THE SILVER GUN by L.A. Chandlar


The ashes of the cigarette struck the rocks with sparks and bloodred cinders. The wind beneath the bridge played with the wisps of smoke coming from the tip, making spidery webs in the air. The rising sun splashed a honey-colored glow on the buildings. From the shore, a trumpet, of all things, blew loud and clear like a call. The hooded head turned up abruptly, alert like a hunter on the prowl. Ready. At ease, knowing that it would come full circle. Destiny was working its odd magic. Like he said it would.

Something bright appeared at the edge of the bridge—halting, tipping, and then falling. The eyes beneath the dark hood followed it carefully, one corner of the mouth curving slightly into a gratified grin. The shining bit of destiny hit the shore just out of reach of the water on a small hill of gravel. The figure gracefully slunk across the shore, an arm slowly reaching out like a white snake about to grasp its prey. The coveted reward. The one he’d said was worth waiting for. The hand gripped the handle and tenderly pocketed the prize.

The cigarette was thrown to the ground, discarded. A lingering whistle echoed softly in the breeze as the hooded figure drifted up the shore into Manhattan.


My father was skating up ahead, faster, faster; my mother and I were laughing, joyously racing to catch up. Colors and sensations swirled like a dancer teasing the audience: the cold, gray day, the gentle snowflakes kissed my cheeks and coated my eyelashes, my mother’s blue scarf, my father’s scratchy red mittens. He was skating along the outside edges of the rink. We almost had him! A loud crack suddenly ripped through the air. A heart pang of panic, and my father’s fearful, wide eyes flashed back to us, arms reaching out. Then frigid, terrifying darkness. The intense cold made my bones and muscles ache to the point of cracking; then a slow, heavy, downward pull to blackness….

Three familiar images drifted into focus: the ugly grin of the lady in the green hat; the dark brown eyes intently staring, willing me to wake; and finally, the silver gun with the bloodred scroll on the handle.   

 I opened my eyes. A cool spring breeze ruffled the white drapes with the city’s fresh, energetic air. The familiar dark brown dresser with glass drawer knobs poking out and a charming porcelain pitcher and bowl on top looked steadfast and comfortable after the eerie dream. The cotton sheets in my smoky blue and white bed felt soft and reassuring as I rubbed them between my fingers. I stretched like a cat, and the only lingering remnant of the dream was those eyes. Those dark brown eyes.

I’m a big believer in dreams—well, at least some of them. A past I was still piecing together.

The piece I’d already figured out was the dark brown eyes. If this were a novel, those intense eyes might bring a sense of fear or unease. Perhaps they’d be a harbinger of my death and open up a vast mystery.

Surprisingly, those eyes were the only part of my dreams that absolutely brought me comfort. Were they the eyes of a long-lost love? No. Were they the sinister yet seductive eyes of a criminal? No. Tall, dark, and handsome stranger? Try squat, rather tubby Italian who never stopped moving and was, most of the time, bellowing. Which was actually occurring downstairs right this second.

I jumped out of bed, threw on my favorite black skirt and white blouse with the long, full sleeves, raced a washcloth around my face, brushed my dark brown hair, tossed on some mascara and bright red lipstick, slipped on my high-heeled red Mary Janes, and ran down the stairs to greet that bellower. Who just happened to my boss and a friend of the family.

He was also the ninety-ninth mayor of New York City: Fiorello LaGuardia.

“Good morning, Laney Lane, my girl!” boomed a voice loud enough to be worthy of a six-foot-eight giant versus this five-foot-two, rotund man.

Grrrrr,” I replied. I only went by Lane. Lane Sanders. And I happened to take a perverse pleasure in never telling him, nor anyone, for that matter, whether Lane was my full name or a nickname. Plus, his voice was loud enough to be a giant’s but also very screechy, especially before breakfast.

“Good morning, Aunt Evelyn,” I said as I strode right past him, across the dining room, and gave my aunt a quick kiss on her soft cheek.

My Aunt Evelyn—Evelyn Thorne—was a marvelous mix of classy city lady and bohemian artist.

Her jet black hair was neatly pinned up, and she was sporting a crisp, navy blue pinstriped dress. I smiled to myself at the stark contrast of her attire this morning compared to her red skirt and her long hair trailing down her back while she was painting in her studio last night. Her childhood in France and Italy gave her a worldly and almost exotic air mixed with an earthy authenticity that loved to dare convention.

She smiled up at me from the breakfast table laden with scrumptious-smelling scones, eggs, and sausages. Her eyes crinkled with amusement at the exchange between Fiorello and me.

“I don’t have dark circles under my eyes, do I?” I asked as I contemplated running back upstairs for some face powder.

“Oh, no, not at all, Lane, not this morning. I can just tell,” she replied. I had no doubt about that. Aunt Evelyn’s intuition and attention to detail were uncanny at times.

I turned to the buzzing and humming human being I had swept past. Fiorello was in a consistent state of perpetual motion, but especially if he had not been greeted properly. Having had him suffer sufficiently, I rounded on him with a huge grin and cocked eyebrow. “And you, my cantankerous friend. How are you this morning?”

I heard his chuckle as I dove to the table, eating what I could as fast as human digestion and general dignity could handle, for I knew he would give me mere seconds to eat before we had to bolt out the door.

“All right,” he began, with eyes still smiling but with an air of getting down to business. “We have a lot to do today. I was just telling Evelyn that I have a meeting with my commissioners this morning.” He said this with a great roll of his eyes. Most of the time, his commissioners were the bane of his existence.

He continued, “…a meeting with Roger down at the docks to discuss the conditions at the dock houses and…” He went on and on about the day’s activities as I slurped down a cup of tea and loaded up a scone with homemade strawberry curd and butter.

Mr. Kirkland came in and scooped some scrambled eggs onto my plate. Even though I had lived with them for over thirteen years, John Kirkland was still a bit of a mystery to me. I would have thought that Aunt Evelyn would require a butler and cook who would be refined and stern in a European fashion. He was anything but that; Mr. Kirkland’s craggy face was weather-worn but appealing. I liked how his light gray hair was somewhat unfashionably long, touching his collar; how his eyes were tough, blue, and intelligent. He looked more suited to being captain of a sea vessel, barking orders to swarthy sea mates while battling hurricanes and pirates.

He had been with Aunt Evelyn since before I came to live with her when I was ten. He kept to himself and never really talked with me at great length, other than his usual muttering with the colorful language that also reminded one of seafaring life. And much to Aunt Evelyn’s chagrin, I couldn’t help but pick up a few of his more colorful words here and there.

As I ate my breakfast, last night’s dream kept tapping my shoulder like an insistent child trying to get my attention. So I began walking down the lane of the old memories it triggered.

It was the music I remembered most. The early Twenties was ripe with new sounds and new life. Our Victrola played them all: Paul Whiteman, Trixie Smith, Al Jolson. Songs like “” and “Three O’Clock in the Morning.” They were always the backdrop to every memory, every feeling. My parents owned a bookstore on Main Street in Rochester, Michigan, and our brown Tudor-style house had a lovely garden in the back.

My attention snapped back to the present as I heard Fiorello say, as he did every day, “We’ve got work to do!” He started to bolt out the door, which meant I’d better follow or be left behind.

“Bye, Aunt Evelyn! Bye, Mr. Kirkland!” I yelled as I grabbed my large purse with my two notebooks tucked inside.

One I always carried with me to take notes. The other was my prized possession: a deep red leather notebook with engraved curls and leaves around the edges. It was filled with notes and mementos from my parents and it never left my side. With my bag securely over my shoulder, I ran out the door after Fiorello.

His legs moved rapidly down 80th Street toward Lexington, where we’d pick up the subway at 77th. In my high heels, I was actually much taller than Fio, but his commanding presence more than made up for his height. I never felt taller than him. I had to fairly run (not an easy task, but damn, I loved those red shoes) to keep up with his pace. As he walked, he started to rapid-fire tasks for me to do for the day. I brought out my notepad and took down copious details.

We took a variety of routes to work every day, depending on Fio’s mood and whom he wanted to see on his way in. Sometimes we took one of the elevated trains down Second or Third Avenue, sometimes the subway down Lexington, or, once in a while, his car and driver would pick us up. When we came to Lexington and started south, we went past Butterfield Market with its heavenly aroma of baking bread wafting out. The many languages of the city rolled around us, making the energy and bustle of the thousands of people heading to work and school that day a physical force so palpable you could almost touch it. Packs of children were being walked to school while packs of dogs were being given their morning exercise. There was Murrey’s Jewelry store, which had just opened, with sparkling rings and bracelets in the window; the shoe store with its tantalizing new spring line; the dusty newspaper stands… I loved this city. It was challenging, stimulating, vibrant. A place of many layers and depth.

I was writing as fast as I could, fortunately using the shorthand I learned in high school. It looked like Sanskrit, but it was infinitely faster than longhand, especially when trying to keep up with the Little Flower—that’s what Fiorello means in Italian. He was only called that by people who loved him, but I never really could tell how he felt about that. His small stature seemed to haunt him. He acted like he was at least six-foot-four, but in actuality he was always looking up at people. He had a bust of Napoleon in his office.

Mr. LaGuardia was loud, abrasive, rude, purposeful, fast, incredibly intelligent, sometimes scary; did I mention loud? And yet he was also kind, generous, intuitive, and something I could never put my finger on…. Wary? Insecure? I don’t know. He was an enigma at the same time that his feelings were written all over his face.

I loved my job. I interviewed for the job right when Mr. LaGuardia took office two years ago, and after an hour of back-and-forth discussion (rather like a speed game of ping-pong), I was hired. I started in the secretary pool for over a year. Then, at the youthful age of twenty-three, I was recently promoted to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia’s personal aide.

We clanked down the two flights of steps at 77th, and Mr. LaGuardia said, “Good morning” and, “How are ya?” to many people, interspersed with things like, “Tell that Fletcher guy I’m watching him!” and, “Hey, Micky, how ya doin’? Tell your pop I hope he’s feeling better.”

We stopped, finally, at the end of the platform. I pointed and flexed my foot, working out the usual high-heel cramps. I felt someone brush up against me from behind; it was a mother with two young boys pulling on her arms, both prattling on to her at the same time. She looked tired, but she was smiling.

My eyes flicked behind her, and my stomach lurched with a sickening drop. Standing there was one of the scariest men I’d ever seen in my life, which is saying a lot, since I worked in the mayor’s office. He was a grungy white man with a grungier brown hat smashed on top of his head, a stained white shirt, a grotesque stomach jutting out over wherever his belt would have been, and a slimy black cigar poking out of his mouth. All that was enough, but it was his face that sent a ripple of fear into me. His eyes were mean and flat but hinted that something was lurking back there. His nose encased a dense collection of black, bristly nose hairs poking out. He locked eyes with me for one second. I blinked and looked down as he gurgled a satisfied grunt at my unease. Just then, the train roared into the station.

Fio glared at me. “Lane? You with me? You okay?”

I looked at him and said, “Do you see that guy watching us?” I turned, but he was gone.

“What guy? Watching us?” he asked.

“He’s gone.” Before I could say more, the train stopped, the doors swung open, and a mass of humanity crushed its way onto the train. The train lurched downtown with all of us packed into place with someone’s elbow in my back and a corner of a briefcase poking my thigh. I couldn’t get that guy out of my mind.

In an effort to think of something else, I tried humming the new song by Bing Crosby, but all I could remember was the part that had the title of the song in it: “Benny’s from heaven….” We finally pulled into our station, Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall. We smashed our way back out of the train and up several flights of stairs, and burst out into the refreshing open air at city hall. I straightened my red pillbox hat, which had gotten jostled a bit, and began copying down the onslaught of instructions once more.

Fio went right to his office after greeting everyone by name. I got to my desk and immediately started organizing my schedule. There was already a lineup of petitioners to see the mayor. From the young man whose wife had gone into labor unexpectedly early and the closest hospital was an expensive one that they couldn’t afford—Fio was sure to get the fees reduced—to the pushcart peddler who had come in to complain that he couldn’t get his license renewed. Fio always listened to each and every person and did something about their problem.

I helped Fio get through the line of people, listening, directing, and taking down information. Stifling a yawn, I felt the need for coffee and walked over to the coffee room. Fiorello didn’t believe in coffee breaks, so I had to make it quick.

“Hey, Lane! How ya doin’?” exclaimed Ralph, one of the other aides in the office. Ralph’s curly dark hair fell over his brow, and his smile was wide as he talked at breakneck speed. He was a nice guy; however, he never let me finish a sentence.

Ralph always knew what was hot to do in town. I could never fathom how much he crammed into a weekend. “Hey, Ralph, what’s up t—” I asked. Before I could finish my greeting, he started in at a pace worthy of a Gilmore Special.

“There’s a bunch of us going out to Club Monaco tonight, want to come along? I hear there’s a great band, play all the new songs, too, not just the oldies. Hey! Great shoes, Lane. You should wear that red dress you wore last time we went to Wit’s End. You looked amazing. Do you think you could bring Annie?”

He looked at me expectantly. Ralph had a hopeless crush on Annie, a secretary downstairs. But then again, he had a hopeless crush on a dozen women a month. He was lucky he was so good-natured.

“Sure, I’ll see if she wants to c—” I tried to reply.

“Great! Save me a dance, Lane! Gotta run, Mr. Fitzgerald’s extra grouchy today, better get back before he realizes I’ve been ‘Gone too long, Popeye!’” He mimicked his surly boss perfectly and flew out the door, managing to throw his empty coffee cup into the garbage can with a very nice backhand. He really did resemble Popeye from the radio show and on the Wheatena box.

I walked back to my office with my creamy, sugary coffee and looked forward to going to the new Club Monaco. I got to work typing up notes for some points of contention Mr. LaGuardia had on the conditions of the housing organizations, adding up some numbers of the budget for this month, and transcribing my notes from the morning train ride.

The first meeting of the morning was a big one. It was a Boner Award day. Today’s winner of the monthly award—a sheep bone decorated with ribbons like a Christmas present—was Fire Commissioner McElligott. He burned himself with a firecracker while giving a presentation about the dangers of Fourth of July fireworks.

The day went along its merry way until after lunch, when stern voices (aka yelling) floated out from Fio’s office. I had learned to diagnose how important the yelling was. There were three categories. Category one: normal yelling that occurred on a daily basis, when Fio was only nominally annoyed at something, like at the Boner Award earlier. Category two: louder yelling accompanied by some desk-thumping and perhaps a pen whipped at the door out of frustration. This often led to a swift departure by the one being yelled at, brisk action taken by the mayor (more rapid-fire notes on my part), and a lot of activity all day long as we metaphorically put out fires to undo the damage that caused the yelling.

And then there was category three. Ooh, category three. There was usually one big outburst that contained an ominous tone, only one single, loud thump of an agitated fist hitting his desk, and then an eerie quiet that was like the calm before the storm. I usually walked away from my desk at that point, went to the ladies’ room, and basically hid for a few minutes to prepare for battle.

This event turned out to be a category one. I wrote out a quick note on a minuscule piece of paper that said C1 and went out to the main office toward Val’s desk to give her the alert.

The entire office full of secretaries and aides was abundantly aware of the categories of our Little Flower. Valerie was my closest friend, and we navigated the office politics together. There had been a bit of a territory war ever since Fio decided to have me, a woman, be an aide versus a secretary. As I walked out to Valerie, I was already receiving dirty looks from my least favorite people: Lizzie and Roxy.

Val looked over at me with her green eyes flashing. With her light brown hair and thousands of tiny freckles, she looked fantastic as she sported a sage green suit with large buttons and three-quarter-length sleeves.

Lizzie and Roxy were eyeing me with constipated snarls on their faces. I waved in their direction and smiled, tossing the note to Val. She made some cryptic hand signals, like a catcher to the pitcher, to George across the room, and he ran off to another part of the office to inform them that the yelling was a mere category one.

“Hey, Short ‘n’ Shorter are particularly snarly today. What’s going on?” I asked Val as I leaned up against her desk. Lizzie and Roxy were very tiny and they had an adorable aura around them that made me feel like a Clydesdale. I looked over at them, noticing how Roxy’s curly white-blond hair hugged her perfectly round face in the latest style. She was very attractive except for the fact that she looked like she was perpetually displeased, or smelled something rotten. Today she had on a gorgeous yellow scarf and matching yellow, curve-hugging sweater that perfectly highlighted her best assets.

“Oh, they just figured out that since you were made an aide, you actually outrank them in the office.”

“Just now? But I got that promotion six months ago,” I said, with a quizzical, cocked eyebrow.

“Yeah, well, they might type like lightning, but the rest of them isn’t so quick,” said Val.

I looked over at them as Lizzie whispered something to Roxy like a gossipy schoolgirl. Lizzie’s long red hair more than made up for her sort of mousy looks. She had a terrible squint, like she might need glasses, and her shoulders were the tiniest bit hunched (which made me constantly want to scold, Stand up straight!), but with her luxurious hair and wonderful figure, I’m pretty sure no one else noticed.  Lizzie and Roxy were devious backstabbers. But they did type like lightning.

Since word traveled fast around there and I wanted to get back to my desk in case the C1 turned into something else, I said bye to Val and started to walk back. Just as I was getting to my desk, a lean, muscular man came barging out of Fio’s office, and we charged right into each other. He was obviously surprised and said with a soft and rather intoxicating British accent, “Sorry, love.” Before I could blink, he gently took my shoulders, set me aside, and in about three strides, was out the door of the office. The man was quick and efficient, yet I had time to glimpse dark eyes that sparked. And since I had literally run my face right into his collarbone, I also knew he smelled wonderful.

