My Bloody Valentine: An Interview with Sonora Taylor

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers! Today, I bring you a special treat to celebrate dark and deadly love, an interview with Sonora Taylor about her newly published novel, Without Condition.

I was a first reader of Without Condition, and I devoured it! The story is incredibly unique, unrelentingly dark, at times, sexy as hell, and just an altogether fun read.

Before we dive into the interview, a little about Without Condition:

Cara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments. Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments. Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.

Let’s get right to it. What inspired you to write a serial killer coming-of-age love story?

Something that had nothing to do with any of those things, ha ha. I was first inspired when I read an article about Tobias Forge, the lead singer of the band Ghost. Previously, Forge performed under an alias. He said one of the reasons he decided to come forward with his identity was because his mom wouldn’t stop bragging about him to her friends and neighbors. Forge typically performs in full Satanic priest costume, or in full skeleton makeup while wearing a suit. I couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of this man’s proud mother walking around saying, “That’s my son!”

 

From there, I thought about what it’d be like if a mother was like that for a child who was actually doing bad things — nay, criminal things. I’m drawn to extremes, and thus thought about what that’d be like if the child was a killer. I went first to a son, but to change things up, I had the child be a daughter. I started thinking of how this mother-daughter dynamic could play out, but it wasn’t until I came up with the daughter meeting a man that the story really took off in my mind. It became less about the absurdity of one mother’s pride and more about testing the limits of unconditional love.

 

What is your writing process like? Was there anything particularly unique about the process of writing Without Condition (anything that surprised you, was funny, was brutal, etc.)?

 

I try to write once a day, and to carve out a little time each day. I usually do a section a day for a short story, and 1000 words a day for a novel. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; but having a number to aim for helps give me a goal to meet, and thus makes it easier to complete the task each day.

 

Without Condition was unique in the context of working on this novel versus working on my first novel, Please Give. For the latter, it was very easy for me to sit down and write. I often surpassed my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes writing 2000 or even 3000 words in a sitting. I had lots of ideas and, while writing Please Give had plenty of challenges, sitting down to write it wasn’t one of them.

 

With Without Condition, while I wanted to sit down and write, I found it harder to sit down and do so for long stretches of time. Some scenes would flow like butter in a hot skillet, while others would spread like cold butter on bread — ie, either not at all or else with a lot of torn bread.

 

Still, I found that when I went back and read what I’d written so far in Without Condition, more often than not, I found myself reasonably satisfied with the first attempt. Not satisfied enough to leave it unchanged, of course; but with Please Give, I must’ve revised some passages several times over before I was even close to satisfied. With Without Condition, I always felt like I had something good, even when I knew I could have something better. That was a pleasant surprise I encountered with this one.

 

In my opinion, you’ve written a protagonist who, yes, is a serial killer, but the circumstances surrounding her are much more terrifying than her propensity to kill. You cover a lot of horrifying topics in this book, many that are freakishly mundane and a little too close to home. Tell us a little about the themes of Without Condition (without spoilers, of course!).

 

The biggest theme, as alluded to in the title, is the idea of unconditional love. We often tell our loved ones that we’ll always love them no matter what. But what does that mean when someone is doing something heinous or wrong? Does that still apply? I wanted to explore that, and at a deeper level than the absurdity of that level of unconditional love from an outsider’s perspective. I wanted to look at it from the perspective of a mother’s love and from romantic love, and I found it more gratifying to do so from the point of view of Cara, the subject of both of those types of love.

 

Another theme that cropped up was enabling, especially through inaction. Rather than confront notable problems that Cara displayed, she was often dismissed or ignored. I consider that just as bad as the active antagonism she faced as a child, especially from some of her teachers.

 

One final theme I enjoyed exploring was the inability to let go, be it voluntary or not. I think especially of Cara hearing the insults of her classmates over and over in her mind, and well into adulthood. Some of that is involuntary, but other times, it’s a deliberate undertaking on her part to feel anger — a way to keep herself company that, in turn, ensures she’s often alone. It’s also dangerous company, both for herself and for the people around her.

 

I feel like the setting of Without Condition is very important for both the plot and the characters. Are you drawing from environments that you know well, or did you create the setting purely to support the story?

 

Leslie is a fictional town in North Carolina (as are Pinesboro and Egret’s Bay), but I drew on actual places I lived for inspiration. I lived in North Carolina for eight years. My family lived in Chapel Hill, I went to school in Durham, and I went to college at NC State in Raleigh. While none of the places I lived were as small as Leslie, the towns I lived in were a hop, skip, and a jump from more rural areas. I spent a lot of time visiting places with lots of farmland and forests, and I based the look and feel of Leslie on the time I spent in those places.

 

One tidbit I’d love to share here, if you don’t mind: Leslie was originally a placeholder name for Cara’s hometown. I named the town after Bill Leslie, a reporter in Raleigh who also has a career as a New Age musician. The name stuck as I kept writing. So, thank you, Bill Leslie, for the inspiration!

 

Without giving too much away, I will say that there are some very sexy scenes in this book. To you, what are the most important things to consider when writing sex scenes?

 

To me, sex scenes are at their best when they’re focusing on the sensations and feelings — some feelings of deeper emotion, like if someone’s happy or nervous; but more so feelings of lust and desire. Many romance novels focus on the longing, then end the scene before any sex happens; while a lot of erotica or straight sex scenes focus mostly on the actions. I prefer sex scenes that infuse both. I also like implications as opposed to direct references to certain body parts. Not dorky euphemisms, mind you; but not clinical terms either. It’s not that I mind seeing the word “penis,” it just seems to throw off the sexiness when I’m reading or writing a good sex scene.

 

I’m also not a big fan of sex scenes that refer to a vagina as a pussy. I’d sooner say “entered her” or something like that — I think most readers will know what that means, and can fill it in themselves (heh). But I think focusing on sexual emotions first, and then how the characters act on those feelings and desires directly after, is most important; letting each move and flow in rhythm like … well …

 

I’m definitely getting some Mommy Dearest vibes from this book. Are you a fan? Are there other works that have directly inspired either Without Condition or your writing in general?

 

I am a fan! “Tina! Bring me the axe!” But funny enough, I wasn’t really thinking of Mommy Dearest when I wrote this. I can see where those vibes would come from, though. Both feature overbearing mothers, as well as mothers who scar their children with their own fears and traumas.

 

I’m inspired equally by dark humor and mundane takes on things that are dark. One of my favorite authors is Augusten Burroughs. His humor is so biting, and he talks about some horrific things in his life with both humor and … like, he knows it was awful and traumatizing, but he also presents it as just so, because it was his life (and a large part of his life). He doesn’t hammer his readers over the head with what was shocking, bad, or wrong. He just shows it through talking about it and letting the events speak for themselves. I think that’s a rare gift.

 

In fiction, I’m similarly inspired by Flannery O’Connor. The way she tells a story about murder in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is horrifying because of how casually she tells it. It’s just something that’s happening. I like horror that’s unsettling. It stays in my bones longer than a quick jump scare.

