Tuesday, February 13, 2018

War Eternal: Angels' Whispers by J.F. Cain


Title: WAR ETERNAL: ANGELS’ WHISPERS
Author: J.F. Cain
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Romance

BOOK BLURB: 

Alex Meyers, a dynamic, global entrepreneur, has an advantage that no other human has ever had: he is protected by Aranes, the Superior of the Angels. While he is skiing, he dies in an avalanche, but his all-powerful protector breaks one of the ethereal world’s most important Rules and brings him back to life. Alex falls head over heels in love with the beautiful Angel, who appears to him in human form. But she disappears just as suddenly as she had appeared.
While he searches for Aranes, Alex discovers her true identity and that he actually might be the high-ranking Celestial Abaddon, who is mentioned in the Revelations prophecy as the one who will defeat Lucifer.
The man who fate has thrust among the world’s superpowers is now living a nightmare. He wants to evade Lucifer’s pursuit, find out who he truly is and once again see the only being he has ever loved. And the only way to do it is to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Angels’ Whispers is the beginning of an epic tale set in modern times. The eternal war between Light and Darkness is at a critical turning point: Angels and Demons, invisible to mortal beings, battle for dominance in the physical world, while Guardians, Vampires and Werewolves, who live among the humans, find themselves on opposing sides in a deadly power game.