Just then Fio came out of his office with a crease furrowed between his brows, tapping his lips with his forefinger in thoughtful consideration.

“Who was that?” I asked.


“That man that you were yelling—I mean speaking—with just ran into me, and I didn’t get a chance to meet him,” I said, eyes squinting in assessment.

He hesitated, tapped his lips one final time, and replied, “Hmm.” Then Fio turned right around and went back into his office, closing the door behind him.

Click HERE to buy the book and keep reading!

Copyright 2017 by LA Chandlar

Kensington Publishing Corp. 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018

LAChandlar Head ShotL.A. Chandlar is the author of the Art Deco Mystery Series with Kensington Publishing featuring Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and a fresh take on the innovation and liveliness of 1930s New York City. Her debut novel, The Silver Gun released August 29, 2017 and the sequel, The Gold Pawn, will release September 2018. Laurie has been living and writing in New York City for 16 years and has been speaking for a wide variety of audiences for over 20 years including a women’s group with the United Nations. Her talks range from NYC history, the psychology of creativity, and the history of holiday traditions. Laurie has also worked in PR for General Motors, writes and fund-raises for a global nonprofit, is the mother of two boys, and has toured the nation managing a rock band.


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A MATTER OF BLOOD by Catherine Maiorisi


AMatterofBloodcoverjaf1011 copyCHAPTER ONE

NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli wasn’t surprised to see the men and women in blue waiting in front of the station to welcome her back. She’d expected them. Just not so many. And not the media. Even a block away, the excitement of the crowd was palpable. She took a deep breath, which at seven thirty on this oppressive August morning, was like inhaling steam. Then, as before any battle, she took a minute to psych herself, straightened her already military-straight back and marched toward the maelstrom.

A shout. “Corelli.” Her name passed through the crowd, becoming a chant. Her heart sped up, her hand found her Glock, but she ignored the impulse to draw it. She’d fractured the blue line and doing that had consequences. But knowing intellectually there would be anger and hatred and danger was one thing, seeing and feeling it was…unnerving. And disheartening. She steeled herself. She’d never let them see her hurt and her anger at their betrayal. Or her fear.

Head held high, Corelli fought the urge to favor the leg injured in last night’s attack and maintained the steady pace she’d set for herself. At the opening she ignored the bright lights and shouted questions of the press and plunged into the funnel formed by hundreds of police officers with their backs to her, hissing her name. The heat, sweat and cloying sweetness of the colognes and perfumes from so many bodies crammed together nauseated her. Her gut clenched but she didn’t miss a step. Nor did she miss the calls of traitor, whore and bitch that underscored the hissing that followed her, or the elbows and kicks that connected. And, though she didn’t turn to look, she felt the heat of the TV lights and heard the shouted commentary of the TV reporters describing the reception provided by her brethren in blue.

After what seemed like an hour, she reached the door and stepped into the familiar bustle of police business. The air was fresher and she had space to breathe but she was not immune here. “Shame on you,” said the first officer she encountered face-to-face, a man she’d known for years. Shocked by the hatred on his face, she braced for an attack, but instead of spitting in her face as she expected, he pivoted and stood with his back to her.

Still ignoring the pain in her leg, she continued on. She’d been told the squad was up a staircase toward the back of the station house. By the time she hit the first step, the only sounds were the ringing phones, the rat-a-tat-tat of her heels, and the shuffle of feet as her colleagues swiveled to show her their backs. Funny, it felt as if their eyes were piercing her back as she climbed the stairs.

She braced for more of the same in the squad room, but the few detectives present studiously ignored her and carried on their conversations. She scanned the room, not knowing which, if any, desk was hers.


She turned toward the voice. Detective Ray Dietz. She hadn’t known he was at the oh-eight.

A smiling face. “Over here.” Dietz pointed to a desk in the corner.

“Dietz, I thought you’d retired.”

“Couldn’t see myself farting around the house.” He frowned. “What’s with the limp and the fucked-up face?”

Corelli tucked her swollen hand into her left armpit. Her other hand brushed the abrasion on her face.

“A pickup truck charged me last night. My red cape was at home so I couldn’t wave it in front of the truck to distract it. I tripped, scrambling to get out of its way.” She didn’t mention the foot that had smacked her already injured knee as she made her way through the morning’s gauntlet.

He wrinkled his nose. “There’s lots of bullheaded pricks around here. Better keep that cape handy.”

She lowered her voice. “How come you’re talking to me?”

“Showin’ my respect.” He tipped an imaginary hat. “Because you got a lotta balls takin’ on such a risky job.”

“Safer to stay away from me, Dietz.”

He cracked his knuckles. “Let the bastards try something.”

She sat behind the desk and Dietz dropped into the side chair.

While they chatted, she scanned the room, found a few familiar faces, but none were welcoming. One figure, silent and watchful, caught her eye.

She lifted her chin in the direction of the slender, chestnut brown woman standing near the coffeepot. “Who’s the fashion plate by the window?” The sophisticated haircut, the tan designer pantsuit, the red silk shirt, and the fancy leather bag slung over her shoulder were more appropriate for a high-priced law firm than the rough-and-tumble life of a detective. But her eyes, the almost imperceptible bulge at her waist, and the sensible black shoes said cop.

Dietz spoke softly. “Detective Penelope Jasmine Parker. Rich girl and former assistant district attorney turned cop, saved a Harlem family of five from a crazed shooter and made detective a couple weeks ago.”

“Jeez, I hope she didn’t break a nail.” Parker. Shit. Chief of Detectives Harry Broderick had set the terms for her being back on the job. Either be glued to the hip with a new detective, P.J. Parker, or be chained to a desk. No contest there. Parker won hands down.

He snorted. “Give the kid a break. She’s got enough to deal with. Her father is Aloysius T. Parker.”

The Aloysius T. Parker? US Senator Aloysius T. Parker?”


“Man, I thought I had baggage.” Senator Parker was the most vocal and vicious critic of the NYPD, constantly demonstrating and holding press conferences accusing the department of racism, some real, some imagined.

“Kid’s a loner, never connected at the two-nine in Harlem and probably wouldn’t have made detective if she hadn’t saved that family. Parker is waiting for Captain Winfry too.”

What the hell was Broderick up to, saddling her with a fashionista whose father was NYPD’s number one critic? Though, if she really was an unconnected loner, it might mean she could trust Parker. But could she trust Broderick?

Corelli studied Parker, trying to get a sense of the tightly coiled woman. Parker stiffened, scowled at Corelli and quickly looked away. Should she talk to Parker now? No, better wait to talk to Winfry. Maybe Senator Daddy got her assignment changed.

Dietz tapped the folders piled in the center of her desk. “The captain wanted you to review these cold cases and see what you can pick up. I gotta follow up on some stuff. See ya later.”

“I’m on it.” Easier said than done, though. She could only sit still for fifteen or twenty minutes. She was up and down so often that the detectives in the squad and the uniforms downstairs began to grumble at having to stand and turn their backs every time she dashed outside to pace and breathe and then again when she reentered. Some pretended they didn’t see her. And after a while most of the detectives in the squad ignored her, except Parker. And, while Parker didn’t turn her back, she watched her every move. It was irritating.

After three hours, Corelli was in a rage. Fucking civilians snug in their comfy offices, not worried about shelling or IEDs or suicide bombers, had no sense of urgency. Either Winfry was giving her the cold shoulder or he had forgotten she was waiting. Neither was acceptable. Fucking Winfry. Fucking bureaucratic bullshit. Fifteen more minutes and she was out of there, job or no job. She’d been contemplating signing on for another tour in Afghanistan and going back was looking better and better.

She grabbed the next cold case folder and read the first page. Someone had left a love letter for her. In an instant the agitation was replaced by the familiar calm focus and alertness she always felt in the face of danger. She read it again.

TRAITOR—a person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust.

JUDAS—one who betrays another under the guise of friendship.

RAT—a despicable person, especially one who betrays or informs upon associates.

RATTED—to betray one’s associates by giving information.

RATFINK—A person regarded as contemptible, obnoxious, or otherwise undesirable.

PUNISHMENT—One dead + Many ruined = Death

She scanned the room. Nobody was watching her. She studied the computer-generated page, thought about fingerprints but knew there wouldn’t be any. She’d known investigating other police would have serious consequences, known there was a good chance she might not survive, known if she survived she would be ostracized. But, just back from Afghanistan, she hadn’t cared much about living. Now, home four months and no longer undercover, she was thinking that living was better than dying and her death no longer figured as a positive in her equation of consequences. They, whoever they were, would have to work hard to get her.

She accepted responsibility for the results of her undercover investigation. One officer she’d exposed ate his gun and a number of others were facing serious jail time, but they were the bad guys, not her. It wasn’t easy but she would live with the guilt just as she was living with the killing she’d done in Afghanistan and Iraq. She put the paper in her pocket and checked again to see if anyone was watching. Parker quickly averted her eyes. Could Ms. Fancy-Pants Parker be the writer?

“Corelli.” Dietz’s voice broke into her musing. “Captain’s ready.”

“About fucking time.”
The room went silent. Fuck. She hadn’t meant to say that aloud.

“Whoa.” Dietz put a hand on her shoulder. “Better take a deep breath before you go down.” He looked into her eyes. “The brass dropped in. He had no choice.”

She eyed his hand. He stepped back, taking his hand with him. Shit. Threatening her only friend. “Sorry, Dietz. It’s been a long morning.”

She flipped a half salute and moved toward the steps accompanied by a symphony of scraping chairs as the detectives stood and gave her their backs. It hurt. But damn if she’d give them the satisfaction of knowing that. She strode, as much as her achy leg allowed, through the squad, down the stairs past the blue backs and muttering that followed her as she made her way to the captain’s office. She took the deep breath Dietz had recommended and knocked.

Without looking up, Captain Winfry waved her to the chair facing him. “Sit. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

She stared at the top of his shiny head. She still didn’t get why he wanted her under his command when no one else would have her.

He looked up. His eyes widened. “What the hell happened to your face, Corelli?”

She fingered the scrape that covered the right side of her face. “A car tried to run me down last night when I was walking home from One Police Plaza. The incident was reported by Officer Marta Ryan, sir.”

Winfry’s eyes narrowed. His face darkened. Was that a flash of anger?

“Damn it, Corelli. That’s exactly why the chief ordered a bodyguard for you.”

“Yes sir, I’m supposed to meet with Detective Parker this morning.” But you kept me waiting so it hasn’t happened.

“Other than cars gunning for you and running the blue gauntlet this morning, how are things going?”

“Fine, sir.” If you don’t count the kicks, punches, threatening calls or slashing of my Harley’s tires while I was at my nephew’s baptism yesterday. “Ready to be back on the job. Am I going to be working with Detective Parker?”

“Yes. But here’s the thing. Parker doesn’t know she’s supposed to work with you.”

“Chief Broderick said he’d set it up.”

Winfry looked pained. “Well, he selected Parker and told her he had a special assignment for her, but he didn’t tell her it involved you.”

Lily-livered bastard. “Are you going to tell her?”

“Broderick thinks you’re the best person to convince Parker. So, after we’re done you’ll meet with her.”

“Convince her? You mean she can say no?”

“Yes, she can say no.”
Fucking Broderick. “Is the special treatment…I mean the fact that she can say no, because of who her father is?”

Winfry looked amused. “Actually, Corelli, it’s because of who you are. Broderick feels, and I agree, it’s really not a good idea to have someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you watching your back.”

“And if I can’t convince her?”

“If she turns down the assignment, you’re on desk duty until we find someone we feel can be trusted.”

“Jeez.” She bit her lip. It wouldn’t do to badmouth the chief to her new boss.

“It’s unorthodox, but the chief happens to be right. You’re a target right now and you need someone you can trust. She’s smart. Yale undergrad, Harvard Law, and a stint as an assistant DA before joining the department. She’s proven she’s able to keep her head under fire. And she’s safe because she’s unconnected. But the chief didn’t want to order her to do it.”

“He could’ve at least told her she would be working with me.”

“Coulda, shoulda. As I said, Broderick was confident you could make the case.”

“If I might ask, Captain, I’m persona non grata. Why do you want to work with me?”

He straightened the folders on his desk. She waited, knowing if she broke the silence he might feel he didn’t have to answer.

“A number of reasons, some personal that I won’t discuss. Reason one, the blue wall serves a purpose but it’s not right to ostracize an honest cop for blowing the whistle on dirty cops. Reason two, I respect you for doing what you did for the department despite the personal risk while undercover and knowing you’d be ostracized after. And reason three, I get a top-notch detective.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Dealing with the ostracism is your problem, but anything else—threats, failure by your colleagues to do their jobs or respond as you would expect—I want to know.”

He glanced at his watch. “I have a meeting now so you can use my office to sell yourself to Parker. You have forty-five minutes.” He punched a number into the phone. “Send Parker to my office.” He retrieved the stack of folders and the leather bound notebook from his desk and headed for the door. “Good luck.”

Great. When did her old friend Chief Harry Broderick become a coward? He wants me to be safe, but he doesn’t have the balls to tell Parker I’m the assignment?

Parker must have run down the stairs because Winfry had just left when she walked through the open door. Seeing Corelli, not Winfry, she frowned and started to back out. “Oh, I thought—”

Corelli stood. “Detective Parker?”

Parker took a step back, as if she might be infected if she got too close.

“Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”

“What?” Parker looked puzzled.

“I’m Detective Chiara Corelli.”
Parker’s face darkened. “I know who you are.”

Oh, oh. Daddy’s little girl is not happy. “We’re supposed to meet this morning to talk about working together.”

“Really? No one told me.”

I’m telling you now, bitch. “Yeah, well, Chief Broderick sorta forgot to mention my name.” Corelli put her hands in her back pockets and rocked back on her heels. “I’m your special assignment. The deal is, we work homicides, you watch my back, and I train you.”

“Work with the most hated detective in the department?” Parker laughed. “You must be kidding.” Her voice was harsh. “The chief did say there wouldn’t be any repercussions if I don’t want the assignment.” She glared at Corelli. “And I don’t.” She moved toward the door.

“Detective Parker.” Corelli’s voice was a command.
 Parker stopped, her back to Corelli.
“A few minutes, please.”

Parker faced Corelli. “Read my lips. I will not work with you.”

“At least hear me out.”

Parker’s jaw tightened. “How about you hear me? I do not want to be associated with you. What about that sentence don’t you understand?”

What was Broderick thinking? She couldn’t work with someone who hated her. She opened her mouth to tell Parker to go fuck herself, but instead she clamped her lips. Duh. Every cop hated her. But Broderick seemed to think Parker was safe. She needed Parker, so she’d make nice. “A lot of police feel that way about me, but since the chief stressed that you think for yourself, I expected you’d want to hear the facts before you made a decision.”

“I know the facts.”

Hey, if you’re comfortable passing judgment without hearing from the accused, you don’t have what it takes to be a good homicide detective anyway. So we’re done here.” Corelli waved her hand toward the door. “Go.” Fuck you. I won’t beg.

Parker frowned. Her hands curled into fists but she didn’t move. She seemed to be fighting an internal battle. Corelli held her breath. Even Parker was better than desk duty.

“You’re wrong. I would be an excellent homicide detective. But you’re right that I’m prejudging you based on gossip, innuendo and the media.” Parker’s voice was icy. “But why me? There are plenty of experienced detectives, more likely bodyguards, on the force.”

“I don’t like this any more than you, Parker.” Corelli’s smile was pained. “But as you said, I’m the most hated detective in the department. Chief Broderick feels I’ll have an accident if I don’t have someone who can be trusted to watch my back. And given the circumstances, it’s hard to know who to trust. Broderick chose you. He says you’re an honest, trustworthy cop, who’s proven you know how to handle your gun.”

“And if I say no?”

“I’m tied to a desk.” 

Parker nodded. “I see.” She looked out the window and back at Corelli. “Not my problem.”

Corelli felt a prickle of anxiety. She needed this to work. “It is your problem. Unless you’re on the side of the cops in jail waiting for trial and don’t care about an honest department.”

“Don’t be stupid. Of course, I…” Parker chewed her lip. “So talk.”

Corelli shifted the two chairs in front of the desk so they faced each other. “Let’s sit.”

Parker ran her hand over the seat of the dilapidated wooden chair, then sat.

Wonderful. I’m fighting for my life here and Miss Prissy is worried about snags in her fancy suit.

“I know you were promoted because you saved that family, but tell me a little about yourself, where you live, what precincts you’ve worked in, about your experience with the department.”

“This isn’t about me,” Parker said, her voice a challenge.

Corelli leaned in and locked eyes with Parker. “Whatever you might think of me, Parker, I don’t work with strangers. So, either you want homicide badly enough to do this my way or you don’t. Better desk duty than not knowing who’s standing behind me.”

Parker sighed. “I presume you know Senator Parker is my father?”

“Yes, but I don’t hold it against you.” Well, maybe I do.

Parker smirked. “You’d be the first.”

“I’m sure being the senator’s daughter has its good points, too.”

“Of course. I’ve had a privileged life. We lived in a penthouse apartment in Harlem. I went to Brereton Academy, an expensive private school for girls on the Upper East Side, Yale, then Harvard Law. I–”

“I’m impressed. With an education like that, why become a cop?”

