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KristaLyn A. Vetovich’s Strayed Pre-Publication Blitz! Win $25 Amazon Gift Card!

STRAYED by KristaLyn A. Vetovich,YA/NA Fantasy

Title: STRAYED
Author: KristaLyn Vetovich
Publisher: Glass House Press
Genre: YA/NA Fantasy
In the struggle between good and evil, humans don’t stand a chance—not on their own. Which is why, for every living soul, there is a Firn: a spirit assigned to guide and defend humans from demonic spirits like the Aropfain. But earning a place in the fight is a process that requires several lifetimes—of service, experience, and sacrifice.
Having just returned from her most recent life as an Ancient Romanmartyr, Anaya is only one step away from achieving that goal. And if she succeeds, she might become the Firn with the most important mission: guiding the human that will either save—or end—the world.
But when she’s paired with the notoriously difficult Jordin, her chances of success suddenly start to slip. Because Jordin isn’t like other souls. He’s strong, volatile—and a prime target for the Aropfain. And he almost immediately falls for an Aropfain ploy that could not only jeopardize his chances of becoming a Firn, but also endanger the entire
world.
As his partner, Anaya is the only one who can save him. But will she succeed? Or will she fail—and take the world down with her?

ADD TO YOUR GOODREADS SHELF

 

CHAPTER ONE
Well, it happened again. I died.
The bloodied sand of the colosseum shivers out of focus as my soul shakes
off its physical limitations in favor of a higher vibration. Instead of
centurions and weeping family, I’m now surrounded by snowy white noise and
quiet.
They came for me at dawn. I can still hear my mother’s sobs. I was only
twelve.
I blink the memories away just as a man bends and pulls into view before
me, then straightens with a blithe sort of smile. “Welcome back,” he says in an
excessively soothing tone. He wears glasses I know he doesn’t need, and behind
them, his unearthly blue eyes trace my face, looking for signs of stress.
And it comes back to me like the snap of fingers. An Advokat. Here to
help me adjust to the trauma of crossing over from life to death.
Suddenly I wonder how he sees me. Do I have blue eyes now? In
life, they were brown, but here in death I’ve always imagined others see me
with crystal blue. I guess it would depend on how much they like me. Appearance
is entirely based on impression here. We see what we feel. Feelings are real,
vision an illusion.
And this Advokat must be new, I realize a moment later. If he’d been
here for any length of time, he wouldn’t be using the sappy voice they put on
for the newer souls. The ones who don’t understand how it works. He’d know that
I’m something of a regular in the transition between life and death—that I’ve
lost count of how many of these interviews I’ve had to sit through. I’m sure I
know the process better than he does.
Because I’ve had his job before, mastered it long ago.
I skim him, searching the endless trove of memories trying to break
through the fog of earthly business still clouding my mind. I don’t remember
him. And I can see that he doesn’t know me.
Definitely new. Which means he’ll play the interview by the book. I
groan.
The Advokat reaches out as if to comfort me, like my groan was one of
anxiety and not disdain. “Try not to panic.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and flatten my gaze at him instead. I
understand it’s his job to help me recover from the shock of death, but
honestly, I’m fine. So I died—so what? There are many things worse than death,
and one of them, if anyone ever bothered to ask me, is living. I’m actually
thrilled to be back here—and I don’t need an Advokat to counsel me through the
transition.
Also, I’m in a bit of a hurry. I have important business to attend to,
even higher vibrations to achieve. I’m so close now, and he’s the only thing
standing in my way.
I tap my foot and glance around for someone—anyone who might recognize
me and give me an opportunity to walk away from this unnecessary formality.
“Everything will make sense soon.” The Advokat’s voice echoes through
the white expanse around us. Clearly, all other souls are keeping their
distance to allow me to transition without any added shock. Or—I narrow my eyes
at the Advokat—he’s followed protocol by requesting they give us space.
And do we ever have it. As far as the eye can see, there’s nothing but
static white. But I smile, and my shoulders relax—because this is my true home.
Just the way I remember it.
The Advokat leans into my line of sight. “Do you know your name?”
My smile drops.
In life, my name was Agnes. In this life, anyway.
There have been so many lives, so many names, but between them all, just
one feels like home.
When it comes, my voice sounds like a lost, cherished memory. “Anaya.”
My first word after death. The truest word I know.
The Advokat smiles and nods. He doesn’t take any notes or write anything
down, and I know about that, too. The answers are in his mind, ready when he
needs them, downloaded into his head from the source of all truth on the
highest plane of vibration there is: El Olam, our master and creator. He sits
so high none of us can reach him, above laws and structure. The world is as he
makes it, and we are simply stewards of his creation, here to serve.
And today I’ll go one step further in the process of becoming a defender
of creation. I’ll become a Firn.
The Advocat, who is becoming more annoying by the moment, interrupts my
thoughts with yet another question. “Good. And do you know where you are?”
Where I am? Well it’s a much better place than where I was…
I was in Rome, in the fourth century. I rejected a boy, and he sold me
out as a Christian. It took them forever to kill me—first with shame, then with
flames. But all I gave them was a blank stare through the numbness. They
couldn’t shame me. I wouldn’t burn when they strung me to the stake and lit the
fire—even the flames knew not to touch me. But the Roman officer’s sword
through my throat did the trick in the end. I was gone before I felt anything.
So I guess the joke’s on them. There was darkness, then a burst of light—
And now I’m home, where none of that matters anymore. I’m free here.
Because no one can shame or kill the dead. I’ll be safe as long as I stay.
“This is Lemayle,” I say quietly. “The afterlife. The real world.” And I
have no intention of ever living again.
He rocks back and grins. “Wonderful!” Then his face stiffens. He
swallows and his eyes shake as he looks me over for a second time, now scanning
for any truths beneath the surface, anything I’m hiding from him. If souls
could sweat, he’d be a mess as he prepares for the most important question of
the interview.
I used to have his job, so I know what comes next. My answers from here
on out will decide my final destination.
“All right.” He clears his throat. He doesn’t have to. It’s the nerves.
I will be his enemy if I answer poorly, but he has to remain objective. He’s a
professional, after all, and he doesn’t know whose side I’m on yet—what changes
this most recent lifetime might have made in me.
I was martyred, and not all martyrs come back home the way they should.
Martyrs go into life as warriors for El Olam’s cause … but don’t always return
feeling their suffering was justified. Some turn against him and defect to the
one who seeks to depose him.
And me? How do I feel about the suffering I was put through? Have
I changed my mind about who to serve? And how dangerous does that make me to
the fragile balance of the world? That’s what the Advokat needs to find out.
“Do the names El Olam and Narn mean anything to you?”
Good and evil. That’s what they mean. Free will and slavery. But which
is which? Is El Olam good … or is he evil? Are Narn’s plans for less service to
living souls and more dominion over them more appealing? Are they justified? No
soul chooses evil.
They simply choose what they believe is right.
I hide my laugh with a cough at the tension in the Advokat’s hunched
shoulders. If he’s new—and he wants to stay—he’ll need a stiffer a spine than
he’s got now. I might as well be the one to give it to him.
I level my gaze at him, eyes wide open to appear just a little less
threatening. “Yes. I know them.”
He nods, more rigidly this time, and rubs the back of his neck as he
braces for my response to his final question.
“And … your allegiance?”
I stare at him for a long moment, watching the anxiety build behind his
bright blue eyes. He doesn’t want any trouble, but his other hand twitches at
his side, ready to summon the support of a slightly higher power—just in case I
came back tainted.
Just in case I’ve decided I hate the way the world works … and want to
serve the one trying to turn it upside down.
“Oh calm down,” I finally chide him. This has gone on long enough to
bore me. I have business to attend to, and honestly, after fifty lifetimes, a
soul should be able to just skip this process. “I chose El Olam lifetimes ago.
I’m bound to be a Firn. This was my last run.”
His whole body wilts as the tension releases. Had I said Narn, the
Advokat and I would have had a few issues. Because it would have meant I was a
soul with eyes toward flipping the script, turning the world upside down—force
living souls to do as we say, and ruling over them as gods.
He’d have had to immediately summon one of Lemayle’s second-highest
authorities—a Malekh, El Olam’s archangels—to deal with me. And it wouldn’t
have been pleasant. The Malekh don’t like jokes. Most of them, anyway.
“Well that is a relief.” The Advokat’s hand slides from the back of his
neck to clutch his chest, steadying the phantom sensation of a palpitating
heart.
And I grin, even though I shouldn’t. But what’s the fun in seniority if
you can’t mess with the rookies?
“We need as many Firns as we can get,” he admits, “events accelerating
as they are.” I perk up at that. Accelerating events is much more my
speed—though it gives me less time to meet the final criteria for joining the
Firns’ ranks. “The living souls need all the protection we can give them,” he
finishes.
I couldn’t agree more. And that’s where I come in—where all the Firns stand
and serve El Olam. Without Firns to guide living souls and protect them from
temptation and harm, Narn would flip the script. And humans would walk
right into their own slavery.
But El Olam won’t allow it.
So neither will I. I’m so close now. Just one step left, and if I
impress the Malekh and El Olam enough in my next job as a soul collector, then
I’ll become a Firn, and one day I’ll be even more than that. If I perform well
enough, I’ll be chosen as the Firn who oversees El Olam’s plan to defeat Narn
once and for all. It has to be one of us, so it might as well be me. And I
won’t stop until I see it happen.
Meanwhile, the Advokat extends his hand to me. “Best of luck to you. I
hope you make the cut.”
I glance at his hand and back up to him. So he really hasn’t
heard of me, then. I may not be a Firn yet, but I have made a name for
myself as the one to watch for earning the coveted position in El Olam’s plan.
Well, if he hasn’t heard of me yet, he will soon enough.
“Thanks.” With a smirk, I grip his hand and shake it firmly enough to
knock him off balance. “But I really don’t need luck.”

 

KristaLyn A. Vetovich is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms & Conditions:
  • By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old
  • One winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter
  • This giveaway ends midnight May 31
  • Winner will be contacted via email on May 31
  • Winner has 48 hours to reply
Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

KristaLyn is the internationally published author of seven books and one short story, including the upcoming Prelude of the Reyn Gayst series releasing in 2018 from Glass House Press. She graduated in 2011 from
Susquehanna University with a degree in English Literature and began traditionally publishing her novels the next year. KristaLyn is also acertified health and life coach and enjoys infusing her stories with motivational themes and characters from all walks of life.

KristaLyn lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their corgi, Jack.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

 

 

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First Chapter Reveal: Survivors’ Dawn by Ashley Warren

 

 

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

BOOK BLURB:

A heroic story of three college women’s fight for justice

At first glance, Brooke Flanagan, Lauren Le, and Nikki Towers have little in common: a churchgoing virgin, a party girl, and a resident advisor. But they all have their own dreams, dreams that can be shattered in a single night.

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 1

 

At nine o’clock on a Saturday evening in September, Colin Jordan, a senior, sat at an outdoor table at Jolene’s, a sandwich place in the Triangle. A popular pedestrian plaza, the Triangle was lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. The open-air center was paved with brick and dotted with mature trees. As Colin ate a Rueben with chips and sipped a Diet Coke, he thought through his evening plans. He would have opted for an IPA, but he needed to keep his mind sharp.

Colin believed, due largely to the brilliant example his father provided, that life’s endeavors could and should be assessed in terms of investment and return; for example, Colin had invested several hundred hours to raise his LSAT score. As a result, on his second attempt his score climbed from 170 to 176, an improvement that assured his acceptance into an Ivy League school instead of one of the second-tier programs. This differentiation in pedigree would afford him a valuable advantage for the rest of his life, so the investment in preparing for the test, while painful to endure, yielded an attractive return.

Investment and return. Colin had applied the paradigm successfully in many areas of his life: sports (basketball and boxing), Greek society, and what he considered a uniquely laudable achievement: his efficient approach to sexual gratification.

Colin realized that in terms of opportunity he was living in an enchanted age created by the combination of promiscuity (supercharged by social media) and the propensity of newly liberated young people to consume excessive amounts of alcohol.

But here again, investment and return played a role; after considerable thought Colin had developed a framework for partitioning his sexual partners into three distinct categories.

The first category, casual hookups, required almost no investment; they satisfied his physical need but provided little intrinsic reward.

The second category, which Colin had dubbed “this evening’s entertainment,” required an investment of several hours to find and compel a girl (by needs both promiscuous and intoxicated) to return with him to his condo. This last step, no matter how inebriated the girl, sometimes required an extra nudge. Colin found that the more investment required to secure these conquests, the greater his return in terms of psychological satisfaction.

But the third category offered the greatest prize. Colin first had to find the right candidate, in and of itself a challenge, for the girl had to be exquisitely beautiful and innocent. Once he had identified his quarry, Colin was prepared to invest considerable time and ingenuity in her seduction, and to that point in his life, he knew of no greater joy than the moment of consummation. To date Colin had succeeded in the third category only twice.

Nevertheless, to achieve an acceptable return he had to closely manage how much time he invested on each girl, and this discipline demanded that Colin, on occasion, take shortcuts. He knew lesser elements of society would view these shortcuts with a skeptical eye. He did not share their view. The girls would without question acquiesce to their natural instincts and his desires, given sufficient time.

But still, there was an aspect of the enterprise that felt like stealing, like pocketing a candy bar in a convenience store, and the mere recollection of that sensation made his heart beat faster.

In between bites of the sandwich Colin watched girls stroll past, mostly in groups. He mentally catalogued his prospects: queen bees, athletes, sorority sisters, free spirits, and the party girls. The girls dressed to attract attention, with low necklines stretched tight across breasts, or short, tight skirts. Some wore skinny jeans with manufactured tears in the fabric. Many wore high heels.

Some of the girls had pre-gamed to manage their budget for the evening. They talked constantly as they walked, excited to be young and embarking on an evening of possibility.

He searched for a particular type of girl, someone who might be persuaded by his looks, stature, and generosity. He sought a girl who fit his second category, for he had the full evening to invest; but he absolutely had to have his desire fulfilled that night and would settle, if compelled, for a casual hookup.

One girl walked on the edge of a group of seven, tall, with high heels. She had big hips and wore a tight black skirt with a fuchsia top. What was that? She had a round face and black hair, distinctly Asian. She had a sexy walk, not fake sexy like the girls who learned everything from the Internet, but naturally sexy, like an animal in search of a mate.

He checked his watch. Nine fifteen. How long would they stay in the Triangle? Four or five hours. They’d have dinner at the Italian place or the gourmet burger spot, a trendy restaurant that wasn’t expensive. They would split the check. After dinner they would try one of the bars in the Triangle, buy a cocktail, and hope to find boys who would treat them to more drinks.

He spied a second group of girls with potential and found three of them exciting. One in particular wore a top with navy and white stripes. She, too, walked with a sexy sway. As Colin watched her, his penis grew semi-erect.

“How was the sandwich?” asked his waitress.

He hadn’t noticed her approach. She wore a black skirt and a white collared button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled past her thin wrists.

