Monday, August 29, 2016

His Dark Canvas by Alexandrea Weis

Title: His Dark Canvas
Author: Alexandrea Weis
Genre: Dark Erotic Paranormal Romance
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR
Blurb: Ella Winston is a talented chef with a problem--the slightest touch can reveal anyone’s darkest secrets.
Hired to cook for the artist, Ren Plancharde, she struggles to keep her ability under wraps.
After accidently uncovering Ren’s underground activities, the eccentric painter offers Ella a glimpse into his world of pleasure and pain. Intrigued, he decides to make Ella a part of his sinister Corde Noire Society, but his chef isn’t quite ready to commit.
Absolute submission isn’t all Ren wants from the stubborn woman. He has big plans for her gift, too. The only question is … will Ella be willing to give in to his desires when the time comes?
The darkness within can hide a lifetime of secrets.
From New Orleans, Alexandrea Weis was raised in the motion picture industry and began writing stories at the age of eight. In college she studied nursing and went on to teach at a local university. After several years in the medical field, she decided to pick up the pen once again and began her first novel, To My Senses. Since that time she has published many novels. Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her award-winning books, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story memorable.
Alexandrea Weis is also a certified/permitted wildlife rehabber with the La. Wildlife and Fisheries. When she is not writing, she rescues orphaned and injured wildlife. She is married; they live in New Orleans.
Through the haze of her apple martinis, Ella spotted someone across the wide dining room. He was different from the other patrons there to celebrate the restaurant’s two-year anniversary. With an arrogant walk, he strutted across the stone floor. Lean, muscular, and blessed with one of those bodies women would always notice, he had dark blond hair and disquieting dark green eyes. He was the kind of guy who knew he was good-looking and let everyone else know it, too. She wasn’t usually attracted to that type, but this man—his confidence intrigued her.
“You’re Ella, Ella Winston,” he said in a voice like dark chocolate fondue: deep, and wickedly sexy. 
“Yeah.” She almost dropped her drink. “I’m the sous chef.”
“I know. Marcus told me.”
As his smile sank to the depths of her belly, he extended his hand, but Ella ignored it.
Don’t touch him. You know what happens when you touch them. 
“So, how do you know Marcus?” Ella quickly asked, hoping to make up for her rudeness.
He laughed, looking her over. Above the din in the room, she could sense something different about his laugh. Unlike the insincere chortle of others, this man’s laugh got to her. 
She was having an unusual physical reaction, something that never happened to her. When most men laughed, Ella usually ran away.
“Marcus and I share the same friends.”
“What friends are those?” she asked, craving another martini.
“The wealthy kind, who like to support the arts.” He raised a green bottle of sparkling water in his hand. “I’m a painter. Marcus and I know a lot of people who like to pretend they’re patrons and keep us gainfully employed.”
“Painter?” Ella shrugged, finding it hard to believe Marcus knew any painters. “What do you paint?”
“Portraits of women. Usually with very little clothing.”
Oh yeah, I need another drink. “Is that lucrative?”
“For me it is.”
Her eyes wandered around the dining room, desperate to find a rescue. Ella needed to get away from this man before she said or did something really stupid.
“Do you like art?” he pressed.
“Some art. I think it would depend on the passion I see in a painting.”
“The passion in a painting?” That laugh again. Her toes tingled. Not good. “You sound like a painter, Ms. Winston.”
The martini glass in her hand suddenly weighed a ton. “Isn’t painting a passion for an artist, like cooking is a passion for a chef? Having a passion is a healthy thing. It reminds us that we have a soul.”
    He nodded, seemingly approving of her drunken ramblings. “That’s very profound and also very true. I think you have a lot of talents yet to be discovered, Ella. May I call you Ella?”
“Ah, sure. Ella is fine.” Her mouth went dry. “What makes you think I have any talents outside of cooking?”
“I have a sense for these things.”
She tensed. Can he tell? The same thought always haunted her when she met new people. Ella fought so hard to keep her secret under control. Time to make a run for it.
“Don’t let Marcus know I have other talents. He’ll probably fire me.”
She was about to depart when he stopped her. He leaned in, and she could just make out the small cleft in his pointy chin. “I promise, if you ever need a job, I’ll hire you.”
His mouth was so close she could have kissed his perfect, thin lips. Frightened by the notion, Ella backed away. “I’ll hold you to that.”
“I hope you do, Ella.”
She should have done a million different things: asked his name, gotten his phone number, or stayed to flirt with him some more. Instead, Ella walked away. She figured it was one of those moments in life she would live to regret. Fortunately, Ella found the bar and drowned her disappointment in another apple martini. 
Ella reasoned that was the way of it. You meet people and move on, and one day, if you’re lucky, you meet the interesting ones again.

