Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Fortitude Part 49

This week is a real doozy!! This week's prompt inspiration was: Use a song title. I chose "Deep in the Jungle". Enjoy!!

Part 49

Wildman set a brutal pace. For such a small, wiry guy, he could really move. I couldn’t go on much longer, and we were already deep in the jungle. “Can we take a break?” I gasped. I stumbled into a tree and stopped, my shoulder throbbing. Without its support, I probably would’ve dropped to my knees.

“We’re exhausted.” Teddy hadn't said anything, but his feet had started dragging, leaving furrows in the thick loam. I hitched him closer to my side; my muscles burned, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off.

“Not there.”

I rested my forehead against the tree. “Why not here? How much farther?”

“Spider.” He smacked the top of my head.

“What?” I reeled back, and tripped over a root. Teddy and I feel in a heap and I stared in shock at the fuzzy form on the ground that was bigger than my head. The legs spasmed, then drew in. “Oh my god.”

“More.” Wildman pointed up. “Babies.”

Disgusting. I shuddered. The branches in the tree above us were alive with scuttling bodies as big as my hand. A few dangled on strands of webbing, lowering down.

I found the energy to get me and Teddy up off the ground and away from that tree.

When we stopped, I made sure I looked all around the small clearing Wildman picked out, checking the ground, the trees, and even throwing a rock into a thick patch of bushes. The sun was fully up, and it was sweltering, even in the dim shade.

“Safe.” Wildman just dropped to the ground and curled up, his head in the dirt. His eyes were closed already.

I swept the ground of the larger rocks and tried to make Teddy comfortable on the ground. I arranged his head on his pack, then curled up against his back. “It’ll be okay, Teddy. I’m going to take care of you.” I twined our fingers together and held him close.

It had only been a few hours, but his silence disturbed me. It felt different from his usual fugues. Usually, even though his mind was working on a different wavelength than the rest of us, he’d still been… present. This wasn’t the same.

More than anything else, I needed my Teddy back.

The ground vibrated by my head, and I opened my eyes. Directly in front of me were a pair of boots. A cold blade touched my throat, resting against my Adam’s apple.

“Did you really think you could get away from me, from the king’s justice, after what you did?” Sir Varket sneered. His clothes and hair were disheveled, but he stood behind the guards as if he were in the midst of court, a peacock on display with his loud voice and dramatic gestures.

I didn’t say anything; even swallowing was likely to get my throat cut.

“Get them up.”

Two guards grabbed me by the arms and yanked me to my feet. I stood rigid between them, shaking with fear and anger. Varket moved closer, stepping up to Teddy who hung limp between the guards holding on to him.  “You two have made a lot of powerful people really angry.” He trailed a finger across Teddy’s cheek. “Overloaded him, did you? How sweet of you to get him ready for me; I do so enjoy them when they’re in this state… until they come to.”

How could I have believed Wildman this would be safe? We might not have been attacked by animals, but I should’ve known Varket would follow us, even outside the city.

Wait. Two? I tried not to move my head; I didn’t want to be obvious, but when I scanned the clearing, I didn’t see Wildman at all.

Varket turned toward me. “You’re still alive. I’m shocked, after how much power you threw into Schvesla’s machine through your friend. You two are very special. Maybe even special enough to fix the machine.”

“Never.” I finally found my voice, and it didn’t waver. “We’ll die first.”

Smirking, he patted my cheek. “You’ll wish you could, but the king doesn’t believe in beheading traitors any longer. He’s decided to grant you two leniency… a lifetime in the cells with daily visits from his special advisors. One way or the other, you’ll learn your place and do as you’re told.”

I lunged forward, but the guards held my arms too tight. I fought them, but it was no use. They bound my arms behind my back and attached a rope around my neck that was also attached to Teddy’s. If I fought, they let him go, choking us both.

We marched through the jungle, back toward the city. Even if I could use my ability, the guards kept their distance from me, as if I could still supplant their will with mine. That gave me hope that my power would come back and Teddy really would be okay eventually, but that only led to more despair.

