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Guerrilla Grannies, Book 1
Women’s Action/Adventure Comedy
Date Published: December 9, 2019
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These aren’t your typical grannies.
Pearl Etta Riggs just buried her husband of a million years (no, not literally, but it felt that way sometimes), and her dear friends are trying to find a way to cheer her up. So, they meet for coffee and cheesecake at their favorite place, the Cheesy Cream Café. Ah, the taste of childhood.
Ethel spots the story of a local bank robbery in the paper, and pitches solving it as “it will give us something to do.” She begs, she pleads, and she… Flirts with the waiter?
Alma, always the level-headed one, cites the fact that the man may be one of those panty-sniffing rapists for the reason they shouldn’t. Consider that she was raised by a Southern Baptist preacher and always naysays; her friends rarely listen to her sage advice.
Opal and Minerva are all in, as usual, and they work with Ethel to wear Pearl down. Eventually, she caves, gets Alma on board, and…
You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens after that. What? Did you expect the author to give it all away in the blurb?
It’s a crazy thrill ride full of laughs and shenanigans as these women take the law into their own hands. What happens after is anyone’s guess.
After all, gray is the new black.
 Excerpt
Chapter 1
“Pearl, your husband just died. You could use some cheering up. We should do this.” Ethel put her forearms on the table, her hands clasped and her eyebrows wiggling, a smile on her face so big it turned her crow’s feet into eagle talons.
“He was such a good man.” Pearl’s heart constricted, and she dabbed at her eyes with the tissue again, trying to ignore the growing desire for action and adventure tickling the back of her mind. We could, but I’m not sure we should. We’re too damned old…
“It’s really warm in here. Why don’t you take off that hat, honey?”
That question snapped her out of her thoughts. She’d considered removing the thing several times earlier in the day, but she wasn’t sure how her friends were going to react to her new hairdo. Sighing, she relented, pulling the black, wide-brimmed cap off and closing her eyes, preparing herself for the onslaught.
Opal giggled behind her hand.
“You look like a couple of blue Easter eggs got busy on your head. What the hell did you do?” Ethel’s mouth was hanging open.
Indignation rose inside Pearl, and she squared her shoulders. “Like you have any room to talk. Your damned lavender streaks look like a grape-eating bird shit on your head.”
“Maybe, but that’s what I was going for.”
“Ladies. Calm down,” Alma said, patting their hands. “It’s not that bad.”
“The hell it isn’t,” Ethel muttered. “Makes her look like a school marm. An old one.”
Pearl stuck out her tongue.
“Hush, you two. You’re ruining my reminiscing.” Misty-eyed, Opal gazed around the diner, a soft smile on her lips. “I missed this place. Memories of our teen years came flouncing back through my head immediately with the smell of the coffee, the creaminess of the cheesecake, and even the waitresses shouting orders. I know we’ve been here several times since I moved back, but it never gets old. We didn’t have anything like this in Japan. Over there, it was mostly tea houses.”
“We remember.” Minerva pressed her lips together.
“Oh, yeah. I try to block that period out.” The smile disappeared.
“You always were an old softy.” Taking a long drink of her coffee and closing her eyes, Minerva reached out to pat Opal’s hand, seeming keen on changing the subject before she lost control of her emotions completely. “But I know what you mean. There was nothing that compared to this in Florida, either.”
Ethel ignored them and went back to her nagging, stabbing the front page of the newspaper for emphasis. “We have the skills, ladies. It’s not like it would be a difficult case to crack. Look at this loser.” She held up the paper and pointed at the man’s grainy security-footage photo.
He had a scruffy beard and a terrible haircut. Not an incredibly nefarious-looking fellow, but not very welcoming, either.
It was tempting, and Pearl was on the verge of saying yes when Alma butted in again.
“No. Noooo. Absolutely not, Ethel. You want us to go running all over the great state of Georgia trying to find a man that only made off with”—she squinted at the print and gulped—“half a million dollars?”
“There’s no such thing as only half a million dollars, sweetie. And yes, I do. Not only will it cheer Pearl up, but it’ll give our rusty educations some badly needed workouts.” Gently, Ethel lifted her cup and took a dainty sip of the strong brew. She sighed and put it back down. “I like my coffee like I like my men: sweet and white. Damn. This is good. Best coffee in Georgia!”
“Move your wrinkled old ass so I can go to the bathroom. This stuff’s going right through me.” Opal shoved, trying to get out of the booth.
With both feet planted firmly on the floor, Ethel pulled one side of her mouth into her cheek and lowered her eyelids halfway. “Or maybe I just want to sit here and see how long it is before you piss yourself.”
“You’re such a grouchy old bitch.” Minerva winked over her cup. “I love it.”
“Come on, Ethel. Let Opal out before she has to change her diaper.” Alma chuckled.
“Fine, fine.” Ethel scooted to the end of the bench and stood as she rolled her eyes. “Ow!”
“That’s what you get!” Opal retorted as she sprinted for the ladies’ room.
“What’d she do?” Minerva asked.
“Pinched me on the ass. Hard.”
Everyone laughed.
One of the waiters came over and asked if anyone needed anything.
Ethel leaned forward, her elbows on the table, coffee cup between her raised hands, and ticked her head at him, indicating that he should lean closer.
Pearl watched in earnest as the young man leaned down and put his ear close to Ethel’s mouth. Her lips moved, and her eyes sparkled.
His eyes widened, his face turning bright red as his jaw dropped.
When he straightened again, she winked at him, and he mumbled something under his breath before rushing away. She chortled, sipping her coffee, a look on her face like she was the cat that got the cream. “Where were we?”
“What was that about?” Minerva asked. “What did you say to that poor boy?”
“I don’t tease and tell.”
“Ethel, really; he’s half your age!” Alma turned bright red.
“Yes. Yes, he is. I figure, if I can grab ‘em young, they won’t keel over like my husband did.”
“You really have to let yourself off the hook about Leo, sweetie.” Minerva put her hand on Ethel’s. “He just had a bad ticker.”
“Yeah, right. He was only thirty-five and fit as a fiddle. Not really enough time to develop heart problems.”
Gazing at the other women, Pearl gave thanks they were back in her life. It was rare to find so many amazing women, and she loved having all of them around again after so many years apart. Her heart filled with the love of friendship and comradery they’d forged, and she stabbed her chocolate cheesecake gently, putting it in her mouth, the flavor bringing back so many memories.
“Can I get back in, or is your replacement hip not high-tech enough to get you to your feet again?” Opal crossed her arms over her bosom and cocked her head to one side.
In a huff, Ethel scooted out again and got to her feet. “My hips are all mine, thank you very much. Not a single shred of titanium in my…” Her face turned red, and she sat back down.
Opal, Minerva, and Alma knit their brows.
Pearl could barely breathe she was laughing so hard, but she forced an inhale so she could speak. “You almost lied!”
“Shut up.”
When the questioning looks of the others landed on her, she held up one finger and pulled herself back together. “Just think about it.”
A collective gasp went up.
“When?” Opal asked.
“How?” Minerva added.
“Did it hurt?” Alma’s face was so red it was bordering on purple.
