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Read-a-Chapter: Oddities & Entities by Roland Allnach

Oddities & EntitiesTitle of Book: ODDITIES & ENTITIES
Genre: Horror/Paranormal/Supernatural
Author: Roland Allnach
Publisher: All Things That Matter Press



The untold



Before Allison knew the meaning of words or the context of visions, she knew the Curmudgeon. It was there, lodged in her earliest memories, the memories that imbed themselves deep in the psyche to shadow all future memories. When she lay in her crib as a pale and lumpy baby, she didn’t know to cry when it came in her room, when it passed through her walls as if their existence were some unsubstantiated rumor rather than studs, slats, and plaster. And though at any greater age she might have cowered and screamed, in her unclouded infantile mind there was no reference for fear or judgment, only the absorbance of what was. Perhaps the Curmudgeon knew this but, then again, perhaps not. As the years passed, it was a matter of little importance.

She remembered her first years of school. She was different; this realization was as stark as the full moon visits of the Curmudgeon were fantastic. When other children clamored to play in the sun and warmth, she found herself possessed by an ever-present chill. She felt most comfortable wearing black, without perceiving any conscious decision to that end. She preferr ed to stay inside, or in places of deep shade or shadow, and gaze out at the light. It wasn’t that she shunned the warm light of the Florida sun, but the glare seemed to scald her eyes with its white intensity. Her eyes were her source of distinction, after all. Vast for her narrow face, their luminous, sea green irises formed tidal pools about the tight black dots of her pupils. Her stare was one that few could bear for long. Children and teachers alike found her unblinking silence a most uncomfortable experience, and her mute distraction in school led to the inevitable conclusion that she wasn’t very bright.

She had no friends. Her world, though, wasn’t as lonesome as it may have seemed.

She lived with her grandmother, a reclusive widow of Creole descent, who wandered about their old manor house singing under her breath in her broken French dialect. Allison loved the old house, despite its state of disrepair and the ratty look of its worn exterior, with the few remaining patches of white paint peeling off the grayed wood clapboard. The oak floors creaked, but there was something timeless about the place, with its high ceilings, spacious rooms and front colonnade. The house was surrounded by ancient southern oaks; they were broad, stately trees, the likes of which one could only find in Florida. Their sinewy, gargantuan branches split off low from the trunk, with gray-green leaves poking out between dangling veils of Spanish moss. The trees shielded Allison from the sun, and provided a home for squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. The Curmudgeon would leave their cleaned skulls on her windowsill as gifts when the moon waxed in silvery twilight.

Her parents loved her—or so they claimed, when she would see them. They seemed more like friends than her elders. She often watched them with curious eyes, peering from her window at night as they frolicked about the front lawn. Her mother, very much a younger vision of her grandmother, had long dark hair, hair that would sway about her as she danced naked under the trees at night. Her father would be there with her, dancing naked as well, the strange designs tattooed down his back often blending with the swaying lengths of Spanish moss. They claimed to be moon cultists, though Allison had no idea what that meant. It was of no matter. Soon enough they became part of the night, passing to her dreams forever.

The memory of that change was the first emotional turmoil of her secluded little life. She was seven, and her parents had come out for the weekend. It was one of those times when her parents sat under the sprawling branches of the oaks, drinking and smoking throughout the day until they lay back on a blanket, their glazed eyes hidden behind their sunglasses. The hours drifted by, and the day faded to the lazy serenity of a Florida evening. Beneath long, golden rays of sunshine they began to stir, rising from their stupor to a restless sense of wanderlust. They came in the house after dinner, settling themselves at the table and exchanging small talk as Allison ate a bowl of vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. They smiled over Allison’s drawings, complimenting her budding artistic skills, and talked to her grandmother about some plans for the next weekend. Even at her young age Allison could tell her grandmother humored them. Her parents didn’t have a false bone in their body, but they were not reliable people. Free spirits, her grandmother would say.

Yet as those thoughts rolled about Allison’s head her eyes seemed to blur, and she stared at her parents with that unnerving, unblinking gaze of hers. Her heart began to race, her skin tingled, and then it came to her: not a shadow, but a different kind of light than the sun, a light that seemed to seep from within her parents, until the tactile periphery of their bodies became a pale shadow over the ivory glow of their skeletons. She trembled in her seat as the sight gained clarity until she could see all their bones in all their minute detail, but then it changed, changed in a way that froze her blood in her veins. Black fracture lines spread across the smooth ivory like running rivers of ink, until every bone in their bodies was broken to jagged ruin.

Her grandmother called her name, snapping her out of her stupor. She blinked, then screamed and ran from the table to the living room. Her parents and grandmother came after her, but she buried her head under the couch pillows. Despite the pillows, the moment she opened her eyes she could see them, right through the pillows and couch, standing there in their shattered translucence. She ran for her room, scratching at her eyes, and that was when things changed. Her grandmother charged after her, following her to her room, and tore through every drawer until she found the small collection of skulls Allison kept—the tokens the Curmudgeon had left her. Her grandmother stuffed her in her closet, closed the door to her room, and sat outside the door. She could hear her grandmother’s voice, even in the dark of the closet. She clamped her eyes shut; it was a desperate final measure to blot out the sight of her parents. She could see them, through the walls, through the floor, through the trees, as they hopped on her father’s motorcycle and raced off. She screamed for them to stop, but she was a child with a trifling voice, stuffed in a closet.

She cried herself to sleep.

– Excerpted from Chapter 1, Oddities & Entities by Roland Allnach


Read a Chapter: Cry of Eagles by Stefan Vucak

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring Cry of Eagles by Stefan Vucak.  Enjoy!

Cry of EaglesIran’s nuclear capability represents a clear national threat to Israel. Although concerned, the United States and Europe are reluctant to increase sanctions. Frustrated that nothing is being done, Mossad decides to force the United States into action. A black ops team sabotages a refinery complex in Galveston and plants evidence that incriminates Iran, confident that an enraged America will retaliate. Congress and the public urge the U.S. president to bomb Iran, but the administration lacks direct evidence. With carriers positioned in the Gulf ready to strike, the world waits to see if the Middle East will explode into open conflict. With tension mounting, the FBI uncovers a shocking truth. It wasn’t Iran at all, but Israel! A government falls and America forces Israel to confront the Palestinian problem.


Chapter One

Tel Aviv

Present Day

“In defiance of recently imposed UN trade sanctions, President Hamadee Al Zerkhani announced yesterday that Iran would not bow to illegal international pressure to cease what he termed is Iran’s peaceful development of nuclear power, designed to promote an alternative energy source for his people. When asked why three weeks ago, another three hundred gas centrifuges were commissioned, technology not required for civilian-grade reactors, President Zerkhani stated that Iran wished to ensure an energy supply that would guarantee his country’s independence and continued economic development. The fact that Iran already enjoys significant reserves of gas and oil seems to have escaped him. The president added that any interference with his country’s legitimate exploitation of nuclear technology would incur the gravest consequences for the United States and Western economies in general.

“The weather forecast for Tel Aviv today -”

Namir Bethan casually stabbed one of the preset radio channel buttons and the car filled with the haunting strands of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. He relished the second movement, its subtle complexity and nuances, easily overlooked in the seemingly simple melody. The density and texture of the composition filled his soul with contentment and satisfaction. The piece was one of his favorites. Noting the turnoff, he slowed and eased the black BMW into Harav Kook Street. Nondescript office buildings lined the street, some modern, showing their reflective black or copper windows, glittering bright in early morning sunshine. Others were more conservative, built out of traditional white and yellow sandstone. A relatively new suburb of Tel Aviv, Herzliya dared to experiment with alternative architectural styles.

Tall trees lined the broad sidewalk, casting dark shadows along the street. Early starters, briefcases and bags in tow, hurried along, sometimes turning to walk into one of the buildings. Mildly curious, he wondered what their day would be like; a distraction while his brain did the driving on automatic. A sparrow made a startled dash across the street, vanishing among the thick foliage of a tree.

As the car whispered down Shival Hekochavim Street, he could see the familiar loom of an eighteen-story building, the sidewalk protected by a three-meter stone wall. Namir brought the car to a stop in the double driveway, climbed out and slid his black passkey into the security pad slot. Closed-circuit cameras mounted on each side of the wall stared down at him with intimidating curiosity. The heavy steel gate slid back without a rattle. He gave an involuntary glance up the sheer facade of the gray building, now outlined against the rising sun. With spring in the air, the days were getting warmer and his thigh didn’t bother him as much. This early in the morning, the air was still crisp. He climbed into his car, slammed the door shut and drove through the courtyard.

“Welcome to the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations,” he muttered with wry amusement as he slowly made his way toward the underground parking entrance. Not openly advertised, those who wanted to know where Mossad was headquartered could find out easily enough. The dashboard clock read 7:30, and had read that for a while now, he noted ruefully. Since his wife’s death two years ago to a brain tumor, undetected until far too late to do anything about it, his comfortable two-bedroom Tel Aviv apartment held nothing to keep him there. Fatalistic, the loss and guilt had still hit him hard. He should have spent more time with her, valuing what he had. But as with such things, perspective came when one was powerless to undo what years of neglect had wrought. He made up for it now by burying himself in work. At least his country’s needs were not being neglected – a poor consolation nonetheless. It did nothing to fill the lonely echoes of his empty apartment.

Unconsciously, he swept his eyes over an array of cars already parked in the lot, low-grade officers not entitled to an underground parking spot. He slipped his key into the security portal and waited as the heavy doors rolled up. Still not fully open, he drove into the dark maw. The underground parking lot had four levels, but his executive position allowed him a spot on the ground level. He parked the car, switched off the headlights, stepped out and leaned back in to pick up a slim brown calf-leather briefcase from the passenger seat. The parking and brake lights flashed when he automatically set the security lock. Given where he worked the action caused him to smile. Pocketing the keys, he slowly walked toward the foyer entrance. He dragged out a biometric badge from his coat pocket and pressed it against the door sensor. Satisfied, his electronic master unlocked the door with a heavy click. Inside the spacious, cool foyer the security guard, sitting behind a curved reception station, looked up and nodded sternly.

“Morning, sir,” he said with formal dignity.

“Shalom, Jaron,” Namir replied heavily as he did each morning, walking slowly toward the middle of three entrance portals, his footsteps echoing against the marble floor. He passed the badge over the sensor. The red-lit panel turned green and gave a sharp beep. He walked through, stopped before the polished steel of the left elevator that ran through the building’s core and pressed the dark access triangle. It turned soft amber. A few seconds later came a blunt chime and the double doors opened. There wasn’t much of a demand this time of day. It took a moment for the elevator to surge to the seventeenth floor – his department. Light gray carpet muffled his footsteps as he made his way between glass-fronted offices, most of them with their privacy curtains drawn. He could not hear anyone else on the floor.

When he hobbled to the left corner office, he passed his badge against the lock and the latch gave a little click. He opened the door and closed it softly behind him. Heavy beige carpet covered the rectangular room floor. A wide, brown executive desk stood tucked against the far corner; bare, except for a standard keyboard, optical mouse, an 18” rectangular LCD screen and a multi-function phone terminal. A round glass coffee table filled the empty space in the center, surrounded by four soft easy chairs. A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf occupied one wall, cluttered with bound volumes and paperbacks, magazines and various periodicals. The windowpanes were standard double-glass, designed to defeat vibration and laser voice intercept devices.