How would they use me, use us, once that happened? We were doomed, unless Wildman found a way to help us, but he was one scrawny boy against eight guards. No matter how ferociously he fought, he could not overpower them all, and Teddy and I were less than useless.

The trees were thin enough here to see the sky as the light began to fade. We hadn’t yet reached the city walls, which meant we’d walked a lot farther than I thought before we collapsed from exhaustion earlier in the day. I looked up at the sky, wondering when those giant birds would appear.

The king might not kill us, but if Varket didn’t make camp, it would happen anyway. We were making so much noise, he hadn’t even noticed the way the jungle went still around us, but I did. I didn’t want to die, but I knew they’d make us suffer in unspeakable ways. Teddy would have agreed with me.

I didn’t warn Varket or the guards.  

Now on to more flash!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hostage by Cheryl Headford: Exclusive Excerpt and a Contest!

Today I'm proud to bring you an exclusive except in this feature for a story I've read and enjoyed, Hostage by Cheryl Headford. Just released with Harmony Ink Press, don't miss out on your chance to win either a signed print or eBook copy!!

Title: Hostage

Author: Cheryl Headford

Publisher: Harmony Ink Press

Cover Artist: Garrett Leigh

Length: 328 Pages

Release Date: September 17, 2015

Blurb: Astrin Raphael wakes up in a strange place, frightened and confused. He is told to trust someone who seems to hate him, and he tries—he really tries. However, things change rapidly when he discovers his friend is actually his archenemy, Rowan Gabriel, whose abusive behavior stems from a deeply ingrained, if unwarranted, hatred over something that happened many years before, and simply wasn’t Astrin’s fault.

When Rowan's uncle and Astrin's father are kidnapped by Strebo Michael, the two crown princes are catapulted into an adventure that forces them to work together, and along the way their feelings for each other grow. Rowan is quick to let his hate go, but Astrin can’t release his inhibitions. It takes Astrin almost dying from a poisoned dagger before he finally accepts Rowan's love.

When they return home, their problems continue as their Houses try to negotiate a way for the young men to be together. It soon becomes clear at least one of them will need to relinquish his throne.


“Perhaps I can help you boys, as you seem to be new to the city.”

They looked up at the familiar voice and were surprised to see the woman from the train. She was accompanied by a young man, who looked to be around Rowan’s age or a little older. He scowled at them.

“Are you following us?” Astrin asked.

The woman laughed. “Hardly, I’ve been at my sister’s.” She beamed at Rowan. “Remember? I told you all about her.”

Rowan gave a polite nod, wracking his brain for the aimless chatter he’d failed to listen to. “My nephew and I were about to meet some friends for dinner. Would you like to join us?”

“Aunt Neive, are you sure that’s wise? We don’t need trouble now.”

“These boys aren’t trouble, dear. They’re mercenaries, and they might be able to help us. Mercenaries owe their allegiance to whoever pays their fees, isn’t that right?” Her voice and eyes hardened and bored into Rowan with a ferocity that made him shiver.

“Of course,” Astrin answered for him. “If the price is right. What do you have in mind?”

“Aunt Neive,” the young man said nervously. “We don’t have the money to pay for mercenaries.”

“I think we can come to some arrangement, can’t we, boys?”

“We’re always ready to discuss terms.” Again it was Astrin who responded. Rowan was still locked in a gaze with Neive. She leaned forward and whispered something in his ear.

Rowan stiffened and jerked.


“Sh, I’m not blind, boy, and I’m not stupid. I watch television, and unlike the other fools that surround us, I can see what is there—not what I expect to be there or am led to believe is there.” She glanced at Astrin. “I can help you, and I will keep your secret, if you will keep mine.”

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

“What secret might that be?” Rowan managed to say calmly, although he was sure his eyes must betray his inner turmoil.

“Shall we just say we are alike in our desire to see justice done?”

Rowan glanced at Astrin, who was frowning, looking ill at ease and very worried. Then he took a deep breath and nodded. “All right. We’ll come with you and talk, but if you try anything….”

