Category: Teen Thoughts

THE CRIMSON CURSE’s Creator Speaks (And a Sneak Peek inside the story)

Today, I’m thrilled to have my friend and Pen Sister, Melissa Crispin as a guest.

We’re celebrating our co-authorship in Roane Publishing’s Novella Niblets line. Melissa’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast is the second story to be released in this new, digital-only collection.

MelissaJCrispin-AuthorPic
Author Melissa J. Crispin

Melissa: Hi Sharon, Before we get started, I just wanted to say thank you for having me on your blog today!

ME: Beauty and the Beast is my  all-time favorite Disney movie. What version of the story inspired The Crimson Curse?

Melissa: Beauty and the Beast is my all-time favorite Disney movie, too!

ME: *SQUEE* We’re practically twins. *collects herself*

Melissa: I CANNOT WAIT for the live action movie to be released in March of this year. I’ve been stalking all the trailers.

When I thought about the original story, I wondered what it would be like if the roles were reversed, and if the woman were the beast instead of the man. I worked my way backwards from that notion, considering how she could’ve ended up cursed, and what it would take for her to break free from it. There is still a strong emphasis on a woman’s physical beauty even in this day and age. As cheesy as it sounds, I really do believe true beauty comes from within and it doesn’t hurt to remind the world of that from time to time. If that makes me seem like a total sap, then so be it.

ME: Nope. The more technology advances, the more we become obsessed with visual images. And true love is more than skin deep, which is one of the reasons I LOVE  the story Beauty and the Beast.
I was going to ask what your favorite Disney movie was, but since you’ve already copied my answer *sticks out tongue* what is your second favorite Disney movie? Have you ever considered doing a retelling of it?

Melissa: My second favorite would be Cars. My son absolutely loved this movie when he was little and I watched it countless times. In fact, I could probably recite a bunch of the scenes verbatim. I love watching Lightning McQueen’s struggle to figure out what happiness means to him. Also, I love the slow realization that success has different definitions as well.

I think it would be very difficult to do a retelling, but I definitely have other stories that revolve around this theme.

Thanks for giving us a “glimpse behind the author curtain.”

Crimson Curse

And because I have an inside track with Melissa, she’s agreed to give us a sneak peek inside the lovely cover of The Crimson Curse.

You’ll only read this  segment of  The Crimson Curse right here (unless you purchase the novella, links below).

Here’s an exclusive excerpt from The Crimson Curse:

Calliope may not have been able to leave the estate, but at that exact point in time, with her heart feeling so full, she couldn’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be. “What are you making?” she asked.
“Cookies.” Yareena turned, flashing a toothy grin. Flour dusted the little girl’s nose and clothing. “Mrs. Widdleworth is teaching me how to bake.”
“I most certainly am, and this child is a natural.”
Calliope approached and gestured at their preparation area. “May I?”
Mrs. Widdleworth drew back. “But, you’re the lady of the house.”
“So? When has that ever mattered? Yareena is a guest, yet here she is. You’re having such a wonderful time. I’d like to help.” She wiggled between Yareena and Mrs. Widdleworth, giving them each a light hip bump to make room for herself. She reached for the bowl filled with the prepared dough.
“Don’t you know three’s a crowd?” Bastian’s deep, baritone voice came from the kitchen’s doorway.
Calliope turned. “Excuse me?”
“I just think you should let the girls enjoy themselves.” He held a straight face, but the corner of his mouth twitched.
She raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? And what about me? Am I not allowed to partake in any fun?”
He leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. “I thought you might like to take a walk instead?” A sly grin pulled at his lips, suggesting a different kind of enjoyment.
Calliope’s cheeks flushed.
Mrs. Widdleworth’s jaw slackened at the same time she dropped her spoon, causing it to clang on the countertop. “It’s a beautiful day outside.” Her eyes pleaded with Calliope to go as if the woman feared she would turn him down.
“All right,” Calliope said, “but I’m not convinced your company will be as entertaining as theirs.”
“We’ll see about that.” Bastian’s eyes met hers, filled with wicked suggestion, causing a tingle to travel down her spine. He held his arm out for her and she took it, allowing him to lead her out of the kitchen, and through the front door.
After walking a fair distance from the house, Calliope’s teeth chattered. The harsh winter weather had faded, but not enough to be outdoors without a coat.
They stopped, and Bastian faced her. His mouth quirked as if he was holding back a laugh. “I’m guilty of poor planning. Should we go back indoors before we turn into icicles?” The deep rumble of his chuckle warmed her insides.
“That might be wise,” she said, even though she would be more than willing to endure the cold in exchange for his company.
“Perhaps, but I should warn you, I may not be so wise when it comes to you.” He stepped forward and circled his arms around her waist, pulling her body against his.
His lips met hers, their tongues swirling in a delicate dance. All thoughts of the weather dissipated. She welcomed the feel of his body and the wave of desire that followed. Her fingers traced the angle of his jaw and caressed the back of his neck.
After a long while, he drew back and framed her face with his hands, taking care not to disturb her golden mask.
Her hands dropped to his shoulders. “You’re shaking.”
He leaned in until their foreheads touched. “You have that effect on me.”

Buy your copy now:

Roane’s Store (you can find the link to your favorite retailer here)

Giveaway

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a $25 Roane Publishing Gift Card, Bracelet with charm from Sweet Inspiration, Hot cocoa mixes and mug from The Crimson Curse

GIVEAWAY!

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Today is the Day for DAMAGED GOODS

I am so excited that DAMAGED GOODS by Jennifer Bardsley releases today and that I get to share the news!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Jennifer Bardsley, be sure to check out all the details below. AND come back tomorrow when the author stops by here to answer some of my questions about the characters, premise and themes.
 
This blitz also includes a giveaway for a Perfectly Posh, Posh To Meet You Set ($20 value), US Only courtesy of Month9Books. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About The Book:

 
Title: DAMAGED GOODS (Blank Slate #2)
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub.Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD
Blanca has everything she ever wanted, a hot boyfriend named Seth and the loving support of her foster father, Cal. She’s finally escaped the abusive control of her birth father, Barbelo Nemo, and her tortured childhood at Tabula Rasa School.
But the scars of Blanca’s Vestal upbringing run deep, especially when the FBI start asking questions. Blanca feels abandoned by Seth who is hunting for Lilith, Blanca’s only blood relative. The Defectos, a support group of Vestal-Rejects, offer Blanca comfort instead.
While the Vestal order crumbles, Chinese rivals called the Guardians rise to power and wrest control of important Tabula Rasa contacts. Now Blanca’s life is in peril once more, and this time, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.
 
 

OR Start at the beginning with Genesis Girl!

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood
has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the
Internet. 

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable. 
 
By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only
chance of escape is to go online. 

Enjoy the following SNEAK PEAK inside the cover of Damaged Goods. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post AND come back tomorrow to hear from the author!

Excerpt
 
I look to where he points, and the flash of thumb-cameras blinds me. Vestals must never have their pictures taken by random people. That privilege belongs to the companies that purchase them and market a Vestal’s privacy one
advertisement at a time. I reach my arms out by instinct, to protect my face from the public. “I’m fine with it,” I lie, pulling my hands down. “But we better leave now or we’ll be late to the restaurant.”
 
“My dad can wait a few minutes.” Seth scoops me in his arms.
 
“Blanca!” one of the spectators calls. “And Veritas Rex! Is that really you?”
 
Seth holds up his hand and wiggles his finger-chips. “The one and only!” Then he dips me back for a kiss.
 
I stiffen like cardboard. “Stop it,” I mumble, trying not to squirm. All I can think about is the cameras, my face flashed worldwide and weirdoes slobbering over my private moment with Seth. 
 
“We’ve got to go or we’ll be late.”
 
Seth kisses my nose. “I didn’t know you were so punctual.”
 
“Yes.” I pull myself out of his grasp. “Cal’s waiting.” The sooner I put my helmet on and get back on my motorcycle, the better.
 
“Blanca,” a man calls as we ride away. “I love you! I’ve watched you all year!”

Underneath my jacket, I shiver. The fame that surrounds me is chilling.

 

About Jennifer: 

Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily HeraldShe also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI.
She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA. 
Her first novel, GENESIS GIRL,  is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the sequel  is available now.
Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Literary AgencyLLC.
 
Follow the Jennifer on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Giveaway Details:

 (1) winner will receive a Perfectly Posh, Posh To Meet You Set ($20 value), US Only.

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Check out this Amazing Cover for THE SKY THRONE

Today Chris Ledbetter and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for THE SKY THRONE which releases April 18, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:
Since my father put the first book of mythology in my hand, I’ve loved myths and legends. I always favored Greek mythology. I actually think I was Greek in a past life. Beginning in 2011, I conceived a story to sit down and have Zeus tell me what his childhood was like, especially his teenage years. All I did was listen to what he told me and put it down on paper.

On to the reveal! 

 
Title: THE SKY THRONE
Author: Chris Ledbetter
Pub. Date: April 18, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 292
Find it: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N | TBD
Duality dwells at every turn, and an adolescent Zeus will learn that all too well when Hyperion attacks his family
on Crete.
When the dust settles, his mother is unconscious and his best friend left for dead.
Stacking epic insult upon fatal injury, Zeus discovers the woman who raised him is not his biological mother. But to
ensure her safety while she recovers, a heavy-hearted Zeus leaves her behind to seek answers at Mount Olympus Preparatory Academia.
Zeus embarks on a quest to discover who ordered the attack on his home, avenge the death of his friend, and find his
birth mother. When some of his new schoolmates vanish, Zeus’s quest is turned upside down, and the only way to make things right is to access the power of The Sky Throne, confront a most dangerous enemy, and take his life back.
On his way to becoming king of the Greek gods, Zeus will learn to seize power, neutralize his enemies, and fall in love.

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONESince the moment I started at Eastern Crete Lower Academy two years ago, I’d felt like such an outcast. The guys, mostly Potamoi and sons of Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys, never regarded me as an equal. I didn’t even warrant bullying. It’s like I never even existed. If only I’d known how visible I’d become in the coming days. I always got picked last for swim team and crew in physical fitness class. I actually was the third best wrestler overall in school and peerless in javelin throwing due to superior training from my guardians, the Kouretes. When Eastern Crete competed in the Mediterranean Invitational Games against academies from Phoenicia, Egypt, and Libya, I placed first in the javelin event, beating Gurzil from Libya who was the reigning champion from years past. I even won my weight class, the lightest class there was, in wrestling by beating Melqart from Phoenicia. But none of that mattered.

I was still invisible.

I loved science class. The lessons where we studied energy and matter were like fresh spring water to a parched throat. But the rest of my classes bored me to tears. We had language arts, music, and math in the mornings. Physical fitness, agriculture, and science took up our afternoons. I wouldn’t say I was intellectually ahead of them, because, hey, that’d be conceited. But my mother prepared me well, with all the goat tending and such. And she always said when I came home from classes each night that they just didn’t know how to teach me on my level.

So, I was forced to make my own fun. No one would probably notice anyway.

After the big Invitational Games win, I was posted up at the school’s entry columns with my best friend, Anytos, watching the Oceanids as they arrived for classes one morning. Sisters to the Potamoi, the Oceanids were the sea nymph daughters of our headmasters. Okeanos and Tethys, aside from being our school administrators, were also Elder Deities of the vast ocean, which is why we at Eastern Crete dominated all water sports. Swimming. Cliff diving. Crew. We bested all comers. But not me. I dove and swam exactly the same … like an anvil.