“Excellent. The sauce and sauerkraut were just as you described…awesome. Great recommendation. Thank you.”

She smiled, which illuminated her eyes, brown eyes so big he could stare at them for minutes at a time.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” she said.

What a peculiar question. Yes, oh yes. There was something else. He imagined her wearing a black spaghetti-strap top and nothing else. She faced away from him, bent over, her hands on a table. She was skinny, with bony hips. He loved that, too.

“No, thanks. Just the check when you get a chance.”

He left a 30 percent tip. He always left a big tip, because hardworking people like the waitress deserved to earn a living wage.

Colin was perfectly sober. He would spend two hours studying at the library before returning to the Triangle.

 

* * *

 

At eleven thirty Lauren Le stood with her new friends at the Homestead, a lively bar in the Triangle. Everyone talked at once, shouting to be heard above the music. The Homestead had space for a couple hundred people, with a large square bar in the middle, dozens of stand-up tables, and two dance floors. The constant beat and the bass notes coursed through Lauren’s veins.

She took a slug of the vodka soda.

Pace yourself, Lauren.

It had taken her a month to get comfortable on campus. She had grown up in Irving, Texas, outside of Dallas, and had never traveled this far to the east before starting school here. Some of her high school friends had gone to college, but none as far away as Lauren. They fell short when it came to grades and test scores and ambition.

Lauren was the result of a short-lived and reckless affair between a Vietnamese immigrant, Kim Le, who worked in a nail salon, and a tall Texan who lit out for the oil rigs as soon as Kim missed her first period. Kim had never heard from him again, and she seldom mentioned him to Lauren. As Lauren grew older she became curious and would sometimes ask about her father.

“I was stupid,” Kim had said. “I tried for a big dream with a big white man. But he was no good.”

When Lauren pressed for more information, Kim would grow adamant.

“You forget about him. You need to study.”

If Kim wasn’t working at the salon, a short distance from their apartment, she was doing piecework for a local tailor. Kim never paid Lauren an allowance, but she let her work a part-time job so long as she kept her grades near perfect.

With a tired mother and an absent father, Lauren was forced to learn how to have a good time on her own, and at that she had excelled. As a senior with a full figure, a fun nature—her hobbies were cosplay, online gaming, and organizing flash mobs—and a curious mind about partying and sex, Lauren had always attracted guys.

She had drunk one cocktail at the Italian restaurant and started with a shot of tequila at the Homestead. When they had first arrived, the girls danced as a group for nearly an hour, not allowing the dearth of boys to deter them from getting the party started.

Lauren took a break, her head buzzing slightly from the alcohol and the dancing. Cool air from the duct above her whisked away the perspiration.

God, college is fun.

The bar began to fill, and boys drifted by their group in ones and twos. A sophomore from New Jersey bought her another drink. He was her height, with red hair, and talked fast in a northern accent. He was almost cute, except for a big pimple and his lack of coordination. They tried dancing but couldn’t make it work. Afterward, he told her his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Snore.

Lauren spied one of the resident advisors from Roxbury Hall, Nikki Towers, watching her from the other side of the bar. The girls had approached Nikki when they first entered the Homestead, nervous because they had used fake IDs to get past the bouncer. They needn’t have worried. Nikki’s nickname was Cool RA. She had a reputation for doing her own thing in her own way and never traveling in a crowd. Cool RA had wished them a good time but advised them not to get wasted. (“I’m your RA, not your babysitter.”) Nevertheless, when Lauren caught Nikki’s eye, she could tell Cool RA was not impressed with the New Jersey kid.

“So…,” he said, “do you want to come over to the frat house and listen to music? I’ve got some killer weed.”

“Oh…well…like…”

His eyes were glazed and his shoulders swayed, like a five-year-old on a bicycle. Lauren wasn’t a fan of just-met sex. If he had been gorgeous, like Liam Hemsworth, then maybe. Wait, maybe? Not maybe. Definitely! But she would not have sex with New Jersey, at least not tonight. “You know, I’m gonna hang with my friends a while longer. Thanks, though.”

“Not a problem. Catch you later.”

He leaned toward her as if expecting something. She hesitated, unsure, and then offered to shake hands. He only got about ten steps before he stopped to chat up another girl.

“What did he want?” said Caitlyn, her roommate. Caitlyn’s face turned sour as Lauren told her of the invite to smoke pot. “Eewww! That guy?”

They laughed. Lauren was light as a feather. She could party all night.

 

* * *

 

Nikki Towers sat at the bar and sipped her second glass of Sauvignon Blanc, wanting to make it last. She’d budgeted only three drinks, and the buzz from the one-hitter she’d smoked on the way over had dissipated. She would have liked to drink more, but she couldn’t afford the hangover.

She watched the girls from Roxbury Hall, laughing, talking fast, and dancing. Boys started to arrive and wandered through the bar searching for girls they knew, or new girls to meet. One of them tried to buy Nikki a drink. She politely declined and then ignored him until he vacated the stool at her side. She hadn’t come to the Homestead to find a boyfriend. Sure, she liked the feel of the wooden bar, sanded smooth with a semi-gloss finish, and she liked to watch the bartenders, a man and a woman, as they hustled drinks, swiped credit cards, and matched the rhythm of the crowd. But Nikki had primarily come out on the off chance she would stumble into a solid hookup with someone she already knew.

The lingering stress of a long week of classes and countless bullshit RA duties had worn her down. She didn’t want a boyfriend—too many time constraints—but she craved the physical closeness of a naked man, the thrill that lovemaking brought, and the intimate cuddling that came after. Good sex relaxed her. She glanced at her phone. She could try Tinder, but usually the guys were drunk, or less attractive than their profile, or just plain rude. And sex with a stranger carried certain risks. Much better to go with someone she knew.

She looked back at the Roxbury group. Lauren Le, the girl in the pink top, laughed and tipped her glass back. They all had to learn their own way, to suffer through some hangovers before figuring out their style. Most of the freshmen went through the same pattern, but not Nikki. She had arrived at college fully mature, her hard partying days behind her, her virginity surrendered in a neighbor’s basement in tenth grade.

Nikki was self-aware, a solid B student with a high street IQ, the daughter of a successful interracial couple in St. Louis. Her father had begun his career as a plumber in the western suburbs but soon started a plumbing supply company, which he grew rapidly until it earned a major share of the market in four states. He’d eventually sold out to a conglomerate for over a hundred million dollars, which meant they were rich, but that didn’t stop him from insisting that Nikki get a part-time job at school, hence the RA gig. He said it would build leadership qualities. Right.

Her mother, unquestionably the life of the party, was a white blues singer who sang with several local bands around St. Louis. She had met Nikki’s father through a drummer she performed with on occasion.

Neither of her parents had allowed the business windfall to change how they lived: her father worked for the conglomerate as a regional manager, and her mother sang three nights a week. They both seemed solidly comfortable with their lives, which made Nikki a bit nervous, because she had no idea what she wanted to do.

Eventually, she had chosen economics because she liked the courses, particularly the macro stuff, but the major provided no easy career choices. Some econ grads became bankers. Others became baristas. She still had a year to work it out, but uncertainty bothered Nikki. She liked to have a plan.

 

* * *

 

Colin logged a couple of hours at the library and then briefly stopped by his condo to freshen up. After that, he tried Raven’s Way, a popular bar in the Triangle. It was almost midnight, and the energy of the crowd had begun to climb. Students crammed the dance floor, enticed by the pop music. They moved constantly, as if they were a single many-limbed entity.

Colin scanned the bar and spotted the girl in the navy and white top. The stripes ran horizontally, about two inches thick. The sleeves were three-quarter length and carried the stripes with them. Tight brunette curls sprang from her head and ended before they touched her shoulders. She stood at a cocktail table with two other girls and talked in an animated fashion, her arms moving constantly. He walked straight to her.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He stood erect with his shoulders back, wearing an open-collared white shirt and designer jeans. He looked right at her, his gaze unwavering, not acknowledging the other women, his attention reserved solely for her.

Navy stood dumbstruck, her eyes wide, unblinking, and took a moment to scan his upper body, strong neck, and face. “Uh…sure.”

From that point, the action unfolded as he expected. He helped her decide what to drink and then extended the offer to the other women. They declined, perhaps hesitant to interfere with Navy’s good fortune. He went to the bar for the drinks, giving the girls some time to confer, and by the time he returned the other two had gone to dance.

It was obvious to Colin when they introduced themselves that she didn’t recognize his name. No matter. He’d work that into the conversation at the right time.

She was too sober. He’d suspected as much when they first spoke, so he had asked the bartender for a double Manhattan. She nibbled on the cherry and took a big sip. Another couple of those and she’d be ready.

He asked about her intended major. Education. He inquired about her other interests. Movies. Politics. He laughed at the right moments and touched her elbow where the navy met the white. She hoped to study abroad her junior year.

“What country?” he said.

“Italy.”

“A beautiful place. I once sat on a balcony in Sorrento overlooking the Gulf of Naples; no place on earth should be so beautiful. I couldn’t speak.”

“Sorrento.”

“Have you been?”

“No…never.”

“You’ll love it. Like another drink?”

“Um.” She looked at her glass, which had less than half an inch left. “Sure.”

He hustled to the bar again, but by the time he returned, her friends were back from the dance floor. Both of them, the tall one and the blond girl in glasses, were texting madly.

“We’re thinking of going to a party at Holcombe,” said Navy.

“It’s supposed to be a rager,” said the tall girl.

“You could join us,” said Navy, her face lifted toward him, her lips slightly parted.

The tall one raised her eyebrows, still texting; the blonde studied Colin closely, as if trying to figure something out.

Colin said, “I’m not into freshman dorm parties.” He glanced at the blonde; she listened closely. “But you could stay here. We’ll talk more about Italy, have another drink, and then I’ll drive you back to the dorm.”

Navy considered his proposal, leaning toward acceptance, her face framed by impossible curls, so cute, but then the chick in glasses touched her elbow.

“You need to stick with us,” she said. “That was the plan, remember? You two exchange digits and meet for coffee sometime.”

After they left, Colin trolled the bar but found no other prospects, so he went to the Homestead.

 

* * *

 

He gave his eyes a minute to adjust to the darkness. It was nearing one o’clock, and the crowd had begun to crest, both of the dance floors jammed with sweating bodies. Tropical house music bumped from the speakers. He spotted Nikki Towers sitting alone at the bar; it was the first time he’d seen her all year.

He had slept with Nikki four or five times, the first when she was a freshman, but Nikki was no rookie in the bedroom, not even then, her talents honed before she arrived at the university. He considered her a near equal in that regard.

His fingers had thrilled to skim her light brown skin, the surface unblemished. Her figure enhanced her beauty even further; the top of her head came to his chin, and her arms and legs were strong from yoga, her breasts and ass firm.

She came from wealth, not big money like him, but enough to live well; however, at the insistence of her father she drove a mid-size Nissan SUV and worked as an RA at Roxbury Hall. Colin had asked his own father about the plumbing company her family had owned. Francis had heard of it, said they’d tried to get in but had been priced out of the deal.

“Yo, stranger,” she said as he came to her side. He kissed her on the lips and slipped his hand to her back, strong, as always. In addition to yoga, Nikki favored the odd sports: mountain biking, rock climbing, and snowboarding.

“You look great,” he said.

“Thanks.”

He ordered a light beer for himself, pacing his consumption, and another wine for Nikki. They talked a while about nothing much: the forthcoming elections, their summers, and their respective plans for the year. Between sentences he searched the room.

“Here to check out the newbies?” she said.

He gave her a you-caught-me-in-the-act smile. “Well, you know, it’s my last year.”

“Okay, but if you crash and burn, I’ll be here a while longer. We could go to your place and…listen to jazz.”

Nikki would be a hell of a consolation prize; it was tempting. He recalled the lighter color of her breasts, which contrasted with her tanned arms and shoulders. But he had principles, objectives, and he hadn’t given the night enough of a chance, so he kissed Nikki again and then toured the room. That’s when he met Lauren Le. She was alone at a stand-up table.

The black skirt looked even better up close, pulled tight across her gorgeous ass, and the fuchsia top glowed in the black light. Her face—framed with fine black hair, her lips full and her skin like porcelain—made his heart jump.

He used the same approach as with Navy, and it worked just as well, only Lauren had had more to drink. She talked loudly, laughed a lot, and soon asked if he wanted to dance.

She came alive on the dance floor, whipping her hair and twisting her hips and shoulders. He watched from all angles as she spun around. She used the crowded floor as an excuse to dance close, and flashed him a smile whenever their bodies came into contact. They danced enough to perspire, a thin film appearing on her upper lip that he found exciting.

Back at the table, she finished her drink and asked if he could get some water. As he returned from the bar he saw her texting. Her fingers flew until he reached her side.

He ran through his standard questions about academics, hobbies, and dreams. He asked about her home, and she lamented the boredom of Irving, Texas. Many of her friends had remained in the Dallas area to attend local schools or work in retail or construction. When he mentioned his summer internship in London, her eyes grew big.

He was about to suggest another drink when two of her friends returned with two boys in tow, guys they knew. The boys had offered to walk them back to Roxbury Hall, and they were ready to leave.

“I thought we could have a nightcap,” said Colin. “I can drive you to Roxbury after.”

Her words came more slowly now, enunciated with great care. She pulled him to one side and leaned softly against him, holding his arm.

“Just so we’re clear,” she said, “I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”

“Of course not.”

“You know…maybe someday, but not tonight.”

She turned back to her friends and announced that she already had a ride. The three girls huddled in a tight circle. Colin asked the boys where they were from and smiled politely at their answers, his ear tuned to the women. They giggled. Lauren said, “No,” and one of the others said, “Whatever.” And then they were gone, leaving Colin with Lauren.

The Homestead crowd had thinned considerably although a few stubborn dancers remained on the floor. Colin and Lauren moved to the bar itself, taking two stools. Nikki had already left.

Colin ordered Negronis in tall glasses, and Lauren got up to visit the restroom. When she had gone he gulped a third of her drink and then glanced around the room. No one was watching. He took a small flask from his back pocket and poured three ounces of Everclear into Lauren’s drink. The liquid was ninety percent alcohol, the equivalent of four regular cocktails. The strong flavors of Campari and sweet vermouth would disguise the extra booze. Lauren was close to hammered already. It wouldn’t take much to put her over the edge.

On her way back from the restroom he found her even more attractive than when he’d first spotted her six hours earlier. Her hips and breasts hinted of licentious potential. The bartender had turned off the black light so her fuchsia top no longer glowed, but when she arrived at his side and turned into the stool, his breath caught at the sight of her tight skirt.

“Now,” she said, a little too loudly, “where were we?”

 

* * *

 

Colin’s condo wasn’t that big, less than a thousand square feet, but it was more than he needed. He had been content to stay in the frat house, but his mother had lambasted the place on her last visit—called it a roach haven—and insisted he move out his senior year. Over the summer she had overseen the complete remodeling of the condo. They’d torn down the walls to create one large room with an upgraded kitchen (Sub-Zero refrigerator, Wolf range, and green granite countertops), a high-end sound system, classic but comfortable furniture, and a platform bed. They’d expanded the bathroom to create space for a giant walk-in shower and a freestanding tub. Honestly, it was too ostentatious for Colin, and was more his mother’s style, but he had to admit that living alone had its advantages.