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CHAPTER 1

In the sphere of invisible reality, where eternity’s whispers divulge primordial secrets, resided an immortal being of formidable power. Hidden behind the veil that covered timeless creation, the otherworldly entity watched the events unfolding in the world of the manifest forms. Inside a rain of pictures and sounds, her numinous perception rapidly surveyed all the important events taking place on earth at the time. Finally, her awareness stopped at a Gulfstream G650, flying at 25,000 feet above Maryland, bathed in the morning sun's light.
Her supernatural sight penetrated the private jet unhindered. Inside the luxurious passenger cabin with the gray leather furnishing, two men sat in armchairs next to a row of round windows. Both of them were absorbed in their reading, only occasionally glancing at the streaming display of market quotes that flashed on the television across from them accompanied by the muted voice of the Bloomberg financial analyst.
The unworldly entity concentrated on one of them, Alexander Meyers.
Alex, as his few friends and associates called him, was studying an upcoming project on his laptop resting on the table in front of him. He was a physicist, and the owner of a fast-growing company supplying ecological energy, his own invention. At thirty-eight, he was enjoying global success.
He defied the rule that people with exceptional minds cannot also be equally exceptional in looks. Alex was, in a word, striking, and not simply because of his dark, expensive suit. He was tall, with a muscular, athletic build. He radiated strength and a certain magnetism that made him stand out from those around him. His dark chestnut hair, attractive face, and well-proportioned features made up a whole that deserved to be acknowledged as a prime example of male beauty, but the crowning feature was his eyes. They were the dark blue color of a stormy sea, complete with waves, formed by fine silver lines radiating outward from the pupil to the edge of the iris. Though barely visible, they were enough to lend his gaze a riveting force.
Alex looked up at the man opposite him reading a lengthy document.
Four years older than Alex, David Carson was also an attractive man–blond, with blue eyes, but with a calmer strength about him. There was something about his face: an interesting clash between transparency and mystery that made it impossible for even the most perceptive observer to discern his intentions. A successful attorney and the chief legal advisor in the company, he was the person closest to his boss who enjoyed something that Alex did not offer easily: his trust.
The two of them had met at MIT, when Alex was a freshman and David was there for his graduate degree in technology and environmental law. Neither had any family. Only Alex had some distant relatives, scattered around the States, with whom he had no contact. As the oldest and undeniably more mature of the two, David had from the beginning assumed the role of big brother to his wild, but brilliant, young friend, who had challenged social and academic conventions and flustered his physics professors with his startling ideas and cutting-edge theories. Despite their different characters, they also shared enough attributes to have formed a special bond over their many years of friendship. They confirmed the saying “strength in unity”. They were a powerful pair that the business world regarded with a mixture of envy and respect.
“So, what do you think?” Alex asked David.
David rested the folder on the table and loosened the knot on his tie. Even after so many years of having to wear a suit for work, he had still not grown used to the constriction around his neck. Ties were one of the rare annoyances for this man with an otherwise enviable self-control.
“The bill clearly leaves you room to maneuver as you want,” he declared.
Alex nodded with an expression that indicated he was not expecting a different answer.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I’m sure you are. It’s not easy to dodge your competitors’ obstacles.”
“I’m taking advantage of their own loopholes,” said Alex indifferently.
For him it was only fair to turn his competitor’s weapons against them rather than on the defenseless. So he had no qualms about taking advantage of anything he could find in the law that he could use in this open warfare.
David refrained from reminding his friend that first and foremost, they should be fair to themselves, and perhaps approach the subject from a different angle.
“So, other than work, what else is going on? Have you made plans to see Claire?”
Alex began to rifle irritably through the papers spread out on the table. It was his usual reaction when a discussion turned to personal matters. When he was away from his office—although he managed to convert anywhere he was into his workplace—he always found a way to show that he had better things to do. But that day, his reaction was not enough to discourage David’s persistence.
“Is that your answer?” David pressured him.
“Why should I see her?” Alex asked, setting aside a thick sheaf of papers bearing the US Energy Department’s logo.
“I don’t know, is there any other reason than wanting to be together?”
“I’m not interested,” replied Alex with an expression that implied he was not willing to discuss the matter any further.
“Here we go again!” David leaned forward, trying to catch his friend’s attention. “You have to do something with your life.”
Alex looked up from the pack of diagrams he was sorting, his eyes grave.
“My work is my life. Besides, romance is overrated.”
“But necessary,” David shot back. “You can’t always be alone.”
“I’m not alone all the time. Here we are.”
“The small breaks you take to meet your biological needs don’t meet your emotional needs,” his friend insisted with calm certainty.
Alex lowered his gaze again to the papers in front of him.
“It’s enough for me.” 
“It doesn’t look like it.”
“I’m not one for excessive displays of emotion.” He pulled out a diagram from the pack, leaned back and pretended to study it. “People are, for the most part, a disappointment. The only thing they’re interested in is catering to their psychological and material needs. Most don’t even know the basics about themselves.”
“Not everyone is the same,” David argued. “I think Claire is quite emotionally mature, and also very much in love with you.”
“That’s the problem,” admitted Alex. “I can never return her feelings. So it’s better if I break it off while it’s still early.”
David gave him a searching look.
“Are you trying to protect her or get rid of a burden?”
“Let’s just say that it’s a choice where we both end up winning.”
“Or losing,” David added.
“There is no reason why I should stay in a relationship that doesn’t give me what I want,” replied Alex with a tone that betrayed him being annoyed by the subject matter.
“And what is it that you want?”
Alex tossed the diagram onto the table.
“I know what I want, and maybe one day I’ll find it,” he said with a slight melancholy in his gaze.
At one time, there had been no “maybe”. But after years of fruitless searching he had realized that even charismatic individuals weren’t immune to the rule that “you cannot have it all”.
David gestured towards the window next to them.
“Look outside, maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for there.”
“What do you mean?” Alex scowled.
“That you might be able to find the woman of your dreams up here, because a being such as the one you imagine may not even exist on Earth,” David replied. “Or, wait,” he raised his palm to stop his friend who was about to protest. “Maybe the invasion of an alien race would solve your problem, or a custom-made robot.”
“In that case, I’ll order one for you, too,” Alex shot back. “It seems that you’re not faring any better.”
David shrugged.
“I’ve reconciled myself to it, whereas you haven’t. It’s obvious that you’re lacking something.”
Alex bypassed the comment.
“All this because I don’t want to take Claire with us this weekend?” he asked suspiciously.
“What are you going to do on your own in Aspen?”
“Ski, obviously.”
“You don’t ski, you attempt suicide,” David said with a pointed look, and then went on in an attempt to change his friend’s mind: “I was thinking that if Claire came with us, you’d be polite enough to stay with her and I wouldn’t have to fly around in a helicopter, scouring the mountains and canyons searching for you. Besides, she’s very pleasant company; she’ll help you to relax.”
His elbows resting on the armrests and his fingers interlaced, Alex pensively regarded David.
“Can you tell me what’s got into you?” he asked calmly. “You’ve been getting into my personal life more and more lately.”
“I see you becoming increasingly isolated, and that isn’t helping you at all,” David explained in the same tone.
“I find solitude immensely constructive.”
And very dangerous, thought David. He knew that the minds of people with high IQs worked differently from other people’s, which made them vulnerable to psychological disorders. There had been many cases where distinguished scientists, philosophers and artists had become victims of their intellectual singularity, which had destroyed their lives. Alex had for months been showing such symptoms and David, having noted the change, kept on inventing various excuses to be close to him. Through activities and ideological debates, he tried to limit his friend’s introversion and preserve his intellectual equilibrium. And he had a very serious reason for doing this.
Alex unlaced his fingers and sat up.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on my work. The contract we’re after is very important,” he said, putting an abrupt end to the conversation.
He opened a file with statistical data on his laptop and immediately became engrossed. Once he had decided something, no one could change his mind.
David realized that there was no point in continuing to pressure his stubborn friend. He turned away, and his gaze became lost in the vast sky outside the airplane window.
“I’m not worried about that. In business, you seem to be more favored than anyone,” he said, giving up on trying to change Alex’s mind.
Unlike the dead ends in his private life, Alex’s professional life boasted many successes. His company was growing beyond all expectations. In ten years he had succeeded in becoming one of the major players in the energy industry, a fact for which he was highly resented by his established competitors, who vainly struggled to arrest his growth.
Alex did not reply. The project he was going to Washington for was important, of course, but right now he was using it as an excuse to avoid any further analyses of his love life, or rather its non-existence. Not that he considered it a strictly private matter. Other than his personal moments that he kept to himself, he shared everything else with David. It was just that he didn’t want to poke at his only existential wound. He had never been able to fall in love like other people did. He had never touched or looked at a woman in the way that many of them touched and looked at him. This significant experience was so foreign to him, it was as if he carried a curse.
Until he had turned thirty-five, he had subconsciously covered this lack with some short-lived excitements, and each time he had hoped that something would change. But despite all his efforts, this tactic had not borne any fruit. Disappointed, he had accepted his emotional inadequacy and had gradually withdrawn into himself. In the last three years he had made very few, reluctant efforts to form a relationship and, despite what he said, he knew very well that no one else was to blame for his inability to love. Something inside him stopped him from giving himself wholeheartedly. An indefinable barrier kept him shackled in the torment of loneliness.
The two men exchanged very few words until the private jet landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington half an hour later. A black Mercedes was waiting to take them to 1000 Independence Avenue, the headquarters of the US Department of Energy.
When they arrived, David remained in the lobby. Alex, accompanied by a member of staff, went up to the third floor and entered a conference room. The committee that was to examine his proposal was waiting for him there: four men and a woman, all over fifty, were sitting around a large, oval table, with folders open in front of them. He greeted them civilly and went to stand across from the committee chair, who was sitting at the one end of the table. Before taking a seat in the black leather chair behind him, he rested his briefcase on the table, removed a folder from inside, then closed the briefcase and put it on the floor.
“We’re ready to hear your proposal, Mr. Meyers,” said the committee chair and gestured for him to start.
In a clear, energetic and engaging presentation, Alex offered the data analyzing the comparative advantages of his proposal and also highlighted the irreversible ecological destruction caused by the widespread use of petroleum and other fossil fuels. He continued about the dangers of nuclear energy: radioactive waste and the residues of nuclear accidents remained intact in nature for hundreds of years, condemning millions of people to death from incurable diseases.
The committee chair, the woman and another man were listening carefully; the other two looked bored and indifferent.
Alex entered the last stretch of his presentation:
“In the last few years my company has invested millions of dollars in research and development in alternative energy sources, and I believe the result has vindicated these efforts. My proposal revolutionizes the energy sector and provides access to cleaner and cheaper energy to more consumers than we thought possible.”
Frank Brenner, one of the two men who seemed to be against the proposal, smirked.
“Let’s talk business, Mr. Meyers. We all know that your company’s primary interest is to make a profit.”
Alex heard what Brenner really intended to say: “Don’t pretend you’re interested in protecting the planet. We’re not so stupid as to believe you.” Alex could see that some committee members already had suspicions about him. He had no such suspicions; he had facts. He had reports—a necessary business tool—that Brenner supported the interests of a major oil corporation. So was not surprised.
“I won’t disagree, but for me profit and innovation must go hand in hand.”
“Mr. Meyers is not obliged to defend his intentions,” the man sitting next to Brenner remarked sharply. “This proposal has many advantages we need to seriously consider.”
Alex watched as these two rivals sized-up each other. What would be their next move?
Another member of the committee, who worked behind the scenes for one of Alex’s competitors, entered the discussion:
“Exactly what advantages?” he asked, his baffled expression implying that he, for one, couldn’t see any.
The woman sitting next to him found it difficult to conceal her displeasure. People who sold out without caring about the future, not even their children’s, disgusted her. Unfortunately, she had no proof that would help her throw Brenner and him off the committee.
“Advantages for whom? For the planet, people or your shareholders?” she asked back with undisguised frostiness.
Alex intervened, rescuing the man who had opened his mouth to protest. A dispute between the members could cause the committee to issue no decision at all, and that would not serve his purpose.
“We all know that energy resources are not inexhaustible, and every day we have more and more protests against the environmental pollution caused by other forms of energy. If we also take into account the current economic crisis, the one hundred thousand new jobs created for this project would be good publicity for your party and you. And from what the opinion polls show, you really need it.”
“You have quite an aggressive strategy,” said Brenner, his sarcastic tone barely hiding the hint of a threat.
“I thought we were talking business,” Alex retorted in the same tone.
“This meeting is not the place for personal confrontations,” the chairman intervened, glancing sharply at his colleague.
He made no comment to Alex; he thought it only reasonable that he would react that way to Brenner’s insulting behavior. He did not wheel and deal with high-ranking officials and political leaders and he had the moral right to put the sell-out in his place.
In the short, but tense, silence that followed, a high-frequency sound began to penetrate Alex’s head, becoming louder and louder. Without betraying the slightest disturbance, he discreetly pressed his left ear, trying to stop the noise.
The vibrations in the room were changing their frequency constantly, influenced by the entrance of a supernatural being in the material plane. Suddenly, a pulsating cloud of light began to take shape behind the committee chair, quickly condensing into a female form. Those present would have been shocked had they been able to see the otherworldly entity that appeared—a presence visible only to Brenner’s eyes, or rather the eyes of the being hidden inside him. Making sure that no one was watching him, he turned to look at her. For fractions of a second his eyes glowed red with a burning hatred, and then immediately returned to their normal color.
A radiant, silvery blue aura surrounded the transcendental being’s ethereal body, extending around her in gentle undulations. A cascade of long strawberry blonde hair framed her exquisite face, accentuating her strange-colored eyes. They were neither light blue, nor gray, nor white, but a blend of all three colors that gave her irises a shade that was rare even for the world from which she came. She wore a long, ice blue dress and an ice blue overcoat that flared out at the elbows and hips. It was fastened at the chest with two platinum chains linked to four facing buttons. Her compelling presence exuded gentleness and power, as she stood there serenely in all her majesty, emitting the resplendent light of her sublime nature. She was not just any Angel. She was Aranes, the Superior of the Angels.
Coolly, she cast Brenner an expressionless glance before leaning over the chair’s shoulder.
“Oscar,” she whispered in his ear, “this is not just the same old, everyday decision. Humanity’s future depends on it as well as the planet that was created for its prosperity.” Your responsibility goes beyond the office you hold. Your decision must be in the interest of life.”
She said nothing more, but remained standing behind him, keeping him within the positive influence of her aura. Meanwhile, she was scanning Alex's aura. He had perceived the disturbance caused to the invisible cosmic force energies from her entrance in the material field, yet he was not sure what caused it. However, he did not miss the committee chair’s brief startled expression and he was looking at him with discreet curiosity.
The chairman never understood why memories of his childhood awakened in his mind. Of the days when he played naked with his friends under the sun without giving a thought to ultraviolet radiation, or when he cupped his hands to drink water from a nearby spring without caring about bacteria or poisons. When his gaze did not stumble on the gray walls of enormous apartment buildings, but got lost in varicolored horizons, and the air he breathed was neither smoggy nor polluted with carbon and sulfur dioxide. Of those days when he never felt the suffocating fear he now felt about his children’s future, and the future of the twin grandchildren that his daughter had brought into the world a few months ago.
The committee chairman snapped back to reality, wondering at the sudden awakening of his conscience, of the sensitivity which he thought had faded with the passing of his youth and his entry in the tough adult world. His decision was not merely made, it dominated his entire being.
He leaned forward and spread his hands on the table.
“It seems that mine is the deciding vote,” he said, looking at his subordinates one by one. “Personally, I believe that the proposal has a number of features that are hard to ignore.” He turned to Alex: “I like it, Mr. Meyers. I’m going to support it.”
Alex nodded. If he felt vindicated, it did not show on his face. He had learned to hide his feelings so as not to reveal aspects of his character that would make it possible for someone, especially his competitors, to predict his reactions. And, when he achieved a professional victory, he thought it foolish to provoke his enemies without reason by smiling complacently.
Brenner and the other member who had opposed the proposal closed their folders with a measure of disappointment. The woman and her like-minded colleague smiled, pleased with the decision.
Aranes slowly crossed the room and went to stand behind Alex’s left shoulder. As expressionless as he, she let her gaze sink into Brenner’s eyes. A dark energy, like a cloud of smoke, began to come out of the man’s body. A few moments later, behind his back, the energy took the insubstantial form of another entity: Asmodeus.
The Archdemon of Eregkal was tall and muscular. Long black hair framed his harsh, sharply angular face and fell freely over his shoulders. He wore dark pants tucked inside his high black boots, a long coat, and elbow-length gloves, all in black leather. His dark aura whirled around him, betraying his irritation at the confrontation’s outcome.
With the arrogance of Demons, who are unwilling to admit defeat, he calmed his aura and winked at Aranes.
“Good work, Princess. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
The Superior of the Angels watched impassively as Asmodeus disappeared, taking with him his strong negative influence. The dominance of the positive celestial energy changed the atmosphere in the room. The humans felt better, except for Brenner, who seemed somewhat dazed.
Aranes rested her hand on Alex’s shoulder as he collected his papers.
“You did it, Alex,” she said softly.
He heard her gentle, unearthly voice and felt an inexplicable wave of warmth pass through him. He went completely numb. For a brief moment, he stopped gathering his papers and held his breath.
The Angel moved away from him and, as she had done countless times before, observed him with interest, thinking how special he was. Humans couldn’t hear the voices of Ethereals or sense their presence, unless an entity wanted to communicate with them—something that happened rarely and only to spiritually advanced individuals who had dedicated their lives to full knowledge of the transcendental. But Alexander Meyers was a prominent scientist and businessman, the epitome of rationalism, and his inner explorations always had objective facts as their starting point. Yet he felt her presence and heard her voice, even though she had not intended it. Why did this happen?
Alex recovered and closed the folder. He shot a quick glance at the people present. They were all gathering their own papers and, thankfully, no one had noticed his momentary confusion. If over the weekend there circulated a rumor on the ever-wakeful market that he had some mental problem—and Brenner would be more than willing to spread it—then on Monday, as soon as Wall Street opened, his company’s stocks would begin to slide. He picked up his bag from the floor and rested it on the table. He opened it, threw in the folder, said a polite goodbye and left the room.
Aranes watched him leave, understanding that this was not over, but rather the beginning of something. But neither could yet fully understand what that could be.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Chapter reveal: The Lubecker by M.J. Joseph