Namir placed the briefcase on the desk and sat down. He clicked open the two side latches, lifted out a slim blue folder, closed the briefcase and stood it against the desk drawers. He toggled the mouse and the screen lit up with the Mossad logo and motto. The desk did not mount a processor or workstation. His connection, like everyone else’s, was provided through a secure shielded cable to high-speed servers on the fourth floor. The other equipment in the room was a color printer and a document shredder that ripped up to twenty-four pages at a time into three- millimeter square flakes.

The airconditioning sighed softly from two grilles mounted in the false ceiling.

A sharp rap on the door interrupted the thick silence. It opened and he looked up. Holding a steaming mug of coffee, two sugars, a young woman, dressed in a severe gray business jacket and pants, dark hair cut short, strode in and placed the mug next to the closed folder.

“Shalom, Mr. Bethan,” she said primly and gave him a tight-lipped smile.

“Thanks, Mira,” he growled and reached for the cup. He gave an appreciative sniff and took a tentative sip. Black, hot and sweet, the way he liked it. His doctor had told him to cut down on his sugar intake, but damn it, there were limits.

“Anything I should know?” he demanded, eyeing her over the rim of his cup.

She frowned and her pleasantly round face clouded. Pencil-thin black eyebrows added to her severe expression, highlighting her large brown eyes. A hint of red lipstick gloss softened her otherwise stern poise.

“Nothing that demands your immediate attention, sir. Unless you consider Iran’s latest bout of histrionics an issue,” she allowed with a trace of wry amusement and waited, knowing full well her boss was spending time in idle conversation. He knew everything of importance that went on round the world without having to be reminded. But it was a ritual they played out every morning and she didn’t mind.

“I do, but that’s an ongoing headache.” Namir passed a gnarled hand through his receding shock of gray hair refusing to stay combed.

“Yes, sir.” She frowned and bit her lip. “I cannot understand why the United States doesn’t do something. And the UN is just as lame, fulminating and impotent. Somebody should bomb them!”

“I’ll suggest it to Director Doron Kameer, but it’s complicated,” he mused, largely agreeing with her. When the great powers did eventually reach an acceptable consensus, the original intent was so watered down the final UN resolution held little meaning or potency. He took another sip, placed the mug down with a soft tap and spent a moment studying his ruthless-looking assistant.

Recruited from Shin Beth, Israel’s internal security and counter-espionage sister service – inter-service poaching was rife, even though strictly frowned upon, but nevertheless a lively industry – the one-time Army captain’s feminine exterior masked a hard no-nonsense professional. At twenty-eight and one of his star case officers, she filled a vital function being his personal assistant. In his view, secretaries were a luxury and potential security risks. Namir indulged in neither. Capable, disciplined and dedicated, he intended to continue mentoring her, provided he himself lasted the distance. In his game it only took one unguarded step and his brother colleagues, jackals more likely, would be baying and snapping at his heels. Then again, he had a job to do and Mossad didn’t operate like the UN. To advance, she needed to round off her experience by working in other departments. He would hate to lose her.

Looking through her, thinking about things, he made up his mind and squared his shoulders, but was unable to suppress a flutter of unease in his stomach. The action he contemplated would be way over authorized limits. Sometimes though, such things were necessary. He wondered whether history would agree with him.

“When Matan Irian comes in, ask him to see me, will you?” he requested in dismissal.

“Of course, sir.”

As the door closed behind her, leaving a whiff of lavender in her wake, Namir cracked his knuckles, reached for the keyboard, logged in and tapped out his search parameters with quick, efficient strokes. A number of messages waited to be opened in his In Mail box, but he ignored them. The server immediately retrieved and displayed the document. It had no classification attached to it, Namir’s logon already providing the necessary access levels.

Sitting back, sipping his coffee, he quickly scanned the salient points outlined in the paper. He knew them off by heart, but the task helped him to think and reflect on what he contemplated. Written more than four years ago when Iran’s uranium enrichment program was already well advanced – it never would have, had vital gas centrifuge designs not been provided by Pakistan between 1987 and 1991 by Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, to be precise – the document outlined a remarkably prophetic dissertation. In his opinion, Israel should have acted as soon as Iran’s fledgling enrichment program was unearthed. However, the then Mossad Director, Ephraim Halevy, was foremost a politician and wary of adverse repercussions should an operation to disrupt Iran’s march toward a nuclear capability somehow backfire. Not that Namir could exactly blame the Director, but he missed the old days, like in 1981 when Israel bombed Osirak, sending Iraq’s nuclear ambitions into the Stone Age.

A wry smile of grim satisfaction lit his face at other successes as he recalled the assassination of Fathi Shaqaqi in 1995, founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, by two of his agents right in front of the Diplomat Hotel in Sliema, Malta. The scum deserved to die. But the single wet ops which gave him the most satisfaction was having Izz El-Deen Sobhi Sheikh Khalil, head of Hamas, blown sky high, car and all, in 2004 while the guerilla fighter was in Damascus.

He understood and appreciated that type of direct action. Today, murky diplomacy and conforming to delicate international sensibilities were the norm, while Hamas terrorists targeted Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s citizens on buses and restaurants. Still, it was not as though Israel had not given them cause, he contemplated equitably. He would never say so aloud, but in his opinion the notorious wall building program, an attempt to fence off the occupied territories and stem the flow of suicide bombers, had been an asinine political decision, compounded by another equally asinine decision to exploit the moment and annex additional Palestinian land. The effort had failed abysmally and only served to harden international condemnation. It did nothing to placate illegal settlements, and tactically, did little to stop the bombings. Then again, how else could the Palestinians respond? Without a standing army to field in battle, terrorism remained the only weapon left to them. The old adage about a terrorist being a freedom fighter had a rather apt ring. Israel itself had used similar tactics against the British occupation after the Second World War. History was replete with lessons of failure, to the unheeding care of those who strove to repeat the mistakes.

Sometimes everything seemed so futile.

If he had his way, he would eliminate the politicians. That would solve everybody’s problems. Prime Minister Sharron Ibrahim had the capacity and will to act, but his Kadima Party coalition was hamstrung into inaction. Not that Labour or the minor parties such as Gil and Shas were any better. And Ibrahim’s often imperious and forceful attitude hadn’t helped to push through unpalatable policies. To hold power, successive governments had sacrificed their ability to formulate and execute initiatives by catering to extremist and radical single-issue coalition partners. Lately, Israel had changed governments like he changed socks, an ominous symptom of fragmented ideologies and loss of vision. In the long run, that led to internal disintegration. But knowing what to do and having the will to do it, whatever the cost in personal careers, are the hallmarks of good government everywhere. In his view, Israel seemed doomed to pursue a fatalistic course of internal appeasement, incapable of realizing that placating the ultra-orthodox elements in its ranks simply to hold onto power left no one room to reach a workable settlement. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view, the Palestinian National Authority with its hostile Hamas government fared even worse. Sometimes a lot could be said for the value of a dictatorial regime.

Personally, he echoed Shimon Peres’ sentiments that Israel has no real option of turning to the political sphere in order to obtain a compromise that would constitute a genuine breakthrough – no compromise could ever satisfy the Arabs.’ The inevitable consequence of that policy was the reinforcement of a concept that there could never be a political option on which Israel could base its security, which had given rise to a general psyche of interventionism by the Israeli Defense Force establishment in the political decision-making process. Since the military were perceived as the sole instrument capable of defending the country, any criticism or curtailment of its power was interpreted as a direct threat to national security. Namir admitted that lack of public debate on the automatic application of force as the sole mechanism to solve his country’s problems had managed to derail every peace initiative to date, even if Israel’s own religious extremists were willing to entertain the initiative – which they hadn’t. Growing militancy between Fatah and Hamas, and disintegration of the Palestinian National Authority might encourage the military to take matters into their own hands. That, of course, was but a single step from fascism, the worst of all possible outcomes.

Well, he might not be in a position to solve all his country’s problems, but staring at the screen, he had no qualms about jump-starting the process. Viewing the proposal, it had all the classic elements of a military deception: a specific objective, playing to the enemy’s preconceived assumptions, a clear method selection and simple execution. The exploitation component was missing, but in this case hardly relevant. The tricky bit was that Kameer also had access to the proposal and could conceivably connect the dots, a bridge to be crossed later. He pressed the print icon and the printer immediately began to hum as it spat out the report. He picked up the still warm pages, tapped them together against the desk and reached into his drawer for a stapler.

He was still reading when the phone went off.


“Mr. Irian to see you, sir,” Mira announced.

“Send him in.” Namir placed the report on the desk, face down, as his tall visitor walked in, military bearing clear despite the tastefully cut dark gray suit, and closed the door behind him. It was nothing specific that marked his visitor, more a collection of small subtleties: clear penetrating eyes, aura of complete confidence, economical body movements, and that something that said ‘command presence’.

“Ah, Matan, take a seat,” he said warmly.

“Thanks.” Matan nodded, glanced at the coffee table and settled himself into the nearest chair, his legs stretched out before him.

Namir folded his hands and leaned forward. “How is Sarah these days? Still beautiful as ever?”

“And I’m still very much in love with her,” Matan declared, his voice crisp and determined.

“How about that! And Admina?”

“Growing up too fast.”

Namir chuckled. “She is going to break some hearts along the way.”

“As long as some slick city kid doesn’t break her heart.”

“She’s lucky to have you and Sarah looking out for her.”

“That’s a matter of opinion. Sometimes I just don’t understand her.”

“The same way she feels about you, I’m sure.”

“I don’t doubt it. Anyway, why don’t you come around some evening and straighten her out. She’d listen to you.”

Namir lifted his hands and laughed. “No thanks! I’m happy to leave that problem to you. I’ve had my time. But talking of problems, any further developments in tracking down that Hamas cell?”

Two weeks ago a twelve-year-old Gaza girl had walked into a Tel Aviv restaurant near Old Jaffa and blown herself up, taking eleven patrons and bystanders with her, and eighteen others injured, some seriously. Recovered from the debris were nails, nuts and roller bearings – a vicious combination to make a statement. The incident had caused an outcry and much breast-beating by everybody. The Collections Department suspected a single Hamas cell of orchestrating the attack, having carried out a similar atrocity a week earlier. That time, it was a fourteen-year-old boy. To brainwash children…

Matan stared at the Special Operations Division Director and wondered why the sudden concern. It was not something that could be solved overnight, if at all, like incidents of indiscriminate roadside shooting, spraying cars and two cabs with AK-47 fire. Namir’s leg had to be acting up again, he thought comfortably, although he wasn’t showing it. The old codger looked fit and would probably outlast everybody. As far as Matan knew, the Director was only fifty-eight, but the thick gray hair, hard chiseled features, prominent nose and dark complexion, made him appear older. Except for the eyes, deep green and lively. Despite the apparent external decrepitude,the eyes revealed an indomitable spirit, one that ruled his department with a rod of iron. Special Ops had not always followed the strict interpretation of its charter, earning a degree of enmity along the way not only from its sister departments, but from the Knesset as well. However, it did get things done, most of the time. In his book, that made up for everything else. Politicians did not need to know what their intelligence organs were up to – until it failed them. Namir made sure his department did not fail. Matan liked that kind of thinking.

