#BookTour “Exit Strategy” by Linda L. Richards

Exit Strategy by Linda L Richards BannerMay 16 – June 10, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

book cover

Synopsis:

 

A shattered life. A killer for hire. Can she stop?

Her assignments were always to kill someone. That’s what a hitman—or hitwoman—is paid to do, and that is what she does. Then comes a surprise assignment—keep someone alive!

She is hired to protect Virginia Martin, the stunning and brilliant chief technology officer of a hot startup with an innovation that will change the world. This new job catches her at a time in her life when she’s hanging on by a thread. Despair and hopelessness—now more intense than she’d felt after the tragic loss of her family—led her to abruptly launch this career. But over time, the life of a hired killer is decimating her spirit and she keeps thinking of ending her life.

She’s confused about the “why” of her new assignment but she addresses her mission as she always does, with skill and stealth, determined to keep this young CTO alive in the midst of the twinned worlds of innovation and high finance.

Some people have to die as she discharges her responsibly to protect this superstar woman amid the crumbling worlds of money and future technical wonders.

The spirit of an assassin—and her nameless dog—permeates this struggle to help a young woman as powerful forces build to deny her.

Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dexter will love Exit Strategy.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Oceanview Publishing

Publication Date: May 17th 2022

Number of Pages: 320

ISBN: 1608094227 (ISBN13: 9781608094226)

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Today

He proves to be a genial companion. I’d never doubted that he would. Across the table from him in a romantic restaurant, I can see his pale eyes are sparked with amber. Or is it gold? Maybe it depends on your perspective. A trick of the light.

So much of life, I’ve found, are those things: perspective and also light. Or maybe that’s saying exactly the same thing.

He tells me he’s in “finance,” a term that is vague enough to accommodate a whole range of activities. I’ve done some research, though, and I know he is a hedge fund manager; that his apartment in this town is a playpen: weekends only. I know he is based in the City and that he flies down here for the occasional weekend, especially since his divorce, which was messy. He doesn’t say that: “messy.” But when he briefly skates over that episode of his life—the period of time in which “we” became “me” —he makes a face that is unpleasant, like he’s got a bad taste in his mouth. I let it ride. Where we are going, it won’t make a difference.

He tells me funny, self-deprecating stories. I reflect that he is someone I would date—in another lifetime. If I dated. If I still had a heart.

“This is a fun first date,” he says in that moment, as though he has read my mind. His thick dark hair flops over his eye endearingly, and my heart gives a little flutter. I’d try to stop it, but I don’t hate the feeling. That flutter. It feels good, in this moment, to simply feel alive.

“Yesterday, Brett. Wasn’t that our first date?” I ask, more for interaction than anything real. Because, of course, the few moments on a rooftop we shared were not a date by any standard. Especially since I was trying to think how to kill him for part of that time. But he doesn’t know that, so maybe it doesn’t count?

“Nope,” he says firmly. “That was a meeting. This,” he indicates our wine and the delicate nibbles between us, “this is a date.”

“How does it end?” I ask pertly. Knowing the answer. Knowing he doesn’t. Wanting to know what he thinks.

He looks at me searchingly for a moment, then smiles raffishly, a certain boyish charm bubbling through. It’s a practiced look. He’s used that smile before, to good effect, I can tell. He’s probably done that his whole life. I don’t dislike him for any of that. It distresses me slightly that I don’t dislike him at all. It would be beneficial to me if I could find it in myself to dislike him.

“It ends well,” he says. A beat. And then: “It ends as it should.”

There is more conversation, just like that. An ancient dance.

After a while he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Once he’s out of sight, I slip a vial out of my purse. It contains a powder I made myself. Oleander flowers, dried, crushed and mixed with salt and a few strong spices, intended to cover the plant’s bitter taste. I don’t know how well those spices mask the taste. It’s not as though I can test it, and none of my customers have ever complained.

I quickly sprinkle some of this concoction judiciously on the food that remains. I do it using natural motions. Anyone watching would think I was eating. A little OCD, maybe, but it wouldn’t look anywhere close to what is true. I mix it quickly into the salsa, the guacamole. I salt the chips with it. Sprinkle it on what is left of the chicken wings. I don’t dust the calamari. I’d noted he hadn’t been eating that. It will give me a safe spot to nibble, not that I plan on needing much time to eat. All of this will happen quickly, my experience tells me that.

Before he returns, I have this moment of absolute indecision. I very nearly call out to a nearby server; have her clear the table. I’m not even super sure why I don’t. All of this is going well. Textbook. And yet, I have qualms. Why? He’s lovely of course, there’s that. But beyond the way he looks or how he looks at me. Not long ago, things had happened that had made me resolve to do my life in a different way. Then I’d gotten an assignment and instinct had more or less kicked in. And it was easy to reason around it and to rationalize: if not me, then someone else, right? There would always be some other person ready to do the job. Viewed in that light, there was no earthly reason for me not to do what I do.

But still.

I don’t call a server. And the moment passes.

He comes back looking refreshed, like he’s maybe splashed water on his face or combed his hair, which is behaving for now. Not, for the moment, flopping into his eyes. I figure he probably did both—splashed and combed. He looks good.

He smiles when his eyes meet mine. A 24-karat smile that lights his whole face. My heart gives a little bump. “Fuck,” I say. But it isn’t out loud.

He takes his seat and starts talking again, picking up where we left off. He is easy. Comfortable. But I’m having trouble tracking the conversation; my mind is elsewhere. I’m thinking about what my next steps will be. After. And does it matter what he says right now? Really? If it does, it won’t matter for long.

I try not to follow his actions. Try instead to listen to what he is saying. These words will be his last ones, I know that. And part of me thinks I should do him that courtesy. At least. The courtesy of attention. But it’s difficult to follow his words now. I watch one corn chip as he picks it up, dips it into salsa. I watch him consume it, and it feels like all of it is happening in slow motion. All the while I am listening to his words—I am! —participating in the conversation, not wanting to miss any cues. And wanting to honor the small amount of time he has left. It’s all I can do.

The chip is consumed. I detect no reaction to the bitterness, so that’s a plus. He picks up a chicken wing, swirls it in the blue cheese dip, which makes me realize that, in my haste, I’d missed an opportunity by skipping doctoring the dip. He consumes the wing while we talk; a slight sucking, the meat peeling gently off the bone, all the while, the words flow, though it doesn’t come off as rude. He seems adept at eating and talking so everything stays and sounds as it should.

I listen closely, interjecting as appropriate when I think it’s necessary, all the while watching for . . . signs. I detect nothing until another wing and several chips later. His eyes are suddenly glassy. Sweat stands on his forehead. His hands shake.

“Brett, are you all right?” I ask, but it is pure form. I know he is far from all right. All right no longer exists for him.

“I don’t know. I’ve never . . . never felt like this before.”

I give it another minute. A little less than that. I know it’s all we’ve got. I make the right sounds, the correct motions of my hand. Even when no one is watching, people are watching. Physically, I am unremarkable. A middle-aged woman, so some would say I am invisible, certainly there is nothing about my appearance that makes me stand out. But there will be a future, when questions are asked and people are perhaps looking for clues. I don’t want them to be looking for me.

When he collapses, face directly into salsa, I scream, as one does. Not bone chilling, but an alarmed scream. Our server trots over, clearly distressed. The manager is on her heels. All as expected: it’s pretty terrible for business when customers collapse into their food.

“My date . . . he’s . . . taken ill . . . I don’t know what to do” etcetera. All as one would expect. I don’t deviate from the script.