Slumber Duology by Christy Sloat

Title: Slumber (Slumber Duology, Book One)
Author: Christy Sloat
Genre:  YA Fantasy/ Fairytale Retelling
Blurb:
Not all princesses get their happily ever after…
They tell me I killed my boyfriend Phillip in cold blood. I stabbed him twenty one times. I’m only seventeen years old, and I am serving life in Spindle Ridge Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
I don’t remember killing him, so it’s really hard to believe I’m capable of murder. In fact I don’t remember anything before I came to Spindle Ridge, not even my boyfriend.
I can only grasp onto my realistic dreams while the madness of the asylum threatens to pull me under.  I dream I’m a beautiful princess and there is an evil faerie named Maleficent who is bent on my destruction. The dreams are the closest thing I have to memories of my life, except they aren’t real.
I’m crazy. I’m not a princess.
They’re the mad illusions of an irrational teenage girl, right?
They’ve assigned me a new doctor, and she says I can trust her, and that she’ll help me see the truth of who I really am.
When she arrived she brought a new patient, Sawyer, who is everything Spindle Ridge isn’t: exciting, mysterious and beautiful. He promises he’s here to rescue me. Trusting either of them frightens me.
Could it be possible that my dreams are more than just the imaginings of a delusional girl? Could they be truth?
Title: Awaken (Slumber Duology, Book Two)
Author: Christy Sloat
Genre: YA Fantasy/ Fairytale Retelling
Blurb: 
“Happily ever after is hers for the taking.”
Once upon a time I found myself locked away in Spindle Ridge Asylum, punished for a murder I didn’t commit. It was all part of Maleficent’s evil plan. I didn’t remember who I was then … now I do. My name is Aurora, and I am the rightful queen of this realm. Armed with my memories, I’m ready to take charge of my kingdom once more. Happily ever after evades me, yet I long to claim it with my true love, Sawyer, beside me. That fairy tale ending seems impossible with him locked in the thralls of a sleeping curse. As much as I’d love to sit by his bedside and eagerly await a cure, I must first travel into the terrifying Dark Woods to stop Raven from stripping me of all that is rightfully mine. I am not only a queen, but a warrior who will fight for her kingdom. Some may die. Blood will be shed. But when this ending comes, I will settle for nothing less than a blissful ever after.
Christy Sloat resides in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and her Chihuahua, Sophie. Christy has embraced the love of reading and writing since her youth and was inspired by her grandmother's loving support. She loves adventurous journeys with her friends and can be known to get lost inside a bookstore. She is the Best Selling author of ten novels including, The Visitors Series, The Past Lives Series and Slumber.
Buy Links:
Slumber: (FREE)
Awaken: (99 Cents)
Excerpt: (From Slumber, Book One of Slumber Duology)
I woke in the middle of the night hearing screams fill the air. This was not uncommon at all, but tonight I wasn’t expecting it. Normally when Adele’s meds are changed, she wakes screaming that she can’t sleep. Adele’s room is across from mine. She is roughly in her twenties and I never learned how she ended up here. I try not to talk to the other patients. I don’t know why it is, but I don’t fit in with these people. To them I’m the murderer and they tend to think less of me. That’s fine. I am what they say I am. That’s why I’m here, right?
 They told me I stabbed my boyfriend, Phillip, but I don’t remember doing it. I actually don’t remember Phillip at all. No recollection of having been in a relationship either. I must have killed him or else I wouldn’t be in Spindle Ridge. Dr. Altman says that I have to believe that I did it or we will never get anywhere. I’ll admit it’s hard to believe that these hands could stab a person twenty times. No matter how I imagined it, it is always hard to believe.  I sat up listening hard for the screams. When they came again I noticed they were not female, they were male. The screams were deeper and reached a longer distance than Adele’s cries ever could. I wondered if the whole building could hear him. I pulled my covers up over my neck and covered my face. I just wanted to sleep and fall back into the dream I was having. It was beautiful, and if I had my way, I would stay there forever.  Wait!  I sat up fast. Closing my eyes, I tried to remember the dream to the last second. It wasn’t the same dream as the one’s prior. This dream was different! This dream was me and a boy. I never dreamt of anyone but my parents and the evil woman. The dream’s soft lullaby came back to me as I remembered where I was. The smell of fresh grass came across my senses. The sky so blue as I lay on a blanket. I rolled over and saw the face of a boy. He was everything that Spindle Ridge wasn’t; he was beautiful. He had long, shaggy, but not unruly, hair that touched his collar. When he smiled at me, he looked like a boy in love. In love with me. “Get up you lazy sack!” I opened my eyes and was pulled back into the now. I was forced to leave the dream behind as I was being pulled out of bed by two nurses. 