Ethel grimaced. “About two years ago. You don’t want to know. Yes. A lot.” Slapping the newspaper again, she caught Pearl’s gaze. “Please? If not for me, do it for them.” Gesturing at the other three, Ethel stuck out her bottom lip. “Look how old and decrepit they’re getting. This will give them new life.”
Alma pressed her lips together and shook her head a tiny bit from side to side as she gave that look she was best known for. They were going to get into trouble if they went along with it, and Ethel would be the ringleader, as she always was.
A war broke out inside Pearl. She wanted to do it, but she knew they really shouldn’t. Nothing good ever came of Ethel’s ideas—well, rarely.
As though she could read their thoughts, she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “Y’all are no fun anymore. It’s not like we don’t have the skills. I was an upstanding officer of the law until a few years ago.”
“Seven, if you’re counting.” Alma smirked.
She got a look from Ethel that would’ve melted a car. “Fine. Seven, but Pearly is a chemical engineer! She could make us some knockout gas or something.” Turning, she continued as she pointed at each lady in turn. “You’ve knocked down whole buildings in huge cities without a single hiccup, you’re a freaking ninja, and there’s no one on the planet better with a blade than Minerva.”
“Gotta know how to use them if you’re gonna make them.” Minerva winked.
“I’m not a ninja,” Opal muttered into her coffee cup.
“Okay, martial arts master.” A laugh burst out of Ethel. “And a master of disguise, am I right?”
“That was way back in the eighties. I’m not even sure how to use all the newfangled stuff on the market.”
“So you’ll brush up on your skills!” She turned back to Pearl. “Please?”
“I’m afraid we simply can’t right now. We’re all too old, anyway.”
“Why can’t we, moneybags? Did Mansfield not leave you enough cash? And like hell we’re old. Gray is the new black, bitches.”
No one said a word for a long time, as though they were all sharing Pearl’s thoughts. It was an interesting idea, and she didn’t want to go home and sit in her newly empty house without Manny. There were too many crushing memories contained in those walls. Construction was nearly complete on the new house in Manny’s most recent development, Shady Pines, and she wondered if it would be better to occupy herself with something else until everything was done. Nearly all the houses were built already, there were only about ten to go, so she wouldn’t be busy with an agent on site yet. It had been Manny’s dream to build a whole neighborhood before letting anyone see it.
Her fingernails tapped the tabletop. Finally, she inhaled, but her pending speech was cut off by Alma once again.
“Ethel, you’re crazy as a Bessie bug. Forget it. No way. If I have to be the voice of reason, then so be it. We’re absolutely not doing this.”
“But, Alma, wh—”
She held up a hand and shook her head. “We don’t know what kind of criminal that man is. He might be a murderer or one of those crazy, panty-sniffing, rapist guys. When it comes down to it, we’re just five old women. Flesh versus gun, the firearm always wins—as you well know.”
Ethel’s hand moved to her shoulder, rubbing the place she’d been shot in the line of duty.
A phone ringing brought the conversation to a halt. Heart beating too fast, Pearl dug through her bag and pulled out the offending device, flipping it open and putting it to her ear. Her daughter, Katarina, was on the other end.
“Hey, Mom. Any idea when you’ll be home?”
“In a few minutes. Alma and I were just about to leave.”
“Okay. Do you want me to cook dinner?”
“No thanks, baby girl. I just had cheesecake. I’m all set.”
Katarina laughed. “You and that cheesecake. Be safe driving. I’ll see you soon.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
After flipping the phone closed, Pearl threw a twenty on the table, put her hat back on, and bumped Alma’s hip. “We need to leave. Katarina called.”
“That girl. You’d swear you were ninety the way she checks up on you all the damned time.” Ethel rolled her eyes.
Nothing would’ve given Pearl more satisfaction in that moment than smacking the shit out of something, but she held her temper. “She just cares.”
“Yeah, cares about losing her free babysitter.”
“Stop it! I love my grandchildren!”
“I never said you didn’t, but you’re in too deep. Your daughter and her husband can afford daycare.”
“Not today; okay, Ethel? Not today.”
Lines around Ethel’s face softened. “Okay. Sorry.”
“Y’all get up and give me and Alma hugs!”
Everyone squeezed Pearl extra tightly and told her to be safe.
Alma led the way to the car and got in on the passenger’s side, putting her seatbelt on right away.
She’d always been the levelheaded, law-abiding, church-going one. Any time there was trouble worth getting into, she’d shut Ethel right down with a snarky remark or soundbite of wisdom from dear old Daddy. What made Alma even more insufferable was, they’d avoided a lot of bad situations because of her naysaying. Her daddy had been a Baptist preacher, and he’d always threatened her with the wrath of God if she misbehaved. Though, if she ever wanted something badly enough, she always did it. Pearl knew that, and she planned to use it to her advantage.
Solving a local bank robbery was becoming more tempting by the minute. She was positive her crew of misfits could pull it off without a hitch. Everyone but Alma got excited when it was first brought up, and their eyes took on that gleam like when they were younger and were about to do something they’d never forget.
Pearl started the Caddy and put it in reverse after clipping her own seatbelt into place to avoid getting yet another speech about proper vehicle safety. As she backed up, she plotted a way to make Alma agree to take on the bank robbery case.
They were well on the road to home when Pearl started talking again, deciding the best way to get what she wanted was to use the new widow angle and a little fast talking. “You know, I’m not sure I want to be in that big old house by myself all day every day.” She glanced to the right. “Without Manny there, it’ll sure feel empty.”
“I can stay with you a couple of days if you want.”
Damn. “No, no. Kat will be there today and tomorrow with her family. I just meant when they leave.”
“Won’t you still have the kids every day?”
Damn! She’d forgotten about that. “I was thinking I’d ask if they can start daycare.”
“Really?”
“Mmhm. Ethel’s right. I deserve to have a proper retirement from raising kids.”
“You just have the one, like me. Not like it was that hard.” Alma smirked.
“I’m not saying it was hard, just that I’m tired of babysitting. Plus, it’s all I can do to lift that baby anymore.” Even as the words left Pearl’s mouth, she regretted them. Elizabeth was the sweetest baby ever, even more so than her mother had been.
“Pearl, I know what you’re doing.”
Alarm bells rang in Pearl’s head, and she sat up straighter behind the wheel. Trying to sound like she had no idea what was going on, she asked, “Oh? What’s that?”
After a deep sigh, Alma shook her head and closed her eyes. “Fine. If you want to do the bank robber thing, I’m in.”
“Really?”
“Yes, but just so you know, this isn’t a good idea, and it’ll probably end badly, but I’ll do it. For you. We really could use some flexing of our skills. I know I’m itching to blow something up.”
Pearl wanted so badly to squeal like a schoolgirl in that moment, but she kept her face as stoic as possible. “Well, if you insist. Wouldn’t want you blowing up things without supervision.”
“That’s not what I said!”
“Oh, look. You’re home!” She put the car in park and grinned. “Love you! I’ll call Ethel and tell her! Meet at my house at ten tomorrow morning! I’ll have Enrich make us brunch!”
Alma closed the door, and Pearl sped away, her cellphone already in her hand.
“Ethel? Alma’s in.”
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About the Author

