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Monday, September 20, 2021



 Wishes & Dreams Series

Paranormal Romance

Date Published: 03-04-2021



Veterinarian Troy Shelton has no idea what he's letting himself in for when he rescues a friend's cat from the shelter after a dog attack. The friendly but demanding calico soon has Troy and his pregnant collie wrapped around her furry paw. But strange things begin happening in Troy's home when he’s away, and he could almost think someone else was living there besides him.

Torn and hurting, Katerina appreciates Troy's gentle care. She also appreciates his strong form and handsome face as much as the way he cuddles her. She's trapped in her cat form until her wounds heal, but once she's well again she finds herself oddly reluctant to resume her human form and life away from Troy. But someone else is interested in Troy, and that someone else has already tried to kill Cat once.


Excerpt

She caught his scent first, all woodsy and maple and oak, with smoky  undertones like a good fire in winter. The warmth of his scent went  personality deep. She touched his mind as he came into the room. Although  telepathic, she couldn't read minds per se, but cats were good at  impressions. He felt to her like a kind man, generous and compassionate,  the kind of man who drew people to him through no conscious doing of his  own, but his open nature drawing people to him like a magnet. 

Cat sat up, not without some difficulty given her injuries and the  bandages, pressing her face to the bars of the cage to be able to see him.  He’d paused just inside the room behind a young woman who worked at  the shelter, and was looking about. He was a big man, tall and tan, with  broad shoulders and a long stride; an outdoorsman type, she thought, who  spent his time doing things outside, in the woods and fields. That appealed  to her, far more than the slick, manicured types she had to deal with in her  line of work. 

Wanting his attention, she yowled. She liked him. She wanted him to  rescue her from this place. 

“Marrrwww!” she cried plaintively, demanding his attention. She  wanted him to see her, to notice her. To take her away from here. She  butted her head against the cage, curling her good paw around the bars  and rattling them so the metal clanged. Here! Here! 

The shelter employee laughed. “She sure seems to know you. This  must be the cat you’ve come for.” 

“That’s her.” His amused voice was deep and slightly burry, a rumble  of dark velvet. 

Cat pawed at the cage door impatiently, wanting to be out. “All right, all right,” the woman said, undoing the cage door latch.  The moment the door swung open, Cat launched herself straight into the  man’s arms.

“Whoa!” he said, laughing, catching her easily. “Take it easy, little  one.” 

His arms were strong and muscular as he held her. His fingers gently  explored her slender body, moving knowledgeably over aching bones, torn  flesh and bruised skin, as had the vet the night before, but without the  clinical detachment of the shelter vet. As if he knew her, and cared. 

The leap had jarred her scarcely healed wounds, and she was sure a  couple of them had broken open again, but it was worth it to lie in his arms,  cradled carefully against his broad chest, basking in his scent, the warm  aura of comfort surrounding him. She purred deeply, feeling comforted and  soothed. 

“We’ll be off, then,” he told the young woman. “I’ll be in for clinic on  Tuesday evening, as usual.” 

“Okay. I’m glad you found your friend’s cat, Dr. Shelton,” she  responded. 

Doctor? Oh yes, Douglas had several partners at his veterinary clinic,  perhaps this man was one of them. Cat didn’t care who he was. He had  come for her, and rescued her from this awful place. And he smelled nice. 

She liked that he didn’t try to detach her from his shirt, which she  kept snagged firmly in her claws, to put her into the cat carrier that he’d  come prepared with. Instead he held her close as he bent to pick up the  carrier, which he’d dropped to catch her. She clung to his flannel shirt,  

butting her head against the underside of his chin. She liked his aftershave.  It was a subtle blend of scents, masculine and outdoorsy, suiting him  perfectly. She purred deep in her chest as he carried her through the  building and out the door. 

He owned a big black truck, and Cat decided it also suited him. It was  high off the ground, and wisps of hay and straw were scattered in the bed,  the scent pleasing to her. This man had horses. She wrinkled her nose at  the other odor, unmistakable, of dog. Well, she could live with a dog, once  it understood its place. It would just have to learn that she was the boss.  Her nose told her the animal was female, which would make it easier. Male  dogs got all alpha and were always wanting to challenge her authority.  

Once inside the truck, she retracted her claws from the man’s shirt,  allowing him to settle her carefully on the passenger seat. His hands were  big and gentle, and he stroked her fur gently, smoothing her thick coat. She  rubbed her head against his arm.

“You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?” he said. His look was assessing.  “A Maine Coon, too, or I miss my bet. Jacinth told me you’re a stray, but I’m  guessing somebody will be looking for you, pretty girl.” 