An ambulance is called. Paramedics arrive quickly. The manager has already pulled Brett from the salsa, but it’s clear he is not all right. They take him away, one of the paramedics offering to let me ride in the ambulance. I decline.

“I’ll follow you,” I say, heading for my rental. And I start out following, but a few blocks from the restaurant I make the turn I know will lead me to the freeway and then the airport. My bag is in the trunk and it’s all mapped out: I am ready to go.

With this moment in mind, I’d left a ballcap on the passenger seat before I entered the restaurant. It is emblazoned with the logo of a local team. While I drive, I push my hair into the cap and wiggle out of the jacket I know I’ll leave behind. These are simple changes—hat on, jacket off—but it will change my appearance enough. I don’t anticipate anyone will be looking for me, but I like to think forward. Just in case.

I have no way of knowing for sure what will happen to him, but I can guess. From the amount of food I watched him consume, I figure he’ll probably have a heart attack before he reaches the hospital and will likely arrive DOA. And at the age and heft of him, and with a high stress job, they will probably not test for poison. And the woman with him at the restaurant? I figure no one will be looking for a girl who doesn’t follow up on the date that ended in hell.

From there it all goes like it’s being managed by a metronome: tick tock, tick tock. Arrive at airport. Drop off rental car. Get through security. Get to plane while they’re boarding. Claim aisle seat at the back of the plane. Keep my eyes peeled for both watchers or people who might recognize me from the airport. But everything goes exactly as it should. No watchers this time. No one looking at me in ways I don’t understand. In fact, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly as it should be. Except.

CHAPTER TWO

Last week

I had not planned on killing again. That is, it wasn’t in the plan. That’s not to say it was an accident. You don’t arrive for a date with a poison in your pocket unless you’re preparing to do some bodily harm. But, as I said, that hadn’t been the plan. Not before.

When the call came, I had been eyeballing my gun again. A darkness of spirit. A feeling I can’t fight or name.

For a while I had spent a lot of time wondering why I kept bothering at all. In recent weeks, there had been darkness all around me. Times that, if it wasn’t for the dog, I wouldn’t bother hanging around.

At times I wonder why I am still showing up every morning. For life, I mean. What’s the big appeal? What is the motivating factor? Is there a mirror beyond the darkness? A pool; some reprieve. I don’t know. Here’s the thing, though: at this point, I’m less convinced that I need to hang around to find out. It’s a battle I wage every day.

Most days.

Before the call comes, there are times it takes me a while to get out of bed. This is new. And when I do get out of bed, it takes a while longer still to orient. Motivating factor, that’s the question. Is there one? What is supposed to be motivating me? I don’t know for sure. So I wait it out.

And the call doesn’t come right away. First, and for a long while, everything is very silent. And not a churchlike silence. The sort one dreads when pieces fly together. First there was this and this and it all made sense. Then we added that other thing and we’re done.

I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. I mostly don’t bother anymore.

Why would one even bother anymore?

It wasn’t always like this.

Let’s put it that way.

There was a time when I didn’t live alone.

There was a time when someone loved me.

Several people loved me.

I don’t remember that time anymore. Not exactly. I’m like a ghost looking back at her memories from a previous lifetime. They are my memories, but they might as well belong to someone else.

Let me tell you this as I try to bring you up to speed.

I live at the forest’s edge. My house is small and simple. It is all I need. My garden is incomplete, though it is occasionally vibrant. I am alone but for the company of a golden dog.

I am alone.

These are the things I think about. Vibrant gardens. Forest’s edge. Seasons in motion. The padding about of golden feet. I don’t dwell on the past. I try not to dwell on the past. For the most part, I have released everything that has happened. It no longer has a hold on me.

Mostly.

I have tried a lot of things to bring some sort of meaning to my life. Attempted. For instance, recently I have begun to keep a gratitude journal. It is a practice I read about somewhere. I try very hard to begin every day with that notebook, pen in hand. In gratitude. It changes the heart, I’m told. It changes the mind.

I have charged myself with finding five things every day for which I am grateful. It’s like an affirmation.

It is an affirmation.

Some days it is easy. Five things to affirm. How hard can that be? I have air. Sufficient food. There is a roof over my head. The beautiful golden dog. Some days there is rain. On others, sun. Both of those are things to be grateful for. The air is clean. The ground is firm. All reasons to give thanks. Most of the time.

On other days it is more difficult. On those days I sit there, stare at the blank page. Maybe a tear falls. Or more than one. Sometimes I begin to write and then stop; picking up and putting down my pen. The past is closer on those days, I guess. The past is nipping at my heels; my heart. On days like that I am filled with that unnamable darkness.

It is unnamed, but I recognize some of the contents. Guilt. Remorse. Regret. And variations on all of those things that incorporate measures of each. I don’t believe in regret, and yet there it is. Regret does not bother checking in with me about my beliefs.

***

Excerpt from Exit Strategy by Linda L. Richards. Copyright 2022 by Linda L. Richards. Reproduced with permission from Linda L. Richards. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Linda L. Richards

Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine. Linda’s 2021 novel, ENDINGS, was recently optioned by a major studio for series production.

Catch Up With Linda L. Richards:
LindaLRichards.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @linda1841
Instagram – @lindalrichards
Twitter – @lindalrichards
Facebook – @lindalrichardsauthor
TikTok – @lindalrichards

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Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

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ENTER TO WIN!

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Exit Strategy by Linda L. Richards. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

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#BookBlitz “Dream Up Now: The Teen Journal for Creative Self-Discovery” by Rayne Lacko

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The Teen Journal for Creative Self-Discovery

Teen / Nonfiction / Journal

Date Published: September 21, 2020

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing

 

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This guided journal for creative self-expression allows teens to explore emotions, create art, and envision life’s possibilities.

Dream Up Now™ offers a safe space for creative self-expression of all emotions, both positive and negative. Every emotion is valid in this journal, and teens are encouraged to move from dark (negative) to light (positive) emotions. For example:

  • From tired to fired up
  • From confused to confident
  • From jealous to appreciative
  • From loss to peace


To help teens understand, manage, and channel their emotions into passion for the life they want to live, this guided journal with a convenient lay-flat design includes 36 activities for creative self-expression. Crafted by community leaders across North America, these activities encourage teens to create, draw, listen to music, and put pen to paper as they process emotions, discover more about themselves, and pursue what they want out of life.

Using simple journal prompts and art project ideas, with plenty of room for writing and reflection, Dream Up Now is a powerful tool for navigating emotions and creative self-expression. A digital leadership guide includes information to help teens advocate for school music programs, find their passion, and start a club in their school.

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About the Author

Rayne Lacko is a young adult author and an advocate for the arts as a form of social and emotional well-being. A teen-writing mentor, she cohosts a youth creative workshop, an annual writing camp, and a teen arts showcase.

Through her work, she inspires young people and their families to use creativity to stimulate positive change in their lives and communities.

Rayne lives near Seattle, Washington.         

Lesley Holmes contributes her expertise to several educational and arts nonprofits benefitting children, teens, and older adults in and around Los Angeles. Her work promotes alternative therapies, music education, literacy, and food as a pathway to healing. Lesley lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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Purchase Link

Amazon

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#BookBlitz “Her Jailer’s Secret” by Brian F. Smith

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A broken family’s fight against a brutal justice system

 

Historical Fiction, Australian History, Literary Fiction

Date Published: April 2022

Publisher: Tablo Publishing

 

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In 1786 Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a 26 year old woman, became involved in England’s brutal justice system and found herself exiled from her homeland to Botany Bay in the antipodes where she had to endure brutality, near starvation, love and a shipwreck off Norfolk Island with her friend Jane Fitzgerald. She bore twin girls to a marine William Mitchell while on the island and began her own family in this strange new land, as she never expected to ever see her family members, or friends, ever again.