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Jo Michaels loves writing novels that make readers gasp in horror, surprise, and disbelief. While her browser search history has probably landed her on a list somewhere, she still dives into every plot with gusto, hoping “the man” will realize she’s a writer and not a psychopath about to go on a rampage. Her favorite pastimes are reading, watching Investigation Discovery, and helping other authors realize their true potential through mentoring. She’s penned the award-winning Pen Pals and Serial Killers series and the best-selling educational book for children, Writing Prompts for Kids, which has rocketed the kids that use it into several awards of their own.
Most of Jo’s books feature the places she’s lived: Louisiana, Tennessee, and Georgia. That’s given her a special amount of insight to what makes those locations tick. Her works are immersive and twisty, and she wouldn’t want it any other way.
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Snardler Tour

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The Catalogues of Epicness, Book 1
Young Adult Humor
Date Published: 12/14/2019
Publisher: INtense Publications LLC
Xavier Crenshaw discovers his life’s calling when he devises an elaborate prank that goes badly wrong. Enlightened by this experience, Xavier creates “snardling,” which is subtly but crucially different from ordinary pranks. For starters, snardlers never get caught. Crisis comes when Xavier and his two partners snardle the whole school, and the wrong person gets blamed. The team falls apart in the aftermath, until a despondent Xavier receives a secret note requesting a snardle of extraordinary proportions to occur at the unveiling of long-dead poet’s secret diary. Despite his careful planning, Xavier wasn’t ready for the terrifying surprise awaiting him, and no one in Penceleton is prepared for what comes next.