The Oceanids descended upon the campus from their barracks like a wave crashing against the shore. Telesto, the most beautiful sea nymph by several stadia, smiled at me for the first time since I’d been going to the school. Okay, it wasn’t a full smile. The corner of her lip twitched upward as she flipped her wavy, aquamarine hair over her shoulder and glanced past me. But that counts, right?

I backhanded Anytos in the chest. “You saw that. That’s my opening. If I don’t make my move, she’ll be gone to the upper school next year.”

“Pssht, she is beyond the Mediterranean beautiful. Completely unattainable.”

“Did you see that come hither stare she flashed me?”

“Looked more like indigestion.”

“You are as wrong as you are false. Cover my back. I’m moving in.”

I crossed the courtyard in a flash and caught Telesto’s arm as she reached the weather-beaten front door to the main school hall.

“Telesto, you look as if the sun radiates from you.”

She paused and leaned back against the doorframe. “You’re just saying that because I wore my yellow tunic today.”

“You shine with such brilliance; you should wear yellow every day.”

She folded a strand or two of stunning teal hair behind her ear and twirled the ends. “But what happens when I wear my purple tunic?”

“A tunic hasn’t been invented that could dampen your beauty.”

She giggled and turned away from me for a moment. “Zeus, is it?”

I nodded, surprised she even knew my name.

“You’re the one who pulled that massive prank on my mother, Headmaster Tethys, aren’t you?”

Oh, that’s how she knew me. Not invisible after all. I bowed. “I am him. He is me. One and the same.”

“Crazy. She was so mad.” She shook her head, stifling a smile.

“As far as I can tell, language arts must be your favorite subject. Your tongue is spectacularly sharp-witted.”

“Not really. But I am feeling a little inspired right now.”

Several strands of her hair fell to cover half her face. “Are you going to the bonfire at the beach tomorrow night?”

“I wasn’t invite—”

Several of Telesto’s broad-shouldered, dark-haired brothers bumped into me from behind. “Those are uncharted waters, boy. Careful now,” One of them called over his shoulder. Those were the first words they’d ever spoken to me. Telesto rolled her eyes. “Pay them no mind. They’re harmless. You were saying?”

“Those bonfires are an Oceanids and Potamoi thing? It’s kind of a secret club that you have to be born into, right? Being brothers and sisters, children of Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys… young water deities in training… masters of rivers and streams…”

“I guess. But you should come out any way. It’s all night, under the stars. Eating, drinking, stargazing… What’s better than that?”

Gazing into her mesmerizing, iridescent eyes, my mouth fired before I could stop it. “Kissing you under the stars. That’s better.”

“Sprint much? You’re a fast mover.”

“I just go after what I want.”

“Well … ” A pink tint rose on her high cheek bones. “We shall see. But first you have to show up.” Her lips twitched gain. “I have to go to class. See you tomorrow?” She disappeared inside the school hall.

I turned to Tos with a pterodactyl-eating grin on my face. He shook his head and smiled.

The boring part of my daily routine was set to commence. School. Classes. Ugh. I wished the school day was already over so I could just go to games practice. As Tos and I walked to first period, I was struck by the overwhelming urge to liven my day up just a bit.

“Tos, I have a good one. You with me?”

“Oh heavens. Is it what I think it is?”

“I feel the need … the need to prank!”

Tos shook his head. “My pranking days are over.”

“Come on. Just one more. Promise it’s the last one.”

He glared at me.

I explained the entire idea to him. “It’ll be after language arts, all right? It’s going to be good.”

After class, Tos and I waited until all other students had left. He took his position at the door to make sure no one came in. I approached Professor Ceto at the front of the room. Tablets and scrolls decorated the top of her desk.

“Professor, do you have strong hands?”

Her intelligent eyes narrowed. “Sure, I do. Why?”

“I bet you a homework pass that you can’t balance a goblet on the back of your hand.”

Her forehead wrinkled.

“Place your hand on the desk, palm down,” I said.

She complied.

I filled her water goblet and placed it on the back of her hand.

She smiled. “See. No problem at all.”

I picked up the goblet. “Now place your other hand on top of this one.”

She sighed. “Why? Is that supposed to be harder? So, if I fail, you get a homework pass, yes? If I complete the task, what do I get?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Go ahead, then,” she said, placing her left hand atop her right.

“Get on with it.”

Barely able to contain my giddiness, I balanced the full water goblet on the top of her two hands.

“See,” she said with triumph in her voice. “I did it. Where’s my surprise?”

“All right then, I’ll see you next week. Have a good weekend.” I walked quickly to the door.

“What? Wait, I can’t move my hands without spilling water all over my scrolls.”

Tos opened the door and we both rounded the corner in a flash. We were halfway to period two music when I heard an unholy roar across campus.

“ZEUS!”

Tos and I laughed our behinds off and slapped hands as we passed a solitary blueish post in the center of the courtyard. No one knew much about it or who designed it. But its presence was striking.

Upon reaching music class, Tos and I took our positions near the kithara and lyre. Our teacher, Professor Leucosia and several more students entered and we prepared for instruction. Leucosia had the most beautiful singing voice. Simply spellbinding. Sometimes, I felt light-headed when she’d sing along with our accompaniment. Shortly after arriving in class, Headmasters Okeanos and Tethys shadowed the doorway to our room. The expression on Tethys’ face could have killed a wild boar at forty paces.

“Zeus, Anytos, we need you to step outside right now.” Tethys said. Her eyes mirrored the Aegean during a storm.

I looked at Tos. My heart rate quickened to a pace I’d only felt after running sprints. Slowly, I rose to my feet. This couldn’t have been good.

We walked over to Okeanos. I had to crane my neck just to see the Headmaster’s eyes. His biceps were bigger than my head, despite silvery blue hair atop his head and an aged, wrinkly face.

His somber and deliberate voice rumbled. “You are hereby expelled from Eastern Crete Lower Academy. This infraction and expulsion will go on your master record. You may apply again next term.”

“Why? What did I do to deserve this?”

Professor Tethys stepped forward to grab my arm. “Your little pranks have gotten you in deeper water than you can swim in, young man. You obviously need some time to think about how you can be a better contributor to the educational system.”

“No. You can’t expel me. Please!” I clasped my hands in front of my face. “My mother will kill me!”

“Not our concern.” Okeanos folded his gigantic arms. His voice rumbled again. “You must learn to be a better student. A better citizen.”

“But they were just pranks,” I pleaded.

“Yes. And this is the seventh such prank we’ve endured at your hands. And since Anytos helped you, he shall accompany you home.”

Tethys pointed east toward Mount Ida, the highest peak on Crete.

“You have until the sun chariot reaches its zenith to leave campus.”

She gazed upward. “By the looks of things, your time’s nearly at an end.”

 

 
Chris Ledbetter grew up in Durham, NC before moving to Charlottesville, VA in 11th grade. After high school, he attended Hampton University where he promptly “walked-on” to the best drum line in the conference without any prior percussion experience. He carried the bass drum for four years, something his back is not very happy about now.
After a change of heart and major, he enrolled in Old Dominion University and earned his degree in Business Administration. He’s worked in various managerial and marketing capacities throughout his life. He taught high school for six years in Culpeper, VA, and also coached football.
He has walked the streets of Los Angeles and New York City, waded in the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and climbed Diamond Head crater on Hawaii and rang in the New Year in Tokyo, Japan. But he dreams of one day visiting Greece and Italy.

3 winners will receive and eGalley of THE SKY THRONE, International.

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PROJECT EMERGENCE Coming Soon

 
Today Jamie Zakian and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for PROJECT EMERGENCE which releases March 14, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
 
I’ve always dreamed of writing an epic sci-fi thriller. I knew I wanted it to involve a group of teens leaving a dead Earth to start new lives on a terra formed Mars, but I didn’t have any ideas on how to make the plot exciting. Then, a song I never heard before played on my Pandora app. Escape by Rogue. As that song blasted through my headphones, the entire story that is Project Emergence streamed through my mind like a movie trailer. So, I went straight to work. It took months of frantic writing, almost a year of editing, and a mini rewrite, but that moment of inspiration became my first YA novel.
 
Project Emergence is a fast-paced thrill ride across the stars. It shows the extent people will go to uphold their beliefs, and that love can overcome any evil.

 

On to the reveal! 


 
Title: PROJECT EMERGENCE
Author: Jamie Zakian
Pub. Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 292
Find it: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N | TBD
 
An ancient Hopi myth says people arrived on tiny silver pods that fell from the sky.
 
But the truth is far more terrifying.
 
Two-hundred fifty-eight teens are sent from a dying Earth to a terraformed Mars as part of the Emergence Program,
mankind’s last hope before solar flares finish off their planet and species. Among the brave pioneers are sixteen-year-old Joey Westen and her twin brother, Jesse.
 
After only minutes in space, something triggers a total ship lock down.
 
With the help of their roommates, the Matsuda twins (notorious hackers and shady secret-keepers), Joey and Jesse stumble onto an extremist plot to sabotage the Emergence Program.
But Joey and Jesse didn’t travel to the deepest pits of space and leave their mother behind to be picked off in a high-tech tin can. They’ll lie, hack, and even kill to survive the voyage and make it to Mars.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneJoey squirmed in the seat of a large, airtight van as it sped along an empty road. A cloud of red sand kicked up outside her window, and the van’s tires hummed against cracked pavement. Solar flares had done a fine job of destroying this once beautiful planet. She never got to see Earth in its glory days, as she had been born into a scorched world, but could almost picture the way it used to be.

In her imagination, the reddish tint that covered the parched countryside outside her window transformed to crisp green meadows. The piles of stone and metal reconstructed to form the buildings they once were, reaching for a sky that was blue instead of crimson.

Her daydream ended when the nose of a spaceship peeked above maroon-crested hills. That massive shuttle was waiting to carry two hundred and fifty-eight lucky lottery winners off this dying planet, and she was one of them.

“Whoa,” Joey said, her breath fogging the glass. A light crinkle drew her stare to the paper in her now tight grip. She loosened her stiff fingers, smoothing a crease from the official seal of the Unified Nations of Earth.

…The letter in her hand still mesmerized her. Selected … Terraformed Mars … New home … Those words knocked the bottom from her stomach every time she read them. Things were getting way too real. No more tiny lead-lined home, school at the kitchen table, Mom. She turned to Jesse, her brother’s smirk brighter than an X1 flare.

“You’re a crappy twin. I’m freaking out right now; you should be too.”

Jesse rolled his stare her way. “Fraternal twins don’t work like that.”

“That’s not true.” She read the letter again, making sure both their names were listed for the umpteenth time.

“I can’t believe this is happening.” Jesse grew tense. A frown swept his lips for just a moment before his perma-smile returned. “No one from G-Sector ever goes anywhere.”

“Did you see the look on Mom’s face when we left?”

“I know. Buzzkill.”

“What’s she gonna do without us?” Joey asked in a near whisper.

“Finally be able to feed herself.” Jesse snickered.

She shook her head, folding the letter. “Maybe she’ll win the next lottery and meet up with us on Mars.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

Jesse leaned close, keeping his voice low. “Didn’t you hear what that kid behind us was saying?”

“No. What?”