On her return to Sydney she began a new life with another soldier, Thomas Wright, with whom she had another child but was imprisoned again for selling her children’s rations to purchase rum where she met a strange cockney woman named Margaret, who was in charge of the prison and who changed her life.

William Mitchell, who returned to England carried out an investigation into who Margaret really was as she had now died, and in doing so came up against Irish rebels who threatened his life but finally gave him a sealed letter as to her true identity, that could not be opened by anyone other than one of  the two Fitzgerald women.

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About the Author

Brian F. Smith has always had an interest in writing that became further enhanced with his early career moves which included his service with the
Australian Army before joining the Victoria Police Force. He later went on to become the Chief Security Officer at the Loloho Port Site on Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. On his return to Australia, he founded the ‘Jordan River Journal,’ a Hobart, Tasmania suburban newspaper before going to the island’s west coast where he founded the ‘ The Western Herald’ another local weekly newspaper. Since his retirement, he has written four
books: ‘Off The Record”, “Convict Connections’, ‘Witness to a Miracle’ and ‘Her Jailer’s Secrets’. In 2020 he obtained a Diploma in Family History from the University of Tasmania.

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#BookBlitz “Find Your Flavor: A Recipe for Discovering Your Ideal Career” by Lauren Doyle, M.S.

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 A Recipe for Discovering Your Ideal Career

 

Nonfiction / Career

Date Published: March 30, 2022

Publisher: Getting Results Inc

 

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What do you want to be when you grow up?
That may have been fun or easy to answer years ago, but for teens and young adults, it’s a question that can be disconcerting at best… and sometimes downright frightening now that the question has become real.

Career choice is a huge decision with layers of consequence.
In Find Your Flavor, Lauren Doyle walks readers through the step-by-step process she uses with the young adult clients she works with which include:

  • Integrating your interests, strengths, and lifestyle desires to create the recipe for the ultimate career success.
  • The importance of playing, experimenting, and sampling with potential ingredients to be included in your career recipe.
  • How to distinguish between enduring intrigue v.s. hobby-like interests.
  • Better understanding and mastering your own mind for more successful life outcomes.
  • Guidance on how to get your foot in the door (or on the ladder).
  • Learn to use existing social networks to help you land a position in your chosen field.

She offers specific exercises that help readers put these critical, but often ‘invisible’ concepts to work to uncover the perfect recipe for choosing the ideal career. Whether you are a teen considering a college major or a young adult about to launch into a professional role, you’ll definitely want to read this book and ‘find your flavor’ that will put you on the path to success and life-long fulfillment.

 

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Purchase Link

Amazon

 

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#GuestBlogger The Making of… “In Another World – A Paranormal Mystery/Romance (Part 2)” by Kelli A. Wilkins

Hi everyone,

This is part two of my two-part blog about the making of my paranormal/mystery romance, In Another World. In my previous blog, I talked about the origins of the story idea and the overall theme of the book. In this blog, I’ll share some insights into the “cop stuff” I needed to know for the story, the paranormal elements of the book, and how I finally got the title.

Before I get started, here is the book summary and links:

guest blogger

IN ANOTHER WORLD

A Paranormal Mystery/Romance Novel

Disgraced psychic medium Julie Kershaw has finally met her soul mate. The problem is he’s dead… and his spirit haunts the car she just bought.

The spirit of Detective Eddie Mahoney is determined to find his killer and needs Julie’s help. At first, she refuses. She’s tired of being called crazy and swore she’d never use her abilities to speak to the dead again—even if Eddie is handsome and charming.

Eddie persuades Julie to contact his former partner, Lou Kaplonski, to ask him to reopen his case. Skeptical, Lou dismisses Julie as a fake—until she proves she can communicate with the dead—and he finds out Eddie has a lot to say.

Julie channels Eddie’s spirit and together with Lou, the unusual trio tracks down leads and follows clues to solve Eddie’s murder. The case takes them down a dark and dangerous path filled with secrets, where nobody can be trusted.

As they work to find his killer, Julie falls for Eddie. Funny, smart, and sexy, Eddie is the guy of her dreams—and he doesn’t look or act the least bit dead. To her surprise, Eddie discovers a clever way they can be together, and they begin an ethereal romance.

When Lou’s investigation brings him too close to the killer, his life and Julie’s are put in danger—and Eddie may be the only one who can save them.

Order your copy here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09R11STRN

All other platforms: https://books2read.com/u/bpw16g

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In Another World is a mystery/romance, and although I’ve written dozens of romances, I never wrote a full-fledged mystery before. Some of my short stories and novels have mystery elements where an amateur sleuth investigates something, but this was different. The book borders on being a police procedural, and I knew I had to get the details of the “cop stuff” right. For that, I turned to an expert—Uncle Rich.

My uncle Rich was a retired police captain and had pretty much seen everything in his 20+ years on the force. Several years ago we were at a wedding and he asked me, “What’s new?” I told him, “I’ve got this idea for a story…”

From there, I gave him the rundown of the plot and started asking him lots of questions. When I told him I had “jurisdiction issues” about the location of Eddie’s body, he said, “Location, location, location. Jurisdiction follows the body; it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or where you work. If you’re from Los Angeles and your body is found in Memphis, it’s a Memphis case.”

I asked Rich a million questions and I learned a lot. His advice was excellent and I incorporated some of our actual conversations into the book as dialogue, usually when Lou or Eddie explains something to Julie.

Rich also pointed out that Eddie and Lou wouldn’t have to explain how to solve a murder to each other. For them, it’s their job, it’s routine, something they do all the time. That made things a little easier, because I didn’t want to make the book too “police” heavy and bore the reader or bog down the story. I included just enough “cop” details to make Eddie and Lou’s investigation authentic while keeping the reader hooked.

It saddens me to report that Uncle Rich passed away unexpectedly several months before the book was finished. He never got to read the final version, but I’m sure he’s proud of the book, and me. Thanks again, Rich. I couldn’t have done it without you.

As much as I tried to be “real world” accurate with the police procedural aspects of the book, I let my imagination run wild with the paranormal parts, especially Julie and Eddie’s relationship.

I’ve met dozens of mediums, psychics, and intuitives over the years (at workshops, in classes, on ghost tours, etc.) and I always ask them questions about what they see, how they receive messages, and how they discovered they have these abilities.

The answers vary from person to person. Some mediums see the dead as clear as a living person, others see them in their mind’s eye or feel their energy and sense things about them. Several mediums I talked to were born with the ability to contact the dead, some learned how, and others only were able to communicate with the other side after a near-death experience. I used this information to explain why Julie can do what she does, and how she “sees” Eddie.

When I was writing the book, I knew I needed to make Eddie as “real” as possible for the sake of the story. I had him appear in full form (as a living person) to Julie, and gave them a clever (and easy) way to communicate. Eddie’s ability to connect to Julie helps him become a full-fledged character. He’s as “real” as any other hero in a romance—complete with a backstory, flaws, and other issues—but he just happens to be dead. Eddie’s and Julie’s relationship becomes so solid (in a sense), that readers forget Eddie isn’t alive.

In the book, Julie says their situation is unique and she’s not even 100% sure how this is all possible, but she goes with it, and so do readers. This bit of creative license with the paranormal worked for the story, although it’s not how mediums interact with spirits in the real world.