 

If there was a movie poster created for Without Condition, what would its slogan be?

 

She’s hidden the bodies. Hiding her heart is a little bit harder. (I love cheesy taglines)

 

Okay, this is a fun one for horror writers. We write horror, in part, to terrify others, but what are you afraid of?

 

My top 5: enclosed spaces, being bound or trapped, upsetting people (especially people I care about), slipping on ice, and the Extra-Terror-estrial ride at Magic Kingdom (it’s now closed. Good riddance).

 

I love that you published Without Condition so close to Valentine’s Day and during Women in Horror Month! What are your thoughts on being a woman writing in the horror genre – and also, what are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day?

 

I’ve always been drawn to dark fiction and horror in the stories I read and write. While I read a variety of genres, the darker stories hold a soft spot in my heart. My favorites tend to be less about monsters, the supernatural, and gore; and more about the darkness of people and their minds. This is the type of horror I like to write, and also the type of stories I like to write, period; be they straight horror, slice-of-life, romance, or other genres.

 

I like being able to write horror, and I like how much the genre has opened up to women writers over the past several years, especially in the indie scene. There are still barriers, but it’s really great to see women’s contributions to the genre being recognized and appreciated. Like any genre, horror is at its best when we get a variety of voices telling the stories.

 

I actually love Valentine’s Day. Growing up, it was always a friendship and family holiday for me. My parents gave me candy and a card (they still send me a Valentine’s Day package each year), and my friends and classmates gave each other those cartoon cards. As such, I never found it overly mushy, or felt anything against it; even though I was always single on Valentine’s Day until I met my husband. I still like to get cards for my friends, and candy for myself. And yes, I did intentionally release Without Condition close to Valentine’s Day because of its dark romantic nature.

 

Who is your favorite character in Without Condition? What’s your favorite thing they say in the novel (no need for context!)?

 

I like pretty much everyone (except Amanda and Mr. Murphy), but if I had to pick a favorite, it’d probably be Jackson. My favorite thing he says — the gravity of which will make more sense in context — is, “You would?”

 

What is your favorite line in Without Condition?

 

“She couldn’t help but think of Jackson as a small boy feeding a bobcat in his backyard, trusting that this wild animal would always be his pet.”

 

What do you hope readers experience when they read this novel?

 

This is always kind of hard for me to answer, because I don’t want to guide people’s feelings when they read my work (beyond what I establish in things like the book description). That said, I hope people will consider the sources of darkness, of what horrifies them, and what’s unsettling them as they read. I consider the serial killer aspect to be the surface — it’s horrifying, but there are also more dark and terrible things below that surface, some of which we might be uncomfortably more familiar with.

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

 

Right now, I’m finishing some short stories that I’m including in my next short story collection, currently titled “Little Paranoias: Stories.” It will include my flash fiction, some longer pieces, and a little poetry. Once I send the manuscript to my editor, I’m going to take a crack at my third novel.

 

You can purchase your copy of Without Condition HERE

 

About Sonora:sonora-taylor-26771109472762677651.jpg

Sonora Taylor is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was included in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call and Mercurial Stories. “The Crow’s Gift” will be featured on the horror podcast “Tales to Terrify” later in 2019. Her second novel, Without Condition, is now available on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online:

Website: https://sonorawrites.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonorawrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonorataylor/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/sonorawrites/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17015434.Sonora_Taylor
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Sonora-Taylor/e/B075BR5Q7F/
Blog: sonorawrites.com/blog

Giftmas 2018 – Anything But Plain

Giftmas-2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Even in my hometown of sunny San Diego, California, it feels like the holiday season. The temperature has dropped enough to warrant the daily donning of boots, scarves, and heavy jackets. Pumpkin, peppermint, gingerbread, and eggnog-flavored treats are everywhere. My husband and I are working our way through our annual tour of holiday movies. And I have to admit, I love, love, love giving gifts – especially the ones that really matter.

That’s why I’m participating in Giftmas 2018.

What’s Giftmas, you ask? It’s a blog tour Rhonda Parrish hosts every December to raise awareness and funds for the Edmonton Food Bank. This year, the blog tour has an Advent theme. Twenty-four authors have donated stories to share on the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, one each day – and then Rhonda is sharing a super-cool surprise on Christmas Day!

You don’t need to donate in order to read the Giftmas stories (they’re just hanging out on the interwebs for you to discover and enjoy; check out #Giftmas2018 on social media or this post on Rhonda’s blog with links to each published story), but we do hope these tales—some happy, some sad, some holiday-themed, some sci-fi breakup letters—inspire you to donate a little something to help the folks who benefit from the Edmonton Food Bank. Even a dollar makes a difference!

You can donate HERE to make the season merrier and brighter for someone in need.

And now, without further ado, it’s story time!

Yesterday, Kurt Kirchmeier demolished my heart with his gorgeous story “Souls on Display.” Tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what E.C. Bell shares on her blog. Today, check out my feel-good romance short about a bad first date, an unlikely cupid, and a heartwarming realization.

Enjoy!

Anything but Plain

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

As the crowd about her hummed with excitement and low conversation, Kate Saxon turned, regarded Lawrence Chilton’s very plain profile, and tried not to grimace. She shifted her gaze to a man in his seventies who was snoozing in his scratchy theater seat beside her and wished she could body-swap with him.

What she wouldn’t give to sleep through the next couple hours without having to worry about the consequences. No pretense, no mask, no pretending to have a good time—none of the bullshit that accompanied the vile mating ritual that was the blind date. Just sweet, mind-numbing sleep.

To be fair, Lawrence wasn’t horrible company. He was simply expected company, which was worse in Kate’s book.

He’d showed up at her door at precisely 6 PM, freshly shaven, a bouquet of pink carnations underarm. He was her height, normal looking, and held every door open for her. He took her to a well-known Italian restaurant where they shared a bottle of Chianti and blew through the checklist of obligatory first date questions and answers over a fried artichoke appetizer—my job is very satisfying, I go to yoga about twice a week, my family lives an hour away, and my sister is getting married in the fall. They’d both taken to studying the décor of the restaurant in mock appreciation by the time their entrees arrived. There was no spark—of interest or romance.

When the waitress took their plates, Kate rejoiced that the date was nearly over. She’s let nice-enough-but-predictable Lawrence take her home. She’d open another bottle of wine and do Tina Turner impressions in heels while listening to a record on her vintage turntable. It was her post bad date ritual. It was also wonderful cardio.

But Kate’s plan was foiled. Lawrence excitedly pulled a white envelope from his tweed coat and announced he had two tickets for the 8 PM performance of King Lear at the Orpheum Theater downtown. Kate smiled a fake smile, said something about loving “the Bard,” and took a sip of air from her far-too-empty wine glass.

Now, she sat in the front row of the theater, picking at a loose seam on her skirt, wishing she were in her seventies and, thus, allowed to fall asleep on a date without it being considered rude.

Of course, if she did fall asleep and snored like a trucker, perhaps Lawrence would find her repulsive and never call again. Kate gave serious thought to the pros and cons of this option as the lights in the theater dimmed.