She liked that he thought she was pretty, and she blinked at him,  settling herself as comfortably as she could on the seat. Her ribs and  shoulder where the dog’s teeth had dug into her hurt terribly, and she  ached all over, but at least she was out of that place, and the upholstered  seats were more comfortable than the cold steel of the cage she’d spent  the night in.  

Beside her, the man pulled out his cell phone and pressed a couple of  buttons. "Hey, it's Troy." 

She swiveled both ears forward to listen, eyes half closed, a deep  purr rumbling in her chest at the soothing cadence of his deep voice. "Yeah. I've got the cat here just fine. She saw me as soon as I walked  into the room and set up a howl, just like she knew who I was. She came  out of that cage and clung to me like she’d known me all her life. She’s a  sweet little thing. She’s cuddled up to me now here in the truck, purring like  mad.” 

Ah, he was talking to Jacinth. There was a pause. 

“She’ll be okay,” he reassured Jacinth in his deep voice. “Her  shoulder and front leg are a little chewed up, and maybe a broken rib or  two, so I'm going to take her home with me. I got hold of Douglas before I  left the clinic, and he said to tell you he had to be late or he’d bring her  home himself. As banged up as she is, it might be best if she stays at my  place for a few days anyway, where I can keep an eye on how she’s doing.  What’s her name?” 

Cat slit her eyes open to see Troy shaking his head as if in dismay.  “Cat it is. Well, I’m headed for home with her now. I’ll keep in touch and let  you know how she is.” 

She looked about the inside of the truck. A satchel was on the floor,  and some loose mail on the seat where she lay. While Troy started the  truck and backed out of the parking space, she stole a surreptitious look at  an envelope laying on the seat by her paw. It was addressed to a Troy  Shelton, DVM. 

Troy. Troy Shelton. She turned the name over in her head, and  approved. Like everything else, his name suited him. She sighed, pain and  exhaustion overwhelming her now that she had effected her escape from 

that place, and she crawled across the seat to curl closely against Troy’s leg.  She was too tired and hurt to feel the least curiosity about their  destination. Instead, she gave herself over to the enjoyment of being  petted and cared for. He drove with easy assurance, one hand on the  steering wheel and the other gently stroking her fur, and she dozed, lulled  by the rhythmic movement of his fingers as well as the high-powered  rumble of the engine. 

They drove for what seemed to her to be a long time. Her nose  informed her when they left the suburbs and headed into the country.  Fresh scents assailed her; trees, flowers, passing fields with horses and  cows. Songbirds twittered from tree branches as they passed under spreading oaks and maples.  

The truck slowed and turned off the paved road, the wheels  crunching on gravel. Cat stirred, struggling to a sitting position on the seat.  She thought she was as stiff and sore from the hours spent in the cold steel  cage as she was from her injuries. Looking out the front windshield, a long  drive wound its way through a grassy yard dotted with wide-branched trees  toward an older farmhouse set back from the road. Behind the house was a  large barn and beyond that pastures spread off to the right of the house.  Large black horses grazed within the neatly fenced enclosures, a breed that  Cat didn’t recognize. It wasn’t manicured and orderly, but just enough  jumbled to be pleasantly attractive and homey. Cat felt an odd pulling at  her heart, as if she had known this place in the past. It gave her the  strangest feeling, almost of coming home. 

Troy pulled the truck up in front of the house. 

“Here we are, Cat.” 

A large collie bounded out of the house, barking ecstatically. Troy  stepped out of the truck, fending off the collie’s joyous advances. “Down, Cherie,” he told the dog in his deep voice. “We have a  visitor.” 

He reached into the truck, lifting Cat carefully, doing his best not to  jar her wounds. He held her cradled close against his chest with one arm,  the other latching firmly on the collie’s collar, keeping the collie from  jumping at Cat. Cat sensed no aggression from the dog, only friendly  curiosity. 

Troy carried her up the few low, broad steps to the porch, then on  into the house. It was cool inside, air conditioned. Cat looked about her 

with interest. Gorgeous polished red oak floors met her approving gaze, with braided rag rugs scattered about here and there. She only had a  minute to look, as Troy carried her through a dining room into a large, old fashioned kitchen.  

He set her carefully on the kitchen table. Cat wrinkled her nose  fastidiously. Ew, this must be some kind of a “guy” thing. Personally, she  never allowed cats on her table. It was totally unsanitary. 

At a quiet but firm order from Troy, the collie, Cherie, went to lay  down in a corner, the soulful brown eyes fixed on her master as he moved  about the kitchen. Well-trained. That was good. 

“Now, let’s have a look at you, pretty Cat,” he said. He removed the  bandages, exploring the deep bite wounds with a cautious touch. The  probing, careful as he was, hurt her, but she knew he was doing his best not  to hurt her, and she purred at him. 