“He said the lottery’s rigged.” Jesse eyed the soldier stationed at the front of the van, then the other two at the rear. “That everyone is selected for a specific purpose.”

“But that would mean the U.N.E. is lying to everyone,” Joey said, a bit too loud. Jesse’s eyes opened wide, and she shrugged.

“You’re gonna get us booted from this ride before we even launch.”

“Whatever,” she muttered. “It’s a stupid idea anyway ‘cause look, we’re here. What do we have to offer? All you can do is fix stuff, and me … well, I’m just good at being cute.” She batted her eyes, flaunting a sly smile.

“Yeah you’re right. That’s real flippin cute.” Jesse slanted toward the aisle, glancing around the cab. “There aren’t any adults on this van.”

“There’s the soldier guys.”

“Geez, dummy. I mean the passengers.”

Joey pinched her brother, who wriggled away. “Dummy,” she mimicked. With a failed attempt to appear casual, she popped her head up and scanned the seats. Sparkly clothes and bright makeup captured her stare. “They look like A-Sectors.” She didn’t mean to gawk at the people seated around her, but she’d never seen such lavish clothes, such flawless skin.

“Please remain seated while the vehicle’s in motion,” a soldier thundered.

Jesse grabbed Joey’s arm and pulled her down into the seat. “Smooth, sister. Real smooth.”

She shrank back, deploying her trusty get-out-of-messes frowny smile on her brother. “Oops. In trouble already. Figures.”

Grumbles erupted from Jesse’s lips, and she turned back to the dusty earth outside her window. Crazy how one day and a trip to the mailbox could change her entire life. Yesterday, she was painting a mural of Mars on their bedroom wall. Today, she was going to Mars.

The parched countryside vanished behind a tunnel wall. She sagged in her seat. For sixteen years, she clung to Jesse. Every time dust storms pelted their windowless metal house, she curled under his arm. Mom worked late, so Joey’s hand became glued to his. And now, when she actually needed the comfort of his touch, her brain decided it was time to man up. Her eyes narrowed. She zeroed in on his cozy-looking hand, her fingers drumming a steady beat on her leg.

***

Sabrina poked her head around a corner. Her fingers tightened around the rifle’s grip as she peered down a dim corridor. Shadows danced along the concrete wall, and she backed up, pressing her comms button. “Stone to dispatch. Come in, dispatch.”

Static crackled in her ear, a garbled voice cutting in and out.

“Dispatch, do you read? Where the hell is my backup?”

This time, only the fizz of dead air replied.

“Damn underground bright-out dens,” Sabrina mumbled.

These missions twisted her gut every time. There were very few people left alive on Earth. Many couldn’t afford specially designed homes or the rising cost of oxygen, and it didn’t sit right to bust folks just for trying to survive the scorching sun. But she was Captain Sabrina Stone of the Unified Nations of Earth, a high ranking officer in the sector that controlled every aspect of the entire planet, and she had a duty to protect what was left of that planet. Neither a heavy conscience nor lack of backup would hinder that.

Sabrina held her weapon close, skulking down the stone passage. Two men strolled around the bend, then stopped short, and she popped off two rounds. No sound emitted from the gun’s muzzle, just a flash that lit the graffiti-stained walls in white.

The men slumped to the ground. Tiny darts protruded from their chests, and pamphlets spilled from their limp hands.

“Earth-heads,” she muttered, glimpsing anti-Mars propaganda. The bang of a metal door slamming shut echoed from the dark tunnel on her left, so she headed toward it.

Men and woman dropped as Sabrina skated through shadows, firing her gun. Their tranquilized bodies slapped concrete, a trail to a solid door at the end of the long hallway. She reached into her vest and extracted a small explosive charge. Just as the magnet clinked to the steel slab, a voice flowed through her earpiece.

“Captain Stone, we’ve breeched the airlock. En route to your position.”

“Bout time,” she said beneath her breath. Her thumb glided over the button of the wireless detonator, and spikes of fear burrowed into her gut. U.N.E protocol, and the whirl in her stomach, said to wait for backup. Pride, however, was a persistent little sucker, one that set loose a torrent of electric shocks in her veins. She scurried back, covered her head, and pressed the detonation button.

An explosion rocked her chest, slamming her against the wall. Hunks of concrete crashed down, and the door slammed atop the rubble. Sabrina swung her rifle dead ahead. Adrenaline perked her lips into a smile as she charged through wisps of smoke, firing upon everybody that lunged her way.

“This is a raid of the U.N.E. Get down on the ground.”

Soldiers flooded the doorway behind her, and she bit back her grin. A woman needed an iron-clad stare amid this troop of grunts. “Took you guys long enough.” She turned, stumbling back as the five-stars of a general gleamed in her eyes. “Sir,” she roared, standing up straight.

“Captain Stone, I need you to come with me.”

Sabrina glanced around, as much as one could without moving a single muscle in their neck. Her men cleared the room as the general’s elite soldiers crowded around her.

“Am I in trouble, sir?”

“Quite the contrary, Captain. You’ve been selected for an important mission. You’re going to Mars, Soldier.”

***

Joey grabbed her brother’s hand the instant he climbed off the van’s step. People shuffled all around the wide-open room, probably watching her act like a baby, but she couldn’t let go. Fear stole her will. It could have been the towering room of glass walls and silver beams that encompassed her, the barrage of strange faces, or the fact that she’d never see her mother again, but gloom tainted this moment. Holding her brother’s hand quelled a fraction of her inner-turmoil, so she planned to keep doing it despite her sissy appearance.

A soft voice streamed from a kiosk of video screens, repeating the Space Center’s famed slogan.

Three days on the state-of-the-art R23 shuttle, strolling through green grass, swimming in cool oceans.

Everything she memorized from the letter in her backpack.

“Look, there’s check-in,” Jesse said, tugging her from the display of white sandy beaches.

She inched through the crowd, close to his side. They filed into a rowdy line, her palm sweating against his skin.

“The Westen twins, I presume,” a high-pitched voice echoed from behind them.

In one swift move, Joey shook free from Jesse’s grasp and whirled around. An ultra-posh Asian girl leered down, and Joey stood tall. Her eyes wandered to the near identical boy at her side, bearing the same long jet-black hair. Another set of twins.

“How did you know our name?” Jesse asked. Joey nudged his arm, pulling his gaze from the low cut of the girl’s sparkly shirt.

“We know the names of all the twins on this ship,” she said, her hand hoisting to her hip.

“First and last,” the boy added.

Joey stifled a chuckle. Twins who finished each other’s sentences; this trip was going to be stellar. The line shuffled forward, and the small group edged up a few paces.

“How many twins are on this flight?” Jesse asked, glancing between the pair.

“Fourteen, including us,” she replied.

“Well, fourteen sets,” the boy corrected, turning to his sister.

“That actually makes twenty-eight twins.”

“But twins is plural, so it would be fourteen,” she argued, a hint of red flaring her cheeks.

“Yeah, but, you knew who we were,” Joey said. “We didn’t even know there were other twins here. Is there, like, a manual we didn’t get or something?”

The girl laughed, slapping her brother’s chest. A stealthy glare clouded her delicate features as she leaned close to Joey. “We hacked the database.”

“We hack everything,” the boy whispered.

“Cool,” Joey said through a smile, glancing at Jesse.

“So you must be Jesse,” the girl said, staring at Joey, “Short for Jessica, right?”

“Ah, no,” Joey said. “I’m Joey. Short for Josephine, which I hate so … just Joey.”

“I’m Jesse, which … isn’t short for anything.” Jesse shoved his hands into his pockets, lowering his gaze.

“Ahem. The line is moving,” a redheaded girl groaned.

They all crept forward again, and then Jesse spun back around. “So are we supposed to hack to find out your names?”

The girl giggled, and Joey rolled her eyes. Her stare landed on the boy’s annoyed face. Once their gaze connected, his frown lifted to a grin.

“Kami Matsuda.” A rainbow of colors reflected off the girl’s clothes as she slinked in front of Jesse, looking up into his eyes. “That’s Rai,” she said, nodding to her brother but keeping her deep gaze on Jesse.

Jesse gulped. His hands began to tremble, and it became painfully obvious at how fast his breath flowed.

“Next in line.”

“That’s us,” Joey said. She all but ripped Jesse from Kami’s leer. “We’ll catch up with ya.” It took quite a massive tug, but she finally got Jesse moving toward the registration table. “Now who’s smooth, dorkus,” she whispered.

***

“Let me get this straight, Mr. Winslow,” Sabrina said, only able to mask a fraction of the edge in her tone. “You want me to be a glorified babysitter for a bunch of teens in space?” She walked across the large office of the Space Center, toward Director Winslow’s desk. Her boots sank into lush carpet as she strolled past stone statues, one of which lost its arm somewhere along the way. Such extravagance. If it were liquidated and spread out, every sector could afford a giant dome to protect its people from radioactive air instead of just the A-Sectors. She tore her gaze from art-adorned walls, catching an impatient glare from the man behind a glossy wooden desk.

“The situation on our hands goes far beyond babysitting, Captain Stone. We’re under attack. The commander of the U.N.E. herself assured me you were the best of the best.”

“Commander Sun said that? Huh.” She stepped closer to the desk. The man before her strained to appear confident, but she glimpsed the beads of sweat that trickled between his dark wrinkled skin and white hair.

“You’ve got my attention,” she said, cupping her hands behind her back.

“Of course you understand every word spoken within this room stays within this room.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ever since the inception of the Emergence program, a group of fanatics have targeted us. Are you familiar with the Earthisum Movement, Captain Stone?”

“Yes, sir. I took out an underground lair of them this morning. They seem to be, for the most part, harmless.”

“Perhaps on the outside.” He pulled a brown folder from his drawer and placed it on his desk. “Have a look.”

Sabrina flipped through the file. When she read a handwritten letter, which appeared to be scrawled in blood, her fingers actually shook.

“The threats made in that manifesto were not empty.”

Her head snapped up, and she gawked at the old man before regaining her composure. “Are you saying the Earth-heads blew up your first flight to Mars?”

His finely manicured fingers massaged his forehead, a ghostly shade of white claiming his cheeks. “Yes. After only hours in space.” He lowered his stare. “The second and third flights as well.”

“What?”

“Those maniacs sabotage every spacebus we launch. None have successfully made the voyage to Mars.”

“How could you hide this from the public? They think people are living, flourishing over there. You need to put a hold on this program. Now. I’ll need at least a week to investigate.”

He shook his head, and Sabrina slammed her hands on the desk. “That file says there are two hundred and fifty-eight children walking onto that shuttle as we speak, Mr. Winslow. Two hundred and fifty-eight lives you’re putting at risk.”

“If we stop the program, they’ve won. No! The survival of the human race is too important. This mission has to succeed, Captain Stone.”

“But why now with kids? If what you’re telling me is true, Mars is empty. There are no doctors, scientists, or security of any kind in place. They’ll eat each other alive out there.”

“It has to be them.” He rose from his seat, smoothed a crease on his pinstriped lapel, and strolled to the window. “Those young adults were born in the year of the massive solar flare.” While gazing out the lightly tinted glass, he motioned for Sabrina to join him.

“I don’t see why that matters.” As she approached, the doublewide spacecraft stole her focus. She allowed her stare to wander along the gleam of curved metal and sharp points of thin wings before she shifted her gaze to the man beside her.