“This is going to be great,” Lawrence whispered.

Kate offered a tight-lipped, “Mm hmm,” and then slouched in her chair, having decided she’d give the I’m-so-bored-I-fell-sleep routine a shot. The risk of offense was worth it. She needed to get out of here—or just zone out for the duration of the show. If she was lucky, she’d be extra revolting and drool.

About ten minutes into the show, Kate had her eyes closed when she felt a tickle on her left knuckle. She tensed. Oh God, he’s trying to hold my hand.

Kate’s eyes flicked open, and she looked down, ready to pull her hand discreetly into her lap. But Lawrence’s hand was nowhere to be found. Instead, a spider of damn near Amazonian size peered up at Kate like a puppy dog yearning for a cuddle.

Kate stood up and began to shriek, flicking her wrists in an effort to buck the spider from her hand. But the arachnid held on valiantly like a cowboy at a rodeo, desperate for its six seconds of fame.

Kate was vaguely aware of running about, climbing something—and perhaps rolling around on the ground?—but her sense of location in the theater was a blur until the spider gave up, leaped from her hand, and disappeared through a crack in the stage into the orchestra pit below.

Kate looked up and was blinded by white light. As her eyes adjusted, she peered out into the audience of the theater—at the horrified patrons; at Lawrence, whose mouth hung open; at the old man she’d been seated next to only moments ago and who was now very much awake. She peered over her shoulder and spied actors in Elizabethan garb staring at her as if she were in her underwear.

Kate gazed down at her favorite peep-toe heels and realized she was on the apron of the stage, standing directly above the unused orchestra pit. And she was frozen to the spot, a mute snow woman in the middle of a theater in downtown Phoenix.

Shit.

As Kate opened her mouth, desperate to deliver an apology, Lawrence stood up in the front row. Kate’s stomach twisted. She was sure he’d storm out—or worse, reprimand her in public.

But instead, he started to sing. “Don’t go breakin’ my heart…”

Kate stood there, dumbfounded, frowning at him in confusion.

Lawrence stepped forward and climbed the lip of the stage. He repeated the line, taking Kate’s hand in his, then gave her a nod.

Kate opened her mouth and delivered a truly shaky and off-pitch, “I couldn’t if I tried.”

Lawrence smiled. “Honey, if I get restless.”

Kate smiled. “Baby, you’re not that kind.”

Silence enveloped the theater.

“Now bow,” Lawrence instructed.

Kate bent at the waist and the theater erupted in laughter and applause. Kate straightened and grinned. Lawrence squeezed her hand and a subtle warmth filled Kate’s heart.

“What do you say we get out of here?” Lawrence asked over the trill of the audience.

Kate gave him a nod and he pulled her offstage into the wings, laughing all the while. The stage manager gave them a strict talking to as he led them through a narrow hall past dressing rooms and out the stage door exit.

In the alley behind the theater, Kate leaned against brick and dissolved into laughter. Lawrence did the same, and their shared hilarity echoed off the façades about them and into the starry night.

As Kate’s giggles died down, she looked over at her date. Lawrence’s eyes sparkled in the lamplight, and Kate admitted inwardly that she’d been wrong. Lawrence’s profile was anything but plain.

END

Getting Down and Dirty in the Sand with Escaping Exile Author Sara Dobie Bauer

EscapingExile-f500

What happens when you maroon a brutal, brooding vampire and a smart-cracking human naturalist on a tropical island? Primal urges. Hidden desires. Battles with cannibals. Sweaty jungle nights. And a tantalizing story by Sara Dobie Bauer that elevates vampire mythos to new, exciting, erotic heights. If you like reading about sexy men who love sexy men, this first installation in the Escape Series, Escaping Exile, is for you.

Today, I have Sara on the blog to talk vampires, deserted islands, and writing scorching sex scenes.

As evidenced by both this series and the Bite Somebody series, you like setting vampiric stories in beachy locales. Why do you think you keep winding up in the water and on the sand?

I want to live at the beach. Sure, it’s a vision of utopia because all my “beach time” is based on vacation experience. Therefore, my “beach time” is just me on a beach drinking all day and making strange friends. I’m not sure what it would be like to live on a beach full time … but I’m willing to give it a try. I love the laid back lifestyle, and I would wear nothing but bathing suits. I’m also a water baby, so I’d rather be swimming than walking (although I would miss the high heels).

If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you rather have with you – Edmund or Andrew? Why?

Edmund because of his sick sense of humor. And he’d keep me warm at night, whereas Andrew—as a vampire—would not. Plus, Edmund’s look is based on a buffed up Timothee Chalamet, and I wouldn’t mind waking up to that face every morning.

And who would you rather accompany to Mardi Gras in New Orleans?  

Oh, tough one! Probably Andrew because he could defend me from murderers and thieves due to his vampiric prowess. His superhuman strength and height would assist me in efficiently getting drinks, and he knows all the best brothels.

What are your favorite lines from Escaping Exile? (no context needed)

“Not everyone is as morally reprehensible as the two of us.”

“Thank God.” I suck his lower lip and let it go with a pop. “The entire world would be nothing but blood and orgies.”

What is the theme song for our lovers while they’re living on their island?

“Better Love” by Hozier. Such a sexy, sexy song.

What was the best part about writing Escaping Exile? What was the worst?

Best part: Writing the sex. There is so much tension at the beginning of this series, so when the boys finally DO IT … oh, what a relief. They are very good at sex together.

Worst part: Typing “The End.” I love these boys!!! (Although, thankfully, this book is part one of a trilogy, so there’s more to come …)

There are some very, very sexy scenes in this novella! Is there anything in particular you do to get yourself in the mood to write these scenes? Do your characters beg for it?

Ha, I’m always in the mood. TMI? In all honesty, I’m a big fan fiction reader, so I’ve been known to visit Archive of Our Own for some sexy inspiration. Fan fiction writers are sorely underrated. I’ve learned so much about writing sex from reading Johnlock and Charmie stories.

In the case of Escaping Exile, I’m not sure who was more desperate to get laid: Andrew or Edmund. By the time they finally kiss, I’m pretty sure they were both begging for it.

Some say that vampires are written to death (pun intended). Why do you think readers still crave stories about vampires? And why do you still crave stories about vampires?

Vampires will always be sexy—and we all love sexy things. Often, humans like the idea of immortality, too. So maybe we’re fixated on that: the idea of eternal youth. Personally, I’m a fan of biting and vampires are generally darkly charismatic with loads of sensuality and a touch of the nasty. I like all these things. No … I love all these things.

What can we expect in the next installment of the Escape series? Give us a little hint, pretty please?

The love story of Andrew and Edmund continues in New Orleans. Orgies. Eternal love. More vampires. A trans-Atlantic sea voyage. Did I mention orgies?

And, in case you were wondering, here’s the fantasy movie cast of Escaping Exile. 

