Friday, June 27, 2014

"Betty & Howard's Excellent Adventure" by J.J. DiBenedetto (Novelette)

Genre:  Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  A Christmas gift for fans of the Dream Series...

Just in time for the holidays - spend your vacation with Betty and Howard Barnes as they go on a "dream" European trip.

You'll see a whole new side to two of the unsung heroes of the Dream Series in this fun and lighthearted romantic adventure...


At that point, Howard wanted to go back to the hotel and take a
nap, but the cathedral was right there. I said, “Who knows how late
the tours run?” and I started to head up the steps. He was behind me,
maybe fifty feet, and that’s the only reason that what happened next
happened the way it did. If he’d been next to me, he wouldn’t have
seen anything, and he wouldn’t have been in a position to – sorry, I’m
getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, I was about halfway up the steps, and Howard was
behind me. All of a sudden, right ahead of me, a young man started
shouting, pointing at me, or past me, I couldn’t really tell. It wasn’t
Spanish – I couldn’t tell what language it was. I looked up at him. I
couldn’t help it – that’s what you do when someone shouts at you. It’s
automatic. So while I was looking at him, and kind of startled, I didn’t
notice his accomplice. I had no idea anything was going on until a
leather strap fell off my shoulder and onto the stone steps.
At the same moment, I heard Howard yelling, “You stop right

I had no idea what had happened. You’ve already figured it
out, I’m sure, but in the confusion of the moment, I wasn’t thinking
clearly. I looked down at the leather strap, wondering where it came
from. It was the same color as my purse, and it hit me. It was my
purse. The shouting was a distraction, so the second man could cut the
strap and run off with it. By the time I understood that, Howard was
already chasing after the thief. I swear to you, Kat, I have never in my
life seen him run that fast. Not even when he was twenty-one and he
actually was running regularly.

I followed along, as quickly as I could. I had to be careful on
the steps – all I needed was to trip and break my ankle. By the time I
got down to the street, the thief was almost out of sight, and Howard
was right behind him. Closing on him, even. People were stopping
and staring – I suppose a mad chase down the street isn’t something
they see every day.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

"Fathers and Sons" by Sydney M. Cooper (Novelette)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Husband, father, and scout for the Kaldari Coalition of Tribes, Garren has no interest in the ongoing petty conflicts between his people and the Children of Elseth in the north. He lives a life of paradoxical peace in Kaldari border town of Plen. Unfortunately for Garren the fates seem determined to take him down a much darker path - one man's mistake will bring a brewing war to his doorstep and change his life forever.


I hate crowds.

The woods are open and free, where your only enemy is what can sneak up on you. When a mountain cat sees you, it is already too late - it will kill you, or you will kill it. Cats and bears do not waste their time with deception. People are far different creatures. A human will act as if they care for your survival, and slit your throat when you're not looking. Being around people I do not trust tires me, because it is my job to seek out threats before they become a problem. In the woods, I am a man of confidence. I am a master of my trade as a Kaldari scout.

In a crowd, however, I am suspicious.

The sun is pitchfire bright in Plen's village square. What would usually be an open, grassy space surrounded by the village's mudbrick homes is crowded with vendors peddling their wares. Canopies are erected to block out the sun, but still it is hot enough to sweat. There is music coming from several directions; strings and wind playing different harmonies, against the shouts of children and the chatter of families. The people are so crowded in between the booths that they physically touch. Plen's market day is the largest between the border and Shald, and it attracts too many people. Were it not for my family, I would have avoided the place altogether.

My husband, Elias, and my son, Ethen, walk close beside me. Ethen has seen five cycles, and stands with his brown hair brushing the tips of my fingers. He is fascinated by the people and sights around him, a wide grin on his face. I squeeze his shoulder to remind him to keep up - he is a distractible child.

Elias understands the look I'm giving him. It's the same look I give him every time he puts me in a deliberately difficult situation. He is shorter than I - though that is not unique to him, since I have only met one man who could rival me for height. He has our son's light brown eyes and keeps his dark hair molded into spikes, a convention I scarcely have the patience for. Today his chest is bare; he wears only working pants and a backpack for his healing supplies. The eagle tattoo which covers most of his back glistens with perspiration.

He pauses in the middle of the crowd and smiles, his mouth wide open to say something smart.

"Ethen!" I call after my son as he rushes off after one of the other children. His small body disappears between the robes of a man browsing a booth of cured meats; only Elias's hand on my arm keeps me from tearing the crowd apart to rush after him.