The Marked One by Chevoque COVER REVEAL


The Marked One
Chevoque
(The Marked Series, #1)
Published by: Limitless Publishing
Publication date: September 13th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance
All Aaliyah had ever wanted was to be invisible…
To not be stared at. To not have to display her lifelong pain everywhere she goes. But society is too blind to see that beauty lies beneath the skin.
Aaliyah only reveals her special mark—a facial birthmark—to the closest people in her life. But when Aaliyah’s friend paints her in a portrait titled The Marked One?, her birthmark is exposed to the world. Now no amount of makeup can keep Aaliyah’s secret.
Tristan Gerardo appears to be a successful CEO, but he is hiding many secrets…
What many don’t realize is that his successful public persona is a mask for his own pain—both of losing a sibling, and his failed marriage.
Tristan buys a portrait called The Marked One?, and is shocked when the subject of the portrait arrives for an interview at his company. He pursues Aaliyah, and while she is cautious at first, she feels an ease around Tristan that she’s never experienced before.
Little by little, Tristan’s secrets are exposed…
While Tristan struggles to keep Aaliyah from finding out how his sister died, she discovers he is still married. He assures her she has his full loyalty and the divorce is just a matter of time, and she desperately wants to believe him. But his estranged wife re-enters his life, and Tristan must figure out how to convince Aaliyah that she means the world to him.
How can Tristan make Aaliyah realize that he loves her for herself, and not because of her notoriety as The Marked One?
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000447_00006]
**Designed by Deranged Doctor Design**


Author Bio:
Chevoque was born as Rochelle de Beer on 15 May 1992 in Klerksdorp, South Africa, and as an only child, the world seemed like a lonely place, until she set her mind free and got lost in the worlds she created for herself. Her writing began at a young age and with numerous stories still waiting to be released from her mind, only time now seems to hold her back. She also has a degree in BSc. Environmental and Biological Sciences, because she's a tree hugging animal lover, who hopes to never use her degree to cause cruelty.



Flesh and Blood by Cynthia Rayne


Flesh and Blood
Cynthia Rayne
(Dixie Mafia Series, #1)
Publication date: August 29th 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Sometimes it takes a bad guy to catch a killer…
Belle Nunn is a desperate woman. Someone’s following her, watching her—to make even matters worse, she was fired six months ago and hasn’t been able to get a job since. Belle’s down to her last ten bucks has no idea how she’ll make the rent when she’s abducted by Dixon Wolf’s henchman. Belle’s estranged father, Emmett, borrowed money from the Dixie Mafia for his latest get rich quick scheme and—big surprise—Emmett skipped town, leaving her holding the proverbial bag.
Dix is a loan shark and launders dirty Dixie Mafia money. Since his wife died, he’s devoted all his time and energy to the organization—and being bad pays damn good. Belle hasn’t seen Emmett in years and she’d like to keep it that way.
The mob boss is taken with her and offers Belle a job, her empty wallet won’t allow her to refuse—mob mistress. When Belle’s life is in danger, Dix steps into the unlikely role of hero.
Can Dix save her? And can they have a real relationship, one that isn’t based on sex and commerce?
Book Trailer:
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Author Bio:
Cynthia Rayne is a USA Today bestselling author and co author of the Amazon bestselling Four Horsemen MC series. Cynthia Rayne's first erotic book was written when she was thirteen. Of course, the most risqué scene involved kissing, but it was the talk of her middle school! In her spare time, she enjoys dating, shopping, reading way too many romance novels, and drinking a truly obscene amount of coffee.

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A Powerful Voice by Penelope Powell


Contemporary Christian Romance/ Women’s Fiction
Date Published: Jun 10th (digital) / Aug. 9th (print/POD)
Publisher: Anaiah Romance

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Gloria Fielder is trying her best to live with sincere faith, but regret for a past decision makes it difficult to live with herself.
Justin Case knows first-hand the consequences of bad choices, but he doesn’t believe in burying past mistakes. He openly shares his testimony with the purpose of showing there is hope and freedom for those who come to Christ.
Justin is the new worship leader for the church service Gloria attends, and he also leads a new Bible study she knows will help her. To complicate matters, once Justin becomes aware of Gloria’s struggle, he seems intent on drawing her out of her self-imposed shell of guilt and regret. If she trusts him with her secret and her heart, will their friendship evolve into something more, or will it simply be her undoing?