EE movie cast

 

ABOUT ESCAPING EXILE:

Andrew is a vampire from New Orleans, exiled to a tropical island in the 1800s as punishment for his human bloodlust. During a storm, a ship crashes off shore. After rescuing a sailor from the cannibals native to the land, Andrew becomes fascinated with his brilliant, beautiful new companion, Edmund.

Edmund is a British naturalist who has sailed the world seeking new species. Intrigued by creatures that might kill him, immortal Andrew is this scientist’s dream-but so is making his way back home. Edmund will fight to survive, even while wrapped in the arms of a monster.

As light touches and laughter turn to something much more passionate, the cannibals creep ever closer to Edmund. Can the ancient vampire keep his human alive long enough to escape exile and explore their newfound love, or will Andrew’s bloodlust seal his own doom?

 

BUY LINKS:

https://amzn.to/2LAMPWi

https://ninestarpress.com/product/escaping-exile/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40958274-escaping-exile

 

SDB

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series, among other sexy things. Learn more at http://SaraDobieBauer.com.

 

SARA DOBIE BAUER SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSaraDobieBauer/
https://twitter.com/saradobie
https://www.instagram.com/saradobiebauer/
https://saradobiebauer.tumblr.com/

 

An Interview with Witchy Writer Babe Sara Dobie Bauer

EnchantedCover500x750

Today, Pen and Kink Publishing has a new book out in the world – Enchanted: Magic Spark! Hooray!

To celebrate the release, I have the ever-witchy, ever-fabulous Sara Dobie Bauer on the blog for an interview. But first, here’s a little about the Enchanted: Magic Spark…

The first of a trio of trilogies by three amazing romance writers. These stories all have two things in common: magic and romance!

“When Demigods Court Death” by Wendy Sparrow:
As the demigod of fertility, Aster Slone has a thriving doctor’s practice. In fact, the incidence of triplets has made it too thriving. He needs more time with his neighbor the demigoddess of death to dampen his powers. Chandra Linton being gorgeous and sweet makes his task less of a hardship. Hitting the zenith of heretofore-unknown powers without enough exposure to her match is killing Chandra. Accepting all that her crazy, but hot neighbor says is her destiny…well, it muddles her convictions, but her real concern is: does Aster want Chandra because she’s the woman he desires or because she’s Death?

“These Roots Run Deep” by Em Shotwell:
Spitfire, New Orleans weather girl, Cheyanne Murphey has everything, and that is exactly how she likes it. When she discovers evidence of her fiancé’s philandering, she refuses to let her perfectly cultivated image fall to pieces. Cheyanne has worked too hard, dragging herself up from the trailer park into New Orleans’ society, to give in without a fight…even if that means trading a year of her life in exchange for a love incantation from her ancestor’s spell book. A skyclad, moonlit dance, a mysterious potion, and magic gone awry leave Cheyanne with a very peculiar life lesson: love can take on many forms, so be careful what you wish for.

“Destiny’s Dark Light – Part One” by Sara Dobie Bauer:
In modern day Charleston, lonely white witch Cyan Burroughs has waited her whole life to lead the battle against dark witches and eventually meet the man she is fated to love. A tragic trolley accident brings Liam Cody into her life. He is her destiny, but he’s also in love with someone else. Now, Cyan and her magic family must find the dark witch who caused the accident while Cyan fights her feelings for Liam—a charming Irishman with secrets of his own.

Speaking of “Destiny’s Dark Light” and Sara Dobie Bauer…

What is it about witches that gets your cauldron bubbling? Why do you love them and love writing about them?

Ever since watching The Craft when I was, like, a fetus, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of being able to cast spells and make shit happen. I went through a phase where I played with magic, actually, although I wasn’t really serious about it. Plus, witches (sort of like vampires) are historically sexy and cool. I further fell in love with them thanks to the epic hotness levels of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic. Meow. The idea of being able to use “powers” to do things just seems so cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts?

Give us a five-word explanation of part one of “Destiny’s Dark Light.”

Big accident in little Charleston?

Okay, okay, that was mean. Give us a longer pitch of the story.

(Jeesh, that was super mean!) In modern day Charleston, lonely white witch Cyan Burroughs has waited her whole life to lead the battle against dark witches and eventually meet the man she is fated to love. A tragic trolley accident brings Liam Cody into her life. He is her destiny, but he’s also in love with someone else. Now, Cyan and her magic family must find the dark witch who caused the accident while Cyan fights her feelings for Liam, a charming Irishman with secrets of his own.

Enchanted: Magic Spark presents the first installment of “Destiny’s Dark Light,” so yes, it does end on a cliffhanger. Part two comes out in February and part three in April!

Anyone who’s read your work (and interviews about your work) knows that many of your male love interests are based upon your real-life muse Benedict Cumberbatch. Is there a particular Cumber-look or Cumber-era upon which Liam Cody, the sexy Irishman in “Destiny’s Dark Light,” is based on?

You bet. Liam’s look is based on a precise event. Benedict did a reading at the burial of Richard III. (He’s even distantly related to the hunchback king AND he played Richard III in The Hollow Crown.) Liam’s short, auburn hair and bespoke suits all revolve around Benedict at this specific event, and yes, I am a huge nerd.

Liam-collage

Obviously, destiny plays a big role in this story. I mean, it’s in the title. And a little birdy told me there’s something about a prophecy in your tale. In real life, how much do you believe in destiny versus happenstance? How does your personal view align or contrast with those of the characters in “Destiny’s Dark Light?”

I don’t believe in “destiny,” but I believe in a guiding God, so … hmm. I believe some things are meant to be in our lives. I believe I was meant to meet Jacob Anthony Bauer at a dive bar in Charleston, fall in love with him, and eventually marry the guy. I believe I am supposed to be a writer, but is that destiny or a personal decision? Arguably, it was destined to happen because everything else I tried failed—but I had to decide to keep moving beyond the failure to eventually follow the career I loved. Perhaps, destiny is a sort of guidance, but we can accept it or deny it.

The characters in “Destiny’s Dark Light” believe in destiny wholeheartedly, no matter the crappy repercussions. Cyan was destined at birth to be the light witch who would kill the dark witch—or die trying. She’s also destined to love Liam. She might not like her destiny, but she accepts it … Well, at least in part one …

Why should readers pick up Enchanted: Magic Spark?

Readers get three very different stories from three very different female authors, all focused around magic and romance. I’ve been a fan of Wendy Sparrow and Em Shotwell for ages, so I’m honored to be included in the Enchanted series with them. You really don’t want to miss this!

Got any prophecies for 2018? (I’m thinking perhaps we could use some!)

Let me check my crystal ball—and by crystal ball, I mean my absinthe glass. Yes, I see a wedding in Phoenix. (See you there, Tiff.) I see me, naked on a moonlit Florida beach at some point. And I see a world not ruled by social media but founded on patience and love … but that’s probably only in my dreams. Oh, and I’m totally gonna hug Mr. Cumberbatch one of these days.

About the Author:

Sara_Dobie_Bauer

Photo credit: Bill Thornhill

Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling, award-winning author, model, and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” inspired by her shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody from World Weaver Press, among other ridiculously entertaining things. Learn more at http://SaraDobieBauer.com.