“I spent close to two years as an ADA in Manhattan and a lot of the time I was angry at losing cases that I thought could have been won. I blamed the police for not making solid cases.” She raised her chin defiantly. “Now I know how difficult it is to make a case, but then…Anyway, my godfather, Captain Jessie Isaacs, pushed me to stop complaining and do something to change the situation. After graduating from the police academy, I requested the two-nine in Harlem and worked the streets until my promotion two weeks ago. That’s it.”

“Isaacs is a good man.”

Showing the first sign of relaxing, Parker nodded. “The best.”

“Why do you want homicide?”

“People get murdered. Their families lose a mother or father or child. They suffer. Society suffers.” Parker looked down at her hands folded in her lap. “And I’ll be damn good at finding their murderers.”

“Confident, aren’t we?”

Eyes narrowed, Parker studied her. “You need me, yet you’re you trying to alienate me. Why?”

Corelli shrugged. “What do you know about me?”

“As I said, scuttlebutt and what I read in the newspapers.”

Lost in thought for a moment, Corelli reached for her braid and gently tugged it. “Some of this is confidential.”

“I’m trustworthy.”

“I’m betting on it. Right after I got back from Afghanistan, I was recruited by the FBI and the Chief of Detectives to go undercover to investigate an alleged ring of dirty cops in my old precinct.”

“The FBI?” Parker looked skeptical. “Everything I’ve heard and read said you were dirty, a member of the ring who got cold feet and blew the whistle on your friends to save yourself.”

“You’re the daughter of a politician. Is everything written about your daddy true?”

Parker’s eyebrows shot up.

“Right. Anyway, I was undercover for three months. Like Afghanistan and Iraq, I was surrounded by the enemy. Unlike those war zones, I was on my own and my friends and acquaintances were the enemy. Their greed and self-righteousness, their violence astounded me. Yet, I had to act like them or be murdered.” She searched Parker’s eyes looking for understanding. “I vomited a couple of times every day, partly from fear, partly from repressed anger and partly from disgust. I was throwing up in the bathroom so often that a couple of female detectives asked if I was pregnant. It was grueling.” Her leg began to vibrate and she stood to quiet it.

She resented having to justify herself to this dilettante, but Parker was her ticket to working homicides. She sat again and looked Parker in the eye. “I’ve never killed anybody on the job. I killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because I had to. But anyone earmarked to move up in Righteous Partners, the group of renegade officers I was trying to take down, had to kill to prove their loyalty. In fact, it was when they ordered me to murder a drug dealer and his wife and three kids, that I aborted the operation. I had a lot of names, but not all of them, and none of the top echelon. So it was all for nothing. I failed to get all of them. I failed to get any of the leaders.

“When I told the FBI I was walking, they said they had to protect the investigation and would deny any involvement. That didn’t surprise me. But I was shocked by the department’s pathetic denial of a story about me being one of the bad guys, a story, I might add, leaked by an unnamed source, presumably Righteous Partners. She studied Parker, hoping she hadn’t lost her, and was happy to see her listening, but the look of disdain on her face was not encouraging.

“It doesn’t make sense. You were just back from Afghanistan, so why would you accept such a risky assignment? You must have known how dangerous investigating other police would be. Didn’t you worry about them killing you, about being ostracized?”

“I went undercover for all the honest cops like me—and you. I knew I might be killed. I knew I would be ostracized, that it would be hard, but I knew I was doing the right thing.” Besides, at that point I didn’t care if they killed me.

Parker snorted. “Very noble. You sound like you’re running for office.”

“Remind you of your daddy, do I?” Corelli flashed a Mona Lisa smile. “As smarmy as it sounds, it’s the truth. I believe in God, country, family, and doing the right thing.”

The intensity of Parker’s gaze transfixed her. It felt as if Parker was trying to peer into her soul, to pierce her mind and suck the truth from her bones. Corelli tore her eyes away. “And speaking of doing the right thing, I’d better warn you that working with me won’t be easy. Not just because I’m a pain in the ass but because of the baggage I carry. Word on the street is that they want me dead. I get telephone threats every day, and they’ve already come after me twice. This love note was in one of the cold case folders I was given this morning. Take a look.” She handed it to Parker. “You need to think long and hard about whether you want to be enemy number two on the Righteous Partners’ hit list and whether you can deal with being ostracized along with me.”

Parker scanned the note. She looked at Corelli. “Is this your way of making the job attractive?”

She reached for the note. “Just tellin’ it like it is.”

“Are the damaged face, swollen hand, and limp, by way of Righteous Partners?”

“They tried to run me down last night.”

Parker nodded slowly, as if considering the implications. “Not an accident?”

“No doubt in my mind or the witnesses or the chief’s, which is why he insists I need somebody to watch my back.”

“Why would they try to kill—”

“We’re talking scumbag police, Parker,” Corelli said, impatient at having to explain. “Police who crossed the line, who think ripping off drug dealers isn’t stealing and working for the drug king Salazar and killing dealers who compete with him, is acceptable behavior. And worst of all, police who will kill other police to protect their scam.”

“But you’ve already turned them in.”

Corelli fought to keep her voice even. “Duh. Are you paying attention, Parker? I didn’t get them all and the ones I missed seem to think I know something that will send them to jail.”

“Don’t condescend to me. I may be a new detective but I’m not stupid. You dump this thing on me and now you’re grading me? I’ve listened but I don’t need you or this special assignment.”

Shit I thought I had her, but now she’s pissed again. “What about homicide?”

Parker stood. “I’ll think about it and get back to you tomorrow.”

“Captain Winfry wants this resolved by the time he gets back.” She glanced at her phone. “In ten or fifteen minutes.”

“In that case, the answer is no. Excuse me, I need the ladies’ room.” Parker walked out.

Corelli stared after Parker. She’d sure done a whiz-bang job convincing her. Damn. She hated being dependent. But desk duty was deadly. Maybe she should follow Parker and grovel. She stood, then thought better of it. If she was any judge of character, Parker would be back. And if not, she would grovel later.

Parker dashed into the ladies’ room, glad to find that it was private. She locked the door and leaned against it, her breath coming in quick bursts, the sweat tickling her shoulder blades. She splashed cold water on her face and pressed a wet paper towel to the back of her neck. Damn. Why risk her career and her life dealing with Corelli’s shit? So she’d be on desk duty, big deal. God, country, family and doing the right thing were important to her too, but she didn’t go around sticking her nose in hornets’ nests. She leaned toward the mirror and looked herself in the eye. Except isn’t that what she’d been doing at the precinct? Preaching to cops about building better cases, cops who’d been on the job since she was in elementary school.

Coward. She believed Corelli and it offended her sense of right and wrong that the department hadn’t protected her reputation, hadn’t vigorously defended her. So why was she hesitating to say yes? Not getting cooperation? Nothing new there. The assholes at the two-nine never gave her the time of day. The danger? Being a cop is dangerous. Being an outcast along with Corelli? She was already an outsider. The ostracism? It wouldn’t be fun, but if Corelli could walk the gauntlet and endure the abuse, so could she. No, it was Corelli’s attitude. Instead of groveling so she could make the grand gesture, Corelli had acted like she didn’t need her.

Parker straightened. Put your pride aside. Trust your gut. Corelli’s a good cop and exposing those dirty police was a good thing. You became a cop to nail the bad guys, and bad cops are very bad guys. She took a deep breath. Even people who trash her say Corelli is a crack detective. This is your opportunity to get into homicide and learn from the best. If it means putting up with her attitude and being ignored and shot at, so be it.

Decision made, she went to face the dragon. Detective Corelli was sitting in the same position, straight as a soldier, but with a fuck you sneer on her face. She wavered. As she sat and faced Corelli, she considered telling the bitch to shove it, but then she reminded herself that her goal was homicide. And she always met her goals. She cleared her throat. “I’m in.”

The smile that Corelli flashed belied the antagonism that Parker had observed. “You surprised me, Detective Parker. Are you sure you have the balls to walk the gauntlet with me?”

“Damn you. Are you always like this? I’m already regretting it.”

Corelli grinned. “You’re doing the right thing. Time will tell whether you’ll regret it.”

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Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Maiorisi

Bella Books, Inc. P.O. Box 10543 Tallahassee, FL 32302

MaiorisiCatherine Maiorisi lives in New York City and often writes under the watchful eye of Edgar Allan Poe in Edgar’s Café near her apartment. A Matter of Blood, featuring NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli, is available in ebook and trade paperback at, Amazon and B&N. Her recent short story, “Love, Secrets, and Lies” is included in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4. Two other shorts can be found in prior Murder New York Style anthologies published by the New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime – “Justice for All” in Fresh Slices and “Murder Italian Style” in Family Matters. Both Catherine’s romance novels, Matters of the Heart and No One But You, and four of her romance short stories are currently available at, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A WOLF IN THE WOODS by Nancy Allen

Wolf in the WoodsChapter 1

Seated at the counsel table in the Associate Circuit Court of McCown County, Missouri, Elsie Arnold watched the judge toy with the file folder before him on the bench.

Judge Calvin ran a hand through his prematurely silver hair. “I’m binding him over, ladies. But it’s a close call.”

Elsie heard her co-counsel, Assistant Prosecutor Breeon Johnson, exhale with relief. Elsie wanted to echo it. The judge was right; the preliminary hearing on the felony assault was not an open and shut case. Their victim was a homeless man who had been inebriated at the time of the attack; and though his injuries were grievous, his testimony was spotty. Seemed like he’d forgotten more than he could recall.

After the judge left the bench, Elsie twisted in her seat to check the clock at the back of the courtroom. “That ran long.”

Breeon nodded. “We’re working overtime, girl.”

Elsie snorted. For a county prosecutor, the idea of overtime was a fiction. As salaried public servants, they routinely worked long hours with no additional compensation.

The women exited the courtroom and walked the worn marble stairway down to the second floor of the century-old county building. Their footsteps echoed in the empty rotunda. The McCown County Courthouse, an imposing stone structure, had graced the center of the town square of Barton, Missouri, for over a century. While other county seats in southwest Missouri had opted to build new structures, to accommodate twenty-first century demands of security and technology, McCown County voters stubbornly clung to the old facility.

“Five thirty, and it’s a ghost town,” Elsie said.

“Not quite. My baby is waiting for me in my office.”

At the bottom of the stairway, they exchanged a look. Elsie didn’t need to speak the obvious: Breeon’s daughter would be highly impatient with the delay.

But who could blame her? Taylor was a fourteen-year-old kid. Hanging around the empty courthouse was a snooze. Breeon, a single mother who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, tried to keep regular hours. While Bree was a dedicated prosecutor, her devotion to duty was bested by her devotion to her teenage daughter.

Elsie, on the other hand, was a local product: a Barton, Missouri, native. Still single, at the age of thirty-two. And still enjoying her extended adolescence.

As they entered the McCown County Prosecutor’s Office, Breeon made a beeline for her office. “Tay-Tay! I’m done, hon.”

Elsie poked her head into the open doorway of Breeon’s office. Taylor sat behind Breeon’s desk. Her hand was on the computer mouse.

With a sulky face, she said, “Finally. I’ve been bored af.”

“Uh-uh.” Bree’s voice was sharp. “I don’t like that af talk. Don’t use it when you’re around me, do you hear?”

Elsie’s eyes darted to the wall. The af abbreviation was a common sight in her texts. And her tweets. So much speedier than actually spelling out the words.

“Baby, have you been on my computer?”

“Yeah. Just for something to do.”

“Taylor, it’s the county’s computer. We’re not supposed to be on it for personal use.”

Taylor spun in her mother’s office chair and stretched her coltish legs across the tiled floor. “I was just doing some homework. Looking stuff up.”

“Well, remember to stay off it from now on. We don’t want Madeleine mad at us.”

Madeleine Thompson, who held the title of Prosecuting Attorney of McCown County had been known to get her nose out of joint for smaller offenses, Elsie thought.

To lighten the mood, Elsie said, “Taylor, your mom says your birthday is coming up. Just around the corner. I can hardly believe you’re almost fifteen years old.”

Taylor’s eyes lit up. “Mom, I know what I want for my birthday.”

Breeon was digging in her briefcase, sorting through files. “You already told me. Those rain boots in purple.” Bree glanced at Elsie. “Do you know what Hunter rain boots cost? It’s a crime.”

Elsie shrugged. When she was a teenager, rain boots weren’t even a thing—not in Barton, Missouri. On rainy days, she’d walked around town with wet shoes on her feet.

Taylor spoke again, with a challenge in her tone. “Yeah, well, I changed my mind. I want headshots.”

Breeon zipped her bag. “What?” she asked, incredulous.

“Headshots. By a photographer. A real one.”

Curious, Elsie stepped through the office doorway and dropped into a chair facing Bree’s desk. “What do you want pictures for? You don’t need your senior portrait till after your junior year in high school.”

“Is this for the yearbook?” Breeon asked.

Taylor’s eyes dropped.

“Not the yearbook. For modeling.”

Elsie and Bree both burst into laughter; but when a cloud crossed Taylor’s face, Elsie tried to choke it back.

Taylor’s face was stormy. “You think I’m too ugly to be a model?”

Breeon stepped over her daughter’s outstretched feet and ran a gentle hand over the girl’s hair. “Oh honey. You’re beautiful. And smart, and talented, and strong.”

“So why can’t I do modeling?”

“Baby, we’re in the Ozark hills of Missouri. Even if I wanted you to be a model—you can’t be one here. There’s no modeling industry around here.”

A glance out of the window behind Breeon’s desk provided the truth to her claim. Tree-covered hills rose up in the distance, behind the town square where the courthouse sat. Barton, Missouri, the county seat of Barton County, Missouri, was a tiny town in the hill country of the Ozarks.

A bare whisper escaped Taylor’s downturned head. “Maybe there is.”

Elsie said, “Why would you want to be a model? They don’t get to eat.”

Taylor rolled her eyes.

Undeterred, Elsie continued: “They have to starve. And their career is over before they hit thirty. And they don’t get to use their brains; they are human clothes hangers.”

Without acknowledging Elsie, Taylor bent to pick up her backpack. “I wanna go home, Mom. We have a game tonight. Coach doesn’t like it when I’m late.”

“Sure thing.” Breeon shot Elsie a pleading look over Taylor’s head. “Can you lock up, Elsie? Taylor needs to be at the gym by six thirty to warm up, and I have to fix something for her to eat.”

Taylor spoke up, with a look of anticipation. “Are we going to the grocery store? I want to get the new Cosmo.”

“No, we’re not. But I got you something better.” Bree rummaged on her desk, pulling up a manila envelope. “It came in the office mail. I wanted to surprise you.”

Taylor tore open the package. A paperback book fell out onto the desktop. She picked it up with a listless hand. “What’s this?”

“Alice Walker. My favorite of her novels. You’re such an advanced reader, I think you’re ready for it.” She kissed Taylor on the forehead, then turned to Elsie. “So you’ll lock up?”

“No problem. Hey—I’ll probably see you all over at the school gym tonight.”

Taylor’s face turned in Elsie’s direction. “You’re coming to see me play?”

“Well, I’ll be there for the ninth-grade boys’ game. I’m meeting Ashlock, since his kid’s on the team.” With an effort, Elsie kept her voice upbeat. She would much prefer to meet Detective Bob Ashlock, her current flame, in a darkened barroom after work. “But I’ll try to get there early, so I can see your team, too.”

Breeon said, “That’d be great. Right, Taylor?”

Elsie stepped over to Breeon’s desk to pick up the felony hard file they’d handled in Judge Calvin’s court while Breeon packed up her briefcase. Taylor bolted out of the office, with her mother following. Breeon’s voice called out as their steps retreated down the hallway. “See you later, Elsie.”

Elsie flipped through the file and set it down. Giving the desk a final glance, she saw that Bree’s computer was still turned on.

Their boss, Madeleine, had recently sent an office wide email, instructing the employees to log off and shut down the computers at night. It was her new “green” policy.

Elsie leaned over the desk and clicked the mouse, preparing to log off Bree’s computer. Images popped up on the screen. Elsie leaned in to examine it.

It looked like a link for a modeling agency, pitching glamorous jobs for girls from twelve to twenty-five. Elsie shook her head. “Taylor, Taylor,” she murmured.

Idly, she skimmed through the text on the screen. It promised that the agency could make a young woman’s dream of fame and fortune come true, through an international modeling career. Elsie clicked the mouse to expose the bottom of the page, pausing to study a selfie of the agent in charge. It depicted a dark-haired man with a tattoo on his neck. He wore a smarmy grin.

A chill went through her; she grimaced. It set off a buzz in Elsie’s radar. The man in the picture was not the type of individual that a mother would want sniffing around her teenage daughter.

She turned off the computer and got ready to depart. Before she turned off Breeon’s office light, she glanced down at the trashcan near the door.

At the top of the garbage was the brand new Alice Walker paperback novel. Elsie reached into the wastebasket to rescue it; but it had fallen on the remains of Breeon’s lunch. Mustard and ketchup smeared the cover. Elsie dropped it back into the can and headed for the women’s room to wash a streak of ketchup dripping from her fingers.

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From A WOLF IN THE WOODS, by Nancy Allen, published by Witness Impulse, an imprint of William Morrow. Copyright © 2018 by Nancy Allen. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers

Nancy HeadshotNancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University.