Excerpt

© 2016 Penelope Powell
Chapter One
Time heals all wounds…unless you deserve to suffer.
When the thought from her internal mantra struck, Gloria Fielder froze mid-step. As if punctuating the accusation, an icy wind howled, the force of it wrenching the glass door from her grasp and slamming it against the stopper.
“A few more minutes and you would’ve missed us entirely.”
Gloria looked up into the unsmiling face of a rail-thin woman standing sentinel over a group of children. Gloria assumed she was the children’s director, as they were all dressed in the festive colors of Christmas, their bright reds and deep greens reminding her of the candlelight service in progress.
She hesitated, her gaze shifting to the plaster nativity figures less than ten feet away, the babe in particular so…lifelike. Would it be better to leave and apologize later for having missed the program?
“Could you shut the door please? It’s hard to keep everyone’s attention while a draft is blowing through, and it’s almost time for us to begin.” Seeming to barely hang on to her patience, the director’s smile was as tight as her collar.
Being late was bad enough, but being made to feel like she was an annoying interruption was well…worse. Gloria shifted to close the door.
After an inquisitive glance toward Gloria, a chubby boy with flushed cheeks pulled on the director’s sleeve. “Mrs. Parker, when do we get our candles?”
“Patience, Tommy. We need to wait for the lady to go inside the auditorium, don’t we?”
Glancing from the boy to Mrs. Parker, Gloria apologized.
“That’s all right. We’re happy to wait for you to get settled.” Mrs. Parker’s smile stretched.
Gloria glanced back toward the woman, wondering if she meant what she said. She’d grown up in a house where a smile often held duplicity. Committed to stay, she hurried toward the partition crammed with winter coats. She unfurled the red scarf from her neck, then squished it and her coat into the mix.
Hushed giggles drew her gaze back to the director, who was busy giving each child a candle with detailed instructions. Everything about them seemed to contrast her. Was it just last year she wore red, putting on a good front? She wasn’t interested in being that person anymore. The clingy dress and all it represented was exiled to the corner of her closet. Proof she was different.
The past few weeks had been particularly hard. When something like seeing the babe in the manger shook her confidence instead of giving her hope, she questioned her faith as a believer in Christ. The possibility of seeing someone at this service she’d rather avoid tightened her chest with further worry.
“Ma’am, they’re waiting for us to start.” Apparently losing her patience, Mrs. Parker nodded toward the doors going into the auditorium.
Gloria tamped down her misgivings, straightened her shoulders, and walked toward the sanctuary. As she edged around the children to reach for one of the doors, a little girl dressed in an evergreen velvet dress took a candle from a basket and offered it to her.
“Thank you.” Gloria smiled.
The girl’s pink lips curved in reply.
Suddenly, blinking back the unwelcome pressure of tears, she turned and eased through the doors. Assailed by the scent of melting wax and pine, she waited for her eyesight to adjust to the soft glow of dimmed lighting, giving her a chance to scan the room for empty seats.
Soon an usher stood next to her, his face brightening when he smiled. “Is anyone joining you?” His generous teeth gleamed in the darkness.
Just me. She shook her head.
He motioned for her to follow him, then pointed to some empty chairs. As she made a beeline for them, his parting greeting followed. “Merry Christmas.”
Gloria glanced over her shoulder and forced a smile. She wanted to be merry. Wanted to simply feel peace. Wanted a reprieve from the recording in her head. Some days, the indictment playing over and over—tightening the tendrils of regret—putting her back on the treadmill of if-only. Making forgetting impossible.
If time was linear, and the passing of it promised things would get easier, then why hadn’t the grip of shame and sorrow weakened?
She settled into a chair as the children from the lobby entered and dispersed down the center aisle, the sound of their voices rising as they moved toward the front, their song offering her a distraction from her turmoil. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to escape into the words.
Joy to the World. A feeling she had yet to muster.
After several carols and a reenactment of the birth of Christ, the pastor walked up on the stage.
Bobby Jordan had thinning gray hair, a solid middle-aged build, and the demeanor and voice of an authoritative grandfather. But that was her opinion now that she knew him. Their first meeting was at her office. His friendly and forthright manner reminded her of the old Southern gentlemen at home. He explained he was a pastor hoping to refer church members who were house hunting, said a friend had recommended her.
Her peace of mind wavered at the memory. Fortunately, the uncomfortable connection led to providential results. If she had not been going through such a rough time, and if Bobby had not sought her out, she might never have begun a relationship with Christ. If only she could find a way to reconcile how the two connected without all the bad stuff. She rubbed her forehead.
“Thank you children, you may join your parents,” Bobby said.
Gloria glanced up as Bobby laid a hand on the shoulder of a little boy after dismissing the others to finds their seats.
“This is Johnny, one of our shepherds in tonight’s program. He’s seven. I asked Johnny a question earlier, and I wanted you to hear his response.” Bobby crouched down. “Johnny, what’s Christmas all about?” He tilted a microphone toward Johnny.
“Pweth-sents.” The boy turned toward the audience and smiled, the gap in his front teeth sparking chuckles from the crowd.
“What’s so great about presents?”
“They’we fwee.”
Bobby ruffled Johnny’s hair and told him to join his parents. When the laughter trickling through the congregation died down, Bobby stood at the edge of the platform. “Each Christmas, we decorate our homes with nativity scenes and our Christmas trees with lights.”
Gloria swallowed, the nativity from the lobby edging back into her thoughts.
“We send cards, sing carols, and we exchange gifts.” Eyes down, Bobby paused. “I agree with Johnny. Big or small, presents are special, but are they truly free? Certainly, they’re free to the recipients, but to the giver there is always a cost.” Bobby raised his arms. “But to each one of us, grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Paul wrote this to the Ephesians. God’s gift of grace. Undeserved favor for us.”
Undeserved. That was certainly her. She’d never measured up to expectations, which was one of the reasons why she worked so hard at her job.
“As recipients, God’s gift of grace costs us nothing because Jesus paid for it. He gave his life, so we might receive forgiveness. Receive life. In this season of giving, in addition to the wrapped packages we place under our trees, let’s give grace to one another. Offer forgiveness when needed, even underserved.” Then Bobby prayed.
As before, the children assembled across the front. Once their candles were lit, they disbursed down each aisle, lighting the candles of people sitting on the end as they went. Music played in the background.
Eyes closed, Gloria focused on Bobby’s words. She prayed the message would wash over her. Because there was hope in knowing Christ had already forgiven her. And she could do the same.
“Excuse me.”
Startled from someone’s touch, Gloria slapped a hand to her chest.
A man barely visible, given the darkness and shadows cast by candlelight, leaned closer. “Sorry to disturb you, but I thought you might want to light your candle.” Highlighting his explanation, he lifted his candle. For one brief moment, a striking, masculine face with eyes so dark they glittered like pools in moonlight stared back at her.
She swallowed, her heart still pounding from having been disturbed. “Sorry.” She fumbled for the candle amongst her things. Finding it, she held it toward him and tilted her wick toward his flame. A cool, woodsy scent wafted toward her, reminiscent of an autumn breeze. She inhaled the refreshing smell and relaxed a bit.
When her candle was lit, the flare illuminated his face once more. He looked up and caught her staring. Embarrassed, she turned away. “Thanks.”
“No problem.”
When the lights came up, she hit the aisle, determined to get through the lobby then home. The last thing she wanted to do was linger. Not that she didn’t enjoy talking with people afterward, but tonight she felt fragile.