And speaking of the real world, the title was a bit of a challenge. I had been working on the book for years (see part one of the blog for more on that) and I never had a clue about the title. I just called it the “ghost cop” book. Well, when I was in the final proofreading stage, I figured I’d better start thinking about a title.

I wanted the title to convey the mystery/paranormal/romance aspects of the book. I spent hours brainstorming on the title. (As some readers may know, titles don’t come easy to me. I’ll be writing a separate blog about that soon). I played around with different combinations of words, annoyed everyone I knew for suggestions… And what did I get? Nothing. So I gave up for a while.

Then one day, my husband and I were driving to my friend’s house and listening to music when Dwight Yoakam’s song, “In Another World” came on. I didn’t pay it much attention at first, then I started listening to the lyrics with my book in mind, from Eddie’s and Julie’s point of view—and it clicked. I played the song again and then declared, “There’s the title!”

“In Another World” works on many levels: Julie is living part of her life in guest bloggeranother world/realm, Eddie takes Julie into/exists in another world of his own, and poor Lou is dropped into another world he never knew existed. Of course, Dwight’s song isn’t about psychics or spirits, but the lines; “Bound by love that never strays/In another world/We’ll be okay” really reminded me of Eddie and Julie at the end of the book.

And while I’m talking about the music in the book, I want to mention my use of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” toward the end. My mother LOVED Roy and I was raised on his music. It seemed only fitting that I borrow a few lines from Roy, as an homage to my mother. (She also passed away before the book was finished.)

 

When Lou is really down in the dumps, he hears the song and it connects him to Eddie. I’ve always loved the lines “In dreams/I walk with you/In dreams/I talk to you” —because as Julie says in the book (and this is a real quote from a psychic) the dead can (and do) communicate with the living in dreams. I believe that to be true, and maybe Roy knew it too, when he wrote the song.  (And yes, “Blue Angel” appearing in the book is no accident, either.)

This concludes my second blog about In Another World. I hope you’ll read the book and get drawn into this mysterious “other world” filled with drama, humor, and incredibly interesting characters

Until next time, happy reading!

Kelli A. Wilkins

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli A Wilkins

Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 100 short stories, 20+ romance novels, 7 non-fiction books, and 5 horror ebooks. Her romances span many genres and settings, and she likes to scare readers with her horror stories.

Her latest novel, In Another World, was released in early 2022. This contemporary mystery/romance is set in the world of the paranormal.

She also released two horror shorts, More Than I Bargained For and Silent Sentinel in 2021.

In 2021, Kelli published Journaling Every Week: 52 Topics to Get You Writing. This fun and innovative guide to journaling is filled with hundreds of thought-provoking prompts designed to get you writing about your feelings and emotions.

Kelli posts on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKelliWilkins and Twitter: www.Twitter.com/KWilkinsauthor.

Visit her website/blog www.KelliWilkins.com for a full title list and to find all her social media links.

#BookBlitz “Calamity at Cattori V” by D.H. Dhaenens

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Pulp Sci-Fi, LGBT

Date Published: January 2022

 

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Can you rise up and be a hero even when you’ve lived among criminals all your life?

When Tommy is entrusted with a special power he has to make a decision.

Fight to uncover what is off about Cattori V or keep his head down and focus on getting a ride off of the prison planet he was born on?

When he finally uncovers the secret of Cattori V, it may just be too late for him and everyone on the planet…

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About the Author

Daphne D’Haenens writes about grumpy mages from her London flat. Born in Belgium, she moved to the UK after graduating from her studies in Applied Linguistics, and has been enjoying the British weather ever since.

She lives with her loving wife and two ginger cats writing a little every day. All while collecting very frilly dresses and occasionally taking a break to be an adult.

 

 

 

 

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#CoverReveal “Royally Complicated” by Gwyn McNamee and Christy Anderson

**COVER REVEAL**

ROYALLY COMPLICATED

by Gwyn McNamee and Christy Anderson

Photographer – Michelle Lancaster

Model – JJ Michaels

Genre: Standalone Royal Romance

#RoyallyComplicated #CoverReveal

PRE ORDER NOW: books2read.com/RoyallyComplicated

BLURB

Sex on the beach with a smoking hot stranger…

I blame the tequila.

And the way he rode the waves like he owned them.

And the delicious way the water trickled down over his washboard abs and the V thingy.

And the fact that I’m on the trip that was supposed to be my honeymoon until I caught the bastard cheating.

Yeah, I’m going to blame it on all that.

Because reckless behavior is so not usually me.

But surfer god Fyn is a breath of fresh air I so badly need.

A break from reality of the world around me.

One he seems to need, too.

It’s a single wild moment in my otherwise structured life that seems to be crumbling.

A perfect snapshot in time…

Until the royal guard shows up looking for him.

Turns out the king of the waves is actually a prince.

A real one next in line for the throne.

And I just banged him on the sand.

People say a one-night stand can be good for you, especially after a break-up.

I’m starting to question that advice.

Because finding my prince is only the beginning…

Things are about to get royally complicated.

PRE ORDER: books2read.com/RoyallyComplicated

 

#ReleaseBlitz “Marquess of Magic (Sisterhood of Secrets Book 3)” by Jennifer Monroe

~~~

Sisterhood of Secrets, Book Three

Historical Romance, Regency Romance

Date Published: May 19, 2022

Publisher: WOLF Publishing

 

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In this mesmerizing Regency romance by Jennifer Monroe, a mysterious
marquess and a misunderstood beauty need to realize that when love and magic
mingle with desire, the results can be extraordinary…

Spellbound by a glamorous man…

Miss Diana Kendricks is the rarest of young women: She is actually looking forward to becoming a lifelong spinster!

Disillusioned by what she has seen of married life, she eagerly awaits the day when she is considered securely “on the shelf.” However, Diana fails to take into account the most treacherous twist—her own traitorous heart, which finds itself skipping a beat when she meets Lord James Barrington, mysteriously labeled as the Marquess of Magic.

Love is the greatest enchantment of all…

Lord Barrington has always loved magic. Since childhood, he has found it thrilling to perform illusions and conjurations, to shock an audience, and leave them breathless. But in ordinary life, no magic can vanish away the dangerous secret he hides. James should not even be considering marriage.

But when he chances upon Diana, she seems like his perfect match—beautiful, witty, with similar interests to his own. He cannot risk losing her to another suitor, and soon James has hopelessly ensnared both their hearts. 

But James’s secret will not stay hidden in the shadows. When it comes to love, the truth may be the greatest magic trick of all—and James must soon reveal it, lest he lose his one true love forever…

~~~

The Full Sisterhood of Secrets Series

#1 Duke of Madness

#2 Baron of Rake Street

#3 Marquess of Magic

#4 Earl of Deception

#5 Knight of Destiny

#6 Captain of Second Chances

Amazon

~~~

~~~

About the Author

Jennifer Monroe writes Regency romances you can’t resist. Her stories are filled with first loves and second chances, dashing dukes, and strong heroines. Each turn of the page promises an adventure in love and many late nights of reading.

With over twenty books published, her nine-part series, The Secrets of Scarlett Hall, which tells the stories of the Lambert Children, remain a favorite with her readers.