He opened a cupboard near the back door that she had assumed was  a pantry, but appeared to be full of veterinary supplies. Again, this must be  another guy thing. Most people she knew kept food in their kitchen, but  Troy apparently kept first aid supplies in his. He returned to the table and  smeared antibiotic ointment on the puncture wounds. 

“You’re a pretty, pretty thing,” he told her, his deep voice approving.  “Gentle, too.” 

Huh. Cat’s whiskers twitched in amusement.  

“It’s a damned shame what happened to you,” he went on, talking as  much to himself as to her. That was another thing that she found herself  liking about him. He talked to her as if she were a person, as if she could  understand him. 

“I wonder if they caught the dog that did this. Sounds like a mastiff,  from the description the woman who brought you in gave them. She  offered to pay the bill for you to be fixed up.” 

Cat flicked her ears forward. Well, now wasn’t that interesting? She’d  have to have Douglas get the woman’s name and she could...  “Yowwww!” 

“Sorry, pretty kitty.” The large hands soothed her apologetically.  “Guess that’s sore, huh?” 

He took a clean roll of bandages from his supplies, and wound it  about her ribs and her shoulder, snugly but not too tight. That done, he  stroked her head, his gaze admiring.

“Well, little lady, you got torn up some, but you’ll be fine. Jacinth and  Douglas both assured me you’ve had your rabies vaccine, which is good,  since from the description of that dog, it was a worry.” 

Rabies. Cat considered that for a long moment, her golden eyes  narrowing as she replayed the event in her mind. She hadn’t thought the  dog was rabid, although it had been slavering when it attacked her. No,  something else had been behind that attack. The dog had been set onto her  by someone... or something. Something that was not quite human, and she  had a pretty good idea who... or at least what... it was.  

Troy brought her a bowl of water, and she drank gratefully. He  brought a plate of cat food for her, but she turned her head away in  disgust. She hurt so badly that food held no appeal for her, but even if she  were starving she would never eat such gross stuff. She’d worry about that  later, though, when she felt better. 

After taking the food away, Troy picked her up again and carried her  into the living room, settling her with care on the sofa, pulling an afghan  from where it was draped over a chair and making a nest for her to lay on.  A very nice afghan, too, she thought disapprovingly, even as she made  herself comfortable on it, kneading the soft folds. Probably hand-made, and  with a faint scent of lavender. Perhaps it had been his grandmother’s, it  was that kind of afghan. He should be taking better care of it. 

In the meantime, Troy had disappeared into some other part of the  house, returning shortly with a cat box, which he put in the corner of the  room and filled with litter from a large yellow box. Eww!! Cat wrinkled her  nose. Like she was going to use one of those! 

It hurt too much to curl up, so she stretched out, laying her chin on  her paws. She drowsed, one ear cocked to listen for Troy as he moved  about the house, the collie a constant companion at his heels. After a bit he  returned to the living room, lowering his large form into a large leather  recliner. Cherie whined a bit, then went to lay in a cushioned dog bed  before the hearth, turning herself around and around before settling. 

All the while, Cat turned over her options, considering what she  should do. If she went home, she would have to take care of herself, which  meant Changing... and she suspected her wounds would hurt much, much  worse if she were to try the Change. Or she could stay here, in her cat form,  with Troy until she had healed. That might even be the better idea. He  would take good care of her. Besides, she liked Troy. She liked him, and his 

house, and she wasn’t much inclined to want to leave right now. There  were of course disadvantages to that as well, but she was too tired and hurt  to worry about those right now. But also, just to clinch the matter, if she  stayed in her cat form to heal, she wouldn’t have scars when she returned  to her human form. Shifters never did.  

So that was decided. She would stay here in this spacious farm house  with this gentle giant of a man to look after her, and Cherie to keep her  company. She eyed the collie doubtfully, who was eyeing her with equal  indecision. Cherie was pregnant, Cat realized, noticing the dog’s rounded,  fecund belly. From the size of her, she was due to have pups any day. It was  a testament to Troy’s handling and training that the dog accepted a strange  animal into the household so easily when she was so close to giving birth.  Safe. He made the collie feel safe with him. Cat felt it too. Safe. 

With a sigh, Cat closed her eyes and dozed, only the tip of her tail  swaying to and fro. After watching the news on the large-screen television  mounted on the wall across the room, Troy got up to move through the  house, closing blinds and windows and flipping the lock on the front door.  Cat kept one ear perked, swiveling to follow his passage as he moved past  her into the small hallway and made his way up a narrow staircase to the  upper floor.  

