Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reminder: Cyber Monday Weekend Deal

Don't miss your chance to get a copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED at half price!

The deal:

Purchase your copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED any time from Saturday, November 28 through Monday, November 30 (until 11:59 pm, naturally) and a SECOND COPY will be sent to the email address you specify.

So be sure to SPECIFY A SECOND EMAIL ADDRESS on the Paypal order form.

You'll receive TWO COPIES for $9.99 instead of one.

Click here to buy now.

Or go to AUTHORESSPRESS.COM to learn more about the e-book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


And I'm off to revel in family time.

Thanks to so many of you for your words of advice and encouragement. I really do have my priorities straight; I just needed some empathy and a bit of direction.

You've provided both.

See you after the holiday!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another Goodie: CYBER MONDAY SALE on Authoress's E-book

Yep. I'm offering a special for Cyber Monday week-end: AGENT: DEMYSTIFED -- Buy one, get one free!

It's a perfect way to go in with a writing buddy and each get your own copy for just $5.49.

Or the perfect way to gift yourself and surprise a friend.

The deal:

Purchase your copy of AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED any time from Saturday, November 28 through Monday, November 30 (until 11:59 pm, naturally) and a SECOND COPY will be sent to the email address you specify.

So be sure to SPECIFY A SECOND EMAIL ADDRESS on the Paypal order form.

You'll receive TWO COPIES for $9.99 instead of one.

Click here to buy now.

Or go to AUTHORESSPRESS.COM to learn more about the e-book.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Very Special Christmas Contest!

I promised you some holiday fun, so here it is!

Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency has graciously agreed to team up with me for our first annual WRITERLY CHRISTMAS LYRICS CONTEST.

Actually, Lauren came up with the idea herself. So I roped her right in.

Here's the deal: On Monday, December 7, you will be invited to set your best writing advice/jokes/impressions to holiday tunes.

Here's Lauren's brilliant example:

Joy to the world, my manuscript is done!
Let agents finally see this beast;
let every inbox prepare it room,
And, dear God, let the query sing,
Please, God, let the query sing
Oh god, dear God, let the query sing.

(And you thought she only agented. Pheh.)

  • When the contest blog post appears, you may enter your masterpiece IN THE COMMENT BOX.
  • Absolutely no emails, please. Comment box only.
  • Please do not enter more than TWO masterpieces.
  • Please use a screen name by which you will be EASILY IDENTIFIABLE. "Anonymous" simply doesn't cut it. Especially if there are more than one.
  • Lewd entries will be deleted. But you wouldn't do that, anyway.
  • Your masterpiece should be an ORIGINAL set of lyrics that go along with a CHRISTMAS CAROL OR SONG. Please include the TITLE of the Christmas tune so that we can all sing along.
The contest will open at 8:00 am EST on Monday, December 7, and will close at 8:00 am EST on Wednesday, December 9. Comments will then be closed.


Lauren MacLeod will call you on your cell phone and SING your masterpiece--live!

Not really.


Lauren MacLeod will CRITIQUE THE QUERY LETTER of the person whose entry she deems Best Of All.

The winner will be announced on Thursday, December 10.

How's that for holiday happiness? It's no secret that I adore Lauren MacLeod; believe me when I say that her feedback on your query letter will probably be the best Christmas present you could ask for.

Oh. You might want to skip entering if you don't have a polished query letter. It would look kinda silly if you won. Yanno?

That's it! Post your questions below; I'll get to them as quickly as I can.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Okay, fellow writers. I'm fessin' up.

My family is going to be here for Thanksgiving and I. Don't. Want. To. Stop. Writing.

You already know I'm not one of "those" writers. As in, the writing-is-my-oxygen type. Passionate, yes. Committed, yes. But not...well, one of "those" writers.

I mean, it's okay to BE one of "those" writers. I'm just not.

And here I am, blessed to have my family coming here for the second Thanksgiving in a row. Last year, it was my idea. This year, they invited themselves.

My family isn't like that, really. They're not the invite-yourselves type. (How annoying would that be?) So last year must've been a big hit.


So I'm glad they're coming. Really, I am.

It's just that I'm looking at the calendar and thinking, "Tuesday. Company arriving. No time to write. Wednesday. Baking pies and making broccoli-cheddar soup from scratch. No time to write. Thursday. Thanksgiving. Um..."

You get the idea.

Now, my parents like to have quiet time in the afternoons to read newspapers. Newspapers make me grouchy; they lie all over the house when my parents are here, making my little fingers black when I move them around. But I'm thinking newspapers will be my best friend next week. I may buy one of every paper I can get my hands on.

Because they can read and I can, yanno, write.

My sister's a different story, though. I WANT to have sister chattiness and go-out-for-coffeeness. I really do. But it's killing me to set aside my work.

Killing me.

I never dreamed there was a Type A personality tucked inside me.

So help me balance, will you? My goal is to finish Draft 3 (aka The Huge Rewrite) of my Dystopian project by December 31. And this Thanksgiving thing is a whole chunk of days to give up. Remind me that I can get back on track once the house has emptied. Remind me that I am a human being first, a writer second.

And if you're one of "those" writers, keep your belief that "writer" comes before "human being" to yourself. Please.

Because I never expected this from myself and I've only got a few days to get my head on straight.

Eagerly awaiting your words of wisdom...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#37 1000-Word

TITLE: Historian: A Tempest Guard Novel
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Chase drew in a single deep breath and breathed out responsibility. He let all his stresses ease away. No worrying about the stuck drain in 5B and how he was going to have to page through the do-it-yourself plumbing books yet again. Hopefully he’d end up with less scraped knuckles this time. He could put off ordering in new light bulbs for the hallway lighting fixtures for a few hours. And there was no sense dwelling on the fact that he was pretty sure that Mrs. Hattaway in 3D was switching out the bulbs shortly after he replaced them.

All those concerns could wait.

Chase slouched against the side of the wide windowsill in his almost-uncle Mack’s apartment. He’d just meant to drop some groceries off while Mack was at work, but as often happened, he had gotten seduced by the peace of his window perch. Mack’s place was small and sparsely furnished, but just as clean and orderly as his automotive garage a few blocks away. Chase liked it here, and he liked Mack. But when he had the place to himself, he always came to watch from the window. From up here he could look out over the streets and not have to be involved. He didn’t have to worry about turf wars, getting knifed in the back for his shoes or getting roughed up for what few scraps of cash he might have on him.

He also didn’t have to be in charge of his apartment complex. No seventeen-year-old should be, but it had been status quo for him since he was about twelve. His mom had stopped even making an attempt right around that time and simply stayed doped up on whatever she could get her hands on. Chase had kept the complex going with Mack’s help or he wouldn’t have eaten. Now he took these precious minutes to simply watch and let the weight of responsibility slip away.

Then they ruined it. They looked innocuous at first – a chick completely tricked out in a leather biker babe getup and the tall, corpse-looking guy walking beside her. Weird people showed up down here all the time and this duo could be just two more in the long list.

Usually it wouldn’t bother him. Strangers came and went. They came down here by accident, to escape their own lives, or to tiptoe around danger and feel brave. His instincts, however, were screaming at him - the same instincts that warned when he was being followed; he’d learned to trust them.

These two stiffs had checked every street sign and hadn’t greeted a single person along the way. In fact, people were giving them a wide berth like they were dangerous. That last was what decided him. After they entered the squat abandoned storefront across the way, he blew out a disgusted sigh and hopped down from his roost. He’d go take a look-see, find out what they were all about and if they looked like serious trouble, he’d go tell Mack.

He hustled down the three flights, fought for a moment with the busted door knob, and then finally emerged into the dark night. Strolling across the street, he automatically avoided both the glaring street lights that would ruin his night vision and the deep shadows that hid the human predators stalking the area. A pungent odor had him looking at the pavement. Stepping lightly, he avoided a pile of desiccating newspapers and a puddle that smelled like piss and vomit.

Gak. Wouldn’t want that on his shoes – they were in rough enough shape.

A flicker at the edge of his peripheral vision caught his attention. A guy about his own age, thin and lanky, with a predatory glint in his eyes took a step towards Chase. Jakes or Jaz or something like that was his name. He was a small-time thug. But even wanna-be gangsters could be dangerous. Chase returned a slow smile and reached behind him, hand going under the bottom of his shirt to his waistband. He only had a small knife there, but this guy didn’t know that. As he started to withdraw his hand, Jakes or Jaz, whoever, hesitated, splayed his hands out and backed away. Chase smiled bigger. God loved a good bluff.

Once he reached his target building, he stuck to the shadows and methodically worked his way around, listening carefully to the sounds of the streets around him. The usual faint night traffic was reassuring. No sudden ruckus or tense silence. Nothing going down. The truly rough denizens weren’t out yet but it still paid to be vigilant.

He peeked quickly through each grimy window he could reach. At one time, someone had tried to brighten the place up by hanging colorful curtains at some of the windows. Chase snorted at the wasted effort. Now those curtains were ragged and bleached by the sun. Some windows had been boarded up.

Finally, around the back he saw light gleaming faintly from a window. Faded red draperies gapped a couple of inches at the center.

As quietly as he could, he crouched down to one side, brushing away the chunks of chipped mortar peppering the ground. His grungy gray sweatpants were already torn in three places and the drawstring was almost completely ripped out. The last thing he needed in them was another hole.

Settling himself on his knees, he took a deep breath and spared another quick glance at his surroundings. He was still alone. Leaning over, he darted a look through the window. Blazing teal eyes stared back at him from the far wall. His heart jumped and a shocked breath forced its way into his lungs. In that heartbeat, his brain refused to process anything more significant than the eye color. They were no normal shade of blue or green, but a shade in between.