 

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~~~

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#ReleaseBlitz “A Wrinkle in the Mind” by Bruce M. Perrin

~~~

The Mind Sleuth Series

 

Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Date Published: May 18, 2022

Publisher: Mind Sleuth Publications

 

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When Violet Cruz accused U.S. Representative Alan Barclay of being “the spawn of a Martian whore” and took a shot at him, everyone
agreed that she was delusional. It was just another conspiracy theory in Washington, DC, where such bizarre claims had become all too common.

Tiring of the media harassing the family, however, Cruz’s cousin brought the case to Private Investigator Rebecca Marte. She figured that the public was probably right. Rebecca was, however, willing to give the case another look as Cruz’s sudden, total break from reality without any apparent cause was almost as strange as her beliefs.

With his background in psychology, working with Sam “Doc” Price made sense to Rebecca and she welcomed him as a consultant. But soon, the two, who had worked so well in the past, found themselves at each other’s throats. She dropped him from the investigation, but with his “dog with a bone” determination, Doc went on alone.

Unfortunately, the now-divided team was going after an adversary more cunning and more ruthless than any they’ve faced before. If they’d realized the odds of their survival apart, they would have found a way to put their differences aside before it was too late.

~~~

~~~

Excerpt

Chapter 1

 

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who
face reality;

and then there are those who turn one into the other.

Desiderius Erasmus

Dutch philosopher

 Wednesday, April 6

Morning, The National Mall, Washington, DC

“At least you didn’t have to take a bullet for the
guy.”

Renee Portnell heard the words but made no attempt to find their meaning in
the fog of pain that filled her mind. Rather, she watched in numbed
disbelief as a trickle of blood inched closer to a Washington Senators
baseball cap that sat on the sidewalk. She had to be ten yards away sitting
on a park bench and the sun was just beginning to crest the buildings
ringing the National Mall, but with a half-dozen Washington DC Metropolitan
Police Department cars now parked on the grass, all with their headlights
blazing, she could move another ten and the horror of the scene
wouldn’t fade.

“Government, right?”

Portnell slowly turned toward the sound of the voice beside her, an MPD
officer, his name already forgotten. “What?”

“The guy? I heard he was a senator or something. Figured you’d
have to take a bullet for him if it came to that.”

“U.S. Representative Alan Barclay,” said Portnell, every word
drawn out like she was from the deep south rather than Connecticut.
“Although, that’s Secret Service, not private protection
services.”

Portnell shook her head to clear it, each of her senses slowly returning to
the here and now, each becoming preternaturally acute for an instant before
succumbing to the next. She heard the murmur of voices filled with urgency
and authority all around. She registered the acrid smell of car exhaust
mixing with the sickly-sweet of cherry blossoms that had reached their peak
the week before. She tasted gunpowder on her tongue, her saliva no match for
its bitterness. But when her gaze fell on the woman lying on the sidewalk,
the round-robin of sensations ended. She couldn’t pull her eyes away.
And all the while she wondered, how could Barclay’s ball cap have
landed so close to the woman and so far from him?

The police and paramedics had already moved away from the female. Portnell
wasn’t surprised. She’d always been an excellent shot and any of
the four rounds she’d squeezed off could have been fatal. The only
difference between them and the thousand she’d fired before today was
that the previous ones had only penetrated paper. These last four had found
flesh and bone, blood and muscle. As she watched, the woman’s blood
inched ever closer to the cap.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Portnell knew. In her eight years
with the military police, she had never fired her sidearm in the line of
duty. And when she had retired, her recruitment into the private sector had
emphasized the fact that female body guards were often instrumental in
de-escalating violence. But when the threat is shooting at your client,
gender is not going to stop the onslaught. Only a bullet could.

“Renee, look at me.” The drop in his volume pulled
Portnell’s eyes to the officer’s face. “From what I hear,
you got nothing to worry about. The shooting was righteous. She shot first
and you have the right to protect yourself and others from deadly force.
Only question seems to be, she get off two shots or three?”

Portnell thought it could have been more. Hadn’t she stared in
disbelief for seconds? Hadn’t she fumbled with her firearm when
drawing it from her shoulder holster? The only thing that had gone smoothly
was the Weaver stance-aim-fire sequence, a routine that was burned into her
muscle memory from those thousand practice shots at targets that she
couldn’t harm.

“Not that you need insurance, but she was obviously a wacko,”
said the officer. “I mean, what the hell was it she said?”

Portnell stared at the man’s face, wondering how many times she was
going to have to repeat those words? Of course, it wasn’t like
she’d ever forget them. “When she first approached, she said,
‘You must find it hard to represent the folks back
home.’”

There was nothing particularly memorable in that part of her statement, but
her voice was so melodic, almost childlike. Perhaps that was why, when
Portnell started forward to ask the woman to move on, Barclay had given her
“the signal”—a hand held low at his side, palm facing
backward. Of course, the woman’s physical appearance may have played a
part in his decision as well. Although Barclay had a reputation as a family
man, even he could dream and the woman was the stuff of men’s
dreams—a dark, exotic beauty in a pure white dress.

“Then, she said, ‘I mean, it’s gotta be tough for the
spawn of a Martian whore like you.’”

“Spawn of a Martian whore,” said the MPD officer, chuckling and
shaking his head. “Where the heck do these kooks get this crap? I
mean, you knew the guy better than me. There’s no truth to her words,
right?” The officer laughed again like it was the funniest thing
he’d ever heard. Portnell just stared.

She suspected that it was the incongruity of the hate in the woman’s
words and the lilting tone that had carried them to her ears that had caused
her hesitation. She remembered thinking, could this be real? She knew, of
course, that this might happen one day. But in her mind’s eye, it was
always the silhouette of a crazed man. It was the practice target of the
firing range given life.

But while her response had been hesitant, the woman hadn’t
vacillated. A gun materialized in her hand where moments before there had
been none. The crack of her first shot brought Portnell out of her trance.
She reached for her handgun, but it caught for an instant on her jacket. The
woman fired again. Portnell saw Barclay spin to the ground out of the corner
of her eye, perhaps as a defensive reaction, but probably from the impact of
the round. His cap flew from his head, which now explained where it had
landed on the sidewalk.

Her handgun came free and from that instant on, she no longer needed to
think. Each of her four shots produced a new bloom of red on the
woman’s simple white dress. But unlike Barclay, she stayed upright, as
if she was one of the paper targets hung from the carrier at the firing
range. Finally, the woman crumpled to the ground.

“Two,” said Portnell, the words indistinct in her ears.

“What?”

“She fired twice.”

The officer didn’t say anything, but Portnell could hear him moving.
After a moment, the man crouched down in her line of sight. Her vision
dimmed and she collapsed to her back on the bench. The officer yelled,
“Get a paramedic over here. She’s going into shock.” It
sounded like he was twenty yards away, not standing over her.

Lying down helped, and Portnell’s vision and hearing cleared a bit.
She rolled to her side, watching as the trickle of crimson reached the bill
of the baseball cap. Now, the darkening fabric marked the slow march of the
woman’s blood. She stared at the woman’s face. Once, it had
reflected an energy to match her voice, but now, it looked more like frozen
stone, her naturally dark complexion faded from the loss of blood. Only her
eyes seemed to show signs of the person she had been; they twinkled with an
inner light, although Portnell knew that was impossible.

Another man appeared in her line of sight. “Stay with me,
ma’am.” He turned away. “Get that stretcher over here.
Now!”

It was help, and Portnell thought she should feel relieved. She
didn’t. She knew no one could help her with what she needed
most—getting the image of the beautiful woman in white with the
melodic voice out of her mind forever.

~~~

  About the Author

Bruce Perrin has been writing for more than 25 years, although you will find much of that work in professional technical journals or conference proceedings. But after completing a PhD in Industrial/Organization
Psychology and spending a number of years in the research and development of advanced learning technology with a major aerospace company, he’s now
applying his background to writing. Not surprisingly, most of his work falls in the techno-thriller, mystery, and hard science fiction genres, examining where technology and psychology meet, now and in the future.

