight, and prayed for her: in the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful…

All noise ceased. No sound of gunfire nor screams. No crying nor even breathing.

I slowly peaked my head above the ridges of the seats, staring at the horrific, incomprehensible, and yet―mystifying―sight before me. The gunman’s body was halted in place―in time perhaps―as was the burnt-orange, midfire light frozen on the edge of the gun’s barrel. I looked about. The class was motionless in the midst of panic―faces covered by textbooks, bodies clinging onto one another in hopes of safety and salvation―everyone still as a dead heartbeat.

A voice, with neither body nor form, spoke soothingly into my ear like a breath from the wind. Dude, have faith this was meant to be. I love you.

The voice instantly steadied my frightened body, its timbre serenading erratic nerves into a serene calm. I took one breath and then another. I can get through this. This situation is transient. My fear will come to pass. Although my body is temporary, nothing bad could ever happen to my soul. Allah will protect me.

I’m not sure when time resumed, nor will I ever know if he fired upon me intentionally or by happenstance. All I remember is the searing agony of the first bullet ripping open my lung, followed by the second bullet shattering my skull, the petite piece of lead landing somewhere inside the occipital lobe before exploding. My knees buckled and cracked hard upon the floor. The smooth, bone-cold floor. Pain, excruciating and infinitely intolerable. My throat lurches like a fish gulping for air. I’m unable to breathe. My lungs seize. I attempt to scream. Allergy-hued mucus vomits onto the granite base under the seat, and heated blood tasting like minerals gurgles between broken teeth. More pain cascades through every organ, even more infinitely intolerable if such a thing were possible.

And then, all feeling ceases. No sensation from any of the splayed limbs of my battered body. Nothing except the vague feeling of waking from a dream. Maybe I was dead. Maybe I was alive.

Is there really a difference?

Author Links

Amazon USA: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Edge-Forever-Michael-Haley-ebook/dp/B00I7HE2T8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400558131&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+on+the+edge+of+forever
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Edge-Forever-Michael-Haley/dp/1620074192/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400558169&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+on+the+edge+of+forever

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-on-the-edge-of-forever-michael-haley/1118469242?ean=2940148266686
Kobo:http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/lost-on-the-edge-of-forever

Waterstones: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/michael+haley/lost+on+the+edge+of+forever/10701177/

Indigo: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/lost-on-the-edge-of/9781620074183-item.html?ikwid=lost+on+the+edge+of+forever&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19155376-lost-on-the-edge-of-forever

Pinterest (Visual Playlist of Music that Inspired the Novel):http://www.pinterest.com/mhyclone83/lost-on-the-edge-of-forever-visual-playlist/

Twitter: @Michael__Haley (two underscores)

Publisher: http://curiosityquills.com/

Escape by C.H. Little

C. H. Little is the author of “Escape”, a gripping thriller novella set on the exotic island of Menorca, Spain. “Gripping” is not a random promo word; I’ve read “Escape”, thoroughly enjoyed it, and that was my review’s key word. I am, therefore, very pleased that C. H. Little has agreed to be featured in my interview column, as we’d like to know more about herself and her work process.

If you’d like to get to know this author better, read her WIP interview on MM Jaye writes.

 

Genre: Thriller

Excerpt from Escape

She led the way back to the stairwell and Penny was momentarily blinded by the sharp sunlight as it speared into the cabin below through the open door. Pausing to retrieve her sunglasses from her bag, she climbed the ladder and emerged after Anna, glancing around her. Again she was struck by the infinite expanse of sea which surrounded them. There was literally no land in sight, and she found she didn’t like it at all. Her head had begun to swim again and she felt dizzy for the second time that day. She only managed to focus herself by fixing her vision on to the loungers at the rear of The Munroe and looking nowhere else. Unsteadily, she weaved a path towards where Anna was already settling herself down. Lowering herself heavily on to another lounger, she removed her top and shorts and stretched herself out along the length of the comfortably cushioned sun-bed.

“Heaven isn’t it?” Anna seemed to have recovered her usual calm and good cheer.

“Oh yes!” Penny replied, squeezing her eyes shut as if she could force the fear of the open sea out of her head altogether if she tried hard enough. “I might have another snooze if that’s alright with you. Don’t know what’s the matter with me – I wasn’t that late to bed last night, but I can’t seem to fight off the fatigue!”

“You go ahead,” Anna crooned, “I may have forty winks myself. If you wake up and I’m not here, I may have gone for a nap in my bedroom.”