The click-click of toenails on the wooden stairs informed her that  Cherie accompanied Troy upstairs. Good. She felt her muscles relax, not  aware until that moment how apprehensive she’d been to be left alone  downstairs with the dog. Not that Cherie was like the one who’d attacked  her. But it was good that she was upstairs. Cat rose, and gingerly jumped  down from the sofa, her injured body protesting every move. She leapt up  onto the recliner that stood at right-angles to the sofa. The leather wasn't  nearly so soft as the sofa and the comfy afghan, but it was clearly Troy’s  chair, and she snuggled herself into his scent as she reposed herself for the  night. 



About the Author

Allie McCormack is a disabled U.S. military veteran, now pursuing her life-long dream of being a writer. Allie has traveled quite a bit and lived many places all over the U.S., as well as a year in Cairo, Egypt as an exchange student, and a year in Saudi Arabia under contract to a hospital in Riyadh. Allie now lives in wine country in beautiful southern California with her family and two rescue cats.

Allie says: "A writer is who and what I am... a romance writer. I write what I know, and what I know is romance. Dozens of story lines and literally hundreds of characters live and breathe within the not-so-narrow confines of my imagination, and it is my joy and privilege to bring them to life, to share them with others by writing their stories."


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Metafiction/Humor/Mystery

Date Published: April 20th, 2021

Publisher: Zither Studios



A nutty religious cult abducts a herd of prime gazebos (huh?) and it’s up to bumbling P.I. Mars Candiotti to rescue them. Mars, aspiring author, chronicles his quest in Jeffrey Hanlon's comic mystery Zither

 Guided by his magically prescient IHOP waitress, Mars strives to mitigate the shocking global consequences of the gazebo heist, even though he has no idea what the word mitigate means. Mars has five Important clues with which to solve his confounding mystery: Butterscotch, John Travolta, Trombones Venetian Blinds, and Wind Chimes. 

 As Zither swallows its own tale, Mars finds it increasingly tricky to distinguish between real people and his rambunctious fictional characters. Zither becomes the romper room where his reality meets fantasy - and get frisky with each other. 

 Using his (odd) clues, Mars’ international odyssey leads to an explosive conclusion in Panama. TVs around the world tune in to watch live coverage of “Carnage in the Canal”. 

 Amid the lunatic havoc that is Zither there is (of course!) an epic love story as Mars meets Marian, the brainy librarian he had dreamed of. Marian says his books are "slapstick existentialism with subjective reality couched in parable". (This is news to Mars). But is Marian real? 

 Is any of it real?


Excerpt

As nightfall approached, we prepared.

Pete disguised himself as management, putting on a nice Men's Wearhouse suit with a bleeding turnip lapel pin.

I disguised myself as Britney Spears.

At the stroke of midnight, Pete and I left his house, which is and headed for the St. Francis Yacht Club.

As contrived luck would have it, Benny Tisdale had left the cabin on his dumb boat unlocked.

In stealthy fashion, Pete and I went below.

"I'll shine the flashlight and listen for footprints. You find the varnish," Pete said.

It took no time at all to find Benny's Man O' War. Actually, it took a bit of time, but you know what I mean.

As Pete held the light, I donned my surgical gloves and placed Benny's Man O' War in my black op bag.

"Easy as taking candy from a drowning man," Pete whispered.

I nodded.

Pete said, "It's dark in here, Mars. If you're going to nod, warn me so I can shine the flashlight on your head."

"Okay, Pete. We'll make that a new rule."

As we prepared to exit in stealthy fashion, Pete shined his flashlight around the cabin, then said, "Mars, look at this big wooden crate."

I looked at the wooden crate. It was big enough to hold a Barcalounger.

"I'll bet it's filled with ill-gotten booties," Pete said. "Or a Barcalounger."

He handed me the flashlight and pried open the crate's lid with a crowbar.

It was not until some time after dark that we took courage to get up and throw the body overboard. It was then loathsome beyond expression, and so far decayed that, as Peters attempted to lift it, an entire leg came off in his grasp . . .

"Peters?" Pete said. "Do you mean Pete? Me? What body? What leg?"

"Sorry. That's Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym."

"What's Poe doing in this chapter?"

I shined the flashlight on my shoulder and shrugged.

He snatched the light back, looked in the crate, and said, aghast, "We've gotta get outta here quick, Mars! This boat could blow any minute!"

I looked inside the big wooden crate.

Here is what was in there: hundreds, probably thousands, of Steven Seagal movies.

We'd be lucky to get out of there alive.

Seagal movies have a tendency to bomb.






"Hanlon’s humor shines bright and will leave fans of such madness wanting more." Publishers Weekly 

 "This zany, rollicking mystery adventure is as compelling as it is hilarious." Independent Book Review 

 Nominated for the prestigious Audie Award, Best Fiction 2021



About the Author

I was born in a Southern California beach town. 
My family moved to Northwest Oregon when I was 7. Or maybe when I was 8. 