In addition to pounding the keyboard, Bruce likes to tinker with home automation and is an avid hiker, logging nearly 2,500 miles a year in the first eight years of Fitbit ownership. When he is not on the trails, he lives with his wife in Aurora, CO. For a closer look at his writing life, book reviews, and progress on his upcoming works, please join him at
brucemperrin.com.

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#BookTour “The Order of the Fallen” by Jacqueline Marinaro

~~~

Fantasy/Romance

 

Date Published: Jan. 24, 2022

Publisher: Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc.

Achaiah knew the dangers of falling to earth for the love of his human, Nev. When Nev falls for her guardian angel, Achaiah, she is unaware of the danger that their love puts her in. That’s why fallen angels have one rule: Never fall in love with a human.

~~~

EXCERPT

Nev

I woke up Friday morning at my usual time. School was over now. I had nothing to do. I figured I’d spend the morning looking for part-time jobs. I didn’t want to be a bum until I decided what to do with my life.

After showering and heading downstairs with my laptop in tow, I plopped on the soft couch and opened my Dell. I visited a few job sites and applied at several places. I felt satisfied I’d done enough after about an hour. I closed my laptop and turned on the TV. Flipping erratically through the stations, I didn’t see anything that caught my attention. I wasn’t much of a TV watcher anyway. I would watch the occasional show but for the most part I didn’t like TV.

I thought about the books sitting alone on my bookcases upstairs. Mentally, I perused the titles I had and thought I could use a few more. I visited the bookstore to buy books today instead of bringing a book with me to read. I hadn’t planned on spending as much time there as I normally did since I was only browsing.

Nervously, I walked through the doors where the air conditioning swirled around me instantly causing goose bumps to erupt. After yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Achaiah if I saw him. Would he talk to me? Would he be the Achaiah I first met, or the one who came out of nowhere yesterday with those boys? I decided I wasn’t going to let my nerves get the best of me. If I saw him, fine. If not, fine too.

After about an hour of perusing, I found several books I wanted to buy. I wasn’t bothered by anyone here and wound up finding more books than I thought I would. I didn’t see either Ally or Achaiah. I carried my books to the register and was planning on paying and then going home to start in on one of my new books. On my way out with my loot, a deep voice called my name from somewhere behind me. It was Achaiah.

“Hi,” I said. I hadn’t seen him at the café so I wondered if he just got there.

“I’m just getting off work,” he said.

“I didn’t see you at the café,” I said, perplexed. Was he hiding?

“I was in back. We had a delivery today. James and Jen were manning the counter.”

“Oh.” That explained why I hadn’t seen him.

Before I knew it, he had taken my books for me in one fluid motion. I don’t know how he managed to do this effortlessly without me even noticing. We started walking to the parking lot.

“Want to go for a drive?” he asked, already guiding me toward his car, not mine.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Do you like playing pool?”

I did. I loved pool. I was horrible at it but I loved it. I accepted his invitation and he drove us to a little pool hall nearby. I was thrilled as we entered because it wasn’t smoky. I hated cigarette smoke, which is why I usually stayed away from playing pool. The times I did play pool, I would leave after a short while because the smoke affected me. Then I would go home, strip and shower. I didn’t have to worry about that here. It was a great establishment and completely smoke-free. It was dimly lit except for the lights dangling down above each pool table and it boasted loud music but not so loud it drowned out conversation. The hall wasn’t crowded—another bonus.

Achaiah racked up the table for us and offered me the first shot to break up the balls. I declined and let him go for it. I watched as his sleek muscular frame bent over the table. His strong hands gripped the pool stick seductively. He placed his left hand on the green of the table, a tower of strength. He slipped his fingers over the end of the stick and with his right hand, pulled the stick back. I couldn’t help but stare. He was wearing a black cotton tee today that covered his skin with very little slack. The cotton hugged every muscle. I was suddenly warm.

His right arm, grabbing the stick, followed through his left hand swiftly and struck the cue ball hard. The initial boom of the cue ball colliding with the others was loud and sharp—completely overpowering the music. It was the most impressive break I had ever seen. I was mesmerized. He was mesmerizing.

He sunk three solid balls in that break. It was still his turn. He kept sinking solids until there was only one left and he missed. It looked like he missed on purpose to me.

“Your turn,” he said, looking at me with a coy smile. It was hard to tear my eyes away from his.

“I have to follow that?” I said and chuckled—hopping off the stool I decided to sit on while he was single handedly sinking every ball.

Nervously, I chalked the end of my stick. This was a redundant action because there was already plenty of chalk on the end. I felt self-conscious as I leaned over the table and lined up my shot. He was watching me intently. I took my shot and missed horribly. Not only had I missed—I hit the cue so low it jumped off the table and flew right at Achaiah’s head. He easily moved aside to let the ball through then went to find it. I covered my face with my hands; I was so embarrassed. I had nearly decapitated him.

“I think you missed,” he joked when he came back. I looked up at him utterly mortified. The cue ball was held high in his hand.

He laughed. It wasn’t like he was laughing at me, but rather laughing at something really funny I had missed. I wondered what had made him chuckle so much. He gingerly placed the ball on the green felt next to us and walked toward me very slowly.

“You have a blue handprint on your face,” he said sweetly with a large grin. Before I could move, he grazed my face with the gentle brush of his fingers. His touch was soft and unexpected. He removed the blue from my skin as though he were cleaning a wound with great care.

I looked down at my hand when he was done. I had fiddled with the chalk so much while I watched him play; I hadn’t realized blue painted my whole hand. I laughed at myself. It was typical of me. I wasn’t surprised in the least but a bit embarrassed—a theme I noticed when I was around him. He watched me laughing at what I had done and I could tell he was enjoying this a little too much.

He allowed me to retake the shot again. “Obviously, it was the ball’s fault,” he said, attempting to make me feel better.

This time, I kept all the balls on the table but not one ball found a home in any of the pockets. I was really bad. It was worse with me playing with him; I hated the feeling of being watched and thought of that stupid song about being watched in the shower. Achaiah wasn’t creepy like that, but I was acutely aware of his eyes on me.

After two more games of him easily winning, I had enough of playing. I was so bad there was no point in me even trying. He could tell I was no longer in the mood to play but what he failed to realize was how much I enjoyed watching him play.

“How about we give the balls a rest for today?” He offered kindly. I was grateful for the offer but a little sad I couldn’t watch him play more. I agreed. We left and walked next door to get some ice cream. It was my idea and he was happy to oblige.

I ordered a chocolate with rainbow sprinkles in a cup and he ordered a plain vanilla in a cup. We took a seat at one of the tables outside. The weather was gorgeous today. The temperature was perfect. I loved days like this. It reminded me a little of autumn, my favorite season. It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t hot. It was perfect.

“It’s nice out,” I said as we took our seats. He nodded in agreement.

“Do you like working at the bookstore?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly sure what to ask. I still had so many questions but I decided it was best to move slowly, benignly. Our conversation at the store yesterday centered around nothing in particular and was a success, so I used that tactic again.

“It has benefits,” he said, staring at me. There seemed to be a double meaning in his words.

“What about you? Do you have a job?” He asked me.

“Not yet, but I’m looking for one. Out of school, now into the real world,” I chuckled.

“How long have you lived here?”

“My mom just moved here a few months ago. We move around a lot. I like it here though. It’s been my favorite move so far,” I said and took a spoonful of my ice cream.