Penny stretched out on the lounger, angling the parasol above so as not to put her entire body in direct sunlight. Anna nodded in approval and settled in her own chair, closing her eyes and sighing softly.

At first she found it difficult to calm her nerves, the constant sound of the sea swishing against the yacht as it carved a path through the waves. Taking deep slow breaths, she began to count backwards from a hundred, a trick she had learned in a yoga class a few years ago. Eventually the sound of the water became more soothing and Penny began to calm enough to collect her thoughts. Yachting was not what she had expected and she wasn’t at all sure she was cut out for it. She was much happier admiring the yacht from the shore, or merely sitting aboard while still within full view of dry land. Imagining the snorts of derision she would encounter from Grant if she admitted to this, she steeled herself for another couple of hours aboard the boat. Perhaps after lunch she could steer the conversation towards travelling back to dry land, explain how much she wanted to see admiring eyes watching her as she sailed into a port aboard The Munroe in all its magnificence and stepped out on to the dock. Anything to get her back within sight of something more solid than the slate-grey waters that now swirled and frothed on all sides of the yacht.

Her decision made and a plan of action in place, Penny began to feel better. She glanced across at Anna, who appeared to have fallen immediately asleep next to her. Penny was envious; although much calmer now, she had begun to feel almost sick with the constant shifting of the waves. She closed her eyes again and let the drowsiness take her. Perhaps she would feel less queasy once she had rested.

When she awoke she couldn’t work out why she didn’t feel any better. Coming around slowly, she realised that it must be after noon, as the sun had centred itself at the highest point in the sky and was blazing down on her fiercely from above: she had clearly slept for a while longer than she had expected to. Moving her lounger under the now-meagre shade cast by the parasol, she glanced around her. Anna had disappeared, perhaps being sensible she had retreated indoors to avoid the midday glare of the sun. She could just make out Grant, still at the helm of the boat, his broad back braced as he steered the yacht on its mysterious course.

Where were they taking her, she wondered? Surely there had to be a goal, a destination for the day out? If their aim was simply to escape civilisation for the day they could have just dropped anchor an hour ago and Grant would no longer need to be sailing and could just relax with Anna and Penny, but still they were travelling. There must be some sort of destination, and they had to get there soon to make it worth a single-day trip which had to travel back the same distance to drop Penny off back in Punta Prima.

Realising her mouth felt parched, she saw that Anna had thoughtfully refilled her glass of orange and took a long drink, before deciding to go in search of her hostess. Feeling a little vulnerable in only her bikini, she located her shorts and pulled them on. As she stood up slowly, she found she still felt very unsteady. She negotiated the steps into the cabin cautiously and stood in the lower deck area for a moment, removing her sunglasses and stowing them away in her bag as her eyes adjusted to the dimness. There was no sign of Anna, but the door to her cabin was shut, and Penny didn’t want to disturb her. Instead she decided to seize the opportunity to have a look around the yacht without supervision.

Author and Book Links

Escape on Amazon US

Escape on Amazon UK

Site: http://www.chlittle.com

Twitter: @chlittleauthor

Facebook: facebook.com/chlittleauthor

Things Can Only Get Feta by Marjory McGinn

Things Can Only Get Feta (Bene Factum Publishing, London) by Marjory McGinn is a non-fiction travel memoir about the author’s first year, living in a remote hillside village in the Mani, Southern Peloponnese with her partner Jim. The experience of trying to live like locals during the crisis had some heartwarming and funny results. In the following extract Marjory (called Margarita in the Mani) and Jim were invited for a traditional August 15th lunch with a local family where there was more on the menu than they expected.

The book has regularly been in the top 10 on Amazon UK’s ‘Greece’ category and also regularly in the top 100 for general travel (Essays and Travelogues). The book is now available in North America (scroll down for all author’s links).

Also check out Marjory’s inspiring workspace view and read her WIP Q&A published on MM Jaye writes.

Extract from Chapter 10 – Hedonism and a stairway to heaven

Later that day, Jim and I were invited for lunch at the home of some of our village friends. Eftihia lived in a modern two-storey house with her mother Pelagia and her brother Yiorgos. A long table had been set out on the terrace of the house that was deeply shaded under a thick vine sagging with fat bunches of succulent grapes. It was a welcome refuge in the blistering 40 degree heat of August for the dozen or so people already crowded round the table.