About the Author


Though her roots are buried deep in the hills of Middle Tennessee, she now lives in Indiana with her family and serves in her local church. She loves to entertain, give life to old things, antiquing, reading and of course writing.
Like the things we experience, I believe good Christian fiction can inspire and change someone’s perspective, and hopefully point them to Christ.

Contact Links



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A Thousand Shattered Moments by Connie Ann Michael


Contemporary Christian Military Romance/ Women’s Fiction
Date Published: Aug. 9th (print/POD)
Publisher: Anaiah Romance

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Sawyer and Raven finally see a future away from the war—if they can only get through this last deployment. But when the military separates them, Raven finds it impossible to protect her, and he worries her post traumatic stress disorder will return. Soon, Raven finds out PTSD is the least of his troubles.

Sawyer is assigned to a bomb removal unit being sent into the most dangerous area in Afghanistan where she’s taken and held captive for weeks. Expecting the worst, Sawyer is ready to die for her country. But when death doesn’t come, Sawyer turns her back on her faith. believing God has left her to deal with the aftermath of her capture alone.

Devastated at the news of Sawyer’s disappearance, Raven’s commitment to her never falters, even when her injuries threaten to take her from him. To make matters worse, he’s being kept from his wife by an angry mother-in-law. Raven is determined to bring Sawyer back to him—But is it be too late? Unfaltering in his faith, Raven knows with God’s help, he will prove his love to Sawyer.