I told him bits and pieces about my past and how hard it’s been on me moving around so much. I told him about my mom and how close we were despite her incessant need to relocate every year. He listened attentively and didn’t seem bored with what I considered my boring life.

“My favorite thing is reading,” I said, when the conversation transitioned to my spare time.

“I gathered that,” he said sarcastically. A warm breeze made a small patch of his hair sweep lightly to the side.

“I thought I’d mention it in case you weren’t one to see the obvious,” I replied coyly taking a spoonful of my melted ice cream and feeling the breeze now gently kiss my skin.

I enjoyed his company but it felt so one-sided because we were always talking about me. There was so much I didn’t know about him that I yearned to know.

“What about you?” I asked.

“What about me?” Achaiah asked innocently.

“Well, we always talk about me. What about you? I know very little.”

“What do you want to know?” he replied, his voice calm and even.

I shrugged. I wanted to know everything. I guess what was foremost on my mind was why he liked me. I didn’t feel comfortable broaching that subject yet.

“Do you have any siblings?” I asked. I thought maybe I could get started this way with something simple.

“Yes,” he said, without divulging more.

“How many?” I egged him on. You’d think we were at the dentist and I was pulling teeth. He wasn’t giving much up at all.

“Too many to count,” he said seriously.

So it seemed as though he came from a big family.

“I don’t have any siblings,” I said. “Is it tough sharing with all your siblings?”

“No.” He looked thoughtful as he spoke. “It’s not like

that with my family. We get along so well.”

“Do you like it here or do you miss it up north?” I asked hoping I could keep this conversation going a little. He wasn’t giving me much.

“It was nice up north, but the view here is better,” he said smiling at me.

I could feel myself blush. I liked him. There was no way around that. I just liked him. I wanted more.

“Do you have any family around here?” I asked.

“One brother lives nearby,” he said still staring with those green eyes that were impossibly real.

The temperature dropped several degrees and I started to get chilly. Coupled with the ice cream I felt goose bumps erupt all over my arms. I quickly hugged myself and started rubbing my arms trying to make some friction.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a sweater for you. Why don’t we get going back to the bookstore? I can put some heat on in the car for you,” he said and rose from the seat across from me seeming genuinely concerned that I was feeling cold.

“It’s almost summer, we shouldn’t need the heat on,” I retorted feeling awkward I was so cold in what most people would consider very pleasant weather.

He simply smiled at me and I gave in and followed him to the car. As he drove me back to my car I couldn’t help but think there was something about him that was different from every other guy I had ever met. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I liked it though. I liked that he was different.

When he dropped me off at my car neither one of us made specific plans for another day but he said, “I’ll see you later,” very casually. I nodded and got out of the car wishing I had turned his later into a specific date but reminded myself to be relaxed. He waited until I was safely in the car and I began driving before he drove off. As I drove home my thoughts were only of him. I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Graduation day was miserable. Instead of the beautiful sunny day they always show on TV, it rained all day. The school had to change venues and hold commencement in the auditorium instead of outside in the courtyard as they had planned. It was a good thing our school was not one of those schools with several hundred graduating seniors. The class of 2021 at Cheshire High had one hundred twenty-seven graduating seniors. We all fit snugly into the auditorium with no room to spare.

The auditorium was a new edition to the school, built for use by the drama department but many schools in the area used it for their plays because it was so big. It was perfect for our needs. The school had worked very hard at making it look as beautiful inside as it was outside. They pulled it off with the white and blue streamers swaying softly above us to the white rose on each student’s chair, a symbol of new beginnings.

I had to get to school early because I volunteered to make sure the caps and gowns were dispersed. My mom was planning on meeting me there and afterward she proposed taking me out to dinner. I was looking forward to getting the graduating part over with.

“You look nervous,” I said to Beth, as I walked to the back room of the auditorium where students were given their caps and gowns. Beth was standing there in her royal blue cap and gown—a beautiful shiny gold stole swimming around her neck, signifying she was the valedictorian. She was looking down at her notes and I noticed the paper shaking slightly.

“What?” Beth asked, as she looked up and saw it was me. “Oh, Nev, I didn’t see you there. I think I’m a little nervous.” She gave a nervous laugh and held up her speech.

Beth looked beautiful today. Without her normal elderly-looking clothing, her face was on full display. With the exception of her glasses, she was stunning. The gown made her eyes stand out even more and she wore her hair down today, splayed softly around her shoulders.

“I’m sure you’ll do great,” I began, “did you get some ideas from Mrs. Jones?”

“Nev, I can’t do this. What was I thinking? This is a mistake; I can’t go through with this.” Panic was creeping into her voice. She looked at me earnestly, looked to me for guidance as her eyes began to get bigger with fear.

I walked over to her and gave her a big hug. It was the first thing that crossed my mind. I believed in her and I needed her to know that. I took a step back and kept my right hand on her right shoulder, rubbing soothingly.

“You can do this, Beth. When I first came here, it was your notes that got me through my first exam. You are President of the Honor Society, you tutor after school, and you have perfect grades. If anyone can do this,” I said eagerly, “you can do it. I know whatever you have to say to us will be worth listening to.” I dropped my arm back to my side. I looked at her and waited.

“You really think so?” she asked and bit her lip.

“No one could do it better, I promise. I’ll be right there cheering you on from the audience. You can do this, Beth. You are the best in our class. Now the whole school will get to see why you’re our valedictorian.”

She blinked and pursed her lips in resignation. A big smile swept across her face. Her shoulders noticeably relaxed and she took in a deep breath and exhaled calmly.

“Thanks, Nev,” she said, “I needed that. It was sweet—what you said. I guess I just needed a moment where I’m not so perfect. I’m okay now, really.”

“I’ve been looking forward to your speech all week,” I told her and meant it. She still looked a bit pale but I knew she would be okay. She just needed to keep breathing.

After Beth was situated I looked through the caps and gowns to get mine. I was wearing a black shift dress and heels. I felt very grown up and almost disappointed I had to cover my outfit in a polyester gown. I grabbed my gown and zipped myself up. I looked in the mirror and placed the cap on my head and positioned it just right. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

Commencement began promptly at four p.m. During the procession, I looked into the crowd and saw without searching—my mother. She was sitting solemnly next to Mr. Barnum. I wondered if she knew he was my chemistry teacher. Every so often I would see him lean close to whisper something. I wondered what they were talking about. I didn’t think they knew each other.

Even from that distance, I could see how beautiful my mother was. She was wearing an emerald green dress. It was a beautiful dress and with her in it she put most people to shame. It was sleeveless, satiny and elegant. It was her day to be proud of me but as I stood there, I couldn’t help being proud of her. She was shining. I wondered if Mr. Barnum had seen the same in her. That would explain why he chose to sit with her.

Shortly before I took my seat, I saw Achaiah in the crowd sitting next to Ally. He looked statuesque even from this distance. I didn’t know he would be here. Was he here for me? I smiled. I repeatedly told myself he must have been a guest of someone else. Surely he wasn’t here for me. I’d only known him about a week and it would have been ridiculous to think he showed up for me.

I forced my eyes to look away from Achaiah and move forward but I was stuck. I was free to stare at him from this distance because no one would know who, or what, caught my attention. To the crowd, it would just look like I was gazing at no one in particular. It was somewhat freeing. As the line moved I did as well never allowing my stare to falter. I took my seat and felt butterflies in my stomach. He was here. Then it dawned on me, I had yet to get up on stage and accept my diploma. Light airy butterflies turned to stone ones in my stomach. They were hard and heavy and caused a pain that was a cross between nerves and terror.