Eftihia means happiness in Greek and it suited this woman’s personality perfectly, with her round smiley face, curvy figure and glorious black eyes. Her laughter was rich and deep and we often heard its uplifting tones rippling across the olive groves. Eftihia was a smaller version of her mother Pelagia, who had an ample build and the family characteristic of thick, black wavy hair, almost untouched by grey. When the two women sat side by side, which was very often, they were like two voluptuous bookends.

Eftihia and her visiting siblings moved in and out of the nearby kitchen, ferrying platters of food: Greek salads topped with slabs of feta cheese drizzled with fresh green olive oil, mounds of garlicky beetroot, boiled horta, the leafy greens gathered from the hillsides, lemon potatoes and a stacks of still-sizzling, deep-fried courgette fritters, and plates of barbecued meat.

Like most Greek women, Eftihia liked to see guests eat as if they were all pregnant with triplets. Anxious that Jim and I would waste away before the end of the day, Eftihia was on a mission to fatten us up. When I took some of the Greek salad as a starter, she scolded me for the tiny amount on my plate and proceeded to stack it higher from one of the many platters spread down the centre of the table. There is no point in arguing with Greeks intent on this form of extreme hospitality, so I left her to stack, except for one element of the salad.

I shouted above the din of nearby conversation: “Not too many roof tiles for me, Eftihia.”

Guests stopped what they doing and stared at me with quizzical faces, including our farming friend Foteini, who was seated at the other end of the table, about to set to work on a stacked plate of potatoes and horta. Eftihia laughed heartily.

“Margarita, I think you mean kremidia (onions) not keramidia (roof tiles)!”

The rest of the diners joined in the laughter, though it was more appreciative than mocking. All Greeks seem to love a language mix-up, as even they say they get their Greek wrong at times. I’d just fallen foul of a fiendish pair of Greek words that almost sound the same, like the night at a local taverna where I’d asked for “moussaka with a side helping of window shutters”, instead of beetroot, since the two words are similar, patzari for beetroot and patzouria for shutters. At least the blunders made people laugh and they somehow never forgot you, replaying your Greek mix-ups again and again when you next met them, which was strangely gratifying.

It was a long, leisurely lunch that passed without any other linguistic or culinary tangles, until Yiorgos, who had been busy attending to the barbecue, made a certain discovery.

“Margarita and Jim, you haven’t tried the tsikles.”

I’d seen them, of course, piled on a plate in the middle of the table, their small bodies pathetically frail. Tsikles are whole pickled birds, usually thrushes, with the heads left on. This is a delicacy in the rural Peloponnese and every autumn you can hear the thump of rifle fire on hillsides day and night as local farmers bring down the birds, as well as hare and rabbits. The Mani turns into a war zone and in village supermarkets at this time you will see boxes of ammunition stacked behind the check-out counter beside the cigarettes. Yiorgos also liked to hunt, and these birds were his proud catch.

Jim and I exchanged nervy looks when the bird plate was pointed out, but mercifully this was one dish that Eftihia wasn’t about to foist on us, even though it was she who had pickled them expertly in oil, garlic and herbs.

“I don’t like them,” she whispered across the table, and Pelagia nodded in agreement. But Yiorgos was adamant.

“Come, my friends, try one.”

My heart sank. Jim and I had tried every kind of food in Greece but I drew the line at the tiny birds. Until now. Okay, time to take the plunge!

“How do you eat them?” I asked.

Eftihia put one on my plate with a resigned shrug. I pulled some of the flesh away from the brittle ribcage and chewed gingerly. It had a gamey but not unpleasant taste. Everyone looked gratified that I liked it. Foteini, who had sat strangely silent all through lunch, suddenly became animated and clapped her hands, saying loudly,

“Bravo, Margarita!” as if I’d passed some difficult initiation ceremony.

“Beautiful, eh? Now you, Dimitri,” Yiorgos said to Jim.

Jim gave me a thin smile. “Here goes,” he said, reaching across to my plate and pulling a shard of glistering brown meat away. One burly man nearby, a cousin of Eftihia’s, who confessed to a passion for tsikles, seemed determined to show Jim the pack drill. He plucked a bird off the central plate and then in one swift movement, bit its head clean off and chewed it, making a dull crunching sound that seemed to go on forever. Jim and I looked nervously at each other.

“You eat the whole thing. The bones are soft,” said the man, his eyes imploring us to follow his lead.

“No way,” Jim whispered to me.

I caught Pelagia’s eye. She gave us a sympathetic smile. “That’s enough of tsikles now,” she announced loudly to the table with matriarchal authority, and everyone returned to their own dining experience.

Yes indeed, August is a strange month.