 

Buy your copy HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Spark-Enchanted-Book-1-ebook/dp/B0776ZP5ZX/

 

5 Reasons to Read Wendy Sparrow’s Servants of Fate Series

all-three-covers

I am utterly twitterpated with Wendy Sparrow’s Servants of Fate series! Set to publish in November, each novella in the trilogy follows one of Father Time’s sons—Zeit, Tempus, and Ruin—immortals who must sacrifice a human’s lifetime to the Fates each New Year’s Eve. In return, the sons are allowed to dole out small increments of time to deserving mortals throughout the year. About to get hit by a bus? Zeit might freeze time, move you just a millimeter to the right, and save your life.

Despite their work among mortals, Father Time’s sons are anything but. They keep to themselves and definitely don’t understand human follies…until a trio of vivacious, beautiful women capture their attention—and their hearts, turning their worlds upside down and showing them just how precious time can be.

And if that premise alone isn’t inspiration enough for you to dive into this sweet, delightful romance series, here are five more reasons to read Stealing Time, Taking Time, and Keeping Time come November.

1. The Men

Wendy Sparrow likes her immortals tall, dark, and dressed in trench coats. I’m not complaining. Zeit, Tempus, and Ruin sizzle on the page. With their striking good looks and bad boy demeanors, it’s no wonder mortal women are immediately drawn to them. However, Father Time’s sons become even more irresistible when they start to experience everyday human life and gravitate toward certain things that make them softer and more relatable. An obsession with chocolate oranges, a motorcycle, and a love for mystery novels render them alluring and adorable.

2. The Women

What kind of women can inspire immortals to slum it with humans? Smart, quick-witted, lovely ones who challenge Father Time’s sons to look at the world and their very existence differently. Each woman in this series is decidedly unique, but I found each of them wonderfully relatable, too. Sparrow has a knack for writing women with humor, honesty, and emotional resonance. I want to be friends with Hannah, Lacey, and Phoebe.

3. The Kissing

After reading this series, I was inspired to make out with my fiancé. I wanted to straight up mack in the backseat of a car. Because the kissing scenes in this series take you back to those first passionate kisses you shared with someone who ignited a spark of desire in you. The kisses are sweet and sexy and play you’re your senses in all the right ways. Readers, have chap stick and mints on hand. You’re going to want to host a makeout party after reading this series.

4. The Dialogue

As a writer, I truly admire Sparrow’s mastery of dialogue. She infuses conversations between characters with healthy doses of chemistry and humor, and the repartee is on point. There were many times when I couldn’t help but smile or snicker or blush.

5. The Seasonal Cheer

When December rolls around, I will be reading all three novellas again, because they are the perfect way to usher in the holiday season. Since Father Time’s sons make sacrifices on New Year’s Eve, the stories are chock full of Christmas references—mistletoe, hot chocolate, snow, Santa, gifts, classic movies. All of the trimmings are there. And is there anything more romantic than a snowy lodge during the holidays? Sigh.

Here’s a little more about each novella and their fabulous author, Wendy Sparrow:

stealingtimecover

Father Time’s son, Zeit Geist, must sacrifice a mortal’s lifetime to the Fates each New Year’s Eve. Last year—inexplicably, really—he made an 11:59 substitution. The Fates are pissed and they’re after his mortal Hannah. With the year ending, he ought to figure out why he’d saved her—and why he keeps doing it.

Following an unlucky year, Hannah Lyons needs a week’s holiday in a lodge to unwind. What she gets is near-death experiences and a sexy immortal who can’t avoid kissing her, but might have to kill her. After all, even Zeit can’t hold back time indefinitely.

takingtime

Tempus fugit. Time flies…unless you’re Tempus Halt, Father Time’s son. Day in and day out are the same, except for New Year’s Eve when he steals the life of a mortal on behalf of the Fates. This year marks his first failure to stay the monotonous course. A mortal’s kiss and her insistence on taking the place of his year’s sacrifice stalled out everything. Now, Tempus has to keep her alive for a year so his sacrifice isn’t wasted, but that’s the only reason—definitely.

One of these crazy grim reapers stole Lacey Carpenter’s estranged father’s life two years ago. She’ll give her own life rather than letting it happen again. It backfires when Tempus doesn’t actually kill her, and they have to spend the year together. She’s falling for an immortal who stops time, not just to save her life, but also to ruin her dates and steal her books. This can never work and fate is just not on her side—in fact, they’d really like her dead before Tempus falls for her in return.

keepingtime

When Ruin’s mortal sacrifice to the Fates on New Year’s Eve is already dying, it should be the easiest life he has to take, but not this year. The dying man knows Ruin is there to kill him, but he asks Father Time’s son to look after his twin sister. Ruin can’t stay away from the sweet and sensual Phoebe. His previous interactions with women changed the definition of his name, Ruin, so he can’t fall for her, especially when the lovely mortal doesn’t know he killed her brother.

Phoebe’s brother promised to send her a guardian angel, but Ruin seems too devilish to be holy. He only wants to be friends and keep watch over her, but she can’t resist him. Loving Ruin is a sin tempting her heart. How wrong is it to cause an angel’s fall? Ruin and Phoebe’s time is running out as another New Year’s Eve sacrifice approaches, and Ruin might lose everything for keeping his true hand in fate secret.

About Wendy Sparrow

Wendy Sparrow lives in the Pacific Northwest with two quirky kids and a wonderful, amazing, handsome, sexy husband who dotes on her and who did not write this bio. She’s an autism advocate and was featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum. Wendy loves telling stories and has since she was a child–which is why she heard the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” so many times she could have written the screenplay at age five. She believes in the Oxford comma, the pursuit of cupcakes, and that every story deserves a happily ever after.

If she’s not writing or wrangling kids, she’s on Twitter– @WendySparrow and she’ll chat with anyone. Really.

Check out the series’ official page on Pen and Kink Publishing’s website for release dates and to pre-order your copies!

 

 

Read “French Kiss” In Romance Magazine

RomanceMagazineVol03No08

Today, my short story “French Kiss” is published in Romance Magazine. It’s a semi-autobiographical piece because it represents the one regret that I have about my experience studying abroad in Paris, France, between my freshman and sophomore year of college.

My summer in Paris was everything I dreamed it would be. I stayed with a lovely French family who were truly kind, drank the most sinful chocolat chaud of my life—twice, danced my way through La Fete de la Musique, spent my 19th birthday in Chartres at the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen, shopped for Parisian couture, and took in exceptional architecture and art, all the while earning the foreign language credits I needed to pursue my degree.

But the thing about this adventure that made it truly unique and created so many memories is that this was before smart phones and international cell phones were the norm. I had no phone. Access to the internet? Nope. My French host family had a dial-up AOL connection that I felt guilty using, because they rarely used it themselves. There were internet cafes, but frankly, those creeped me out a bit. There was one TV in the house, and I think me and my friend, Kristen, who I was lucky enough to be paired with for the trip, watched it all of two times. Essentially, our trip was “unplugged.”