It was like the color they’d used on those Geos so many years ago, was his bemused thought. Hideous color on a car, but absolutely kickin’ on the lady chained to the wall before him.

His brain started catching up with the scene.

Ah, s***. Who the hell chained people to walls, nowadays anyways? This was no castle and dungeon setup, although she definitely looked like a damsel in distress.

#36 1000-Word

GENRE: Memoire

Here it was the end of the third summer of high school and Pierre would be going back without a dependable female social companion for the near future. He was bemoaning the prospects with his friend Vern when an idea hatched that had some possibilities.

Vern's girlfriend Julie had just returned from a self-reliance building camp that lasted half the summer. Pierre had listened to Vern read some of Julie's letters she sent while at camp. The parts Pierre was most interested in hearing were the realizations she and her friend Gelany were having about how fun outdoor wilderness activities could be and how much their lives were changed by the experience.

Pierre had noticed Gelany before. She was a no-nonsense down-to-earth person if not a little pensive and short tempered. He was somewhat interested to hear about the girls summer first hand as Vern had proposed the four of them get together soon to hear about their new and possibly great expectations.

The next Saturday the four of them met at Gelany's house. Both girls were quite excited to share all the events of the summer and had pictures to show and souvenirs to explain. From the photos Pierre gathered the format of the camp was an extended bivouac where groups of six girls went through a well planned and supervised wilderness experience. An initial impression that they were going to hear about a girl scout-like so'- mores and campfire song party was quickly put aside. They had seen rough hikes, semi-serious injuries and even interesting survival problems. Evidence in the pictures was the more beat-up and dirty they got the happier they looked.

After the visual presentation they went into another room to listen to some of the records Jules and Lany had gotten addicted to at the camp. Their favorite was by an anemic sounding singer from Minnesota who tried to play a harmonica between verses of various poems he chanted with maudlin subjects.

One thing that added a little taste to the atmosphere was a tray full of wilderness food the girls had prepared. Because the environs of Kankapot were not wild enough to provide the actual ingredients for the camp recipes, substitutions were made resulting in very interestingly tasty "treats". Pierre thought the taste was somewhere between fruit jerky and pemmican his grandmother used to make. When he looked at Vern it was clear by his facial expression that his thoughts were as far as you could get away from enjoyment or satisfaction.

The conclusion of the afternoon was the girls listing the possible new quests they were hoping to embark on as soon as they could get some money. Hiking the Appalachian Trail and rafting on the Colorado seemed like financial impossibilities to Pierre but Vern assented to every one of their suggestions.

After leaving Vern commented that now that the girls were back from the woods their heads should be following them in about a week. Pierre agreed with his observation and thought to himself maybe the next time they got together he hoped he would get a little more personal recognition than a polite audience member.

A few weeks later to his surprise Vern asked Pierre if he wanted to try out for the school play along with Jules and Lany. "Sure, why not." He said wondering how the three of them developed any interest in that kind of activity. Then he thought about what opportunities might happen that would allow him to cultivate a stronger friendship with Gelany. Even the possibility of working on the sets and scenery could be fun. He had been to the movie and there was the book of Through the Looking Glass at home, but he would have to go to the library to get the play to see what he might like to do in the theater production.

When he checked out the script copy at the library the desk assistant asked, "Which part are you going to try out for?"

"I'm not sure yet." He answered.

"You can try for up to three, "she said, "and you're a senior so you'll get priority."

"I didn't know that."

"It's all on the last page of the announcement. You should read it. Even if you don't get a part you can be on the stage crew." She sure knew a lot about it.

Bringing back the script he was again questioned by the same librarian, "What parts did you decide to try for?"

"Maybe the hatter, the Cheshire cat or the white rabbit, Are you trying out too?"

"I hope to get to be a prompter again. I was one last year" she said with a clear receptive smile. He thanked her for the help and walking away remembered her name was Bobbie.

On the day of the try outs all four of the novice actors were amazed at how many people were there to try for the parts. It was quite organized and they all finished their readings and were out on the sidewalk near the kiosk in three hours. They hadn't exchanged more than a dozen words when Lany's sister Elaine pulled up in a car and said, "If you want a ride home get in now or walk." As the girls piled in to the back seat Lany leaned out and said, "Bye Per." Finally he got recognized personally and directly.

This last label reminded him of a Latin conjugate, a kind of locative case putting you in a closer status of friendship. A logical conjecture but in fact not true.

On the way home Vern asked "Are you still hoping to get something going with 'Paula Bunyan'?" His sarcasm although creative was usually baiting an argument. He was expressing his own irritation that he seemed to not be able to go anywhere with Jules without Lany coming too. A mutual friend, Sean, had given Vern a rusty log splitting wedge the last time he was carping about the girl's close friendship

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bits and Bobs

I'm chomping on cajun-seasoned nachos and enjoying the freedom of a secret-agentless blog.

I know you understand. Love the contests, love a break from the contests.

At any rate, I wanted to let you know that:
  • we're going to have a couple of 1000-word critiques tomorrow, and
  • I'll be announcing a Very Fun Christmas Contest with Cool Prize next week!
Also, I'm compiling (and have been for some time) a wonderful collection of "celebrations and good news". So if ANYTHING good has happened to you as a direct result of this blog, please email your happies to me at facelesswords(at)

"Happies" include, but are not limited to:
  • Positive results on your query letter (particularly after reading AGENT: DEMYSTIFIED)
  • Request for material from agent after feedback on the blog
  • Representation from an agent after feedback on the blog
  • Representation from a SECRET AGENT after winning a contest
  • Book deal after feedback on the blog
  • Book deal, period!
  • Any quantifiable improvement in your writing, boost in your morale, infusion of encouragement you've received as a fellow aspiring author. It's ALL GOOD!
And that's that. Back to my nachos (which, admittedly, aren't sitting too well...)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Fricassee

Time to let you know what this blog will look like from now until the end of 2009. (That had an unintentionally ominous ring.)

  • No more Secret Agent contests until January, 2010. This is intentional. I like to take December off for obvious reasons.
  • We will have some old fashioned, in-house crit fests. Remember Drop the Needle? Yeah, I'm in the mood for a couple of those. Because, yanno, I get to play, too.
  • I'll pepper the remaining weeks with some 1000-word crits. If you're in the queue, I will email you prior to posting your entry, to make sure it's current (you're always welcomed to send your latest, most recently edited version).
  • There will be an "Internet Monday" special on my e-book, Agent: Demystified. If you've been deprived of a copy to this point, now's your chance.
  • Christmas fun. Define that for me in the context of this blog so I can start brainstorming.
  • And of course there will be an end-of-year recap of all the GREAT STUFF that has happened to authors as a direct or indirect result of participation in this blog.
There you have it! Post your questions and Christmas ideas below, and have a glorious weekend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fabulous Announcement: Book Publication!

It's official: the first Real Book Deal in which this blog played the teeniest part is happening!!

Here are the authors' own words, used with their permission:

Dear Authoress,

I'm not sure if you remember us or not, but we participated in one of your Secret Agent contests back in February 2009. We didn't win, but we did get a ton of amazing feedback from Kristin Nelson and your fantastic readers. We used all of that great feedback to revise our manuscript and ended up scoring an amazing agent in March 2009. And now we've hit another huge milestone. Our debut novel, A Kate Lowry Mystery: The Haunting of Pemberly Brown, will be published by Sourcebooks in Spring 2011. We are beyond excited and we can't help but think that we have you and the community of writers at your blog to thank.

Thank you so much for all of your hard work! We can't imagine all the time and effort that goes into maintaining your blog, but we sure do appreciate it.

Lisa and Laura

Woot woot and triple woot! It's a measureless honor to have been part of this book's exciting journey.

Read their blog post announcing the deal.

They're even giving away a Kindle to celebrate!

Throw confetti along with me. When two of our "own" make it, we're all part of the happy that happens. You could be next!

Monday, November 9, 2009


And here are Laura's winners:

Runners up:

#8 Bite Me by LoriStrongin
#9 The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak
#20 Touch by Melinda
#45 My Name Is Death by Inkspatters

Agent's Favorite:

# 30 Undisclosed by Ant
The prize:

Ms. Bradford requests that you ALL send her the first 30 pages plus a synopsis. Please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: LAURA BRADFORD


Applause and thanks to the amazing and helpful Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.

Laura's bio:

Laura Bradford has fifteen years of professional experience as a literary agent, editor, writer and bookseller. Laura began her career as a literary agent at Manus and Associates Literary Agency and formed Bradford Literary Agency in 2001. She considers herself an editorial-focused agent and takes a hands-on approach to developing proposals and manuscripts with her authors for the most appropriate markets. The mission of Bradford Literary Agency is to form true partnerships with their clients and build long-term relationships that extend from writing the first draft through the length of the author’s career. Her recent sales include books placed with Berkley, Grand Central, Harlequin/Silhouette, Kensington, Spice Books, Pocket, Virgin Books, Avon, Dorchester, Hyperion, NAL, Eos, and Mira Books. She continues to actively build her client list and is currently seeking work in the following genres: Romance (historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic), urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers and young adult as well as some select non-fiction.

She is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America and she is an RWA-recognized agent.

Winner announcements coming up!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Fricassee

I'm a summer gal, but I've got to say that the vibrant orangey-greeny-gold effusing through the windows has filled me with a sort of autumnal bliss.


Now that I've morphed into a dedicated, uber-scheduled writer, I'm going to face the test of Writing Through the Seasons (sounds like a boring literary piece). In other words, I'll be stretched to survive winter.

Yes. Survive.