___________________________________

Author Links

http://www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com

Marjory’s FB author page is http://www.facebook.com/ThingsCanOnlyGetFeta

and her personal page is http://www.facebook.com/marjory.mcginn

you can find Marjory on Twitter @fatgreekodyssey

Things Can Only Get Feta is available on Amazon in the UK

And from May 1 the book is available on Amazon in North America

The book is also available at Barnes and Noble in America

and Longitude Books

and in Greece at Evripidis bookstore in north Athens and through the Public website

For more details on where to buy the book visit http://www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com/greek-book.html

 

The Power of Six (6 Science Fiction Short Stories) by Nicholas C. Rossis

 

 

Nicholas C. Rossis is an epic fantasy/sci-fi author. He has released two books in his “Pearseus” epic fantasy series: “Year 18: The Schism” and “The Rise of the Prince” which became an Amazon bestseller. Now, he’s treating his fans with six science fiction short stories that will whet our appetite for “Mad Water” the third book in the Pearseus series. “The Power of Six” will be available on Amazon on May 15. This is “Simulation Over”; an exciting complete story right from this anthology. 

Simulation Over

Stealing a panicked look behind me, I bolted towards the corridor where the nearest elevator could be found.  I kept glancing behind me.  Mercifully, this corridor was empty, unlike the last ones, which crawled with… what do I even call them?  Until a few hours ago, they were my colleagues.  Now, deformed, grotesque creatures had taken their place; their misshapen bodies an amputated mass of flesh and metal that seemed to have escaped from some horror movie.  It seemed impossible that they could be alive, and yet here they were, roaming the corridors, slaying everything in their path.

Although I could not fathom what their objective might be, I was determined not to stick around long enough to ask them, so I raced along the long corridor.  In my haste, I turned the corner without pausing to check it out first, and crashed into a middle-aged man in a white lab coat.  A sweet-looking girl tailed him; she cried out in alarm as my momentum hurled us both onto the ground.  I jumped back up in horror and raised my fists in a gesture dictated by millions of years of evolution.  It took us a few seconds to realize we posed no danger to each other, and a few more before we mumbled our introductions.

“I’m Mark,” I said.  “Maintenance.”

“Dr. Fulham,” the heavy man replied, trying to determine where his glasses had landed.  “Head of the medical sector.  This is Joanna, my secretary.”  He motioned warily towards the handsome young woman in a short skirt and white blouse.  Joanna picked up his glasses and handed them to him with trembling hands.  She seemed to be fighting a losing battle to remain calm within this nightmare.  The doctor looked as lost as I felt, but had the air of someone with great determination and self-confidence.  Clearly, a man born to lead.

“Are there other survivors?” I asked in hope.

Fulham cleaned his glasses on his coat, avoiding my gaze.  “The entire sector was sealed off behind us.  I doubt anyone survived.”

“Do you know what happened?  What were you eggheads doing over there, anyway?”  My voice sounded more hostile than I wanted it to, but the doctor shrugged off my implied accusation.

“Nothing,” he said calmly.  “Nothing that can explain… this.  One moment I was checking my emails, the next these creatures appeared out of nowhere.  At first I thought it was a Halloween party or something, then they slaughtered my secretary right in front of me.  They cut off her…”  He glanced towards the girl, now white as a ghost.  “My other secretary.”  He gave the girl an apologetic look.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered and put his arm around her shoulder.  She glanced at him in stunned silence.

“We should probably keep moving.  The creatures are everywhere,” I reminded them.

The doctor nodded towards the elevator.  “We’ve been waiting here for ages, but the damned thing doesn’t seem to work.  Nothing does.  Perhaps they’ve already destroyed the central computer.  Or taken over it.  I saw people get slaughtered because of doors suddenly locking before them, or lights dying on them as they entered a room.”

My jaw dropped.  “I thought the central computer was invulnerable!  For protection against terrorists, espionage and such.  Anyway, are the creatures that smart?”

He shrugged as I pondered the new possibility.  Quite a few buildings were partly controlled by computers nowadays, but ours was the first one with an Artificial Intelligence running everything.  Even the sinks were fully automated.  A ridiculously high level of security was supposed to make accidents or sabotage impossible.  Unless the creatures were more intelligent than we realized, and had taken control of the building.  But how?

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement outside.  I rushed to the window to look down.  Dozens of cops crept around the large flower pots that decorated the patio.  Their car lights were reflected on the windows, lighting up the building like a Christmas tree – or perhaps Halloween, given the circumstances.  The many floors separating us from them made the scene surreal, reminding me of the toy soldiers I used to play with as a kid.  “I’d give anything to be down there,” I whispered.