Had we stayed in the Beach Boys town, and knowing myself as I do now, I suspect I would have grown long hair, started a rock band, and been heavily into drugs. The rock band would probably have been pretty good. The rest of it, not so much. I’d likely have joined the ranks of those like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. 

We moved to a mountaintop. The last five miles to get there were gravel. The final two miles were steep and to the end of the road. 

That’s where we lived: the end of the road, 22 miles to the nearest town. 

Our closest neighbor, about a mile down the road, was a hermit who lived in a shack. He had a goat. About once a month the goat would visit us. Then the hermit would show up to retrieve his goat. I think the goat liked us better than the hermit, which is why the goat kept showing up. Goats are funny animals. I think they aspire to be house pets. 

And speaking of animals, we had cats. Lots and lots of cats. Because we were remote and at the end of the road, unkind people – and ‘unkind’ is the kindest description I can use here – would dump their unwanted cats on or near our property. The cats would find our house. We gave them Fancy Feast and our love, and in turn they loved us. 

My childhood friends didn’t visit too often. That was at least partly because when they did show up my father would say something like this: “Great! We have a job that could use an extra hand. Won’t take more than five minutes.” Well, that five minutes usually turned into an hour or two – volunteer labor! – and that friend would seldom visit again. 

So my favorite childhood playmate was a 2000 pound Hereford bull, a big boy with horns spanning three feet. I’d go out in the pasture and the bull would strike a pose not unlike what you’ve seen in the movies where the bull was ready to charge, head down, eyeing me. But he wasn’t going to charge me. He just wanted his forehead scratched. And so I would scratch his forehead. He liked that, shaking his head every so often to show his approval. Then we’d elevate to a game that the bull might have called ‘Let’s see how far we can toss this little kid!’ and I’d place my right hip against his massive head and he’d toss me into the air like a sack of flour. Over and over, farther and farther, higher and higher. I could have done that for hours – I can fly! – but after a few tosses the bull would grow bored with the game and wander off. Probably to chase some cute heifers. 

The nearest library was 30 miles away, and we ventured there often. It was a majestic old building, and the Grand Room had books on all four walls with reading chairs in the center. But that was not where I wanted to be. I figured all those books were popular books or books I was supposed to read. I wanted something different, so I would enter the room with a small sign that said ‘Stacks’. It was row after narrow row after row of books, floor to ceiling, dimly lit, dusty. It was like entering a cave. Filled with treasures! 

It was in those Stacks that I discovered the likes of Kerouac and Heller and Huxley and Fowles and Steinbeck and Ellison and Bradbury and Hemingway and many many others. 

As Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 

And those, each in their own way, was the inspiration for the first book I wrote at the age of eight or nine: ‘Pond Scum’. 

It was illustrated.


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I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the WICKED DARKNESS by B.L. Callaghan Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!

 

About The Book:

Title: WICKED DARKNESS (The Goddess Incarnate #2)

Author: B.L. Callaghan

Pub. Date: August 12, 2020

Publisher: Bianca Callaghan

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 458

Find it:  GoodreadsAmazonKindle, B&NTBD

READ FOR FREE WITH A KINDLE UNLIMTED MEMBERSHIP!

Sometimes it isn't only villains that crave the darkness.

Sapphira Dawn had been lied to about her identity.

Now the gods agree she should never have been created in the first place.

Her very existence means that the gods aren't playing by the rules, and as they ready their game pieces for the next battle, Sapphira must gather her allies before they - and the entire mortal realm - are wiped from the board.

But someone close to her is hiding a deadly secret.

A secret that will make Sapphira question what she is fighting for.

As her allies vanish one by one, Sapphira spirals deeper into her unstable magic, drawn in by the addictive high and wicked release it offers.

If Sapphira can't control the darkness within, the mortal realm will fall, and everything she knows and loves will be nothing more than ashes and dust.

 

Reviews:

"Wow! I really loved this story! This isone hundred percent worth the read." - B.B. Palomo, author of the A Department of Vampire extermination series.
 
"Wicked Darkness is wicked amazing!!! Right off the bat you are thrown into action and it never stops! The fast-pace plot had me falling off my seat at every plot twist. B.L Callaghan knows how to steer the reader in the wrong direction, and I loved that I fell for it every time." - Nicolette Beebe, author of the Mar King series.

"If you enjoy action focused fantasy with a large cast of morally grey characters, you're sure to enjoy the Goddess Incarnate series!" - Goodreads review
 
"If you thought the first book had a lot of plot twists, this one is going to blow your mind!" - Goodreads review
 
"I felt like I was in a movie. The constant plot twists kept me on edge and wanting more!" - Goodreads review

 

 

About Book 1:

Title: AWAKEN (The Goddess Incarnate #1)

Author: B.L. Callaghan

Pub. Date: August 12, 2020

Publisher: Bianca Callaghan

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 340

Find it:  GoodreadsAmazonKindle, B&NTBD

READ FOR FREE WITH A KINDLE UNLIMTED MEMBERSHIP!