EXCERPT
© 2016 Connie Ann Michael

CHAPTER ONE

Sawyer wiped a hand across her forehead, interrupting the drips of sweat heading toward her chin. She settled into a shady spot on the side of the metal structure of the hospital she was currently assigned to in Qatar, Afghanistan. Sawyer balanced her laptop on her knees. Glancing down at her watch, she opened the case and logged on. Raven was supposed to be back from his patrol tonight, and they were going to attempt to video chat. Camp Grady was one of the best set ups in Afghanistan and provided consistent climate control within the tents but lacked the privacy she wanted to talk to her husband. She laughed to herself. She still couldn’t believe Raven was her husband.
“Hey babe,” Raven’s voice broke through the quiet of her hiding spot.

Sawyer pushed a few buttons to get the screen to show the face of the man she loved. His big smile came through at the same time she assumed her face appeared on Raven’s screen.

“Hey babe,” he said again with a sigh.

Sawyer reached out and ran her fingers down the screen, caressing his cheek.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yeah. I can.” Sawyer swallowed down the lump in her throat. “Don’t call me babe. I’m Navy.” Sawyer and Raven had gone round and round on her status as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines. Now it was a topic of levity.

“Not when it’s you and me, babe. You’re not Navy, you’re my wife.” Raven gave her a sad smile.

“You look tired.” Raven’s eyes were shadowed with fatigue, and the lines around his mouth seemed deeper.

Raven nodded. “You look beautiful.”

“I appreciate your ability to lie.”

Raven rubbed at his eyes then gave her a small smile.

“Just got back?” she asked.

Raven closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the screen. “I miss you so much.”

Sawyer wiped a tear that escaped and cleared her throat. “I miss you, too.”

Raven glanced to the side then sat back up and resumed a comfortable slouch in the chair he was sitting in. The torso of another soldier passed behind him on the screen.

“Where are you?” Sawyer shifted on the sand, getting more comfortable. If he was in the Coms center it would explain his quick change of posture. After the past few weeks of silence, being able to truly share their feelings would be difficult.

Raven glanced over his shoulder. “Coms. The internet doesn’t work anywhere else. I can’t guarantee I’ll be with you for long. Things have been worse than normal lately.”

Raven had been redeployed to Camp Dietz, the base where they’d originally met. Raven kicking her out of his unit and the inconvenience of marrying her commanding officer made it impossible to be redeployed together. But at least they were both in Afghanistan, even if they were hundreds of miles apart with bad internet.

“So, what have you been up to?” Raven glanced backward again. Suddenly a bottle of water appeared over his shoulder. “Thanks,” he told the disembodied hand before Raven’s right hand man, Thommy pushed into view.

“Hey, Doogie. Good to see you.” Thommy smiled into the screen.

“Hey.” Thommy had been with them in Dietz and after the mess they went through during their last deployment, the three of them had become close friends.

“Chief telling you about the mess we got ourselves into?” Thommy continued.

Raven punched him in the arm, and after a mumbled conversation, Thommy disappeared.

“You got into trouble?” Raven’s unit was supposed to find trouble. That was their job. They were sent in to find the worst of the worst and eliminate them.

“How are you?” Raven’s expression cleared as he put on his game face and leaned forward, plainly ignoring her inquiry.

Sawyer sighed. He’d been her commanding officer, and she knew that until he was ready, there was no getting information out of him. She pulled the computer closer. “I miss you.”

Raven rubbed the short hair over his ears. He had only recently arrived at Dietz and was almost immediately sent out on a mission. Sawyer had been deployed two months before him. Three weeks after their wedding.

“You doing okay? Staying on base? Not heading out with any teams?” Raven had made her promise to do her best to stay on the base and out of combat, but she was a corpsman and changing her job title to nurse wasn’t going well. Sawyer had suffered a tough bit of PTSD after her last deployment. The guard assigned to her while on her last mission had become a close friend and when he stepped on an IED and blew up in front of her, things got rough. Raven had helped but more so the pastor they had been seeing had allowed her to move forward and ultimately redeploy. Something Raven was not happy about.

“I’ve stayed on base,” she started.

“You’re going out, aren’t you?” His voice was tight. Whereas he had mastered the ability to hide his emotions, Sawyer was an open book when it came to him.

“You do. You just got back.” It was a weak argument but a valid one. It was also the only argument she’d come up with when she’d prepared for this conversation in her head.

“That really isn’t the point. I didn’t pull a gun on my neighbor after I got stateside. You need to take it slow.”

“Raven,” was all she got out before he nailed her with one of his famous cold-as-ice stares.

Sawyer took a breath and tried to approach the conversation calmly. She knew he worried and although bringing up her past wasn’t exactly fair, she knew her actions after her last trip home were hard to forget. “I’m doing fine. But this is my job, and until I fulfill my time, I have to do it. I’ll be careful. I always am, just like I need you to be.”