EXCERPT

PRO TIP: When you’re snardling, timing is everything.

Everything! Well, except for selecting a victim, devising a brilliantly fiendish snardle and having nerves of frozen steel. But once you’ve got those things down, it’s all about the timing.  You’ve probably heard the old adage, “He who hesitates is lost.” Well, even though it sounds dumb, there’s a lot of truth to it.  An amateur snardler often gets to the point of snardle deployment but then freezes on the brink of action until someone comes along and the opportunity passes. A real snardler won’t hesitate—not unless he gets the kind of bad feeling in his gut that only experience and natural talent can give.  That bad feeling means STOP! But being able to tell plain old nervousness from that warning in your midsection is tricky—and the mark of a true snardler. “If your gut don’t yodel, snardle like a mogul” is a saying that I just now made up that pretty much gets the point across. So, take it to heart, future snardlers.  Oh yeah—you should also always have an alibi and a backup plan.  I’m bringing that up because I didn’t have either when I pulled this next snardle, and it nearly cost me everything.

About the Author

Bearded, sluggish, treacherous, delightfully aromatic– these are but a few of the adjectives that employers, friends, fans, and law enforcement have used when struggling to describe Houston-based novelist James B. Caruthers. He is a dad, a public-interest attorney, and proud author of his frankly dangerous debut novel Snardler.
James has dreamed of being a writer since the second grade. Now that this has been accomplished, he’s pretty darn full of himself. He loves his kids, loved being a kid, and is crazy about writing for kids. His writing philosophy is simple: never patronize. His snardling philosophy is equally as simple: never get caught.
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Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries, Book One Cozy Mystery, Mystery Published: October 2018 Publisher: Black Opal
Fantasy Date Published: 11/19/19 Publisher: Capital Station Books A secret war of sorcerers threatens to
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The Catalogues of Epicness, Book 1 Young Adult Humor Date Published: 12/14/2019 Publisher: INtense Publications

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Death in Trout Fork Blitz

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Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries, Book One
Cozy Mystery, Mystery
Published: October 2018
Publisher: Black Opal Books
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Kathryn “Ryn” Lowell has escaped the stifling confines of her office at the New York travel magazine she writes for and pulls into Trout Fork, a tiny fishing hamlet in the Colorado Rockies, to write an article about the town. She hasn’t been there long when, out jogging with her orange tabby cat, Jack Kerouac, she discovers a T-shirt in the local creek that belonged to missing waitress. Now foul play is suspected, and Ryn, who has fallen for the quaint mountain town, is determined to find the killer and give her new friends closure. Teaming up with the local police detective, who seems to want more than Ryn can give him, she puts it all on the line—her heart, her job, and her life.
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Other Books In The Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries Series:
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The Mountaintop Murders
Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries, Book Two
Published: May 2019
Travel columnist, Ryn Lowell, has been away from Trout Fork, Colorado, for barely a month when a frantic call from Alma sends her hurrying back. One of the Trout Forkers is in jail for the murder of another of the locals. With Jack, her “traveling cat,” secured on her motorcycle, Ryn heads back to her home away from home and the people she has come to care for.
Will Ryn be able to help solve the murder? Can she get her friend out of jail? And what about Detective Garrett Easterbrook? Why isn’t he on the case? Everyone knows something has been bothering him lately, but what can it be? Is there still a spark between him and Ryn? Will it become a flame or peter out?
The Mountaintop Murders is the exciting sequel to Death in Trout Fork.
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A Killing in Vail
Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries, Book Three
Published: November 2019
Kathryn “Ryn” Lowell is settling into her new job as editor of the Pineland Park Star when she is shocked to read of the sudden death of a dear friend from her childhood. Shot while skiing near the posh town of Vail, Colorado, the young man’s death is ruled an unfortunate hunting accident by the Vail police. But something about the incident just doesn’t add up, and Ryn is determined to find the truth. But asking too many questions can be dangerous. Will Ryn be able to solve yet another murder? Will her “snooping” put her life in danger once again?
What about Garrett? Is he still waiting patiently for Ryn to commit to him? Or is the beautiful new policewoman in his precinct becoming a distraction?
A Killing in Vail is the third book in the exciting Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries series
 