Twitter @TheNancyAllen

Facebook /NancyAllenAuthor

SMALL TOWN TROUBLE by Laura Benedict

COVER FINAL small town troubleCHAPTER ONE

 There’s nothing like an overenthusiastic canine to ruin a stakeout. I have my eye on a blue sedan parked across the street from the Walsh estate where I’m visiting, but it’s deuced difficult to concentrate with an obnoxious Jack Russell terrier barking up at me from the driveway.  All of the other cars belonging to the guests of the massive party going on at the house behind me are parked in a nearby field, but the men who directed the parking are long gone. The dark-haired woman in the sedan is a latecomer, and she stares unmoving at the Walshes’ posh house, her eyes hidden by sunglasses. With no small degree of nonchalance, I stretch across the top of the deliciously warm brick pedestal at the edge of the drive and squint down at Jocko, the offending white and tan, perky-eared creature. Who has ever heard of such an idiotic moniker? Jocko, indeed.

I know for a fact that Sherlock Holmes never had to deal with such an annoying canine—not counting that Baskerville brute, of course. Sherlock, who is my role model and personal hero, made good use of an intelligent chap named Toby that was half-spaniel, but these Jack Russell types are thoroughly mad. They dash about the countryside yapping constantly, chasing down rodents (an occupation much more suited to accomplished cats such as I), and bothering horses.

I warn Jocko to calm down with a low growl. In return he whines and pants and waggles that ridiculous curled tail. What a hopeless wretch he is.

At home in Wetumpka, Alabama, my human, Tammy Lynn, would never have such a beast hanging about. But she and I came to western Kentucky to visit Erin Walsh, whose late mother was Tammy’s childhood babysitter. Unfortunately Tammy was called to Milan, Italy, to authenticate a priceless book that some monks found in their library. The Italian antiquities bureaucracy would only make it available for a few days, and she had to leave me behind with Erin.

It’s true. I don’t sound like I’m from Alabama. I spent much of the first of my nine lives studying that excellent Cumberbatch actor’s Sherlock Holmes films, and acquired a bit of an English accent. Of course only other cats like my brilliant detective father, Familiar, can hear it. But I have no problem motivating the humans around me when I engage in traditional feline vocalizations.

The woman in the car is staying put. I consider popping across the street or chasing the hapless Jocko her way to get some movement from her—angry-looking people who stare at houses usually mean danger—but the foolish dog would no doubt be run over by a passing tractor or pickup truck. One somehow feels responsible for the Jockos of the world.

Instead I leap onto the impeccably paved driveway, inches from Jocko’s head, making him jump back a mile. Anyone who says cats can’t smile has never seen me after I’ve played a clever trick.

The party has been in full swing since my third nap of the day. Most of the guestsemployees and their families from Bruce Walsh’s (Erin’s father) car dealership—are swimming or fishing or careening about on noisy Jet Skis on the Cedar Grove Lake cove that meets the Walsh property. The Walshes have even set up a few picturesque changing cabanas near the property’s strip of manmade beach. The less adventurous guests are in the swimming pool or eating. But I’ve done the rounds back there and want to avoid further contact with the youngsters and their sticky hands, so I enter through the carelessly open front door with Jocko panting behind me.

Hearing angry voices I continue to the library door, which is open a few inches, and slip neatly inside. Hapless Jocko, who doesn’t seem to understand that he could push the door open a bit further to enter as well, sits down in the hall and whimpers pathetically. But Jocko’s not my concern right now.

Erin, a sweet, strawberry blonde co-ed who’s home for the summer from the University of Kentucky, leans forward, her hands balled into fists at her side. Her face is pink beneath her freckles, a sign that she’s angry and frustrated. I’ve seen that look on Tammy Lynn’s face a time or two. But when I see the other woman, who wears a canny, unpleasant grin, I understand why Erin is frustrated. The woman is her stepmother, Shelby Rae, who’s only a dozen years older than Erin. Shelby Rae is also Jocko’s human, and believes it’s her job to meddle in Erin’s business.

Neither of them glance at me as I stroll to one of the many tall windows overlooking the front garden and settle on the back of an enormous couch with stripes like a cafe awning. From there I can find out what’s wrong between Erin and Shelby Rae and observe the car out front. What does the woman in the car want? Is she dangerous? I intend to find out.

 “What in the world were you thinking, child? Your daddy’s going to be so upset. You know we think tattoos are trashy on women.”

If she hadn’t been so angry, Erin Walsh would’ve laughed out loud at her stepmother. Shelby Rae, with her bottom-grazing miniskirts and heavy makeup, had the market cornered on trashy. Her family wasn’t much better and seemed to have no visible means of support aside from the little helper checks (Shelby Rae’s words) Erin knew she’d been writing for years. But it was her condescending child that made Erin want to wipe the Corral Me Coral lipstick off Shelby Rae’s collagen-injected lips. She didn’t believe in the stereotype of an Irish temper, but she could swear she felt the anger in her bones.

“I’m not your child, Shelby Rae, and I won’t be talked to that way by you or anybody else. Daddy has asked you, and I’ve told you a thousand times, to stay out of my business.”

Seven years ago, just after Erin’s mother died, Shelby Rae, who worked as the receptionist at the dealership, had taken Erin under her twenty-something wing and become like a big sister to her. They went shopping together in Louisville, and traveled down to Nashville to see a Taylor Swift concert. They did cosmic bowling and Shelby Rae even helped her buy a bra that was more substantial than her training bra. It was Shelby Rae who drove her to the drugstore to pick out sanitary pads after Erin called her whispering, “Shelby Rae, I started.

But two years later, Erin’s father asked her to come into the library—the very room in which they now stood—and with a beaming Shelby Rae at his side said, “We have wonderful news to tell you, honey.”

If only her father had instead taken her out alone on a walk on the lake trail, or driven her in the boat to dinner at The Captain’s Table on the other side of the lake to tell her. Or he could’ve asked her how she felt about Shelby Rae and if she thought it was a good idea for him to marry her. She might have understood. She might even have been glad to have her suspicions confirmed. She wasn’t blind or stupid. Her father sometimes stayed out late, and he and Shelby Rae shared significant looks when she came to pick up Erin. If only…

That’s not what happened, though, and here they were.

“Oh, come on. Did you forget you have a tattoo on your backside?” Erin pointed at Shelby Rae’s ample left hip. “You have a snake back there. What kind of person has a snake on their butt?”

Shelby Rae pursed her lips and stuck her recently-altered nose in the air. “It’s an asp. Like Cleopatra. And it’s gold and blue. It’s art.

Erin scowled. “I’m nineteen. It’s perfectly legal if I want to tattoo my whole face.” She pointed to her lightly freckled forehead. “I could get a freaking butterfly parade all across here.”

In fact she’d completely forgotten about the new tattoo when she’d taken her shorts off by the pool. Seeing the tattoo, Shelby Rae had pulled Erin away from her best friend, MacKenzie Clay, and hurried her all the way into the library.  Erin only just now wondered why Shelby Rae had been watching her in the first place.

“You’re being silly.” Shelby Rae shook her head. “Only criminals have tattoos on their faces.”

“Oh, so I guess it would be okay if your Uncle Travis, who’s out back drinking Daddy’s beer and about to eat the biggest steak from the outdoor fridge, gets a tattoo on his face?”

Shelby Rae crossed her arms across her breasts. Erin knew she hadn’t had to have those fixed like she’d had her nose done. She’d once overheard one of the salesmen at the dealership comment on Shelby Rae’s enormous assets.

“Why are you so hateful, Erin? I’ve never done one single thing except be nice to you. This is a very stressful time, with the lawsuit just over with. You haven’t been here. You don’t know what it’s been like. That woman from the lawsuit has been hanging around, and I’ve hardly even seen your father for months.” Her high voice stretched into a familiar whine.

The lawsuit. Erin’s father had brushed it off whenever she called him from Lexington. A woman named Tionna Owens was killed when her car’s brakes failed just minutes after she’d left the dealership’s service department. She’d dropped in to ask them to take a quick look at the brakes because she thought there was something wrong. According to Earl Potts, the service manager, he’d told her they were very busy and she could make an appointment for another day. He said she’d grown angry and declared she would take her business elsewhere. The county didn’t find grounds to prosecute, but her family brought a civil suit against the dealership declaring that they it had a record of the car’s brake problems and a duty of care to examine it immediately. But the case had been dismissed.

“He doesn’t even listen to me,” Shelby Rae continued. “Nobody listens to me!”

“That’s because you’re a drama queen. Nobody needs your drama, and I’m sick and tired of it. Stay out of my business.” Erin knew she was being as dramatic as Shelby Rae, but she was beginning to wish she had kept her apartment in Lexington and had picked up a part-time job there for the summer, or just volunteered at a rescue shelter. Bumming around New Belford and hanging around the house—even if she was often with MacKenzie—was turning out to be a bad idea.

Shelby Rae huffed out of the library. When she pushed open the door Jocko barked up at her with frantic joy. Erin saw the startled faces of two women she didn’t recognize over Shelby Rae’s shoulder. Great. Now everyone would know they’d been arguing. How long would it be before her father was asking her why Shelby Rae was so upset?

Erin walked over to the window. The library had always been one of her favorite rooms. She put a hand on the end of the high-backed sofa and Trouble, the clever black cat Tammy Lynn had asked her to look after, nudged her hand with his velvety nose.

“Sorry about that,” she said, scratching the cat behind the ears. “I don’t really hate her. She just gets to me sometimes.”

The cat purred. Tammy Lynn had told her that Trouble was good at solving mysteries and had saved her more than once.

“Don’t worry. I can’t promise you any mysteries, but we’ll find something to do that gets us away from here.”

Erin gazed out the window as she stroked the soft fur on Trouble’s back. She could see a blue sedan parked across the road with a woman inside who appeared to be staring the house. A shiver went up Erin’s spine. She knew the woman: she was Bryn Owens , Tionna Owens’ wife.

Bryn and Tionna Owens had owned New Belford’s Two Hearts bakery together; and while Erin and MacKenzie were in high school, they often met there for coffee. Tionna had a special fondness for MacKenzie who, like Tionna, had a mother who was black and a father who was white. Erin’s eyes were opened wide when Tionna told them about times in the city when she and her parents were ignored in restaurants or cursed at on the street. Erin knew there were a few people in and around New Belford who felt the same way, but she never thought of it as affecting MacKenzie. To Erin, MacKenzie had always been just MacKenzie, her best friend since kindergarten, and MacKenzie’s parents were Mr. and Mrs. Clay. Now, she knew better.

After Tionna died in the wreck, Bryn put a closed sign in the bakery window. The sign was still there. Erin was familiar with grief. The pain in her gut had lessened considerably in the seven years since her mother had been killed, but it never really went away.

Trouble snapped to attention, slipping from beneath her hand to stand on his back legs and put his front paws against the window. The cat never missed a thing.

A rumbling motorcycle pulled up behind Bryn’s sedan and stopped. Erin wondered if this was someone she was supposed to know.

A guy wearing blue jeans and a slim black T-shirt whose sleeves took on the taut muscular shape of his upper arms and shoulders, put down the motorcycle’s kickstand and took off his helmet. When he pushed his sun-streaked brown hair from his face, she recognized his profile. His look was different—a little more relaxed and, frankly, sexier—than she remembered.

Noah Daly had been two years ahead of her in school, and he’d been a loner. A bit geeky, but still a loner. A lot of girls thought he was cute, but their mothers made sure they didn’t get too close because Noah’s father, Jeb Daly, was known to be bad news. When Noah was about to enter high school, Jeb did the unthinkable—he used a gun to rob the New Belford branch of the Kentucky Patriot Bank.

At the time of the robbery, Erin’s mother, Rita, was in the building to drop off a dozen of her special mocha and cranberry cupcakes as a birthday surprise for a friend. But it wasn’t Jeb Daly who killed Rita. Zach Wilkins, the deputy who responded to the silent alarm, shot her accidentally.

A few years later Erin’s father hired Noah Daly to work in the dealership’s service department. What had he been thinking? And what was Noah Daly doing talking to Bryn Owens?

“Here, Mom.” Noah handed his mother, Annette, an insulated tumbler of sweet iced tea. She took the tea and smiled up at him from her chair at one of the umbrella tables by the pool. Only eighteen when he was born, she was younger than the mothers of most of the guys he knew, but her beauty had faded quickly. She’d long ago started dyeing her auburn hair to hide the gray that showed up before she turned thirty. And because she worked long hours managing a big convenience store near the interstate, she didn’t get much exercise, and so carried a little extra weight. But the thing Noah noticed most about her was that her eyes didn’t sparkle as they had seemed to when he was little. Still, unlike most guys he knew, he’d never once been ashamed to be seen with his own mother.

“Why aren’t you out on the lake, honey? The Jet Skis look like so much fun. Didn’t you bring swim trunks?”

Noah glanced around him. The women near the pool wore sundresses or shorts or bathing suits, and the kids were either in the pool, or dripping water as they played close by. Most of the men he worked with were in swim trunks and T-shirts in or near the lake. All of their girlfriends wore bikinis.

“Not going in the water today, Mom. Not in the mood. I just didn’t want you to stay at the house today.”

She leaned close to him, whispering. “You have nothing to be ashamed of, Noah.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, okay? We’re here, and that’s what’s important.”

A tall man wearing relaxed khaki shorts and a comfortably faded polo shirt ducked his head beneath the umbrella and laid one of his large hands on Annette’s shoulder. The hair at his temples was gray, but the rest was what Noah had heard his mother call strawberry blond. With his friendly green eyes, Bruce Walsh always looked like he was about to share good news.

“So glad you could make it, Annette. I told Noah I hoped he’d bring you to the party this year.” He nodded to Noah. “Even if young Noah here decides to bring along a sweetheart, you’re always welcome to come, too.”

“Mr. Walsh—”

He didn’t let her finish. “Please, Annette. Call me Bruce, and don’t get up. We get to be the grownups here, right?”

“It’s a wonderful party,” she said, settling back down in her chair. “Look at all these fancy decorations! Even these pretty tumblers are red, white, and blue. I’m so happy all these children are having a good time.” As they watched, a small girl shrieked with delight as she started down the pool slide, her arms waving above her head. When she splashed into the water, then quickly popped to the surface, even Bruce laughed.

“Shelby Rae and I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the people who make Walsh Motors successful. It’s a family, and I like to take care of that family.” He held out a freshly-opened bottle of Budweiser to Noah. “Something cold? Hot day to be out on that Yamaha of yours. You know, the invitation is still open for you and the boys in the department to fish off our docks any time.”

“Thanks, Mr. Walsh.” Noah took the beer with a nod. “I’ve come out here early a few mornings this spring and summer. But I park over on the access road and fish off the far dock so I don’t disturb you all. The yellow perch and bass are running big this year.”

“Oh, that bass,” his mother said. “That’s something special.”

Bruce agreed.

To Noah, the most impressive thing about Bruce Walsh was his sincerity. Sometimes he sounded like a politician, but Noah knew that Bruce always kept his word. When he hired Noah on, he said he didn’t expect any more or any less from him than any other employee, but that it would be a great favor to him if Noah would keep his father, Jeb, from coming around after he got out of prison. Keeping the man who was ultimately responsible for his boss’s first wife’s death away from his place of business was a promise Noah had been happy to make. Especially because he didn’t want to have anything to do with his loser father either. He was glad Bruce didn’t know that promise might soon be tested.

Shelby Rae, who had married Bruce long before Noah started at the dealership, was more of a mystery. When she visited, she certainly didn’t hang around the service department. A few of the guys called her a gold digger and others referred to her as a nice piece of ass. Right now she was a dozen feet away, among a tight group of men surrounding Junior, the hired cook. The men were all older and a couple of them were checking out the plunging neckline of Shelby Rae’s short white sundress as though they wanted to fall in. One of the less obvious guys put a hand on her back, and she whipped her head around so that her long, curled ponytail nearly hit the man on the other side of her.

“Quit it, Uncle Travis!”

Noah smiled. The guy deserved it, but he merely chuckled and pushed his thin black hair away from his forehead, unfazed.

A couple of the other men, including Earl Potts, the service manager, dropped back, embarrassed. It could have been one of them instead of the intrepid Travis. He was her uncle? Talk about awkward.

Bruce and his mother were still talking. Noah wasn’t sure what he’d missed, but the conversation had turned back to the expensive tumblers used for the party’s drinks.

“Shelby Rae went a little crazy on making sure everything matched. I think she planned on about a thousand guests instead of a hundred and fifty. Everyone gets to take one home, but let’s get you a couple extra boxes, too.”

Noah’s mother laughed. “Oh, I couldn’t let you do that. They’re so expensive. I’m sure your wife will want to return the rest.” But Noah could tell from the way she was looking at the tumbler on the table that the idea excited her. They had so few nice things at home. She insisted that Noah put half his paycheck in the bank “for college, maybe, or a house of your own someday.” He hated that she worked so hard but couldn’t afford nicer things, even if they were just thick plastic drink glasses.

“You’d be doing me a favor.” Bruce gave her a wide smile, and his eyes were kind.

She blushed.

“Erin, honey?” Bruce called to his daughter, who was sitting beside MacKenzie Clay at the opposite side of the pool. “Can I get you to come here for a minute?”

Erin Walsh said something Noah couldn’t hear to MacKenzie, who had been in an economics class with him senior year. Then she gave her father a small smile and lifted her long legs from the pool to stand. She removed her reflective gold aviators from the top of her head and put them on so that her strawberry blond hair swung free. Unlike her stepmother, she was dressed down, wearing cream-colored shorts that rested softly on her narrow hips. Her purple Allman Brothers Band T-shirt was tied into a knot, revealing a triangle of pale, flat stomach. The glimpse of her skin put a different kind of knot in Noah’s stomach, and he glanced away.