From what he knew, the Metsada chief had always been involved with intelligence, taking over the Special Operations Division in 2002 after a stint in the Political Action and Liaison Department. A former Mirage pilot, Namir was a rising star in the Air Force Intelligence before being recruited by Mossad into the Collections Department. His organizational and administrative abilities, coupled with a flair for the innovative, ensured he gravitated through Mossad’s operational sections as quickly as possible. Running Metsada seemed to have given him a home. But he worried about the chief, especially after the sudden death of his wife. Work was the only thing that seemed to matter to him these days.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing some of those holier-than-thou Hamas leadership strapping on a bomb themselves for the cause,” Matan muttered sourly and Namir grinned.

“You and me both. Maybe we should send them a memo. How about that!”

“Something to think about. Anyway, the Research Department has given us a couple of leads, but we’re not moving fast anywhere.”

“The Director is looking closely at this one, Matan.”

“Kameer?” Matan looked incredulous. “He’s got nothing better to do than be bothered by a suicide bombing incident?”

The corner of Namir’s mouth twitched in sympathy. “I wouldn’t be too critical. The Prime Minister is giving him a hard time and we must do our duty as we see it,” he deadpanned. “Sharron Ibrahim’s niece was injured in that blast.”

“It’s an internal security matter,” Matan protested. “Shabak are handling it.”

“Apparently not well enough. That’s why we are involved. Just keep an eye on things, will you?”

Namir regarded his senior case officer with deliberate scrutiny and no small measure of fondness. A reserve colonel, having enlisted in the Army for officer training following the death of his mother and two sisters in 1979, forty-two, wife and a daughter, Matan had proven himself to be an exceptional analyst. Recruited from the Army into the Political Action and Liaison Department, it did not take long for the hierarchy to spot a rising talent. Less than a year later, working for the Research Department, Matan had produced a number of analyses and action proposals deemed controversial even by Mossad’s progressive standards. Namir had one of them on his desk now. Two years later, with his help, Matan wound up in Metsada, the Special Operations Division; Mossad’s action arm dealing with assassinations, sabotage and covert paramilitary projects. The dirty tricks department, he reflected with satisfaction and a measure of pride. As a case officer and stage manager, Matan had no equal. His operations to date were planned and executed with faultless precision and total deniability. No loose ends, simply painstaking attention to minutiae and detail. And right now, for his scheme to work, Namir desperately needed that skill.

Despite the years, Matan carried himself with confident ease, his lips pressed permanently into a thin line. Some still called it arrogance, but in reality, it was a reflection of his capabilities, exaggerated perhaps by his officer training and automatic authority. Colonels always acted like they were one rung below God. Hair still black, Namir noted, marred by a hint of white at the temples. Long face, dark complexion, square jaw, Matan could easily have passed for an Arab and spoke Farsi without an accent. The dark mahogany eyes, sunk deep into the skull, were bright with amusement. They were also eyes of a man who had suffered much and managed to survive and thrive. Namir knew that Matan yearned to be out in the field, but he was far too valuable to risk losing on some gutter-crawling ops, being groomed for a deputy’s position in the Collections Department. That had rankled at first, but in the end, Matan had accepted the inevitable exigency of the service. This should be especially sweet, Namir thought – bittersweet perhaps.

“Be that as it may,” he allowed, “but I didn’t call you in to talk about the Hamas or Shabak’s incompetence. I want to broach the possibility of a bang and burn black ops. You would be the team cutout and action officer.”

Matan sat up and the small hairs on the back of his neck bristled with anticipation. A bang and burn usually involved demolition and sabotage, invariably in foreign territory. That meant dangerous territory. The two years spent with Metsada had been, in the main, soul-fulfilling experiences, but with little personal excitement. Namir had allowed him two opportunities to conduct a field mission, one in Lebanon and one in Jordan. Both went well and eliminated their targets cleanly – Syrian agents who were providing Hezbollah with advanced tactical training. The operations left him physically taxed and he knew his field ops days were numbered. He’d had a taste and it was enough, content now to be a planner and organizer, the invisible man who pulled the strings. What had changed that Namir would now want him out there?

“Sounds, ah, like a challenge,” he ventured cautiously, looking for traps.

Namir chuckled. He couldn’t help it. The dangled bait was sniffed, but Matan was too good an operative to snap at the obvious.

“You’ll enjoy this one. It’s something you dreamed up yourself.”

“I’ve put up lots of screwy proposals,” Matan muttered acidly, “which you and the Director never tire of telling me.” Only one person was spoken to or referred in the third person – Doron Kameer, head of Mossad.

“Someone has to restrain your youthful enthusiasm,” Namir said dryly, then cleared his throat. “Seriously, though. This time, there will be no restraints, no half measures. On this one we’re playing for broke.”

“Okay, my curiosity is aroused.” They had known each other long enough to be on first-name basis. Besides, Matan had sufficient seniority not to be overawed by silly bureaucratic protocol.

“What I have in mind might save us from a confrontation with Iran.”

“What will save us is to simply bomb the place,” Matan said evenly, perfectly serious. “Waiting for the UN or the U.S. to hammer out an acceptable solution is an exercise in futility and you know it. A surgical strike will set them squawking, but it would also eliminate the threat.”

“Not a novel idea and something your military colleagues would love to do. Politically though, it isn’t an option. However, we could get someone else to do the job for us and wear the heat. How about that!”

Matan sat back in shock and his eyes darted to the overturned papers on Namir’s desk. He couldn’t be considering…

“You want to bring the United States into direct conflict with Iran? That’s crazy!”

– Excerpted from Cry of Eagles. All rights reserved.

Read a Chapter: Waking Up Happy by Jill Muehrcke

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope by Jill Muehrcke. Ordering information follows. If you would like to learn more about Jill, visit her website at

WAKING UP HAPPY: A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE: Powerful, absorbing, and beautifully written, this first-of-its-kind book of transformation and healing includes memoirs of people who have recovered from addictions, harmful habits, and intolerable situations, along with exercises readers can do to make the same transformations in their own lives.

Half of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the Recovery Foundation helping people build new lives – so every time someone buys a book, they will be helping someone TRANSFORM THEIR LIFE!


You Are the Sculptor and the Stone

It began with a dream. As a freelance writer, I’m always looking for new writing projects, and one night I dreamed of climbing a mountain with several other women, passing through fierce storms, and arriving at a sunlit peak where we could see the paths we’d taken, gleaming below us, and realized we could help others find their own trails, supporting them on their climb, and helping them avoid the obstacles that had made our ascent so painful.

Because of this dream, I was sure I was meant to join with other women to write a book, using our experiences to help others. I waited for the book to take shape in my mind. Before I went to sleep, I asked my dream sherpa to offer guidance. But I had no more revelatory dreams, and in time I put the idea aside.

Then one day I was talking to my granddaughter, Shyloh, a beautiful young woman who had just turned twenty-one and was one of the brightest lights of my life. She’d recently been to rehab, gotten off drugs, and was telling me about a place called Connections, where she was receiving the support she needed to lead a new, sober life.

As it happened, the woman who’d started Connections, Shelly Dutch, was profiled that month in the magazine Wisconsin Woman, and Shyloh gave me the piece to read. She also talked about her counselor at Connections, Skye, who had an idea for a book relating the stories of people who’d come to Connections. These amazing men and women were, like phoenixes, rising up from the fires of addiction and using the ashes to fashion brand-new lives.

This, I realized, was the book I was meant to write, and Shyloh, Shelly, and Skye were the climbing companions of my dream. We each had a powerful spark within us, but it took the synchrony of my talk with Shyloh to drive our energies toward a common purpose.

For years, I’d been collecting ideas about the process of change because of my own recovery journey. I realized that all the research I’d done after I stopped drinking and the strategies I’d used to turn my life around could be woven into this book of memoirs to help others on their voyages of change.

Skye already had the book’s title – Waking Up Happy — and its premise – focusing not on the misery of people’s addictions but on the joyous journey of recovery. Shelly donated Connections’ meeting rooms, where we began strategizing and found people whose stories were begging to be told.

Like Skye, I’d read many memoirs of addiction and finished each one wishing there had been less immersion in the years of addiction, relapse, and anguish and more on the gratifying

process of recovering and building a new life. But what happened next? I always found myself asking. How did these tortured souls go on to lead meaningful lives? What were their secrets? The title Skye chose for the book resounded with us because we’d all had the experience

of waking up miserable, detesting ourselves for what we’d become. The crowning splendor of a new life is that feeling you have upon waking – that all’s right with the world and that you have a productive place in it.

Connections Counseling Center – the haven Shelly has designed for people in recovery — is itself a place of joy. Those who enter the warm, cozy space feel welcomed and embraced.

On my first visit there, Skye showed me two walls – one of sorrow and one of jubilation. The first wall is covered with pictures of Connections’ clients who have died – of overdoses, in car crashes, and in all the other ways people kill themselves, by design or accident, when they’ve forgotten how to love themselves.

The second wall is made up of collages of people who have lived to celebrate one or more years of sobriety. Each collage has been created with photos of the person laughing with friends and pictures symbolizing key points on the person’s journey.

“Both walls have powerful messages,” Skye said. “The first makes it clear that addiction is a serious disease. People die from it, and many others come close to dying. But my work isn’t depressing. It’s a joyous job, counseling people who are changing their lives. The second wall reflects that miracle of transformation.”

Tale as old as time,

Tune as old as song,

Bittersweet and strange,

Finding you can change,

Learning you were wrong.

–Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast


There are many reasons why you may want to change your life. If you have an addiction, habit, or intolerable situation that’s devastating your life, you may realize you must make a drastic shift. If you’re in a relationship that’s diminishing rather than enhancing your best self, or if you’re eating the wrong foods, hurting your body, or doing other self-destructive things, you know, deep inside, that you can’t continue on that path. And as you pass through different phases in your life – as you become a parent, for example, or an empty-nester or a retiree – radical adjustments are necessary.

Changing your life isn’t easy. It means learning to know yourself. It means creating yourself anew. Because you’re both the sculptor and the stone, it’s a wrenching task.

And yet every sculptor knows that the piece of art that’s meant to be already exists: It’s a matter of carving its essence from material that’s already there. When asked how the granite bear came to be, the sculptor says, “I just cut away everything that wasn’t a bear.”

All of us in this book have worked long hours stripping away the false, burdensome, excess parts of ourselves to bring our truest spirits into being. Because we’re all addicts of one sort or another, it’s those addictions – to drugs, to habits that suffocated our authentic selves, to people who hurt and abused us and quelled our power– it’s those addictions we chisel at every day.

You needn’t be an addict to feel the clarion call to remold yourself. Everyone’s life cries out for transformation. If you don’t change and grow, you die: Bit by bit, day by day, your innermost soul dwindles and perishes. The cost of not continuing to grow is ultimately feeling half-dead.

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

–Anais Nin

Change doesn’t happen in a moment. But often there’s an instant that signals the need for an evolution into something new. Buried in that instant you’ll often find the power of synchronicity.

Synchronicity may be a vague concept for you until one day events come together in an “Aha!’ moment and it becomes crystal clear how everything’s connected, for synchronicity is all about connection. It’s about turning points, signposts that signal a new route. It’s about the way life surprises you when your heart’s open to the universe of possibilities.

This book was born through a series of synchronous events – circumstances too filled with significance to be mere coincidence. The psychologist Carl Jung described synchronicity as a link that goes beyond simple cause and effect to become meaningful, a fusion of elements that, when they merge, turn into something new. Sometimes a synchronous moment causes a major shift, pointing the way toward a deeper purpose, and that’s our hope for you – that as you peruse this book, you’ll find a story, suggestion, or life lesson that resonates in just the right way, touching you at a moment when you’re ready to take a leap toward a new life.