Sapphira Dawn was told she was the new Goddess Incarnate, the most powerful being on Earth.

At nineteen, she didn’t feel powerful – she felt betrayed and angry.

Suddenly thrust into a world that she knows nothing about, a world where magic and monsters actually exist, Sapphira races to learn all she can about her magic.

And to find her place in this dangerous new world.

Some of the monsters want to use her, the others just want her dead.

But can she gain the knowledge needed to stop an impending war before it spills into the human realm she once called home.

Reviews:

"Sapphira has got to be one the best MC's I have come across of late!... I cannot wait to see where the rest of this story heads!" - Jade Francis, Author of Siren Calls


"If you're wanting to dive into an excellent example of the fantasy world, where the cruel Gods use their power over the world and its inhabitants to their advantage this book is for you. I turned the last page and the word that came to mind was...Excellent. I am looking forwarding to reading the next book in the series. I highly recommend you grab a copy for yourself." - Stephanie B. Whitfield, Author of Hidden in Roll

 

WICKED DARKNESS TRAILER:



EXCERPT

First half of chapter 1…

 Sapphira

I was going to die.

I saw the dagger coming too late to get out of the way, watched it spiraling through the air towards me with astonishing speed. 

My eyes were open wide, my mouth was too – like a fish plucked from the sea, suddenly discovering it couldn’t breathe in the open air. It was apparent that shock was not a good look for me; the breath in my chest caught as my muscles tensed, waiting for the impact. Light reflected off the blade, shooting sunbursts through the room on each spin, like a deadly disco ball.

She had actually thrown it. Damn that heartless monster!

The monster in question stood a few short feet from me, grinning wickedly through blood-red lips, another dagger at the ready. Her brown eyes were bright, full of morbid anticipation as they followed the path of the weapon. Long dark hair was tied back in an unyielding braid that ran to her hips, beaded with sweat and blood. Red leather armor protected the majority of her body, a striking contrast to her flawless dark skin.

My shields locked into place a millisecond before the dagger could embed itself in my throat. The blade disintegrated on impact with the solid mass of jade magic, becoming nothing more than dust that rained down at my feet. I conjured knives of my own, willing the sharp glinting steel and silver into existence, small double-edged and deadly. I barely felt the weight of them in my hands before I tossed them towards her.

They didn’t move as fast as hers had, and she quickly maneuvered out of their way, taking cover behind a crumbling stone wall in the center of the room. No surprises there; I was nowhere near as skilled or experienced as she was. Still, I hoped for some luck – a miracle that gave me the upper hand I needed. I kept the barrage of crafted magic coming, even as I stepped toward her, hoping that the sheer number of deadly blades would beat the grinning assassin.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” She called out, mocking laughter in her voice. I could no longer see her, successfully hidden behind the wall, but I could sense her power – the magic like a beacon in the dark. It was mischievous and sinister, a wicked mix of death magic and sharp, experienced intelligence.

I called up more of my own power, jade smoke forming in the air around me, grinning as it coalesced and solidified into an almost exact replica of myself – a trick that I had only learned recently.

Shoulder-length golden blonde hair tied back in a messy bun, bright green eyes, and a curvy figure dressed in black leather armor, both hands gripping blades– the entire image glowing faintly with dancing green light, like an otherworldly aurora.

I sent my magic clone towards the wall and the assassin behind it, strengthening the mirage until the aura light vanished within it. Now it looked exactly like me – no one would be able to tell the difference, not even the woman I had unleashed it upon.

Her daggers flew towards the clone as it rounded the corner, the assassin huffing a victorious laugh as they embedded themselves into the armor protecting the chest. The clone fell backward, landing heavily on the floor, unmoving. The killer followed, standing over it, hands empty now. She was out of weapons at last, just as I had hoped she would be.

I made my move, grounding my feet and lashing out with my power, sending wave after wave of despair into her body – the emotion appearing as a purple so dark it was almost black. It pushed its way in, her body sagging until she could no longer stand. As she fell to her knees beside the clone, I willed the despair to transform, becoming barbed vines that wrapped themselves around her, holding her tight.

I sauntered over, a sword forming in my hand, shields coming down. The woman tilted her head so that she could watch my approach, eyes wary. I held the sword out, the tip of the blade under her chin.

“You’re finished, Assassin Barbie,” I said breathlessly, a smile playing at the corner of my lips. “This is done. Say it.”