Colin sat naked in a plush armchair, temporarily sated, and considered Lauren. She lay nude across the bed, on her side, sleeping, one knee pulled up toward her chest, the other leg almost straight, a sheet draped over her torso. Her hair covered most of her face. Gravity pulled her heavy breasts; one rested on the mattress and the second nestled against its twin.

Colin relished Lauren, admiring her dark-brown nipples. He replayed in his mind everything he’d done to her, the various positions he’d tried. Was he done for the night? He looked at his penis, flaccid now with a light pink tinge.

It was three thirty in the morning. She’d floundered in his car, almost completely out. In the garage, he patted her face to wake her enough to walk in. He’d once had to take a girl to the emergency room, so he knew to watch her carefully.

With experience he’d learned what a girl could take, how to read their subtle noises and the movements they made if they were about to vomit. Lauren’s size helped her process the extra alcohol, and she hadn’t thrown up—much better that way, far less messy.

He liked it best when they were semiconscious, like Lauren, generally not aware of what was happening but still reacting. She had moaned a few times. At one point he could swear she moaned in pleasure.

Lauren had experience with sex. He knew that. He’d had no trouble and, of course, he’d used a condom. He kept a drawer full of condoms.

He was a thief in the night, a modern-day cat burglar pursuing jewels of a different sort, and his nerves burned with the thrill of his success. Few women, he knew, would acquiesce to his wishes after a single conversation. (“Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”) It took time—dinners, movies, concerts—but he always got there. And after a couple of carnal encounters they would urge him to make a commitment. In essence, they wanted him to lie to them, and to what end? If he made any kind of commitment, exclusivity, for example, they would fall in love with him. Soon they’d angle for a longer-term proposal—“Let’s go public”—and if he succumbed to that demand, they’d fantasize about him asking the even more preposterous question, “Will you marry me?” It was absurd. He’d endured that torture already, once in high school and twice in college, during his freshman and sophomore years. To make matters worse, the girls suffered when he broke up with them. A long-term commitment? Why did they even want that? It was stupid.

The express route was a better approach for all concerned. Lauren got laid. She may not have realized it at the time, but she still got laid. And he got laid. Fuck, did he ever get laid.

Of course, the mainstream would judge him harshly, but what about his family? What would his mother say? The materially gluttonous Sharon Jordan, a blue-blooded debutante from Northern Virginia, had hit the jackpot when she met Francis. She would avert her eyes and say, “What a mess! Clean up, Colin, and escort this young woman home.” On the other hand, his father, with a knowing smirk, would nod and say, “Enjoy it, Colin. A young man should sow his oats before settling down to make money and build a legacy.”

Colin chuckled. Enjoy it.

 

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First Chapter Reveal: Abuse of Discretion by Pamela Samuels Young

Title: ABUSE OF DISCRETION
Author: Pamela Samuels Young
Publisher: Goldman House Publishing
Pages: 352
Genre: Mystery
BOOK BLURB:

A Kid’s Curiosity … A Parent’s Nightmare

The award-winning author of “Anybody’s Daughter” is back with an addictive courtroom drama that gives readers a shocking look inside the juvenile criminal justice system.

Graylin Alexander is a model fourteen-year-old. When his adolescent curiosity gets the best of him, Graylin finds himself embroiled in a sexting scandal that threatens to ruin his life. Jenny Ungerman, the attorney hired to defend Graylin, is smart, confident and committed. She isn’t thrilled, however, when ex-prosecutor Angela Evans joins Graylin’s defense team. The two women instantly butt heads. Can they put aside their differences long enough to ensure Graylin gets justice?

Unbeknownst to Angela, her boyfriend Dre is wrestling with his own drama. Someone from his past wants him dead. For Dre, his response is simple—kill or be killed.

 

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 

Chapter 1

           Graylin

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Singletary? Why do I have to go to the principal’s office?”

I’m walking side-by-side down the hallway with my second-period teacher. Students are huddled together staring and pointing at us like we’re zoo animals. When a teacher at Marcus Preparatory Academy escorts you to the principal’s office, it’s a big deal. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I’m a good student. I never get in trouble.

Mrs. Singletary won’t answer my questions or even look at me. I hope she knows she’s only making me more nervous.

“Mrs. Singletary, please tell me what’s wrong?”

“Just follow me. You’ll find out in a minute.”

I’m about to ask her another question when it hits me. Something happened to my mama!

My mama has been on and off drugs for as long as I can remember. I haven’t seen her in months and I don’t even know where she lives. No one does. I act like it doesn’t bother me, but it does. I’ve prayed to God a million times to get her off drugs. Even though my granny says God answers prayers, He hasn’t answered mine, so I stopped asking.

I jump in front of my teacher, forcing her to stop. “Was there a death in my family, Mrs. Singletary? Did something happen to my mama?”

“No, there wasn’t a death.”

She swerves around me and keeps going. I have to take giant steps to keep up with her.

Once we’re inside the main office, Mrs. Singletary points at a wooden chair outside Principal Keller’s office. “Have a seat and don’t move.”

She goes into the principal’s office and closes the door. My head begins to throb like somebody’s banging on it from the inside. I close my eyes and try to calm down. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s probably just—Oh snap! The picture!

I slide down in the chair and pull my iPhone from my right pocket. My hands are trembling so bad I have to concentrate to keep from dropping it. I open the photos app and delete the last picture on my camera roll. If anyone saw that picture, I’d be screwed.

Loud voices seep through the closed door. I lean forward, straining to hear. It almost sounds like Mrs. Singletary and Principal Keller are arguing.

 

“It’s only an allegation. We don’t even know if it’s true.”

“I don’t care. We have to follow protocol.”

“Can’t you at least check his phone first?”

“I’m not putting myself in the middle of this mess. I’ve already made the call.”

 

The call? I can’t believe Principal Keller called my dad without even giving me a chance to defend myself. How’d she even find out about the picture?  

The door swings open and I almost jump out of my skin. The principal crooks her finger at me. “Come in here, son.”

Trudging into her office, I sit down on a red cloth chair that’s way more comfortable than the hard one outside. My heart is beating so fast it feels like it might jump out of my chest.

The only time I’ve ever been in Principal Keller’s office was the day my dad enrolled me in school. Mrs. Singletary is standing in front of the principal’s desk with her arms folded. I hope she’s going to stay here with me, but a second later, she walks out and closes the door.

Principal Keller sits on the edge of her desk, looking down at me. “Graylin, do you have any inappropriate pictures on your cell phone?”

“Huh?” I try to keep a straight face. “No, ma’am.”

“It’s been brought to my attention that you have an inappropriate picture—a naked picture—of Kennedy Carlyle on your phone. Is that true?”

“No…uh…No, ma’am.” Thank God I deleted it!

“This is a very serious matter, young man. So, I need you to tell me the truth.”

“No, ma’am.” I shake my head so hard my cheeks vibrate. “I don’t have anything like that on my phone.”

“I pray to God you’re telling me the truth.”

I don’t want to ask this next question, but I have to know. “Um, so you called my dad?”

“Yes, I did. He’s on his way down here now.”

I hug myself and start rocking back and forth. Even though I deleted the picture, my dad is still going to kill me for having to leave work in the middle of the day.

“I also made another call.”

At first I’m confused. Then I realize Mrs. Keller must’ve called my granny too. At least she’ll keep my dad from going ballistic.

“So you called my granny?”

“No.” The principal’s cheeks puff up like she’s about to blow something away. “I called the police.”

 

About the Author

Pamela Samuels Young has always abided by the philosophy that you create the change you want to see. She set giant-sized goals and used her talent, tenacity and positive outlook to accomplish them. Pamela consequently achieved success in both the corporate arena and literary world simultaneously.

An author, attorney and motivational speaker, Pamela spent fifteen years as Managing Counsel for Toyota, specializing in labor and employment law. While still practicing law, Pamela began moonlighting as a mystery writer because of the absence of women and people of color depicted in the legal thrillers she read. She is now an award-winning author of multiple legal thrillers, including Anybody’s Daughter, which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Fiction, and her new release, Abuse of Discretion, a shocking look at the juvenile justice system in the context of a troubling teen sexting case.

Prior to her legal career, spent several years as a television news writer and associate producer. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC and earned a master’s degree in broadcasting from Northwestern University and a law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. She is a frequent speaker on the topics of teen sexting, child sex trafficking, self-empowerment and fiction writing.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

 

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Interview with Nadia Natali, author of Stairway to Paradise

Nadia Natali, author of the memoir, Stairway to Paradise: Growing Up Gershwin, published by Rare Bird, Los Angeles, 2015, and The Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from a Zen Retreat Center published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA, 2008, is currently working on a second cookbook titled Zafu Kitchen Cookbook. 

Natali, a clinical psychotherapist and dance therapist, specializes in trauma release through somatic work. She earned a master’s degree from Hunter College in New York City in Dance/Movement Therapy and completed another masters degree in clinical psychology with an emphasis in somatic psychology at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. Nadia is a registered practitioner of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (RCST) and is also a certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) who trained with Peter Levine.

DanceMedicine Workshops is Natali’s creation where participants move through their trauma with dialogue and dance. She also offers the Ojai community, DanceMedicine Journeys. In addition to her private practice, Nadia and her husband offer Zen Retreats at their center.

Born into a famous family that was riddled with dysfunction, Nadia Natali made the choice to turn her life inside out and step away from fame and fortune. Against her parents’ consent she married an artist and moved to the remote wilderness in California. It was there that she found grounding as she and her husband raised and homeschooled their three children and opened a retreat center. As she gathered her own momentum, she enrolled in a doctorate program finally becoming a clinical psychotherapist specializing in psychosomatic work. She and her husband live in Ojai California.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

What made you decide to become a published author?

I know I had to write a book about my unusual background and story. It was a dear friend who suggested I write a memoir and with her encouragement I decided to go ahead and jump in.

Would you consider your latest book, Stairway to Paradise: Growing Up Gershwin, to be a one of a kind?  How so?

Stairway to paradise: growing up Gershwin, is a memoir and like all memoirs it tells a particular story. But what is significant are the layers of truths that unfold in myself, as well as the work I developed from that journey, revealing how I developed a way to help others.

Where is your writing sanctuary?

I write at my desk near the kitchen (I love to cook) and my home is in the wilderness, off the grid where I have lived for 37 years.

What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?

Do not assume you will get much help publicizing your work. It is a grueling task that needs to be addressed all the time.

What inspires you?

What inspires me is finding my truth, my voice and authenticity. My memoir is all about that and it is an ongoing journey.

What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?

This is the second book I‘ve had published by two different publishers and

I have learned not to depend on them for much publicizing.

You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book.  What’s the first ingredient?

Something outrageous and yet universal.

What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?

I come from a family of great genius, fame and money and that doesn’t make for happiness.

Did any real life experiences find their way into your book?

Since it is a memoir, it is all about my real life experiences.

Aside from writing, what’s your passion?

I love to cook and have written and published a cookbook, blue heron cookbook: recipes and stories from a zen retreat center. I love animals and I love to help others.

What’s next for you?

I am writing another cookbook that is primarily gluten and diary free, also I’m thinking of doing a book about my work I call, DanceMedicine, a way to reduce trauma in the nervous system in a non-threatening way.

 

 

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Author Interview: Fantasy/Adventure/Romance Author J.F. Cain

J.F. Cain is a writer with a restless mind who spent years of her life reading and traveling. But of all the places she has been to, her favorite is a house in the mountains where she can focus on her writing. She is a seeker of knowledge who transcribes the results of her studies in her books. Her favorite pastime –other than reading and writing- is scouring libraries. However, she has lately convinced herself that she enjoys shopping just as much, as well as spending time with family and friends –the few that can still tolerate her frequent and extended periods of absence.

Her latest book is War Eternal: Angels’ Whispers.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK

About the Book:

 

Alex Meyers, a dynamic, global entrepreneur, has an advantage that no other human has ever had: he is protected by Aranes, the Superior of the Angels. While he is skiing, he dies in an avalanche, but his all-powerful protector breaks one of the ethereal world’s most important Rules and brings him back to life. Alex falls head over heels in love with the beautiful Angel, who appears to him in human form. But she disappears just as suddenly as she had appeared.

While he searches for Aranes, Alex discovers her true identity and that he actually might be the high-ranking Celestial Abaddon, who is mentioned in the Revelations prophecy as the one who will defeat Lucifer.

The man who fate has thrust among the world’s superpowers is now living a nightmare. He wants to evade Lucifer’s pursuit, find out who he truly is and once again see the only being he has ever loved. And the only way to do it is to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Angels’ Whispers is the beginning of an epic tale set in modern times. The eternal war between Light and Darkness is at a critical turning point: Angels and Demons, invisible to mortal beings, battle for dominance in the physical world, while Guardians, Vampires and Werewolves, who live among the humans, find themselves on opposing sides in a deadly power game.

Thanks for the interview, J.F. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for the War Eternal series?

J.F.: The image of a female Angel had been stuck in my mind for many months and a story spontaneously began to be woven around her. One evening, totally out of the blue, I decided to write this story. I felt the need to share my personal conclusions from the research I had been doing over many years on various scientific subjects. And the ‘eternal war’ that exists between opposing forces on every plane, from the quantum to the philosophical, was the best context in which I could tell my story. Having read the works of classical and modern writers who have delved into the subject, I now knew how to express my views both allegorically and realistically. But I tried to convey the primordial myth of the search for self-knowledge and cosmic truths in a more attractive way. The views presented in my story are unconventional and are often expressed through symbols and allegories – in myths, the truth always remains hidden. Of course, I do not fail to highlight the predominant role of love and passion, which together transcend space and time and even unite opposites – the human and the transcendent, good and evil – as their common denominator.

I’d like to learn more about Alex Meyers. Can you tell us a little about him?

J.F.: Alexander Meyers is a handsome, intelligent and tough businessman who wants to revolutionize the energy industry. His aim to save the Earth from the coming ecological destruction is the main reason why the Superior of the Angels supports his efforts. Alex is a skeptic with an analytical mind and is very knowledgeable. Because he is a rationalist, he struggles to accept that there’s a chance he is an incarnated Celestial whose mission it is to rid humanity of Lucifer’s dominance. Yet, despite being a charismatic individual, he has some serious shortcomings. The most important is his inability to feel an emotional connection with any woman. He finally finds love when he meets the Superior of the Angels – that is, he finds love, but not happiness. Because of this love, he will be forced to transcend his personal limits, both biological and ideological. Whether he will be able to stop doubting and finally accept that he may just be something more than an ordinary man remains to be seen.

Can you tell us a little about the other characters?