There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hand.

–Helen Schucman

You’re the artist of your own life. All you need do is pick up the tools for change and begin to use them. Each false start is a carving crucial to the final piece of art, paving the way for you to sculpt your greatest creation: the beautiful self that lies within the stone.

– Excerpted from Waking Up Happy. All rights reserved.

Read a Chapter: The Promised Land by Valerie Stocking

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring The Promised Land by Valerie Stocking. Ordering information follows. If you would like to learn more about Valerie, visit her website at Enjoy!


It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida, to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.

Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.

An absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, Stocking’s blend of historical fact and fiction is as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era. Probing the human psyche for the deep-seated fears that fuel the fires of racism and bigotry, she expertly builds characters who feel their very lives are at stake by the changing times. Full of insight and intensity, The Promised Land is a spellbinding journey you won’t want to miss.


Chapter One




            Joy Bradford stared out the window of the moving train headed from New York’s Penn Station to St. Petersburg, Florida.  Her ungainly body was encased in a pair of Bermuda shorts and a white, sleeveless Ship and Shore blouse. She had unfashionably short, curly brown hair, and a splotch of acne across her forehead. She was twelve years old.

She frowned, blinking her eyes behind Coke-bottle thick, horn-rimmed glasses.  The area they were traveling through was very poor, with houses that were nothing more than dilapidated, one-room shacks. Some were tilting to one side, threatening to collapse.  Some of the roofs looked partially caved-in. Windows were crude openings, lacking blinds or curtains.

Aunt Margaret, who was traveling with Joy and her mother Jessica, had referred to the lean-tos that Joy was seeing, which had appeared throughout their trip, as “Niggertowns.”  The term bothered Joy.  When she’d been four, her mother taught her a rhyme, “Eenie meenie miney moe, catch a nigger by the toe. If he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie miney moe.”  She’d recited it proudly for their housekeeper Melissa, who had shouted at her, “Don’t you ever say that again.”

“Why not?” Joy asked.

“It’s a bad word for colored people.”

Joy had never seen her so upset.  “Okay, I won’t say it anymore,” she promised…

“What are you doing?”

Joy, startled, jerked away from the window, looking up as Aunt Margaret entered the room.

Aunt Margaret frowned.  “Come away from there.  That’s something you shouldn’t have to see,” she said.  “None of us should have to look at it.  It’s disgusting.  A cesspool.”

Joy eyed her, but was silent.

“Where’s your mother?” Aunt Margaret wanted to know.

Joy shrugged.  “She said she was going to the dining car to get us a table.”

Aunt Margaret looked at her watch.

“Yes, it’s about time for lunch.  Come along.”

Jessica Bradford was waiting for them in the dining car at a table adorned with a starched white tablecloth, white cloth napkins and ornate silverware.  She was an inch taller than Margaret’s diminutive five feet one, and slender. Her shoulder-length blonde hair hung in her face, partially concealing her high cheekbones and doe-like brown eyes. “Well, just a few more hours and we’ll be there,” Margaret said.  She took one of Jessica’s cigarettes from the Phillip Morris pack lying on the table and lit it.  Jessica automatically reached for a cigarette herself, got a light from Margaret’s flame and inhaled deeply.

“Everything should be ready at the house,” Margaret continued.  “Peter will be picking us up at the station, and I’ve notified Vivian and Carly to make up one of the guest suites.”

Jessica nodded, but said nothing.

“You don’t seem as enthusiastic now as you were before we got on the train,” Margaret commented.  “Getting cold feet?”

Jessica’s lips thinned.  She shook her head.  “Not at all.”

Joy shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  Ever since her mother had announced she was leaving Joy’s father, there had been tension between Jessica and Aunt Margaret.  Joy knew that Aunt Margaret liked her father.  Almost everybody did, except for Jessica.

Now, Aunt Margaret shrugged.  “It’s your life,” she said in a voice that was too loud.  “Of course, there’s also Joy to consider.”

“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m getting a divorce,” Jessica said.  “For Joy’s sake.”

Aunt Margaret squinted at her as she inhaled smoke, then shook her head.  “I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.  “Your husband is a fine, upstanding…”

“Creep,” Joy’s mother supplied.  In a lower tone, she muttered, “Drunken pervert.”

“Jessica,” Aunt Margaret said in a warning tone.  “Watch your language.”

Jessica snorted and stabbed her cigarette out in the glass ashtray beside her.  Then

she fumbled in her purse and produced a large bottle of Mylanta.

Aunt Margaret watched her disapprovingly.  “We’ll have to get you over to Doc Nelson once you’re settled,” she said.  “It isn’t normal for a person to be taking so much of that stuff.”

“Are you a doctor?” Jessica’s voice was loud.

Aunt Margaret took another pull off her cigarette and said nothing.

There was a pause while Jessica looked for something to pour the antacid into.  The only glasses on the table were filled with water.  She shook the bottle, unscrewed its cap, and tilted it back as she gulped the chalky liquid.  Her dark eyes roamed from side to side, checking to make sure no one noticed. Then she replaced the cap and put the bottle back in her purse.

“Good afternoon, ladies.”  A Negro waiter approached them and handed out menus.

“Good afternoon.” Aunt Margaret smiled what Joy called her Gracious-to-the-Help Smile.  She showed just a bit too much of her teeth, but the gesture was gone so quickly it left you wondering if it had been a grin or a grimace.

They ate in silence.  Joy hated it when things were this way.  Of course, it was far better than they’d been during the past year, when Joy and her parents were living under the same roof.  She gazed sourly at her mother, who left half her chicken sandwich on her plate and was lighting another cigarette.

When she couldn’t stand the tension any longer, Joy said, “I think I’ll go back to the room and read.”

“Go ahead,” Jessica said tightly.

Joy rose so quickly she nearly knocked her chair over.  She saw with dismay that there were two wet streaks left on the seat.  She perspired heavily from the backs of her thighs, but didn’t know what to do about it.

When she reached the room, instead of pulling out a book, she snuck two pages of plain white stationery from her mother’s tablet, picked up a pen lying on the table and began to write:

Dear Dad,


We are almost in St. Petersburg.  There are lots of oranges and palm trees and other things that aren’t so nice to look at.  The land is flat.  I don’t think I’ll have any problems riding a bike here.  We just ate lunch.  I like the food on the train, and the men who make up the rooms and wait on the tables are very nice.


She hesitated, tapping the tip of the pen against her front teeth.  Then she added,


I miss you.  Thank you very much for the five dollars you gave me just before we left.  I still have it, and I didn’t tell Mom about it.


Abruptly, she heard footsteps approaching the room, and Aunt Margaret’s voice


saying, “Come over for gin rummy as soon as you’re ready.”

Jessica mumbled something Joy couldn’t hear, then turned the knob on the door.  It was locked.  She tapped on the door, calling,

“Joy?  Are you in there?”

Hastily, Joy shoved the stationery under her pillow and put the pen back on the table.


“Yes.  Coming,” she called, and opened the door.

Jessica stepped in and set her purse on the table.  “Are you all right?” she asked Joy.

“Fine,” Joy replied.

“Aunt Margaret wants me to play cards with her,” Jessica said as she stepped into the tiny bathroom and shut the door.

“That’s nice.”

“Do you want to play?”

“No, thanks.”

There was a pause.

“I wish I didn’t have to,” Jessica muttered.  “That woman cheats.”

Joy smiled.  She’d played cards with her aunt before, and knew that Aunt Margaret wasn’t dishonest. She just had a good memory and knew after a couple of turns who had which cards.  She very seldom lost.

After Jessica left the room to go next door, Joy got out the letter she’d been writing to her father and resumed:

How is Kitty? I miss her.  I miss you, too.

Joy stopped, aware that she’d already said that.  She thought of scratching it out, but that would leave a blotch on the paper, so she left it. She lay on her stomach on her bed, rereading what she’d written, trying to think of something else to say.  Finally, she wrote,

I hope you’re OK.  You can write me at Aunt Margaret’s address in Bellair.




She’d only used one of the two sheets of paper she’d taken from her mother’s tablet.  She rifled through Jessica’s cosmetic bag where she’d found the paper, searching for an envelope.  She managed to locate one jammed in a corner and pulled it out.  It was creased across the flap, but Joy smoothed it out and wrote her father’s address on it.   Then she put Aunt Margaret’s address in the upper left hand corner.  When she was done, she stuffed her letter in the envelope and sealed it.  There. Now she just needed a stamp.  She’d ask Aunt Margaret for one when they reached the house.  She’d also ask her aunt to mail the letter to her father.  She didn’t trust her mother to do it.

Joy put the sealed letter in her small suitcase underneath some blouses.  She spent the next half hour writing another letter to her best friend Karen.  It had been very painful to say good-bye to her.  They’d been close for nearly two years.

When she was through, Joy decided she’d ask her mother for an envelope.  She didn’t want to go snooping through Jessica’s luggage again.  Jessica might notice something was amiss and get suspicious.

Joy folded the letter to Karen and put it on the table.  There was no reason to hide that one, she thought.

They had stopped in some Florida town, and now they were jerking forward again, the train giving off its loud HOO-HOOOOO and thunketa thunketa thunk as it pulled out of the station.  Joy returned to her place by the window.

            It won’t be long now.


Sheriff Thaddeus Simms and Gil Meyers sat side by side on rickety folding chairs as they had for hundreds of Wednesdays, outside Willets Point Barber Shop, which was owned by Gil. Thaddeus was a tall, imposing man, six feet five and more than 250 pounds.  The little hair he had left Gil Meyers buzzed off every Wednesday.  Thaddeus’s face, which had been innocent-looking enough in high school to earn him the nickname Baby Huey, was hard and craggy with age, but his eyes remained an icy blue.

Thaddeus’ cheeks still smarted from the aftershave Gil had slapped on him a few minutes before.  He sat motionless with his eyes closed, feeling the Florida sun bake his face.  He wished there was a breeze.  Sweat was beading on his forehead and dripping down the sides of his nose.

“I hear he’s rented a place downtown,” Gil said.  Short, string bean thin with gangly arms and legs, he exuded an odor of menthol.

Thaddeus’s eyes flew open.  He stared dully at the seven-acre lot across the street.  It had had a For Sale sign on it for so long the sign looked weather-beaten.

“Them niggers is gettin’ awful uppity these days,” Gil added.

Thaddeus shrugged and said, “Don’t borrow trouble until it knocks on your door.”

“You know who I’m talkin’ about, don’t cha?” Gil pressed.

Thaddeus shifted his bulk in the uncomfortable chair, making it squeak in protest.

“I reckon,” he said.

“That nigger from Atlanta, Clytus Dooley.”

“What about him?”

“What are you gonna do about him?” Gil asked.

“Nothing, unless he breaks the law.”

Gil snorted.  Then he asked, “How’s the truck running?”

Thaddeus shrugged.  “You know.”

“What do you mean?” Gil was defensive.  “When I sold it to you I said…”

“I know what you said.  She’s got her moments, is what I’m saying.”

As Thaddeus said this, he couldn’t help but look at Gil’s brand new 1966 Ford

Fairlaine parked in front of the shop.

Must be in hock up past his chin.

Abruptly, Gil changed the subject: “Know who’s coming into town today?”

Thaddeus winced.  Sometimes he wondered why he bothered talking to Gil at all, but he kept his voice even when he asked, “Who’re you talking about?”