9781614935247-JacketGray_Lubecker COVER.inddName
M. J. Joseph
Book TitleThe Lübecker
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Peppertree Press
The Lubecker explores the dynamics of personal identity and self-knowledge in a thematically braided journey of characters toward a dramatic and unexpected finale. M.J. Joseph achieves this by plunging the reader into a world of parallel and lively narratives drawn into the roiling milieu of European history leading to the onset of World War I. the book also recalls many of Western Literature’s most engaging philosophical and religious challenges and its most memorable and moving human struggles.
Chapter 1
Dr. Tomaso Bettoli looked down at Dr. Sam Yoffey, who was sitting on an old, blackened, scarred, hickory stump, picking with the edge of his left thumb at the black shell of a nut, exploring grooves where the nut’s skin it had lifted away.  The stump had been created some years, ago, after a squall had moved-in from the Bay over the Bluffs and blown the tree down.  Men had hacked at the stump for a while, trying to shape it into something flattened, and their axe bites had left their straight and wedged marks.  There were trees everywhere: hickory, oak, magnolia, all hung with moss swaying in the light breeze stirring from the Bay, below.

“Sam, you can’t save them all; premature births are all too common, here on the Hill.  The women don’t let anyone know they’re in trouble, until it’s too late; some are afraid of their husbands, some rely on midwives.  Who, knows? said Bettoli. Dr. Bettoli was from New Jersey, and having served his commitment with the Navy, left his last station in the adjoining town, to serve as a physician in the town across the Bayou from the Hill.  He was only able to visit patients on the Hill once a week: far too seldom.  He had let it be known through medical schools, that he was looking for a partner and one day, Samuel Yoffey, late of South Carolina, had arrived at his door. Sam wore the same clothes he was wearing, today: khaki pants, white cotton shirt with two chest pockets and cowhide brogans; all items procured from his father’s dry goods and surplus store.   “I’ll leave you, now; maybe old Jones still has my boat unrented.”  And, so, Bettoli left the tired, saddened young man muttering to himself: “It’s 1886; might as well be 1786, as far as these poor women are concerned,” to walk down the Hill to the boathouse and, hopefully, rent a boat to row back to town, to rest in his house, atop Town Hill.