I grew up in a cold house with high ceilings and a piddly heating system. I spent winter nights curled up in front of the hot air register, blocking the heat from the rest of my family while we watched TV. I went through college winters wearing gloves to class to keep my fingers warm after having practiced my scales and arpeggios early in the morning.

The pianist and the writer in me both hate winter.

It's the gray light, too, that gets me. As the years pass, it gets worse. Ugh, the gloomy cloud cover, the damp hanging in the kitchen when I make the coffee each morning. The endless string of dull, cold, dull, gray, dull winter days.

I'm determined to bottle today's autumn brilliance and sip it slowly while I write through the winter. I will be untouched by the season I hate most.

My writing will prevail. And so will my attitude.

I mean, who wants to live with a grouchy female for three months of every year?

So that my autumn pledge. What's yours?

Oh. And all you jubilant, I-love-snow-and-frosty-windows-and-ice-cold-steering-wheels types? I love you, anyway. And if you can share one truly redeeming thing about winter, I'm all ears.

Christmas doesn't count. It's the only thing that NEEDS winter. Once it's over, I'm ready for April.

I'm all ears!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Case You're Wondering....

I goofed and overlooked an entry that actually made it before cut-off. Hence #51.

I know you'll treat this orphan entry as kindly as you will the others.


51 Secret Agent

TITLE: Curve Ball Baby
GENRE: Romance

The pain felt as if it was splitting her open. Karly Huffman took a deep breath and tried to focus on the nurse moving purposefully around her hospital room. She was desperate to think about anything other than the growing intensity of the contractions curling deep insider her belly.

“You’re doing a great job, Karly.”


“Yes. The doctor will be here any minute. You’re close,” the nurse said with a warm smile.

“Okay,” Karly managed, her eyes watering as she searched the hallway outside her room once more. She knew her mom and sister were caught in traffic. Going into labor two weeks early, at four o’clock in the morning no less, was not the most convenient thing to do. She was truly alone, and it felt like the impending birth of her son was more punishment for the mistakes of her past. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. Her trusted doctor was away on vacation. The support of her family was missing, and the pain she was experiencing had to be worse than normal.

“Good morning. Are we ready to have a baby in here?” A man’s voice interrupted her misery as he walked into the room, his back facing her as he grabbed some gloves and leaned over to study a clipboard sitting on the counter. Karly watched him, her breath catching as the stunning color of his disheveled hair sent shivers down her aching back. She would know that hair anywhere. It couldn’t be. She fisted her hands in the sheets on either side of her hips and listened as the frantic beeping of her heart monitor accelerated. The doctor turned to face her, a look of concern on his face until his eyes met hers.

50 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult

Mom always warned against pulling stray threads. After all, my mother was a practical woman. One pulled thread could unravel a whole garment. And since we could afford only to patch a hole it was infinitely better to avoid getting one in the first place. Still, I can't help but stare at this shimmering yarn poking from the sleeve of my well-worn sweater.

I want to yank it loose.

I twirl it instead and do my best to focus on the moon-faced lawyer seated before me. I wish he’d get to the point. I wish he’d stop prattling on about the weather and explain why he summoned me here to the port city of Boston – to this grand, but cold, marble-floored room overlooking the bustling harbor and tall ships gliding silently past. Stuffed in my pocket, his cryptic letter crinkles with each impatient shift of my legs. I feel the envelope wax crack. Wax, of all things. Who sends wax-sealed letters anymore? As if it’s the nineteenth century and not the twenty-first. As if e-mail and telephones don’t exist in this parallel universe of antique wood furniture, leather chairs and silver fountain pens.

“So, Miss Jordan.” The lawyer clears his throat. He sweats, even though this office is freezing, and sports a haphazard comb-over that would likely unravel with one pull, too. “Miss Jordan, I assume you’d like to know why I asked you here today.”

I drop the thread and nod, even though the knot in my stomach tells me I might not want to hear the answer.

49 Secret Agent

GENRE: Mystery

If I really were a psychic witch, as my grandmother insists, then wouldn't you think I could predict if the roof were about to cave in over my head like it was doing right now?

"Stacy, get out!" my cousin shouted through the thick smoke. She was in the basement of the Black Opal Bar gathering stock minutes before the fire barricaded her in the far room. I hoped the rear exit wasn't blocked. The front section, where I stood, was free of flames. For the moment.

I swiveled my head from side to side and clutched the amethyst necklace I wore for protection. "Where's Thor?" I yelled back.

"I don't know. Just go!"

"Thor, here boy," I called. Just then a wooden beam crashed to the floor, dividing the two sections of the bar. Black ash and sparks erupted from the floorboards.

I heard a faint whimper and circled to the face of the oak bar. My recently adopted Great Dane was at the opposite end, wedged between the foot rail and two kegs of beer.

"Thor, come," I screamed as loud as I could.

The kegs blocked his head like linebackers, but I could see his rear end wiggling, struggling to escape. A quick check to my right. The flames hadn't reached the front door yet and sirens wailed closer. There was no choice. My legs found power as I sprinted toward my dog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the toppled stool. I tripped in cartoon fashion.

48 Secret Agent

GENRE: Offbeat Suspense

At the moment of his death, Andy Hansen had never felt more alive.

The captain of the Carolina University wrestling squad was enjoying his senior year immensely. With only one loss so far, he was destined for All-America honors at the spring conference championships. This alone would have been enough to sustain his natural high, but adding three turquoise pills and a petite, auburn-haired freshman named Denise Graham into the mix made for one pumped-up wrestler.

Knowing he stood a very good chance of being shirtless that night, Andy wasn’t taking any chances. If he threw himself into an intense chest workout at the gym, his pecs would be suitably swollen, making an ever-so-inviting pillow for Denise’s fragrant head.

As he closed his apartment door, his hand brushed against a thick, blue piece of paper swinging from the knob. Stupid ad, he thought, and wadded it up.

When it crinkled in his fist, he smoothed the ad out again and discovered a small cellophane packet glued to the back. Three capsules rattled around inside. The headline proclaimed “Increase Your Strength! Maximize Your Reps! Enhance Your Performance the All-Natural Way!” RepMax, the attached product, claimed to be organic--free from ephedrine, synephrine and steroids, any of which could get him kicked off the team in a heartbeat. Andy was intrigued; if God made it, what harm could it do?

He shrugged. He was twenty-one, in the best shape of his life, a bonafide wrestling star with a hot new girlfriend in the wings. In a word: indestructible. He pinched out the pills and tossed them back with a swig of water. Might be just bee pollen, but what the hell. He stuffed the free sample coupon into his pocket.

47 Secret Agent

TITLE: Center Court Seats and a Pair of Jimmy Choos
GENRE: Women's fiction

Mimi undid another button and peeked down at her black lace bra for inspiration. She crossed through the last sentences of her draft and tried again.

She lay sprawled on a private beach, her long, tanned limbs entwined with those of a gorgeous blond lifeguard she’d met earlier that day. They writhed, skin against hot, sweaty skin, oblivious to the sand grinding beneath them as the torturous midday sun intensified their body heat. He stroked her back and moaned, “Ah, Grace.”

Mimi rested her head back against the restaurant booth. Maybe Grace wouldn’t be so aggressive. She glanced at her cleavage again.

“Hate to disappoint you, but I think they stopped growing after high school.” Jaclyn dropped her portfolio on the opposite seat. “What are you looking for?”

Mimi smiled at her older sister. “Sand.”

“You realize you’re in a restaurant.”

“I’m starting a new book. Paranormal.”

“ Para -what?” Jac grabbed the menu.

“Paranormal romances contain a supernatural element.” No way would her sister listen to the details of her story. Jac barely acknowledged her career at all. “My character is haunted by the ghost of a woman who was a burlesque dancer. Now she has erotic desires.”

“Sounds like there's a Pulitzer in your future,” Jac said.

“Your encouragement is overwhelming.” Mimi rolled her eyes.

“I just don’t see why anyone reads that stuff.” As an investigative reporter for the Dallas Post-Herald, Jac believed in reporting facts, exposing corruption, bringing bad guys to justice. Fiction was an F-word.

46 Secret Agent

TITLE: Our Great Room
GENRE: Women's Fiction

HONEY. She wages a war over honey. Sugar substitute in the pantry, pure cane on the shelf, yet she wages a war over honey. This was supposed to be a low-key celebration - just family and a few close friends - not a house teeming with dehydrated Negroes, all waiting for a glass of her amazing honey iced-tea. I tell her I’m not going and return to my book. My finger skitters down the page. Now wait a minute. Odysseus couldn’t have slain all of the suitors already. I thumb back to the beginning. Maybe Penelope is at the loom, unraveling her wedding veil again. I thumb forward. Perhaps the Cyclops? Hmm. Poseidon? No. The Lotus-Eaters? The Sirens? Hades? I thumb forward and I thumb backward, backward and forward. It is no use. I cannot find my place. I am lost.

I sigh and toss the book across the kitchen table. I have put too much zip in the toss, and the book, an old dog-eared paperback, takes out a plate of wings. My mother stomps her foot. “No honey,” she says, “Not one miserable drop in the house. Everyone’s thirsty,” she says, “And I need you to go find me some. I know it’s hot out,” she says, “Hottest it’s been all summer, but I was born and raised in Savannah - I know what real heat is - and Newark heat don’t got s*** on Savannah heat. Now here, take my car keys. Don’t worry about them wings; I’ll clean ‘em up later. You listenin’ to me, Alexandra?”

45 Secret Agent

TITLE: My Name is Death
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

I’ve lost the Book of Death. Usually, it’s in my bottom drawer, under this pile of work from the tenth grade I never bothered to chuck out. Today, an old geography textbook’s the only thing beneath my trig exams, and the sad canvas that’s my attempt at art. S***. I stare at the empty space, hands limp at my sides.