So, I wrote letters on rose-colored stationary and prayed they’d make it to Phoenix, Arizona, before I flew back. I read voraciously for entertainment. I finished ten books during the trip. And I invested in calling cards and became an expert at figuring out time differences between Arizona, Paris, and Thailand.

Why Thailand? Well, my first college boyfriend was vacationing there with his family, and I couldn’t imagine seven weeks without speaking to him. A few nights a week, I would walk down la rue from my host family’s flat and wait on a bench until a certain time. Then, I’d cross the street to a pay phone and make my calls.

A few weeks into my trip, an Italian boy (I say “boy,” but he was probably only a year or two younger than me) started sitting next to me. His uncle owned a pizza parlor not far from our flat that was too die for. And he unabashedly flirted with me all the time. It was flattering, but…my thoughts were in Thailand.

Fast forward to when I’m back in the States and I go to visit my boyfriend before the school year starts. He brings me roses at the airport…and then dumps me 24 hours later. And then he took me to meet his mother. I was a really rough week. Sigh…young love…

As I look back on our fledgling relationship, I realize we were all wrong for each other. The warning signs were there. Even still, I don’t regret the calling cards and the time I spent in a phone booth in Paris. I don’t regret the love letters I wrote to him. I don’t regret all the crazy feelings of first-time romance.

So, what’s my biggest regret?

I clearly should have kissed the Italian boy.

In “French Kiss,” armed with hindsight, I explore what would’ve happened if I’d thrown caution to the wind and allowed myself a little Parisian romance.

Download your copy today and let the love in. Gros bisous!

Smoke and Mirrors – Part 3

Shit’s about to go down. Are you reading this yet? If not, get to it. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2…Then, you can enjoy…

***

Aubergine. Yes, Karen had decided it was the color of eggplant. The girl’s dress had fluttered and shifted deliciously for two blocks. Now they were on Sixth Street and Karen had yet to devise a plan as to how to get the diamonds off this young girl’s neck.

Excuse me, but do you know you’re wearing stolen diamonds? Yes, they are pretty, gorgeous even, but I’m going to be in big trouble if I don’t get them back from you. I’m sure that ginger-haired ass gave them to you as some sort of lover’s present – oh, he accidentally ran over your cat? That’s terrible, but I’m going to need that necklace. Yeah, right now. Maybe he can take you out for Mexican food or something in penitence.

Somehow Karen didn’t think that would work. She sighed and stuck her hands in the pockets of her jacket, her footsteps steady, her eyes never drifting from the auburn hair 20 yards in front of her. She’d figure a way out of this…somehow.

Photo by flickr user "alternatePhotography."

Photo by flickr user “alternatePhotography.”

Karen’s ears picked up the sound of a motorcycle approaching, the engine purring and a bawdy rock song playing from its jimmied radio station. Jake wanted to buy a motorcycle, but Karen would never let him. She had no interest in throwing her skinny legs over the seat of one, even if it was behind her devastatingly handsome husband. Besides, she was afraid Jake would break his neck. Sometimes he was a real speed demon–well, as much of a speed demon as you can be in a Volvo. Karen rolled her eyes and smiled.

As her sight readjusted to the sidewalk before her, Karen saw that her target had stopped. The girl stood 20 yards away, wisps of her auburn hair blowing gently in the breeze, her focus turned toward the street. The motorcyclist had pulled up next to the curb and was staring the girl down, a disgusting smile plastered on his mug.

Men are so stupid, thinking they can just pull up and get a girl on a bike. Someone needs to stop this cree–

 That’s when Karen noticed the girl’s right hand was at her throat to cover the diamond necklace protectively. She was gesturing wildly with the other hand as she spoke. Karen couldn’t hear anything the girl was saying over the loud music blaring from the motorcycle, but she could tell there was pleading involved, and the girl kept nodding her head dismissively.

Karen’s focus shifted to the cyclist. He looked to be in about his mid-40s, greasy, hard as steel, dressed in all black, tension radiating from his body, an amused smirk playing on his lips as he watched the girl squirm. The cyclist’s hands barely rested on his thighs, encased in black leather gloves, a holstered gun nearby on his right hip. The hint of a smile suddenly dropped from the man’s lips and his gaze hardened with hostility.

Karen’s throat froze. There’s something really wrong with this picture.    

The man astride the bike made a quick movement by his right hip, aimed his gun toward the girl on the sidewalk, and fired off three shots into her chest. As the shots sounded, a woman coming the opposite way down the street fell to the ground and then scrambled on her hands and knees into a retail shop nearby. Karen heard a scream, but didn’t know where it came from, didn’t know if perhaps it was her own.

Karen watched in horror as the girl’s innocent knees collided with the pavement and then the rest of her body crumpled to the ground.

As Karen’s body lurched forward, she was vaguely aware that the motorcycle was gone, leaving behind only the faint stench of oil and leather. When she reached the girl, she dropped to her knees and covered her mouth with her hands, watching crimson and aubergine paint the sidewalk. The girl was convulsing, gasping for breath, and staring up at the sky. Karen reached out a hand and cupped the young girl’s cheek.

Shiny leather loafers and suit pants appeared in Karen’s line of vision. She looked up and found a businessman looming over them, a disturbed and questioning look on his face.

“Call an ambulance. And duck into that shop to see if they have scarves, shirts, anything to help with the bleeding.” Karen surprised herself with the quiet and controlled nature of her voice.

The man nodded. As he retreated into a store nearby, Karen heard two cars whizz by in quick succession. Both of them slowed, but neither stopped. She looked around. On the opposite side of the street, about a block away, a small group of people were gathering, pointing, whispering, and on their phones, but no one made any moves to approach the scene. A homeless man about 30 feet away made eye contact with Karen, yawned, and then looked away. A boy in his late teens rounded the corner, stopped dead in his tracks, and then threw a hand over his mouth. He pulled out his cell phone, started dialing wildly, and then disappeared around the corner he came. Another car drove by and Karen blinked hard and sighed.

“It’s fucked up that no one’s stopping,” she shouted, and then softly to the girl on the pavement, “It’s fucked up that this happened to you.”

The girl’s eyes darted to Karen’s and she made a gurgling sound. Air rushed haphazardly through her windpipe and her brow furrowed with effort. Karen felt a pull on her blouse, followed by the wetness of pooled blood reaching her exposed kneecaps. The girl pulled Karen an inch closer and opened her mouth as if to speak.

“What…what is it? Who did this?” Karen whispered.

“I…..” the girl started and then looked exhausted. Her eyes rolled, closed, reopened.

“….m….nt….Kar…”

The girl swallowed hard.

“Not…Kar….n…”

Karen’s blood ran cold as she pieced together the young girl’s sentence. I’m…not…Karen. A new panic swept through her body and she muffled a sob with her free hand. She closed her eyes and felt hot tears fall over her cheeks. It was supposed to be her on the sidewalk, surrounded by blood and trying to hold on. This had been an orchestrated hit.