“I know, baby. I know. But it makes me feel better if I at least ask you to try and be careful.”

Sawyer looked at the new lines appearing around Raven’s eyes. He was always so concerned for his men’s safety. Adding her to that worry was taking a toll on him.

“I’ve been able to stay close for the last couple of weeks.” She reached out and touched the screen again. Raven placed his fingers against hers.

“I know.”

The screen flickered, and Sawyer knew she was going to lose him soon. “I love you, Moses.”

“I love you, too, Emme.” Raven kissed his fingers and touched the screen again. Sawyer did the same.

Raven and Sawyer sat silently, staring at a grainy picture on a dusty computer screen. Their time together had been so short. Their marriage one of long distance conversations behind barracks and sweating in poorly air conditioned tech centers.

“Have you talked to your mom?” Raven’s voice was quiet.

Sawyer closed her eyes and shook her head. “No.”

“Why?”

Sawyer looked into the deep brown eyes that veiled so many emotions and knew Raven was hurt by her not telling her mom she had gotten married.

“Are you ashamed? Embarrassed?” he started.

“Why would I be either of those?”

“Regretful?” he added.

“Are you?” she snapped back.

“Me?” Raven snorted a laugh. “You’re my heart. You’re my life, Emme. I want to shout from the roof tops how much I love you. And I did. I told my family. The difference is they don’t care, yours will. Why won’t you tell your mom?”

“I.” She paused. “I have always had a strained relationship with her. I want to be able to tell her with you there. I don’t want to do it on my own.”

“You need back up.”

Sawyer smiled, and he winked. “Yeah. I guess I do. It’s harder to tell me I made a mistake if the infamous Sergeant Ravenscar is standing beside me.”

“I’m a mistake?”

“No. Never. She just thinks anything I do that wasn’t her idea is a mistake. I want you with me so she can see how you could never be a mistake.”

“Then I shall stand by you, Mrs. Sergeant Ravenscar.”

“It’s still Sawyer,” she corrected him.

“Not for long. The paperwork should be through soon. The Navy just likes to do things slow. Now if you were a Marine…”

“So now I’m not a Marine?” she teased back.

Raven’s jovial mood subsided, and he looked to the side, something or someone was talking to him just to the right of the screen.

When he looked back, the expression on his face made it clear he was getting a directive to get off the computer. “I got assigned to an EOD Convoy.” Sawyer couldn’t let him go without knowing as many details of her mission as she could give him. They had promised to tell as much as they could so they could pray for each other’s safety, and she needed as much help as she could get to keep her head out in the field.

The curtain of a non-emotional Marine dropped over Raven’s face as he kept his emotions in check. “An Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team? Why do they need a corpsman? Don’t they sit in the trucks and play with robots?”

Sawyer laughed. The men on the EOD teams spent a lot of time playing with little robotic machines whose job was to disarm IED’s. Improvised Explosive Devises were the number one killers in this war with over fifteen thousand people having been killed in the last year. The team’s job was to go out and clean routes so the Army or Marines could move forward without fear of blowing up. The problem was the insurgents could replace bombs faster than the team could find them, so often times they ended up running over bombs in areas they thought they had just cleaned.

“Sergeant Holloway, he’s the commanding officer, asked me to come.” She shrugged. “Told me I was coming.”

“Do you know where?” Raven wiped at something on his side of the screen.

Sawyer knew Raven was doing his best not to explode at the prospect of her being out with a bomb patrol. Which was another reason she was thankful she couldn’t tell him where exactly she was going.

“You can’t tell me where you’re going?” he asked.

“No.”

“I’ll tell you where I’m going if you tell me,” he teased, his commanding officer façade slipping a little.

“All I was told is we are headed to Gor Tepa on a route referred to only as Route Z.”

“That sounds safe.”

“I’ll be fine,” was all she got out before the computer fizzled, and Raven disappeared into the blackness of the screen.

Sawyer needed to see Raven’s face and looked forward to the video chat sessions, but more often than not the internet connection failed, and they were cut off without closure, leaving her feeling uncomfortable walking away. Conversations always left hanging. Words left unspoken.

Sawyer snapped the laptop closed, collected her things and headed back to the bunk she shared with a nurse. They were on opposite shifts most of the time so they rarely slept in the room at the same time. Storing her laptop in a box sworn to keep the sand out but lacking the actual ability to do so, Sawyer sat on the edge of her bed and waited for the sense of unfinished words to subside.