JF: In every epic tale, there are a great number of characters. In my story, there are humans and terrestrial supernaturals, as well as hyperdimensional entities that are active in different worlds. Each character has their own role in this multifaceted story. Some strive to break the bonds of the power holding them hostage – primarily spiritually – so that they can achieve their goals. By taking this step towards freedom, they achieve self-knowledge and also the knowledge of the purpose of their existence. Their weapon in this fight for freedom is doubt, which helps them to grow spiritually and consequently to gain freedom. Of course, there are also those characters that are unable to escape from their confining world theory. They will inevitably fall prey to the power of those who will bring about the changes we will see in the story.

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point where the reader can’t put the book down. Can you give us one of those pivotal points in War Eternal: Angels’ Whispers?

J.F.: The pivotal point is when the Superior of the Angels saves our main hero, which sparks a series of critical developments. Of course, there are also other points in the story and an important one at the end, which serves as a prelude to the second book.

What’s next for you, J.F.?

J.F.: The second book will be released in April 2018. There will be more action, earth-shattering revelations and unexpected twists that will propel the story to a new plane for readers.

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First Chapter Reveal: A Wanted Man by Robert Parker

A Wanted Man

Title: A WANTED MAN
Author: Robert Parker
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Pages: 307
Genre: Crime Thriller

It’s down to fathers and fatherhood.

Ben Bracken, ex-soldier, has just got out of Strangeways.

Not by the front door.

With him, he has his ‘insurance policy’ – a bag of evidence that will guarantee his freedom, provided he can keep it safe – and he has money, carefully looked after by a friend, Jack Brooker.

Rejected by the army, disowned by his father, and any hopes of parenthood long since shattered, Ben has no anchors in his life.

No one to keep him steady.

No one to stop his cause…

The plan: to wreak justice on the man who had put him in prison in the first place.

Terry ‘The Turn-Up’ Masters, a nasty piece of work, whose crime organisation is based in London.

But before Ben can get started on his mission, another matter is brought to his attention: Jack’s father has been murdered and he will not rest until the killers are found.

Suddenly, Ben finds himself drawn in to helping Jack in his quest for revenge.

In the process, he descends into the fold of Manchester’s most notorious crime organisation – the Berg – the very people he wants to bring down…

This action-packed and fast-paced story will keep you turning the pages. Manchester is vividly portrayed as Ben races around the city seeking vengeance.

ORDER YOUR COPY:

Amazon

Chapter One:

My two years in prison ended just how they started – with a stabbing. As soon as Craggs drove the makeshift dagger into Quince’s belly and the recreation room filled with prison staff waving batons, I was moving. I knew they would arrive quickly, and I knew that the door would swing shut just slowly enough for me to slip through. The place erupted in noise and violence, but I didn’t look back. I haven’t done since.

Now, I am running. I can feel my mind bathing in the electric warmth of adrenaline. People are looking at me from a bus waiting at the traffic lights and I try to rein in my stride just a touch. If only they knew what I knew, they might understand why I can’t adopt a more leisurely pace. I need to keep moving.

Hello, Manchester, it’s me, Ben Bracken. I am back. It’s nice to see you, my adopted home town. I’m just sorry it’s under circumstances like these.

I’m arrowing right into the heart of the city, right into the bustling centre, with the sole intention of hiding in the urban congestion. I’m familiar with the city, its quirks, crevices and people, and I know just what to do when I get in there.

The suit I wear, a gigantic, ill-fitting grey coverall of stinking, sweat-soaked canvas, was the chief warden’s only moments earlier. As is the shirt, which will soon be dripping with both our sweat, at this rate. I took both from him as I left the prison – I couldn’t very well come out in my prison issues – and left him there on the steps of the prison in his underpants. He is such a nasty, vile shit of a man. He absolutely deserves it.

He shouldn’t be bothering me for a while, which is thanks in full to the contents of the only item I carry, hanging off my shoulder: a tattered green duffel bag. I can scarcely believe what is inside, but as insurance policies go, this one is ironclad. And I know that as long as it is safe, I am safe with it.

I cross the road and head north towards the Printworks, an entertainment oasis from where I can easily head to my destination, the Northern Quarter. But first, I need to make a call. And the Printworks has a bank of payphones.

It is mid-afternoon, just about 3:45, I think. Thursday. Cold, late October. The city has that quiet afternoon throb about it. The long-lunchers have all gone back to work

by now, hiding boozy excesses on their breath with too much gum, and the early leavers haven’t quite summoned the courage to sneak for the door just yet.

It feels so good to walk on these streets again, for so many reasons. It is a surrogate home now, and after all the travelling it’s still one of the only places on earth where I feel comfortable. I was sent overseas as a soldier, one of Her Majesty’s loyal hounds, setting right the wrongs others had perpetrated against human rights and democracy. A ten-year career mainly stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan saw me reach captain. I was the pride and joy of my family, the ‘Toast of Rawmarsh’ they used to call me back in my home village in Yorkshire. Such memories become more vague all the time. Then I had to make a very difficult choice, which was my undoing. I was cast out, ripped of my purpose, medals and duty, viewed as scum by my peers, dishonourably discharged and sent home in disgrace – and hated by the society I gave everything to protect.

That same society changed a lot in the decade I was away fighting for it, and now I barely recognise it. It now strikes me as an ideal dining out on its rich history. Yet somehow my sense of duty remains. I can’t help it. I don’t believe in My Great Britain anymore, nor even trust it to do the right thing for the people on her shores… But it’s like we were married, Britain and I, long since divorced – yet I’m still inexplicably devoted to my bitch of an ex.

The Printworks is just ahead. I cross the street again, bobbing between the cars, and head in via a side entrance. The Printworks, once the largest printing house in Europe, is now a cavernous converted warehouse, filled with bars, restaurants, cinemas, and a bank of cash machines and payphones. I head straight to the nearest phone and check the pockets of the suit. Two twenty-pence pieces and a ten. Perfect. Thanks, guv’nor. Picking your pocket felt damn good. I know I could call the number reverse charge anyway, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying getting one over on Chief Warden Harry Tawtridge just one last time.

I dial the number I’ve committed to memory for this very moment. Three rings, then the call is answered not with words, but with silence. I know he is there, though. Bob ‘Freckles’ Froeschle got out three weeks before me, although his exit carried Her Majesty’s consent. This moment was rehearsed, and I feel a buzz at putting our prep into practice.

‘The package will be there from midnight tonight, and I’ll cover it with you as agreed,’ I say. ‘Thank you. I am grateful.’

I hang up. Job done. The insurance policy is almost there. The last strand of the escape plan executed to perfection. I am pleasantly surprised. I’m used to responding to instructions ordinarily with violence. Not this time: I’d used my brains and hadn’t laid a finger on anybody myself. I’m inwardly pleased, which is a damn sight better than the bitterness and anger I was stuck with before.

I know I shouldn’t but I find myself popping another coin. I dial again from recollection, having called Kayla’s house countless times when I was on leave. Before prison, before everything changed.

A voice answers, but it is not Kayla, it is a young boy. ‘Hello?’ he says, not a care in the world.

‘Joshua?’ I say.

‘Yeah, who’s that?’ he replies, playing along. I can feel myself ready to bottle it. So much for being ruthless and decisive.

‘Tell your mum it was Uncle B. Tell her, Uncle B sends love to you all, that includes you, Joshua. And tell her I’m going to do my best.’

‘Umm, ok.’
What the hell am I doing?
‘Bye, pal,’ I say, before hanging up. I wish I had more in me to say, but I don’t know

how to say it.
I owe that family so much, more than they will know, but I also know that hearing

from me will hurt. It was a selfish gesture to call, damn it all. But they need to know I’m thinking of them. Of him – of Stephen, the man I killed. Joshua’s father and Kayla’s husband. Because if I forget about them, none of what I broke out to achieve will mean anything.

I leave the booth and crack on with something I’m far more comfortable with.

I see a bar opposite, Waxy O’Connors. An Irish bar. I would bloody love a pint, perhaps a cold pint of Guinness. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in twenty months now – the length of my stay in Strangeways. I could easily pop in for one, and head into the Northern Quarter after, but my remaining thirty pence probably wouldn’t get me much in there save for a bag of pork scratchings, and I’m almost gagging in this filthy suit anyway.

I use the front exit of the Printworks, passing the Big Issue sellers, and head left, up towards the Northern Quarter. Within a couple of moments, I’m running again, inhaling

the cold, grey air that only Manchester ever really seems capable of providing. It’s like an elixir and I gulp it down.

Between a pair of streets I see the entrance to an alleyway that I recognise. Above the mostly garish shop fronts, the second floors of the buildings are still all set perfectly in the 1940s. It gives the Northern Quarter away immediately: Manchester’s little piece of Manhattan. Movie crews come in to shoot period-set New York films here because it’s cheaper, and it’s a nice little corner you can always head to for a warm welcome, a cold beer, and a good atmosphere.

Damn. The beer popping into my head again. I wasn’t expecting to only be out of the nick for twenty minutes and already be thinking about having a beer. But it signified freedom to me when I was inside, and I certainly have that freedom now. I’ll get my chance. Besides, I’m nearly there. Church Street.

The street is very quiet, and a scrappy alley cat slinks along the pavement, pausing to look at me with that look all cats give humans: how’ve you managed to get this far with just one life compared to my nine? It leaves me to it and I walk up to the glass doors of an apartment complex nestled between two businesses. I call up to the fifth-floor flat I have been to only once before.

A female voice answers. ‘Hello?’

‘It’s an old friend. Last time I saw you, you were in your nightclothes,’ I say, keeping an eye on the street.

The intercom is quiet for a moment, presumably while a decision is being made. I hope she recognises either my voice or the occasion I was alluding to. She should do.

‘Please come straight up,’ she says.

The door buzzes open, and I enter and head for the lift. I am not expecting anyone to be looking for me, at least not quite yet, but I don’t want to stay here long. I’m convinced I’ll be ok, and my previous captors will leave me to it, because it is simple: if they reveal I’ve escaped, I break out my insurance plan. The authorities would come crashing down on that prison like a ton of bricks, and the disgraceful, corrupt management of that facility would be dragged into the light. So I would imagine that for all intents and purposes, Ben Bracken is holed up in his cell, patiently living out the remaining fifteen years of his sentence.

Fifteen years – that should be enough time to get more than a few things done.

It’s heartening to know that nobody will be looking for me, but still, taking care keeps you alive. Care means I should keep this visit fairly brief. Especially while I still carry the damn insurance policy under my arm.

The flat’s at the end of the corridor, and the door is ajar. I knock and push it open a touch.

‘Hello?’ I call out.

The door is slowly pulled open, to reveal a beautiful woman staring at me, her eyes filling a little, her hand creeping up to cover her mouth. She has shoulder-length brown hair, eyes wide as side plates and browner than melted chocolate, and I instantly recall the last time I saw her. Bruised, frightened, and in a very bad way. Her name is Freya, and last time I saw her, I saved her life.

‘I stink. I really smell bad,’ I say, holding my hands up, but she is on me before I can say anything else.

‘Ben,’ she whispers, throwing her arms around me. I’d been nervous about what welcome I might receive, but that has been quickly put to bed.

‘I’m sorry for dropping in out of the blue,’ I say, hugging her back. I’m genuinely glad to see her. We both went through a lot that day, and we haven’t seen each other since I sent her scampering down an emergency staircase in her nightie.

‘What the hell are you wearing?’ she asks, wrinkling her nose and smiling.
‘You don’t like it? It’s always a bit hit and miss when you buy suits off the rail.’ She lets me go, and we enter the apartment. It is as nice as I remember – warm wood

floorboards under an open living space, bare brick walls, and vast floor-to-ceiling windows, which overlook the low rooftops unique to this end of town. If I ever were to settle down anywhere, it would be in a place like this.

‘Tell me to get stuffed, or whatever you like, but I wondered if I could trouble you for a change of clothes, fifteen minutes internet access and, if you are feeling especially generous, a shower?’

Freya smiles and dabs at the corner of her eyes with the sleeve of her dark jumper. ‘Of course,’ she replies.
I love seeing her like this – doing well, and safe. Then, I notice a glitter on her hand

that makes me catch my breath.
‘The wedding ring… You and Trev?’
‘Yes,’ she says, looking at the ring. ‘After what happened, we… didn’t see any reason

to wait anymore.’

I find myself beaming. Everything I did, and the reasons I had for doing it, has been justified. I feel new strength – new steel in my resolve. I feel reinvigorated.

‘We wanted to invite you,’ she says softly.

‘Don’t be daft – I can be tough to pin down.’ I smile. ‘I’m thrilled for you both. Were you ok after what happened?’

She sighs, looking pensive, but she retains the slight fundament of a smile.
‘Yeah. It took some time, but we both got there.’
‘That’s great, Freya. I mean that.’ I need to get down to it. I’d love to reminisce but

with any luck there’ll be less pressing times. ‘Freya, I’ve just got out of prison – kind of. I don’t believe that anyone is after me, but I don’t want to put you in a difficult position – and I already have, just by being here. I need to keep moving but I need help, and yourself and Trev are my best bet. I’m afraid I’m not supposed to be out of prison. But I am. And I don’t want it to come back to bite you.’

Freya takes a step towards me and puts a hand on my shoulder. That warmth again.

Trev is a lucky man, but it was nearly so different. Two years ago, he got home late from his IT job to find the apartment ransacked and Freya missing. A nasty piece of work called Keith Sinfield was running a child sex ring from a flat in the biggest high- rise at the other end of the city, and by accident his laptop, from which he conducted the whole operation, ended up in Trev’s possession. Sinfield kidnapped Freya to force the return of the laptop.

Trev called me. Truth be told, when the phone rang I was being sick into a bin at a crummy budget hotel on the other side of town, on the bottom end of a self-pity bender, but I helped get her back. It was a messy one.

‘After what you did for us, we will do anything we can to help.’ She turned me and gave me a little push. ‘Hit the shower, and I’ll get some of Trev’s clothes together. He’ll be home soon after five, so if you can wait that long, please do, he’d love to see you. Bathroom’s second door back there. We owe you our lives, Ben.’

I have spent what feels like a lifetime undertaking grim tasks and never getting a word of gratitude in return. Receiving it now renders me awkward, overwhelmed and grateful.

Freya leaves me to it, and I head for incredible luxury: a real, private shower, in freedom. Such a simple thing, but a signifier of so much. It feels like a new dawn, a symbol: to wash away my previous life, all its mistakes and sadness, and start afresh.

About the Author

Robert Parker

Robert Parker is a new exciting voice, a married father of two, who lives in a village close to Manchester, UK. He has both a law degree and a degree in film and media production, and has worked in numerous employment positions, ranging from solicitor’s agent (essentially a courtroom gun for hire), to a van driver, to a warehouse order picker, to a commercial video director. He currently writes full time, while also making time to encourage new young readers and authors through readings and workshops at local schools and bookstores. In his spare time he adores pretty much all sport, boxing regularly for charity, loves fiction across all mediums, and his glass is always half full.

His latest book is the crime/thriller, A WANTED MAN.

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CIRCUMVENT COVER REVEAL!