Sam looked out over the Bay, silver and calm, with sea birds wandering from the Hill’s shore out to the white sand island, the spit that enfolded the harbor.   He lifted himself from the stump; it had been a long night, and the peace he’d enjoyed with the hickory nut was to be left behind for a while.  He walked back to the little cottage, passing unwashed, children of all ages, a parade of dirty bare feet and mostly blond and light-eyed heads. As he entered the house, he went into the small, mournful room and accepted the small bundle from Sister John.  The nurse had worked with him several times, but neither Yoffey, nor the nurse, had been able to accustom themselves to such scenes.  Yoffey moved the bundle to his left arm and said to the Sister, “I’ll take it to the Esther, if you’ll see to the girl, please.”  The Esther was the Hill’s infirmary, hospital and late-morning gathering place for the Hill’s women, who sat in the most comfortable crux, which varied according to season and weather, of its low, stone

2

wall, to gossip and complain and keep account of their neighbors.  The Esther House had been founded by Miss Esther Cord, a well-to-do spinster who had lived-out her days in a tall, wooden mansion next door, the daughter of a timber magnate who had appeared on the Hill in the 1830’s, the scion of an old, Mississippi plantation family. Esther Cord inherited the white, columned house and a fortune that she devoted to establishing a hospital for the residents of the Hill with a group of nuns she had invited from across the South, most of whom had walked away from disparate Orders to serve more of mankind and less of the Church. These women had kept their distinct habits and somehow, had captured the support of the nearest Catholic priest, who was careful never to mention the ladies of the Esther to his superiors. Sam bent his back forward to stretch in the early day, and the cool air, quiet, except for locust with their insistent buzz along the bayou as the sun rose higher into a clear sky.  Sam left a couple of hours after the rosy shafts of the dawn had begun to reach over the east bluffs and fall down the great hill that defined the community, bringing the season’s heat through the trees to meet the Bayou’s interminable humidity.

The young doctor left the small, green, shotgun house, meeting no one, except one or two of the girl’s worried women relatives, some holding hands, some clinching their sides or pulling and twisting stringy hair; all the men were in the Bay or the Gulf.  A sandy path paved with magnolia leaves, each side lined with large white chunks of marble, all growing green with age, damp and shade, led away from the small house, and the pervasive beards of Spanish moss hung slightly angled from the live oak branches tangled over the ill-defined yards that neighbored the sad home.  Yoffey followed the dirt road along the bay heights and decided to detour and trudge down, along the narrow trail dividing the native tangle of dewberry vines, yaupons and false rosemary.  As the trail began to rise, he came to the long thicket of palmettos which, as he’d learned as boy in South Carolina, harbored rattlesnakes.  The palmettos led up the hill and he rejoined the road as it curved and straightened into a wide, dirt, four-rutted lane that led to the Esther Sisters, as they had become known to the tiny community.  The “hospital” had been established after the Civil War and the number of Sisters varied, according to a management Yoffey didn’t attempt to understand. The “Mother” was always glad to see him, notwithstanding the news he brought or the time of day he appeared.  As he walked up the concrete steps onto the porch, he noticed that the painted boards were wearing and flecked, but clean, as always, the wood declining under the feet that trod them and the Sisters’ application of rough brooms and potent mops.  He nodded to the thin, black boy who rose to open the double, black-painted, screen door and, as he entered the reception room, was met by a new, fresh face, fixed into a coif and veil and an old-fashioned, dampened bandeau.  Her eyes shone light, brilliant gray and she stood before the young man as an apparition of the type of Rococo light he’d seen in museums, a kind of beauty he could not recall encountering amongst the living.  As he opened his mouth to speak, the Mother appeared and shook her head, and unclasping her hands, held them out to take the bundle. “This is two, this week, doctor.”

“Yes, Mother, birth mortality is so common on the Hill.  The womenfolk run themselves to death, trying to earn extra money across the Bayou and the men are never around, until after

3

dark.  It’s hard to know an ailing woman by the light of a kerosene lantern and then, after pulling up oysters or mackerel all day, trying to look at them through eyes, half drunk or half asleep. I am a twenty-six year old doctor, I do not want to keep delivering these premature and stillborn babies, Mother; I suppose that I’m just tired” said Yoffey, with tears welling up behind his spectacles, over his soft brown eyes.  His ample mustache was damp and the curls of his black hair, loosed by the removal of his hat, had begun to spill over his forehead. He bowed, walked out onto the porch and sat down at the left edge, knocking his heels against the brick that lined the bottom and hid the cool and dusty underside of the building.  He allowed a few of his tears to fall, and took out his plain, white handkerchief, to wipe them away and blow his nose. The Sisters were busy, as always, working the grounds’ verdant and variegated collection of flower bushes, hedges, and grass, as well as, cleaning, and more cleaning of the stone fountain with the Virgin standing with clasped hands.  Other nuns walked their patients around an elliptical stone path that centered the building, or pushed them in wooden wheelchairs, silently, cutting through the usually indifferent and voluble gaggle of women who had found the perimeter wall’s ideal corner.  Behind Sam, a steady influx of maids with food from the richer families mixed with the sick, and the dying, to enter the front door to leave their offerings.   The occasional cackles and Southern articulations of “uh-huh” or “uh-uh” or “ah-ha” of ladies filled the air as visiting Esther Foundation members came and went, most hailing from across the Bayou and “Town”.

Presently, the young Sister he’d encountered came out of the building and offered him a cup of strong, black coffee. Yoffey accepted it and, ashamed of his tears, whispered, “Thank you, Sister.” She stood behind him for a few minutes, until he seemed calmed, and then sat down, next to him.  Her bright eyes and full lips were the only things he noticed, pulling his mind away from his amassed grief and into her presence.  She offered her hand, a defiant gesture that would never have been allowed by her original Order, and introduced herself as Sister James. Yoffey accepted her hard and callused hand and said, “I’m Sam Yoffey; you’ll have to get used to me; I’m the only doctor practicing east of the Bayou. Your physician on the Hill, ma’am.”

“Dr. Yoffey, that’s a beautiful accent you have: South Carolina? I believe that I’ve heard it at the abbey, where I trained. ”

“Yes, ma’am, born and bred, except for some training in Paris.”