“I mean you no harm, my dear. All I ask is that you come with us and listen to what we have to say. If you then feel you cannot profit from our association, you can walk away and, as long as you give your oath not to interfere with our purpose, we will not interfere with yours.”


Neive smiled and nodded, then began to walk away. Rowan rose to follow, but Astrin put a hand on his arm.

“What was that all about?”

“She knows who we are!”

“What? What did she say to you?”

“She used my name.”

“We can’t go with her.”

“We have to. I have a feeling our meeting was not by chance. I think she might have something to do with the demonstration tomorrow. This meeting is about that, I think.”

“Are you sure?”

“Not even remotely, but I have a feeling.”

“Good enough for me. I haven’t got a better idea. Keep alert.”


They followed Neive and her scowling nephew, if that was who he really was, through the city to a small bar near the main thoroughfare. After entering the establishment, instead of heading into the main bar area, Neive led them up a set of narrow stairs onto a landing. Faced with a door, she knocked a complicated series of taps and slaps; then the door was opened by a pale man with a harassed expression on his face.

Seeing Astrin and Rowan, his eyes widened. He dragged Neive inside and shut the door in their faces. Shocked, they remained frozen where they were, uncomfortably trying to ignore the scowling boy who stood in front of the door with his arms crossed.

After a time the door opened and Neive gestured them inside.

There were about thirty people crammed into a room that was barely big enough to hold them all. They were sitting on benches, chairs, and tables, ranging in age from teens to the grizzled old men who huddled in a corner, smoking strong-smelling vanilla tobacco from long, cherrywood pipes. It scented the room and created a haze that made the whole scene somewhat surreal. What they all had in common was that look—the nervous, haunted look of the underground revolutionary.

Cheryl Headford was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales Valleys. Until she was sixteen, the toilet was at the bottom of the garden and the bath hung on the wall. Her refrigerator was a stone slab in the pantry, and there was a black lead fireplace in the kitchen. They look lovely in a museum but aren’t so much fun to clean.

Cheryl has always been a storyteller. As a child, she’d make up stories for her nieces, nephews, and cousin, and they’d explore the imaginary worlds she created, in play.

Later in life, Cheryl became the storyteller for a reenactment group who traveled widely, giving a taste of life in the Iron Age. As well as having an opportunity to run around hitting people with a sword, she had an opportunity to tell stories of all kinds, sometimes of her own making, to all kinds of people. The criticism was sometimes harsh, especially from the children, but the reward enormous.

It was there she began to appreciate the power of stories and the primal need to hear them. In ancient times, the wandering bard was the only source of news and the storyteller the heart of the village, keeping the lore and the magic alive. Although much of the magic has been lost, the stories still provide a link to the part of us that wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere.

In present times, Cheryl lives in a terraced house in the Valleys with her son, dog, hamster, and two cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. She’s never been happier since she was made redundant and is able to devote herself entirely to her twin loves of writing and art.

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Winner’s Prize: Signed Paperback of Hostage.
Runners Up Prize: 2 E-copies of Hostage.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

eBook Review: I am Hope by Evelyn Shepherd (Plus a Contest)


So I jumped on the chance to get I am Hope by Evelyn Shepherd because I'd already bought the first and second books and enjoyed them. That makes it an easy choice... but not an easy read!

It's like this: You're in a car--heavily fortified cause the world has gone to hell after all--and it's all zombie like infected on the right and we'll just keep driving. Then there's mutated on the left and it's about getting the hell outta there fast. That's book 1 and 2 of the Meteora trilogy.

Book 3 is all about the vultures appearing right in front of you and sending you on a squealing-up-on-two-tires right hand turn straight into a brick wall!BOOM *glass breaking, metal tearing destruction* It felt like I was launched into the one obstacle that could become too high to overcome, cause there are some serious twists in this book that I hadn't predicted because I'd been far too busy trying to hold it together like Jesse, Sawyer, and Topher as they tried to do their damndest to survive, and maybe keep their friends intact too. But it's a hard world out there, and it's getting harder every day. If the mindless, the monstrous, and the murderous aren't out to get you, the holy rollers just might. Or the cannibals.