A courtesy knock came just before the door swung open and Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar stuck his head in. “We’re meeting in the mess hall for a briefing in five.”

“Roger that.”

Sawyer barely saw the man’s face before Omar closed the door behind him. With a sigh, she got out the ammo box where she kept her personal possessions. Inside were the paper cranes Raven made her with messages of love as well as candy and the tiny heart given to her by Tahk, her guard who had been killed during her last tour. Sawyer tucked them into her pockets as reminders that they were always with her and headed to the mess hall.

The men from EOD Platoon 432 had settled in long green lines at the tables that set parallel to each other. Sawyer had avoided making any close friends on the teams. She hadn’t been assigned a guard this time around and was frustrated about the barrier it caused between the men and her. Tahk allowed an access point to the team that was difficult to find without a senior team member on her side. Sawyer tried to tell herself it was easier if she kept her feelings in check and developing relationships made the inevitability of war that much more difficult. But keeping to herself was hard, and life with this team was lonely. Sawyer hung in the back and leaned against a wall to listen to the plan—alone.

SSG Halloway stepped up to the front of the room, waving a hand until the men quieted. “Our orders came in. We will be taking three Buffalos out with full teams.”

The Buffalos were six wheeled, mine resistant, ambush protected, armored vehicles. All the wheels and the centerline were mine resistant. The bottom of the truck was fitted with a ‘V’ shaped chassis that was supposed to keep the force of a blast away from the occupants. Each truck was fitted with a large, articulated arm used for ordinance disposal. Plainly speaking, it got rid of bombs.

“The Afghanistan National Army is going to be riding in the sweeper truck.” He pointed to a few of the men. “You won’t be taking WALL-E with you. We’ll pack them in the lead and second truck.”

WALL-E was the name the men gave the Cobham tEODor, the Navy’s technical term for a robot they used for bomb clearing. Each truck carried at least one when they went out on sweeper missions.

There were some groans from the team having to ride with the ANA. None of the men really enjoyed being paired with a group that was supposed to be taking the lead on this war but most of the time were a bunch of clowns with guns.

Halloway waited for the group to quiet down before continuing. “The Army is going to attempt to take over a town known for heavy Taliban activity, and they need the route cleared. Route Z is the heaviest bombed road in Afghanistan. There is a good chance as soon as we get the bombs off the road and past them there will be guys going in and replacing them. It’s going to be a tight mission. All eyes need to be watching and ready. We don’t want to get blown up, and we don’t want the Army coming in on hot soil after we’ve cleared it.”

Sawyer fidgeted with the zipper on her digis. When she avoided telling Raven where they were going, she hadn’t been trying to be elusive. The people of this culture didn’t name things. The military had spent the majority of their time in the country making maps trying to give the teams some direction as to where they had been and where they were going. However, Route Z seemed as scary as the name implied.

“Doogie.” Halloway nodded toward where Sawyer stood. The men turned to look in her direction, and she lifted her hand in a half salute. Sawyer had been given the nickname Doogie during her last deployment. It was an honor to be given a nickname by the Marines, but the majority of the time the nickname wasn’t meant to be nice. Hers’ was in reference to the young age when she had joined up. “She’s our corpsman. She’ll be watching out for us and the Army if needed.”

The men nodded back at her then shifted around to listen to the rest of the briefing. Sawyer had been impressed with Raven’s unit. There were some incredibly brave individuals serving under him. But this new group of men took service to a new level. The EOD’s were the ultimate bomb squad. They were trained to disarm not only explosive devices but to neutralize chemical threats and even nuclear weapons. The Navy Explosive Techs were trained to perform some of the most harrowing, dangerous work in order to keep others safe. And Sawyer was going out with them. If injuries occurred, they would be severe and most likely deadly. The pressure of her task sat heavy on her shoulders.

“We’re pulling out at zero eight hundred. Dismissed.” They had approximately thirty minutes to pull themselves together and meet on the Buffalos.

Sawyer only needed fifteen. She had learned through her first deployment to always be ready. Taking long enough to gather her ruck, a gun, and email Raven to tell him she loved him, Sawyer was the first to arrive at the large armored truck that would be her ride down the deadliest road in Afghanistan.


About the Author



Connie Michael began her writing career after her two boys grew up and didn’t want to hang out with their mom anymore.  A graduate of Washington State University Connie has been a teacher for twenty-five years. Specializing in Bilingual Education she recently left her home state of Washington to begin an adventure with her best friend and husband in Montana. Currently a fifth grade teacher on the Crow Reservation, Connie can be found biking, hiking, kayaking, or just hanging out with her two dogs.



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