“They’re genetically predisposed to elevated radiation. I handpicked each one of them—for their instincts, spark, and their odds of producing healthy offspring.”

“Look, I get that. But if you just postpone a few weeks I can—”

“Earth only has a few weeks left, Captain Stone.” His voice quavered. He cleared his throat, lifting his chin high. “The sun is set to flare in, approximately, ten days. The space program predicts its intensity will surpass our classification scale. Everything left above the surface will be eradicated. Not even the UV dome of A-Sector can deflect these waves.”

Sabrina gasped. She began to stagger back, but Winslow grabbed her arm.

“Captain Stone, Sabrina. Look at those children.”

Her legs wobbled for the first time in her memory, but she crept forward. People hurried along a glass-encased walkway, far below, like tiny ants marching into a trap.

“That’s the future of mankind walking onto that spacebus. If they don’t make it to Mars, our species will cease to exist. You have to get them to that planet safely. You’re the last hope of humanity, Captain Stone.”

 
Jamie Zakian is a full-time writer who consumes the written word as equally as oxygen. Living in South Jersey with her husband and rowdy family, she enjoys farming, archery, and blazing new trails on her 4WD quad, when not writing of course. She aspires to one day write at least one novel in every genre of fiction.


Connect with Jamie here:

 
 
 
3 winners will receive and eGalley of PROJECT EMERGENCE, International.
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The Cover for the Next Installment in FIRE IN THE WOODS

 
I am SO EXCITED for you to read this next installment in the FIRE IN THE WOODS series by my writing friend, Jennifer M. Eaton. (Yes, that means I have already read an early edition. And it’s a story worth waiting for, believe me!)
Today Jennifer M. Eaton and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for EMBERS IN THE SEA, the third book in the FIRE IN THE WOODS series which releases January 31, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

Fire in the Woods has been an incredible journey for me. In book one, Jess and David raced through the woods of New Jersey. In book two, they raced through space, and spent some time on an alien planet. For book three, I needed a brand new frontier, and Earth’s vast oceans seemed the perfect setting for a new alien adventure. I really hope everyone enjoys Jess and David’s race through the sea, because the ocean has secrets, and some secrets don’t want to be found.

On to the reveal!

 
Title: EMBERSIN THE SEA (Fire in The Woods #3)
Author: JenniferM. Eaton
Pub. Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Find it: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N | TBD
Alien scientist David has dealt with disappointment his entire life, but failing to breathe life into the planet Mars is his greatest regret. Out of options and in need of a new home for their people, the alien Caretakers rekindle their plan to inhabit Earth. First they
will have to eliminate the human race, including Jess, the only human David holds dear.
Humanity has one final chance at survival. David needs to emulate Earth’s precipitation on Mars. But the catalyst to make it rain lies in the fathomless depths of Earth’s ocean.
The clock is ticking down to humanity’s last hours as Jess and David face a world more alien than either of them can imagine. The sea hides secrets, but some secrets don’t want to be found.

 

Excerpt

1Homework Sucked.

I tucked back the dark bang that flew in my face, shifted my seating, and balanced Philosophers of the Pre-modern World on my crossed legs.

Squinting in the morning sunshine, I forced my eyes to read the passage from Colton’s Lacon one more time:

“Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future is not come, and the present becomes the past, even while we attempt to define it.”

I closed the textbook and tossed it on the grass. “Why should I even care about what some old cleric guy said two hundred years ago?”

“Because he’s a famous old cleric guy.” Matt plucked the book from the lawn and dusted a few stray grass clippings from the cover.

“I came to college to study photography, not to be confused beyond reason by dead philosophers.”

Matt handed my book back as we stood. “Philosophy is supposed to broaden your mind.”

“Yeah, well, I’m broad enough.” I could sense a witty retort forming on his lips. “Don’t say it.”

He held up his hands. “I wouldn’t think of it.”

A group of people pointed at us from across the courtyard, and my fingers twined around my necklace, pressing the charm into my palm.

Here we go again.

When I first came to Columbia University, this was one of my favorite places to relax. The grass was like a hug from home, despite the New York skyline looming just over the trees. But each semester I had to dodge more and more Jess-watchers. Why they were still interested in me after all this time, I didn’t know.

It had been nearly two years since David left Earth to help his people populate Mars, and there’d been no impromptu spaceship sightings yet. But alien chasers still flocked to Columbia University thinking today might be the lucky day.

“How about we go this way.” Matt tugged me away from the wide-eyed group. Several of them raised camera phones, then looked at the sky.

It was always the same, as if just because Jessica Martinez walked outside, a spaceship would magically pop out of nowhere and whisk her away.

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to smile once in a while.” Matt waved at a guy holding a late model Nikon camera with a cheap lens attached to the front. “You always look ticked on the tabloid covers.”

I left the walkway and stomped across the grass. “These aren’t paparazzi. They’re just gawkers, and they’re driving me crazy. I wish they’d just let it go.”

Matt laughed. “Let it go? You’re Jess Martinez: the girl who saved the world from Armageddon. Twice. I think you need to cut people some slack.”

I stopped by the oak trees beside the library and watched a bird hop back and forth from the grass to the cement walkway. “I just want to be normal again. I want people to stop staring at me all the time.”

“Then you better stop wearing those tight jeans because, damn, girl, I’d snap a few pictures too if I thought I could get away with it.”

I smacked his shoulder, like I always did when he complimented me in his own, Matt-like way. It felt like we were back in New Jersey, back when I was “just Jess” and friendships weren’t so much a luxury.

“So, when is your cancer conference over?” I asked.

“It’s a symposium, and I’ll be here for a few more days.”

A few more days. It wasn’t enough. “Thanks for coming to see me. I missed you.”

Red stained his cheeks. “Yeah, I missed you too.” His gaze drifted to the tree. “Bobby says hi, by the way.”

I cringed and tried to hide my sneer. “I can’t believe you guys ended up friends after what he did to you in high school. He’s such a jerk.”

“Yeah, but he’s a connected jerk.”

“You don’t need him, Matt. You’re brilliant.”

He shrugged. “Brilliant only gets you so far. Bobby has the charm and means to get my work noticed.”

“And in return, you get him good grades?”

“I can’t take his exams for him, but yeah, I help with the other stuff.” We walked to the library steps, where he reclined against the marble. “He quit McGuire for you, you know?”

“That doesn’t change anything. He and I are never getting back together.”

“He’s trying to get back in your good graces … change the world so you see him differently.”

I eased down beside him. “Did he ask you to say that?”

Matt’s eyes opened like saucers. “Am I that transparent?”

“I can’t believe he’s pretending to care about cancer research just to impress me. When will he learn to take no for an answer?”

“So, you’re serious? You’re really not into him anymore?”

“Not. At. All. Not if he were the last guy on the planet.”

A smile spread across Matt’s face. “Good. You can do better. He’s a weasel.” He cleared his throat. “Just don’t tell him I said that. He’s still bigger than me.”

I mustered half a grin when three people jumped in front of the steps and tried to pretend they weren’t taking pictures of me.

“Wow,” Matt said. “They really don’t let up, do they?”

“Not too much, no.”

He stood and helped me to my feet. “How about we go inside somewhere? Is there anywhere around here we can catch an early lunch?”

I folded my arms. “Seriously? We’re in New York City. Name your poison.”

His grin made me forget about the roving photographers. “Anywhere quiet, where we can kinda be alone.”

I straightened. “Alone?”

He slipped his cold fingers around mine. “I meant it when I said I missed you.”

Whoa. I slid my hand away. “Weren’t you just rooting for team Bobby?”

“Yeah, well, I figure if the referee has banned Bobby from the game permanently, that kinda makes room for team Matt to swoop in and maybe win one for the eggheads of the world.”

A flash of seventeen-year-old Matt, bruised and bleeding on the sidewalk after Bobby beat him up for taking me to a movie flashed through my mind, before my vision refocused on the brilliant med student Matt had become. I’d saved the world from aliens, but Matt was going to save the world from cancer. He believed it. I believed it. Matt was one of those guys who could do anything.

As long as he could avoid getting beat up again.

And with me at his side, he would get beat up again. Going to college hadn’t changed Bobby that much, even if Bobby was riding on Matt’s gravy train.

Matt just put himself way out on a limb. But did I want to go out on that skinny little branch with him?

A smile burst across my face. Maybe I did. “How about something a little more casual, like ice cream.”

He held up his hands. “Whoa there. I don’t know. Ice cream sparks of commitment. We’ve only known each other for what, eight years? I think you’re moving a little fast for me. I thought I was pushing it with lunch.”

I punched him in the arm.

He punched me back. I loved that. No airs. No games. No attitude. Just Matt.

Maybe, just maybe, I could get my life back. Maybe I could be happy again.

A startled cry echoed through the courtyard.

“What is that?” a man yelled.

Matt grabbed my hand and we followed the throng away from the steps and onto the South Lawn. A huge hole had formed in the clouds, widening into a shimmering circle of crystal blue.

I plucked my camera out of my backpack and joined the amateurs clicking away with their cell phones. I hid my amusement behind the lens of Old Reliable.

These people had no idea what a picture could be, how to focus in just the right place, how to find tone in the simplest of images, and catch the perfect light to evoke the exact mood. I hit the shutter four times as the anomaly widened, expanding past several city blocks. Nature never ceased to astound me.

A few more photography students added their lenses to the crowd. There’d be no deficit of pictures for the papers to choose from, that was for sure.

I snapped seven more shots. The race was on. Click. Who would take the best shot? Click. Who would be the first to get their work into the papers?

Me. That’s who. Click. Click.

The shape shifted and elongated, swirling until it settled over the courtyard and froze as if someone pressed the pause button.

The crowd grew silent. I lowered my camera. WTF?

The air in the middle of the circle formed a nearly transparent, shimmering bubble. A rainbow formed across its surface; the stripes brilliant, clear, and defined. Dozens of breaths hitched as an iridescent flicker blasted across the apparition. The form pinched and molded into a colorful, swirling tube that slowly dropped from the sky.

Oh. Crap.

Matt tightened his grip on my hand as the other spectators stepped away. Half their gazes staring up, the remainder staring at me.

“Friends of yours?” Matt asked.

I shivered. “No. That’s not Erescopian technology.” At least I didn’t think it was. Erescopian ships were liquid metal … shiny opal or silver. “That just looks like … ”

“Water,” Matt whispered.

Water hanging in the sky. Or more like a lake … a huge lake with a giant elevator tube dropping out of it. So. Not. Good.

The cylinder fell in short, billowing waves before settling on the middle of the South Lawn. It was there, but it also wasn’t—like it took a picture of what was on the other side and played it like a video, hiding the tube like a chameleon. Wicked cool—if I wasn’t standing so close to it.

Matt inched back, glanced at me, then returned to my side. If I wasn’t riveted to my little patch of grass, I wonder if he’d have run.

Camera shutters triggered like crazy. Everyone gawked at me, like I was supposed to know what to do.

Yeah, cause Jess Martinez knows all there is to know about spaceships.

A whoosh echoed through the open area, like the Jolly Green Giant had blown out a candle, but without the wind. The people on the other side of the cylinder lit up as if a hundred suns flooded them. They stepped back, shielding their eyes.

My fingers tightened on the strap of my camera. I’d seen that light before, on the tarmac two years ago, as hundreds of Erescopian soldiers left their liquescent spaceships and stepped on Earth for the first time.