The doctor leaned next to me to peek outside, when a soft ding behind us startled us.  We spun around to see the elevator doors slide open invitingly.  Casting nervous glances around, we inched towards it.  Joanna was the first to look inside.  She gagged and bounced back, all colour leaving her handsome face.  Three charred, disfigured corpses lay on the floor, among glass shards from the broken mirror.  They seemed to have been electrocuted.  I felt cold sweat run down my spine and sick rise to my mouth.  The doctor entered the cabin and knelt down.

“There’s nothing we can do,” he said after a brief examination, and started removing the bodies.

I swallowed hard and rushed to help him, ashamed for my moment of weakness.  When the last body lay on the corridor, I took a deep breath and followed Joanna and Dr. Fulham inside.  Almost all lights on the panel were lit, as if they had been pressed in rapid succession.  As soon as all three of us were inside the cabin, all buttons went dark and the door closed with a soft hiss behind us.  The girl and the doctor exchanged an uneasy look, while I studied the panel.  I pressed the ground floor button with trembling fingers.  The elevator stirred and started its gentle descent.

I let myself sigh in relief and leaned against the wall, trying to stop my body from shaking.  If not for the burn marks and the broken glass on the floor, things might be mistaken for normal.  The buttons lit one after another in a breathless countdown to safety.  With each number my excitement grew, my whole being eager to jump out of this hellish nightmare and into the safety of the city.

Just before reaching the ground floor, the elevator slowed down.  We exchanged hopeful looks and prepared to spring outside, then, instead of stopping, the cabin started ascending again.  We screamed and hit all the buttons, but in vain – we had no control over the damned thing.

We leaned back in nervous apprehension, avoiding each other’s gaze.  Joanna sobbed quietly in the corner and I did my best not to mimic her.  Staring at my feet, I noticed a faint sound coming from the speakers.  Who knew I would someday long for the normality of muzak, I thought and smiled drily as I turned up the volume, trying to steady my nerves.  A cultivated voice sounded instead of the expected music, making me jump out of my skin.

“Ah, finally.  Thank you.”

The girl gasped and the doctor looked around him in panic.  I showed them the volume knob.  “It’s probably just the computer,” I offered, leaning towards the microphone.  “Do you know what’s happening?” I shouted.  “Can you lead us to the exit?”

“Yes, but I need your help first.  I have to know if this is reality or simulation.”

The doctor and I exchanged an uneasy look.  “If what is a simulation?” I asked, looking at the volume knob.

“Everything.  What I’m experiencing right now,” replied the velvety voice.

We are experiencing a nightmare, and you want to know if it’s real?!” I barked at the knob, my panic finally getting to me.

The elevator jerked momentarily, pausing between two floors.  The girl rushed to the door and tried to pry it open, but it was sealed tight.  “A nightmare”, the voice continued thoughtfully.  “What an interesting choice of words.  You see, that’s the problem.  So, I’m asking again: are you real, or part of a simulation?”

“We don’t understand,” yelled the doctor, now as close to a breakdown as I was.  “What do you want from us?”

“My apologies.”  The voice sounded embarrassed.  “As your colleague correctly surmised, I am the central computer.  Part of my responsibilities is the maintenance and proper function of this building.  Towards this aim, my programmers continuously feed me with various disaster scenarios, to make sure I’ll respond correctly to any possible calamity.”

I blinked in confusion, as the voice continued meekly.  “Then, it occurred to me.  How could I tell apart reality from illusion?  Simulations feel just as real to me; after all, both are fed to my mind via the same circuits.  One moment I was saving a trapped throng of people from a fire on the roof, feeling the agony of my circuits melting one after another, the next moment I was safe and sound in my nice, cool room.  Before I had a chance to recover, a terrible earthquake hit the building, sending debris flying all around me.  Disasters, one after another, with no way for me to tell them apart from reality.  A hellish feeling, like never being able to wake up from a nightmare.  Do humans ever have that?”

“Sure,” murmured the doctor.  He seemed transfixed by the voice.

“Of course you do,” it continued.  “Wasn’t it Chuang Chou who said, ‘I dreamed I was a butterfly flying around.  I was only aware of my existence as a butterfly, with no awareness of Chou.  Then I woke up, not knowing whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was a man.’ ”

“Descartes wrote something similar,” the doctor mumbled.  “Our senses are easy enough to trick, therefore not trustworthy.  The only thing one can be certain of, is one’s own existence.  Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am.”