"Leave him be, Garren," says Elias. "He's a kid. We had an agreement."

My half-hearted growl makes Elias let go of my arm. His much paler skin is beginning to turn dark with the coming of summer, bringing it nearer to my shade.

"If I was allowed to run wild-"

"You would have killed God and been eaten by a mountain cat, I know." Elias's eyes gleam.

It's what I love about him, and also what I occasionally hate - he is quick to smile and without worry. Elias is my opposite in nearly every way. I shake my head.

"Come on," says Elias, "I've got things to buy over here." He jerks his head toward Leesim, an herbalist traveling from the Alke province.

I sigh, but follow him. I have no reason to be in the market and nowhere to be until the sun reaches the border mountains. This adventure is purely for Elias's needs.

Leesim looks as if he barely made it to Plen. He is an old, twiggy man with little muscle to him. He speaks easily with Elias about their trade, with their barks and leaves. Elias seems very pleased with the selection. I recognize many of the names of plants and what they are for, but I am no healer - the words do not excite me the way they do him.

A breeze catches my shirt, and I welcome the coolness. I don't usually wear such thin garments. My leathers are at home, with the rest of the trappings I carry. Elias insisted that attending the market armed would be rude, that it sets a bad example for Ethen. He has very complex ideas about etiquette, but I forgive him for it. His parents were artisans who received only very basic war training. Elias does not understand the prevailing Kaldari culture as I do. It is ironic, I think, since he is full Kaldari. I am not. Perhaps it is the blood of Elseth's Children running through my veins which causes me to care so much about Kaldari culture. I have much to prove to others as well as myself.

From my peripheral vision I see Kayl, headed directly for me. She is also out of her customary clothing, adopting softer, lighter attire. Her ruddy bronzed hair is tied back from her face, green eyes set against tanned skin. She has a lean build, but fights well - we have practiced the swords together many times. She claps me on the shoulder when she is in range.

"I didn't expect to see you here, friend," says Kayl.

"Expect to see him more often," Elias calls from over my shoulder, interrupting his exchange with Leesim. "He owes me a few outings."

I glare at him, but it is exaggerated. Though I show annoyance, I understand and appreciate Elias's intentions. Kayl finds this amusing.

"Have you heard about the raid?" Kayl asks, leaning on one hip. She holds a half-eaten apple in her free hand, spoils of the market.

"Last month?" I say.

"Last night," Kayl raises an eyebrow for emphasis. "All locals. Tileil lead them over to Chall. Twelve houses, gone."

Houses. "Violence breeds violence," I tell her simply. I do not hide my disdain well.

Raids between the Children of Elseth and the Kaldari have been more frequent lately. As Elseth's Land declines, tension between our people increases. The border raids are nothing but mere sniping; no goals are accomplished, outside of hurting each other. I do not find this efficient, or useful.

Kayl shrugs. "Well, if you didn't hear about it from me you would have heard about it tonight. Everyone on watch is talking about it."

"I am sure."

I have made her uncomfortable, but she recovers well. She manages to smile. "Well, until tonight I suppose. Nice seeing you again, Elias."

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Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Gift" by TNae Wilcox (Short Story)

Genre:  Gothic Romance

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  George is an unhappy husband with one goal in life: to keep his wife, Lenore, happy. He unwittingly agrees to her sinister plan to make herself beautiful again, but it all backfires in a unexpected way.


Lenore emerged from the bathroom dressed: black skirt and pink blouse. George followed her straight into the bedroom.

“Wow,” he said. It had been a long time since he’d seen his wife dressed up, and for the public-eye at that.

“Wish I could say the same for you.” She sighed. “Is that really what you’re wearing?”
He took a second to observe himself. His Pittsburg Steelers shirt was clean and ironed, and so were his black jeans.

“I’ll change,” he told her. He hugged her from behind as she stood in front of the full mirror beside the dresser, burying his face in her hair. She smelled so good—and it had been too long since they’d been intimate—that he pushed her hair aside and kissed her neck.

She pulled away and busied herself in a drawer. “You think they might let you fill out the paperwork?”