A siren blaring from behind the buildings broke my frozen stance. I raised Old Reliable, clicking off shots that probably would amount to nothing, until a human form materialized within the cylinder’s hazy brilliance.

 

Jennifer M. Eaton hails from the eastern shore of the North American Continent on planet
Earth. Yes, regrettably, she is human, but please don’t hold that against her.

While not traipsing through the galaxy looking for specimens for her space moth collection, she lives with her wonderfully supportive husband and three energetic offspring. (And a poodle who runs the spaceport when she’s not around.)
 
During infrequent excursions to her home planet of Earth, Jennifer enjoys long hikes
in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but great adventures are always a short shuttle ride away.
 
Who knows where we’ll end up next?

 

 
3 winners will receive eBooks of FIRE IN THE WOODS, ASHES IN THE SKY, and an eGalley of EMBERS IN THE SEA, International.

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Cover Reveal: A Sequel to GENESIS GIRL

Today Jennifer Bardsley and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for DAMAGED GOODS, the sequel to GENESIS GIRL which releases January 17, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

Do you have a friend who has such a messed-up home life that you wonder if they will ever grow up to be normal? That’s how I feel about Blanca, the main character from my series “Blank Slate.” In “Genesis Girl,” readers found out why Blanca’s childhood was so different. Blanca was a Vestal who grew up at Tabula Rasa School, shielded from the Internet and brainwashed into doing whatever she was told. In the sequel, “Damaged Goods,” we find out what happens to Blanca once she escapes
from her Vestal bonds. Blanca doesn’t wear her platinum cuff anymore, but does that mean she is free?
 
Writing “Damaged Goods” was a blast. I hope readers enjoy all the twists and turns in the plot and root for Blanca as she figures out the difference between fact, fiction, enemy, and friend.
 
On to the reveal! 

 

 
Title: DAMAGED GOODS
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub. Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads| Amazon | B&N
Blanca has everything she ever wanted, a hot boyfriend named Seth and the loving support of her foster father, Cal. She’s finally escaped the abusive control of her birth father, Barbelo Nemo, and her tortured childhood at Tabula Rasa School.
But the scars of Blanca’s Vestal upbringing run deep, especially when the FBI start asking questions. Blanca feels abandoned by Seth who is hunting for Lilith, Blanca’s only blood relative. The Defectos, a support group of Vestal-Rejects, offer Blanca comfort instead.
While the Vestal order crumbles, Chinese rivals called the Guardians rise to power and wrest control of important Tabula Rasa contacts. Now Blanca’s life is in peril once more, and this time, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneAll I smell is leather. Seth’s arms are around my back, his hands tangled in my long brown hair. My lips devour his, hungry for contact. Beyond us a seagull cries and soars above the waves of Santa Cruz beach.

If I kiss Seth hard enough, my scars fade way into oblivion. Barbelo Nemo and his mind control tricks. My childhood spent in seclusion at Tabula Rasa, hidden from the Internet. I slide my fingers underneath Seth’s jacket against the stickiness of his shirt. I begin to undo a button.

“Whoa, Blanca.” Seth pulls my hands away. “We’re not the only people in the parking lot.”

I scan to the left and right of the rest stop. Strangers are everywhere. “Since when did you care about what other people think?”

“Since I started dating a Vestal.”

I pull back and look out at the cliffs. “I’m not a Vestal anymore. You know that.” I feel the antique chip-watch on my wrist. Seth’s dad, Cal, gave it to me as a present after my platinum cuff was removed. Once a Vestal is de-cuffed, they are expelled from the Brethren.

“So those tourists snapping our picture don’t bother you?” Seth motions to a small crowd a few cars over.

I look to where he points, and the flash of thumb-cameras blinds me. Vestals must never have their pictures taken by random people. That privilege belongs to the companies that purchase them and market a Vestal’s privacy one advertisement at a time. I reach my arms out by instinct, to protect my face from the public. “I’m fine with it,” I lie, pulling my hands down. “But we better leave now or we’ll be late to the restaurant.”

“My dad can wait a few minutes.” Seth scoops me in his arms.

“Blanca!” one of the spectators calls. “And Veritas Rex! Is that really you?”

Seth holds up his hand and wiggles his finger-chips. “The one and only!” Then he dips me back for a kiss.

I stiffen like cardboard. “Stop it,” I mumble, trying not to squirm. All I can think about is the cameras, my face flashed worldwide and weirdoes slobbering over my private moment with Seth. “We’ve got to go or we’ll be late.”

Seth kisses my nose. “I didn’t know you were so punctual.”

“Yes.” I pull myself out of his grasp. “Cal’s waiting.” The sooner I put my helmet on and get back on my motorcycle, the better.

“Blanca,” a man calls as we ride away. “I love you! I’ve watched you all year!”

Underneath my jacket, I shiver. The fame that surrounds me is chilling.

A few miles of pavement put me in a better mood. The day is radiant, perfect for riding our bikes from Silicon Valley over to the coast and back. It’s our favorite weekend ritual. Seth cruises next to me on his motorcycle with the lion-headed cobra painted on the side, and I zoom along beside him in head-to-toe white.

The speed rushing over me tastes of freedom. When we shift into high gear I can forget—for a moment—that three months ago I was a captive at the Plemora compound in Nevada. The memory of my mother’s face exploding gets sucked away.

But not for long.

***

The restaurant Cal picked is smothered in shadows. Candles in glass jars at each table are the only source of a hazy glow. As I walk by, other patrons stare up at me.

Their whispers don’t surprise me. Seeing a Vestal in public is unheard of, and I’m the most famous Vestal in history, with the exception of Barbelo, my birth father.

But father isn’t a word I use to describe my tormentor. I don’t think of Ms. Lydia as my mother either, not usually. The closest thing I have to a real parent is Cal McNeal, who paid thirty-two million dollars to purchase me from Tabula Rasa, the school Barbelo founded fifty-one years ago, in 2012, with the ostensible purpose of shielding students from the Internet. Barbelo’s real objective was to create a network of Vestals in key positions. Spies all over the world who were devoted to him.

Cal waits for us at the table, a smile on his tanned face. His hair is long around the ears. I need to remind him to trim it. Cal wears his usual tweed jacket with soft brown patches on the elbows. He stands up when we reach the table and hugs us both. “Enjoy your ride, you two?”

“From the mountains to the beach.” Seth slides into the booth. He pulls off his jacket and exposes forearms covered with ink. Seth also has tattoos on his face, the most noticeable of which is the lion-headed cobra. That snake was the first thing about Seth I noticed. A year ago he snuck into Tabula Rasa, took my picture days before graduation, and posted it on Veritas Rex. Seth is a viral blogger who does anything to break a story even if involves breaking the law.

My own skin is pure white. I’ve been a consummate rule follower my entire life, with a few notable exceptions. Remaining unmarred by ink or technology tops the Vestal code. It’s a hard habit to break.

Cal passes me the bread basket. “So Blanca, I heard from my friend at Stanford today, and I’ve got good news.”

“Yes?” I take a deep whiff of the yeasty aroma and push the basket over to Seth without taking a piece.

Cal butters his slice with a thick slab of butter. “I told the dean about your special circumstance. That you’ve been out of school for a year, but graduated top of your class.”

Seth chokes on his water. “Top of her class? You mean she was auctioned off to the highest bidder at the Vestal Harvest.”

“Exactly,” Cal says. “Blanca, you’re Tabula Rasa’s version of a valedictorian. I told the dean that you had a classical education from a different era and that you were being tutored in science and technology so that you’d catch up in STEM by matriculation.”

Eagerness glides over me. Six months ago when Cal suggested college I thought he was joking. I dismissed the idea without consideration. But since I returned from Nevada I’ve made attending college one of my primary goals.

It’s not that I don’t love being the face of McNeal Solar. Every time I see an advertisement featuring me on a billboard, I get tingles. But representing McNeal Solar and actually understanding how solar power works are two different things. I don’t want to be a token bobble head. I want to be a real engineer who designs power systems and imagines new inventions.

Cal wants to help me achieve that dream. Seth is so committed to Veritas Rex that there’s no way he’ll work for his dad’s company. But maybe someday I’ll join the McNeal Solar board of directors and people will respect my opinion. It’ll be another way I can be Cal’s daughter. I’ll become his intellectual heir.

“What did the dean say?” My knees shake with excitement until I tense my muscles.

Cal puts down his butter knife. “He knows who you are, of course. He watched the news story unfold along with the rest of the world when you were kidnapped.”

“And?” I toy with my napkin.

Cal smiles. “Given the special circumstances, he agreed to let you take a private entrance exam with a panel of professors ten weeks from now.”

“Yay!” I lean across the booth and hug Cal tight, my face brushing the scratchy fabric of his blazer.

“Awesome, Dad,” says Seth. “How the hell did you pull that off? I’ve never heard of Stanford admitting a student like that before.”

“Well that’s because they’ve never had a Vestal apply. Plus, it helps that a dorm is named after your mother, Seth. Being a large donor has its perks.”

Cal’s wife, Sophia, was an anthropology professor at Stanford until she died of the Brain Cancer Epidemic when Seth was seventeen. It was decades before the world realized cell phones caused cancer. Sophia was one of many victims. Before she died her life work had been researching Barbelo Nemo and the Vestal order he created.

“Mom would have been thrilled to have you as a student,” Seth tells me. “She’d probably follow you around and take notes on your well-being.”

“To your mother, then!” I lift up my water glass.

“To Mom,” Seth answers.

Cal holds up his glass of wine. “To Sophia, a three-way toast.”

“Smile, McNeals.” A guy with greasy black hair and an ugly smirk holds up finger-chips in our faces. “What a touching moment.” The flash pops.

I drop my glass and water drowns the tablecloth.

“Veritas Rex and his Vestal girlfriend. Gotcha!” Another loser creeps up too. The fact that they’re both frantically typing their fingers into the air makes me assume they’re viral paparazzi, uploading us straight to the net.

“Get out of here,” Seth growls, chucking bread at their faces.

A rounded man with a balding head rushes over. “Is there a problem?” He turns to the paparazzi. “I am the maître d’ of this establishment and I will notify the police unless you leave this instant.”

Seth pelts them with more bread. The one with greasy hair catches a piece and crams some in his mouth. “Thanks, Rex,” he mumbles through crumbs, “see you around.”

Several waiters rush over to pick up bread and clear off our wet tablecloth. “I sincerely apologize, Ms. Blanca. I don’t know how those Viruses got in.” The maître d’ uses the derogatory term for viral bloggers, the one that Headmaster Russell taught me at Tabula Rasa.

“It’s not your fault. Viruses are hard to shake.” I slide my foot underneath the table and brush my leg against Seth’s.

“They must have seen your white outfit.” The maître d’ tugs his collar.

“It’s okay.” I nod. “I’m used to it.” I wave off his offer of a meal on the house, but he insists.

Later, over cheeseburgers, Cal brings up my wardrobe again. “You know, Blanca. You don’t need to wear white anymore, unless you enjoy the attention.”

“Of course I don’t want the attention!”

“Then why not change things up a bit?” Cal says. “Shop for new clothes. Try to blend in.”

I look at Seth for support, but he nods in agreement with his father.

“Fatima wears colors now,” Seth adds, “and she’s still a Vestal.”