The Book of Death’s kinda vital. I can’t kill anyone without it. Not that killing people’s my all time favorite hobby or anything. Just comes with the territory when you’re the Grim Reaper.

I rip into my drawer. Please, God of Lost Things, God of Found Things, God of damn Birthday Cakes: let me find the Book of Death.

Only one item in my drawer requires any care – the Book of Life. It’s important, too. I write the names of those scheduled to die in the Book of Death, ending their lives, but the Book of Life tells me who to kill, gives me the names.

Once that’s safe on my desk, I reach back into my drawer, shoving things out again. What on earth are my sneakers from the freshman year still doing in here? They stink. After the sneakers, the only thing left is an SAT guide. Mom bought it for me once upon a time. Don’t think I’ve ever looked at it.

Still, there’s a slim chance the Book of Death is hiding beneath it. Fingers crossed. Toes crossed. Intestines crossed. I take a deep breath and plunge my hand into the drawer.

44 Secret Agent

TITLE: What Elephants Know
GENRE: Fantasy

You ain’t ever got enough of it – not now, not ever.

You don’t ever want it on your hands, and it slips through the cracks when you need it the most.

Allen contemplated that bit of wisdom as he watched the soft downpour of pure white sand. The six-foot tall wrought iron hourglass reflected his face back to him as the last grains dropped into the lower vessel. The hourglass always made him feel small. He straightened his back, attempting to extend his five-foot-ten inches, his small wiry frame a testament to his somewhat hyper nature. He brushed at his sparse blond hair. His hairline had long ago lost its acquaintance with his forehead, and the fine lines in his brow threatened to merge into one large wrinkle. The wrinkle deepened as he squinted into the glass.

I’ve waited a long time for this.

The gigantic mechanized timepiece – the focal point of the magnificent garden – stood in the middle of the cobblestone court, watched over by the oldest oak tree in the world. The tree’s massive trunk and long limbs, gnarled and wrinkled and bent by time, had stood guard over the garden for over four thousand years. A breeze rose and sent a shiver through those twisted arms as the last grain of sand settled down onto the snow white dune.

So it begins.

Allen watched the warping of his image as the glass began its slow turn, the gears crying out in their stiffness.

43 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult

A rush of air sent my hair flying around my face. My skin tingled, the adrenaline high was addicting, and I needed more. So I cranked my wrist, increasing the gas to send me shrieking forward like a blur. Speeding through the trees on my boyfriend Colin’s new All Terrain Vehicle had officially become my new favorite pastime. I couldn’t have been happier that we could each ride our own. Reckless activities were my secret obsession. I loved anything fast and a little dangerous.

Roots from the ancient maple trees caused jarring bumps on the forest ground that bounced me around on the seat. Even though Colin told me to take it slow until I got the hang of riding the new ATV, I couldn’t control the urge for speed. I’d never been this high on the hillside before and really had no clue where I was, but I knew I couldn’t be far off the beaten trail.

Closing in on the top of the mountain, the ground began to flatten. I needed to turn around because I was well aware that this hill had a pretty sharp drop off. Attempting to slow down, I pressed the brake. Nothing happened. My momentum still propelled me forward. I squeezed with all my might, and still nothing. I was still going full speed ahead right toward the edge of the cliff. Sweat began to bead-up on my upper lip, I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to wreck Colin’s new toy, but I didn’t very well want to die either.

42 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Snap
GENRE: Women's Fiction

When the idea hit her, Robyn’s eyes widened and she gave an involuntary “Oh!” A tiny voice deep down warned that Mark wouldn't like it, but now she couldn't think of anything else. This was too good not to act on. She decided she would stand as soon as the rather comprehensive best man finished his toast, which would give her legs time to stop trembling.

The glazed eyes of the guests worked in Robyn’s favor, as no one seemed to notice the glasses vibrating on the table just above her knees. She glanced over at Mark again. His face was blank too, just like the past twelve times she’d looked at him.

The best man finished with a flourish, and just in time: the glasses teetered at the table’s edge. People clapped and then did that stupid clinking thing to make the couple kiss. Yes, yes. All very predictable.

Finally. She stood, holding onto the edge of the table for support, sure she looked like a cat in the car on the way to the vet’s office. Heads turned towards her, wondering who she was. The bride’s sister, perhaps? A close friend? A cousin? Mark looked up at her, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

She flashed him a smile, hoping to reassure him. He shook his head in warning against whatever she was going to do, but she had to keep going, especially now that she was standing. Before Mission Control in her head could morph the movement into a trip to the ladies’ room, she lurched for the microphone.

41 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA - Urban Fantasy

Mara let the sunlight filter across her body, its fading heat still warm against her cold skin. The wind kicked up the ocean spray from the rocks below, creating a fine, salty mist. She smiled as she felt it dance against her face. A lone gull swooped and soared along the rocky cliffs scoring the coastline. The cliffs cruelly denied land access to their isolated beaches, pristine but only briefly visible at low tide. It was the inapproachability of the place that appealed most to her.

The sun was setting, transforming the horizon into a riot of golds, ambers, pinks, and reds so vibrant she could almost taste the colors exploding across the sky before fading into the ocean. As they disappeared, salt crystals shimmered in the shadowy twilight, and she felt the sense of peace and serenity that simple vision had created slowly dissolve, leaving instead the unmistakable vibration of danger coming, and coming fast.

Mara abandoned her perch on the rock cliff and leapt into her car. Thrilled at the power she knew it possessed, she threw it into drive, screaming out of the scenic overlook and into the rapidly darkening skyline. She laughed, remembering the salesman’s disbelief when she had walked in and bought the 600 hp CL-65 AMG outright. Why was it that everyone assumed only guys appreciated fast cars? She shook off her memory and refocused on the threat closing in.

Damned if she would make it easy for these two and she knew there were two of them.

40 Secret Agent

TITLE: Lucky in Love
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Trouble. Cassie knew it right away when her hospital cell phone vibrated in her pocket. Couldn't be her patients, she'd just checked in on all of them. Had to be the office calling about some kind of emergency.

She rushed down the hall of the psychiatric unit in New York City Hospital to the nurses' station. Behind the locked door, she clicked on her message and stared at the screen.

Brett asked me to marry him and I couldn't refuse.
Flight leaves this afternoon.

Stunned, she swallowed hard and tried to digest the message. Her boyfriend and her roommate? This had to be a nightmare.

Those simple words on the phone squeezed her heart into a painful ball of misery. She reread the message and tried to figure out how Lola and Brett had time to manage an hour together, let alone a whole courtship.

Forget how. What about why?

Before she made any sense of either, the rest of the message forced its way into her brain:
P.S. The apartment is yours.

Blood roared in her ears, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and, her knees quivered. Not being able to afford the apartment rent by herself was the reason she'd taken on Lola as a roommate in the first place.

To compound her bad luck, she spied Dr. Daniels, the head of psychiatry, or Dr. Roving Hands as the nurses called him. He raised a cultured eyebrow above gray eyes and sauntered toward her, his well-formed lip curled into a characteristic leer.

39 Secret Agent

TITLE: Homebody
GENRE: Mystery

I should have taken a vacation. Hell, I needed one. Especially walking into this mess. But, no. Stupid me, I had to barrel in and get involved.

It should have been an average Monday. My task list included taking my dog to the vet, meeting with my mentor, then inspecting a couple of vacant houses I owned. The first two items went off without a hitch. But the moment Roxie started barking when we stepped into the first house, I should have packed up and made for the Rockies . My life would be less of a mess that way.

"Quit that racket! Stupid dog!" I followed my yowling yellow Labrador into the gray and maroon two-story Victorian. Where was my property manager, Tyrone Clermont? I'd been waiting for him well past our 1:30 appointment. Key in hand, I stomped through the door to begin the inspection myself.

I glanced through the dim foyer, trying to locate the light switch. Despite the crystalline March afternoon outside, the sunshine failed to permeate the dusty windows. Maybe I'd find Tyrone upstairs. I hadn't seen his Toyota Camry on the street outside, but it couldn't hurt to check.

"Roxie, come here!" I stepped beyond the foyer, and a metallic stench filled my nostrils. "Jeez, if I have to clean this place from top to bottom, this is coming out of their security deposit."

The sound of my dog's barking led me to the rear of the house.

In the middle of the dining room, a man lay in a pool of blood.

38 Secret Agent

TITLE: Crescent Moon
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

The sweet perfume of orange blossoms, vanilla, and a hint of soothing amber eclipse the bold, rugged scent of leather. A Bach concerto lulls the passengers into a false sense of euphoria, forming a tranquil atmosphere. Then, a blinding beam of light floods the tiny space, encircling the inhabitants, creating panic and fear. The tranquility gives way to squealing tires, laughter becomes horrifying screams, and then all is silent.

When I woke up, it was late, and the room was dark. The only visible light came from the street lamp outside my bedroom window, and even that was filtered by the thick limbs of the grand maple tree.

My mind did it again, cruelly reminding me of the reason why I’m here and not at home…my other home. Rolling over, I clicked the lamp on, attempted to blink my eyes open, and strained to focus through the puffiness that had set in. Crying yourself to sleep is not always the wisest decision. There’s always a penalty to pay--red and puffy eyes.

It was another restless night, just like the previous night I’d spent in my new home. As weird as it sounds, I was becoming used to it, and it didn’t bother me as much. Usually my dreams were the cause, and tonight was no exception.

Lying on my mother’s old bed, my hand clutched at my chest, and I pulled out the silver pendant from underneath my pink night shirt. The police officer said my mother was grasping the pendant when she died, and managed to tell him to make sure I received it.

37 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult, Paranormal

Brown gravy.

A minute ago I kissed a boy.