Excerpt
DEATH IN TROUT FORK
by Dolores Kimball (writing as D. M. O’Byrne)
Jack and I jogged along the trail behind the cabins just before sunrise the next morning. The sky was lightening, but the mountains blocked the sun’s rays, and the path was shrouded in near darkness. Jack trotted along next to me in his harness, his paws making no sound on the soft bed of pine needles that covered the trail surface. We stopped for a breather near the rock I had sat on the previous day, and I noticed Gil about fifty yards away, standing hip deep in the creek in his waders, casting his line upstream and watching it float by. He looked up briefly at me, then he turned away again.
I waited for Jack, who was digging in the dirt next to the trail, no doubt looking for a convenient place for a potty stop. After a few minutes, he was still digging, so I pulled on his leash. “C’mon, Jack. Let’s go.”
But he resisted and continued digging, growling and becoming more and more agitated. I pulled on the leash again, harder this time, but he wouldn’t budge.
I bent over and picked him up. “Okay, if you insist.”
I peered down at the hole he had made. Something didn’t seem quite right. I squatted to get a closer look, the cat squirming in my arms. I gasped and jumped back, lost my balance, and sat down hard. The taste of adrenaline flooded my mouth as I stared at three fingers protruding from the hole, the bright purple nail polish absurdly out of place among the rust-colored pine needles.
About the author:

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D.M. O’Byrne’s first job was as a waitress. Now she’s a writer of mystery novels. In between, jobs included English teacher, racehorse exerciser, jockey, accountant, golf resort assistant manager, writer, and editor. Her places of residence ranged from the Jersey Shore to a lengthy sojourn in California, and finally to the Colorado Rockies. Each profession, each location was rife with life lessons, fascinating characters, potential plot lines, and wide-ranging experiences. Sooner or later, they will all end up on the written page.
O’Byrne is the author of the Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries series—Death in Trout Fork, The Mountaintop Murders, and A Killing in Vail. She has also written Dangerous Turf and the sequel, Three to One Odds.
D.M. lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and their cat, Warnie. They spend much of their time riding bikes and enjoying the scenery. Warnie spends his time watching the bunnies out the window, lounging on the sofa, and trying to catch his tail.
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The Last Enemy Series, Prequel Crime / Action / Mystery Date Published: September 2019 Jim
Young Adult Horror, Mystery, Thriller Date Published: November 15, 2019 Publisher: Top Publications, Ltd Bobby
Mystery / Thriller Publisher: Elite Online Publishing Date Published: 12-10-2019 Power Lies is a captivating

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A Company of Monsters Tour

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Fantasy
Date Published: 11/19/19
Publisher: Capital Station Books
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A secret war of sorcerers threatens to tear the world apart.
The year is 1917, and the Russian Empire is on verge of collapse.
Florence Cavell—codename Geist—takes her special forces team of sorcerers into allied territory in an effort to hunt down spies and keep the Russian royals alive. If the Russian Empire falls, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians will turn their full attention to France and Britain. That can’t be allowed to happen.
Unfortunately for Geist, the enemy has sent the Eyes of the Kaiser, specialists who hunt and destroy sorcerers. And they came prepared to eliminate not only the Russian royalty, but the Ethereal Squadron as well.
Praise for Ethereal Squadron:
“In tense, precise prose that skillfully conveys detailed descriptions, Stovall delivers this engrossing story of fantasy adventure with utmost precision. The Ethereal Squadron’s riveting fantasy world will fuel readers’ imaginations and leave them crave for the next book in the sequel.”
– The Prairies Book Review

Excerpts

Chapter 1

1917

Geist made an art of stealth. 

She slipped through the moonlight shadows around the Watson Manor House, keeping to the grass to stifle the sounds of her steps. Cloaked in invisibility, she made her way across the vast front yard. Her sorcery—specter sorcery—gave her all the power and versatility of a ghost. 

Geist. German for ghost. The magics in her blood had defined her codename. 

Once she reached the west wall of the manor, Geist peered in through the nearest window. No lamps. No electric lights. And the crescent moon didn’t help with visibility. Despite those limitations, Geist took in a deep breath and calmed herself. Specter sorcery gave her the portfolio of a ghost, but apex sorcery gave her all the superhuman abilities of a peerless predator. Like any jungle cat, she saw through the dim lighting, her vision perfect and unobscured by darkness.

The Watson Manor House, built in 1837, had all the posh and luxury of a grand palace. The ceilings were carved into twisting, vine-like designs, the marble tiles were arranged to create smoke patterns, and massive paintings adorned every wall. Most notable were the bronze, iron, and steel statues of people long since dead. A statue for every corner of the room.

Although it was midnight, someone should’ve been awake and walking the manor—house staff who tended to the fireplaces or groundskeepers going about their duties while the lord slept.

Instead, the chimneys were cold and the estate as quiet as a graveyard. 

With enough focus, Geist stepped through the manor wall, her body, Springfield rifle, and uniform incorporeal until she reached the other side. A shiver ran down her spine as she released the magic. A twisted scar on her wrist burned afterward—a souvenir she had acquired in the German trenches. Unlike a knife or bullet scar, the waxy sheen on her wrist represented damage on a magical level. She pulled her sleeve down to hide it and suppressed the terrible memories associated with the event.

Only fools trip on what’s behind them, Geist thought as she examined the dusty dining table and china cabinets. No one had used either in some time.

Geist snuck across the room and into the nearby hallway.