I picture my best friend Fatima. The last time I saw her she wore a silky green dress from her fashion house and looked like a snake that had swallowed a watermelon. Six months pregnant, her figure still says “Babe alert!” Tomorrow night is Fatima’s engagement party with Beau.

I, on the other hand, am the proverbial girl-next-door. Brown hair, green eyes, and clear skin. Back at Tabula Rasa they said I had a face that could sell soap.

“I don’t want to be a Vestal. I’m a McNeal now. But wearing color seems wrong.”

“It’s not just the clothes.” Seth’s finger-chips buzz and he flicks them off. “The only time you leave the house is with me or Dad.”

“That’s not true!” I insist. “I went to the soundstage last week to shoot a McNeal Solar add.”

“True,” Cal admits. “But it’s what a Vestal would do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t you want me as the face of McNeal Solar?” My stomach feels bubbly, like I ate too many French fries.

“Of course I do, sweetheart. I love your campaign for my company.” Cal reaches out and pats my hand. “We’re concerned about you though. We want you to get out there and make new friends.”

I turn and glare at Seth. “This is about the other night, isn’t it? You’re still mad because I wouldn’t go to that club with you, so you got your dad to take your side.”

Seth stares at me hard. “It’s not just the other night. It’s all the time. Your world is so tiny that it’s unhealthy.”

“College is a big step,” Cal says, “in terms of academics, forming new friendships, and learning to mingle.”

“I meet lots of people! I’ve made a ton of friends online. Every time I write a new post for The Lighthouse I get thousands of comments.”

Seth looks at me with piercing brown eyes. “Blanca, you’re new at this, but online friends are easier than people you meet face to face. It’s a different type of interaction.”

At that moment a flash makes me jump. But it’s not a Virus snatching my picture this time. It’s a family in the corner taking a photograph of their kid. “Face to face can be scary,” I say.

“Sometimes,” Cal nods, “but not normally.”

“Normal for me is different.”

“Exactly our point,” says Seth.

Cal leans forward in his seat. “We think it would be helpful if you could chat with someone, to help you process all you’ve been through.”

“You mean like a psychiatrist? You think I’m crazy?” I twist my chip-watch around and around my wrist where the cuff used to be.

Seth scoots closer and lowers his voice. “We don’t think you’re crazy. But some really shitty things have happened to you.”

“You lost your mother,” says Cal.

“Ms. Lydia wasn’t my mother! I mean, she gave birth to me. That’s it. What do I care what happened to her?”

“You must feel something,” Cal says.

“I feel nothing.”

“Then why are you talking so loud?” Seth asks.

I take a quick glance of the room and notice stares.

Our waiter rushes over. “Are you ready for dessert now?” he asks.

“Yes,” Cal answers. “Please bring the menu.”

“No, thank you.” I squeeze my fists together, stress coursing through my body like lightening.

When the waiter leaves, Seth touches my elbow. “We’ve made an appointment for you.”

“What?”

“With Dr. Meredith,” Cal says. “A therapist.”

“You want me to tell my private secrets to a total stranger?” I speak with a steadied calm while a storm builds up inside me.

“She’s not a stranger, Blanca. Seth and I started seeing Dr. Meredith when you were kidnapped.”

My heartbeat is ragged. “You told her about me? You shared my private life with an outsider?”

“Of course not.” Seth’s dark hair sticks up in wild tuffs on his head. “Dad and I had our own stuff to work out. You know I spent five years mistakenly thinking Dad cheated on my mom.”

Cal flinches. “And you have your issues too, Blanca.”

I swallow hard. I reach over and stroke my white leather jacket. Maybe I should get up and go. Ride back to McNeal Manor on my motorcycle. But that would mean going someplace by myself. The last time I rode off into the night, my good friend Ethan was killed and Ms. Lydia kidnapped me.

“Sometimes being an adult means doing things you don’t want to do,” says Cal.

“I’ll drive you to your appointment next week, if that helps,” Seth offers.

“No way,” I say. “I don’t need that type of care.”

I can do this if I try hard enough.

I stand up and pick up my jacket. “Thank you for dinner,” I snarl.

But as I turn to go I walk smack into dark suits. The man is six foot three, every inch of him as sharp as his buzz-cut hair. The woman is my height, about five foot five, with silver stud earrings.

“Blanca Nemo?” The woman has a steady voice. Both of them hold up their palms to flash electronic badges. “Agents Carter and Marlow with the FBI. We need to bring you in for questioning.”

“What the hell?” Seth leaps to his feet.

“Blanca?” Cal springs up. “What’s this about?”

“I don’t know.” I shoot him a frightened look the agents can’t see.

“Don’t say anything without a lawyer. Okay, sweetheart?” Cal types at his chip-watch. “Hold tight until Nancy gets there.”

“Come on, Ms. Nemo.” The male agent grabs my arm, “Our car is outside.”

“Ouch! Not so tight!”

“Her name’s not ‘Nemo’,” Seth shouts. “It’s Blanca McNeal.” He and Cal hurry after us out of the restaurant into the night where a black sedan is waiting.

I turn to look at the McNeals one more time. Seth towers over Cal whose face is twisted with worry.

I smile wanly as the agents shove me into the backseat of the car.

The irony kills. I’m going someplace without them after all.

 

Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily HeraldShe also blogs at Teaching
My Baby to Read
 with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI.
She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA. 
GENESIS GIRL will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, the sequel  will come out in 2017. Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza
Royce Literary Agency
LLC.
 
Follow Jennifer on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

 

3 winners will receive and eBook of GENESIS GIRL & an eGalley of DAMAGED GOODS. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Title: GENESIS GIRL
Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub. Date: June 14, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Pages: 280
Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where
she’s been protected from the Internet. 

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable. 

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online. 

IN THE BEGINNING: My Review

In The Beginning_CoverEight stories that span the imagination, recreating Biblical events into dark tales featuring young adult heroes. Month9Books released their charity anthology on October 25, 2016.

All the authors cite the “inspiration” for their retelling of common and obscure Bible stories. Two of the stories are more allegorical as opposed to straight retellings.

With the exception of one story, these short tales will appeal to teenagers who like fantasy, dystopian and darker themes. Does it seem odd that this anthology twists Bible stories into something foreboding, even chilling or evil?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

To read and enjoy this collection, one can’t open the cover expecting to see the truth of the Bible. Here the imagination of some storytellers has converted segments of scripture into compelling farcical stories. They just left at the whimsy.

Stories I Enjoyed

I didn’t hate any of these stories. All of them were well-written and well-edited. Some of them took a little bit more of a stretch to accept them. You know how I feel about being kicked out of my fantasy world by unrealistic and unbelievable things.

I really enjoyed “Condemned” by Elle O’Neal. This story gives a Hunger Games spin to the story of Barabbas. If Barabbas were a teenage boy in a dystopian world where people liked to be entertained by televised gladiatorial-type games.

The character of Barabbas was well-constructed. I would have liked a little more explanation about this dystopian society. I never understood why they had the game or what made Barabbas a contestant.

Still, if you’re like me and you’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when Jesus took his place on death’s row, this is a chilling way to get that insight.

One of the truly allegorical stories, “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial, gave me plenty to think about. The author personifies The Book of Life as the main character in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of a friend who knows her friend is destined for a downfall.

It makes readers ask plenty of insightful questions. And convinced me once and for all that having foreknowledge of the future would be a bad thing.

Why Some Fell Short

For example, “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements is inspired by a text that is included in the American Standard Version of the Bible that I had never read. Of course, dragons.

Clements wrote a good story but it includes concepts, wording and practices that will be foreign to most young adult readers. Also, it was more of a fictionalization of the passage rather than a retelling.

What do I mean?

A retelling is exactly what it sounds like: the same story but using different characters in a different setting.

This is not a bad story at all (didn’t I mention there are NO bad stories in this collection?) but it just missed the mark with me.

Other stories were also fictionalizations rather than retellings. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson is a depressing recount of someone who didn’t survive Noah’s flood. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer gives us a look at Leah and Jacob’s wedding night and the day after.

Palmer’s story had great characterization and emotion. At the end, there’s another character introduced. I would have enjoyed the story more if it was about that “friendship” rather than Laban’s double-crossing of his nephew and daughters.

Even though I couldn’t buy the premise in “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus, I do think most teenage girls will fall for it and enjoy the ride. It’s packed with real-to-our-world issues and plenty of trauma drama.

My Top Pick

When I read the ARC, my favorite story was called “The Isaiah Boy.” So color me shocked when I didn’t even see that title listed on the press release during the cover reveal.

But then I found it. It had a new title, but the same incredible “there has to be more than this” ride. I’m talking about “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hayes.

To say I was a little outraged when I saw the scriptures from Isaiah 53 at the beginning of the story is putting it mildly. After all that chapter prophecies Christ’s death thousands of years before it happens.

“It’s just a story” I started chanting to myself.

And it really isn’t a story about Christ. It takes the “wounded for our transgressions” literally and gives that “power” to a boy, Baz.  What I really admired was that the story was told in first person by a character other than Baz.

I don’t want to give anything away because you need to read this story. When you do, we need to talk about it. And Mike Hayes needs to write a novel that takes off right where this short ends.

Oh yeah, I’m looking at you Mr. Hayes.

Be warned, most of these stories have an incredibly dark tone. Some of them are downright depressing. But all of them offer more than an hour of entertainment. They give a snapshot of humanity that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I don’t mention “The Demon was Me” in my review because it seems self-serving to do so. Elsewhere I have mentioned it is the best short fiction I believe I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll read it and decide for yourself.

Have you read IN THE BEGINNING? What stories spoke to you?

Like what you read here? Would you like a Hero Delivery directly to your email inbox? It can be on the way in a few clicks.

Check out Poet Inspired and my other books. Already read one or more? Your honest review is a golden nugget in this writer’s world.

My YA Fantasy Debut is HERE!

It’s here! I’m officially a published young adult author! Yes, that’s my sing-song voice.

What you gonna do about it?

Get your copy today. While it’s new and hot!

Eight great stories from the Bible. Told in such a way you might not even recognize them.

This collection is not for the easily offended. If you can’t separate the truth (the Bible) from fiction (this collection), please don’t buy this book.

I love it. My review will be posted later this week.

But the uptight, we-hate-magic type of Bible aficionados are NOT the intended audience for this work.

This anthology, IN THE BEGINNING,  contains these stories:

  1. “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements :A troubled orphan named Habakkuk dutifully follows his master, the prophet Daniel, into temples of blood-thirsty demon-gods, battles with unspeakable horrors, and bears witnesses to mind-breaking evil until his master’s zealous defiance of the king’s law seals their fate.
  2. “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial: Far above the earth, in Second Eden, where moments and eternities all blur together, young Babylon befriends Sefer, the Book of Life. As Babylon awaits the moment she’ll fulfill her destiny, she and Sefer try to understand the world in which they live.
  3. “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hays: A homeless young boy, Baz, bears the weight of humanity on his shoulders and upon his body. When dark forces test a new-found friendship, Baz’s willingness to bear the ugliness of their world will be shaken.
  4. “The Demon Was Me” by Sharon Hughson (yes, me): Based on the story of the demon-possessed boy healed by Jesus, this tale provides a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world where a teenage boy seeks to journey to a better land and yearns to discover the kind of man he’s meant to be, only to be hijacked by an evil spirit intent upon chipping away at the hope, faith, and resilience of its host.
  5. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson: A non-believer shares the story of Noah’s ark-building and the deadly downpour that follows. Fear, faithlessness, and the fallibility of mankind collide in a community where second chances aren’t unlimited and a better-late-than-never attitude just might be your doom.
  6. “Condemned” by Elle O’Neill: Just sixteen-years-old, Barabbas finds himself pulled out of Routlege Academy and into a reality show competition—against Jesus himself—where the reward for the winner is life.
  7. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer: In a first-person retelling of the saga of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, themes of family, deception, guilt, and heartache emerge amidst the first days of Leah’s marriage to Jacob—a marriage mired in trickery a mere week before Jacob was to marry Leah’s sister Rachel.
  8. “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus: A contemporary retelling of the story of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Enter the troubled mind of Emma. She finds herself torn between her religious upbringing and the purity ring that binds her to her boyfriend and the pregnancy that results from her relationship with another boy.