Hope is the only thing that keeps them going, but there's no way to know if their salvation is all it's cracked up to be... if it exists.

Once again I was pulled into the story and taken on adventure with the characters in a world that's just gritty enough to feel real, but not so horrific that I lose all stomach to endure along with the guys and their friends. Their choices are limited, and the guys face down the barrel of fate more than once with nothing more than hope and a dogged determination not to give up.

If you haven't read any of this trilogy yet, you need to pick them all up and start reading right now!


ES_IAmHope Title: I Am Hope 

Series: The Meteora Trilogy 

Author: Evelyn Shepherd 

Publisher: Loose Id Publication 

Cover Artist: Valerie Tibbs 

Length: 70,000 words 

Release Date: September 8, 2015 

Blurb: The undead were only the beginning. 

Topher, Jesse, and Sawyer thought their greatest threat were the Infected and Mutated that roam the world. As they struggle to reach the camp in Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, they soon discover that the monstrous mutations of the undead are the least of their problems. Something else, something far more intelligent and lethal, is hunting them. 

Topher knows that the only way humanity will survive is to find a cure for the strange infection that’s ravaged the world. He’s on the brink of discovering it; but the further his research goes, the more he realizes that curing the world of the infection may mean losing Sawyer.

The three will fight to stay together, and Topher will have to make the ultimate choice: cure the world or save his lover?

A scream broke through my dream. I groggily rolled over and burrowed into Sawyer’s chest. He mumbled something against the top of my head. Sleep lapped at my mind, holding me down. I dreamed of pleasant emptiness; I was in a void, where my brain could shut down. Warmth surrounded me, lulling me into a deeper slumber. 

Another scream, louder. I opened my eyes, staring at Sawyer’s chest. Why was there screaming? Something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong. 

“Jesse!” Chloe banged on the bifold bedroom door. “Get out here!” 

Jesse jolted out of bed. He grabbed his pants and hastily pulled them on. As he jammed his feet into his boots, he ordered, “Get dressed.” 

“What’s going on?” Sawyer asked. He climbed over the bed and found his own clothes. 

I knuckled the sleep from my eyes and hurriedly dressed. Jesse was out the door by the time I pulled my shirt on. I followed him into the main compartment, Sawyer behind me. Rio sat on the couch next to Jaden, who was curled up with his blanket. On the table was a camping lamp, which filled the RV with yellow light. 

“What’s going on?” I asked, straightening my shirt.

“Something is going down with Jane,” Rio said. “I heard it out in the truck.”



Evelyn Shepherd lives in Columbus, Ohio with two fat cats. Her time is split between writing and running a book/writing blog. She’s the author of the Theo Bourne Series, the best-selling Last Canticle, and the award-winning Meteora Trilogy.


Winner’s Prize: Complete Set of The Meteora Trilogy books


September 14: Queer Sci-Fi 

September 15: Sue Brown 

September 17: Hearts on Fire 

September 18: Diverse Reader 

September 21: Joyfully Jay 

September 22: Love Bytes Reviews 

September 23: Divine Magazine 

September 24: Cia’s Stories 

September 25: Tempeste O’Riley 

September 28: Sid Love Writes 

September 29: Prism Book Alliance

September 30: Bayou Book Junkie

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Fortitude Part 48

Back again! This week's update is inspired by the prompt, "Let it bleed." 