The Watsons were sorcerers with an unusual sorcery—they could shape metal as if it were malleable clay, and while most Watsons used it for artistry, as evidenced by their many ornate statues, some used the magic for crafting weapons. They had provided specialty equipment for the Allies, outfitting soldier sorcerers in the Ethereal Squadron. 

But no one had heard from them in weeks. No letters. No shipments. Not even the nearby town of St. Peter Port had any information. The Watsons allowed their servants to live on their property, and the deliverymen couldn’t get past the gate. Their sudden seclusion baffled everyone.

Which was why Geist had been sent. She needed to investigate their disappearance and report back to the Ethereal Squadron in Verdun. 

Please let me find someone here, Geist thought. Anyone.

The wood floor threatened to creak if Geist became careless. She took her time and tiptoed through the dark atmosphere of the Watson Manor House. The shadows of the copper statues created human silhouettes on walls, and while a civilian might feel terror for the unknown, Geist had been through hell and back. 

She chuckled to herself. I’m the thing lurking in the darkness that men fear. 

After slinking through the foyer and making her way upstairs, Geist slowed and crouched close to the ground, hoping to find signs of a struggle. Sure enough, when she came to the bedrooms, she found the hallway carpets disturbed and upturned at the edges. Instead of opening the doors and potentially alerting someone to her presence, Geist ghosted through the wood, maintaining her invisibility and becoming incorporeal. 

A child’s bedroom. 

It took Geist a few moments to take in all the details. Stuffed animals. Dolls. Blocks stacked into a house-like shape. She caught her breath when she examined the bed.

Pink sheets and a white comforter were twisted around the pale corpse of an eight year old. Geist walked over, her teeth gritted. Apex sorcery heightened all her senses. When she strained her ears, she couldn’t hear shallow breaths, or even a heartbeat. 

Geist touched the skin of the corpse and recoiled. The icy chill of death unnerved her more than the thought of battlefields and combat. The child had died long ago. 

She unrolled the body from the sheets. Her hands shook as she pulled back the collar of the child’s dress. Deep puncture wounds over the jugulars told a terrible story of a slow death, and the bruises on the arms screamed struggle and terror. But there wasn’t any blood. None on the dress. None on the sheets. 

None left to coagulate in the body.

Geist didn’t look at the corpse’s face. Instead, she covered the body once she had concluded her examination, determined to give the little girl dignity, even if she wasn’t alive to appreciate it. 

After a brief moment to steady her breathing, Geist made her way to the next bedroom. A little boy, two years younger than the girl, sat atop his bed in a similar fashion. Cold to the touch and drained of all blood. Nothing but a husk of his former self and shriveled from decay. 

The next room was the same. A small child, barely able to walk. The master bedroom, on the other hand, had two corpses, but the room itself had been twisted with bits of metal—even the iron bars over the windows and copper bedframe were warped. Had a fight broken out? Geist took note of the destruction, especially the shattered vase and bullet holes in the wall. One of the corpses held a gun. 

With her heart pounding in her chest, Geist made her way back downstairs. War took its toll on everyone, but nothing stung more than seeing defenseless children wrapped up in the violence. She entered the servants’ quarters and gagged on the strong copper scent that wafted out.

Ten men and women lay in the corner of the room, their necks slashed, their clothes and beds black with dried blood. The whole room screamed massacre. If there had been a struggle, Geist couldn’t detect it, which meant fiends had slipped into the sleeping quarters, cut their throats without any of the other servants waking, and then stacked them in the corner. 

Sorcerers were far stronger than the average man, and the trained soldiers who fought in the war were far scarier than anything else. The servants never stood a chance, even if they had been awake. 

Geist exited the room and searched the rest of the house, her frustration turning to poison in her system without an outlet. Someone should pay for this. A man of honor would never have participated in such a slaughter.   

Her findings were what she had feared—every Watson sorcerer had been drained of blood while every civilian in their employ had been murdered.

Geist exited the house, her concentration wavering. With each disturbing thought, her invisibility slipped. She walked down the main road of the house, confident the murderers had left the manor days prior.

Two members of the Ethereal Squadron awaited her at the gates. Even without her apex sorcery to see through the shroud of darkness, Geist knew them by mannerisms alone. One fidgeted with his belt and backpack while the other stood perfectly still, coiled to strike like only trained killers could.

“Geist?” the fidgety one called out. “Thank goodness you came back.”

“What did I tell you?” the other growled. “Of course she would return.”

“She was gone for over ten minutes. That’s longer than her average whenever she goes to investigate.”

“I’m fine,” Geist said with a single chuckle. “You fuss too much, Battery.”

Battery stepped out into the moonlight, his khaki British uniform a sight for sore eyes. He stood the same height as Geist, shorter than most in the Allied forces, but not by much. His youthful facial features and lack of definition hinted at his age. Despite his lack of stature, he stood straight and offered her a smile.

“I’m sorry I doubted,” he said. “But I couldn’t imagine this war without you. Who would lead our team?”

The second soldier scoffed. “She can handle herself. And if anything had gone wrong, I would’ve stepped in to kill it.”

He stepped out to stand next to Battery, a cold glare set on his face as though it were tattoo—permanent and stark. Even if he had an unwelcoming demeanor, Geist still smiled upon seeming him.