He and Erin had never been friends, but they were always aware of each other. Neither of them had been allowed to attend his father’s trial because they were too young.  He saw more of her when she started at the consolidated high school as a quiet freshman. People referred to her as “Erin Walsh, that girl whose mother got killed.” But Noah thought of her as something more: the girl whose life his father had ruined. It didn’t matter that Jeb Daly had been bluffing with an empty gun during the robbery, and that it was Deputy Zachary Wilkins who actually shot Rita Walsh. His father was still responsible.

It wasn’t until last Christmas that Noah started to think of her in a much different way. She’d come into the dealership with Shelby Rae to be surprised with a spanking new Challenger that her father had bought her for Christmas. Its 700 horsepower engine only had 42 miles on it, but Noah had put twelve miles more on it himself after Earl told him to take it out to make sure it ran perfectly before Erin arrived. The sleek black car was a beauty, with sports suspension and paddle shifters on the wheel that meant the driver could switch to manual without even touching the stick.

Driving that car on the highway and on a couple of backroads he knew well had been among the sweetest fifteen minutes of Noah’s life up to that point.

But the day only improved when Bruce Walsh later called back to the department to ask that the car be brought around. Almost everyone was gone for the day, so Noah started the Challenger with the special red fob that engaged the full 700 horsepower (instead of the black fob that gave you only 500), and drove it around to the front of the dealership.

Erin stood on the sidewalk, her hair tucked into a knitted cashmere beret, her mittened hands covering her eyes like a little kid. Her father’s arm was around her shoulders. When she uncovered her eyes, Noah saw a look of pure delight. She turned and hugged her father. When she finally pulled away, a lock of her hair fell from her beret and brushed her lightly freckled cheek. It was in that moment Noah knew, given half a chance, he could fall in love with her.

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copyright 2018 by Laura Benedict 

LauraBenedictHeadshots_65-EditLaura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of seven novels of suspense, including the forthcoming The Stranger Inside (February 2019). Small Town Trouble, her latest book, is a cozy crime novel. Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned HeartCharlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review)and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-ReadsThe Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at to read her blog and sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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thorpes-candle-ebook-cover CHAPTER 1 – DEEP FREEZE

The North Atlantic, 1961

“We got trouble.”

The words jarred Henry Bristol from his sleep. He looked up at the weathered face of the pilot. “What?”

“I said we got trouble.” Chewing on a cigar, the pilot leaned over the makeshift seat in the back of the cargo bay where Bristol sat. “See that engine out there?”

Bristol glared out the window of the old DC-4. A black patch of oil streaked across the wing like a bloody wound.

“Pressure’s dropping like a brick and we got a blizzard down there. Got to turn around.”

“No!” Bristol’s eyes widened. He was suddenly wide awake. “I already paid you. You assured me this plane could make it with no problem. I can’t go back! Don’t you understand?” His voice rose in pitch almost to the point of cracking.

“I think you’re the one that don’t understand. We can’t make it on three engines with a payload this heavy. Got to turn around and find a place to put her down for repairs. Our best bet’s Godthab, Greenland. Get the oil leak fixed—day or two at the most.”

As the pilot turned, Bristol stood and grabbed him by the shoulder. “No! You must keep going.” He was almost a foot shorter than the burly pilot and immediately realized his bad judgment.

The pilot balled his fist in Bristol’s face. “Don’t force me to explain it again, little man. Remember, you’re not even supposed to be on this plane. Now park it and shut up.” He shoved Bristol back into the seat, turned, and made his way between the large wooden crates until he disappeared into the cockpit.

Bristol felt the plane bank. There was no going back. As far as the world he left behind was concerned, he was dead. Dead and buried. He had to convince the pilot to change his mind. Maybe he could appeal to the man’s greed. His foot nudged the duffel bag under his seat—so full of cash he could almost smell it.

He stood and pulled his coat around him. There was hardly any heat—another thing that annoyed him. Jumpy by nature, he looked around his surroundings with darting eyes, magnified through the thick lenses of wire rimmed glasses. Determined, he maneuvered past the rows of crates until he stood at the cockpit door. How much should he offer? What did it matter? He had to do whatever it took. Opening the door, he stepped inside.

The only other person on board was the copilot, a skinny man with beady eyes and a scraggly beard. He busied himself at the controls as the pilot turned to Bristol. “I told you to stay put.”

Bristol took a hesitant step forward. “I’ll pay you twice what we agreed.”

“We’re losing a hundred feet per minute.” The copilot’s voice was anxious.

“How can that be?” The pilot scanned the array of instruments. “What the hell’s going on?”

“It’s number two.” The copilot pointed to a set of dials.

“All right, triple the price.”

“Shut up!” the pilot yelled.

Bristol started to make another offer but the words never came. The DC-4 vibrated violently followed by a loud bang and the shriek of ripping metal.

“Oxygen!” the pilot called out and grabbed his mask. He turned to Bristol and pointed to an extra mask hanging over the vacant navigator’s position. “Put it on.”

Bristol grabbed the oxygen mask and shoved it to his face. The plane’s nose dropped, and he saw the churning expanse of storm clouds ahead. “What happened?” His voice was muffled behind the thick rubber.

“Propeller blade,” the pilot shouted. “Ripped off number two. Must have torn through the fuselage. We’ve lost cabin pressure.” He shut down number two engine then keyed his microphone. “Mayday! Mayday! Godthab tower, this is Arctic Air Cargo 101. We’ve lost cabin pressure and two engines. Request emergency instructions. Godthab tower, do you read?”

“Nothing but static!” the copilot said while he adjusted the knobs and dials of the radio transmitter. “We’re not getting through.”

“Keep giving out our position,” the pilot ordered as the plane plummeted into the clouds.

Like bouncing off a wall the DC-4 bucked and pitched, sending Bristol to the floor. He hit his head and felt blood flow down his face.

The tremors worsened as the pilot struggled with the controls. “I can’t turn her, rudder’s frozen. Propeller must have severed the cables.” He ripped his mask off when the altitude needle passed the ten-thousand-foot mark. The plane tossed and rocked as it continued its steady drop into the belly of the storm.

“Get back to your seat and strap in,” the pilot shouted to Bristol.

He turned to start back when the plane shook again. This time, he thought it would rip apart. Thrown forward, he smashed into one of the large wooden crates that filled the cargo bay. His head and shoulder struck with a crack, burning pain shot through his arm. Blood flowed into his eyes. He heard the wind scream across the jagged slash in the fuselage. Groping his way to his seat he swiped the blood from his forehead on his sleeve and grabbed the duffel bag.

When the plane broke through the clouds, Bristol glared out the window and saw what he thought were lights of a small town passing underneath. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone, replaced by a dense shroud of swirling white.

The DC-4 leveled off as if it were about to land. The pilot must see a place to put the plane down, Bristol thought. A cautious feeling of relief swept over him. Had the pilot heard the offer of more money? No. Too much noise and confusion. Bristol looked out the window again. For a precious few seconds a break in the storm revealed what looked like a vast colorless ocean with row upon row of giant waves frozen in place, stretching off to the horizon. What kind of nightmarish scene was this? Were his eyes playing tricks? Had the bump on his head caused him to hallucinate?

There was a rumble—must be the landing gear dropping into place. They were going to land! Bristol pressed his cheek against the cold window trying to see what lay ahead. The strange landscape rushed by—the white ocean got closer. Once they landed, he figured they could wait for the storm to pass then make their way back to the town. He would find a place to stay while the plane was repaired. A few days at the most, the pilot had said. A small price to pay for committing the perfect crime and getting away with murder. A reassuring smile crossed Bristol’s lips. Strapping himself in, he wrapped his arms around the duffel bag, holding his breath.

Like a specter appearing out of a nightmare, Arctic Air Cargo 101 swooped down and glided in across the top of the Greenland ice cap. The driving wind of the season’s worst blizzard had built up huge banks of tightly packed snow and ice. The instant the plane’s front gear bit into the white powder, the nose rammed into a snow bank and the impact crushed the cockpit killing the pilot and copilot. Bristol’s seat ripped from the floor. Still strapped in, he flew forward and collided with one of the cargo crates.

The old DC-4 groaned and shrieked as the snow swallowed it, the sounds of its agony nearly smothered by the roar of the blizzard. When only the tip of the tail stuck above the snowfield, the ripping and tearing finally stopped.

Dizzy and numb, Henry Bristol opened his eyes. In the fading glow of the cargo bay lights, all was finally calm and quiet—the howling of the storm now distant and muffled. He told himself that it was only a matter of time before a search party would come. He had always been a patient man. This time would be no different. Steam drifted up from the wound on his head as he hugged the bag and waited.

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THORPE’S CANDLE, © 2017 by Joe Moore

Joe MooreJoe Moore is co-president emeritus of the International Thriller Writers. His newest novel is THORPE’S CANDLE. Previously, with Lynn Sholes, he wrote THE DESTINY CODE, BRAIN TRUST, THE TOMB, THE SHIELD, THE BLADE (bestselling Kindle book), THOR BUNKER, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES (#1 bestselling Kindle book) along with the Cotten Stone Thriller series: THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (#1 bestselling Kindle book), THE LAST SECRET, THE HADES PROJECT, and THE 731 LEGACY. Joe’s novels have appeared on numerous international bestseller lists and have been translated into over 24 languages.


Isaiahs-Daughter Songs are written of sons, but daughters are left to whispers. So gather near, friend, to hear of a daughter beyond imagining. She had the heart of a lion. Braver than a soldier. Wiser than a king. She was queen in Judah long after King David’s bones had turned to dust. Long after the arrogance of Solomon’s son split Israel into two nations.

When the northern tribes seized the name Israel, the southern tribes called their new nation Judah and placed David’s descendants on their throne. Judah’s capital was the city of Jerusalem and its God was named Yahweh. But Israel bowed to pagan gods and even led some of Judah’s kings astray.

Yahweh’s prophets spewed warnings, and Judah’s brave daughter, the lion-hearted queen, dared ask the prophets why? When? And how will Yahweh’s judgment fall?
One incomparable prophet answered, foretelling Assyria’s cruelty as Yahweh’s weapon of wrath. Isaiah, a man born to royalty, shouted at kings and comforted beggars. The records proclaim him husband to a prophetess and father of two sons. This is recorded, detailed, written.

But what of his daughter?

Her story begins when the northern kingdom of Israel joins forces with Aram, a neighboring nation. They attack Judah in retribution for refusing to join their coalition against Assyria. Isaiah prophesies to Judah’s King Ahaz— a promise and a warning. Ahaz ignores both. His decision forever changes the life of Isaiah’s daughter.

Part I
Now [Ahaz, King of Judah] was told, “Aram has allied itself with [Israel]”;
so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken . . .
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son [Jashub],
to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool. . . .
Say to
him, . . . ‘Don’t be afraid . . . because of the fierce anger of…Aram and[Israel]….
This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘It will not take place . . .
[but] if you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.’”
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign,
whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask . . .”
Then Isaiah said, “. . . The Lord will bring on you and on your people
and on the house of your father a time unlike any since [Israel] broke away from Judah—
he will bring the king of Assyria.”
~ Isaiah 7:2–4, 7, 9–13, 17 ~

Chapter 1
The men of Israel took captive from their fellow Israelites who were from Judah
two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters.
They also took a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria.
~ 2 Chronicles 28:8 ~
732 BCE (Spring)
Judean Wilderness

My friend Yaira said to be brave—but why? Brave or scared, we kept marching. She told me to be a big girl, not to cry, but I’m only five, and I’ve seen big men crying. The raw brand on my arm throbbed and smelled like burning meat. I lost count of the days we’d been marching in the desert. Long enough that the sun baked blisters all over me.

These Israel-soldiers called us “captives.” They whipped the ones who walked too slowly or cried too much. The woman in front of me kept crying for her dead children. I guess one of them looked like me because she grabbed me sometimes, as if I belonged to her. She didn’t seem to care if we were whipped for slowing the march to wherever we’re going—somewhere in Israel. Yaira would help me push her away, but it wasn’t always quick enough, and then we were all beaten. The woman was whipped until she couldn’t fight anymore. She screamed for her children until she had no voice.

I haven’t had a voice since the Israel-soldiers attacked us in Bethlehem. When soldiers came through the city gates, I screamed to my abba, but my words didn’t save him. I ran into the house, crying, but my words didn’t save Yaira from the soldiers who took her into the stable. They hurt her. More soldiers branded me even though I begged them to stop.

After all that, my words were gone.

“Ishma.” Yaira nudged me from behind. “Eat this.” My friend laid her hand on my shoulder, a small piece of bread hiding in her fist.

I shook my head. She needed it more than me.
“Take it,” she whispered louder. “Before they see.”
Yaira was twelve so I did what she said. I took the morsel and I ate it. The crumbs stuck in my mouth. We’d had no water since yesterday. Please, Yah- weh, give us water when we stop tonight.

Sometimes my prayers worked. Sometimes they didn’t. Mostly they didn’t.
As if she knew what I was thinking, Yaira whispered again. “Every day I pray for Micah to rescue us.” Her voice sounded dry like my throat. “He’ll come, Ishma. I promise. He’ll come. Yahweh will tell him and the other proph- ets where to find us.”

I kept walking, glad I had no words. Yaira wouldn’t like my questions. Why didn’t Yahweh stop the soldiers before they killed my family? Who could ever find us among so many captives? Still, Yaira had as much faith in her brother, Micah, as she did in Yahweh. Micah was her only family because their parents died a long time ago. When he couldn’t take care of her because he lived with the other prophets at their camp in Tekoa, Abba heard about Yaira and said she could live with us and serve as Ima’s maid. Yaira said Yahweh and Micah took care of her, but it seemed to me that my family did.

My face felt prickly when I thought too much about Ima and Abba. My tummy hurt too. I missed them. Who would make my favorite bread now that Ima was gone? Who would tickle me and make me giggle like Abba did?

Back in Bethlehem I held Ima’s head in my lap and watched the light leave her eyes after the soldiers speared her through. I didn’t see what they did to Abba. When the soldiers dragged me out of the house, Abba was lying by the stable with the same empty eyes as Ima. The soldiers wouldn’t let me say good-bye.

“Ishma, look!” Yaira pointed toward a gleaming white palace with black trimmings. It sat on a tall hill.

I’d never seen anything like it. Our house had been the nicest in Bethle- hem because Abba was the chief elder, but it seemed tiny compared to the palace on the hill.

“That must be Samaria, Israel’s capital,” Yaira whispered. “Micah told me that he prophesied here with Hosea.” Her breaths rumbled loud and fast as we climbed the steep hill. We kept walking, walking, walking toward the gates of the white city.

My legs ached and I stumbled, but Yaira tugged on my arms. “Don’t stop, Ishma. We’re almost there.”

I was too tired. My legs felt like water.

“Think of something else, little one,” she said. “What was Micah wearing the last time we saw him?”

That was a silly question. Micah always wore the same thing—a dirty brown robe. Abba said all prophets wore camel-hair robes, and I asked if all prophets were as serious as Micah. Abba laughed. Micah was kind but always frowning—especially on his last visit. He shouted at Abba that we must leave Bethlehem and go to Jerusalem where we would be safe behind its high walls. Ima took Yaira and me into the courtyard, but I could still hear them shouting. Abba was angry and told Micah to leave. Yaira started to cry. I hid against Ima’s legs and wrapped her cloak around me.

I wish Abba had taken us to Jerusalem.

Finally, the captive train slowed to a stop halfway up the hill, and I fell against Yaira. I covered my face with both arms, bracing for the soldier’s whip. But they didn’t beat me.

The crowd’s spreading whispers made me curious, so I lowered my arms to get a better look at Samaria’s palace on the hill. I couldn’t see over the cap- tives and soldiers, but they all asked the same question. “Why are they closing the city gates?” The sun hadn’t set, and we needed food, water, and clothes.
One of the captives pointed to a tall tower casting a long shadow over us. A gray-haired man dressed like Micah stood at the top and looked over the edge. He began shouting at the Israel-soldiers, and they shouted back. The captives huddled together while the soldiers’ faces got redder and they beat their fists against the air.

I curled into a ball, trying to make myself smaller. Yaira leaned over and covered me, like an ima bird covering her babies with its wings. Some of the soldiers began throwing stones at the watchtower. A sudden rumble of thunder boomed from a clear sky and shook the ground. Yaira and I trembled even after the rumbling stopped. I peeked up to the sky from beneath Yaira’s arms and wondered, Was that Yahweh’s voice?

Very slowly, she lowered her arms, knelt beside me, and grinned a little. “Yahweh fought for us, Ishma.”

All around us soldiers dropped their rocks. Some guards even fell to their knees. Others backed away from the captives as if touching us might hurt them.
I tapped Yaira’s arm and pointed at the man in the watchtower, shrugging my shoulders.

“His name is Oded,” she whispered. “He’s a prophet of Yahweh in Israel. He said the soldiers treated us shamefully and must free us or face Yahweh’s wrath. The city elders will lead us to Jericho where we’ll reunite with our fami- lies.” She kissed the top of my head. “We must pray the soldiers listen to Yah- weh and that Micah finds us in Jericho.”

Soldiers rose from their knees. Some still looked angry, but many stum- bled like newborn calves on unsteady legs. They slashed ropes from the cap- tives’ waists and unlocked shackles from their necks and feet. When the soldiers freed Yaira and me, she pulled me to my feet and hugged me gently, careful not to break open our wounds or sun blisters.