But why didn’t that bastard take the diamonds?

Karen clenched her jaw and forced herself to breathe, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. When she reopened her eyes a few moments later, it was with new resolve. 

In a calculated daze, Karen reached down, grabbed the diamond necklace with bloody hands, and with a jerk, freed it from the young girl’s neck. The girl’s body shook with the jolt and then stilled as her skull hit the pavement with a dull thud. Her chest continued to rise and fall raggedly, but her eyes closed.

Karen stood, one hand clutching the necklace, the other clutching her abdomen. She was having trouble breathing, animal-like noises escaping from her mouth as shock took over her body.

It was then that she registered the suit standing nearby, watching her with a horrified expression on his face, an open cell phone in one hand, bath towels in the other.

Karen didn’t think. She ran.

  ***

Jake glanced over his shoulder for the fifth time since starting his trek toward…he didn’t know where. Paranoia sat on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot, balking in his ear and making him twitchy. His palms hadn’t stopped sweating since leaving the apartment building, which Jake attributed both to the aftereffects of the coke and the fear he was experiencing. Every man who passed him resembled Gio somehow and Jake braced himself to get punched in the gut each time he turned a street corner.

Jake’s stomach growled and stopped him in his tracks. He chuckled and did the math. It had been nearly nine hours since his last meal. His brain was fried and he felt empty.

The aroma of pastries and curry suddenly hit Jake’s nose and his mouth watered. He turned his head to the left and found himself peering through a large window into a small café that was a mix of modern and Mediterranean flair. A Middle Eastern man, Jake was guessing the owner, met his gaze. The man at first looked surprised and then happy, and gestured for him to come inside.

Every man should be entitled to a last supper, Jake thought whimsically and he grabbed the handle of the door.

When he entered, the Middle Eastern man strode to him from a black leather couch nearby, abandoning what appeared to be coffee.

“Welcome, welcome,” the man said in a heavy accent. “Care for an afternoon coffee or refreshment?”

“Yes,” Jake said. He pointed to a dark wooden table in front of a black leather chair. “Can I sit here? Or do I need to go to the counter to order?”

The Middle Eastern man gestured to the leather chair and Jake sat down, stretching his limbs and sighing heavily.

“You need something with a kick, young man. I can tell,” the man said.

Jake recoiled slightly, remembering his conversation with Gio that morning. Gio claimed to have known what Jake needed. Asshole.

Jake shook off the thought, cocked his head to the right, and looked at the man.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Adeel,” the man said. “My wife and I own this shop.”

Jake nodded and relaxed.

“Well, I definitely need some caffeine,” Jake said.

“Perhaps a Thai coffee then?” Adeel asked.

“No, no, no,” a voice piped up from behind Adeel. “Too much sugar. He’ll be up all night. Although maybe you want that?”

A slim woman with almond-shaped eyes had joined Adeel. Jake smiled at her, appreciating her warmth and humor immediately.

“He needs our dark roast, with a hint of cocoa and rosemary. He needs a plate of olive bread, cheese, and lamb, too,” the woman said matter-of-factly.

She turned on her heel and disappeared into the back of the shop to prepare the meal.

“My wife, Majidah,” Adeel said with a shrug. Jake nodded.

Adeel stood there for a moment, staring off into the distance, and rubbing his fingertips together. Finally, he returned his attention to Jake.

“Do you mind if I join you to finish my coffee?” Adeel asked.

Jake hesitated. He’d envisioned this meal as a solo venture so he could recharge, refuel, and refocus. He had a lot to think about and not a lot of time to do it. 

“I can see you are…busy,” Adeel said, but did not turn away.

“Uh, no, no,” Jake stuttered. He swallowed. “Of course you can come sit with me. I mean, you own the place, right?”

Adeel’s face lit up with a smile. He retrieved his coffee and took a seat in a matching leather chair to Jake’s left. Majidah suddenly appeared with a large, steaming mug and Jake graciously accepted it. The woman gave him a smile and then scuttled away. Jake raised the cup to his lips and took a quick sip. The liquid was piping hot, so he’d have to let it cool, but the seemingly strange combination of cocoa, coffee, and rosemary was delicious.

“So, what do you do, Jake?” Adeel asked.

“Marketing and advertising,” Jake answered, his standard response when asked about his job.

Adeel nodded sagely. “I had a desk job once,” he said. “Finance. But I grew tired of the suits and politics.” He paused and then said slowly, “I prefer to do things my own way now.”

He nodded in Jake’s general direction. “Is this business casual these days?”

“Uh, I, uh, actually have the day off,” Jake muttered and took a sip of his coffee.

“Must be nice,” Adeel commented. “I don’t get many days off. People love their coffee. And when we aren’t open, we are arranging new shipments, testing new recipes…” He gestured to suggest the never-ending cycle.

Jake nodded politely.

“So, Jack…”

“It’s Jake actually…”

 “Yes, yes, Jake, you’re married, too, huh?”

 Both men paused.

“I saw your wedding band,” Adeel explained.

Jake didn’t answer. Something about this conversation was making him nervous.

Wait, I never gave him my name…

“Your wife was in earlier today,” Adeel said brightly.

At that moment, Majidah reappeared with a plate of food–salty olive bread, a soft, white cheese, and little cubes of cooked lamb on skewers.

As she set down the food, Jake digested Adeel’s last admission. Was Karen in here earlier buying coffee or something and she mentioned they live nearby? But how would Adeel know what Jake looked like? How…?

Photo by flickr user "bmills."

Photo by flickr user “bmills.”

Instead of retreating, Majidah strode to the front of the café and turned the lock on the heavy entrance door. She flipped the placard hanging on the door from “OPEN” to “CLOSED” and released a curtain to cover the front window. The room darkened and the hairs on Jake’s arms stood on end. Realization hit him in the gut like a bowling ball.  

Of all the shops to stumble into today…I pick the one with connections, Jake thought glumly.

“Jake, I lied–or maybe it was just an omission,” Adeel said. “This isn’t my only business. You see, I never truly abandoned finance. I just don’t do it in an office building these days. It’s more like backrooms and alleys, places like that. I’m sure you’re familiar with them in your sort of marketing and advertising.”

Adeel took a long swig of his coffee and then sighed appreciatively.

“It tastes good, doesn’t it?” he asked. “But I’m off topic. Jake, coffee isn’t the only thing that is delivered here. There was supposed to be a delivery at two o’clock today, but it never came. My delivery boy said you never showed up…There’s been a lot of this fucking up lately.”

Jake swallowed. He couldn’t speak.

A phone rang in a back room somewhere and Majidah left to answer it.

“Now, if you work with me,” Adeel said, picking up one of the lamb skewers and taking a bite, “nothing will happen to your pretty little wife.” Jake had officially lost his appetite.

Adeel ran his tongue under his lips and across his front teeth. “She’s a beautiful woman, too,” Adeel said. “I would hate to have to do something to her.”

“The fuck you will,” Jake breathed.