Vergess. A German defector to the United States, and one of her most trusted teammates. He wore the drab olive uniform of the American soldiers, complete with a 48-star American flag. While the United States hadn’t officially joined the war efforts, sorcerers weren’t bound by the same restrictions as the average man. Many volunteered for the Ethereal Squadron and were accepted into the ranks after agreeing to follow the instructions of British and French commanders.

Wie geht es dir?” Vergess asked, his German smooth and natural. 

“I’m fine,” Geist replied and with an exhale. “But the Watsons aren’t as lucky.”

Battery shot Vergess a sidelong glance. “I knew it. You were worried about her.” Then he turned back to Geist. “Well, I came prepared. If the Watsons are dead, we should use the camera to record the evidence. It’ll take me a few minutes to set up, but I understand how to use it.”

“Didn’t you set a camera on fire back at the base?” Vergess asked with a chuckle.

“Th-that’s not accurate! Tinker played a trick on me!” Battery straightened the straps of his backpack. “Besides, I read the instruction manual and trained with the cameramen of the 87th regiment. I’m a professional now.”

Battery’s huge backpack carried a giant box made of mahogany wood and steel hinges. He kept the tripod strapped to the outside. The entire getup appeared cumbersome, and the straps of the backpack dug deep into Battery’s shoulders. 

Geist didn’t understand cameras. All the reporters said this would be the first war truly captured in detail, yet they never explained how. Their boxes of lights and pictures confused everyone. It wasn’t magic—Geist could understand magic—yet their photographs took still images of reality and made them permanent. 

“There are corpses in all the bedrooms,” Geist whispered. “And the servants are dead in their quarters. If you want photographs, make it quick. All the sorcerers were drained of their blood.”

Both Vergess and Battery tensed, their eyes going wide.

“You think Abomination Soldiers targeted them?” Vergess asked.

“Yes.”

They all knew why. 

Before the Great War, sorcerers could only develop magic that was in their bloodline. But after the war started—once the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians began fiddling with technologies never thought of—they developed Grave-Maker Gas. It melted flesh together at a baser level, creating deformed monsters of multiple people or animals. They used the gas to melt blood into their bodies in order to steal the magics from other sorcerers.

And now they were collecting rare samples.

Geist’s mouth tasted of cotton. 

“Major Reese needs to know about this,” Battery said. He hustled past Geist and headed toward the Watson Manor House. “I’ll be done soon.”

Vergess shook his head. “I can’t believe they’re acting this fast. Especially after we destroyed their stores of gas during the assault on Paris. Do they really have more?”

“Maybe they’re just collecting blood for once they have it,” Geist muttered. “Either way, we need to stay on guard. If they catch any of us, they’ll drain us dry.”

Even muttering the phrase they’ll drain us dry sent a shiver down her spine. She knew the enemy wouldn’t hesitate, considering her father and ex-fiancé were top military officers. They had both tried to kill her in the past, and she didn’t see why they would stop now that they had a way to steal her specter and apex sorcery. 

Geist glanced back at Battery. He came from a long line of sorcerers with rare magic. And not just one magic, but untold numbers. Would he be a target? The thought lingered in her mind for a prolonged moment.

“Stay with him,” Geist commanded, “while he takes his photos. I’ll go to the port and make sure our ship is ready to take us back to Le Havre.”

Vergess replied with a curt nod. 

 

Blick turned to Geist with a coy smile. “The grand duchess wants to see you alone? You’re a real charmer.”

She shook her head. “Now isn’t the time for games.”

“I bet the duchess asks you for a dance.”

“For both our sakes, I hope she doesn’t,” Geist quipped.

Battery turned to her, his brows knitted together. “Wait, you don’t know how to dance?”

Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and stared. The collective silence bothered Geist more than the question. Of course she knew how to dance! It had been one of the many lessons taught to her by tutors from all around the world. That wasn’t the problem. 

“I’m sure the grand duchess will want a man to dance with her,” Geist drawled. “I was taught the steps for a woman. You can see how this will go poorly.”

“Oh,” Battery muttered. “I hadn’t thought of that.” He tapped his chin for a moment before smiling. Then he stood and held out his hand. “Well, it should be a simple task to teach you the opposite steps. I can help.”

Tempted by his offer, Geist got to her feet, though her whole body felt cold and distant. She didn’t want to risk exposing herself for some recognition from the tsar. She just wanted to complete the operation and leave.

Battery kept his hand out, but Vergess pushed it aside. He stepped in front of Geist and held out his hands.

“I’ll do it,” he stated.

Of the two options, Geist preferred Vergess’s instruction. Then again, she didn’t want to learn how to dance in front of her squad. Stumbling around like a drunkard wasn’t high on her list of team bonding.

Geist hesitantly placed her hands on top of Vergess’s. He turned them around. “You hold the woman’s hands,” he said. “You control what’s going on.” Then he nudged her, as if urging her to start the dance.

The others got out of their seats, moved the furniture to the edge of the room, and then leaned against the wall. They watched with amused half-smiles—even Defiant, who squinted the entire time. It was enough to twist Geist’s stomach into knots.

Please, God. What have I done to deserve this?