A blue-eyed, black-haired boy. In my dreams, of course.

I'm almost seventeen, and never been kissed. Not that I haven't had offers. I'd rather get my tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole in January than kiss any of the boys in my town. You can't blame me. I've known them all since the Tooth Fairy left me shiny quarters under my Hello Kitty pillowcase.

Wish the boy I kissed a minute ago lived in my town.

Now this.

Brown gravy and rubbing alcohol. My eyes didn't need to confirm where my nose told me I was. This place needs to develop a punch-card system for people like me. Every 8th emergency you get a freebie. Just like the drive-thru espresso bars.

After so many trips here, I shouldn't expect Mom to hover over me, waiting with a smile as soon as my eyes opened. But I did. Instead she sat nearby, reading a People. I faked a painful moan. Mom smiled at me over her magazine before she stood up.

My eyes asked her what my mouth couldn't.

She brushed hair away from my face. "Concussion, and broken arm, but you'll be fine, Holly." Mom whispered.


I remembered.

After sixth period, I'd pedaled into the crosswalk by Mom’s bakery, escaping Josh's calls from across the courtyard.

Rusted grille of the truck, frosted with dried mud, or poop, and feathers.

I smelled smoking brakes, screeching tires. Did I hear chickens clucking?

36 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women's Fiction -- Romance

"How does one save a life though the mail?" Cat muttered to herself, "UPS, FedEx or just standard parcel post?"

She contemplated her options for a moment. Finally, she folded the letter into the envelope provided by the hotel, slipped it into a cardboard overnight envelope and addressed the package to her niece. Cat paused by the door as she searched the entry table, a basket and finally the floor for her keycard.

Catherine Harper Sullivan, best known for her tall tales written for children, found herself at a crossroads. Even before she’d been her niece’s guardian she’d been the daughter of her heart. Now she was a grown woman and stirring the pot after so long was risky. Her niece, Lillian Harper, was a beautiful, talented and resilient woman and it was time she believed it. If she would open her heart to what Catherine had to say it might give her the courage she lacked. She had no great wisdom to impart as she neared her 70th year, but what she knew could change Lillie’s life if she was brave enough. Sometimes you have to look to the past to have the future you deserve.

Finally locating her key, Catherine stuffed the envelope under her arm and stalked out the door to find a drop box for her package. "I don't know what you were thinking when you picked me," she muttered toward the heavens.

35 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Mythmakers
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Isa concentrated on the two boxes inside the glass-topped showcase, both the size of her palm and decorated with ravens and a four-peaked castle. The plastic hangtags read: handcrafted in Scotland.

“Choose one.” The Ren faire merchant shoved up his doublet’s billowing sleeves, then took the boxes out.

Isa glanced past the display of battle axes and Viking costumes to the curtained dressing room at the rear of the vendor’s tent. “It’s for her,” she whispered so her friend, Poppy, wouldn’t hear. “How much are they?”

He set the boxes on the counter, covering them with his hands like a magician preparing to make them disappear. “You’re the storytellers, aren’t you?” he asked.

Uncertain how this related to the price of the boxes, Isa only nodded.

“This morning, I caught your first show. Lady or the Tiger, that was the tale, wasn’t it?”

Isa nodded again. “I could give you twenty down and pick it up on Wednesday.”

The merchant fluttered his fingers dismissively. “Your show made my day. They should be seventy-five, but you can have either box for fifty.” His eyes narrowed until they disappeared into the shadows of his bar-pierced brows. “Just know this, the value isn’t the box itself, it’s what’s inside. And each contains something different.”

With a rustle of canvas, the dressing room curtain opened and Poppy sashayed out, her long skirt swishing, a spangled bra-top and a purple bustier draped over her arm.

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: Fate Misnamed

He came into being a fifteen-year-old with a bleeding brain and radiation poisoning. At least, that's what he was told later. The boy just knew there had to be some logical explanation for why his vision was sliding out of focus and his head felt like it was splitting open.

The two adults stood before him, hanging back at a careful distance. The man's voice reverberated in his ears: "He looks like hell. What's wrong with the kid, Sabra?"

The woman eyed the boy in an unsettling manner; she looked poised as a hunted animal, gun dangling from her hand. "I'm just wondering what he's doing here."

The boy wondered that, too. He recalled watching the adults approach from across the concrete yard; they shouted unremembered words at him. But before that?

Before that...?

His dry-eyed gaze wandered about his surroundings. Flat granite sidewalks, rusting tanker trucks, the scarred walls of warehouses, and beyond it all a chilled expanse of water. The slit of a moon washed everything in a dull gray light.

He couldn't puzzle it out. It was like a heavy cloth was bunched in his skull, stuffed ear to ear, blotting his thoughts away.

"Who are you, kid?" The man's voice again.

The boy focused on him, the dark-skinned man blurring in and out of focus. Pain beat a dull rhythm inside his skull. "I don't know."

The woman, Sabra, this time: "How could you not know?"

33 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Memory Of Henry Franks
GENRE: Suspense

His index finger, the skin a shade or two darker than the rest of his hand, scratched at the heavy line crossing his left wrist.

“They itch?” Dr. Saville asked.

“Always,” Henry said, then curled his mismatched fingers into a fist to stop the motion. Sweat beaded on his skin, pooling in the scars.

Four thousand, three hundred and seventeen stitches, his father always told him. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men had put Henry Franks back together again.

“Why don’t I remember?” he asked.

“It’s a process, Henry, the act of remembering. The accident, before; the memories are there. It’s only been a year.” She pointed to the photograph on the table between them, Henry and his parents, bright smiles and wind-blown hair. “Have you had the dream again?”

“No,” Henry closed his eyes, his discolored finger came to rest on the scar around his neck and he lowered his head to try to hide the movement and the thin white line. “A new one.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“There’s a girl.” He opened his eyes and looked out the window, anywhere but at the Doctor. The heat lay heavy on the drooping palm fronds outside the window, a haze shimmering off the white pathway through the trees.

“You’ve met someone at school?”

“No,” he said, his voice rougher than he’d intended, “no. She’s a child, with pigtails.”

“Someone you know?”

“I can’t remember,” he whispered.

32 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Midnight Queen
GENRE: Fantasy

Gray toiled in the hot afternoon sun, on his knees among the rhododendrons, for what might have been a month. Beautiful though Callender Hall's gardens might be, he was beginning to conceive a passionate hatred of them, and of flowering shrubs in particular. Bewildered and far from all he knew, sweaty and desperately thirsty -- eyes stinging, knees stiff, hands scratched and sore -- he had rarely felt so thoroughly miserable.

He had just begun to think, implausibly, how much pleasanter going home for the Long Vacation might have been -- as though there had been any choice -- when, glancing up, he saw the girl.

She was of middling height, straight and slim; she wore a plain gown, sturdy boots and a man's straw sunhat, battered and overlarge. From a distance, her determined stride reminded Gray forcefully of his sister Jenny -- of late, his only ally in the family.

The girl stopped in front of Gray. After a moment during which he stared blearily at her skirts, she dropped to her knees in the grass, bringing her face level with his. A faint breath of lavender and rosemary briefly displaced the overpowering scent of compost.

"You do look most dreadfully tired," she said, and he blinked at her: was this the manner of Petite-Bretagne, then, for young girls to speak so casually to strangers? Well, and he had often enough heard his tutor call it backward and uncivilized …

"I beg you will come indoors and have a drink," the girl went on; "else you shall certainly collapse into the shrubbery. And the Professor, you know, is most particular about his rhododendrons."

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: Emergence of the Fey
GENRE: Fantasy

Marian knelt by the narrow stream, watching the puddle jumpers. The blue sparks danced just out of reach as she dipped her hand in. The playful creatures didn't cheer her, nor did the trickling of the stream or the pair of whistler birds singing courtship. The sounds of the forest were eclipsed by weeping. Usually the ethereal crying was contained to one clearing, but it resonated through all the trees.

She stood and wiped her hands on her knee-length tunic. Why was the sorrow so powerful today? She caressed the smooth bark of one of the oaks, fighting off the urge to add her own tears. "Who are you? Why do you cry?"

A branch snapped in the distance. Marian quickly pulled away from the tree and looked to the noise. If someone overheard her, the rumors would start all over again. Rushed footsteps brought her sister into view, cheeks flushed and brown hair loose from its braid. "Marian... Marian." Terra stopped to catch her breath. "Mother... needs help... Glenna... having baby. Need ointment and fresh water."

Marian didn't need to hear more. "You get a bucket from the well. I'll make the ointment and meet you at Glenna's."

Her afternoon walk had taken a wandering path through Oak Tears, but now Marian took a more direct route. She came out of the forest near Carpenter Farrol's home. Three shorn stumps greeted her and she stumbled at the sight. Who could have done such a thing to her trees?

30 Secret Agent

TITLE: Undisclosed
GENRE: Young Adult

I nod at the cop standing in the doorway. “Yeah, that’s him. Ed Bishop. My father.” I don’t know if there’s some official phrase for identifying a body. I don’t know how many words to use, so I use too many.

“Thank you, Nicholas. Do you need a minute?” The cop asks.

“I do.” I lie. I don’t.

I stare at my dad there on that emergency room gurney. He’s naked, but thankfully someone has put a heavy cotton blanket over those parts that don’t need identifying. His eyes are closed, and there is a tube hanging out of his mouth. The tube pulls his lips down into a frown that looks normal on him. The last time I remember my dad smiling was seven years ago. I was eleven then. It was the day my sister Gaby was born.

I stare down at him and fight the urge to spit. I dreamed about this since I was a little kid. I thought about it, obsessed over it, ran through possible scenarios day after day.

I wondered if I would cry. I don’t.