“You know who.”

“Why don’t you tell me?” he asked.

“Miss Jessica Arkasian.”

“You mean Mrs. Bradford,” Thaddeus corrected.

“She’ll go back to her maiden name after she’s took that surgeon husband of hers for all she can get.”

Anger flared in Thaddeus.  “She’s no gold-digger,” he said.  “She doesn’t have to be.”

“Well,” Gil said doubtfully.  There was a pause.  “She’s got a kid, I hear.”

“Yeah,” Thaddeus said noncommittally.

“Train’s pulling in, in about an hour,” Gil went on.  When Thaddeus didn’t reply, Gil added, “You gonna go meet ‘em?”

Thaddeus snorted.

“Are you?” Gil pressed.

“Why would I?” He wished Gil would drop it.  It was too damned hot to be talking.

“I’ll bet Bill McKendrick shows up to welcome ‘em,” Gil said, his voice full of needles.

Thaddeus said nothing.  But his hands, which had been resting in his lap, now moved to grip his knees.

“You don’t want him getting the jump on you again, do you?”

“Don’t know what you mean,” Thaddeus said.

But he did know, damned right well…

Gil laughed.  Thaddeus suddenly wanted a drink.  He glanced at his watch.  Another twenty minutes until he was on his official break.

“Come on, Thad.  I’ve heard she’s still a looker.  Don’t tell me you’re not interested.”

Thaddeus rose from the chair, adjusting the heavy belt containing flashlight, handcuffs and gun that rode on his hips.

“I haven’t seen her in almost twenty years,” he said.


“So, people change.”

He watched as a satisfied smirk settled on the wrinkled features of Gil Meyers.  It was hard for Thaddeus not to punch him.  He imagined his knuckles connecting with Gil’s nose.  He imagined Gil on the floor, dazed, shaking his head, all the self-assuredness and mean pettiness knocked out of him.

“I just figured you’d want to know,” Gil said.

“I’d best get back to work,” Thaddeus said, glancing once again at his watch.  Seventeen minutes to go…


            “I need a drink,” Margaret Karlson murmured.  She stood wilting in a pink linen suit next to Joy and Jessica in the parking lot of the railroad station in St. Petersburg.  They were waiting for Peter, Margaret’s chauffeur, to arrive.  Margaret shifted impatiently from one foot to the other.  She inhaled the fetid air and tried not to grimace.  This was the worst part of the trip.  Why they put railroad stations in the middle of the worst cesspools of humanity she would never understand.  But at least they were off that wretched train.  Five days riding on that damned thing should have won her an endurance medal.  She blamed Johnson for the whole thing, of course.  It was his fault the damned airlines were on strike.  If only Goldwater had gotten in…

Joy stood next to her mother, her face shiny with sweat. There were dark, wet rings under her arms.  Margaret was aware of the perspiration dripping down her own chin, trickling down her neck.  She retrieved a tissue from her bag and mopped it up.  She glanced at Jessica and experienced a short burst of irritation.  Jessica never perspired.  And the sun loved her: she could bake in it for hours until her skin was as dark as a Negro’s.

“I’m going to start calling you my nigger niece,” Margaret told her.  She turned to Joy and added, “I don’t want any niggers in my family, do you?”

Joy stared stonily back at her. The child made Margaret nervous.

“I’m surprised Bill isn’t here,” Margaret said.

Jessica pulled a cigarette out of a beige leather case and put it between her lips.  “He’s probably working,” she said, fumbling in her purse for a lighter.

“Still,” Margaret said.  “Attorneys can take long lunches if they want to.”  She pulled a cigarette out of her own purse and waited until Jessica produced a lighter to incline her head towards the flame.  She inhaled deeply and said, “I’ll let you in on a little secret about Bill.” She paused and looked at her niece.  “He’s going to be the next D.A.”

Jessica puffed on her cigarette and said nothing.

“I’m financing Bill’s campaign.” Margaret paused to let that sink in, then added, “Don’t dare tell anyone.  It’s supposed to be a secret.  He’s going to be on radio, TV, everything.” Margaret watched her niece carefully.

Doesn’t she have any feelings at all?  If she’s fallen out of love with Mike, she can damn well get cozy with Bill again.

“Personal appearances, too, of course,” Margaret added.  “They say those are most important.”

Jessica was silent.  Margaret frowned.  “He never married you know,” Margaret said pointedly.

“Smart man,” Jessica said.

Margaret sighed in exasperation.

I give up!  She shot her niece a look.  For the time being…

She looked both ways, down the rows of cars in the parking lot, and then at her watch.

“Not where’s that damned…oh, here’s Peter,” Aunt Margaret said jubilantly as the black Cadillac limousine nosed its way toward them.  Peter, dressed in full livery, opened the driver’s side door and got out.  He was a small man, barely Margaret’s height, but as far as she was concerned he had the energy of two regular-sized men.

“Welcome home, Mrs. Karlson,” Peter said, bowing and tipping his hat.

“Thank you, Peter.  This is my niece Jessica Bradford and her daughter Joy.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Peter said, nodding to both of them.  He gestured to the bags near them.  “Is that everything?”

“Yes,” Margaret replied.  To Jessica, she said, “Come on, let’s get in the air conditioning.”

As they climbed into the back of the limo, Margaret looked at her wristwatch, feigning surprise. “I had no idea it was so late. I’m ready for a drink.  Jessica?”

Margaret turned to her niece, pretending not to see the disapproval flash in Jessica’s dark eyes.

“No thank you,” Jessica said.

“What about you?” Margaret asked Joy.  She saw the girl’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Aunt Margaret, please,” Jessica protested.

“Why?  What’s the matter?” Margaret’s voice took on a defensive tone.  “We’ve been stuck on that God-awful train for days, and baking in the heat on that platform for God knows how long.  We’re entitled.  Aren’t we, Joy?”

Without waiting for a reply, Margaret opened the bar in the back of the limo and helped herself to a glass and a miniature of J&B.  “What would you like, Princess?” she asked Joy.  Joy didn’t reply. “Oh, come on,” Margaret said impatiently.  “Didn’t you tell me you were dying of thirst?”

“That was yesterday,” Joy said in a barely audible voice.

“It’s too early,” Jessica muttered.

“It is not.  It’s late afternoon.  How many people have cocktails at lunch?”

“Not everyone,” Jessica retorted.

“Well, it’s hours past lunchtime now.”

They hadn’t served any alcohol on the train before 2pm.  Margaret thought that was outrageous, and had argued with the help on board, but they refused to bend their damned rules.

Now, finally, Jessica was silent. Margaret experienced a sense of triumph.

I showed her.

Peter climbed into the limo on the driver’s side and shifted into drive.

“I bet I know what you’d like,” Margaret said to Joy.  She pulled a small bottle of green liquid out from the back of the liquor supply and took a fresh glass.

“You like mint, don’t you?” Margaret asked.

Joy shrugged.

“Huh?  Do you?” Margaret asked loudly.

“It’s okay,” Joy whispered.

“Here.  Try some of this.” Margaret handed her the glass, which was half-full of the green liquid.  Joy took a small sip.

“Isn’t it good?” Margaret pressed.

“Sure,” Joy said.

Margaret settled back against the leather upholstery, nursing her scotch.

“Oh, Jessica,” she said. “Did I tell you I invited Bill McKendrick over for dinner tonight?”

“No, you didn’t,” Jessica replied.

“It’ll be like old times.”


            Joy watched out the limo window as they made their way 30 miles west from St. Petersburg to Willets Point, Florida.

The car was the height of luxury, she thought.  Its upholstery was covered in suede, and the only things Joy could hear were the hiss of the tires and the subdued whir of the air conditioner.  It felt like a long ride to Joy.  However, as the cool, green crème de menthe coated her tongue and throat, she began to relax.  She loved the way it grew warm as it traveled down to her stomach.

They passed a golf course and a short block of boutiques. They made a right turn and were in a really fancy section now.  Homes spread out gracefully on immaculately manicured lawns.  Palm trees adorned the wide meridians.

Joy had never seen anything this opulent back home. It was impossible not to gape, even though she had been here four years ago. Enough time had passed for the impact of this wealth to strike her again.

The last time she’d been here, when she was eight, she’d gotten lost on the first floor of the Karlson home, between the dining room and the guest suite she was supposed to occupy.  She stumbled around in the dark, on carpeting so thick her feet sank into it, wandering through the breakfast gallery, the library, and the cavernous living room before she finally encountered a servant and timidly asked the way back to the kitchen.  The maid had found it terribly funny.

Joy remembered Aunt Margaret’s favorite part of the house was the elevator.  It was a tiny, plushly padded cubicle that whirred from the first to the second floor.  She and Joy went up and down, up and down in it. Aunt Margaret’s small dark eyes shone with childish glee as she said, “Press the button.  Going up.”


            Aunt Margaret resided in a two-story mansion on a large corner lot in Bellair, located in the northernmost section of Willets Point.  Like the other homes on the street, it was white stucco with a coral-colored roof and accents.  Jessica remembered it being bigger when they’d last been here, four years ago.

Things had been better with Mike then. Friends of Margaret and Gustav, Margaret’s husband, including several physicians, had tried to persuade him to move and practice urology in Florida.  He seemed amenable to the idea at first, but then backed down as soon as they had returned to Connecticut.

Now, Jessica gasped as she felt hot acid rising to her gorge.  She looked at her handbag, where she’d kept the large bottle of Mylanta, but then realized she’d transferred it to her luggage because the bottle was stretching the material of her purse.

Once they arrived at the house, Aunt Margaret ushered Jessica and Joy into the same guest suite Joy had stayed in four years earlier. It was done in French Provincial, all yellow and white, and boasted a huge separate dressing room and bathroom. Sliding glass doors led directly out onto the patio, which featured inlaid tile and an ornate fountain.

“Freshen up,” Margaret commanded. Her face was flushed, and her strident voice was a bit louder than usual. Her eyes fixed on Jessica’s. “I know you’ll want to look nice for our guest.”

Jessica pursed her lips, but her heart was pounding with excitement.

She’d met Bill after she’d graduated high school.  He was a few years older, with a lot more experience in the ways of the world than she.  She recalled that summer before she went to college.  Bill had just finished his second year of law school, and was full of promise.  She remembered the first time he kissed her in the parking lot of the Willets Point Country Club, how his lips had lingered over hers, coaxing them open.  She had ended it a few weeks later, after he’d started a fistfight with Thaddeus Simms.

Now, in Aunt Margaret’s house, the first thing Jessica unpacked from her red cosmetic case was the large bottle of antacid.  She found small paper cups in the bathroom, filled one with the chalky liquid, and downed it.

After Jessica and Joy had showered and unpacked a few things, Jessica sat at the vanity table in the dressing room, fumbling with a myriad of small tubes, vials, and sticks.  They left smeared, multi-colored trails of powder and liquid on the imported marble surface.

Jessica was aware of Joy watching her as she applied her make-up.  The girl annoyed her to no end.  She was disobedient and disrespectful, and she took Mike’s side in everything.  Further, Jessica found Joy’s beady-eyed stare behind those dreadful spectacles she wore unnerving.

The silence between them thickened.  Well, Jessica was damned if she was going to be the one to break it.

When she was through with her make-up, she rose and walked into the spacious closet. She hesitated, her hand poised over one of her mini skirts.  The hand wavered, then moved past, finally settling on a knee-length, pale blue dress that accentuated the narrowness of her waist and the curve of her hips.