Her eyes narrowed, lip pulled back in a silent snarl. I pushed the sword harder, a line of crimson running down her throat, the vines squeezing tighter. “Say it.”

“We’re done.” The woman hissed, a little breathless now too. “Get this thing off me.”

I beamed in triumph, watching her fall to the floor as my magic came back to me, the vines and sword vanishing as quickly as they had appeared. I should have expected it – should have seen her plan – should have seen her reaching for the dagger left behind when the clone vanished. But I was too caught up in my imagined victory, too busy gloating. So fast I barely saw her move; the assassin had me on the floor, her body on top of mine, knees pinning down my arms, and the blade she’d retrieved from the floor at my throat.

“Never trust an enemy.” She hissed in my face, eyes flashing with bloodlust. “They lie.”

Shit. My eyes followed the movement of the blade as it was raised from my throat and into the air, the woman’s grip firm on the handle as she brought it back down again, aiming for my heart. My magic pulsed out, sending a shockwave through the room. The assassin was lifted off me, flung backward, and thrown into the wall. She lay there, stunned, eyes unfocused.

I got to my feet slowly, my body heavy. I made sure to keep my eyes on my assailant, warily waiting for her next attack. She crawled toward her daggers, shaking her head to clear it, her movements sluggish. Blood dripped from a gash in her forehead, creating a red drip trail on the floor as she moved.

I couldn’t let her reach them. Calling up my magic again, I was distressed to feel it beginning to tire – exertion still an issue – even after months of building my strength and stamina. I had to end this fight soon, or I would be helpless. I willed the power within me to hold out a little longer, to keep from vanishing and leaving me defenseless.

 I conjured a bow – feeling smoke swirling through my fingers, using the image in my mind to create it, only for the weapon to solidify in my hand. Arrows were next, sharp and gleaming tips of metal that connected with dark wooden shafts. Black feathers on the ends shimmered green as they moved. They were as beautiful as they were deadly. I nocked one, drawing back the bowstring, and let loose, following the arrow’s progression as best I could as it sped towards the assassin.

She was on her feet now, daggers in hand, eyes narrowed as she, too, took in the flight of the arrow. I readied another one, hands shaking and eyes wide, as the woman simply knocked the bolt out of the air with the tip of her dagger. What the actual hell?

She smirked and started towards me, her steps confident and unhurried. Another arrow shot toward her. Again, an effortless evade. Another and another, over and over, until there were none left. Assassin Barbie was too close for me to conjure up anymore anyway, barely out of arms reach.  I let go of the bow; it vanished before it hit the ground, the magic returning to me slower than it had earlier.

A dagger bounced off my hurriedly made shield, the magic too weak now to disintegrate it. The assassin hissed anyway, vibrations from the contact running up her arm as her hand shot back from the unsuccessful attack.

She eyed my defenses critically, a leer creeping over her lips as she circled me. I turned as she moved, keeping her from my back and making my own observations. She was limping slightly, her right leg injured. “You’re weakened,” she said, brown eyes gleaming. “You'll be defenseless in minutes, and then I can kill you. All I have to do is wait it out."

I fought the urge to roll my eyes, even as my heart pounded in my chest so hard that I was sure she could hear it. I wasn't out of the fight yet, I reminded myself, but I needed time. I needed a distraction to keep her busy while my energy was replenished.

"Tick." My shield faltered as she spoke, and the evil grin widened on my attacker's face. "Tock."

I took a grounding breath, digging deep within myself. I could do this.

"Tick."

Time seemed to slow as I pulled up the last of my magic, wrapping it around myself like a blanket. I pulled what I could from the room around us, too, the shadows dancing like a black flame. Then, what little light there was, was extinguished, throwing the world into suffocating darkness.

"Tock."

I dropped my faltering shield, spinning through the gloom in silence, spinning out of reach of the daggers that arched through the air towards my face.

The shadows enveloped my attacker, growing heavy – heavier with each passing second. Each breath she took thinner than the last, the shadows constricting against her on every breath out. I wasn't going to be caught out again – I couldn't be – there was nothing left for me to use. I couldn't declare victory until it was utterly irrefutable. This woman had to bleed all over the floor, and it had to be now. She was still trying to fight; I could hear her struggling against her bonds, daggers remaining in her hands.

As she fought for air, small gasps permeated the silence, the only way that I could pinpoint her location. The shadows tightened again, and those daggers dropped to the floor as her arms were pinned. I dove for them, sliding the short distance along the floor on my knees, scooping one of the blades up with my left hand, slashing out into the shadows. The knife stuck into something substantial, and my firm grip on the handle, mixed with the speed of my movements, spun me around.

I let go, using the momentum to thrust me to my feet on the opposite side of the woman from where I had started. I heard the other dagger clatter across the floor, having kicked it away from her in my travels. It was in the darkness to my right, close but not close enough. The woman wrapped in shadows screamed, the sound full of pain and fury, dampened only by her lack of full breath.