“He speaks,” Adeel said. “That’s good. You’ll need to do some talking in the next few minutes or I’m going to have to make some decisions.” Adeel threw down a skewer and Jake shuddered as it clanked on the serving plate. “And you aren’t going to like it if I have to make decisions, Jake.”

 ***

Home. It was the only place that Karen could think to go. But even as she thought of the serenity of her worn leather couch and a Sade CD, Karen knew she wouldn’t be safe there. Regardless, she felt it was her only option, so she was homeward bound. At least there she would be able to wash away the rest of the bloody aftermath of the morning.

Karen had already made a pit stop. She’d ducked into a busy Starbucks a few blocks from the shooting to use their bathroom, ignoring the shocked looks of the customers and one of the baristas asking if she were okay. She wondered briefly if someone might call the cops or an ambulance thinking she was hurt.

Once inside the ladies room that smelled of orange cleaning liquid, Karen had crumpled neatly in the corner and had a good cry. No one knocked on the bathroom door and Karen relished the opportunity to clean herself up the best she could. She still had crusted blood beneath her fingernails and her skirt was stained, but at least she was no longer a walking HAZMAT case.

She’d holstered the diamond necklace next to Nixon on her thigh, reapplied her lipstick from Majidah, and exited the bathroom.

Now, with every step, she felt the necklace twitch and shift against her thigh, a constant reminder of what had happened. Karen’s memory unceremoniously played over and over the moment when the girl’s knees hit the pavement. It made her shudder.

Between the recollections of the shooting, Karen’s brain had been swarming with questions to which she had no answers. Why the hell hadn’t the thug taken the necklace? It’s clear that’s what he was after…besides my head. Who would have sent him? Is he connected to that shifty guy from this morning?  Is he connected to Carlos? Do they know where I live? How do the diamonds fit into all of this?

One thing was painfully clear to Karen. She had to get the hell out of Chicago. And she had to tell Jake everything. Dear God.

The necklace shifted and Karen could feel one of the delicate hanging jewels come free from the holster. Karen stopped walking to halt the motion of the necklace. She was successful and after a moment’s pause, she began her trek again, the small jewel repeatedly hitting her thigh like the beat in a pop song.

She wanted nothing more than to rid herself of the necklace, but in her gut, Karen knew she needed to keep it until this whole mess was figured out. Survival was the name of the game at this point, and the necklace might be her key to it. Without it…she didn’t want to think about that.

Karen suddenly became aware of footfalls sounding resolutely behind her. Her heartbeat sped up and so did her pace. At first, the steps behind her didn’t seem to quicken, but as Karen continued to listen, the steps became more pronounced…and closer.

She had to think fast. Karen didn’t feel like pulling Nixon out on a public street. There had already been enough public gunplay today. She hurriedly wondered if the diamond necklace would impede the retrieval of Nixon from her thigh holster. Well, only one way to find out.

Photo by flickr user "runran."

Photo by flickr user “runran.”

Karen ducked into the next alleyway and walked about halfway down the corridor before letting her right hand drop to her thigh. In one quick motion, she turned toward her predator and attempted to pull Nixon from her holster. The gun didn’t come free with the first tug, but on the second the necklace clattered to the pavement and Karen was able to raise, aim, and cock the gun.

Surprise coursed through Karen as she recognized the man who had been following her.

“Carlos, what the hell? You scared the shit out of me.”

Carlos sighed heavily and showed Karen his palms to signal that he wasn’t carrying a weapon.

“Carlos, I’m sorry, but show me your waistband, remove your coat, and take off your shoes.”

Carlos didn’t move.

“Do it!” Karen shouted.

“Okay, okay,” Carlos breathed.

Karen watched as the man first removed his shoes and then his jacket, which he tossed at least six feet away. With his hands in Karen’s sight, he performed a full turn. Satisfied that Carlos was unarmed, Karen let the gun drop slightly.

“Seriously, Carlos, what’s the hell is going on? First, you don’t show up this morning, then this girl…I…I…”

“It’s Mario,” Carlos said.

“Mario?” Karen said wondrously. “He got out early?”

“You really think they’d let that hombre out early? He escaped.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said when I found out.”

The two shared a moment of silence and Karen put Nixon back in her holster.

Mario was a bad man. He’d been canned for tax fraud, the only crime the Chicago PD could book him for since no one was brave enough to testify against him. His sentence had been abnormally long since the judge presiding over the case knew Mario’s laundry list of crimes. Karen shuttered as a memory of Mario smoking a cigar and drumming his fingers on a wooden table flicked across her mind.

“You owe him a lot of money, Carlos.”

“I know.”

The diamonds. The delivery. The set-up, Karen thought. She kicked the diamond necklace toward Carlos and it rattled against the pavement.

“Is this his?” she asked.

Carlos nodded.

“And this morning?”

“Not my guy.”

“Where the fuck were you?”

“I overslept,” Carlos said with an embarrassed shrug.

Karen let out a grunt of disapproval and ran her hands through her hair.

“Do you know what’s happened?”

“Goose told me they put a hit out for you.”

“Yeah, they did. They did, Carlos. I almost died,” Karen stated. Carlos looked down at his feet. “But right before the hit, I got mugged. This stupid kid stole the necklace, which he gave to his girlfriend. And she’s probably in an ICU right now…if she isn’t dead.”

Carlos met Karen’s gaze, regret heavy in his eyes. He gestured down at the asphalt.

“But you have the necklace now.”

“Not something I’m proud of.”

“It was a smart move.”

“It was a selfish one.”

Karen took a few steps to her left and leaned up against the wall of the alleyway. She was tired, spent, utterly wiped out. But there were a few more pieces to put together.

 “So,” Karen said, “since you haven’t paid up…and probably won’t, no offense…Mario’s men are taking out your people to get to back to you…”

“And then he’ll come after me,” Carlos finished.

Karen closed her eyes and shook her head. She’d been a pawn for the better part of the morning. How humiliating.

“If he doesn’t get caught first,” Karen offered. “I’m sure every cop in Chicago is looking for him right now.”

“I don’t know. I think the cops might be scared to go after him.”

“They should be,” Karen muttered.

She scratched her neck and then her gaze drifted back to the dirty necklace between them.

“Today had nothing to do with diamonds, did it?” Karen asked. Carlos simply looked at her with a frown.  

On a hunch, Karen picked up the necklace and walked over to a wall covered in graffiti to her right. She took a deep breath and grated the largest stone of the necklace on the wall. The concrete slowly but surely gouged the large jewel and its beauty dissipated.

“It’s a convincing reproduction,” Karen muttered and tossed the fake to the ground while Carlos’s mouth hung open. She wiped her hands on her skirt.

“I’m getting out of town, Carlos. I suggest you do the same. For your daughter’s sake.”

Karen glanced down at the asphalt. The fake diamond necklace glittered dully, blood money as beautiful as rubies against the muck of the alleyway.  It was no longer an insurance policy but a pawn in a gruesome game of chess that Karen was sick of playing.

She walked toward Carlos, gave him a quick nod, and then continued out of the alley, determined not to look back. It was time to leave all this behind.

 

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