“We’re free,” she said, glancing around us. “I think we’re really going to be free.”

All the captives moved away from the guards—slowly, like they were drinking a bowl of hot soup, testing each sip. Could we really be released at the word of a single prophet and a rumble of thunder?

The soldiers unpacked clothing, food, and bandages they’d stolen from Judean towns, and they began passing it out to all us captives. Even the sad woman who had lost her children smiled. Celebration spread, and one word floated on the evening breeze. “Free . . . free . . . free.”

I’d heard that word many times before, but I understood it better now. A bird flew over, and I watched it circle and play in the sky. The bird was free— like us. No ropes or chains to bind it. No soldiers to burn or beat it. But when the bird settled into its peaceful nest at the fork of two branches, I knew we weren’t the same at all. My peace died in Bethlehem, and my home had been burned.

“Ishma, what is it?” Yaira tilted my chin and dried my tears. “There’s no need to cry, little one. I’m sure Micah will find us in Jericho.”
I stared into her sparkly dark eyes. She was so happy about being free, but didn’t she know? Freedom didn’t matter if we had no nest to call home. She pulled me back into a hug.

I closed my eyes and pretended to be a bird.

Mesu Andrews and her husband, Roy, live in a log cain snuggled into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains with their dog, Zeke. The Andrews’ have two married daughters and a small tribe of grandkids. Mesu loves movies, football, waterfalls, and travel.

Biblical fiction is her favorite genre to read and write. Her first novel, Love Amid the Ashes (Revell, 2011), tells the story of Job and Dinah, winning the 2012 ECPA Book of the Year for a Debut Author. Miriam (Waterbrook/Multnomah, 2016), the second book in the Treasures of the Nile series, was a 2017 Christy finalist and tells the story of the Exodus through the eyes of Yahweh’s first prophetess. In January 2018, Isaiah’s Daughter: A Novel of Prophets and Kings (Waterbrook/Multnomah) reveals the little-known personal life of the prophet Isaiah and introduces readers to his captivating daughter.

Click HERE to buy the book and keep reading!

Excerpted from Isaiah’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews. Copyright © 2018 Mesu Andrews. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Mesu2Author Bio:

Mesu Andrews and her husband, Roy, live in a log cabin snuggled into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains with their dog, Zeke. The Andrews’ have two married daughters and a small tribe of grandkids. Mesu loves movies, football, waterfalls, and travel.

Biblical fiction is her favorite genre to read and write. Her first novelLove Amid the Ashes (Revell, 2011), tells the story of Job and Dinah, winning the 2012 ECPA Book of the Year for a Debut Author. Miriam (Waterbrook/Multnomah, 2016), the second book in the Treasures of the Nile series, was a 2017 Christy finalist and tells the story of the Exodus through the eyes of Yahweh’s first prophetess. In January 2018, Isaiah’s Daughter: A Novel of Prophets and Kings (Waterbrook/Multnomah) reveals the little-known personal life of the prophet Isaiah and introduces readers to his captivating daughter.

Author website: to order free bookmarks, listen to audio Bible studies, or check out more fun stuff!
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APharoah's Daughter coverPrologue

[The angel of the Lord] replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” — Judges 13:18

The royal linen closet is a dark hiding place, but I’m a big girl—almost five inundations old—so I’m trying not to be afraid.

I wonder . . . is it dark in the underworld? Was Ummi Kiya afraid when she and the baby inside her crossed over this morning?

The priest ordered me and my little sister to the birthing chamber. Ankhe is only three. She wouldn’t go.

The priest was angry, so he came to our chamber and grabbed Ankhe’s hand. “You must see the beauty of Tawaret—goddess of childbirth!”

Instead, we saw Ummi Kiya’s blood poured out on the straw under her birthing stool. Her light-brown skin was white as milk. The midwives pulled out a baby boy, but he was as gray as granite.

The angry priest wasn’t angry anymore. He knelt before Ankhe and me. “Anubis, god of the underworld, has stolen their breath. I’m sorry.”

I ran from the birthing chamber, screaming, before Anubis could steal my breath too. I’ve been hiding a long time because Anubis might still be hunting. He knows my name, Meryetaten-tasherit. It’s hard to understand, but I’m called a decoy—named after Queen Nefertiti’s daughter Meryetaten to confuse Anubis should he prowl the palace grounds. If I stay in this linen wardrobe all day and night, perhaps the dark god will take the Great Wife’s daughter instead.

Nefertiti, the Great Wife, hates me because Abbi Akhenaten loved my mother. Ummi Kiya was his Beloved Wife, and she gave him a son—my brother, Tutankhamun.

Pharaohs like sons, but Abbi Akhenaten doesn’t like daughters. He frowns when my sister Ankhe and I enter the throne room. Maybe it’s because of Ankhe’s tantrums.

Ummi Kiya said Ankhe’s ka is troubled like Abbi’s. He throws tantrums too, but because he’s pharaoh, he doesn’t get in trouble.

My legs hurt, and my tummy’s rumbling. I don’t want to stay in this dark closet anymore. But the linen robes hanging around me smell like Ummi Kiya—lotus blossoms and honey. Who will love me now that she’s gone?

My brother Tut will. He’s only six, but he protects me. He checks my bed for scorpions at night and makes his tutors teach me the same lessons he’s learning. We learn about Hittites and Nubia, and we try to write hieroglyphs.

Ankhe is too little for lessons, and she doesn’t know about love either. Will she ever love? Or will she be like Abbi Akhenaten and live forever with a broken ka?

I hear footsteps. Someone is coming. My heart feels like horses racing in my chest.


Someone’s calling me. I think I know that voice.

“Mery, habiba, I know you’re in there.”

A little light shines in, and I peek through the robes at a kind woman’s face. Her cheeks are plump and round, her smile warm like the setting sun.

“You know my ummi,” I say.

“Yes, I was Kiya’s friend. Do you remember my name, Mery?”

She offers her hand, but I scoot behind the robes into the corner of my wooden shelter. Her smile dies, and I wonder if she’ll unleash Anubis now that I’ve been found. I hear a sound like a wounded dog—it’s me! I must stop crying!

“Mery, I’m sure your ummi Kiya’s heart measured lighter than a feather on Anubis’s scale of justice. She is waiting for us both in the afterlife, but she would want you to trust me now.”

I can’t stop shaking, can’t speak. I can only stare at this woman whose smile is gone and whose eyes are now filling with tears. Is she angry? I don’t remember her name, but I know she’s the big general’s wife. Will she call the army to kill me?

“Your abbi Akhenaten has given you to General Horemheb and me. You are our daughter now.”

She reaches for me again, but I slap her hand away. “No! I want Tut!” I bury my face in my hands and pray for Anubis to find me. Take me to Ummi Kiya!

“Mery. Mery!” The general’s wife is kneeling and bent into the closet, shaking my shoulders. “Tut will stay with you. We’re all staying here at the Memphis Palace together. Your brother, you, me, and General Horemheb. You will be with Tut as you’ve always been.” She strokes my hair and doesn’t seem angry that I yelled.

Slowly, I look at her. “Did Abbi give Tut away too?”

“No, little habiba. Tut is prince regent. He will always be Akhenaten’s son, but all Kiya’s children will remain under General Horemheb’s protection in Memphis. Because the general and I have no children, Pharaoh gave you as a precious gift. You are now our daughter. I hope this pleases you.”

She cups my cheek and looks at me the way Ummi did. Maybe she could love me a little. “What is your name, lady?” I ask.

“I am Amenia. Would you like to know the new name General Horemheb has chosen for you?”

I suck in a quick breath and scoot to the edge of the wardrobe, surprising my new ummi. “I get a new name? Anubis will never find me if I have a new name!”

Chuckling, Amenia stands and helps me to my feet. “You will be called Anippe, daughter of the Nile. Do you like it?” Without waiting for a reply, she pulls me into her squishy, round tummy for a hug.

I’m trying not to cry. Pharaoh’s daughters don’t cry, but her soft, warm arms make me feel so safe. Maybe Amenia could be my new hiding place instead of the dark linen closet.

My tummy is growling again. “You must be hungry after being in that wardrobe all day.” Amenia kisses the top of my head and gives me a little squeeze before letting go. “We must present you to your abbi Horemheb before our evening meal.”

“What about Ankhe? Will she come with us to meet our new abbi?”

Amenia loses her smile. She holds my shoulders hard. “Anippe, do you trust Abbi Horemheb and me to do what’s best?” Her voice makes me shiver.

“Where is Ankhe?”

“Ankhe is safe, and she will always be your little sister, but she will not meet General Horemheb.”

After another kiss on my forehead, Amenia smiles, and we start walking through the tiled hallway to meet my new abbi. I try to stop at Ummi Kiya’s chamber, but Amenia pushes me past. So I keep walking and don’t look back. Like the waters of the Nile, I will flow.
Chapter 1

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. —Exodus 1:1– 7

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. —Exodus 1:8

Four years later

Anippe dipped her sharpened reed in the small water jar and swirled it in the palette of black powder. Her scroll had only one stray drop of ink— one less drop than Tut’s—and she was determined to best her big brother. She drew a second water symbol, adding it to bread, water, basin, box, and owl, to finish her brother’s name: T-t-n-k-h-m-n. Leaning to her left, she peeked at Tut’s progress. Her letters were much clearer, and he now had three stray ink drops.

“Very good, Anippe.” The tutor peered over her shoulder, his breath reeking of garlic and onions. “Your writing is almost as precise as the divine son’s.”

Tut smirked, and Anippe rolled her eyes. “Thank you, revered and wise teacher.” Maybe his vision was blurred by the cloud of his stinky breath.

“My letters are just as good!” Ankhe shouted from across the cramped classroom. She slammed her reed on the small, square table and began tearing her scroll into pieces. “You spend all your time with Tut and Anippe.”

The tutor grabbed his willow switch, and Ankhe turned her back in time to save her face from the lashing. “If I spend more time with you, Ankhe-Senpaatentasherit, you will likely be whipped more often. Is that what you wish? You will show me respect in this classroom, and you will act like the daughter of a god.”

Tears stung Anippe’s eyes, but she blinked them away. Daughters of gods didn’t cry. The tutor had never used his switch on her, but she didn’t wish to test him. She reached for Tut’s hand under the table, silently begging him to intervene. The divine son was never punished.

“Oh wise and knowing teacher, let us resume our lesson.” Tut raised one eyebrow, seeming much older than his ten years. “If I am to rule Egypt someday, I must understand why some vassal nations have betrayed Pharaoh Akhenaten and pledged allegiance to Hittite dogs. Our eastern border is at risk if I can’t control buffer nations between us and our greatest threat.”

Anippe gaped at her brother. He remembered nations and territories as if they were written inside his eyelids.

The tutor issued a final glare at Ankhe before returning to a stool beside his favored pupil. “Very astute questions, son of the good god Akhenaten, who is king of Two Lands and lord of all. The Hittites are indeed our greatest eastern threat, a military machine with iron weapons, but we must also beware the Nubians in the south. They pose as loyal servants to Egypt’s king, his officials, and our military, but you must never trust a people not your own.”

Anippe slipped away from the table, certain the tutor was lost in his topic, and slid onto the bench beside Ankhe. Her little sister was still whimpering, head down. When Anippe tried to smooth her braided wig, Ankhe shoved her hand away.

Like always.

Ankhe hated discipline, but she didn’t like to be loved either. Soon after Ummi Kiya’s death, Tut told the grownups that all Pharaoh Akhenaten’s children should be tutored, and he tried to have Ankhe at the same table—between her older brother and sister. But as she grew, her tantrums became worse. Sometimes even the switch wouldn’t stop her. So the tutor moved her to a separate table.

Separate. That was what Ankhe would always be, no matter what her siblings tried. Anippe saw welts rising on Ankhe’s back under her sheer linen sheath, marks from the tutor’s switch. “I’ll ask Ummi Amenia for some honey to put on your back.”

“She’s not my ummi.” Ankhe picked up her reed and dipped it in water and pigment. “They didn’t adopt me.”

“But Amenia still cares for you, Ankhe.” Anippe wanted to hug her, but she’d tried that before. Ankhe hated hugs. She hated to be touched at all.

The sound of soldiers came from the hallway, spears tapping the tiles as they marched. This sounded like more than the two guards who always stood at their doorway. This sounded like a full troop. Tut looked at Anippe, afraid, and Anippe grabbed Ankhe’s hand. Her little sister didn’t pull away this time.

General Horemheb appeared at the doorway, his big shoulders touching the sides and his head too tall to enter without ducking. He looked scary in his battle armor—until he saw Anippe and winked.

She wasn’t afraid anymore. Her abbi would protect her against anything. He’d loved her and spoiled her since the day Amenia introduced them.

But when he saw Ankhe, his face turned as red as a pomegranate. He scowled at the tutor. “Why is my daughter seated with the little baboon? You have been told to keep them apart.”

Before the tutor could answer, Abbi Horemheb grabbed Anippe’s arm, lifted her from the bench, and landed her back on the stool beside Tut. Anippe’s eyes filled with tears. Abbi was always rough with Ankhe but never Anippe— never his little habiba.

She sat straight and tall beside Tut, blinking her eyes dry, trying to be the princess Abbi wanted her to be.

When her abbi returned to the doorway, Anippe noticed two other people standing with the soldiers—a beautiful lady and Vizier Ay. Abbi Horem hated the vizier. Maybe that was why he’d lost his temper.

Who is that pretty woman with them? The woman wore a long, pleated robe, fastened at her shoulder with a jeweled clasp. Her braided wig fell in layers with pretty stones woven through it on gold thread. Anippe studied her face. She looked familiar, but she wasn’t one of Amenia’s friends who visited the Memphis Palace.

Vizier Ay took three steps and stopped in front of Tut and Anippe’s table. “Pharaoh Akhenaten has journeyed beyond the horizon. The priests have begun the customs of Osiris.”

Tut straightened and hid his shaking hands under the table. He was quiet for a while, breathing as if he’d run a long race. When his breath came smoothly again, he said, “The good god Akhenaten will cross the night sky and warm us with the sun each day.” His voice quaked. He was trying hard to be brave, but Anippe knew how much Tut loved Abbi Akhenaten. The weight of Egypt now rested on her brother’s slim shoulders. “When do we sail for the burial ceremony?”

Vizier Ay tilted his head and smiled, as if Tut had seen only five inundations. “We have much to discuss with you, divine son, but first I would have you meet your new wife.”

“Wife?” Tut squeaked and then peered around the vizier at the woman. Anippe’s big brother withered into a shy boy. He motioned for General Horemheb’s approach and then beckoned him close for a whisper. “I have no need of a wife, Horemheb—not yet.”

Abbi Horem leaned down, eye to eye. “Divine son and beloved prince, a young king needs three things to rule well: a teachable ka, wise advisors, and a good wife.” He tilted his head toward the pretty lady at the door. “Senpa is your good wife. Ay and I are your advisors. And you have demonstrated teachability. You are both humble and powerful. I am honored to bask in your presence, most favored son of Aten.”

Tut’s throat bobbed up and down, perhaps swallowing many words before the right ones came to mind. A bead of sweat appeared on his upper lip while everyone waited for him to speak.

“How old is she?” Ankhe blurted out the question Anippe wanted to ask but didn’t.

Tut’s eyebrows rose, clearly awaiting an answer.

Abbi Horem’s face turned red again, and he slammed his hand on Ankhe’s table. “You will be silent unless asked to speak.”

Ankhe raised her chin in defiance but didn’t say another word. Vizier Ay guided the pretty woman toward the table where Tut and Anippe sat. “Divine prince, meet your wife, Ankhe-Senpaaten. She is your half sister— daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. You may call her Senpa.”

Anippe stared at Nefertiti’s daughter. All their lives, they’d been warned of Nefertiti’s evil. Now Tut must marry one of her daughters? How could they ask it of him? Senpa was beautiful, but she was ancient—at least twenty inundations, maybe twenty-five. How could a ten-year-old be a husband to a twenty-year-old queen?

Anippe shivered and earned a stern glance from Abbi Horem.

Vizier Ay cleared his throat and nudged Senpa aside. “Divine son and ruler of my heart, we have many details to discuss regarding the burial ceremony and your coronation. Perhaps you, in your great wisdom, could dismiss your sisters to Amenia’s chamber to plan the wedding festival?”

“Yes, you may go.” Tut’s voice sounded small.

Anippe wanted to stay, but Abbi Horem was already instructing a contingent of guards to escort them to Amenia’s chamber.

“Wait!” Anippe’s outburst quieted the room. “If it pleases my dear abbi, I would ask one question.” She stood and bowed to her abbi, using her best courtly manners to gain his pleasure before asking what burned in her belly.

“You may ask it, my daughter.”

Lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders, she tried to speak as a king’s sister—not as sister to a crown prince. “Will Ankhe and I remain here at Memphis Palace with Tut and Senpa after their marriage?”

Vizier Ay laughed, startling Anippe from her composure. Abbi Horem turned her chin gently, regaining her attention. “No, little habiba. Tut will remain here at the Memphis Palace with me and Vizier Ay. However, Senpa, Amenia, you, and Ankhe will relocate to the Gurob Harem Palace with the other noblemen’s wives and children. The king’s officials visit Gurob several times a year. You’ll enjoy helping in the linen shop and have many little girls to play with.”

Anippe worked hard to keep her smile in place, but her heart felt ripped in two parts. First Ummi Kiya and now Tut? Would the gods take away everyone she loved?
She bowed slightly to her abbi and then reached for the scroll on which she’d drawn Tut’s name—a memento of their last class together.