"Bitch!" She howled. "You fucking piece of shit!"

I searched for the final weapon, falling back to my knees and using my hands to feel around in the dark. My magic sputtered out entirely, the shadows and light returning to their original forms and places.

As the light returned to the room, I spotted the dagger, inches from my splayed hands. I grabbed it, spinning to face the screaming woman. She was unrestricted now and so full of fury.

The woman was free. I had her dagger. And then… I didn't.

It left my hand, flying end over end towards her, moving so quickly that she hardly even noticed it – too intent on pulling the other one from her thigh, hissing and throwing curses at me. It hit her in the chest, dead center. The loud thump as it entered the leather armor amplified in the silence that followed it.

We both froze, looking at it in disbelief. The quiet stretched out as I stared, my mind struggling to comprehend what I was seeing.

"You're dead, Valdis." A laugh bubbled up from my chest and escaped my lips as I spoke. The shock and exhaustion were making me giddy.

"Well, fuck me, Sapphira." She huffed incredulously, eyes alight. "What an epic throw. Who knew you had that in you?"

I giggled again, all of my muscles jumping while my head spun. "I hate to admit that it was a fluke. I doubt I could do it again."

"Yes, well. Don't try and cut my leg off again, either. That fucking hurt."

Slow clapping interrupted us from nearby, a whisper of mocking laughter. We both turned to see a monster standing in the doorway. Black hair matched her eyes, brown leathery, semi-translucent skin, and long claw-like nails on skinny fingers. Murky fog billowed around her skeletal feet—a creature of darkness – of nightmares and fear.

"And so now our savior can fight," the Night Hag stated impassively, black eyes burrowing into my soul. "At last."

"I told you she could learn, Mora," Valdis said, grunting as she yanked the daggers from her body, watching her own blood drip onto the floor. "Just like I did."

I swayed where I stood, the room spinning as they spoke. Now that the fight was over, the adrenaline left me, nothing but fatigue running through my body. My mind struggled to follow the sudden shift – from battle mode back to everything is okay, it was only training.

"Except you practiced on your creatures," Mora hissed, turning her deep gaze on her. "Not on the King's Second."

"All is well, I didn't die, and Sapphira learned a few new tricks. Our King will be pleased."

The Night Hag scoffed, pointing a devilishly sharp nail at her. "Your arrogance will be the death of you, Necromancer."

"Yes, but not today." Valdis shrugged, smiling at Mora sweetly and moving to stand beside me. "It seems that you will be stuck with me for a while yet."

I wasn't sure how Valdis was still standing; her blood was running down her leg from the wound I had inflicted – the cuts on her head and throat too. Yet, she stood firm, as though we hadn't just tried to kill each other – as though it had been nothing at all.

 

About B.L.:

B.L. Callaghan is an Australian Foster Carer and Early years Educator with over a decade of industry experience.

  She runs the Facebook page “More Than A Foster Carer”, where she shares her experience working with the foster system.

B.L. lives in rural New South Wales with her husband, a changing number of children, a dog and some chickens.

As a self proclaimed creative soul, she has had a passion for writing fiction from an early age. When not wrangling chickens, children, or dogs, B.L. loves tagging along on epic quests, and being whisked off on magical adventures.

B.L. Callaghan writes children’s books, as well as YA and NA titles.

Some of her favorite authors include L.K Hamilton, S.J Maas, G.R.R Martin, Lynette Noni, Isobelle Carmody, J.K Rowling, and J.R.R Tolkien.

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Giveaway Details:

1 winner will win a $10 Amazon GC, International.

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

9/13/2021

A Dream Within A Dream

Excerpt

9/13/2021

BookHounds

Excerpt

9/14/2021

Writer of Wrongs

Excerpt

9/14/2021

Devouring Books

Excerpt

9/15/2021

Rajiv's Reviews

Review

9/15/2021

The Reading Devil

Excerpt

9/16/2021

Finding Magic In Books

Review

9/16/2021

I'm Shelfish

Excerpt

9/17/2021

TLC Book Nook

Excerpt

9/17/2021

Wottaread

Excerpt

Week Two:

9/20/2021

Pick a good book

Review

9/20/2021

Jazzy Book Reviews

Excerpt

9/21/2021

Books a Plenty Book Reviews

Review

9/21/2021

@coffeebooksandmascara

Excerpt

9/22/2021

More Books Please blog

Review

9/22/2021

Two Chicks on Books

Excerpt

9/23/2021

The Momma Spot

Excerpt

9/23/2021

#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog

Review

9/24/2021

Don't Judge, Read

Excerpt

9/24/2021

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