The two young people sat quietly, Sam sipping his coffee, trying to revive his spirits and alertness and Sister James, watching the activities of the other nuns about the hospital grounds and the antics of the poor Hill women, who occasionally rose from the wall to bring to life an absent member of their tribe with comical, idiomatic wiggles and other, more lively gestures.  “Where do you maintain an office, Doctor?” asked the young nun. “Do you live on the Hill, or in town?”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Excerpt reveal: Watch Me, by Jody Gehrman


Watch Me CoverTitle
:  WATCH ME
Genre:  Thriller/Psychological Suspense/Women’s Fiction
Author: Jody Gehrman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Find out more on Amazon
A gripping psychological thriller about one college student’s dark obsession with his professor, Watch Me plunges readers into a tense, twisty, and terrifying tale about how far obsession can go…
Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.
Except one.
Sam Grist is Kate’s most promising student. An unflinching writer with razor-sharp clarity who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, his raw talent is something Kate wants to nurture into literary success. But he’s not there solely to be the best writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years.
As Sam slowly makes his way into Kate’s life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire. But how far will his fixation go? And how far will she allow it?
In this gripping novel that explores intense obsession and illicit attraction, Jody Gehrman introduces a world where what one desires most may be the most dangerous thing of all.
EXCERPT:
You’re in the foyer now, closing the door. Any moment you’ll turn and see me. My heart pounds against my ribcage like a crazed dog throwing itself against a fence. I dash up the stairs, willing my boots to stay silent. If you could see me now, you’d be impressed. I’ve got stealth. My criminal instincts are honed. The good girl in you can’t help but be turned on by that. Maybe if you catch me, you’ll find it sexy.

But no. Not going to happen.

You can’t see me.

I have to disappear.

Everything’s riding on this. My pulse races.

Without thinking, I run into the first room at the top of the stairs: the bathroom. Your smell is heavy in here, a tropical storm of Kateness. I creep inside the tub and, careful not to make a sound, pull the shower curtain closed.

I hear you walking up the stairs. You’re humming. It sounds like “Wild Night” by Van Morrison—one of my favorite songs. That has to mean something.

There’s a preoccupied cadence to your footsteps. I picture you flipping through mail, your brow furrowed in that tiny apostrophe of concentration. You probably have your reading glasses perched on the end of your nose. I ache for you. I peak around the curtain just enough to catch a glimpse of your slender bare feet reaching the top of the staircase and making a left toward your bedroom. I hold my breath, letting the curtain fall back into place. Why didn’t I slip out when I had the chance? If you find me here, everything’s fucked.

I let my cockiness get out of hand.

From now on, I resolve to be more careful.

You’re in the bedroom, still humming. Definitely “Wild Night.” I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool, white tile. My heart continues to race. My breathing’s ragged. I can hear you searching through drawers. You must be looking for your yoga pants, your wife-beater. Your humming turns to singing in the bedroom. There’s the sound of coat hangers clicking against one another. Your voice is husky and rich.

Out of nowhere, a ripple of calm washes over me. This is how it will be when we live together. You’ll be in the next room singing while you change clothes. I’ll step out of the shower, wipe steam from the mirror. I’ll walk into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around my waist. You’ll glance over your shoulder at me, your face lighting up as you pull your tank over your head. I’ll sit on the bed and rub my damp hair, caught between the need to touch you and the simple pleasure of watching you from across the room.

You drop something—your phone? The sound jolts me back to the moment. I need to go right now, while you’re still in the bedroom.

I can’t, though. With your scent in the air, your off-key song in my ears, there’s too much anchoring me to the spot. We’re so close right now. I’m in your world, and even though I haven’t been invited, your nearness fills me like a drug.

Oh, god. You’re in the bathroom. You turn on the faucet at the sink. This is torture. You’re so close.

So close.

I listen to you brushing your teeth. Smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste. You gargle. Spit.

My breath catches in my throat as you fall silent. What are you doing now? You’re motionless. Are you eyeing the shower curtain? Maybe it’s not as opaque as I thought. You can see my silhouette. You’re standing there, still as a tree, holding your breath, staring at my outline in the pearly white curtain. Any second now you’ll yank open the plastic and—

Oh, god, I can’t stand it, I’m going to—

Wait. You’re leaving.

I exhale in dizzy relief as your bare feet patter back into the hallway and down the stairs.

When I hear NPR come to life in the kitchen, I decide it’s now or never. The stairs end in the downstairs hallway opposite the kitchen, so it’s risky. I have to chance it. Let’s pray you’re in the pantry or at the stove, your back to me. I lift first one foot, then the other, out of the tub, moving like a mime. Every step requires extreme control. My system’s still flooded with adrenaline; my muscles ache to take the stairs at a dead run. In spite of the radio, the oak planks will make way too much noise if I hurry.

There’s a window at the landing. I catch sight of your neighbor’s children in the side yard—two little girls. They’re playing a game involving plastic guns. Like marionettes controlled by the same hand, their tiny blond heads swivel toward me. We stare at one another through the glass for a long moment.

I need to get out of here.

Now.

There’s a bad moment at the bottom of the stairs. You’re not in the pantry. Not at the stove. You’re at the sink. All it would take for you to catch sight of me is a quick sideways glance.

Again, the crazy injustice of our situation hits me. I know you better than anyone, Kate, yet I’m forced to run away like a thief. I hurry toward the front door.

Just as I’m closing it behind me, lunging for the porch steps, I hear you say, “Hello? Is someone there?”

As I slip away, head bowed, hoodie pulled up, one of the little girls next door cries, “Bang-bang! You’re dead!”

I offer her a weak smile and stride toward my car.

Survivors' Dawn by Ashley Warren




Title: SURVIVORS’ DAWN
Author: Ashley Warren
Publisher: Chaparral Press LLC
Pages: 316
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Women’s Fiction / New Adult Fiction

BOOK BLURB: 

A heroic story of three college women’s fight for justice
At first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers have little in common: a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.

When freshman Brooke Flanagan first arrives at the university, she’s excited to escape her sheltered life in a Southern town. Lauren Le, a scholarship student, likes to have a good time, but she never disappoints her hardworking, single mom. Nikki Towers always goes her own way. Confident, poised, and wealthy, Nikki’s biggest problem is what to do with her future.

Into these girls’ lives walks Colin Jordan. Colin is the son of a private equity titan, captain of his club basketball team, and a brilliant pre-law student. He is also a sexual predator.

Survivors’ Dawn relates a journey of heroes: the strength, courage, and determination of the victims as they fight to survive; the obstacles they face in their pursuit of justice; and finally, with its conclusion, hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.

A contemporary novel, Survivor’s Dawn wrestles with issues of privilege, sexual assault, and the responsibility of academic institutions to protect their students.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon


Book Excerpt:

At nine o’clock on a Saturday evening in September, Colin Jordan, a senior, sat at an outdoor table at Jolene’s, a sandwich place in the Triangle. A popular pedestrian plaza, the Triangle was lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The open-air center was paved with brick and dotted with mature trees. As Colin ate a Rueben with chips and sipped a Diet Coke, he thought through his evening plans. He would have opted for an IPA, but he needed to keep his mind sharp.
Colin believed, due largely to the brilliant example his father provided, that life’s endeavors could and should be assessed in terms of investment and return; for example, Colin had invested several hundred hours to raise his LSAT score. As a result, on his second attempt his score climbed from 170 to 176, an improvement that assured his acceptance into an Ivy League school instead of one of the second-tier programs. This differentiation in pedigree would afford him a valuable advantage for the rest of his life, so the investment in preparing for the test, while painful to endure, yielded an attractive return.
Investment and return. Colin had applied the paradigm successfully in many areas of his life: sports (basketball and boxing), Greek society, and what he considered a uniquely laudable achievement: his efficient approach to sexual gratification.
Colin realized that in terms of opportunity he was living in an enchanted age created by the combination of promiscuity (supercharged by social media) and the propensity of newly liberated young people to consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
But here again, investment and return played a role; after considerable thought Colin had developed a framework for partitioning his sexual partners into three distinct categories.
The first category, casual hookups, required almost no investment; they satisfied his physical need but provided little intrinsic reward.
The second category, which Colin had dubbed “this evening’s entertainment,” required an investment of several hours to find and compel a girl (by needs both promiscuous and intoxicated) to return with him to his condo. This last step, no matter how inebriated the girl, sometimes required an extra nudge. Colin found that the more investment required to secure these conquests, the greater his return in terms of psychological satisfaction.
But the third category offered the greatest prize. Colin first had to find the right candidate, in and of itself a challenge, for the girl had to be exquisitely beautiful and innocent. Once he had identified his quarry, Colin was prepared to invest considerable time and ingenuity in her seduction, and to that point in his life, he knew of no greater joy than the moment of consummation. To date Colin had succeeded in the third category only twice.
Nevertheless, to achieve an acceptable return he had to closely manage how much time he invested on each girl, and this discipline demanded that Colin, on occasion, take shortcuts. He knew lesser elements of society would view these shortcuts with a skeptical eye. He did not share their view. The girls would without question acquiesce to their natural instincts and his desires, given sufficient time.
But still, there was an aspect of the enterprise that felt like stealing, like pocketing a candy bar in a convenience store, and the mere recollection of that sensation made his heart beat faster.
In between bites of the sandwich Colin watched girls stroll past, mostly in groups. He mentally catalogued his prospects: queen bees, athletes, sorority sisters, free spirits, and the party girls. The girls dressed to attract attention, with low necklines stretched tight across breasts, or short, tight skirts. Some wore skinny jeans with manufactured tears in the fabric. Many wore high heels.
Some of the girls had pre-gamed to manage their budget for the evening. They talked constantly as they walked, excited to be young and embarking on an evening of possibility.
He searched for a particular type of girl, someone who might be persuaded by his looks, stature, and generosity. He sought a girl who fit his second category, for he had the full evening to invest; but he absolutely had to have his desire fulfilled that night and would settle, if compelled, for a casual hookup.
One girl walked on the edge of a group of seven, tall, with high heels. She had big hips and wore a tight black skirt with a fuchsia top. What was that? She had a round face and black hair, distinctly Asian. She had a sexy walk, not fake sexy like the girls who learned everything from the Internet, but naturally sexy, like an animal in search of a mate.
He checked his watch. Nine fifteen. How long would they stay in the Triangle? Four or five hours. They’d have dinner at the Italian place or the gourmet burger spot, a trendy restaurant that wasn’t expensive. They would split the check. After dinner they would try one of the bars in the Triangle, buy a cocktail, and hope to find boys who would treat them to more drinks.
He spied a second group of girls with potential and found three of them exciting. One in particular wore a top with navy and white stripes. She, too, walked with a sexy sway. As Colin watched her, his penis grew semi-erect.
“How was the sandwich?” asked his waitress.
He hadn’t noticed her approach. She wore a black skirt and a white collared button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled past her thin wrists.
“Excellent. The sauce and sauerkraut were just as you described…awesome. Great recommendation. Thank you.”
She smiled, which illuminated her eyes, brown eyes so big he could stare at them for minutes at a time.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” she said.
What a peculiar question. Yes, oh yes. There was something else. He imagined her wearing a black spaghetti-strap top and nothing else. She faced away from him, bent over, her hands on a table. She was skinny, with bony hips. He loved that, too.
“No, thanks. Just the check when you get a chance.”
He left a 30 percent tip. He always left a big tip, because hardworking people like the waitress deserved to earn a living wage.
Colin was perfectly sober. He would spend two hours studying at the library before returning to the Triangle.

* * *

At eleven thirty Lauren Le stood with her new friends at the Homestead, a lively bar in the Triangle. Everyone talked at once, shouting to be heard above the music. The Homestead had space for a couple hundred people, with a large square bar in the middle, dozens of stand-up tables, and two dance floors. The constant beat and the bass notes coursed through Lauren’s veins.
She took a slug of the vodka soda.
Pace yourself, Lauren.
It had taken her a month to get comfortable on campus. She had grown up in Irving, Texas, outside of Dallas, and had never traveled this far to the east before starting school here. Some of her high school friends had gone to college, but none as far away as Lauren. They fell short when it came to grades and test scores and ambition.
Lauren was the result of a short-lived and reckless affair between a Vietnamese immigrant, Kim Le, who worked in a nail salon, and a tall Texan who lit out for the oil rigs as soon as Kim missed her first period. Kim had never heard from him again, and she seldom mentioned him to Lauren. As Lauren grew older she became curious and would sometimes ask about her father.
“I was stupid,” Kim had said. “I tried for a big dream with a big white man. But he was no good.”
When Lauren pressed for more information, Kim would grow adamant.
“You forget about him. You need to study.”
If Kim wasn’t working at the salon, a short distance from their apartment, she was doing piecework for a local tailor. Kim never paid Lauren an allowance, but she let her work a part-time job so long as she kept her grades near perfect.
With a tired mother and an absent father, Lauren was forced to learn how to have a good time on her own, and at that she had excelled. As a senior with a full figure, a fun nature—her hobbies were cosplay, online gaming, and organizing flash mobs—and a curious mind about partying and sex, Lauren had always attracted guys.
She had drunk one cocktail at the Italian restaurant and started with a shot of tequila at the Homestead. When they had first arrived, the girls danced as a group for nearly an hour, not allowing the dearth of boys to deter them from getting the party started.
Lauren took a break, her head buzzing slightly from the alcohol and the dancing. Cool air from the duct above her whisked away the perspiration.
God, college is fun.
The bar began to fill, and boys drifted by their group in ones and twos. A sophomore from New Jersey bought her another drink. He was her height, with red hair, and talked fast in a northern accent. He was almost cute, except for a big pimple and his lack of coordination. They tried dancing but couldn’t make it work. Afterward, he told her his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Snore.
Lauren spied one of the resident advisors from Roxbury Hall, Nikki Towers, watching her from the other side of the bar. The girls had approached Nikki when they first entered the Homestead, nervous because they had used fake IDs to get past the bouncer. They needn’t have worried. Nikki’s nickname was Cool RA. She had a reputation for doing her own thing in her own way and never traveling in a crowd. Cool RA had wished them a good time but advised them not to get wasted. (“I’m your RA, not your babysitter.”) Nevertheless, when Lauren caught Nikki’s eye, she could tell Cool RA was not impressed with the New Jersey kid.
“So…,” he said, “do you want to come over to the frat house and listen to music? I’ve got some killer weed.”
“Oh…well…like…”
His eyes were glazed and his shoulders swayed, like a five-year-old on a bicycle. Lauren wasn’t a fan of just-met sex. If he had been gorgeous, like Liam Hemsworth, then maybe. Wait, maybe? Not maybe. Definitely! But she would not have sex with New Jersey, at least not tonight. “You know, I’m gonna hang with my friends a while longer. Thanks, though.”
“Not a problem. Catch you later.”
He leaned toward her as if expecting something. She hesitated, unsure, and then offered to shake hands. He only got about ten steps before he stopped to chat up another girl.
“What did he want?” said Caitlyn, her roommate. Caitlyn’s face turned sour as Lauren told her of the invite to smoke pot. “Eewww! That guy?”
They laughed. Lauren was light as a feather. She could party all night.