A few of these stories read like fictionalizations, but all of them are products of overactive imaginations. That’s what writer’s are famous for, right?

Get yours today at  Amazon

My YA Fantasy Debut is Coming Soon

In April 2015, I subbed several short stories. In my mind, I “put out the fleece” for my future writing direction. But I had my toes and fingers crossed that the answer would be “Write YA fantasy.”
The short story in this anthology was one of those submissions. I have read all these stories, and they blew my mind. This collection is a perfect example of what happens when you tell a bunch of creatives to rewrite someone else’s tale. Even if the original story is from the Bible.
 
Today Month9Books is revealing the cover and some excerpts for their Charity Anthology IN THE BEGINNING! Which releases October 25, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

On to the reveal!

 

 
Title: IN THE BEGINNING: Dark Retellings of Biblical Tales
Editors: Laureen P. Cantwell and Georgia McBride
Author: Stephen Clements, Nicole Crucial, Mike Hays, Sharon Hughson, Marti Johnson, Elle O’Neill, Laura Palmer, & Christina Raus
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon| B&N |Goodreads
 
In the Beginning (Oct. 25, 2016) –Eight authors come together to build a powerful collection of dark young adult short stories inspired by the mysteries, faith, and darkness found within the Bible. Old Testament and New Testament, iconic and obscure figures alike are illuminated, explored, and re-envisioned throughout this charity anthology from Month9Books.
 
IN THE BEGINNING, edited by Laureen Cantwell and Georgia McBride
 
Daniel and the Dragon by Stephen Clements
A troubled orphan named Habakkuk dutifully follows his master, the prophet Daniel, into temples of blood-thirsty demon-gods, battles with unspeakable horrors, and bears witnesses to mind-breaking evil until his master’s zealous defiance of the king’s law seals their fate.
 
Babylon by Nicole Crucial
Far above the earth, in Second Eden, where moments and eternities all blur together, young Babylon befriends Sefer, the Book of Life. As Babylon awaits the moment she’ll fulfill her destiny, she and Sefer try to understand the world in which they live.
 
Last Will and Testament by Mike Hays
A homeless young boy, Baz, bears the weight of humanity on his shoulders and upon his body. When dark forces test a new-found friendship, Baz’s willingness to bear the ugliness of their world will be shaken. 
 
The Demon Was Me by Sharon Hughson
Based on the story of the demon-possessed boy healed by Jesus, this tale provides a glimpse into a post-apocalyptic world where a teenage boy seeks to journey to a better land and yearns to discover the kind of man he’s meant to be, only to be hijacked by an evil spirit intent upon chipping away at the hope, faith, and resilience of its host.
 
The Deluge by Marti Johnson
A non-believer shares the story of Noah’s ark-building and the deadly downpour that follows. Fear, faithlessness, and the fallibility of mankind collide in a community where second chances aren’t unlimited and a better-late-than-never attitude just might be your doom.
 
Condemned by Elle O’Neill
Just sixteen-years-old, Barabbas finds himself pulled out of Routlege Academy and into a reality show competition—against Jesus himself—where the reward for the winner is life.
 
First Wife by Lora Palmer
In a first-person retelling of the saga of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, themes of family, deception, guilt, and heartache emerge amidst the first days of Leah’s marriage to Jacob—a marriage mired in trickery a mere week before Jacob was to marry Leah’s sister Rachel.
 
Emmaculate by Christina Raus
Based on the story of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we enter the troubled mind of Emma, who finds herself torn between her religious upbringing and the purity ring that binds her to her boyfriend and the pregnancy that results from her relationship with another boy.
 
Anthology Excerpts:
 
From THE DEMON WAS ME, by Sharon Hughson:
 
The ghastly black fog overtook me. Icicles pierced my back. Every muscle in my body spasmed. I plunged face-first against the ground. Something sharp gouged my cheek. Shivery tingles pervaded my insides. A vile presence pressed against my mind.            
“Get out!” I rolled to my back, arms outstretched. I wanted to fight, throw the intruder off me. But how can you resist something as ethereal as air?
            
Laughter rang in my ears. Sinister. It shuddered against my soul. Terror and hopelessness collided in my chest. A foreign power clutched at my mind.
            
I screamed. I rolled to my side and squeezed my eyes shut. If only I could disappear.
            
Another dark wave of laughter echoed through my skull. Convulsions gripped me. Against my will, my limbs flailed in every direction. A spike pressed into my mind. I cradled my throbbing head. My body, a tumbleweed in the wind, spun on the ground.
 
 
From BABYLON, by Nicole Crucial:
 
Only those will enter Heaven whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
 
These were the first words I heard, in the beginning of time.
 
But Sefer, the protest comes, Revelation wasn’t written until the first century.
 
My answer is that time is a funny little plaything to God, or so I imagine. That first sentence was the wind that breathed life into my chest, the binding of my pages, the ink in my soul. It knitted together my stardust-atoms from across centuries and millennia and planes of existence.
 
And when the first dregs of consciousness swirled at the pit-bottom of my spine, I yawned and opened my eyes to paradise.
 
 
From CONDEMNED, by Elle O’Neill:
 
To his surprise, as he heard the metal door grind to a stop, there was a popping sound, like the flash-lamp did when they experimented in Classic Photography at Routlege. Except no camera appeared—not that he could see anyway—but rather a digital time clock, bold red numbers, already beginning their descent, in striking relief against the black paint covering the walls.
 
29:48:12.
 
29:48:11.
 
Of course they would include the fractions of a second, he thought. He was now fighting a tiger against a racing clock. For all that they were merely numbers, he saw their dwindling trickle as if he were watching grains of sand pour through the hourglass of his fingers, helpless.
 
29:47:03.
 
The tiger looked at him. It didn’t glance his way. It directed its massive head at him, its eyes trained on Barabbas … and they didn’t turn away.
 
Another man, in another arena, stood calmly while the tiger advanced. His breathing was even, he did not watch the clock, and he looked with love upon the prowling beast. When it snarled, he slowly exhaled; when its whiskers glanced his weaponless fingers, he blinked gently as the hot breath of the tiger dampened his skin.
 
 
From LAST WILL & TESTAMENT, by Mike Hays:
 
I’ve found money, I’ve found food, and I’ve found myself in plenty of trouble on plenty of occasions, but I’ve never found another human being just lying around. That’s what happened when I found a person-shaped ball of olive drab and camouflage clothing—which would have been more at home in the reject pile down at the army surplus store—under our decrepit, worn sign for the, “Extraordinary 
 
League of Witch Assass_ _ _.”
 
It’s true. I found a boy about my age sleeping at the end of the Extraordinary League of Witch Assassins driveway.
 
 
From UNWANTED, by Lora Palmer:
 
“Let me see you,” he whispers. “Let me truly see you.”
 
I swallow down the fear this moment brings, the anxiety that once he does see me, he will no longer accept me. No, I must stop thinking this way. My husband is not like Jacob, dazzled by the superficial beauty of my sister. My husband, my love, will see me.
 
Taking courage from this, I let out a shaky laugh as he helps me stand. I long to see him, too.
 
“All right,” I say.
 
He lifts my veil, his deft fingers moving slow, relishing the anticipation of this moment. At last, he lifts the linen over my face and lets it slip to the floor behind me. We stare at each other, stock still, in stunned silence.
 
It was Jacob.
 
From EMMACULATE, by Christina Raus:
 
The Ten Commandments are pretty straightforward. Killing? Bad. Lying? Nope. Adultery? Don’t even think about it. But is real life really that straightforward? If you tell your boyfriend that you’re going golfing, when really you’re going out to cheat on him, is the lying or the adultery worse? What if you stab the guy you’re having an affair with? Isn’t being a murderer worse than being a cheater? I think the stabbing is worse than the lying and the cheating combined. So, it was kind of unfair for God to group killing, lying, and cheating all together under one umbrella.
They all seemed really different.
 
I was an adulterer. I couldn’t deny that. I was also a liar. A very, very good liar. But I wasn’t a murderer.
 
 
From THE DELUGE, by Marti Johnson:
 
The stench of mildew and mold is heavy in our nostrils, and my lungs feel as though they are on fire. My breathing is audible in the lulls between the thunderclaps. My mother huddles, shivering, propped between two rocks. She is coughing painfully, and I can hear her teeth chattering.
 
It is hard to breathe because the air itself is full of water.
 
A deeper shadow has fallen across the side of the mountain on which we are sheltering. I pull aside the brambles, and gasp in amazement when I realize what it is. “Look!” I call to the others, and point at the sight. The ark has risen with the water, and now bobs up and down. It sits high in the water. We hear nothing from it but the creaking of the wood timbers and the sound of the branches and rocks on the hillside scraping against its hull.
 
 
From DANIEL AND THE DRAGON, by Stephen Clements:
 
Your god is a liar!” roared the wizened man in thin black robes, as he pounded his breast with his fist. 
Habakkuk stood by the gates of the temple as his master picked a fight with a sanctuary full of the slavish followers of Bel, a bloodthirsty demon god. A fire raged in the fanged maw of a giant, stone head sunken into the back of the temple, there to receive the offerings rendered unto Bel. He had seen this before in other temple raids with his master, though not on such a massive scale, and not at the heart of the demon cult in Babylon itself. The fire raged as the greatest offering that the Babylonians—who adored Bel above all other gods—could sacrifice to their deity was their own newborn children, rolled their screaming, helpless bodies down a stone, handshaped altar into the fire. They offered the fruit of their wombs to
their dark god, who devoured the innocent souls sacrificed to him in eldritch rituals.

 

Giveaway Details:

 

3 winners will receive an eGalley of IN THE BEGINNING, International.
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CLANLESS Cover Reveal

 Today Jennifer Jenkins and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for CLANLESS, book 2 in the NAMELESS Series which releases October 4, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a paperback of NAMELESS or an eGalley of CLANLESS!!
Here’s a message from the author:
 
Clanless is Gryphon’s story in the way Nameless was Zo’s. It encompasses the struggle of self discovery and taking the hard road to find happiness. At its heart though, this book is a love story, with two people determined to fight overwhelming odds, even death, to be together. Clanless provides readers a view of the world outside Ram’s Gate, exploring both the Raven and Kodiak Clans in more depth.
I LOVE THIS COVER. I love the way Gryphon is depicted and the symbolism of the white background in contrast to the black of the Nameless cover. I personally think the series only gets better with every book, and I hope readers agree. On to the reveal! 