She started with a few slow steps. Vergess urged Geist to go faster, even though they had no music to work with. 

Which meant everything happened in painful silence. 

While Geist enjoyed her close proximity to Vergess—especially since no one could complain—she couldn’t enjoy a second of the event. She stutter-stepped around, hesitated for a few seconds, and pulled Vergess along by the hands, knowing full well she looked like a childish amateur. I’m such a fool, she thought, unable to look Vergess in the eye for fear of ridicule and mockery. Why am I even doing this?

For the past few years, she had trained, killed, and fought in a bloody war, yet the thought of playing the man in a ballroom dance was the thing that crippled her confidence. She had no idea what she was supposed to do, and half the time she continued to slip back into the role of the woman, secretly hoping Vergess would just take over so she could be done with the “lesson.”

“Relax,” Vergess whispered.

So damn easy to say.

And it didn’t make things better that the others were muttering amongst themselves. 

Then Blick snorted. “You’re terrible.”

Geist ripped her hands away from Vergess and turned away. “Yes. I agree. We should stop this.”

“What?” Blick said. “We don’t want to risk offending the tsar and his family, remember?”

Victory wheeled on his younger brother, a scowl that could wilt plants. Blick chortled, in no way intimidated. 

“You should practice,” Vergess said. “Just try again.”

“Why don’t you try explaining what she’s doing wrong?” Dreamer interjected. 

“She can learn by doing.”

“A proper teacher uses every tool to teach a student.”

“Yes, well, perhaps explaining the dance isn’t my forte,” Vergess barked. “Why don’t you tell her?”

Dreamer shook his head. “I don’t know how to dance. That wasn’t a skill taught to eunuchs.”

“Then perhaps you shouldn’t offer advice on matters you know nothing of.”

The odd argument got the others tense. Vergess and Dreamer stared for a long moment, but after exhaling, both men turned away. Vergess returned his attention to Geist and held out his hand, ready to practice again. 

“Why don’t I try?” Victory said. 

He walked around his chair, one arm still in a sling, but he held himself like only a gentleman could. Then he offered his good hand and smiled. 

With his aristocratic upbringing, Geist figured Victory would know best. She exhaled and took his hand. The look Vergess gave her when she passed—it was fleeting—was like he wanted to object, but couldn’t. 

“You don’t need to worry about the grand duchess discovering your secret,” Victory said. “She won’t have her hands all over you. That’s improper.” He motioned to his hip. “You place your hand here. She will place a hand on your shoulder. And while you may come together in the dance, I doubt she will notice anything through the layers of formal clothing.”

“Th-thanks,” Geist muttered. The simple explanation did put her at ease.

Victory continued, “The key to leading a dance is to control everything from your torso—the core momentum coming from your center of gravity. The woman may be holding one of your hands, but she’ll feel the way you shift from your torso first.”

When Victory swayed side to side, Geist felt the movement. It dawned on her then, like someone pulling back the curtains to reveal the truth. Dancing did come from the torso. Why had she been trying to pull Vergess by the hands? It seemed so foolish now. 

“You try,” Victory said.

Although she still felt ridiculous, Geist attempted to lead Victory around the room. To her surprise, he began humming. Although she had never considered his voice soothing or lyrical, the pleasant melody he provided for their faux dance reminded her of a quiet evening in London she once shared with her mother and younger brother, Dietrich. It made it easy to keep pace and focus on the footwork. Much easier than silence. 

The others whispered among themselves, but Geist didn’t feel as ridiculous as before. At least I’m actually dancing.

Halfway around the room, Geist stared up at Victory, closer than she had ever been with him before. He had a slight scar over his right eye—one that altered the way his eyebrow grew and affected his eyelashes. He had gotten the scar when they fought the German U-boat. A decision Geist had made. During the fight, a piece of glass had dug its way into his face, and Cross didn’t get a chance to heal Victory until weeks later. 

Then Geist glanced down at Victory’s arm resting in the sling.

That was my fault, too.

Victory paused his humming to say, “And if the lady makes a misstep, you apologize.”

“Really?” Geist asked as she returned her attention to him.

“Of course. As the gentleman, and the lead, you take responsibility for all mistakes. Always.”

Shaken by Victory’s words, and the scars on his body—all due to her mistakes—Geist continued to keep his gaze. It took her a moment, even while they danced, to whisper, “I’m sorry, Victory.”

She didn’t say anything else, but the look Victory offered in reply told her everything. He knew what she meant. 

Instead of saying something cutting or hurtful, he gave her smile. “A gracious lady will always accept the apology. Everyone makes mistakes.”

About the Author

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Shami Stovall grew up in California’s central valley with a single mother and little brother. Despite no one in her family earning a degree higher than a GED, she put herself through college (earning a BA in History), and then continued on to law school where she obtained her Juris Doctorate.
As a child, Stovall’s favorite novel was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The adventure on a deserted island opened her mind to ideas and realities she had never given thought before—and it was at that moment Stovall realized story telling (specifically fiction) became her passion. Anything that told a story, be it a movie, book, video game or comic, she had to experience. Now, as a professor and author, Stovall wants to add her voice to the myriad of stories in the world and she hopes you enjoy.
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