* * *

Nikki Towers sat at the bar and sipped her second glass of Sauvignon Blanc, wanting to make it last. She’d budgeted only three drinks, and the buzz from the one-hitter she’d smoked on the way over had dissipated. She would have liked to drink more, but she couldn’t afford the hangover.
She watched the girls from Roxbury Hall, laughing, talking fast, and dancing. Boys started to arrive and wandered through the bar searching for girls they knew, or new girls to meet. One of them tried to buy Nikki a drink. She politely declined and then ignored him until he vacated the stool at her side. She hadn’t come to the Homestead to find a boyfriend. Sure, she liked the feel of the wooden bar, sanded smooth with a semi-gloss finish, and she liked to watch the bartenders, a man and a woman, as they hustled drinks, swiped credit cards, and matched the rhythm of the crowd. But Nikki had primarily come out on the off chance she would stumble into a solid hookup with someone she already knew.
The lingering stress of a long week of classes and countless bullshit RA duties had worn her down. She didn’t want a boyfriend—too many time constraints—but she craved the physical closeness of a naked man, the thrill that lovemaking brought, and the intimate cuddling that came after. Good sex relaxed her. She glanced at her phone. She could try Tinder, but usually the guys were drunk, or less attractive than their profile, or just plain rude. And sex with a stranger carried certain risks. Much better to go with someone she knew.
She looked back at the Roxbury group. Lauren Le, the girl in the pink top, laughed and tipped her glass back. They all had to learn their own way, to suffer through some hangovers before figuring out their style. Most of the freshmen went through the same pattern, but not Nikki. She had arrived at college fully mature, her hard partying days behind her, her virginity surrendered in a neighbor’s basement in tenth grade.
Nikki was self-aware, a solid B student with a high street IQ, the daughter of a successful interracial couple in St. Louis. Her father had begun his career as a plumber in the western suburbs but soon started a plumbing supply company, which he grew rapidly until it earned a major share of the market in four states. He’d eventually sold out to a conglomerate for over a hundred million dollars, which meant they were rich, but that didn’t stop him from insisting that Nikki get a part-time job at school, hence the RA gig. He said it would build leadership qualities. Right.
Her mother, unquestionably the life of the party, was a white blues singer who sang with several local bands around St. Louis. She had met Nikki’s father through a drummer she performed with on occasion.
Neither of her parents had allowed the business windfall to change how they lived: her father worked for the conglomerate as a regional manager, and her mother sang three nights a week. They both seemed solidly comfortable with their lives, which made Nikki a bit nervous, because she had no idea what she wanted to do.
Eventually, she had chosen economics because she liked the courses, particularly the macro stuff, but the major provided no easy career choices. Some econ grads became bankers. Others became baristas. She still had a year to work it out, but uncertainty bothered Nikki. She liked to have a plan.

* * *

Colin logged a couple of hours at the library and then briefly stopped by his condo to freshen up. After that, he tried Raven’s Way, a popular bar in the Triangle. It was almost midnight, and the energy of the crowd had begun to climb. Students crammed the dance floor, enticed by the pop music. They moved constantly, as if they were a single many-limbed entity.
Colin scanned the bar and spotted the girl in the navy and white top. The stripes ran horizontally, about two inches thick. The sleeves were three-quarter length and carried the stripes with them. Tight brunette curls sprang from her head and ended before they touched her shoulders. She stood at a cocktail table with two other girls and talked in an animated fashion, her arms moving constantly. He walked straight to her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” He stood erect with his shoulders back, wearing an open-collared white shirt and designer jeans. He looked right at her, his gaze unwavering, not acknowledging the other women, his attention reserved solely for her.
Navy stood dumbstruck, her eyes wide, unblinking, and took a moment to scan his upper body, strong neck, and face. “Uh…sure.”
From that point, the action unfolded as he expected. He helped her decide what to drink and then extended the offer to the other women. They declined, perhaps hesitant to interfere with Navy’s good fortune. He went to the bar for the drinks, giving the girls some time to confer, and by the time he returned the other two had gone to dance.
It was obvious to Colin when they introduced themselves that she didn’t recognize his name. No matter. He’d work that into the conversation at the right time.
She was too sober. He’d suspected as much when they first spoke, so he had asked the bartender for a double Manhattan. She nibbled on the cherry and took a big sip. Another couple of those and she’d be ready.
He asked about her intended major. Education. He inquired about her other interests. Movies. Politics. He laughed at the right moments and touched her elbow where the navy met the white. She hoped to study abroad her junior year.
“What country?” he said.
“Italy.”                                   
“A beautiful place. I once sat on a balcony in Sorrento overlooking the Gulf of Naples; no place on earth should be so beautiful. I couldn’t speak.”
“Sorrento.”
“Have you been?”
“No…never.”
“You’ll love it. Like another drink?”
“Um.” She looked at her glass, which had less than half an inch left. “Sure.”
He hustled to the bar again, but by the time he returned, her friends were back from the dance floor. Both of them, the tall one and the blond girl in glasses, were texting madly.
“We’re thinking of going to a party at Holcombe,” said Navy.
“It’s supposed to be a rager,” said the tall girl.
“You could join us,” said Navy, her face lifted toward him, her lips slightly parted.
The tall one raised her eyebrows, still texting; the blonde studied Colin closely, as if trying to figure something out.
Colin said, “I’m not into freshman dorm parties.” He glanced at the blonde; she listened closely. “But you could stay here. We’ll talk more about Italy, have another drink, and then I’ll drive you back to the dorm.”
Navy considered his proposal, leaning toward acceptance, her face framed by impossible curls, so cute, but then the chick in glasses touched her elbow.
“You need to stick with us,” she said. “That was the plan, remember? You two exchange digits and meet for coffee sometime.”
After they left, Colin trolled the bar but found no other prospects, so he went to the Homestead.