 

Title: CLANLESS (Nameless #2)
Author: Jennifer Jenkins
Pub. Date: October 4, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N | TBD | Goodreads
Striker Gryphon has lost his position of honor among the Ram, and is now a hunted man. A traitor.
Zo, the object of his affection, was murdered by members of his former clan. To honor her memory, he journeys to the highly secretive Raven “Nest” to warn strangers of their impending demise—though it could cost him more than just his pride.
He doesn’t know that Zo is very much alive and in another part of the region assisting Nameless refugees over a mountain swarming with wild men known as “Clanless.”
As each struggle to make sense of what their lives have become, they fight and claw to reach the Allied Camp, their last hope in bringing peace to the region.
But the road back to one another is treacherous and uncertain. And freedom will come with a price.

 

Excerpt

Gryphon never thought he’d die at the hands of the Ram. Of course, he never thought he’d become a traitor to his clan, either.He awaited a likely public execution, sitting in a patch of mud outside the walls of Ram’s Gate, his clan’s stronghold, as rain filtered through the trees overhead. Bristled ropes rubbed raw his bound ankles. Iron manacles secured his wrists behind his back. Gryphon clutched the hidden key to his restraints inside a bloody fist and glared at a man he never thought he’d call an enemy.

Zander, Gryphon’s captain, stood at attention as the rain rolled off his brown hair and banked along the harsh angles of his cheekbones and jaw. He held a seven-foot spear like a walking stick, the blunt end buried in the mud at his feet. His short sword was sheathed at his hip, his round shield slung across his back. The perfect Ram warrior, and one of the best swordsmen Gryphon had ever known.

The fifteen members of his mess sat like stones in a field, unmoving but hard and very present. Most of Gryphon’s former mess, including his best friend, Ajax, kept their backs to him, as if his treason were contagious. Some slept under thick wool blankets that repelled the rain while others stewed with the restlessness that plagued so many warriors.

No one bothered to light a fire. Whether they were too impatient to find something dry enough to burn or felt they deserved the cold, Gryphon didn’t know. Ram were experts at self-discipline—not to be confused with self-control.

Inside Ram’s Gate, Gryphon grew up training every day until his body ached. On days he struggled to do everything his leaders asked of him, he would sentence himself to mountain sprints until he literally passed out from exhaustion. Like every other Ram boy, he willingly walked into scheduled yearly beatings that were meant to train his body to block pain, making him nearly invincible on the battlefield.

A little rain was nothing.

Sitting cross-legged in the mud with his hands chained behind his back, Gryphon let the rain muffle the sound of his struggle to insert the small key into the unseen lock of his manacles. Each metallic scrap wound his nerves that much tighter. His wrists burned from bending at an awkward angle and his shoulders strained as he struggled to keep his face a mask of indifference.

Zander watched him, barely blinking. Gryphon needed to distract him—to break his intent focus.

“Why do you think they haven’t let down the rope ladder?” Gryphon asked, speaking as though his impending execution meant little to him.

Zander’s lip raised in a snarl. “Barnabas has the Raven invasion to prepare for, the gate to repair. He will deal with you in his own time.”

Gryphon adjusted his grip on the key to approach the lock from a different angle.

“It seems Barnabas is content to let you sit out in the cold for the night. Do you think you’ll lose your command over this?” Gryphon raised his chin and smiled.

Zander drew a knife so fast Gryphon fumbled with the key.

“Barnabas ordered you brought back alive, but I don’t think he’d mind if I took out your tongue.”

Gryphon had been trained to use the emotions of his enemies against them. People made mistakes when they weren’t stable. Plus the conversation muffled the sound of the key scraping futilely against the metal lock behind his back.

A few of the heads in the wet camp turned to watch the exchange.

Zander leaned back, battling with his composure. “I might lose my command, but I’ll return to my bunk with our brothers of the mess and rest well after seeing your body hang from a noose.” He shook his head. “I knew you had a strange fascination with that slave—that Wolf. I just didn’t realize your treason extended to all the Nameless inside the Gate.”

Just yesterday, Gryphon had inadvertently helped hundreds of Nameless slaves flee the massive walls of Ram’s Gate. To slow the Ram pursuit, he disabled the only exit—a gate so large it required forty Nameless to open it. Even though only a fraction of the Nameless slaves escaped, it would be days before the chain connecting the gate to the counterweight could be repaired.

The key finally slipped into the lock. Gryphon let his head fall back, just a fraction, and closed his eyes in relief. Zander’s hate-filled gaze greeted him as he opened his eyes, but that didn’t stop him from turning the key. The lock clicked open, the sound lost in the rain.

With one hand free, Gryphon still kept both hands behind his back, though he relaxed his shoulders some to alleviate the ache from being bound. The metal key in Gryphon’s hand was warm. The grooves pressed uncomfortably into his palm, but Gryphon didn’t loosen his hold, refusing to let go of the hope Ajax had given him.

Not only was the key his only chance of escaping the certain death that awaited him inside the giant walls of his clan, but it also represented a dim hope that Zo was still alive. That Ajax—Gryphon’s best friend—hadn’t followed through with Zander’s order to find and kill her and the others after Gryphon’s capture.

The vivid scenes of the morning replayed in Gryphon’s mind again and again. Everyone asleep under the tree, except Zo and Gryphon. Ram circling the perimeter of the giant fir like bloodhounds sniffing out prey. Zo taking his hand, pretending to be brave even though her eyes—they were always so easy to read—proved it a lie. Her warm lips. The feel of her body pressed against his . . .

A shudder that had nothing to do with the cold ran up Gryphon’s back. He’d been captured not far from the tree, trying to lead the Ram away from the people he cared for most.

If only he could ask Ajax if they were alive, though the chances were as likely as staying dry in this storm. Ajax had a family to protect, and the penalty for deceiving his captain was as deadly as deceiving Chief Barnabas himself. Dangerous.

Lightning struck not far away, brightening half of Zander’s face in the fast-approaching darkness.

“Come back to me,” Zo had said, just before she’d leaned into him, touching her soft lips to his.

Gryphon slid the key into the second lock.

He chewed on the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. He fought the urge to spit in Zander’s face, to unlock the chains binding his wrist and strangle him with his bare hands. He was sure he could finish the job before he took a spear to the gut. It felt like the only way to quench the hungry blackness that consumed his insides.

Gryphon hung his head, remembering the promise he made to Zo before they separated. Whether Zo was alive or not, he needed to survive to warn the Raven Clan of an impending attack. Countless lives would be spared if the Raven had time to flee the Nest before the Ram arrived. Getting himself killed wouldn’t serve them, even if it meant an escape from the overwhelming ache in his chest.

Thunder rolled again. Zander stared. Gryphon prayed for a miracle . . . and hoped he deserved one.

He turned the key.

The lock clicked open.

But his manacles clattered to the ground before he could catch them.

***

“We’re not waking him.” Zo’s head throbbed as she held Joshua’s wrist to check his pulse for the tenth time in as many minutes.

The boy lay unconscious, but his heart beat a steady rhythm. Zo needed to feel that pulse; it was her tether to sanity. The sound of Ram fists connecting with Gryphon’s body . . . the muffled grunts betraying his pain . . . they still echoed in her mind when she didn’t check her thoughts. From her hiding place, she hadn’t seen Gryphon’s capture, but she had heard. She’d wanted to run out and fight alongside him. Even though she had Joshua and Tess to think of, her inaction tasted like betrayal.

Rain fell all around them, but they’d managed to stay mostly dry beneath the skirt of a giant fir tree.

“This is insane,” said Eva. She had the long nose of her Ram ancestors, set off by a thin mouth. “Do you have any idea what will happen to us if the Ram come back here?” Eva lay flat on her stomach—all leather and long legs—as she scanned the ground outside their fir tree haven.

Even with a full moon, it was impossible to see far beyond the confines of their shelter. “They have Gryphon. They’ll know you and Joshua are close.” Eva ran her hand over her cropped hair, oblivious to the action. “If I were tracking us, I would have found us hours ago.”

Eva was a Ram, just like the soldiers she feared. She’d fled the Gate with Zo for the sake of her unborn child. A baby who would have been killed at birth because it belonged, not to her betrothed, but to a man in the Ram’s slave class known as the Nameless.

Zo gazed up at the tree trunk, hoping to inhale a bit of patience along with the strong scent of pine. “We wait until Joshua’s ready, Eva. Not a moment sooner.”

“But the Nameless will be miles away by now.”

Zo conceded the point. At that moment, hundreds of escaped slaves traveled to get as far from Ram’s Gate as possible to protect their newfound freedom. They didn’t know how to find the Allied Camp. Zo had told Stone, Eva’s lover and the leader of the Nameless rebellion, it was south of Ram’s Gate, but that was the extent of their knowledge, and it wouldn’t be enough to find the slot canyon that led to the Allies.

The Nameless needed her. So did her little sister Tess, Joshua, and even Eva. None of them would survive without Zo’s ability to lead them to the Allies. But it didn’t change the fact that all Zo wanted to do at the moment was sprint up the mountain to Ram’s Gate—the place from which they’d just escaped—and demand the release of the young man she’d come to care for. The man who’d saved her life and the life of her sister, even though doing so had caused him to lose everything.

Gryphon.

Zo’s little sister, Tess, sat like a watchdog beside Joshua’s head, playing with the boy’s red hair. In the low light, she looked even smaller than her eight years.

“Zo’s smart. She knows what to do,” said Tess. She was blond with dirt smeared across her nose and cheeks. She glared at Eva with her giant blue-green eyes, almost daring her to contradict her big sister.

Zo hugged her knees to her chest, fighting a sudden surge of nausea, hoping Tess was right to trust her so completely.

“Someone’s coming,” Eva hissed. She pushed up onto her knees, wielding two deadly looking knives. At the same time, Zo yanked Tess to the ground and threw herself over her and Joshua’s body. It was a futile effort to save them, but fear took over all rational thought.

Soft footfalls crept outside their shelter, each step marking the final moments of their lives. Zo glanced around for some kind of weapon or stick to help defend the two people—two children—for whom she was responsible. All she found in the darkness was a bed of dry pine needles and her medical satchel—nothing to defend them against fighters from the deadliest clan in the region.

The footsteps came closer, muted by the soggy earth. Eva moved from her knees to the balls of her feet, a compressed spring ready to fly into an attack. She adjusted her grip on her knives.

Hope fled. Zo couldn’t catch her breath. Tess. Joshua. Eva. The Nameless. Dying today under this tree meant the deaths of so many others as well. Gryphon’s sacrifice had been in vain.

Large boots stopped mere feet from Zo’s hiding place. Boots she’d recognize anywhere.

“Don’t,” she cried, trying to stop Eva before she attacked.

But her warning was too late.

Eva sprang, blades in hand, aimed at the intruder’s chest.

 

 

With her degree in History and Secondary Education, Jennifer had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagem. (Seriously, she’s obsessed with ancient warfare.)
However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. As a proud member of Writers Cubed, and a co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, she feels blessed to be able to fulfill both her ambition to work with teens as well as write Young Adult fiction.
Jennifer has three children who are experts at naming her characters, one loving, supportive husband, a dog with little-man syndrome, and three chickens (of whom she is secretly afraid).
Visit her online at jajenkins.com
 Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest |Instagram

 

 
1 winner will receive a paperback of NAMELESS, US Only.

3 winners will receive an eGalley of CLANLESS, International.

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