What if I fall? I was prone to accidents, especially when under pressure. I now felt the anxiety Beth had when she had her freak out moment. I didn’t think mine would dissipate as fast as hers, though. If I fell, Achaiah would see. He’d know how pitiful I was. He would never want to see me again. These thoughts crowded my head and I closed my eyes and remembered to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Just like Beth. But unlike Beth I had to force this. I laughed to myself because people always told pregnant women to breathe like this and it was doing absolutely nothing for me. I couldn’t imagine it doing anything more for a pregnant woman either, other than irritating an obviously already irritated woman.

Once we were all seated the principal began the ceremony. By the time we got to the valedictorian’s speech I had turned around several times to see that Achaiah was staring at me the whole time. I felt like they turned the heat way up in here but I also felt a little happy on the inside.

Beth’s speech was moving. I watched her intently and remembered I had to be her rock. At first she looked mainly at me but shortly into the speech she gained her confidence and began looking around the room. Somewhere in the middle of her speech, I came into a rhythm of breathing on my own. I was trying to focus on her words and not my own fears. By the end, the student body rose in synchronism to give her a standing ovation. I cheered and clapped loudly along with the rest of the student body. Beth smiled brightly. She had done it. I knew she could.

Beth was led off the stage to join the rest of us. When the applause died down and we all sat down, the principal gave a short speech before beginning to read the names on the list of graduates.

Before I knew it, Mrs. Reynolds, one of the English teachers, signaled our line to get up and move toward the stage. I rose slowly but forced myself not to look in Achaiah’s direction. I just couldn’t look at him. If I did, I knew I would trip over my own two feet and make a complete fool of myself. I was listening intently to the principal enunciate the names of the students in front of me. Slowly, the line moved forward until there were only four in front of me. Vincent. Walters. Williams. Wilson.

I was now at the bottom of the stairs watching Jesse Wilson, the running back on our football team, accept his diploma. He walked gracefully across the stage, shook the hand of Vice Principal Adams and with his right hand still interlocked, took his diploma with his left hand. He shook the hand of Principal Powell, moved his tassel from the left side to the right side and walked off the stage hooting, while the rest of the football team hooted back.

Principal Powell allowed the extra cheering and continued down the list. “Wynters, Nevaeh,” she boomed into the microphone at the podium and looked at me with a gleaming face as she had the students before me.

This was it. Without thinking, I trudged up the steps to the stage. I kept my head held high and tried not to look down as I strode across the stage toward the Principal and Vice Principal. Aware at that moment everyone was staring at me, including Achaiah, I felt a nervous laugh coming on. To hide this, I looked the Vice Principal in the eye and smiled a broad smile, as though it were genuine and not a mask. This reduced my giggle reflex and helped me focus. I repeated the proper steps and clasped my diploma.

When I turned to face the audience after receiving my diploma and moving my tassel, I looked out into the crowd for one face to connect with, his face. I saw my mom out of my periphery, beaming at me, but it was Achaiah’s face that held my attention. I felt heat rising in me and I knew I must have blushed. I was no longer afraid of falling. The look he gave me was one of pure joy. He barely knew me, yet here was this man coming to see me graduate and looking at me as if he had known me my whole life. For a moment, I felt like I knew him too, like he had always been there but I knew that was impossible. I glided off the stage and walked back to my seat. As I passed Beth’s aisle, I saw she was looking at me and smiling. I gave her two thumbs up and mouthed, “Nice speech.” She nodded in return.

I took my seat and suddenly relief covered me. All the anxiety that built up about falling on stage washed away. I felt stupid for ever being so nervous. I sat comfortably until the end when we all stood up and took our caps off to toss them blissfully toward the ceiling of the auditorium.

This was it. The totality of it hit me, as our caps flew in every direction above us. I was done. I had attended too many schools to count, but it was Cheshire High I would forever remember as my Alma Mater. My ten-year high school reunion would be with the people standing next to me, in front of me, and behind me. The other schools no longer mattered. The other schools would be nothing more than a memory, one that would fade easily into the background, while my life moved forward. Cheshire High would be my high school memory.

When the co-mingling of students and guests began, I  headed toward my mom. She was standing next to Mr. Barnum, who was hugging one of his students and offering congratulations. I saw my mom and smiled at her. She waved as I got closer.

“I’m so proud of you,” she said, as I put my arms around her. I was just happy it was over and with no accidents or casualties. Mr. Barnum turned to me.

“Congratulations,” he said and gave me a hug too. “You did great.”

“Thank you,” I said politely and looked down.

“Emily, it has been so nice talking with you today, but I’m afraid I must excuse myself. I have a prior engagement and I’m certain you and your daughter have plans for the day,” he said, now facing my mother, his hand gently touching her shoulder. “I’ll see you next week.” He turned and smiled at me before he walked away with a purpose.

“Next week?” I raised my eyebrows at my mom.

“He’s interested in talking to me about possibly purchasing a home. I gave him my card and told him we can meet up next week to talk,” she said with innocence. I could see the smallest glimmer of light in my mom’s eyes. I didn’t say anything about it, though.

I began looking around the auditorium now. I wanted to see Achaiah before he left and hoped I hadn’t missed him. It was presumptuous to think he only came to see me. After a few short seconds scanning the room of chattering students, I saw him. He and Ally were already walking toward me. I had that feeling of butterflies again.

“Congratulations,” they said in unison as they approached. His deep voice drowned out her higher pitched one.

“Thanks,” I answered both of them and introduced them to my mother. When I introduced Achaiah to my mom, she looked at me to read my face. After what I assumed she understood to be a look of interest in Achaiah, she flashed me her impressed face. I knew she’d want to talk about this later. I just didn’t know what I could say other than what my face had said.

My mom seemed to take to Ally. My mom’s keen interest started Ally happily chatting. She was always impressive when she spoke and this time was no exception. You just don’t expect someone to look like her and be so brilliant. I stopped paying much attention to them because my concentration was tuned to Achaiah, even though I was facing both Ally and my mother. As the two of them chatted away like they were old friends, I felt a tug at my arm. It was Achaiah pulling me away. He seemed to want to talk with me alone. I obliged happily.

“I’m sure you and your mom have plans, but I was wondering if maybe you and I could meet up later tonight.” His eyes glistened kindly and I felt the familiar blush of my face.

“I’d love to,” I answered quickly.

“Don’t waste any time thinking it over,” he said in happy sarcasm with a slight chuckle.

Achaiah

I was so proud of her. I had watched her go through so much in her life. The feeling I had watching her graduate was inexplicable. I knew it was different from the joy her mother had at watching her graduate but I still felt as though I had some part in her life. I know I did. Many times I steered her clear of trouble. I watched her grow and struggle and turn into the wonderful person she was today. Her life was not without pain, but I did all I could to stop her from further pain. I loved the person she turned into. There was something special about her I couldn’t ignore. I was drawn to her in ways that were not just about me being her angel. The closest feeling would be like being the guy next door watching her grow up and wanting to be part of her life. I knew her past and I wanted so much to be part of her future.

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About the Author

Jacqueline Marinaro began her career as a therapist and college educator. Graduate school couldn’t stamp out her love of creative writing, however. Much to the chagrin of her husband, graduate school also only furthered her ability to constantly ask, “how does that make you feel?” Jacqueline lives in Florida with her wonderful husband and sweet little boy, where she enjoys the beach, reading, writing, and of course delving into the feelings of everyone she meets.

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