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 –

Gray Bishop: October 21, 2014 –

White Knight: January 1, 2015 –

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.












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


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

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Twitter: @Michael__Haley (two underscores)


The Lady of the Pier: The Ebb by Effrosyni Moschoudi

The Lady of the Pier: The Ebb, Effrosyni Moschoudi’s upcoming paranormal summer romance, set in Brighton in the ’30s and in Corfu in the ’80s, has cleared Round 2 in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest and is now a quarter-finalist! I’m not surprised, as I had the honor to beta read the manuscript, and I know first-hand that it was well deserved. You may read an excerpt here, but please make sure you head to its ABNA page, download the free excerpt from there and review it to help this amazing new author move to the semi-finals! Also, check out an excerpt from Effrosyni’s debut fantasy novel, “The Necklace of Goddess Athena” which has reached Amazon’s #1 in Mythology and #2 in Fairy Tales!


Outside, Meg announced that she had to rush to her post and Laura thanked her again. She felt reluctant to leave the Pier just yet. After saying goodbye to Meg, she made her way leisurely to the eastern landing stage in order to gaze out to the open sea.

She sat on a bench at the sun terrace and watched the world go by for a while. Generous views of the Hove and the open sea that stretched towards an indigo horizon made it a pleasure to be there, even though it was late afternoon and the remaining sunlight was fading fast. She stood up and walked to the railing, dreamily watching the sea horses breaking on the shore. The breeze had picked up in the past few minutes and she was almost shivering now in her dress and woollen cardigan. She looked up to see clouds travelling to the west, growing darker and darker by the second as the feeble sunlight continued to be engulfed by the growing darkness.

“Excuse me,” she heard a voice from behind her. She turned around to face a young man around her age. He didn’t look older than twenty-two, twenty-four at most. He had short dark hair and sparkling blue eyes. He wore a rather shabby-looking jacket, dark trousers and a pair of worn out shoes that had seen better days. His choice of clothes would have been totally unworthy of notice had it not been for a thick, rusty-brown scarf that was tied snugly around his neck. He stood smiling at her rather awkwardly, his thin lips twitching and all the while, his eyes seemed to speak to her through their amazing sparkle. She felt drawn to them as if they were sending out signals she was meant to interpret. He was nervous; she was sure of that. It was evident in the way he had dug both his hands in his pockets, looking a bit lost for words. And yet, the look in his eyes seemed quite confident.

“Yes?” she asked, mystified by his body language.

“Hello miss, sorry to disturb….” he finally said, rather unsurely.

“Yes?” she asked again after another awkward pause.

“Um, I was wondering if you could do me a favour…” His voice trailed off as he scratched his head.

“How can I help you?” she urged him with an encouraging nod.

“Well, I was wondering if you could pretend that we are friends…” he hesitated shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“I don’t understand….” she responded, puzzled.

“Could you offer me a handshake please? Or smile and give me a hug or something?” he asked, managing a faint half smile that could also be perceived as a rather cheeky smirk.

“What?” she protested. “What on earth for?”

“You see that geezer behind me sat on the bench?” he motioned with a slight movement of his head, shifting his eyes to one side. “No! Please don’t stare! He mustn’t suspect anything!” he pleaded, his blue eyes huge.

“Why not? Who is he?” she asked even more intrigued now, as she darted her eyes surreptitiously to the young man on the bench once more. He wasn’t even looking and she wondered what the fuss was all about. Silently, she thought the whole thing was rather amusing but she wasn’t going to show that to the dashing lad before her. Instead, she fixed him with a stern stare that demanded an instant explanation.

“Look, I’m sorry – alright?” he said then, realizing that her patience was wearing thin. “It’s just that I made a bet with him that I can prove that we are friends. He sort of said you are too beautiful for the likes of me and I wanted to prove him wrong – that’s all!”

“So you told him a lie about me and now you want me to help you confirm it?” she asked, trying to sound stern despite aching to dissolve into laughter by then.

“In essence, yes!” he answered managing a smile that this time, could definitely pass for a cheeky smirk.

“But how does this benefit me?” she retorted with a naughty look in her eyes.

“Excuse me?” he asked taken aback.

“What is there for me to gain from helping you out?”

“I’ll buy you a drink if you like!” he offered immediately and she wondered if that had been his goal from the start.

“No thanks!” she answered sternly but felt sorry for him when he regarded her silently in response with sorrowful eyes. It was a sad look of such intensity that the thought that crossed her mind was that he was doing it on purpose. In the end, she gave in anyway. He surely was heaven. She had to admit it. And he seemed harmless enough. She took a step towards him and offered her hand to him. He took it gratefully and to his surprise, totally unprompted, she reached up then and left a kiss on his cheek.

“Thanks! It’s more than I hoped for,” he whispered.

“Now what?” she questioned him, visibly amused.

“Is he still there?” he enquired. Laura looked behind him and the smile on her face froze instantly. The lad on the bench was no longer alone. A young girl, barely older than sixteen, sat next to him now. They seemed lost in conversation together, totally oblivious to what was going on around them.

“You never spoke to that young man, did you? There is no bet, is there?” she put to him as realization hit her. With her green eyes squinting at him, she placed a hand on her hip defensively, waiting, demanding the truth.

“My daddy always said, ‘never lie to a beautiful girl…unless you’re after her heart!’ So I took my daddy’s advice…is that so bad?” he asked mischievously, tilting his head slightly, amused by the stunned expression on her face.

“Oh I see! So you were pretending to be nervous all this time! What an act! And for what?” she asked when she finally found her voice again.

“I got a kiss on the cheek, didn’t I?” he said shrugging his shoulders.


“You make it sound so trivial!”

“It is, isn’t it?”

“Oh…. I beg to differ miss… miss…. I didn’t quite catch your name!”

“Huh! As if I’m going to tell you that!” she snapped at him. “I’m not falling for another one of your tricks!” she added and turned to go but the spring in her step revealed that she was light-hearted.

“You’re wrong though….” His voice trailed behind her and she turned to face him again.

“Wrong about what?” she responded, puzzled.

“That the kiss you gave me was trivial…. a kiss from a pretty girl like you will keep me warm after you go, all through the night!” he said with a grin and a hand over his heart.

“Why don’t you get under a blanket to be sure….’ she teased him and turned away.

The echo of his laughter hung in the air between them as she strode off along the deck, her hand over her luscious red lips, stifling her giggle.