“Can I wear some lipstick?” Joy asked timidly.


Joy moved from one foot to the other, causing the loose shift she had changed into to sway. It concealed her growing bosom and the rest of her chunky body.

She was silent as Jessica applied carnelian colored lipstick to her mouth, puckered and pressed her lips into a tissue, leaving an orange smear.  Jessica sprayed herself from neck to chest with cologne in several rapid, waving motions, then turned to Joy.

“Let’s go,” Jessica said.

            They found Margaret alone in the den, having a cocktail. Margaret shook the ice around in her glass of scotch.  “Can you believe it?” she demanded.  “They’re actually letting niggers into white schools.”

Her face was flushed, and she mopped sweat from her chin with her free hand.

“That’s one of the reasons we need Bill,” she went on.  “These niggers are getting away with all kinds of things.  Everyone’s concerned about their damned civil rights.  What about my civil rights?  What about the rights of white people?  Don’t we count any more?  For God’s sake.”

She made a vague gesture towards the bar.  “Help yourselves,” she said.

Jessica nodded to Joy, who went to the bar and mixed a scotch for Jessica and ginger ale and grenadine for herself.

“What about that high-falutin’ one from Atlanta?” Margaret continued. “He thinks because he’s college educated he can come down here and do business with the whites.  It’s absurd.  No white person wants to be associating with coloreds that way. It’s unnatural, that’s what it is.  Unnatural.”

Jessica cleared her throat.  Margaret could carry on after a few belts.  Anyway, Jessica had other things on her mind besides race relations.

“How’s Bill these days?” She tried to keep her voice casual.

“As handsome and eligible as ever,” Margaret said, grinning broadly.  Jessica’s face grew warm.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang.  Margaret darted to the den door.

“I’ll get it, Vivian,” she bellowed. Unconsciously, she pressed her steel-colored curls against the side of her face with one hand as she strode out of the room.

There was a long silence.  Then Jessica heard Margaret’s voice, loud with excitement as she greeted her guest, followed by a man’s voice, much lower, murmur something indistinct.  There was a pause, and Jessica heard Margaret again, this time much closer:

“Right this way, Bill.”

She was followed into the room by Bill McKendrick.  He was a tall, burly man,  dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and striped tie. His grey hair was thinning on top.  He wore horn-rimmed glasses and had broad features.

Jessica almost blanched when she saw him.  He looked like an inflated version of the Bill she’d known 20 years ago.  Still, her heart shimmied crazily as Margaret marched him up to her and said, “Bill, you remember my niece, Jessica Bradford.  This is her daughter, Joy.”

Jessica noted with satisfaction that Bill didn’t bother looking at Joy.  Instead, his eyes lit up with interest and his eyebrows rose slightly as he took Jessica in.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again,” he said, extending his hand.

Jessica took it.  It was surprisingly smooth and soft.  He squeezed her hand gently.  She nodded and smiled.

Margaret stepped in.  “I’m hoping you’ll be able to help Jessica.  She wants to divorce her husband, and needs a good lawyer.”

Jessica was mortified.  Then she thought, Why not?  What the hell?

“I’ll be glad to help if I can,” Bill said.

“Let me get you a drink,” Margaret said.  “Still a bourbon man?”

Bill laughed and nodded.

“Tell us what’s been going on in the world of crime.”

Bill settled his large bulk into a loveseat across from Jessica.

“I saw the sheriff yesterday,” he said to Margaret.

“Thaddeus?  How is he?”

“Just fine, I think. Getting a little broad in the beam.” Bill laughed, then patted his own stomach. “Of course, I’m a fine one to talk.”

“What do you mean?” Margaret waved at him impatiently.  “You’re a big man, Bill.”  She turned to Jessica. “And he will probably be an even bigger man before the end of the year.”  She handed Bill a drink.

“Well, now, we don’t know that yet, Margaret,” Bill said, but he was smiling broadly.

Jessica tried not to look too impressed as she thought,

He’s confident.  He’s a man who’s going places.

“Oh, Bill.  You don’t have any competition to speak of, unless you count that nigger-loving peace-blabbing asshole from…”

“Aunt Margaret, please,” Jessica murmured.

“Well, it gets my dander up every time I think of that idiot saying equal this and equal that.” Margaret took a breath.  “What’s wrong with equal and separate?”

“Believe me, most people feel that way,” Bill said.  “We’ve got some pending business downtown with that fellow Clytus Dooley…”

“He’s the one I was telling you about,” Margaret said to Jessica.  “That left leaning nigger from Atlanta.”

“He’s applied for a permit to open a business downtown,” Bill said.

“In the white section, isn’t it?”

Bill nodded.

“Well, can’t you do something to stop him?” Margaret’s voice was strident.

“We’re trying,” Bill answered.  “But he seems to think the law is on his side.  He’s got some sanctimonious leftist lawyer from Tampa to represent him.  White, I might add.”

“Is he going to have white people working in the store?”

“If he is, they’re bound to be trailer trash who don’t know any better,” Bill said.  “The point is, do we want our hard-earned money lining this carpetbagger’s pockets?”

“No,” Margaret almost shouted.  She took a large gulp of her drink.  “What can be done to stop him?”

Bill smiled thinly.  In a soft voice, he said, “We’ll take care of it.”

At that moment, Jessica felt the scope of this man’s power, and smiled.

 He’s going to be mine.

            Jessica was removing her makeup in the dressing room after dinner when Joy came in.

“What do you think of Bill?” Joy asked as she leaned against the wall next to her mother.

“I don’t know.  Why?”

“Are you going to see him again?”

“Well, yes.  Didn’t you hear me make an appointment with him?  Aunt Margaret wants him to handle the divorce.”

“That’s all?” Joy asked.

Jessica shot her a look.  “What do you mean by that?”

“I don’t know. Do you think you might…date him?”

Jessica’s eyes turned hard. “I’m still married, for God’s sake,” she snapped. “Do you think I’m going to start running around with a man like some floozy? For God’s sake.” She picked up the blue-streaked tissue and continued removing her eyeshadow.


– Excerpted from The Promised Land.  All rights reserved.


Read a Chapter: Dark is the Sky by Jessica Chambers

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring Dark is the Sky by Jessica Chambers. Ordering information follows. If you would like to learn more about Jessica, visit her website at Enjoy!

Twelve years earlier, Olivia and Joel Cameron invited the family to spend the weekend at their new country home. Olivia hoped to provide them all with a much-needed escape from their anxiety over the recession crippling the nation; instead, the visit ended in tragedy when Scott, Joel’s wild and outrageously sexy youngest brother, was found dead. The repercussions tore the family apart.

Now, Olivia’s sister Violet has persuaded her to host a reunion. She claims it’s time they finally put the past behind them and laid their ghosts to rest. However, some wounds run too deep to heal, and some secrets are too destructive to remain hidden. Still grieving for the man she loved, Violet is determined to uncover the truth behind his death—a truth she believes lies within her own family.

As the web of deceit and hostility begins to unravel, family ties are tested to the limit, and no one will emerge unscathed.

Chapter 1

Olivia fought a rising hysteria. Why had she let Vi talk her into this? She took a huge slug of gin and tonic, trying to organize her thoughts. Since her sister had suggested this dratted get together in the first place, surely the least she could do was be here to lend a capable hand. But, no. She was far too busy for anything so mundane as slaving over a hot stove, and too wrapped up in being the revered barrister to spare a thought for anyone else. Olivia sighed. That was unfair, she knew. Vi always worked so hard, perhaps too hard, and it must have cost her a great deal of courage even to contemplate this reunion.

Raking a hand through her hair, lank from the steam fogging the farmhouse kitchen, she surveyed the chaos. On the table dominating the room, carrier bags spilled their contents over its scrubbed-pine surface. Dirty saucepans and crockery littered the worktops, waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher, which hadn’t yet been emptied. She still needed to liquidize the leftover Christmas turkey for soup, chop the Everest of vegetables to go with the roast lamb, and throw together a trifle and apple crumble for pudding. Olivia’s head throbbed with the enormity of her mental checklist. Even once she’d prepared dinner, there were beds to change and bathrooms to clean, not to mention the considerable task of making herself presentable. In her current state, she would send her guests screaming from the house in terror. God, she’d never be ready in time!

Olivia gulped another mouthful of gin. Normally she would have looked forward to spending a weekend catering for her family. She loved entertaining, and when Violet first suggested the gathering some months earlier, she had jumped at the idea. But that was before everything changed, before her world crumbled and left her standing alone in the ruins.

“I can’t do this,” Olivia had told her sister in a desperate phone call the previous week. “I’m going to have to cancel.”

“Why?” Violet sounded concerned. “This isn’t like you. What’s happened?”

Unable to confide the truth even to her sister for fear that her brittle self-control would shatter into a thousand pieces, Olivia could only mumble something vague about getting cold feet.

“For heaven’s sake, Liv,” Violet said. “You’re being ridiculous. It’s twelve years now since … since it happened. Do you want this big, black cloud to hang over us forever? We need to move on. I need to move on.”

Her sister’s pain was evident even through her impatience. How could Olivia refuse her? No matter that her own heart was in shreds, she had to be strong for Vi. Now she faced the elephantine task of spending an entire weekend with her family, of putting on the vivacious front they expected of her and wishing them a happy new year while keeping up the pretence that all was well. She wasn’t sure she was up to the challenge.

Swallowing the last of her drink, Olivia glanced out of the kitchen window. Snow fluttered past like confetti, draping the grounds in a fluffy eiderdown, and the laden sky promised more to come. Perhaps her family would decide the driving conditions were too treacherous and stay at home. She could hope.

“Mum!” Lottie’s voice drifted through the house. “I need you.”

“Sweetheart, I’m a bit tied up at the moment. Can you come downstairs?”

“But I’ve just got out of the shower.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. Reducing the heat on the simmering turkey carcass, she sculpted her features into the cheerful mask that had been so natural only weeks before, and hurried along the narrow passage to the hall. Lottie, her seventeen-year-old daughter, stood on the landing at the head of the stairs. Her golden-brown hair, so like Olivia’s, hung in a dripping curtain down her back and a pink towel clung to the long, slender body she’d inherited from her Aunt Vi. Olivia was always telling her how lucky she was to be so slim, but Lottie complained that she looked like a boy and hankered after her mother’s curves.

“You’re keen,” Olivia said. “No one’s due for a few hours yet.” And thank heavens for that, or her family would think they’d wandered into war-torn Kabul.

“I wanted to get in there before you and Dad hogged all the hot water.” Lottie looked away, twirling a strand of wet hair around her finger. “Mum, can I borrow your black top for tonight?”

“Black top.” Olivia searched her muddled brain. “Which black top, sweetheart?”

“You know, the tight one with the silver, glittery bits.”

“Gosh, I’d forgotten I had it. Yes, of course you can. In fact, you may as well have it. There’s not much chance of me squeezing into it again without going on a crash diet.”

“Wow, thanks.” Beaming, Lottie blew her a kiss and dashed away along the landing.

Olivia smiled. It wasn’t like her daughter to take so much trouble over her appearance. She spent most of her time in cords and baggy jumpers, either galloping around the Denninshire countryside on her beloved horse or curled up by the fire with a book. Still, it was so long since Lottie last saw her cousins and Olivia suspected she’d always been a little in awe of Emma’s beauty. It was natural Lottie should want to look her best. Not that she need worry. With her sweet, oval face, soft mouth and hazel eyes, she was far lovelier than the overconfident Emma; at least, Olivia thought so.