The tutor blocked her path, hand outstretched. “I’m sorry, Princess. I can’t let you keep that scroll.”

“But why? I—” Ankhe jumped to her side, grabbed the scroll, and hid it behind her back. Abbi Horem snatched it away, gave it to the tutor, and raised his hand to strike Ankhe. Anippe stepped between them, halting the general’s hand.

Grabbing Anippe’s shoulders, he shook his head. “You protect her too much, habiba. She must learn to behave as a princess.” He hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. When he stood, towering above Anippe and Ankhe, he addressed them both. “You can no longer write your brother’s name in hieroglyph. He is now divine, and his name is sacred. Only royal scribes may write the six-part name of a king within an oval cartouche. Now, my guards will escort you to Amenia’s chamber with Senpa.”

Anippe obeyed without argument. She looked over her shoulder as they left, wondering when Tut would become a god. This morning they’d laughed and teased and even raced from their chambers to the schoolroom. She’d almost beaten him. Surely a god could run faster than a girl.

Tut sat utterly still, expressionless, listening to his advisors. Perhaps that was what a god looked like—empty.

Anippe made sure Ankhe was behind her and then followed the beautiful daughter of Nefertiti down the open-air corridor to the women’s chambers. Losing herself in the sound of chirping birds and sandals on tile, she breathed in the smell of lotus blossoms as they passed a garden pond.

Like the waters of the Nile, I will flow. I am Anippe, daughter of . . . Horemheb and Amenia.

Click here to buy the book and KEEP READING!

Excerpted from The Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews. Copyright © 2015 Mesu Andrews. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Author Bio:

Mesu Andrews 2014--casualMesu Andrews’ deep understanding of and love for God’s Word brings the biblical world alive for her readers. Her first novel, Love Amid the Ashes won the 2012 ECPA Book of the Year for a Debut Author. Her three subsequent novels, Love’s Sacred Song, Love in a Broken Vessel, and In the Shadow of Jezebel all released to great reader enthusiasm. Mesu lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband Roy.

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STRANGE GODS by Annamaria Alfieri


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strange godsChapter One

They never went out in the dark because of the animals. But this night she must, despite her fear. If she was ever to escape the boredom of life confined to the mission compound, determination had to win out over terror.

So, well before first light, she left her bedroom. The things she would need were packed and waiting for her in the Kikuyu village.

She went barefoot through the back door of the house and into the kitchen yard. Once outside she slipped on her boots and tried to step lightly. She stole past the Mission office and the school. The moonlight was dim, but adequate. Her eyes were good.

All she wanted was a bit of adventure. To go on safari. She resented being kept at home while her brother Otis was allowed to go. She was nearly six years older, yet he had already gone more times than she. The Newlands had invited her as well as Otis, but her mother had refused to allow her leave. Her mother, who tried to control every minute of her time. Well, tomorrow morning she would tell Mr. and Mrs. Newland that Mother had changed her mind. By the time her parents discovered what she had done, they would have no way to bring her back.

It was juvenile of her to be doing this. She was a grown woman, nearly twenty. But she would never have the chance to be an actual grownup, to make her own decisions. British rules of maidenhood did not allow for that.

Otis was already at the Newland farm, set to go off into the wilderness in the morning. After much cajoling, he had agreed to help her slip away and join the safari party. “We will leave at dawn,” he had said before he went. “I will ask Mr. Newland to take us near the Kikuyu village, but you will have to be there and ready by six.”

“That’s easy enough.”

“What will you say if they catch you?”

“I will go beforehand and put my rucksack and my rifle in Wangari’s hut. That way, if they see me up in the night, they will not suspect the truth.”

“Okay,” he said, grave faced. “That’s a good plan.” She loved it that he pretended to be a man. He was such a serious boy.

The chill of the wee hours made her wish for the jacket that was already at the bottom of her pack. She scanned the shadows for the slightest movement as she crossed the bare packed earth of the Mission grounds, listening with her ears, with her skin, for any sound of danger. Hippos might have come up from the river to graze. They were deadly but not quiet. The cats were silent but unlikely to be hunting here now. They came often to look for water in the dry season, but not after the long rains, when the land was moist and the water holes all round about were full.

Stupidly she thought of Tolliver. Whenever she moved from one place to another her thoughts always went to him, as if her bones and her blood vessels wanted her to move only in his direction, wherever else she was going. Tolliver, though, would never approve of her defying her parents. He was a proper Englishman. Men like him never expected a good girl to do anything but what she was told, even when she was an adult in every other way.

The moonlight threw a weak shadow beneath the thorn tree growing in the sward that separated the stone hospital from the grass and wattle school. A rustling in the underbrush halted her steps and her breath. She was between the river and whatever that was in the shadows near the chapel. If it was a hippo, it might kill her with one snap of its powerful jaws just for blocking its way back to the water. Suddenly the night was full of sound. As many cicadas as there were stars, singing out near the hospital privies. The chilling cry of hyenas behind her, beyond the coffee groves. And then the long, deep, hollow vibration of a lion’s roar that sounded as if it came from the core of the earth. The cat’s night song did not frighten her. They made that noise when they mated. She thought of Justin Tolliver again but pushed her mind away from the mating call in her own blood.

She stole toward the stable, with her eyes to her right where the rustling in the undergrowth had come from. When she heard nothing, she ran flat out until she came to the veranda of the hospital. The windows of the building were dark. Not even a candle burned in the wards. She slipped into the gloom at the near side stone wall, panting a bit, more from fear, than from running. She breathed deeply to calm her nerves. The noise of something moving came again, nearer now. She was about to back away to try to get inside the building before the animal reached her when she saw a person carrying a lantern, approaching around the far corner. It could only be Otis, come back to help her. But why would he bring the lamp? She held her breath not to shout and scold him.

She crept in his direction.

The figure carry ing the lantern became clear.

Vera gasped. “Mother!”



“Go to your room and stop this nonsense.”

“But, Mother . . .”


There was no disobeying her mother when she used that tone.


While, in the dark of night, Vera McIntosh returned to her bed, where she consoled herself with fantasies that involved kissing Justin Tolliver, the young man who was the object of her infatuation stood in the half-wrecked bar of the Masonic Hotel in Nairobi, his hands in the air and two revolvers aimed at his heart. His own weapon was still in the holster at his side. This was a tight spot where an assistant superintendent of police should never find himself, not even a neophyte like him. How he got here was as easy to explain as it was humiliating and exasperating.

His superior officer— District Superintendent of Police Jodrell— was off on home leave in England, making Tolliver answerable directly to Britain’s top man in this sector—District Commissioner Cranford.

When Tolliver was called to the hotel to take control of two drunken Europeans who were tearing up the place, he brought with him a squad of his best askaris—African policemen who could be counted on to be brave and dutiful, including the best of the lot, Kwai Libazo.

But as they jogged at double-time through the unpaved streets of the ramshackle young town, carrying flaming torches to light their way, Tolliver knew he was in danger of incurring D. C. Cranford’s wrath. He was about to make the unforgivable mistake of using African policemen against Europeans. Cranford had the strongest opinions of such matters. So Tolliver had left his squad outside the corrugated iron and wood hotel and entered the bar alone. Unfortunately, he had failed to draw his pistol before he did so. Perhaps if he had not been exhausted from doing double work for days now, including fighting a fire last night in an Indian shop on Victoria Street, or if he had cared less about what Cranford thought and more about his own skin, he would not have let these louts get the advantage of him. As it was, he was completely at their mercy, unless the askaris outside came to his aid. But why would they if they had no idea how muddle-headed he had been?

“You are being damned fools,” he said with more bravado than his predicament warranted. “If you interfere with a police officer in the execution of his duty, you are risking many years of hard imprisonment. If you hurt me, you will be up before a firing squad.”

“Bloody hell, we will,” the bigger man said with a laugh.

“Listen, you puppy, on the count of three you are turning tail outta here or you’ll be picking lead outta your legs.”

Tolliver gave them what he hoped looked like a careless, indulgent smile. “I am not leaving without putting the two of you under arrest. If you come with me peacefully, I’ll not charge you with resisting.” He took a quick step forward thinking that it might intimidate them.

The smaller of the two, a red-haired bloke with a vicious sneer, jammed his pistol into Tolliver’s stomach and said, “Stop right there or it’s the graveyard for you.”

“If you shoot me, you will be joining me there,” Tolliver said. He thought to add that the sound of a shot from inside the bar would bring in the squadron of policemen he had left guarding the entrance. But it suddenly occurred to him that all he had to do was get one of these drunks to fire a shot—not at him— but at something. Help would storm into the room forthwith.

He raised his hands higher and pulled himself up to his full height, so that he towered over the sly, little man. “How do I know that gun is loaded?” he asked.

“Easy,” his assailant said. “See that whiskey bottle on the shelf?”

“Certainly,” Tolliver said, as nonchalantly as he could. It was impossible to miss since it was the only one still standing. All the others, along with just about anything breakable in the bar had been smashed to pieces before Tolliver arrived and lay littering the floor.

The man turned his pistol away from Tolliver and without taking aim, shot the top off the bottle. His big companion looked away to see the result, and in a flash Tolliver had his pistol out and leveled at them.

In two heartbeats, Kwai Libazo was smashing through the door, his rifle at the ready.

“That was some excellent shooting,” Tolliver said as he relieved the bigger man of his weapon.

The other askaris were piling into the room.

“Libazo, handcuff these men and march them to the station.” Tolliver knew when he gave that order that Cranford would disapprove. But he’d already almost gotten himself killed trying to appease Cranford, with his British ideas about keeping the natives in their place. Given the choice between death and the D.C.’s disfavor, he would take the latter, no matter how displeasing it would be.

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annamariaAnnamaria Alfieri set Strange Gods in Nairobi in 1911.  The Richmond Times Dispatch said, “With the flair of Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, the cunning of Agatha Christie and Elspeth Huxley and the moral sensibility of our times, Alfieri permeates this tragic novel with a condemnation of imperialism, a palpable love of Africa, a shocking conclusion and a reminder that good does not always triumph.” –Richmond.   Kirkus Reviews compared her Invisible Country to “the notable novels of Charles Todd.”  The Christian Science Monitor chose her Blood Tango as one of ten must-read thrillers. The Washington Post said of her debut novel, “As both history and mystery, City of Silver glitters.”  She lives in New York City.

Author website:


THE LEGEND OF SHEBA: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee


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legend of ShebaPrologue

There is the tale that is told: A desert queen journeyed north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king and his One God. The story of a queen conquered by a king before she returned to her own land laden with gifts.

That is the tale you are meant to believe.

Which means most of it is a lie.

The truth is far more than even the storytellers could conjure. The riches more priceless. The secrets more corrosive. The love and betrayal more passionate and devastating, both.

Across the narrow sea, the pillars of the great temple once bore my name: Bilqis, Daughter of the Moon. Here, to the west, the palace columns bear another: Makeda, Woman of Fire. To those I served as priestess and unifier, I wore the name of my kingdom: Saba. To the Israelites, I was Queen of the spice lands they called Sheba.
They also called me whore.

I have been all and none of these, depending who tells the tale.
Across the sea in Saba, the mountain rains have ceased by now, the waters of the mighty Dhana turned to steam on the fields at dawn. In a few months the first traders will sail in the quest for incense and gold . . . bringing with them news of the king who sends them.
I have not spoken his name in years.

Yes, there is indeed a tale. But if you would have the truth from me, it begins with this:

I never meant to become queen.

Chapter One

My mother, Ismeni, was born under the glimmer of the Dog Star, when men become disoriented by its light. They said she enchanted my father, that he made her his consort with a clouded mind.
But I saw the way their gazes followed her whenever she appeared in the palace porticoes, their conversations drifting to suspended silence until she passed from sight. On the rare occasion that she took her seat beside Father’s in the Hall of Judgment, the chamber swelled like a tide drawn by the darkened moon. Bronze-skinned with brows like dove’s wings and lips for whispering prayers, my mother was the most exquisite thing in all of Saba. The trickle of rain over the highland terraces couldn’t match the music of her beaded hems nor the best frankincense of Hadramawt compete with her perfume.

Drowsing on her sofa in the hot afternoon, I would twine my fingers with hers and admire the rubies of her rings. I hoped my hands and feet would be as slender as hers. It was all I hoped; it never occurred to me that any other aspect of her beauty might be granted a mortal twice on this earth.

Many days we received gifts from my father: rare citrus imported from the north, sweet within their bitter rinds. Songbirds and ivory combs from across the narrow sea. Bolts of fine Egyptian linen, which my mother had made into gowns for me to match her own.

But my greatest treasures were the songs she sang like lullabies murmured against my ear. The ritual prayers she taught me as we knelt before her idols, the sweet waft of incense clinging to her hair. Beyond the palace, Saba sprawled from the sheer edge of the coastal range to the feet of the desert wastes. But I was content that my world stretched no farther than my mother’s chamber.

In the evenings I sat before her jewelry chest and adorned my ears with lapis, my shoulders weighed down with necklaces as she reclined by her table. It was covered in gold, a glowing thing in the low light of the lamp that seemed to gild anything near it—the side of my mother’s face, the silver cup in her hand.

And then I would dance as she clapped her hands, bracelets chiming on my ankles—the dance of the monsoon rain running through the wadi ravines, and the gentle sprinkles of summer coaxing millet from the winter-brown earth. Of the highland ibex, my arms curved over my head like great crescent horns, and the lions that stalked them, which always made her laugh. And then she would leap to her feet and join me, the tiers of carnelian beads at her neck jingling with every stamp of her heels.

“You will be more beautiful than I,” she said one night after we had fallen onto the cushions. “But beware, little Bilqis. Beauty is a weapon you can wield only for a time.”

Before I could ask what she meant she slid a heavy bangle off her wrist. It was as wide as my hand and crusted with rubies. “Do you see these stones? They are harder than quartz or emeralds. They do not break under pressure, or soften with age. Let this be a reminder, my dove, that wisdom is more lasting and therefore more precious.” She slid the bracelet onto my arm.


“Hush now. The Sister Stars are rising—a time for new things.” She touched the amulet at my throat, a bronze sun-face inscribed on the back for my protection. “How do you like the idea of a young prince brother?”

I nestled against her, toying with the bangle. My nurse made me burn incense before the alabaster idol of Shams, the sun goddess, every month since I could remember in prayer for this very thing.
“I would like that.”

I said it because I knew it would please her. What I did not say was that I would like it far better than a sister, who would vie with me for my mother’s attention. That I could share her with a boy knowing he would eventually leave us for my father’s side—and the throne.

I vowed to pray daily that my mother’s baby would indeed be a boy.
Ten days later my mother suffered a seizure and hit her head on a marble bench inside her bath. That day I was told she had abandoned me for the afterlife, taking my unborn brother with her.

I screamed until I collapsed against the edge of her table. I called them liars and begged to see her, flailing against anyone who tried to touch me. My mother would never leave me. When they took me to her at last, I threw myself over her, clutching her cold neck until they pried me away, strands of her long hair still tangled in my fingers.

After they closed up the royal mausoleum at the temple of the moon god, Almaqah, her face was before me constantly. Sometimes I could smell her, feel the softness of her cheek against mine as I slept. She had not deserted me. I stopped speaking for nearly a year after her death. Everyone thought I had gone mute with grief. But the truth is that I would speak only to her.

I whispered to her as I lay in bed every night until her voice faded the following summer, taking some vital part of me with it. I was six years old.

Hagarlat, my father’s second wife, was neither young nor beautiful. But her presence in the palace renewed ties with the tribes to the north, and control of the trade route through the immense northern valley. If the dams and canals that channeled the summer monsoons were the lifeblood of Saba, the incense route was her breath, every exhale of her roads profitably laden with frankincense, bdellium, and myrrh.

I was eight when my half-brother broke the peace of the women’s quarter with his angry wail just before the first rains of spring.

I distrusted Hagarlat. Not because she had the face of a mottled camel or even because she had brought the squalling thing that was my brother into the world, but because she had usurped my mother’s chamber along with her jewels and made the name Ismeni seem a distant thing in the minds of everyone but me.

The palace had become foreign to me with my stepmother’s servants and uncanny priests filling its halls with their rough tribal tongue. My new relatives and even their slaves looked through me when they weren’t ordering me about, and the children I had grown up with had long distanced themselves from me during my year of silence. “Stay away from me!” one of them, a boy named Luban, said when I tried to get him to sneak out to the stables. We had spent hours feeding the camels and hiding from my nurse the year before my mother’s death. He was by now several inches taller than I and the laughter in his eyes for me was gone. “Your mother is dead and Hagarlat is queen. You’re just a bastard now.”

I blinked in astonishment at the scorn on his round face.
And then I blackened his eye.

I went that evening without supper, but I had no appetite. I had seen young friends of dead unions become the servants of the offspring who replaced them before.

“You are a princess. Do not forget who you are,” my nurse said to me that night. But I did not know who I was. Only that she and her daughter, Shara, were all that remained to me now.

Though no one else called me “bastard”—at least to my face—I did not miss the eyes that turned away, the dwindling choice of fabric for my gowns, the gifts from my father that grew more intermittent before they ceased altogether.

One day I strode boldly into Hagarlat’s chamber, where she was dictating the celebration to take place for my brother’s first birthday. “Where are the things my father sends for me?” I demanded. I heard the intake of breath around me, saw from the corner of my eye the horrified expression of my nurse, the bolts of dyed cloth and rare silk laid out across the settee.