I thought there would be a lot of blood. There isn’t.

I wondered if I would be the one holding a weapon. I’m not.

I never thought I would feel relieved. I do.

Seeing him there, so obviously dead and inanimate is kind of creepy. The cop leaves me alone in the room with him and I sit down by his head.

29 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Paranormal

Someone was watching: again. LeeAnne looked away from the table where she sat eating lunch with her girlfriends and squinted against the sunlight as she scanned the campus. No one obvious was looking her way – no one at the other tables, or sitting on the grass, or in the amphitheater. She glanced around at the other girls sitting with her. None of them seemed to share her feeling. A look of mild irritation passed over her face. This was just like when she and Glen played tennis with their moms recently and that time last week when she walked to her pre-period class with Elise. No one else noticed anything then either. Weird. She tried to brush it off and turned her attention back to Grace.

“We call ourselves ‘Rocks in Your Head.’” Grace told the new girl, Kylie. “You know, ‘Rocks in Your Head’ like because we’re rocking out in our heads all the time, but then, ‘Rocks in Your Head’ like because people think we have rocks in our head for thinking our band might go anywhere.” Grace was proud of thinking up the double entendre.

LeeAnne still couldn’t decide if the name was clever or just kind of dumb. Who would want to point out the fact that people might think you had rocks in your head?

The feeling of being watched continued. LeeAnne looked around again. Not seeing anyone looking back, she returned to Grace and the story of her band’s recent exploits.

28 Secret Agent

TITLE: Seeing Zombies
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Ricia looked up, listening for the repetition of the small sound she'd heard, but the house was silent. Should she find some music or get used to the quiet? Newly from a house that had never been empty, she decided to experience the quiet a little longer to get used to living alone.

Especially since she had no idea where she'd left her iPod and the desk wasn't fitting together as easily as she'd hoped. While the twelve pages of instructions had plenty of diagrams and had included such diverse tools as a hexagon bent into an L-shape and a flat wrench that swore it could be used as a screwdriver, it wasn't enough. Not by a long shot.

She sighed, staring at the small tool and mentally reshaping it into a hammer. Oblivious and unconcerned, it remained a tiny metal wrench no matter which non-existent transformation power she turned on it. While she had packed a full set of tools knowing she'd need them to put her house together, she had no idea where to look for them. That happened to be one of many things she'd do differently if she ever had to plan another cross-country move.

27 Secret Agent

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: Paranormal-Action/Adventure Romance

Dangling over a bottomless pit was a helluva place to have a conversation with your lover about what you did to piss him off. This is your own damn fault, Mia Langdon. The minute you slept with Graham, you knew this time was coming.

“Damn,” she muttered.

She blew out a breath and swung her head from side to side. Solid rock in front of and behind her. No escape from the predicament she now found herself. A predicament she could only lay at one pair of steel-toed booted feet. Hers.

“Double damn. Two freaking days into the expedition,” she growled at the stones that made up the smooth face of the wall in front of her, “and he has to get all fussy.”

She pivoted and faced the other side. “This is what I get for sleeping with him after being partners for three years. I knew it wasn’t a good idea,” she continued to snarl at the silent stone.

S***, she didn’t have time for this. Anything could be in the depths of this recently discovered cisterna. Maybe she’d get really lucky and find royal burial shrouds or a Moche backflap. She had only two days. After that, the team with a real permit to excavate Corihuayrachina would arrive, and she’d be kicked out on her a**.

But if she ignored him. . . Mia pursed her lips. “Fine, Graham, let’s talk.”

“You coming up?”

If she did that, she’d likely be up there the rest of the afternoon, and she’d never find anything. “No, I’m fine.”

26 Secret Agent

TITLE: Voodoo Bloodline
GENRE: Young Adult

“Where is that bag of Grandpa’s stuff?” Jeni asked the plastic Santa caught in mid-wink.
She used the back of her wrist to wipe the sweat from her forehead and then dabbed her upper lip. On the lookout for spider webs, she shuffled forward. She dismissed the red and green containers; the bag she sought would not be with the Christmas decorations.

A few feet further from the lone light bulb behind her she spied a cardboard box with the flaps sticking up. She scanned her surroundings. If not for her promise to Carolyn she would’ve given up by now. With her arms squeezed close to her body, she crept onward. She squatted next to the box and pushed her hair behind her ears so she could look inside.

“Ahhh,” she groaned.

She examined the writing on the boxes to her right: dishes, baby clothes, college… blah, blah, blah. To her left were more holiday decorations. She stared into the black triangular eyes of a jack-o-lantern candy bucket. “Jack? Any assistance would be appreciated.”

She sighed in the subsequent silence. “Okay, if you won’t help me and Santa won’t help me, I guess I’ll go get Mom.”

Jeni turned, careful to duck under the rafters so she wouldn’t bang her head. As soon as she emerged in the room below she yelled, “Mom!” Not waiting for a reply, she continued downstairs where she found her mom in the kitchen.

“Mom, where’s that bag of Grandpa’s stuff?”

25 Secret Agent

TITLE: Obsidian
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Skye is crying. Skye doesn’t cry, at least not in front of me. When Skye is upset entire forests disappear, caves collapse, but tears do not fall. We have been together for over one hundred and fifty years and I’ve never seen her like this. Why is she distressed? Her sapphire eyes glisten as she stares at me. Tears flow down her light blue snout and over her silver underbelly. They pool on the floor between her feet. She unfurls her great wings and shakes her head, sending drops flying across the cave. I move forward to comfort her. She inhales sharply and flames fly. I duck to avoid them. What did I do?

“Skye, what’s wrong?” I ask and creep closer to her.

“Don’t move,” she growls back.

My vision blurs. I blink and I can see her clearly. She folds her up her wings and moves her body backward toward the front of the cave. Forgetting to duck, she strikes her head on the ceiling showering the floor with small stalactites. All the light disappears as her body fills the entrance.

I try again, “Is this about last night? I can wait, taking a human form isn’t urgent.”

She roars. “Yes it is. You can no longer wait.” She lies down on the floor and whimpers. “You’re going to leave me and you’re not going to come back. We can never be together again.”

“Why not?”

“Because, your majesty, you just became king.”

24 Secret Agent

TITLE: Miranda
GENRE: Women's fiction

I loved the house, even before I knew what was in it. Maybe it was the simplicity of black and white. It wasn’t the cool shade of the huge pine trees in the yard, because they were everywhere in Southern Pines, just down the road from Pinehurst. Maybe it was just that I’ve always been a sucker for certain smells and the house had the smell of old wood and mystery. I couldn’t resist it. I’m not sure I could again, even now.

I don’t remember what I was thinking as we drove up to the house. I might have been thinking how marvelous it was to have air conditioning in the car. The sweltering heat of North Carolina in August had been a shock after the cool, rainy Northwest. Or maybe I was thinking about what I would do about dinner, or the other houses I had been looking at.

Whatever it was, it all went away as Nancy Parker, my real estate agent, whirled her black SUV into the gravel circular drive and threw it into park. I stared through the windshield at what appeared to be a historic mansion.

“Uh, how much did you say they were asking?” I managed.

Nancy cleared her gravelly smoker’s throat and pulled the listing out of her voluminous purse. “Two twenty-nine five. Nice round number.” She let out a wheezy snort of a laugh and added, “You’re going to love it.”

Although I doubted it, I hoped she was right.

23 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women’s Fiction

The Gothic buildings seemed eerily familiar, an inherited experience, the city’s charm and history, gargoyles and ghosts, all channeled through her enigmatic grandmother whose absence here shadowed the view. Julianne had never visited Oxford, nor England for that matter, merely listened to her grandmother, who’d artfully abridged her stories and now tasked Julianne with no small mission. A mission she’d warily accepted, and presently regretted.

She passed through the arched gate guarding the Bodleian Library’s quadrangle, a spectral world, where long-dead professors argued about physics and theology. Surely, they were all around her. Gargoyles, ghosts, Thomas Bodley—Julianne felt their many eyes on her now. A lifetime of honesty swept away in one visit. With the sun’s heat came a tinge of guilt, but she fanned it away, knowing it was all for her grandmother. She crossed the threshold, feeling as though she were entering a different time period, one where her ancestor’s indelible spirit lived on. Within these buildings, strata of centuries awaited.

The sudden need for sleep overpowered her. She leaned against a wall and, although she dug her thumbnail into the skin of her palm, her head nodded to her chest, the blackness heavy and unavoidable. A nudge to her shoulder woke her, but when she opened her eyes, no one was there. She massaged the back of her neck and glanced at her watch. The episodes were happening more frequently. What would be worse—keeping her secret from Gigi Dottie or watching her crumble at hearing the news?

22 Secret Agent

TITLE: Ghost Moon Night
GENRE: Paranormal Mystery

Dasalin, Philippines

I was six when I first discovered the peculiar nature of Ghost Moon Night.

"You must stay indoors from dusk until dawn," Mother said one moonless evening.

"I'm thirsty," I whined. "I want water from the pump."

Mother said I had to wait until sun-up, but I didn't want to wait that long. I snuck out the back door and ran past the ditch where the labandera washed the clothes, to the outside kitchen where the pump was.

Someone had already beaten me to it. At first I thought it was Trining, the servant-girl, but realized it wasn't. For one thing, Trining had just cut her hair with a pair of dull scissors, and this girl had long hair over a dark shawl.

She had her back turned towards me. I heard the handle of the pump creak as she lifted it up, the gush of water hitting the ground. Next came a horrible noise. Even now, seventy years later, the hairs on my arm stand on end when I think about it.

It was the sound of an animal slurping noisily, gulping in mouthfuls, with satisfied growls coming from the back of its throat.