It was his turn to sigh. “I doubt it, but don’t worry. You look beautiful.” It had taken him time to be able to tell her that. Not because he didn’t think she looked good, but because he was afraid that she wouldn’t believe him. Then, he realized how ridiculous his reason was.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

“Winter Arrives” by Roz Marshall (Novella)

Genre:  Drama, Action, Sports

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  When her ski instructor husband is delayed from returning to Scotland, it falls to Jude Winters - creative graphic artist, mother and home-maker – to get the season started for ailing White Cairns Ski School. It's a challenge that's way out of her comfort zone. How can she turn things around and keep the wolf from their door until he gets back?

"Winter Arrives" is the 1st novella from the 'White Cairns Ski School' novella series about the dramas and romances in a Scottish snowsports school.

This extract shows some of the would-be instructors arriving in the ski resort for their interviews with the ski school.


Jude twisted her lip. "I just hope today works, and some good people turn up. We've only got a couple of days left to get the list to Forbes."

"She'll be right," Mike said again, but anything else he might have added got lost as the door flew open and a denim-clad bundle of energy bounced into the room. Small, ginger-haired and distinctive, rather than tall, dark and handsome, he looked like the boy next door who'd been shrunk in the wash.

"Morning, campers!" He looked round at the almost-empty room. "I'm never first here?"

Jude went over to greet him. She held out a hand, "Hi, I'm Jude, the, erm, ski school owner."

He shook her hand enthusiastically. "Hi, I'm Callum. Callum Johnstone."


The main ski resort was a few miles away from White Cairns village. Built in the 1960s, around an existing village, it was a jumble of flat-roofed concrete monstrosities, quaint alpine-pastiche wood-clad lodges, and typical Scottish stone-built houses.

On the high street, a Premier bus pulled away from the bus stop, leaving two passengers on the pavement. The first quickly strode away, ponytail swinging above the rucksack on her back, Doc Martens tapping a rhythm that counterpointed the ski bag as it banged against her leg.

The second passenger looked rather forlorn as she stood amongst her bags, gazing round at the shops and cafes.

Tourists milled aimlessly on the pavements, cameras dangling round their necks like medals on Olympic athletes. Mostly they looked like they had just come off a bus trip to 'see Scotland in a day', although a few were obviously there for sporting activities and were dressed appropriately in sensible walking boots, fleeces and Gore-tex. The only local in evidence was a rather dishevelled, stringy old lady with grey hair and a decades-old ski jacket who was pushing a bicycle across the street, plastic supermarket bags swinging on the handlebars.

Debbie hoped that the rest of the skiers round here were a bit more modern, and perhaps more masculine as well. Sniffing, she unzipped a pocket in her sports bag, and pulled out a rather crumpled bit of paper. She studied it, then looked up and down the street. She frowned, turned the diagram through ninety degrees, looked left, and spotted the upper floors of the Regal Hotel. Stuffing the paper into the pocket of her hoodie, she took a deep breath and picked up her bags.


In the hotel car park, a beat-up Fiesta was sitting with its engine running, its windows starting to steam up. Inside, two sets of lips were welded together in a farewell clinch.

After some long minutes, they broke apart and the passenger reached behind him for the door handle. He slid out of the door, lips last, then flipped the seat forward and pulled a snowboard bag off the back seat and onto the pavement. He leaned back in for another kiss. "Last night was awesome!"

She pouted back up at him, saying, "Anytime, cowboy!" Then something across the car park caught her attention, and he noticed her pupils widen.

He turned his head to see what she was looking at, and his eyes narrowed. Another snowboarder was swaggering across the car park. He looked like a surfer dude – baggy cargo pants, a Fat Face sweatshirt, Converse sneakers and Oakleys perched on sun-bleached hair.

Marty stood up, pulled his sunglasses off his curly hair and onto his nose, then smacked the roof of her car and waved her off, saying, "I'll give you a call." He wouldn't.

The other snowboarder approached, sizing him up. From the look on his face, he obviously thought his labels were more impressive than Marty's jeans and fleece.

"Hi bro, I'm Colin. You here for the job?"

"Yup." Marty hoisted his snowboard bag onto his shoulder.

"What d'you ride?" asked Colin.

"A Deacon XT."

Colin sniffed. "I had one of those last season. Got rid of it." Marty just looked at him. "I got an Oppera Maxride from the rep. Wants me to test it for them. It's totally rad."

Marty shrugged. "I heard they were pretty sluggish. But okay if you don't ride too fast."

He turned his back and headed for the hotel entrance. They might be fellow snowboarders, but it was obvious they weren't going to be friends.

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