Title: CIRCUMVENT
Author: S.K. Derban
Publisher: Touchpoint Press
Genre: Mystery

 

Imagine living in a quaint, beach front cottage on the Hawaiian island of Maui. You have an amazing job, combined with the pleasure of working from home. Lunch breaks become a daily picnic on the sand. Dessert is always included because of your marriage to a famous pastry chef. Life could not be any better. Or so it seems… When French born, Nikki Sabine Moueix travels to Hawaii for a special work assignment, her job of writing an article about a famous Swiss pastry chef generates more than a magazine piece. They fall in love, get married, and Nikki becomes Mrs. Ruggiero Delémont.
When another assignment calls for Nikki to spend three weeks in France, Ruggiero’s schedule prevents him from joining her. She travels alone, advancing straight into danger. After a threatening confrontation, Nikki wakes up in a
French hospital with no knowledge of her past. When she fails to check in, Ruggiero panics and pushes for an immediate investigation. But as he closes in, Nikki’s new found friend moves her to another city. It becomes a game of hide and seek with Nikki as the prize.
CIRCUMVENT allows readers to form a bond with Nikki as they yearn for her to remember. They will cheer for Ruggiero and his relentless determination to locate his beloved wife. This is a story about two people who never lose their faith in God, and find amazing friends to help them along the way.
When the plane leveled at a cruising altitude, Nikki reclined her seat back and reopened her novel. Her seat mate appeared to be napping, and Peter Safin was busy preparing his work area. Nikki’s curiosity flourished when she realized her reclining position provided a clear view of his laptop screen. But, as his fingers danced along the keyboard nothing on the illuminated display made sense. She was reading a combination of letters and numbers that appeared to be some sort of code. Maybe he’s a spy, Nikki amused herself in thought. A Russian spy. No, wait! Her mind raced. Maybe he’s a mole, or even a double agent.
Nikki almost laughed aloud as she refocused on the book within her hands. It was the latest spy novel, written by one of her favorite authors. Maybe I should switch to romance.
Born in the United States, S.K. Derban moved to London within the first three months, and remained in England
until the age of five. Her mother was involved with the London Royal Ballet Company, and a great fan of the arts. Even after returning to the United States, S.K. Derban’s life was filled with a love of the theatre and a passion for British murder mysteries.
Her personal travel and missionary adventures also help to transport readers virtually across the globe. S.K. Derban has smuggled Bibles into China, and has been to Israel on seven missionary trips. When writing, she relies on all aspects of her life, from a strong faith in the Lord, to her unique combination of professional experience. The many personal adventures of S.K. Derban are readily apparent as they shine through into her characters. Circumvent is the third mystery novel for writer S.K. Derban.

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First Chapter Reveal: Night in Jerusalem by Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Title: NIGHT IN JERUSALEM
Author: Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy
Publisher: PKZ Inc.
Pages: 246
Genre: Historical Romance

A bewitching love story that is also an extraordinary portrait of Jerusalem, its faith, spirituality, identity, and kaleidoscope of clashing beliefs, Night in Jerusalem is a novel of mystery, beauty, historical insight, and sexual passion.

David Bennett is invited to Jerusalem in 1967 by his cousin who, to the alarm of his aristocratic British family, has embraced Judaism. He introduces David to his mentor, Reb Eli, a revered sage in the orthodox community. Despite his resistance to religious teaching, David becomes enthralled by the rabbi’s wisdom and compassionate presence. When David discloses a sexual problem, Reb Eli unwittingly sets off a chain of events that transforms his life and the life of the mysterious prostitute, Tamar, who, in a reprise of an ancient biblical story, leads both men to an astonishing realization. As passions rise, the Six Day War erupts, reshaping the lives of everyone caught up in it.

 

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First Chapter:

Hail pounded the windshield of the sherut as it made its way through the night to Jerusalem. The driver pulled to the side of the road, startled. He peered at the windshield. It was fractured, but to his astonishment, still intact.“In twenty years I never see such storm,” he said in his best English.

He lit a cigarette and offered the pack to his passengers. David refused; the three Israelis accepted. Sitting up front, an elderly woman took out oranges, which she peeled, divided, and shared, using her dress to wipe the juice off her hands. The taxi filled with the pungent smell of oranges mixed with cigarette smoke. David cracked open a window.

The storm reminded him of the monsoon in India. Like many of his generation, he had gone there searching for revelation. He had hoped it would let him shake off the feeling of isolation that plagued him wherever he went. His upbringing had given him every comfort that money could buy, except the comfort of belonging in his own skin. At times the loneliness hid long enough to fool him into thinking it was gone, but then, like a familiar ghost, it would find its way back and fill him with despair. After a year of traveling, he had returned to England, only to discover that nothing had changed.

Now, stuck in a taxi on a desolate hilltop outside Jerusalem, enveloped by smoke while waiting out the storm, he regretted leaving Hampshire’s gentle slopes, which were always so green and welcoming, where sometimes after a rain, like a gift from heaven, the sun would come out followed by a sudden rainbow.

He was trying to ignore his reservations about coming to Israel. He wished he had not allowed his cousin to persuade him to come “just for a visit.” Although Jonathan, at twenty-eight, was only a year older, David viewed him as a more mature, elder brother, as well as his best friend. They had grown up together in the south of England in an aristocratic family, enjoying the privileges of great wealth, but subject to the remoteness from society that it can sometimes bring. When Jonathan had left for Israel, David’s loneliness had become unbearable.

After an hour, the storm stopped. The driver told everyone they would need another car to take them to Jerusalem, as he could not see out of his cracked windshield, and that their only option, given the hour, was to hitchhike. The passengers stood at the side of the road for what seemed like an eternity. David was certain he would be there until morning, when an army truck loomed out of the night and juddered to a stop. The driver, a young soldier, helped them aboard, before continuing cautiously down the steep, winding road to Jerusalem.

David was the last passenger to be dropped off. He thanked the soldier for stopping and delivering them safely, surprised by the informality of it all. Just after midnight, standing before a two-story stone building in Abu Tor, with only the moon shimmering through the clouds for illumination, he could just about make out the number of the house. The flat Jonathan had arranged for him was upstairs. He could not find the light and, after blindly climbing the staircase, he felt his way to the top-floor door and fumbled under the mat for the key.

Inside the flat, a lamp had been left on for him, with a note attached to a bottle of wine on a small, wooden table.

Welcome to Jerusalem. See you in the morning, eight o’clock at Cafe Cassis. It’s down the hill to Hebron Road, then right to Rehov (Street) King David, and right again on Rehov Ben-Yehudah. The cafe will be on your right, just a bit further up at the corner. It’s less than a fifteen-minute walk, Jonathan.

P.S. If you want a bath, turn on the red switch outside the loo an hour before. Hope you remembered to bring toilet paper.

The shutters on the windows and doors were closed. The room had a vaulted ceiling and contained a dark, birch armoire that matched the headboard on the double bed. A tufted, deep green armchair was the only other piece of furniture. The room felt as ancient as the city.

Chilled from the storm, David lit the gas heater, then clicked on the red switch for hot water. The bathroom had a commode with a chain flush and a small sink with an even smaller mirror above it. He felt the rough, brown toilet paper sitting on top of the commode and understood why Jonathan had told him to bring a suitcase full. He was grateful there was a deep bathtub with a hand shower.

Restless while waiting for the water to heat, he changed into warmer clothes and decided to take a first look at the city he would live in for the next month.

Outside, the narrow, winding roads of Abu Tor had been soaked by the storm. The stone houses were dark and there were no streetlights. The place seemed uninhabited, with only feral cats out searching for food. Wandering the neighborhood deepened his sense of isolation. He knew nothing of Israel, did not speak the language and, besides Jonathan, knew no one in the country. How could a month here relieve his despair?

Had Jonathan been there to meet him at the flat, he would have felt better, but Jonathan lived near the University of Jerusalem, where he was studying Judaism. Tonight he had gone to a seminar in Haifa and would not be returning until the morning.

David climbed up a steep road, unable to see anything but the stone wall beside him when, suddenly, at the top of the hill, Jerusalem’s Old City revealed itself. The lights peering from stone houses built neatly into its hills shimmered with golden hues against the night. It was, as Jonathan had promised, mysterious and beautiful.

Soaking in a hot bath gave him a restful night until he was awakened at six by a loudspeaker calling the Muslims to prayer, “Allah, Akbar…” Sleepily, he opened the shutters and doors which led onto the roof and there, again, was a panoramic view of Jerusalem. He felt the warmth of the sun as it rose from behind Mount Zion, with no sign of last night’s storm. The clear, blue sky amplified the city’s magnificence. He could see a crescent of cypress trees and, below it, the walled Old City with its minarets and church spires. He looked out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque glittering in the sun. To the far left stood the King David Hotel. He felt a surprising surge of excitement.

He had an hour before meeting Jonathan at Café Cassis and, eager to get a feeling for the city, decided to take a leisurely stroll to the café. By seven o’clock, most of the businesses were open. He passed the King David Hotel and a small cafe where the smell of coffee and freshly-baked pita bread filled the street, already bustling with people, rickety buses, Volkswagens and Mini Minors.

Arriving at the café, he immediately spotted a bearded Jonathan sitting reading the Jerusalem Post. Jonathan jumped up and hugged him.

“Great to see you! I’ve been so looking forward to you being here. I can’t believe you’ve finally shown up. How’s the flat?”

“Fine, the views are spectacular.”

“Well it’s yours for two years, if you like. The chap who owns it is on sabbatical in Argentina. He’d be delighted to get the rent.”

“I’ve committed for a month,” David reminded him, so as to not get Jonathan’s hopes up. “You look very Jewie with that beard. Do you have to have one to study Judaism?”

“Very funny.”

“How are the studies going?”

“Really well, actually. How was your trip to India?”

“A bit challenging. After one of their downpours, my car got stuck in the mud and started sinking. I thought I was going to be swallowed up. I took it as my cue to leave.” David looked at the thick, muddy coffee Jonathan was drinking, “I hope they’ve got more than that to drink.”

“How about a cup of tea?”

“Perfect. Do they serve eggs with sausages?”

“Yes, more or less.”

Jonathan introduced David to Uri, the owner of the café, then, in Hebrew, ordered their breakfast.

“It’s good to see you, Jonathan. I’ve missed you,” David confessed.

“By the way, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the rebbe tomorrow.”

“I know how you feel about him, but frankly, I’m not much interested in meeting him,” David said, as gently as he could, not wanting Jonathan to feel his good intentions were unappreciated.

“David, I’m just asking you to be open-minded. The rebbe has helped so many people. They come from all over the world just to meet him. Why not give him a try? You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Why are you so keen for me to see him? What’s so special about him?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to find out for yourself, but I promise, once you meet him, you will be hungry for more.”

“More of what?”

“You’ll see. He’s helped me enormously,” Jonathan said emphatically.

David sat quietly, absorbing what Jonathan was saying. He felt envious of his enthusiasm and that he had found his place in the world.

“Jonathan, I don’t know if this is …”

Before he could finish, Jonathan interrupted, “Give it a try. There’s no harm in looking into your own heritage.”

“It’s not my heritage. I know absolutely nothing about it. You know how it is at home. All we do is make an appearance at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, when of course, it’s a delight to spend quality time with the other closet Jews.”

“Sarcasm has always been such a part of your charm, David.”

“Have you forgotten that my mother thought you ‘troubled’ when you told us you were coming here? And how we were instructed ‘the situation’ was ‘best kept to ourselves.’ Heaven forbid it would jeopardize her luncheon invitations from the queen.”

Although it was all true, Jonathan reasoned, “David it’s what we were born into. Why not give it a chance. Nobody is asking you to commit to anything.”

“Good, because I have no intention of becoming more of a Jew, or anything else for that matter. This country is like any other country, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not here on any kind of pilgrimage.”

“I’m so glad you haven’t changed.”

Uri brought David his tea along with their breakfast of scrambled eggs, a few thin slices of salami and a crusty roll. Jonathan caught David eyeing the salami with suspicion. “Think of it as fine-pressed sausage.”

Reb Eliezer Ben-Yaacov, known to everyone as “Reb Eli,” sat quietly in the study hall of his synagogue in Mea Shearim while his Torah students debated the meaning of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The previous night’s storm had kept him awake, leaving him weary for today’s studies. Whenever the rebbe couldn’t sleep, he sat and read his favorite verses from the great Tzaddikim, those awakened souls who had come to such a tenderness towards the world that they saw only its beauty. But last night, despite his reading, he had been unable to stop worrying about his youngest daughter.

It had been ten years since his wife had died. Still, he felt God had been generous with him. He was blessed with five children. He had all that he needed, and, three years previously, to his surprise, he had been named Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Based on his growing reputation as a sage, people came from all over the world to seek his guidance. But he could not resolve his concerns about his own daughter. He lived among the Hasidim, and whenever he walked by, the women would become suddenly silent. He knew what they were saying about Sarah. “Blessed with beauty, cursed with misfortune, a woman born luckless, without mazel.”

Sarah was just twelve years old when her mother died. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, had taken on the burden of being her mother. She already had three children of her own. She did her best to look after Sarah as well.

Reb Eli was delighted when Sarah married Yossi, a kind, scholarly young man from a pious family. But after three years of marriage, she was still childless when her devoted husband was stricken with a rare form of cancer and died. All in Mea Shearim gossiped, “Poor, beautiful Sarah had so many bees, but no honey.” The sadness in his daughter’s eyes weighed heavily on him.

Reb Eli was brought back from his troubled thoughts by Chaim, a slight young man from a family of fourteen children whose curiosity and devoted scholarship made him one of the rebbe’s favorite students. “Chanukah honors those times in our lives when sun and moon, the direct light of God and the reflected light of our tradition are at their nadir. It is a time of trouble, fear and sadness. The work of Chanukah is to dispel darkness with the kindling of lights. That is what we must contemplate throughout these eight days,” Chaim said, answering the question the rebbe had forgotten he had asked.

The rebbe nodded his head in approval, grateful to Chaim for reminding him of the inner work to be done.

Ever since Yossi’s passing, Sarah’s nights had been restless. She woke often, feeling tired and dull. The storm the night before had awakened her with the sound of fierce rain and hail beating against the window. Watching the rain, she had remembered how her mother always said whoever is born or married in the rain will be blessed with mazel.

The storm had flooded the classroom at the girl’s cheder where she taught biblical studiesIt had damaged the dilapidated roof and left the floor waterlogged. Her class was moved to her sister Esther’s room, where the two classes were combined. The students sat paired together at each desk, giggling. Nevertheless, Sarah was grateful when Esther offered to take over both of their classes so she could take the remainder of the day off, as she was feeling intense cramps from the onset of her period.

It was five months since her husband had died. A childless widow at twenty-two, she felt her monthly bleeding was now wasted on a barren woman. She returned to the courtyard where she lived just across from her father’s house. She climbed the stairs to the small flat she had shared with Yossi. After closing the drapes of her bedroom window, she removed her marriage wig, allowing her lustrous, auburn hair to spill over her shoulders. Undressing from the drab mourning clothes she had worn since Yossi’s death, she slid into her warm bed, wearing only her soft, white slip.