Hagarlat turned, astonishment scrawled as clearly across her face as the henna on her forehead. Green jasper dripped from her ears.

“Why, child, has he forgotten you? And he sends so many gifts here. Ah, what a mess your face is.” She reached toward my cheek. Just as my lower lip threatened to quiver, I saw it: the ruby bangle that once belonged to my mother—the same one given to me before her death.

“Where did you get that?” I said. My nurse pulled me away, hissing at me to shush, but I would not. “That is mine!”

“What, this?” Hagarlat said. “Why, if it means so much to you, have it.” She took it off and tossed it at me. It fell on the floor at my feet.

“Forgive me, my queen!” my nurse said. I ducked the circle of her arms and snatched the bracelet from the floor. One of the rubies was missing, and I frantically began to search for it until my nurse hauled me from the chamber.

I avoided the palace as much as I could after that. I escaped to the gardens and lost myself by the pools, where I hummed my mother’s songs. Lost myself, too, in study with the tutor my father assigned to me when no one else knew what to do with me.

Within three years I had devoured the poetry of Sumer, the wisdom writings of Egypt, and the creation stories of Babylonia. I called on the palace scribes and read court documents over their shoulders when they would humor me.

For the first time since my mother’s passing to the shadow world, I found joy. My toddling brother, Dhamar, would become king. And I would slip past the palace halls with their political squabbles and private intrigues to the stories of others come alive from far-flung places. To escape all . . .

But the gaze of Hagarlat’s brother.

Sadiq was a serpent—a fat man with a languid gaze that missed nothing and a knack for convincing my father’s advisors of his usefulness. The maidservants and slaves gossiped often about him, saying he had been born under a strong omen—which really meant he had come into considerable wealth with his sister’s marriage to my father. It seemed half the palace was taken with him, though I could not fathom why.

But Sadiq was taken with only one person: me.

His eyes followed me through the porticoes. I felt the slither of them on my back and shoulders, felt them bore into me anytime I appeared in the alabaster hall.

I wasn’t the only one to notice.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Hagarlat asked your father to give you to Sadiq,” my nurse said one evening after tut-tutting over my unkempt hair. Shara, the closest thing I ever had to a sister, stared at her mother and then at me.

“He wouldn’t,” I said. “He already has Sadiq’s loyalty.”

Even then I held no illusions about my future. I would be married to some noble or another in a matter of years.

But not Sadiq.

“Hagarlat’s love of her brother is no secret,” she said, fiercely combing my hair. “And neither is her ability to secure favors from your father.”
“He’s not even a tribal chief!”

“He’s the queen’s brother. He’ll be master of waters by year’s end, mark me.”

I looked at her, incredulous. The master of waters oversaw the distribution of flow from the great wadi dam, the sluices of which irrigated the oases on either side of Marib. It was a position of power over the capital’s most influential tribes. Only a fair and respected man could arbitrate the inevitable conflicts over the allocation of waters.

Sadiq was neither.

“He’ll do nothing but collect bribes.”


“It’s true. Sadiq is a worm sucking the tit of his sister!”

My nurse drew a sharp breath and was, I knew, on the verge of warning me to prudence. But before she got a word out, Shara dropped the bronze mirror that she had been polishing. It fell with a thud to the carpet.

“Clumsy girl!” her mother snapped. Shara didn’t seem to hear; her wide eyes were fastened on the floor.

My nurse hesitated and then gasped and dropped the handful of my hair she had begun to plait. She swept aside, her head bowed so low that I thought her neck would break.

I slowly turned on my stool.

There, in the arched doorway of our shared chamber, stood Hagarlat. The hem of her veil was pinned back from her face, a rainfall of gold fell from each ear. I rose to my feet.

For a moment, neither of us moved. Nor did I move even to bow when she walked quietly toward me. She stopped just before the mirror and bent to retrieve it as though it were a wayward toy. Appraising it once, she took the cloth from Shara’s startled hand, passed it over the surface, and then handed the mirror to me.

“So you may see more clearly,” she said. And then she walked out, dropping the cloth behind her.

The instant she was gone, my nurse and Shara turned toward me as one, their faces pale, nostrils flared with fear.

I was betrothed to Sadiq within a week.

I threw myself at my father’s feet in the audience room of his private chamber—the place where he might be not a king but a man.

“I beg you, do not give me to him,” I cried. I clasped the fine leather of his sandals, pushed up the hem of his robe to touch my forehead to the top of them.

“Bilqis,” he said with a sigh. I raised my head even as he looked away. The lines around his eyes seemed more pronounced in the low lamplight of the chamber, the characteristic kohl missing from the rim of his lower lashes.

“She did this because she heard me speak ill of Sadiq. I repent of it!” I dropped my head, clutched at his feet. “I will apologize. I will serve in her chamber. But do not do this!”

He reached for me, to draw me up. “Hagarlat would see our tribal bonds strengthened. And why not? Your brother will be king. Do you really think the queen so petty?”

I jerked away from him. “Do you not see that she hates me?” I stumbled back, away from the low dais and into the pool of lantern light before the throne, but stopped when I saw how he stared at me.
For a moment his mouth worked, though no words came out. There was a pallor to his skin that hadn’t been there before.

“Ismeni . . .” he said faintly. His hand lifted, fingers trembling in the air.


I went to him again but when I tried to clasp his knees he flinched away.

“Father, it is I, Bilqis!”

“It is late,” he said, eyes turned toward the latticed window.

Torchlight glowed up from the royal gardens below.

“Please, my king. I was your daughter once. If you have any love for me—”

“It is settled.” The lamp flickered and I saw it then on his face: the grimace of the years since my mother’s death. Love eclipsed by the dark moon of pain.

Sadiq seemed to be everywhere after that. He stood in the porticoes when I went out to the gardens. He loitered near the fountains as I went about my lessons. And though he did not approach me beneath the gaze of the ubiquitous guards, his eyes were as ever-present as the scorching sun.

I quit attending meals in the hall. I began to avoid my lessons. The sight of him, from the way he wore his ornamental dagger high up in his belt as though it were his very manhood to the number of rings on his fingers, repulsed me. I would feel different in time, my nurse assured me. But my only comfort was that I would never be alone with him until we married in three years. Sadiq, however, was not a man of honor.

I was twelve the first time he laid hands on me.

The soft scrape of the door woke me. I was alone and at first glance by light of the waning lamp, I thought it was Baram, the eunuch. He, too, was paunched around the middle and soft-chinned, and the only man allowed in the women’s quarter.

And then I saw the gleam of the dagger’s hilt.

He crossed the room in three strides and I bolted up, screaming for Baram. Sadiq struck me hard across the face.

I fought him as his weight fell on me, the scabbard of his dagger digging into my ribs, but he was twice my size. “Baram and the women are attending my sister, who is even now miscarrying your new brother,” he said, hotly against my ear. He was putrid with perfume and wine. “And none of them will stand against the new master of waters.”

His hand closed around my throat. His other tugged up my gown. I clawed at him until I nearly lost consciousness and then squeezed shut my eyes.

I lay in bed the next three days.

My nurse called for the physician, who could find no fever in me. Only the stupefied torpor of one who no longer wished to live in her own skin. Sadiq had managed to leave no mark on my neck or face—just the scrapes of his rings against my thighs.

I wanted to rise only to walk into the desert waste until the sands consumed me, but had no will even for that. As night came on the fourth evening, I called for my nurse. I would ask for the night shade that Hagarlat used to dilate her pupils. Or for the honey of rhododendron nectar.

But she just blinked at me and said, “Why, child? Why do you want these things? You are beautiful already and such honey will only make you ill.”

I couldn’t speak. Could not bring myself to give voice to the words.
She gave me qat to chew instead, but even the stimulant leaves would not rouse me from my bed.

The second time Sadiq forced himself on me I said, “My father will have you killed! I will accuse you before the entire council!”

“Will he? They will ask you, ‘Did you cry out? Who heard you? When I claim you tried to seduce me and voice concern about your honor, whom do you think they will believe?” And I knew he was right: he was brother to the queen and master of waters. I was the daughter of a woman born under a bad omen, too often alone.

I should have been filled with righteous fury. I should have accused him before my father if only to escape him—and any other man, as no man would marry me without a hefty bribe after that. Instead, I was overcome with shame like the rot of worms beneath the skin.
I begged Shara not to leave my bed at night. But she could not deny the queen if called for. Sadiq raped me twice more in the months that followed, even as clouds gathered over the highland terraces and the first gusts of the coming season shook the trees on the hills.

The rains came and I kept to my bed. The torrents swept down the hills through the afternoon, carrying trees and earth and any building in their way into the wadi ravines. For now, at least, I was safe; the master of waters was away from the palace, monitoring the floods and the condition of the canals with a labor force ready to repair any breach in the sluices.

Sometime before dawn, I rose and walked to the window. I was a wisp beneath my shift, having lost the young curves I had only begun to come into. Clasping the sill, I threw open the latticed shutter. As I had on so many nights since my mother’s passing, I sought out the Sister Stars. But that morning the moon obscured one of them. I stood at the window long after the sky had brightened and the stars began to fade, watching it pass before their company.

For the first time in years, I prayed. Not to Shams, the sun, who had failed to protect my mother . . . but to Almaqah, the moon god who had received her.

Save me or let me die.

That was all. I slid the ruby bracelet, the most precious thing I owned, from my arm and laid it on the sill before the fading crescent.

Later that day, men came rushing into the courtyard, their shouts rising to the open window of my chamber.

My nurse brought the news an hour later: one of the sluice gates had buckled. Sadiq had been carried away in the flood.

I raised my eyes heavenward.

I am yours.

Sadiq’s body was never found. A month after his death, Hagarlat accused me before my father. Her face was drawn, her clothing hanging on a frame grown gaunt. I had grown into my own gowns once more, as though I had acquired the lushness she had lost in her grief.

“That girl is a curse to this house.” Her voice broke. “She cursed my brother as she has cursed me! My brother her betrothed is dead and I have miscarried twice since coming into your household. Her own mother gave birth to only one child and died with a son in her belly. I tell you that girl brings death to everyone near her!”

When my father finally looked at me, I knew he saw the shadow of the woman he had married not for treaties but for love. And I understood at last why he had not sought me in my grief, or summoned me in the years of my withdrawal since her death.

“Wife,” he said, lowering his head.

“You will send her away or I will leave this court and take my son with me lest she kill him, too, as she did her own mother and unborn brother!”

I turned on her with a hiss. I was like the branch, no longer green, that splinters beneath the weight of a single bird. I was prepared to be reckless, to curse her, her son, and every hoped-for issue of her womb, and every tenant of her tribe with their camels and goats down to the last rabid dog.

But the breath I had drawn to curse her came out as a soft chuff of wonder instead. For one insane moment, I nearly laughed.
There was nothing she could do to me, nothing that could be taken from me that had not already been taken or that I had not been willing to shed—down to my very life—myself.

I, who had no power, did not need to utter a word. She had lost all supremacy over me. And in that moment, she knew it. I watched the color drain from her cheeks.

“Yes,” I said to my father. “Send me away. Let me go across the narrow sea to the land of your mother’s mother before you.”
Was that relief that flitted across his face?

I could not begrudge him his quick agreement. Almaqah had been his salvation, too.

That fall I boarded a ship with my tutor, a retinue of priests, new ministers for the growing colony, and a wealth of incense, offerings, and gifts for the temple in Punt. I was not allowed to bring my nurse or Shara with me—Hagarlat had seen to that—and so bid them both tearful goodbye, kissing their necks and commending them to the gods.

I was resolved that I would never return to the palace at Marib with its dark corridors and darker memories. That I would live my life in Punt—and in peace—all my days.

But Almaqah, once summoned, had other plans for me.

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Tosca LeeTosca Lee is the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of Iscariot; The Legend of Sheba; Havah: The Story of Eve; Demon: A Memoir; and The Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestselling author Ted Dekker. She lives in Lincoln, NE. For more about Tosca, please visit



These Violent DelightsPROLOGUE
On what was to be the last evening of her life, Jane Whittle left the studio at 7:13 p.m. Traffic was slow going over the hill, and she briefly entertained her daily fantasy of working on a show that taped on location north of L.A., as more and more of them seemed to do. But her specialty had become extraterrestrials, and somehow alien life forms always headed straight for West Hollywood. She snaked along the Ventura Freeway past Coldwater Canyon, edging her Prius into the right-hand lane just after Sepulveda.

Jane was, in fact, content. Work was steady; she had a reputation for being one of the most creative makeup artists in L.A. Earthquakes and fires she could do without, but she reveled in the thought that this was March and her car windows were closed due to smog, not temperature. This time of year in London–she shivered remembering the looming gray skies, the dampness that penetrated your bones. Here, she had gardenias blooming in her backyard.

She made the turnoff onto 405 North, following it briefly to Sherman Way. She smiled as she turned onto a side street, then off into the parking lot of La Tureen, her favorite spot for gourmet takeout. Outrageously pricey, yes, but the soups and homemade specialties were to die for. She was a firm believer in treating herself, especially after a hard day’s work.

As she locked the car, she heard her name.

“Why–Jane. It is Jane, isn’t it?”

She looked up to see an old acquaintance just exiting La Tureen, carrying two green and white shopping bags laden with gourmet food.

“By the saints,” Jane said, squinting to make certain she wasn’t imagining things. “What a coincidence to run into you today.”


“Yes, I spent the whold day on the lot discussing Tristan and Isolde. Everyone read in today’s trades about the re-release. It was all they could talk about,” she chuckled. “That film made most of them decide to go into the business, to hear them talk. Oh-sorry. Here I am, running on, and you with food getting cold.”

“No, no,” said her companion. “I’m in no rush the foie gras here’s magnifique, so I try to pick some up when I can. And when I do–” the bags were lifted, their weight tested, “I’m afraid I go overboard. Dinner for twelve, and it’s just me.”

“Can’t blame you,” agreed Jane. “It’s delightful. No one uses saffron in quite the same way.” She was feeling heady at being recognized after all this time.

“It would make me feel less foolish if I could persuade you to share the bounty with me.”

Jane felt herself blush, actually blush, with pleasure. Certainly, she felt comfortable working with different types of people, but this was a real overture of friendship, giving her the feeling she was above-the-line, inside the loop.

“Is there something else I can pick up while we’re here?” she asked.

“I think I’ve emptied their larder already. Do you know of somewhere nearby we could spread out?”

“Why, my place, of course,” said Jane, trying to remember if she’d put away the snack tray after last night’s television viewing. “It’s a couple of blocks away.”

“If it’s really no trouble. I’d hate to put you out.”

“None a-tall! Really.”

“Shall I hop in with you? I’m sure they won’t mind if I leave the car here for an hour.”

“It would be my pleasure.”

Jane was relieved to find she had indeed straightened up before leaving at dawn. The small house was polished and shiny. She hummed through the kitchen, bringing a lavendar vase of yellow Devon roses into the small dining room for a centerpiece.

The piquant aromas of basil and ginger emerged as the strong winners as containers were opened.

“Start with the soup, shall we?” asked Jane, folding navy cloth napkins under the heavy silver. “I’ll give us appetizer plates for the brioche.”

“You’re the boss. I was planning paper plates.”

“And for the wine?” Jane asked. “I do have a nice Bordeaux.”


“All this talk of Tristan has opened a floodgate of memories for me–as I’m sure it has for you.” Jane smiled to herself. “Do you hear anything of Lily–Anastasia Day? I keep meaning to write, but I’d hate to bother her.” She  brought in the wine and sat down, indicating her gues should do the same. Even as she said it, Jane knew the truth was that she was terrified to risk discovering that Anastasia had forgotten her. That would break her heart. She’d rather protect her memories and not know.

“I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything–at least, not recently. But how about you? Here’s the question you undoubtedly get all the time: are the inhabitants of that Wild West ghost town actually dead, hermaphrodites, or aliens?” her guest asked of Jane’s current series.

Jane chuckled. “All I know for sure is they’re on HBO.” Her companion was polite enough to feign interest in the anecdotes that came with the show’s strange assignments for the cast’s makeup. But as Jane described the makeup department, of which she was head, she realized in a flash of revelation that her assistants were incompetent. And she needed to order some new forehead moldings, but the producer had prohibited it. That got her goat. Did he want the inhabitants of Ghosttown to looke like dime-store trick-or-treaters, or the proud race they were? The thought made her head throb.

“Forgive me,” she said with a short laugh. “None of this is your problem. The brioche is thrilling. There must be fennel in the sausage, don’t you think?”

A wave of heat pulsed through Jane’s body, flushing her face and arms. Oh, dear, she thought. Take a sip of wine Sit and breathe

But as the hot flashes intensified, the room began to tilt. Candles flickered wildly and went out. Darkness shrouded her. What on earth?

Jane stood, knocking her chair over behind her. She tried to lurch away, but the room was tilting and she felt vomit rising in her throat. Was it an earthquake? No–it was a thing, a presence. She knew because when it grabbed her, it had a sour, evil breath…and it had hands. Hands that held thick silver steel blades.

Jane couldn’t move. It was as if she’d turned to stone. But her flesh was still soft; she could tell because it tore so easily as the monster before her drove the daggers into her abdomen. With each thrust, a blade of pain coursed the length of her body.

“No!” she shrieked. “No, no, no!”

Her last thought was, I don’t want to die like this.

And then she was dead.

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007Sharon Linnéa is a biographer and novelist who also writes thrillers and mysteries. She lives outside New York City with her family. Visit her at