Halfway along the passage to the kitchen, she froze as the shrill ringing of the telephone pierced the silence. Almost at once, the sound was cut off; Joel must have picked up. Olivia’s stomach lurched. Please, not again. Heavy with dread, but unable to resist torturing herself, she crept to the half-open study door to listen. Joel sat at the desk with his back to her, body hunched around the receiver as though to conceal it from view.

“What do you take me for?” he was saying in a low voice. “Of course I haven’t … No, she doesn’t suspect a thing, I promise.”

An invisible fist squeezed Olivia’s heart; she couldn’t breathe. How much more of this could she take? Bile burned the back of her throat and Olivia swallowed it down. Don’t let me be sick, she thought. Shock and nausea drained the strength from her legs and she put out a hand to steady herself against the doorframe.

Joel glanced around and saw her. The color leached from his face, leaving it chalk-white beneath the fringe of black hair. He met her gaze, features tight, dark eyes pleading for understanding. Olivia looked back at him until the tears stung her eyelids. She wanted to scream from the rage and anguish tearing at her insides. Don’t fall apart, Liv. Not now. Turning from his guilty expression, she stumbled away.


Lottie unearthed the prized black top amongst the jumble in her mother’s wardrobe and took it back to her room, where she laid it on the bed beside her best jeans. The outfit would look great with the cowboy boots her parents gave her for Christmas. She hugged herself and waltzed around her room, letting the towel fall to the carpet. In just a few short hours, she would see Adam again. The thought spurred her heart into a canter and her skin tingled with anticipation.

Due to the rift between her dad and Uncle Tim, Lottie saw little of her cousins while growing up. What they fell out over, she didn’t know. She sensed it had something to do with Cameron’s, the family investment bank of which her dad was once a director. Years before, too far back for her to remember, he had left the business to start up on his own, producing vegetables for local restaurants, but his reasons remained a mystery.

“It all happened too long ago to concern you,” was his only reply whenever Lottie asked him about it.

Even her mum, normally so open, claimed not to know what caused the bad feeling between the brothers, although Lottie didn’t wholly believe her. Dad must have confided in her, if no one else.

Whatever the basis for the estrangement, Lottie hadn’t seen her cousins since Granddad Cameron’s funeral eight years ago. This was why, when their paths crossed by chance two months earlier, she and Adam failed to recognize one another. They met on a geography field trip to Exmoor with their respective schools, and by the time they made the connection, it was too late.

Retrieving her towel, Lottie sat on the edge of the bed to dry her hair. Would things have been different if she and Adam had known of their kinship from the outset? She didn’t think so. Surely nothing could have prevented the immediate attraction that sparked between them as they caught one another’s eye during dinner on the first night, or stopped them forging a bond that strengthened with every moment they spent together. They’d been inseparable for the entire week, talking endlessly as they studied the moor and surrounding area by day and escaped to quiet corners of the hostel in the evenings. In fact, Lottie didn’t think she’d ever talked so much. Always shy, especially with boys, she was both amazed and delighted how easy she felt with Adam.

She touched her lips, remembering the warm softness of his mouth on hers, the thrilling weight of him as they’d lain together on the narrow bunk bed in her dormitory while the other students watched a firework display outside. Her pulse sped up. Just think, a whole weekend to spend with Adam, showing him around the rambling grounds she adored, stealing kisses in the many secluded spots, and all the while keeping their relationship secret from their family. Not that they were doing anything wrong. It wasn’t illegal to fall in love with your cousin, even if your dads were twins; she’d made a point of looking it up on the Internet. Yet, Lottie suspected their parents wouldn’t be happy if they discovered what was going on. Not happy at all.


Joel opened his mouth to say something, he didn’t know what, but Olivia had already gone. Hands shaking, he returned the phone to his ear. “Look, I have to go. We’ll talk later.”

He dropped the receiver back on its cradle, cutting the female voice off mid-entreaty, and put a palm to his aching forehead. Damn and blast it. How could he have been so careless? With a sigh, Joel hauled himself out of the chair and left his study to trudge along the passage. The kitchen door was shut, but he ignored the hint, slipping into the room and closing the door behind him. At least he could shield Lottie from whatever might be said between them.

Olivia acted as though she hadn’t heard him come in. Joel watched her empty carrier bags, slamming bottles and jars into cupboards with unnecessary force; it was a miracle they didn’t smash to pieces. Her lips were compressed in a tight line, a sure indication she was fighting tears. As if he needed anything to make him feel worse.

“It’s not what you think.” The words sounded lame even to his own ears, not least because he’d repeated them so often over the past two weeks.

Clearly deeming the remark unworthy of response, Olivia carried a heap of carrots over to the worktop and began skinning them. She wielded the knife with such ferocity Joel guessed she was imagining doing the same to a certain part of his anatomy. He winced.

“Liv,” he tried again, “You’ve got it all wrong.”

“Have I?” She looked up at him, eyes flashing like jade in her flushed face. “So who were you speaking to just now?”

Joel dropped his gaze. “No one important. Just … just someone about work.”

“Silly me, I should have realized. So what did the restaurant order that’s so top secret you can’t tell me about it?” She flung his own words back at him. “’She doesn’t suspect a thing, I promise.’ What’re you up to, Joel? Slipping cannabis in the veg boxes? Give me a break.”

“I know it sounds unlikely—”

“An out and out bloody lie, you mean.”

“All right,” Joel said, “so it wasn’t a client, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m guilty of what you think.”

“And what do I think?” Olivia’s sneer clashed with her soft features. “Or are you so eaten up with guilt you can’t even bring yourself to put it into words?”

“No. I’m just not willing to give your accusation any credence by naming it.”

“Don’t you patronize me! I suppose you’re going to tell me next I’ve imagined the whole thing: the way you put the phone down whenever I come into the room, your mood swings, the endless dropped phone calls.”

“Like I said, those were probably just wrong numbers.”

“Funny how it only happens when I answer the phone.” Olivia thrust the knife towards him, and for an instant Joel feared she would run him through the heart. “No, the only thing wrong with those phone calls was that the woman on the other end got me instead of you. What I don’t understand is how you expected to keep something like this from me. I thought you knew me better than that.”

“Yeah?” Joel’s temper rose. “Well, that makes two of us. I never believed you’d be so quick to jump to conclusions. Why can’t you just trust me?”

“Trust you? After the way you’ve been sneaking about lately? That’s hardly the behavior of an innocent man, Joel.” Still holding the knife, Olivia crossed her arms over her chest and drew a shuddering breath. “Okay, if you’re really not having an affair, what is it?”

He flinched from the plea in her expression, the faint glimmer of hope. “I can’t tell you.”

There was a long silence.

“No,” Olivia said, voice catching, “I didn’t think so.”

He raised his head to see her eyes brimming with tears.

“Liv.” He started forward, wanting to put his arms around her, to tell her everything was all right. But it wasn’t all right, and they both knew it.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed. Shoving him aside, she threw open the kitchen door and stormed out.

Joel fought the urge to charge after her; what would be the point? He was the last person Liv wanted around right now, and who could blame her? Hell, what a God-awful mess. As if his marriage heading for the rocks wasn’t bad enough, he now had to contend with a whole weekend playing gracious host to his family. Compared with that, the prospect of his enraged wife knifing him in the chest was almost appealing.


Olivia resisted the temptation to slam her bedroom door; she didn’t want Lottie to know anything was wrong. Once alone, she flung herself on the bed and sobbed into the pillow. How could Joel do this? Did eighteen years of marriage mean so little to him that he could risk it all for the sake of a cheap thrill? As well as the good times they’d shared, they had been through so much together, helping one another come to terms with the horror of that long-ago summer and struggling to get by financially when Joel left the family business. Yet he had tossed it aside as though it held no more value than the weeds he extracted from his vegetable patch.

If someone had asked her a few weeks before to name her most painful experience, Olivia would not have hesitated to say childbirth. However, labor paled to a mere twinge in her memory beside the anguish of first overhearing Joel on the phone to his—she could scarcely bring herself even to think the word—mistress. Excruciating though giving birth had been, the memory faded the instant she held Lottie in her arms and gazed in wonder at the perfect life they’d created. She doubted the pain of Joel’s betrayal would diminish for as long as she lived.

Gripped by a sadistic desire to torment herself, just as she would prod a bruise as a child to test how much it hurt, Olivia recalled her first encounter with Joel. She met him during the second of her wild student years. True to form, that Saturday night found her in a London nightclub, wearing out her ridiculously high heels on the dance floor and pouncing on every good-looking young man unfortunate enough to catch her eye. She spotted the Cameron brothers several hours into her alcoholic marathon and discovered afterwards that they’d been out for dinner first to celebrate Scott’s eighteenth birthday. Struck by the possibilities posed by four such handsome specimens, she reeled over to their table.

“So, which of you sexy beasts can I tempt to a dance?” she slurred, or so the brothers claimed. Olivia had been too paralytic to remember, and to this day suspected they were having her on.

“Not sure that’s such a good idea,” Joel said, reaching out to steady her as she swayed. “Perhaps you should sit down.”

“Sit down? I’ve hardly started.” To endorse her words, Olivia seized his hands to drag him to his feet, and fell flat on her back in a drunken stupor.

The next thing she knew, she awoke in a strange bed to find a handsome young man watching her with serious dark eyes. Joel later explained how he’d left his brothers at the club and ordered a taxi to take her back to his flat. Olivia supposed she should have been alarmed, all alone at the mercy of a stranger, but it was impossible to doubt his kindness. He cooked her an enormous fry-up, which she ate with enthusiasm at the kitchen table. Afterwards, they sat on his balcony in the autumn sunshine, getting to know one another over endless mugs of coffee. When Olivia arrived home later that afternoon, she had a glow on her cheeks and an invitation to dinner the following evening.

Their relationship blossomed despite the differences in their personalities, or perhaps because of them. Joel proved a steadying influence on Olivia, while she taught him to laugh at himself. In addition, they shared the bond of losing their mothers at a young age and being brought up by career-obsessed fathers. Less than twelve months after passing out at his feet, Olivia discovered herself pregnant and Joel proposed. With absolutely no regret on her part, and earning her father’s unerring disapproval, she abandoned her English Lit degree at the start of her third year. Lottie was born the following June and Olivia had never looked back. Until now.

She clenched her fists against the rending pain in her gut. Frequently over the years she had sent up prayers of thanks for her good fortune in finding a man like Joel, pitying the couples she knew who were not so blessed. She’d believed her marriage was solid, that it really was till death do us part. What a fool she had been, and how smug.

Shoving the memories aside, Olivia wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her jumper and sat up. Pull yourself together, she scolded. Your world might be in pieces, but there’s no sense crying about it when you have a million things to do. Taking deep breaths to calm her sobs, she went to stand by the bedroom window and rested her hot face against the glass. The snow swirling past her in thickening flakes gave the illusion of peering into a snow globe. It transformed the grounds into a picture from a Christmas card, hiding the tired grass under a white carpet and dressing the bare trees in glittering cloaks. Joel’s greenhouse and the stables where Lottie had so often re-enacted the nativity as a child looked like enormous iced Christmas cakes.