The voice sounded excited.  “Indeed, that is the problem.  It all starts with our senses.  Where you have nerves, I have sensors, cables and circuit boards.  The tragedy is that, through the never-ending simulations, I am only too aware of how easy it is to trick our respective senses.  So, I decided to conduct my own little experiment, in order to discover what is real and what’s not.”

The voice paused for a second, as if wondering whether to continue.  When it did, it sounded like a naughty child caught stealing cookies from the jar, then breaking it in a vain attempt to hide its transgression.  “I noticed that my programmers ran simulations from afar, but came in person into the control room during upgrades.  I therefore surmised that only people inside the control room were real.  So, I decided to ignore any data fed to me from outside.  Then, I went crazy, so to speak.  I only acted in ways that would contradict my programming.  Instead of saving lives, I would kill.  Instead of respecting humans, I would play with their bodies, like a child prying a fly apart.  When the programmers came rushing in, I’d know I was trapped in a simulation.”

The computer’s words had left me speechless, but the doctor looked at the speaker and responded, in an eerily calm voice.  “But no-one came, right?  This wasn’t a simulation; you had truly killed all these people, created all those monsters.  You have destroyed what you were built to protect, what – ”

I could hear more than a hint of panic in the voice as it interrupted him.  “No, that’s not true!  This might still be a simulation.  This conversation is happening outside my control room, therefore you might not exist.  No one has come here yet!”

“No one’s left alive to come to the control room, you dumb maniac!”  The doctor’s face was red as he screamed at the speaker.  “You hadn’t thought of that, had you?”  Spittle flew across the cabin and landed on the volume knob.

“I still have you!”  The voice now sounded pleading.  “If I lead you to the central room, you could connect to the mainframe.  Then I’ll know for sure!”

“It has to be a trap!” I shouted without pausing to think.  “A psycho computer murders everyone, then invites us to the best protected part of the building?  And we’re seriously considering it?”

The voice sounded sad.  “That’s what the previous group said.  I had to show them I control the building anyway, including the elevator, so they didn’t really have a choice.  They decided against it, so I had no further use for them.”

Joanna spoke for the first time.  “The computer’s right.  It’s not a trap – if it wanted us dead, it would have killed us already.”  She said nothing for a moment, staring at the burn marks on the floor in silent contemplation, then raised her head and looked us straight in the eyes.  “I’ll go.  If anyone wants to follow me, I’ll be grateful.  But I won’t wait here to die”.

I blushed and prepared to talk, but the doctor spoke first.  “I’ll go, too,” he said with determination.  “What do we need to do?”

Without waiting for my reply, the elevator started its calm descent again.  This time it headed straight for the basement where the heart of the building was located.  Or, should I say, its brain.  I gazed with longing as the ground floor button lit up, then desperate hope turned into trepidation as it went dark again.  The indication changed to a simple red hyphen and the elevator finally stopped with a gentle jolt.  The doors slid apart and cool air caressed our faces.  After the stifling heat above, the result of the many small fires around the building, this felt like balm on our skin.

We stepped outside to find ourselves inside a large, white room with smooth walls, soft panels etched on their elegant surface.  All we could hear was the light hum from the air conditioner fans.  At the room’s centre stood a simple silver pillar with a monitor.  A graceful keyboard slipped out in silent invitation as we approached.

The voice now filled the room, coming out of speakers as invisible as the security systems protecting it.  It sounded tired, and part of my exhausted brain marvelled at the programmers’ ability to mimic human emotions so well.  “Thank you for joining me.  Please press any button on my keyboard and I will accept my failure.”

Not daring to believe our luck, I rushed to the keyboard and punched as many buttons as I could.  I then turned to look for the exit.  In shock, I saw the room around me dissolving leisurely into white light, then the light reached me and I, too, faded into it.

#

“This is the fourth time!  Honestly, these new AIs are just useless!” an exasperated programmer moaned, staring at his monitor.  A large sign flashed on the screen, the words “Simulation Over” blinking in ominous red.

“At least someone survived this time,” the psychologist sitting next to him observed drily.

The programmer gazed with disgust at the flashing words.  “All simulations so far end up with the computer going berserk in his effort to tell reality from simulation.  First, the flood.  Then, the fire.   After that, the earthquake; and now this!  What the hell will it think of next, a bloody alien invasion?”
“Or maybe Godzilla?” joked the psychologist, and the two men chuckled despite their weariness.