I stood there frozen, then turned right around and ran to the back door. I twisted the knob, but it wouldn't budge. I must have accidentally locked it behind me. I pounded on the door and cried, "Mother! Mother!"

21 Secret Agent

TITLE: Artistry of Engagement
GENRE: Women’s Fiction

The July heat simmered on Rome’s Via Margutta and rose to the balcony of Hermina Jorgenson's apartment like the fumes of Hell. She tossed the latest issue of Artista Ufficiale to the foot of her chaise, the magazine whose scathing review of her own column in the Times had left her smarting just weeks ago. She’d learned quickly that in the opulent exhibition openings overflowing with Rembrandts and Rafaels, everyone smiles, laughs, toasts the patrons, but it is all a charade.

She wiped the sweat from her brow and reached for the tall glass of ice water on the table next to her.

The table that caught the cannoli crumbs from countless late nights after the theater with Guillaume.

The table that bore the deep, sugary rings of his Frascati wine.

The table that reminded her of that ghastly first haggling experience with him at the Porta Portese.

Images of him stretched out on this very chaise ran riotous through her head. She snorted, tipped her glass. She’d decided against cutting his face out of photos, but tore from her album those of the two lovers – now nothing more than interlopers -- standing near a stone bridge whose roses scaled it in reckless abandon, and stuffed them into the oxidized copper box with the thousand dents. She locked the box, shoved it to the back of her tiny closet. Though she’d throw piles of clothes and the occasional shoe at it, she could never make the box disappear.

That box. Pandora’s box.

20 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA paranormal romance

I was halfway between the school and stadium, waiting for the crowd to thin, when I saw her. Somehow out of all the faces I never spoke to, I always noticed hers.

That familiar expression was there. The one I recognized because I felt it so often myself. Lonely, but resigned to the loneliness.

Tonight it was mixed with something else. Frustration, I thought.

It made her seem vulnerable, fragile in a way the subtle sadness didn’t.

I expected her to head into the stadium, walk within a few feet of where I stood. I braced for that. But she turned away, went back across the parking lot. Not to a car, not even into the school. She just kept walking, right out to the sidewalk.

I didn’t realize I’d moved too until I was halfway across the lot. Sometimes the pull was like that, out of my control.

But this wasn’t that, or not just that.

This was curiosity and concern. This was me being stupid, crossing lines.

I stopped, clenched my fists, reminded myself what carelessness could do. Then I followed her anyway.

I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t know her, but I could make sure she got wherever she was going okay.

Sometimes it seemed like my life was one big dance, only the choreographer forgot to give me a part. That was how I felt that night, when I couldn’t find the pre-game barbecue, couldn’t find anyone – stuck on a stage, alone, with nothing to do.

19 Secret Agent

TITLE: Ghost at the Edge of the Sea

Three weeks before I left for boarding school, I said to my mom, “I dreamed I was standing in the doorway of an airplane. We were up in the sky, and everybody was yelling ‘jump-jump-jump!’ But I didn’t have a parachute.”

I don’t know why I said it, because up until then, we’d been having a pretty good time. She had been teasing me about the fact I’d written I LOVE KEVIN SHARPE about a thousand times on this old notebook stowed under my bed. I told her I couldn’t care less about the guy. Kevin Sharpe had failed his driver’s license test and would be taking the bus to high school next fall. And anyway, there was a lifeguard at the pool that was completely hotter.

But since there was nothing I wanted to say to my own mom about how lifeguards could be super cute, and how pale they were below their tan line when their suits slipped down a little, or how they always smell like coconut oil and chlorine, that dream stuff fell out of my mouth while I was trying to make sure the boy stuff stayed in.

I knew right away I’d said the wrong thing. My mom’s hand dropped from the box she was filling, and I could see all the energy deflate out of her. Like she was a vacuum and I had tripped over her cord and unplugged her from the wall or something. It’s just a dream, I wanted to say right away. It was just a stupid dream. I had practically forgotten about it already.

18 Secret Agent


The distressed cries from a flock of birds echoed through the forest as they clamored to escape the trees behind Scarlet. Her breath caught in her throat as she spun around. She scanned the edge of the clearing.

It was rare for her to encounter anything besides small animals on her daily herb gathering missions, but the recent reports of wolf attacks made her nervous. She wasn't sure wolves would travel deep enough into the heart of the forest to reach Aradia's hidden garden, but Zev, the woodcutter, might and Scarlet wanted to avoid him too.

Icy fingers of fear trailed down her spine but the only movement right now came from the ragged figures of scarecrows dancing in the fall breeze. Their waving arms must have startled the birds. Scarlet shivered and turned her back to the straw figures. She pulled the list of today's herbs from the pocket of her hooded red cloak.

"One arnica flower, one white poppy flower, one small garlic bulb, and one bloodroot rhizome," she read. And then she noticed a scrawl at the bottom, "Please return with these potion ingredients before sunset."

Why hadn't Grandmother Aradia said something instead of writing it on the slip of paper? She knew Scarlet loved to wander in the forest. Especially now when the trees gifted her with a canopy of vibrant color and a carpet of crunchy leaves to enjoy.

17 Secret Agent

TITLE: Against Blood and Fire
GENRE: Fantasy

Jim was lost. Sort of. Who actually got lost on the way home? He'd taken a wrong turn, was all—an understandable move, considering the upheaval in his life.

Downshifting, he eased the convertible he drove past an idle construction truck and coasted to the side of the road. Time to figure out the state-of-the-art GPS contraption that came with this rental. He slid his fashion-statement sunglasses to the top of his head and tapped the address to his beach-side condo into the navigational system.

The screen went blank.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. Perfect! But what had he expected? Ever since he hurt his knee, the governing rule of his life seemed to be, If it ain't broke, it will be soon.

Leaning against the headrest, he glanced at the darkening cloud cover. With his luck, he'd get rained on, too.

An orange-vested Caltrans worker with shovel in hand edged from the far side of the construction truck. "Hey, buddy! You can't park there." He strode toward the Porsche. "You'll have to move your—hey, don't I know you?"

Easing his foot onto the clutch, Jim shifted to first. "Nope. We've never met."

"But I know you." The man nudged his white hardhat further back on his head. "Didn't you use to play basketball?"

Jim glanced into the Caltrans worker's expectant eyes—not the look of someone intentionally pouring acid into an open wound. "I've played some."

"Wait, I remember, you were just in the news."

16 Secret Agent

TITLE: Kunitsu Eyes
GENRE: Fantasy

The animal was calling him again.

Darkness clogged Arekkusu’s vision, an oppressive force so black that it seemed to blot out sound as well as sight. His arms and legs felt weighted down by it, and as he struggled to move every fiber of his being ached to answer. Yet he could not even tell where the call was coming from, or what sort of creature made it.

He swung his head wildly from side to side, trying to sort out direction, to get some bearing amidst the shifting sand of his senses. The need to answer bordered on pain, and yet he could make no reply.

Suddenly a real sound cut through his confusion. Heavy breathing. Not the animal, something alien. Something dangerous. It stank, and was so close that Arekkusu was too frightened even to cower. He could hear each rasping intake of breath, and smell rotten teeth on the exhale. It was so close. Where was his mother? Was she all right?

The animal’s call came again, and joined with Arekkusu’s urgent need to find his mother, to protect her from the looming danger. But no, he was too small. He clenched his hands to fists, feeling nails dig into the palms of his hands. Something wasn’t right, his hands weren’t strong enough. He needed help. Desperately, he called out to the animal, but his cries melted into the darkness.

It was no use. He was too weak. And with the strange beast looming so near, Arekkusus retreated into his own terror and lost himself in the dark.

15 Secret Agent

GENRE: Urban Fantasy

“How, exactly, is a parasitic dick-fish a selling point, Doc?” Adrian’s voice rose, as did his eyebrows, not that Doc Soc could see him over a thousand miles of telephone lines.

“C’mon, Adrian. It’s the Amazon jungle. There’s amazing flora and fauna. Like the carnero. It swims up your urine stream, into your penis. Local tribes use it to determine guilt—you live, you’re innocent; you die...”

Adrian shuddered, his shoulder-length curls tickling his neck. “Well, I…”

“That a yes? Great! I’ll just—”

“Whoa, Doc! Time out.” Adrian paced his living room. “Sorry, Doc. Fascinating as your dick-fish sounds, not to mention the monkey-brain salad, I can’t just take off and go tooling around the rainforest.” He yanked a loose thread from his dress slacks. A tiny hole appeared in the seam.

“But the cave paintings, the lost temples, the shamanic miracles? You can’t say no to shamanic miracles! I need you, Adrian. You did your post-grad work on the Temple of Transfiguration. And you’re so good with languages. And photography. We’re going to find it. You’re going to find it!”

Professor Socrates Kawasaki could be very persuasive, hitting all Adrian’s anthropological hot buttons. (Except maybe the dick-fish. Adrian felt pretty sure he preferred his dick fish-free.) Finny parasites aside, Adrian heard the siren call of all things rainforest, shamanic, and miraculous.

“I’ve got a job. A career,” he amended. “I just got promoted to HR Manager.”

“But you’re an anthropologist. What happened to your dreams? Going on one little expedition isn’t going to hurt you!”

14 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Some Day List
GENRE: Single title contemporary romance

Quinn Adams looked out at the glazed-over expressions of the audience. She’d started her presentation two hours ago imaging them in their underwear to rid herself of nervousness. Not only did the trick not work, but it was also unnecessary; these people didn’t care what she had to say. She would’ve been better off spending the two hours in a classroom full of hormonal teenagers.

She tugged at the polyester blend of her pleated skirt, longing for a pair of jeans and comfortable shoes. It would’ve been unprofessional to show up looking like a student.