Part 48

Nothing was ever simple. We got out of my house—I didn’t even feel the need to look back. My family could reap what they’d sowed if the king came after them. I felt no sympathy for people who could sell their own son.
But we’d only gone a few streets before guards began stomping down the main thoroughfare. I pulled Teddy with me into an alley as six passed us, their boots thudding against the cobbles. When it fell quiet, I slowly peeked my head around the corner of the building.
They’d left a guard at the four-way guidepost. There was no way we could pass him without being questioned. We’d have to try and make our way out of the city via the warren of alleys. Wildman would’ve really come in handy; he seemed to have an innate sense of direction, but there was no way I could risk taking Teddy near the theater. It was too close to the palace, and even making our way to the city edges was fraught with danger. Luckily the nails on the guards’ boots made their steps echoingly loud in the quiet city not yet woken for the day.
We weren’t just trying to escape the guards, we were racing the dawn. I’d slid a lightened pack on Teddy’s shoulders, careful with his injured one, but mine was even more heavily laden to compensate, plus he still needed my support and guidance. The added distance and time we spent avoiding the guards was wearing on me.
Exhaustion led to haste when we finally neared the entrance to the tunnel that would let us out of this crazy city. I took one step out of the alley, nearly to the edge of the pool of light emitted by the sign post, but then Teddy’s boot snagged on something. I stumbled sideways into the building, unable to catch myself before I scraped my cheek on the rough stone.  
The sudden flare of the light reflecting off a blade kept me frozen against the building.
I eased backward and slumped against the wall, panting as my heart raced. I looked into Teddy’s eyes. Had he stopped me on purpose? Was he still in there? I couldn’t really tell. My face was burning, and warmth was dripping down the site. I’d have to let it bleed, though, because the sun was nearing the top of the wall, and we’d lose the wells of shadow keeping us safe.
Had he heard us? I grabbed Teddy and started backtracking. I paused once, when I thought I heard footsteps, but there was nothing. It took six alleys to get around that one square, but we were finally at the entrance to the tunnel. I’d hoped to find Wildman here, but he was nowhere in sight.
We couldn’t wait for him in the city, and I was reaching the end of my endurance. Worse, since the machine drained me, I could barely make the lantern I’d packed flicker bright enough to keep from stumbling over rocks or into holes.
We’d only made it about a quarter of the way into the more natural rocky tunnel when my strength gave out. My right leg buckled under Teddy’s weight, and we went down. I lost my wind when I landed on a smooth rock, bruising my ribs. I gasped for air, shuddering.
I groped in the darkness for Teddy, and he was still beside me, on his stomach. The lantern went out the second I dropped it, so I was forced to crawl in a circle until I felt the cool metal of the base under my hands.
My head was bloody, my ribs ached, Teddy had a gash on one hand that I bound with a handkerchief and bruises probably littered his body under his skin. Worse, not even the fall had brought him back to me.
I had never felt more alone.
My grunts was muffled by the stone all around us as I maneuvered Teddy against the rock wall and then snuggled against him. I just needed a short rest.

A sound brought me upright. Teddy slumped into my lap, and I held my hand up, blocking the blinding light. My eyes burned, and I blinked rapidly to clear them. “Who’s there?”
“Bad sleep. Go now.”
I blinked, wiping the tears. “Wildman? Is that you?”
“Not me sleeping.”
The shock of going from asleep in the dark to the bright light finally eased, and I could make him out, holding the lantern. I ran my hand over Teddy’s head, smoothing back his hair and checking his face. His eyes were open.
“Teddy? You awake?” He blinked, but didn’t reply. What had I done to him? I cursed myself viciously. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” I would find a way to bring him back from whatever had happened to his mind.
“Go now. Bad men follow. They die in jungle.”
Damn. “Thank you for helping us, Wildman.”
He shrugged. “Leaving now.” He turned.
“Wait! Help me get Teddy up. You’re taking us with you, right?” I’d find a way to make it out there on our own, but our odds of surviving went up significantly if Wildman would let us stay with him.
He shrugged, but he put one arm under Teddy’s shoulder. I expected to have to take more of the weight, but once again Wildman surprised me with his strength, heaving Teddy up before I even got to my feet.
Our pursuers weren’t that close behind if Wildman kept the light going that bright… and didn’t that just answer and raise even more questions about him. He had to be a Beta to have that much power, and he knew about the machine. Had they drained him like they had the twins? Had he escaped before it drained him fully?
Or did his power come back? I desperately latched on to the hope it was the last one. 
Now on to other flashers!