Sarah looked at the clock. She had a few hours before she was to bring her father his four o’clock tea. Catching an afternoon nap felt tender and peaceful. She fell deeply asleep, dreaming she was floating out to sea.

Late in the afternoon, Jonathan escorted David into Mea Shearim, where bearded men strolled the streets in long black coats and fur hats, with curled locks of hair hanging over their ears. The women were dressed in dark skirts and coats that covered them from the neck down to their clumsy Oxford shoes. Their hair was hidden by tight scarves or identical wigs. Walking separately, segregated from the men, they appeared weary, and old beyond their years.

The Hasidim stared suspiciously at David. His clean-shaven face, short brown jacket, jeans, and loafers screamed “outsider.” By their glares, it was obvious they didn’t like strangers coming into their neighborhood. Most of them belonged to the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Satmars.

David was repelled by the sight of “these people,” and told Jonathan he felt he was visiting a strange planet of clones. He wanted to get out of there right away.

Jonathan was disturbed by his reaction. “David, you know nothing about the Hasidim. Judging them by their appearance? That’s so shallow.” Trying to put him at ease before meeting the rebbe, Jonathan explained that Reb Eli, although orthodox, did not belong to any sect.

Alone in his study, Reb Eli thought about the promise he had made to his friend, Phillip Bennett. He had known the Bennetts since childhood when his family had sent him to England from his home in Germany.

In November 1938, five days after Kristalnacht, the renowned Reb Yaacov Wolfner had decided to send his youngest child, Eliezer, who was almost fifteen, to England through the Kindertransport, an organization that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and found them foster homes in England.

“How strange,” he thought, “that we forget so easily what we did yesterday, but remember so vividly what the heart felt long ago.” It was now nearly thirty years since Reb Eli’s last Shabbat dinner with his parents and siblings. He remembered his father had invited two young rabbinical students as guests. He could still hear the songs and chants. He could still taste the sweet challah bread his mother had baked. He remembered how the Shabbat candles had magically turned their home into a haven of peace and beauty; how he had cherished the days when he was able to study alongside his father.

At Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station, Reb Yaakov held his son’s arm tightly, not saying a word. All around, families were tearing themselves apart, pushing their children into railway carriages under the hostile eyes of the SS, fearing this would be their last time together. Children cried out for their parents even as the train carrying them to England pulled away from the platform.

Several days earlier, his father had explained why he had to leave Germany. He was being sent to England where he would be safe. His father had assured him he would be well cared for, as his friend, the Chief Rabbi of the Emergency Council in England, would place him in a good home. He promised to send for him as soon as the Nazi regime was over and told him always to remember where he came from, and to live by the teachings of the Torah.

When young Eliezer arrived in Harwich he was driven to Hampshire, where the Bennetts took him into their home. He remembered the drive up the long road to their estate, how he stood there staring in awe at the majesty of it all. It was grander than anything he had ever seen. When the Bennett family came out to greet him, he was too intimidated to speak. It was only when their son, Phillip, reached out his hand, that he was able to say hello.

The Bennetts were generous and compassionate secular Jews, careful to keep their philanthropy anonymous, especially all they did for their fellow Jews.

Phillip Bennett and Eliezer were close in age and befriended each other immediately, despite their different enthusiasms. For Eliezer, it was the study of Torah; for Phillip, it was rugby. Their common interest was chess, a game at which Eliezer excelled. When war broke out, they would hike out into the fields in search of German paratroopers, missions which Philip insisted be kept secret from his parents.

Each time they went out, Eliezer would pray they would not run into any Nazis. Other than his fear of Nazis, Eliezer learned to enjoy their outdoor adventures. He loved Hampshire’s open, green fields and narrow, gushing streams, often writing to his parents about the English countryside. He looked forward to when they would come for him, so he could show them how beautiful it was. He also let them know the Bennetts had arranged for him to continue his religious studies. Phillip and “Eli,’” as he soon became known, became firm friends.

When the war ended, Eli learned of the fate of his family. They had been taken to Auschwitz and murdered. At twenty years old, he was left orphaned and bereft. He yearned for his family and the life he had known. Germany was no longer a place he could call home. As welcomed as the Bennetts made him feel, and as close as he was to Phillip, Eli desperately needed to return to his own ground. Like so many displaced Jews, he found himself drawn to a new beginning in the Promised Land. In 1946, with the Bennetts support, Eli left for Jerusalem, where he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi.

During the early, struggling years of the new state of Israel, and through its wars, Phillip had sent generous support, both to Reb Eli, who had started a family, and to the nation. Now, it was Reb Eli’s turn to be generous.

He had been taken by surprise when Phillip, who professed to be an atheist, told him of his nephew’s desire to learn about Judaism. Jonathan was the son of Eleanor, Phillip’s younger sister, whom he knew well from his time in England. She had married an aristocratic Jew, secular in his ways, yet committed to supporting Israel as insurance against an anti-Semitic world.

Reb Eli had become very fond of Jonathan, though he remained something of an enigma to him. He could not understand how a young man, coming from such wealth, without religious upbringing, could suddenly decide to come to Jerusalem to study Judaism. Was it a rebellion against his family, or was he simply searching for a spiritual path? Or perhaps it had to do with the loss of his father at a young age? Eleanor had told him how much the boy had suffered. For the past three years, Reb Eli had observed Jonathan closely. He appreciated his devotion to his studies, yet remained curious about his motives.

Then, two weeks earlier, Phillip had called asking for help for his only son, David. “My son is lost. He doesn’t know where he belongs. He can’t seem to find himself. Eli, see what you can do. Jonathan has promised to help as well.”

As much as he wanted to help Phillip, he doubted there was much he could do. So many families, especially from America, begged for his help with lost souls. Young people who had no roots were like trees that fall in the first wind. How could he give them the spiritual foundation their families had failed to provide? Most of the time, he could do no more than offer them blessings and prayers. But this was Phillip’s son. He owed Phillip so much. This would have to be different. Reb Eli prayed that the hand of God would guide him.

Promptly, at four o’clock, Sarah brought him his tea, with two biscuits. The rebbe’s heart ached at his daughter’s appearance. Her once sparkling eyes were now dull and empty. She moved like a woman who had been thwarted by life. Lost for words of comfort, the rebbe gently asked his daughter how she was feeling. “I’m fine, Abba,” she said quietly, then left to join her sisters in the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal.

You’re on your own now,” Jonathan said when they reached the courtyard of the rebbe’s house.

“I haven’t a clue what to say or what I’m even doing here,” David muttered nervously. “Aren’t you at least going to introduce us?”

“No need. Just be brave and honest. See you later.”

Other than what Jonathan had told him, and his father’s story of how he had lived with the family during the war, David knew little about the rebbe, except that he was now the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and had remained a close friend of his father.

He felt awkward and out of place knocking at the rebbe’s door. A young Hasidic man greeted him and ushered him into Reb Eli’s study.

The rebbe was sitting by a large table, facing the door. “Please,” he motioned for David to sit across from him in the worn, upholstered chair. Reb Eli’s blue eyes were gentle and inquisitive. His head of prematurely white hair and his full salt-and-pepper beard added to David’s impression that he was meeting an Old Testament prophet. He sat in the chair and waited for the rebbe to speak, anticipating many questions. Instead, Reb Eli sat silently, periodically closing his eyes in meditation. Not knowing what to say or do, David remained quiet. After a while, a wave of peace washed over him. He became aware of the flow of his breath and the beat of his heart. He heard himself say, “I have so many questions.”

“Questions are good, they are all we have, because there are no answers,” the rebbe countered in a tone tender enough for a small child.

In the kitchen, Sarah and her sisters had been washing and cutting fresh-bought vegetables, when Esther asked if one of them would mind running to the macholet for some garlic. Miriam suggested Sarah should go because she had “had a long rest in the afternoon.”

Sarah left for the corner market. Outside the house, in the courtyard, she was looking down when she spotted a pair of brown loafers walking past her. She looked up, curious to see who belonged to these foreign shoes. David, engrossed in his thoughts, walked by without noticing her. Sarah glanced into his face and saw the refined shape of his head, how his hand gently brushed away the dark-brown wisps of hair that had fallen on his forehead. She felt a sudden queasiness in her stomach at noticing so much about a stranger. Trying to dismiss the incident, she rushed to the market, then back to the kitchen where she began mincing the unpeeled garlic cloves until Miriam cried, “Sarah, you forgot to peel the garlic!”

The setting sun covered the city in warm, mellow hues of amber and purple. David was glad he had decided to walk back to Abu Tor. The meeting with the rebbe had left him longing for things he could not name. He was baffled by the rebbe’s silence. Why had he not spoken? Was it because Reb Eli sensed he didn’t want to be there, or was it just that the rebbe had nothing to say? Perhaps this renowned rebbe was simply bored with one more seeker?

What puzzled David most was why he wanted to see him again. What for? More silence? The rebbe had already told him there were no answers, so what was the point of seeing him again? It would be best to tell Jonathan the meeting had served neither of them well.

At the bottom of the hill at Abu Tor, near the water mill, lay the border between Jordan and Israel, marked by a military post manned by Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the road, Jordanians stood watch at their post. Each monitored the other, day in, day out. Watching the sunset hover over the Old City, David couldn’t help but think how bored the soldiers must be, having to stand watch all day, with only each other for company. He saw one of the Jordanians signal for a cigarette. An Israeli soldier put one into a pack and threw it across the road, to a perfect catch. For the moment, their differences dissolved. They became simply two men watching a magnificent sunset, sharing a smoke.

David and Jonathan walked through the ancient tree-lined streets of Baka, a neighborhood of traditional stone houses where Jonathan’s girlfriend, Nilli, lived. The houses had been built with Jerusalem stone, a pale limestone with mixed shades of pink, sand and gold that were glowing in the sunset. David admired the buildings and asked where the stones came from.

“They come from local quarries. All houses have to be built with them, by law, to preserve Jerusalem’s antiquity. It’s why the city is known as Jerusalem of Gold,” Jonathan said.

He pried as gently as he could to find out how David’s meeting with the rebbe had gone. “He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?”

“He said nothing. What’s so amazing about that?”

“He doesn’t have to say anything. His presence tells you everything you need to know,” Jonathan said, trying not to sound preachy.

“Is that it? I just get to sit there in his ‘presence’?”

Jonathan laughed. “Didn’t you have enough of good conversation in England? I should think by now you would have learned the limitations of language.”

“I don’t think I will be seeing him again.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s worth giving it some time,” Jonathan said in his older brother tone.

Jonathan was eager for David to meet Nilli and their friends. Feeling out of sorts, David was hesitant about meeting everyone and tried to excuse himself by insisting he was “too grubby” in his jeans and sweater and wasn’t properly dressed.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. Nobody here bothers about fashion. It’s considered gauche,” Jonathan boasted, not letting David off the hook.

Arriving at a small stone house with a painted blue door, David was greeted by Nilli. She had a lovely, open face and smile, with bright blue eyes. She embraced David with a warm hug, “Jonathan has told me so much about you.”

“I hope some of it was good,” David smiled.

Her warmth put him immediately at ease. The door opened into the living room, where three people sat on bright oriental pillows around a large brass coffee table.

Jonathan introduced Nilli’s roommate, Anat, and Nilli’s brother, Gideon, and his girlfriend, Ronit. Anat and Gideon were dressed in military khaki. They each had an Uzi lying beside them. Gideon shared his sister’s eyes and smile. Ronit seemed shy and awkward, traits David later discovered were due to her lack of English. Anat was a sensual beauty, with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She spoke English with a perfect British accent. David thought she looked amazing in her army fatigues. Her skirt came just above her knees revealing her shapely legs. The uniform accentuated her slim, curved body. Anat let David know immediately she considered herself smart, tough, and well-informed. When he asked if she had studied in England, she told him “I’ve never left Israel. I make it my business to learn a language in its proper accent.”

“Anat makes it her business to know about everything that interests her,” Nilli boasted about her friend.

Jonathan warned him, “Don’t be surprised if she knows more about England than we do. Anat is a phenomenon. She reads everything in sight, in four languages, and she’s got a photographic memory so she retains all of it. I wouldn’t bother challenging her on any subject. It will just make you miserable.”

“I shall play it safe then, and keep quiet,” David said with good humor.

Anat proceeded to prove to him that everything Nilli and Jonathan had said about her was true. She was not only beautiful, but brilliant and provocative.

The evening continued into the early morning. They had wine with Mediterranean salads, pita bread, olives, cheese, fruit, and nuts. Afterwards, Anat rolled some hashish into a cigarette, offering it to everyone. David, feeling at home with the group, was the only one who accepted. Jonathan had to get up early and left soon after. The rest of them continued talking until three in the morning. They all wanted to know about David’s travels and what had brought him to Jerusalem. The hashish relaxed him. He opened up about his adventures, and how Jonathan had persuaded him to come to Jerusalem to meet Reb Eli. Feeling that he had been talking too much about himself, he shifted the conversation.

He learned that Gideon was a high-ranking pilot in the Air Force. Anat was an army lieutenant, an atheist and an archeologist, studying to get her doctorate at the Hebrew University. Ronit was an army code decipherer and Nilli was a medical resident serving in Hadassah Hospital’s emergency ward. They were all curious about his meeting with Reb Eli, although none of them were religious. They knew that the rebbe was well-respected and admired for his plain-spokenness about the Torah and the Talmud and was known to be deeply immersed in the teachings of the mystics, which especially interested Gideon.

David didn’t know if it was the wine, the hashish, or just the early morning hour that made him feel a deep kinship with these people. Whatever it was, it felt good. Nilli made him promise he would come by whenever he felt the need for company. “Abu Tor is a short walking distance from Baka. You can stop by anytime.”

Gideon, who listened more than he had spoken during much of the evening, asked David if he would like to see Jerusalem from the air. He offered to pick him up on Saturday to go flying in a twin-engine Cessna that was available to him from the Air Force. David eagerly accepted.

The next morning, the phone rang at eight, waking David from a deep sleep. It was Jonathan asking him to meet at Café Cassis.

“I’m a bit sleepy. Didn’t get to bed until four. Mind if we meet later?” David mumbled.

“I won’t be around later; tied up all day at school. Why don’t you get up and nap later? You’re on holiday, after all. Come on. I’ll have Uri put the kettle on.”

David found Jonathan seated at the same table, reading the Jerusalem Post.

Uri, the owner, brought over a cup of tea, with a glass of milk on the side. “If you want more tea, I bring you.”

“Hungry?” Jonathan asked.

“I think I’ve had enough of the finely pressed sausage, thank you.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll get there,” Jonathan assured him.

“I’m quite happy as I am, thank you,” David said, as he removed the tea bag brewing in his cup. “I wish you had told me to bring along some decent tea as well.”

“I didn’t think there’d be much room left, after the toilet paper. First things first, you know.” Jonathan whispered.

“Enjoyed last night,” David said, adding a little milk to his tea.