Her workshop—Using Classic Literature to Engage At-Risk Youth—was full of research and anecdotes. She’d spent months preparing for this conference, only to be placed as the last presentation of the day. She’d been filled with an equal mix of excitement and dread. Success was as important to her here as in the classroom. Jones High School also needed some positive attention. Maybe if she’d titled her workshop “What the Dead White Guys Can Teach Inner City Kids” like she’d planned, she might’ve had a better response. Her principal requested she change the title. She, of course, obliged.

A new title wouldn’t have changed the outcome. No one cared about these kids or how she taught them. They only stayed the entire time so they could get their continuing education credits for attending. Some day she might have a job where she made a difference.

Some day.

13 Secret Agent

TITLE: Unraveled
GENRE: YA Mystery

The Thursday afternoon a vile stranger broke into my house and killed my sister, he actually committed mass murder. With each stab wound to my sister’s torso, he extinguished a member of my family. Dr. Kubler-Ross created the five stages of grief, but there should be six. I consider the first stage to be Parallel Death. The moment someone you love with every living cell in your body dies, you die, too. Eighteen hours, a thousand and eighty minutes, sixty-four thousand and eight hundred seconds ago, I was a blissfully unaware and naive sixteen year old. Untouched and unblemished by death.

Now there was a gapping hole in my heart that would, one day, be sealed over with rough, gnarled scar tissue. No, the Katalina that loved to watch her sister run cross country track, enjoyed Sunday dinner at Tia Sandra’s, and wanted to catch serial killers for a living was dead. But hatred resurrected me and gave me purpose. I’m not especially proud of that since it’s not how I was raised, but it is what it is.

Stage two is Anger, but I wonder if in cases like mine ‘anger’ is too polite of a word. Before my sister, Celeste’s murder, my world was whole. My family and I were happy, blessed to be part the Covarrubias clan. Now, we were all broken.

Eighteen hours ago.

No question about it, this was going to hurt. The expression on Kung Fu Barbie’s face spelled out- fatal mistake.

12 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA urban fantasy

It followed her.

A soundless, invisible something.

She wasn't imagining it -- of that she was almost certain.

Like a glare across a crowded room, the silent something made itself known with an itching, burning pressure on the back of Eden's neck. She picked up her pace, refused to look over her shoulder for the tenth time, and fumbled in her pockets for her phone. Her heart sank when she remembered she'd hidden it at the bottom of her bag at lunchtime, after Janice warned her Mr Collins was on the prowl.

A ghost of disturbed air brushed the bare skin of her forearm, tearing a gasp from her chest the instant before a flash of black crossed her path. She stopped, caught on the corner of Broomfield Close, frozen in uncertainty and in full view of the entire neighbourhood. The black something vanished when she tried to get a proper look at it -- nothing but a shimmering wisp in the corner of her eye.

She peered through the weak rays of early-Autumn sunshine, heartbeat loud in her ears, found nothing in the deserted street but Mrs Haversham's cat slinking beneath a parked taxi. The sweet scent of baked goods hitched a ride on the breeze from the newly-occupied number 8, and somewhere in the distance a dog barked. The black thing was nowhere to be seen, the stillness of the street seizing Eden's breath in her throat.

11 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women’s / book club fiction with potential young adult crossover

Colin's interpreter flanked him all day, an extra appendage, but between school and practice he navigated the waves of Broadview blue alone as if he'd dived into the wrong ocean. T-shirts, hoodies, drawstring backpacks -- they competed and they flowed together.

He took his time. Spaced out and had to spin his locker combination twice. He hit the last number, lifted the latch. Bingo. He twisted around for his backpack and saw her.

Raven Harding. Coach’s daughter, cheer captain and self-appointed Queen of the Cool. In pre-cal, she eyed him, sidelong sweeps, as if measuring his potential or considering his eligibility to join her fan club. It kind of made him laugh. By default, he wasn't a joiner.

She waved a pen, and he pulled his notepad from his pocket. She pressed it against the wall, but her pen wouldn’t write. He grabbed his pre-cal book, held it flat, hands beneath, like a butler bearing a tray of hors d'oeuvres. She grinned. Moved so close he caught the scent of hair conditioner.

Any good at this? She tapped his book.

He nodded.

Show me? She jutted her chin up at him.

He tilted his head, weighing her question. Nobody at school asked him for help. Not with anything. In football, he was essentially one of the team now, but in class, the other students still skirted him, still studied him as if he were an exchange student from another universe.

I'm desperate, she wrote. She leaned her head the same direction, at the same angle, and gazed into his eyes until he broke.

10 Secret Agent

TITLE: Dead Meat

June 19, 2002
Camp Mamba, 68 kilometers east of Kandahar, Afghanistan

Gil Becker’s sun-baked eyes watched the Navy MH-60S Knighthawk circle, then flare before setting down inside a plume of dust at the center of Camp Mamba five kilometers away. The sight of a whirlybird landing in his little corner of the war never meant anything good. The only time a chopper came in was to transport the wounded or captured to parts unknown, not deliver fresh bodies. They always came in by truck, on foot, or in Becker’s case, tucked into the fetal position in the back of a C-130 waiting for the Jumpmaster to tell him it was time to take a header into the night sky.

Becker put the chopper out of his mind. Whatever was on that chopper wasn’t his problem. It took him another hour to get back to camp, by which time the helicopter was long gone. He nodded to the other members of Task Force 5 who weren’t out and about. Taco Bob cleaning the business end of his Barrett Fifty. Herman the German on a lawn chair, trying (and failing) to get a tan. Gordy in his tent, as always, pumping iron.

Becker went into the tent he shared with Taco Bob. He dumped the rucksack on his cot and pulled out the camouflage blanket. His version of a poor man’s Ghillie suit wasn’t much more than a long piece of burlap covered in random swatches of brown, but it came in handy once in a while.

9 Secret Agent


Sorrow crouches quietly
at the heart's door,
awaiting the perfect moment to spring.

~Lawful Atwood III, in the first year of the captivity

The lantern, dangling from Repentance Atwater's upstretched hand, cast a pool of yellow light around the village midwife, as she stooped beside Joy Springside's sleeping mat. The rest of the cave lay in darkness.

"Push, now, Joy!" the midwife commanded.

Joy, her face scrunched with the effort, pushed.

The baby came, finally giving up the fight and sliding out, all purple-skinned and slick with blood, and screaming his protest at the world.

Screaming his protest.

A boy.

Lantern light splashed up and down the walls as Repentance's hand shook. A boy! It wasn't fair.

Repentance grimaced, as the babe's squalling bounced off hard stone walls and bruised her raw nerves. Why had she agreed to help the midwife? Beneficence Woodhouse usually held the lantern, but she had taken ill. Now half the village would whisper that Repentance had cursed the birthing and the other half would nod their fog-filled heads in agreement.

She risked a glance at the exhausted new mother.

Joy lay on her sweat-soaked mat, her eyes big and questioning, anxious to know what the hours of her long labor had produced.

Sorrow and regret. That's what.

"Bring the lantern over this way, child," the midwife said. "This one's as slippery as a catfish and twice as heavy."

Repentance obeyed, grateful to have a reason to turn away before Joy read the truth in her face.

8 Secret Agent

TITLE: Bite Me
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Talbot blamed his mother for the fact he’d spent most of the summer impersonating a nun.

Though the financial system in the Osbourne household had something to do with it, too. That was his father’s fault—a physics professor who left his family the day he discovered his wife and children were all werewolves. The lycanthrope blamed the bastard every time money ran tight.

Which explained his current situation.

“How could you, Talbot?” his mother screamed into the phone. “After everything I’ve done to scrimp and save to send you to the best paranormal university in the country, and you have the nerve to tell me you failed your classes because of test anxiety? What the hell kind of excuse is alcohol therapy?”

Talbot winced and pulled the phone away from his ear. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she was part banshee. He pinched the bridge of his nose, wishing he didn’t have to have this conversation so close to the full moon. “Well when you put it like that, it sounds stupid, Mom.”

“Don’t you stupid me, young man. You have a serious problem here. If you flunk out, you won’t graduate next spring.”

Talbot rolled his eyes. “Look, I’m sorry. It was a bad semester. I messed up. But I don’t know what you expect me to do about it.”

The minute the words left his mouth, Talbot regretted them.

“Do. Do? Oh, I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, Talbot Alexander Osbourne.”

All three names. Not good.

7 Secret Agent

TITLE: Vision of Death
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“Not again!” exclaimed Amirilla, dashing into the kitchen. She had smelled the smoke upon entering the house. Swiftly the sixteen year old pulled the pan of cooking vegetables from the stove, the source of the billowing black clouds. Shutting off all the burners, Amirilla turned unhappily to face her thirteen year old apprentice. “Two years Prisca! I have less than two years to teach you how to cook. What happens when I’m not here anymore?”

The limited time scared her. How could Amirilla possibly ready Prisca to lead the Ration Givers group when she couldn’t even manage to make dinner?

Muttering a jumbled apology, Prisca lowered her head of dark curls towards the floor. Amirilla sighed, hating to pressure her young friend with threats. The threat of war, however, was real. With her seventeenth birthday approaching, Amirilla couldn’t afford to be lenient.

“We can’t keep wasting rations,” sighed Amirilla, her blue eyes fixed upon the burned vegetables. Even if her group was responsible for distributing the food to all the children in town, Ami knew that she could not take more than her designated amount of supplies.

“I said ‘sorry’,” muttered Prisca, hating to be a disappointment. Only thirteen years old, the youngest and newest member of the Ration Givers absent mindedly traced the scar of a carved letter “B” on the upper part of her right arm. The scar served as the only reminder of Prisca’s history with the rival Baroah gang.