* * *

He gave his eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness. It was nearing one o’clock, and the crowd had begun to crest, both of the dance floors jammed with sweating bodies. Tropical house music bumped from the speakers. He spotted Nikki Towers sitting alone at the bar; it was the first time he’d seen her all year.
He had slept with Nikki four or five times, the first when she was a freshman, but Nikki was no rookie in the bedroom, not even then, her talents honed before she arrived at the university. He considered her a near equal in that regard.
His fingers had thrilled to skim her light brown skin, the surface unblemished. Her figure enhanced her beauty even further; the top of her head came to his chin, and her arms and legs were strong from yoga, her breasts and ass firm.
She came from wealth, not big money like him, but enough to live well; however, at the insistence of her father she drove a mid-size Nissan SUV and worked as an RA at Roxbury Hall. Colin had asked his own father about the plumbing company her family had owned. Francis had heard of it, said they’d tried to get in but had been priced out of the deal.
“Yo, stranger,” she said as he came to her side. He kissed her on the lips and slipped his hand to her back, strong, as always. In addition to yoga, Nikki favored the odd sports: mountain biking, rock climbing, and snowboarding.
“You look great,” he said.
“Thanks.”
He ordered a light beer for himself, pacing his consumption, and another wine for Nikki. They talked a while about nothing much: the forthcoming elections, their summers, and their respective plans for the year. Between sentences he searched the room.
“Here to check out the newbies?” she said.
He gave her a you-caught-me-in-the-act smile. “Well, you know, it’s my last year.”
“Okay, but if you crash and burn, I’ll be here a while longer. We could go to your place and…listen to jazz.”
Nikki would be a hell of a consolation prize; it was tempting. He recalled the lighter color of her breasts, which contrasted with her tanned arms and shoulders. But he had principles, objectives, and he hadn’t given the night enough of a chance, so he kissed Nikki again and then toured the room. That’s when he met Lauren Le. She was alone at a stand-up table.
The black skirt looked even better up close, pulled tight across her gorgeous ass, and the fuchsia top glowed in the black light. Her face—framed with fine black hair, her lips full and her skin like porcelain—made his heart jump.
He used the same approach as with Navy, and it worked just as well, only Lauren had had more to drink. She talked loudly, laughed a lot, and soon asked if he wanted to dance.
She came alive on the dance floor, whipping her hair and twisting her hips and shoulders. He watched from all angles as she spun around. She used the crowded floor as an excuse to dance close, and flashed him a smile whenever their bodies came into contact. They danced enough to perspire, a thin film appearing on her upper lip that he found exciting.
Back at the table, she finished her drink and asked if he could get some water. As he returned from the bar he saw her texting. Her fingers flew until he reached her side.
He ran through his standard questions about academics, hobbies, and dreams. He asked about her home, and she lamented the boredom of Irving, Texas. Many of her friends had remained in the Dallas area to attend local schools or work in retail or construction. When he mentioned his summer internship in London, her eyes grew big.
He was about to suggest another drink when two of her friends returned with two boys in tow, guys they knew. The boys had offered to walk them back to Roxbury Hall, and they were ready to leave.
“I thought we could have a nightcap,” said Colin. “I can drive you to Roxbury after.”
Her words came more slowly now, enunciated with great care. She pulled him to one side and leaned softly against him, holding his arm.
“Just so we’re clear,” she said, “I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”
“Of course not.”
“You know…maybe someday, but not tonight.”
She turned back to her friends and announced that she already had a ride. The three girls huddled in a tight circle. Colin asked the boys where they were from and smiled politely at their answers, his ear tuned to the women. They giggled. Lauren said, “No,” and one of the others said, “Whatever.” And then they were gone, leaving Colin with Lauren.
The Homestead crowd had thinned considerably although a few stubborn dancers remained on the floor. Colin and Lauren moved to the bar itself, taking two stools. Nikki had already left.
Colin ordered Negronis in tall glasses, and Lauren got up to visit the restroom. When she had gone he gulped a third of her drink and then glanced around the room. No one was watching. He took a small flask from his back pocket and poured three ounces of Everclear into Lauren’s drink. The liquid was ninety percent alcohol, the equivalent of four regular cocktails. The strong flavors of Campari and sweet vermouth would disguise the extra booze. Lauren was close to hammered already. It wouldn’t take much to put her over the edge.
On her way back from the restroom he found her even more attractive than when he’d first spotted her six hours earlier. Her hips and breasts hinted of licentious potential. The bartender had turned off the black light so her fuchsia top no longer glowed, but when she arrived at his side and turned into the stool, his breath caught at the sight of her tight skirt.
“Now,” she said, a little too loudly, “where were we?”

* * *

Colin’s condo wasn’t that big, less than a thousand square feet, but it was more than he needed. He had been content to stay in the frat house, but his mother had lambasted the place on her last visit—called it a roach haven—and insisted he move out his senior year. Over the summer she had overseen the complete remodeling of the condo. They’d torn down the walls to create one large room with an upgraded kitchen (Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf range, and green granite countertops), a high-end sound system, classic but comfortable furniture, and a platform bed. They’d expanded the bathroom to create space for a giant walk-in shower and a freestanding tub. Honestly, it was too ostentatious for Colin, and was more his mother’s style, but he had to admit that living alone had its advantages.
Colin sat naked in a plush armchair, temporarily sated, and considered Lauren. She lay nude across the bed, on her side, sleeping, one knee pulled up toward her chest, the other leg almost straight, a sheet draped over her torso. Her hair covered most of her face. Gravity pulled her heavy breasts; one rested on the mattress and the second nestled against its twin.
Colin relished Lauren, admiring her dark-brown nipples. He replayed in his mind everything he’d done to her, the various positions he’d tried. Was he done for the night? He looked at his penis, flaccid now with a light pink tinge.
It was three thirty in the morning. She’d floundered in his car, almost completely out. In the garage, he patted her face to wake her enough to walk in. He’d once had to take a girl to the emergency room, so he knew to watch her carefully.
With experience he’d learned what a girl could take, how to read their subtle noises and the movements they made if they were about to vomit. Lauren’s size helped her process the extra alcohol, and she hadn’t thrown up—much better that way, far less messy.
He liked it best when they were semiconscious, like Lauren, generally not aware of what was happening but still reacting. She had moaned a few times. At one point he could swear she moaned in pleasure.
Lauren had experience with sex. He knew that. He’d had no trouble and, of course, he’d used a condom. He kept a drawer full of condoms.
He was a thief in the night, a modern-day cat burglar pursuing jewels of a different sort, and his nerves burned with the thrill of his success. Few women, he knew, would acquiesce to his wishes after a single conversation. (“Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”) It took time—dinners, movies, concerts—but he always got there. And after a couple of carnal encounters they would urge him to make a commitment. In essence, they wanted him to lie to them, and to what end? If he made any kind of commitment, exclusivity, for example, they would fall in love with him. Soon they’d angle for a longer-term proposal—“Let’s go public”—and if he succumbed to that demand, they’d fantasize about him asking the even more preposterous question, “Will you marry me?” It was absurd. He’d endured that torture already, once in high school and twice in college, during his freshman and sophomore years. To make matters worse, the girls suffered when he broke up with them. A long-term commitment? Why did they even want that? It was stupid.
The express route was a better approach for all concerned. Lauren got laid. She may not have realized it at the time, but she still got laid. And he got laid. Fuck, did he ever get laid.
Of course, the mainstream would judge him harshly, but what about his family? What would his mother say? The materially gluttonous Sharon Jordan, a blue-blooded debutante from Northern Virginia, had hit the jackpot when she met Francis. She would avert her eyes and say, “What a mess! Clean up, Colin, and escort this young woman home.” On the other hand, his father, with a knowing smirk, would nod and say, “Enjoy it, Colin. A young man should sow his oats before settling down to make money and build a legacy.”
Colin chuckled. Enjoy it.


 About the Author

The unending accounts of sexual assault on college campuses compelled me to write Survivors’ Dawn.

My goal in writing the novel was NOT to focus on the act itself, but instead, to write of the victim’s journey, to tell a story about the strength, courage, and determination of survivors, to describe the difficulties they face in their pursuit of justice, and finally, to offer hope for a future where students can pursue their dreams without fear of being attacked.

As Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” implies, non-victims can never truly know how it feels to be assaulted, but we can try to empathize, and we can try to help. Awareness is key to reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campus. Please do your part by taking the It's On Us pledge and contributing to organizations that are fighting on the front lines.

Thank you to readers who give me encouragement. It means so much to me. Word of mouth is an incredible thing, so thank you also for telling your friends about Survivors' Dawn. 

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