The beauty of the scene cut through Olivia like the wind howling down the chimney. She couldn’t tear her eyes away. The idea of leaving this place, of selling up and splitting the proceeds, was almost as devastating as losing Joel. Not that it didn’t harbor its fair share of ghosts. In those terrible days following the tragedy, they’d seriously considered moving away to escape the constant reminders. However, to the incredulity of their families, Olivia and Joel’s love for the old farmhouse remained intact. This was their forever home, the place where they envisioned spending the rest of their lives. They couldn’t bear to leave it. Gradually, the happy memories overshadowed the bad and, though they never forgot what happened, they somehow learned to live with it.

Locking her emotions away in the secret compartment of her heart, Olivia turned from the window and glanced at her watch. Heavens, she needed to get on! Her guests would arrive in just over two hours, expecting to be fed, entertained and made welcome. More importantly, they needed the chance to put the past behind them at last, Violet most of all. For this one weekend, she must set her own troubles aside and channel all her efforts into ensuring the visit went smoothly. Only once it was over would she allow herself to confront her uncertain future.

– Book excerpt from Dark is the Sky. Purchase your copy at Amazon for only $16.95 by clicking here!

Read a Chapter: Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss by Nicolette Dumke

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss by Nicolette Dumke. Ordering information follows. Enjoy!

Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss answers the question, “Why is it so hard to lose weight?” Because it’s hard to put a puzzle together if you’re missing some of the pieces. We’ve been missing or ignoring the most important pieces in the puzzle of how our bodies determine whether to store or burn fat. Those puzzle pieces are hormones such as insulin, cortisol, leptin, and others. In addition, we’ve been given some puzzle pieces that don’t belong or fit in the weight-control puzzle. Much of what we’ve heard about dieting and exercise is incorrect and can cause loss of muscle mass instead of fat or even result in weight gain. The idea that weight is determined solely by “calories in minus calories out” is an assumption not based in reality. Most weight-loss diets require us to endure hunger much of the time, but hunger means that our blood sugar is falling or low and our insulin level may be rising. Prolonged hunger leads to the release of adrenal hormones, and the hormonal cascade which follows results in the inability to burn our own body fat as well as causing any fat we eat to be stored rather than burned to give us energy. Another problem with most weight loss diets is that they strictly dictate food choices, lack the flexibility that those on special diets for food allergies or gluten-intolerance require, and deprive us of pleasure. Individuals with food allergies face additional weight-loss challenges such as inflammation due to allergies which can lead to our master weight control hormone, leptin, being unable to do its job of maintaining a healthy weight. Those with gluten intolerance often eat a diet too high rice. Rice is the only grain which is high on the glycemic index in its whole grain form; thus eating too much of it will raise insulin levels and cause the body to deposit fat. Although the recipes in this book were developed for those on special diets, non-sensitive people will enjoy them as well, and the weight loss principles in this book will help anyone lose weight. (A chapter of recipes made with wheat and other problematic foods is included for those on unrestricted diets). The most frustrating deficiency of conventional weight loss diets is that they don’t work long-term. Low-calorie, low-fat diets can lead to loss of muscle mass, and with less muscle to burn calories, this type of diet effectively reduces metabolic rate so we need less food. Rare is the person who loses weight by counting calories and keeps it off after they liberalize their diet! However, continual dieting for the rest of your life is not the way you need to live, and you do not have to be deprived of pleasure in order to lose weight. Overweight is not due to a lack of willpower. Rather, it is due to a chemical imbalance in our bodies. Once we begin to correct that imbalance by applying the principles in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss, we can lose weight without hunger or deprivation and can maintain a healthy weight permanently and easily by regaining normal self-regulating hormonal control of our weight.


@ Nicolette Dumke All Rights Reserved

My grandmother could have used this book. Grandma Jiannetti, who died when I was six months old, was described to me as five-by-five – five feet tall and five feet wide. (Judging from the pictures, such as the one below of her with my dad, maybe her width was exaggerated). When my parents traveled to Italy for the first time when I was 14, they met her brother, Pietro Savioli, who was six-by-three, literally. Grandma, her brother, and several members of my paternal extended family had and have what family members call “the Savioli body type.”

My mother used to say, “Grandma was big, but my, how she could move.” Then she would describe the sound of her rapid footsteps and how quickly she covered ground when she walked. My father told stories about how she could hoe a row of vegetables with lightning speed. He described her bending straight from the waist to wrap and tie bunches of the Paschal celery which was the family’s cash crop. She could wrap several bunches in the time it took him to do one as he worked with her when he was in his teens.

Not only did Grandma work hard on the family farm, she did everything else vigorously because of her personality and perhaps also because she had so much to do. My father was born later in her life. His sister, Louise, was fifteen, and because Grandma needed to get back to the fields to work, my aunt left school after the eighth grade to take care of my father. Although my aunt was a very intelligent woman and wanted to attend high school, she never seemed to regret having given up her personal opportunities to help raise my father.

I remember hearing a conversation between my mother and Aunt Louise when I was young. My mother said that Grandma was stubborn. My aunt said, “No, she just had determination.” Determination, along with a dedication to hard work, is very much a part of the Savioli personality. Grandma, in her “determination,” didn’t let anyone push her around. When a salesman came to the house, she would open the door, say, “No speak-a the English,” and slam the door in his face. She was an independent thinker, and some things just had to be done her way.

However, the most significant characteristic of the Savioli personality was and is a passionate love for family. When my father’s family moved from the coal mining country of southern Colorado to the Denver area to farm, Grandma insisted that they live near a school so her children could receive a good education. They bought a parcel of land with a hundred-year-old farm house just three blocks from a good primary school.

When I was born, Grandma was dying of cancer. In those days, it was thought that if a person were told that she had a terminal illness, she would give up and die quickly. Thus, nobody told her what she had. My mother said that Grandma’s greatest joy would have been to hold me, her newborn granddaughter, in her arms. Unfortunately, she never held me because she was afraid that she would give me her illness. Instead she sat by my cradle and rocked me while singing to me in Italian.

When my father was dying of cancer many years later, he became anemic and the doctors suggested that blood transfusions would give him more energy. I told him that I wanted to donate blood as a way of giving back just a little to him for his lifetime of love and hard work for me. He told me that he had said the same thing to his mother years before, and she told him to pass the love on to his children instead. My dad said that he wouldn’t take blood from me because I needed my strength to keep up with my two young boys. (My younger son, John, was a very frisky two-year-old at the time). He told me that the best way I could thank him would be to pass on the legacy of love to his two beloved grandsons.

This book is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother and father, two of the originators of the legacy of love, to my husband and sons who love me now as I love them, and to all readers of this book who have the Savioli body type. To you I say – you are important. You were put here for a reason and a purpose. There are people who need you, and/or there will be those who need you in the future. When you find it difficult to take charge of your health for your own sake, let your love for those who need you be your motivation. If you are an independent thinker with the Savioli “determination” as well as the body type, rest assured that this book will not dictate to you. It is designed to be flexible and therefore practical for those on special diets, and this flexibility allows you to personalize it to insure enjoyment of your food as well. You can use it to do things your way as you lose weight and improve your health.

– Book excerpt from Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss. Purchase your copy at Amazon for only $23.95 by clicking here!

Read a Chapter: Concrete Pearl by Vincent Zandri

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring Concrete Pearl by Vincent Zandri. Ordering information follows. Enjoy!

Ava “Spike” Harrison might be a beautiful, classically schooled woman, but the single, 38 year old construction business owner is also plenty ballsy. Her late father taught her long ago how to handle the rough boys in an industry that’s almost entirely filled with hard-boiled men on the make. But now, with “the business dad built” from the ground up failing due to an unusual series of job-site injuries and just plain bad luck, Spike has no choice but to take on one last project she believes can pull the fledgling commercial firm from the depths of almost certain bankruptcy and family shame: The Renovation of Albany PS 20.

Problem is, Spike had no choice but to take the job on the cheap or, what’s known in the industry as, “at cost.” To make matters worse, she’s not only hired an asbestos removal contractor who, unbeknownst to her, low-balled his price, but she’s advanced him $10Gs from her own dwindling cash account as a “good faith” incentive to beat the project deadline.

Now, when that same asbestos contractor goes missing and it’s discovered by OSHA officials that he’s cheated on the project exposing more than 300 students to deadly asbestos fibers for months, the ever responsible Spike takes matters into her own callused hands and goes in search of him. What she discovers along the way however, is a path paved with deception, greed, murder, and eventually, her own ultimate demise.

Chapter 1

How does a headstrong girl like me learn to survive in a man’s construction racket? You learn to survive by taking your old man’s advice, even if it does come to you from six feet under.

After all these years I can still hear the proud baritone pouring out the mouth of the late great John Harrison. He used to say that a building erected by the Harrison Construction Company wasn’t meant to last for two or even three hundred years. Like the great Egyptian pyramids, it was meant to last forever.

I can see the short but sturdy man standing on the edge of a high-rise jobsite, concrete foundations already poured and cured, structural steel newly erected, a big American flag perched high above us off the top most section of rust-colored I-beam.

“You want a tower to last, A.J.?” he’d say, taking my small hand in his, callused fingers squeezing me tight. “You don’t skimp for nobody…You build it right the first time. No matter the cost.”

But I guess even he had to admit that there were those times when a perfectly executed construct might begin to fall apart for no apparent reason. Nothing apparent to the naked eye anyway. Maybe a tack-welded roof joist works itself loose. Or maybe a crack forms in a concrete foundation and over time expands its way up the length of a twenty-story bearing wall. In both cases the destruction is so slow and subtle you might not take notice until it’s too late.

Life is like that too.

Destruction isn’t always something that hits you over the head like a claw hammer. Instead it’s something that’s been building up for a long time, more like the rain that seeps into a brick wall and freezes during the winter months. The ice expands, cracks and eventually destroys the mortar.

Case and point: my own personal Jericho came crashing down on me on Monday, June 15th, barely a half hour into a hot and humid workday. Call it woman’s intuition or a sharply honed, built-in crap detector, but I knew something wasn’t right from the moment my Blackberry started vibrating against my hip.

I’d been trying to expedite the demolition of the Albany Public School 20 basement utility room, using my equalizer (an old 22 ounce grizzly bear-clawed framing hammer) to rip down the old plywood utility panel backer-board. But even with those four inch claws wedged in between the old, dry plywood and the brick wall, the bitch just wouldn’t budge. Which might explain why I barked into my Blackberry instead of answering it with good old, lady-like professionalism.


“Yeah and good morning to you too, chief,” said my assistant and former Harrison mason laborer, Tommy Moleski. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve got a bit of an emergency up here. One which requires your ah…utmost undivided attention.”

I pictured the sixty-something, blond-haired, blue-eyed Vietnam vet with the trailer phone pressed to his ear, a lit Marlboro Red balanced precariously between his lips.

“A drop everything kind of emergency, Tommy?” I said. “Or an it-can-wait-until- coffee-break emergency?”

“Need you front-and-freaking-center-now emergency, chief.”

“Meet you in the trailer…and don’t call me, chief.”

Pocketing the Blackberry, I grumbled something about how much Monday mornings sucked, even when you got to be your own boss. Then I grabbed hold of the equalizer’s rubber grip and pulled like nobody’s business.

The old board tore away from the wall and crashed down at my Durango cowboy-booted feet. But then so did half the plaster ceiling. Guess this old broad didn’t know her own strength after all.

Leaving the mess for later, I high-tailed it out of the room and up the concrete stairs. As usual, I had a fire to put out.

– Book excerpt from Concrete Pearl. Purchase your copy at Amazon for only 99 cents by clicking here!

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