“Good. What do you think of Anat?”

“Smashing.”

“Any interest in getting to know her better?” Jonathan inquired matter-of-factly.

“Not particularly.”

“How come?”

“A lady who carries an Uzi is not my idea of a romantic date.”

“Don’t be absurd. Everyone carries an Uzi here. They all serve in the army.”

“I don’t, and neither do you,” David reminded him.

“You’ll get used to it.”

“God, I hope not,” David moaned. “Seriously, I think Nilli and all your friends are great and lots of fun. I’m just not ready for any sort of romance.”

For as long as Jonathan could remember, David was never interested in “romantic entanglements.” In England he’d had many girlfriends, but never a steady one. Jonathan decided to let it ride. He was concerned about David and didn’t want anything to become a source of friction between them. He was grateful he was in Jerusalem and had met with the rebbe. When Jonathan was growing up, his mother had spoken of Reb Eli with great respect and appreciation, telling him how much he had helped her find the strength to deal with the death of his father. Jonathan was also grateful to the rebbe for taking him under his wing. Reb Eli had become a great inspiration to him, and he hoped the rebbe would be able to help David, too, find his way in the world.

“Well, I’m glad you found Nilli and my friends engaging,” Jonathan said, keeping the conversation light and cheerful.

“Gideon has invited me to go flying with him on Saturday.”

“Really, that’s quite impressive. Gideon is not one for wasting time with insignificant others. Frankly, it took him a year to warm up to me. Must be he took a real liking to you. I have to admit, that makes me feel a bit put out.”

“Don’t be. I’m not the one sleeping with his sister,” David reassured him.

“I take your point. Thank you.”

“I like Gideon. I suspect there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.”

“There is.”

When Sarah brought in her father’s afternoon tea, he asked her if she would sit with him for a moment. Pleased to have her father to herself, she sat down on the old, worn chair, the chair she shared with so many others who hungered for his wisdom and guidance. Reb Eli was a man of few words. He never talked much about himself or divulged anything about those who came to see him. Idle talk and gossip were unwelcome. Everyone’s confidences were well kept in his inner world, which belonged to him alone. Even Sarah and her siblings knew little about their father’s past, other than he had spent several years in England during World War II. Like everything else, details about their father or others were never given or discussed.

He was used to counseling all sorts of people. He had given comfort to so many. It pained him that he could not find a way to reach his own daughter. He sat quietly praying for the right words to come to him.

Sensing her father’s concern, Sarah knew the best way to put him at ease was with a direct question. “Why do some people have more difficult lives than others?”

Sarah’s question was filled with loneliness and despair. It tore at the rebbe’s heart. He spoke to her in his gentle manner. “When it rains, you can shout for the sun, but neither the sun nor the rain will hear you. There is either your acceptance or your rejection. The first leads to peace; the second, to suffering. God pursues you with peace, offering each moment for your appreciation. There is no profit in rejection, but with acceptance comes tranquility and hope for the future.”

“How do you find tranquility and hope?” she asked.

“The mysteries are an open secret, Sarah. It is we who must come out of hiding. Some days are bright, others are dark. We should not make a drama of the light, or a tragedy of the dark. Just embrace each as it is, knowing that happiness comes when we live each moment in peace. The whole of life is impermanent; there is no certainty. There’s no salvation to lift us out of it, and no reward for suffering. Thinking otherwise is like pursuing the wind. You are a wise and learned woman, Sarah. You know these things. You must try to live them.”

“It’s not easy, Abba.”

“I know,” Reb Eli said quietly.

At that moment, Sarah longed to be five years old again, sitting in her father’s lap while he gently stroked her hair. Not since she was a child was that permissible. Being observant of the orthodox law, girls over twelve were not permitted to have physical contact with any male, even with their brother or their father. It was forbidden. By twelve, she had lost her mother to cancer, and she had lost her father’s physical affection. This would have to come from female family members and friends. The only man once permitted to touch Sarah was her now dead husband. Sarah wished she could find comfort in her father’s words, but she could not. Neither could she find solace in her sisters’ arms. Her loneliness weighed heavily on her body and her soul. She found comfort only in books. Books were her special friends. She loved the way they opened the outside world to her, leaving her imagination free to dream and experience whatever thoughts and feelings came to visit her. Sarah and her eldest sister, Devorah, kept secret her frequent trips to the library. When Sarah married Yossi, he too became her secret-keeper.

Yossi was not like any of the other young men among the Hasidim. He was more open and willing to give his wife the freedom to seek any knowledge she desired, even if it meant going to the city library alone. Sarah had known Yossi since they were toddlers. As long as Sarah could remember, Yossi and she were good friends. Although she was a girl, Yossi would debate the meanings of the Torah and Mishnah with her. Sarah and Yossi’s marriage had been arranged and both were content and agreeable to the match. Their marriage was like their friendship: tender, respectful and loving. Yossi agreed Sarah would not have to cut her beautiful hair, which is expected of married women. Luckily for Sarah, Devorah worked in the mikveh where Sarah would always arrive last for the Friday cleansing ritual. With her sister as the only witness, she would neatly tie up her hair, then immerse herself twelve times under the water, in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thereafter, her spirit and body would be cleansed.

Whenever Sarah left home, she would wear the customary sheitel, neatly tucking every strand of her own hair under the coarse brown wig, styled with bangs, just like the other married women. At night, Yossi loved to brush her long, thick auburn hair. Then, when it was permissible, they would be intimate. All other times, they slept in their separate twin beds.

Now that Yossi was gone, Sarah knew she had not only lost a husband, but her best friend. She knew no one would be as kind, gentle and accepting of her as Yossi had been. She tried to acquiesce to God’s will that she be left childless and alone. She understood the only suitor who would be willing to marry her now would be one of the elderly men who had been widowed, such as Itzhak, the loner across the courtyard, whom she had caught spying on her from his window. Sarah preferred her aloneness to being with someone old enough to be her father.

The rebbe knew his words had failed to soothe his daughter’s wounded spirit. He was at a loss. How could he bring comfort to her? All that was left for him was to accept his helplessness about it. He closed his eyes and did what he knew best. He prayed.

His thoughts shifted to David, who would be arriving shortly. He found David to be earnest and sincere. He wished he had come at a better time, when he wasn’t so preoccupied with his own concerns. Nevertheless, he would pray and ask Hashem to show him a way to reach this lost young man.

For his part, David had made up his mind to challenge the rebbe: no more sitting in silence. If the rebbe had no answers for him, he would not waste his time. He approached Mea Shearim determined to be a force to be reckoned with. He entered the rebbe’s study and sat down on the chair with a thud.

“Reb Eli, I’ve been thinking…”

“So have I,” interrupted the rebbe. “How would you like to join me every Thursday evening at eight? You will ask a question each week, then we will contemplate your question, which you will take into consideration until the following week, when you will come in with another question. Do you agree to do this for at least eight weeks?”

As if speaking with someone else’s voice, David heard himself mutter, “Yes.”

“Good, now take a moment and ask your first question.”

David felt himself go blank. “I can’t think of one just now.”

“Then I have one for you,” replied the rebbe. “Why is it a young man like yourself is not married or betrothed?”

Feeling as if he had been knocked off his feet, David tried to catch his balance, and mumbled, “I don’t know.”

“Do you enjoy being with a woman?”

“Yes, of course…,” David answered, nervously, wondering how the rebbe knew he had a problem. His shameful secret must be written all over his face, he thought. Every time David got intimate with a woman, he would ejaculate prematurely. Each relationship added to his humiliation and left him feeling more inept than before. David would repeatedly tell himself he would do better next time. Next time always proved to be the same. The women were just as embarrassed by his predicament as he was. They would ignore it as though nothing had happened, as if that would ease his shame. To avoid any further distress, he always found an amicable excuse for breaking off the relationship. Confronted by the rebbe, David sat quietly for some time. Reb Eli waited patiently, giving him the time he needed to gather the courage to speak. “I have trouble holding myself,” he confessed, in a whisper.

The rebbe was as astounded about his inquiry as was David. He had no idea why he had asked that particular question, and was just as amazed when he heard the answer come out of David’s mouth. Feeling this was divine intervention, he offered David the only assistance he could muster. “Can you be here Sunday evening at eight?”

From her bedroom window, Sarah spotted David walking across the courtyard, wearing the same brown loafers and jacket. Once again, she felt an odd twinge in her stomach. What was this modern man, dressed in European clothes, doing in Mea Shearim? Perhaps he was visiting a distant relative? There were several Hasidim who were visited by outsiders, but not often. This was the second time in two weeks she had seen him. She became preoccupied with what he was doing in Mea Shearim, and wondered why he should have such a peculiar effect on her. Then she caught herself and dismissed her thoughts as idle nonsense, caused by her unsettled state. She felt like a stranger to herself and a burden to her family. Nothing made sense to her anymore.

Every Friday night, all twenty-five members of the rebbe’s family gathered for Shabbat. They would sit in their customary places at the Shabbat tables, Sarah with her three sisters, her two sisters-in-law, and their children at one table; Reb Eli at the head of the men’s table with his two sons and sons-in-law and his three eldest grandsons. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, would light the Shabbat candles as the women covered their eyes and chanted the prayer welcoming the shechinah, the peace of the Shabbat bride, to their home and heart. At the conclusion of each Shabbat, the rebbe’s grandchildren would line up before him and he would place his hands over each of their heads for a special blessing.

Sarah felt bereaved. She would never bring forth a child for her father’s blessing. She was aware how her sisters, who knew of her anguish, avoided looking into her eyes.

At the end of the meal, Reb Eli gave Sarah a nod, her cue to start singing. Nothing pleased him more than the sound of Sarah’s voice. It created a peace that filled the room and touched his soul. Afterwards, the children sang traditional Sabbath songs, with all of the family joining in.

As the women cleared the table, Sarah heard Reb Eli ask her brother, Yaacov, to arrange for Shimon to come see him. She knew summoning Shimon meant a visit to the “House.” She wondered which of the young men was having personal issues and needed help.

After Shabbat, she went back to her flat. Since Yossi’s death, she had stopped going to the weekly mikveh. She preferred, instead, to light her own Shabbat candles, carefully placing them on the windowsill from where she could watch them flicker while she enjoyed her meditation. But tonight, her thoughts flowed to the first time she had followed her brother, Isaac, to the House. She remembered how her mother had wept copiously at the dining room table, the night Isaac was caught caressing his best friend, Moshe, in the shower of the men’s mikveh. Her mother, who was weakened by illness, had pleaded with her father to “have Shimon take Isaac to the House.” When her father refused, she begged until he became weary with guilt. Seeing the fragility of his wife, he could not deny her and, despite his reservations, arranged for Isaac to be taken there. Sarah had just turned twelve and wondered why it was so wrong for her brother to have shown affection for Moshe. She was also curious about the House and why Isaac had to go there.

The previous week there had been so much whispering between her parents that it piqued her curiosity so much that she decided to follow her brother and Shimon, secretly, keeping her distance. She watched them enter a house in the heart of Machane Yehuda’s open souk on Agripas Street, the main market in Jerusalem, which was a short distance from Mea Shearim, and deserted at night.

Her first glimpse of Madame Aziza was from a bench across the street where she sat looking up at the balcony, through panes of glass doors and windows that were draped with white laced curtains. She could see the silhouette of a woman who was elaborately dressed. It would be years before she learned who she was.

The lights from the House sparkled against the darkness of the night. When scantily dressed young women with flowing, bright scarves appeared, Sarah became mesmerized and watched spellbound as they danced sensually before Isaac. She watched her brother go off with one of the girls, but couldn’t see where they had gone, or what they were doing. She imagined the girl would dance for Isaac and, if he were nice to her, she would let him kiss her so he wouldn’t have to caress Moshe anymore and make her mother cry.

After that night, Sarah imagined she, too, could dance with beautiful scarves in the same graceful way that would please men. Thereafter, whenever she heard about one of the young men having a personal problem who needed a visit to the House, Sarah would wait until her sisters were asleep, then dress and escape into the night and walk the narrow streets to Madame Aziza’s house to watch from the bench and marvel at the exotic dancing of the young women.

It was during that time that Sarah’s life changed forever. Her mother had been struggling with her illness for years. Watching her slip into the hands of death became unbearable. Toward the end, she and her brothers and sisters would take turns looking after her. Each afternoon, from two until four, her father would be with her. At night, when everyone was asleep, Sarah took to escaping to the privacy of her father’s study to lock out the world and pretend to be one of Madame Aziza’s dancing enchantresses. Alone, in the solitude of her imagination, she, too, became a beautiful dancer. She imagined being married, dancing to the delight of her husband, and giving him many sons, which would please Hashem who, perhaps, would spare her mother from dying. Sarah’s secret world was not to be shared with anyone.

God did not spare her mother. And at fourteen she discovered the truth about what was going on in the House. Her sister, Esther, explained that her husband, Yitzhak, was having difficulty performing his husbandly duties, so it was arranged for him to be taken to Madame Aziza’s house. Esther was not happy with the arrangement, but Yitzhak’s problem was keeping her from conceiving. She told Sarah that men went to Madame Aziza’s house where they paid women to help them overcome such problems. Sarah was shocked and embarrassed by how stupid she had been not to realize that Madame Aziza’s was a house of prostitution. She feared what her sisters would think if they knew she had been sneaking out after dark to watch and enjoy harlots dancing, imagining herself to be one of them.

Lying in bed, Sarah wondered if Isaac, with his four sons and two daughters, and her sister Esther, with her three sons and two daughters, were grateful to Madame Aziza. It was only she who was left devoid of children and without a husband. Perhaps this was beshert for having secretly stolen away to live vicariously as one of Madame Aziza’s seductresses.

Flying high above Jerusalem at sunrise, David looked out of the window of the Cessna, spellbound by the glistening light that bathed the city. “It’s magnificent,” he said.

Gideon smiled proudly, as though Jerusalem belonged to him personally. “For thousands of years, so many have fought over her.”

“Her?” asked David.

“Do you know of another city that has given birth to three such religions?”

“No, thank heaven. I imagine it would just cause more conflict and wars.”

“Perhaps, but none would be as Jerusalem.”

Gideon circled lower, giving David a closer view of the curving domes, soaring minarets, and the Western Wall of the Temple.

“There’s the Old City.”

“Do you think there’s any chance of peace?”

“That’s a question for our neighbors.”

“Surely they believe in peace?”

“They’re too afraid democracy and education will corrupt them, especially their women. Liberated women are their worst nightmare. Our own orthodox have the same problem.”

Gideon pointed into the distance, “Over there is Hebron. It’s where our patriarchs are buried.”

David asked, “Do you really think that’s what it’s about for the Arabs? Not wanting their women to be liberated?”

“Mostly. With the Christians it’s different. With them, we are a constant reminder that even though their God was born and died a Jew, we don’t go along with their story.” Gideon was quiet for a moment. “I believe that’s why they found it easy to kill six million of us.”

“You can’t blame the Christians for what the Nazis did.”

“And who were the Nazis before Hitler came along?”

“What about the Christians who helped save Jews?”

“Too bad the Pope wasn’t one of them.”

“The world has changed. You have your own country now.”

“Exactly, and we intend to keep it. Do you really believe being British excludes you from being a Jew?”

“Frankly, I’ve never given it much thought.”

“Being Jewish is not something the world will allow you to opt out of.”

David felt he had been insensitive and wanted to explain himself. “I’ve never had any desire to be part of a tribe. I think each of us has to find his own way in the world. I just wish I could find mine.”

David was pushed back in his seat as Gideon pointed the plane skywards.

“I understand,” said Gideon as he turned the Cessna upside down into a roll.

David felt his stomach rise to his chest. Queasy, he began gagging.

“Being in the world without roots, and not belonging somewhere, is like flying through life upside down,” Gideon said evenly, turning the Cessna back over.

“I see what you mean,” David said, grateful to have his stomach and equilibrium back in place.

“Feeling better?”

“Sort of.”

Tsipi’s was a dive in a back alley in the heart of town. Most of the people there on this Saturday night were young Israelis, drinking with friends, or dancing to their version of a rock band. The air was rank with cigarette smoke and David’s throat became irritated. He ordered a beer to soothe it. It was dark and tasted of malt.

Anat seemed to know everyone there and introduced David as “my friend from England.” She was dressed in a dark blue mini-dress, which David thought was nearly as seductive as her army uniform. He wondered if he had been set up to go dancing with her. Earlier in the evening, everyone had an excuse for not joining them. Jonathan and Nilli said they were too tired; Gideon and Ronit had to get an inhaler from the pharmacy for Ronit’s mother, who was sick with bronchitis.

Anat was a good dancer and made sure everyone knew it. She seemed to know every move he was going to make. Her body was right there, in rhythm with him. David wondered if she desired him as much as he did her. He suspected she had dressed up to impress him, which flattered him. He tried to keep up with her dancing until he felt weak with hunger, as he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He asked if she knew where they could get something to eat. She suggested Mickey’s. “It’s the only place open at night that serves good food.”

Mickey’s was a small, crowded restaurant with bare Formica tables. A couple had just finished eating and were leaving when they walked in. Anat introduced David to the proprietor, Mickey, a burly forty-year-old Syrian Jew who could barely speak English. By the way they spoke rapidly in Hebrew, it was obvious they knew each other very well, and shared a warm friendship. Mickey was a charismatic man with a hearty laugh. David felt an immediate liking for him. Within minutes, Mickey, who was also the cook, brought out salads, warm pita bread, chicken and lamb kabobs. Everything was delicious. Anat ate and drank like no one David had ever seen. She was insatiable. For dessert, she ate three flans that she washed down with three cups of Turkish coffee. Finally, David burst out laughing.

“What is it?”

“You eat like a bloody horse. I’ve never seen anything like it. Where does it all go?”

“I’ve been this way all my life. I just burn it off. In an hour, I’ll probably be hungry again.” She licked her lips, continuing to devour the last of her third flan.

“She eat always like this. Where it go, I don’t know,” Mickey said, laughing.

Walking through the city toward Abu Tor, the streets were empty and still. In the distance, near the windmill, all that could be seen were the lit cigarettes of the sentries at the border post, flickering like lightening bugs.

Given the provocative way Anat had danced, David thought she would expect to be invited up to his place. Although he desired her, her heightened energy made him anxious. He feared he was not up to dealing with her.

“How was flying with Gideon?”

“Amazing. I don’t believe I will ever forget it. He has quite a way of making his point,” David admitted.

Anat laughed, “So you’ve discovered Israeli men don’t have your refined manners?”

“Yes. I’ve gathered as much.”

Arriving at the house in Abu Tor, Anat simply followed him up the stairs to his flat, in continuation of their walk. There was no need for an invitation.

David tried to hide his nervousness by asking her if she was still hungry.

“I might be a horse, but I’m not a cow. Do you have any hash?”

“Jonathan made me promise not to bring any. He said I would be deported if I got caught with it.”

Anat laughed. “Jonathan takes his Judaic studies too seriously. He might find God sooner if he smoked some himself.”

“I have a bottle of wine, compliments of Jonathan. Would you like some?”

“Sure.”

While he searched for a bottle opener, Anat opened the doors to the roof, looking out at the city. “Great view. It’s a bit chilly, but do you mind if we have our wine out here?” she asked.

“Not at all. It’s the best room in the house.”

He brought out the bottle with two glasses. He poured Anat a full glass, his, only a third, as he had already had several beers at Tsipi’s.

“It’s bad luck not to have a full glass,” she teased.

“Only if your intentions are to pass out.”

Anat pointed toward Jaffa Road, a wide, winding road below the King David Hotel. “There’s Gai Ben-Hinnom where Jews, Muslims and Christians believe, on Judgment Day, the Gates of Hell will open and devour all us sinners with fire. It’s one of the few things they all agree on.” She pointed to the far distance, at the left. “Over there is the archaeological park. I was there today, on a dig.”

“Find anything interesting?”

“Only if you find used prophylactics interesting.”

“Could be, if they belonged to Moses or Jesus.”

“Two of history’s most sexually repressed men,” Anat replied, dryly.

“How do you know that?”

“Jesus, alias Yehoshua Ben Joseph, and Moses were both Jews who would have followed the tribe’s sexual laws.”

The wine was warming David, taking the chill off the night air. Amused by her audacity, he coaxed her on. “All right, but how do you know they were sexually repressed.”

Anat shot him a look. “Do you honestly believe a man who had great sex would bother running around trying to convince everybody he was the only Son of God, or had personally received God’s hand-written laws on top of a mountain?”

“Why not? Men can have ambitions as well as desires.”

“Not when they’re having great sex.”

David suddenly felt challenged. He stood staring out into the night.

As though she could read his mind, Anat said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to sleep together.”

David looked at her, not knowing what to say or expect.

“At least not tonight. I like men, but prefer women,” she said, shrugging.

He didn’t know whether to feel rejected or relieved.

David lay awake thinking about Anat. He was intimidated by her sexuality, but also fascinated by her free spirit and daunting intelligence. He had never met anyone like her. He wondered if Jonathan and the others knew she preferred women lovers, and why she had confided in him. He became anxious, thinking perhaps she sensed he had sexual issues and was someone she could easily manipulate.

Earlier, out on the roof, he had asked her why she preferred women. She had answered simply, “For the same reasons you do,” then adding, “I find women more interesting intellectually, as well as sexually.”

Her directness was equal parts frightening and exciting. He wanted to know her better. Perhaps, with her, he could get over his sexual problem. The truth was, he desired her as much as he found her intimidating.

The streets in Mea Shearim were busy on Sunday afternoon, when the shops re-opened after the long Shabbat. The men hurried about their business while the women shopped for the coming week.

The last rays of daylight came through Sarah’s bedroom window. She had been reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou throughout the Sabbath and couldn’t pull herself away from it. She pondered Buber’s premise that man separates himself from God when he views himself as “I” and others as “Thou.” Reb Eli had a great affinity for Buber’s work. His books were among the few non-religious volumes he kept in his extensive library. Sarah also loved Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories about Jewish life in Poland, and the heart-rending dilemmas faced by his characters. Singer had no illusions about the human condition, nor did he offer simple, happy endings. He presented the complexity and relentless challenge of being human, something she, too, had come to understand.

Just as it became dark, Sarah spotted a man striding purposefully into the courtyard. She immediately recognized him as the outsider who had aroused in her such unusual sensations. She moved closer to the window, hiding behind the heavy curtains so she could study him more carefully. She was able to see the angular features of his face, and, again, the way his hand swept the hair from his forehead. When she saw him enter her father’s house, she immediately sensed he was the reason for the rebbe’s summoning of Shimon. She was intrigued by this outsider. Where did he come from? Why would a secular man require a visit to the House? Sarah knew she lived in a confined religious society, and that there were many things she didn’t know about the outside world, beyond what she read in books. Her curiosity heightened as she waited by the bedroom window, in anticipation of seeing Shimon escort the stranger to Madame Aziza’s house.

Shimon stood five feet, two inches tall and had a big round belly and wispy red hair and beard. David thought he looked like an Irish elf. A man of good cheer, Shimon took his mission of performing mitzvahs like that of a general who had been given orders to lead his troops to victory. David was a new recruit who was about to assume his God-given, manly duty of bringing children into the world. Shimon, as the liaison with Madame Aziza’s house, discharged his task with honor and pride. He was most eager that David, the son of a friend of the rebbe’s, should benefit from his good deeds. Shimon’s English was limited, so to demonstrate his sincerity, in hopes of gaining David’s confidence and trust, he stood up and enthusiastically embraced David as soon as he entered the rebbe’s study.

David instinctively pulled back. Shimon’s goodwill gesture embarrassed him. David’s eyes pleaded for Reb Eli’s help. The rebbe rose and said simply, “This is my nephew, Shimon. He will take good care of you. Until Thursday. I wish you a good night.”

Bewildered, David stood looking at Shimon, who was smiling, saying repeatedly, “Don’t worry, everything good, everything good.”

He followed him apprehensively through the dark, narrow streets of Machane Yehuda’s Souk to the two-story stone house on Agripas Street. Shimon, still smiling, opened the door, ushering him in. Climbing the pitch-dark staircase, he cautioned David to “be careful, just count twenty steps.”

On the second landing, Shimon knocked briskly on the door. A woman in her late fifties appeared. She had long dark hair, with coal-black eyes. She reminded David of the fortune-tellers who roam India. Shimon introduced him to Madame Aziza, who graciously invited them in.

Burgundy velvet drapes with gold tassels adorned the windows of her parlor. A gold-leaf tapestry covered the walls. On the floor were oriental carpets in deep reds, blues and gold. The largest had corners containing dragons with snakes around their necks. David wondered whether this woman was going to read his fortune or perform some magic healing ritual that would keep him from coming every time he was aroused by a woman. Speaking in a soft, melodic voice, her well-spoken English was colored with French and Arabic accents. She offered them drinks from her cabinet of wine and spirits. Shimon requested Turkish coffee. To keep it simple and quick, David asked for the same.

Madame Aziza made polite conversation, inquiring where David was from. He told her he was visiting from England. She asked him if he was married or divorced. He said neither, wondering why all this concern about his marital status. He began thinking perhaps she was a matchmaker, when a young, exotic looking woman with red lips and nails appeared from the kitchen, carrying a brass tray with a finjan of dark black coffee and an assortment of small pastries. She served them with her eyes locked into David’s, then quickly disappeared. Shimon helped himself to the sticky pastries, which had the scent of cardamom. David slowly nursed the muddy coffee. Sensing he was not a Turkish coffee drinker, Madame Aziza offered him “English tea.”

David assured her he was fine with coffee.

Madame Aziza looked curiously at him. “You’re a handsome young man.”

Feeling self-conscious, David replied, timidly, “Thank you.”

“Please help yourself to some pastries. They’re very tasty.”

Accepting her offer, he reached for one with nuts in it. Feeling like the center of attention, he ate self-consciously.

Shimon sat grinning from ear to ear. He sipped the remains of his coffee, informed David that the number four bus across the souk on Jaffa Road would drop him off at Abu Tor, then left abruptly.

Soft, Middle Eastern dance music filled the room. Madame Aziza’s eyes flashed as she turned to an opening door and said, “Now, for your pleasure.”

From a narrow hallway, four young women floated into the room and began dancing. David sat mesmerized, not knowing what to do. He watched as they danced before him, swaying their hips, shoulders and arms like slithering snakes.

Madame Aziza put her hand gently on his shoulder. “Let me know when you decide which one pleases you the most.”

Finding it difficult to believe that Reb Eli had sent him to a whorehouse, David asked incredulously, “Is this a bordello?”

Madame Aziza smiled. “This is a house that nurtures men’s passions and desires.”

“I’m really not ready for this,” he admitted awkwardly.

“There is nothing to be ready for, just relax and enjoy,” she said, gently reassuring him.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take some time to consider your generous offer.”

Her voice took on a motherly tone. “There is nothing to fear here.”

“I’m sure. It’s just that I would like to think about it,” he said, adamantly.

Madame Aziza looked at him in her nurturing fashion. “You may visit us whenever you are ready. I will make sure you have the very best. I desire only what is good for your happiness.”

“Thank you,” David said, as he quickly left.

Walking along the Mount, near the University of Jerusalem, Jonathan howled with laughter. “The rebbe never ceases to amaze me. Why on earth did he send you to a brothel?”

David could not bring himself to reveal his sexual issues, but when Jonathan went on and on questioning why Reb Eli would send him to a whorehouse, David felt compelled to tell him.

“Because I told him I come too quickly,” David whispered.

Astonished, Jonathan repeated David’s words, “You told the rebbe you come too quickly?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because it’s true.”

Seeing that this was no laughing matter for David, Jonathan quickly changed his tone. “Why haven’t you ever told me?”

“What could you do about it?”

“Surely there are remedies …”

“There are no ‘remedies,’ so spare me any advice,” David said, becoming irritated.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I just wish …”

“There’s nothing you or anybody else can do. It’s something I have to live with.”

They walked on quietly around the Mount, looking out at the city.

“Look, David, perhaps if you had a steady girlfriend, it would just work itself out,” Jonathan offered, gently.

“What makes you think I haven’t thought of that?” David snapped.

Jonathan adopted an apologetic tone. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I really want to help… For God’s sake, we’ve been closer than brothers.”

“Then let it be!”

They continued walking in an uncomfortable silence. David felt humiliated and angry, emotionally naked now that his long-kept secret had been exposed.

Remembering the Rebbe’s invitation and hoping to break the silence, Jonathan cheerfully announced, “Reb Eli has invited us for Shabbat dinner at his home.”

Going to the rebbe’s house for dinner was the last thing David wanted to do. He moaned, “Oh, joy.”

“I think you’re making more of it than it really is. I’m sure, given time, it will sort itself out.” Jonathan said, hoping to put David at ease.

David felt the remark was flippant. “How easy to say when it’s not your problem.”

Madame Aziza has helped many young men. Why should I be opposed to that?” said the rebbe. David looked at him in disbelief. Seeking help in a bordello just didn’t sit right with him. Perhaps these Hasids were comfortable with it, but he certainly was not.

Feeling the need to challenge Reb Eli, David argued, “It’s not a very holy approach.”

“When I first arrived here, I felt the same way. But when I saw how much she helped someone close to me, I came to a different understanding. After all, women who choose to sell their bodies come from the same source as you and I. They are just as holy as we are. The Torah tells us that to give pleasure is a mitzvah, but it is silent on how we should do it. It just tells us the no nos.”

The rebbe had done it again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that I was holier or superior to anyone. It’s just that using a woman that way doesn’t feel right.”

“One should never use another. The Torah teaches us to be kind and honor everyone, not just people we like or respect. There are things we can never know or understand about each other. The Torah recognizes this and gives us principles to live by that cultivate our happiness and wellbeing.”

Reb Eli muttered something in Hebrew, and then translated. “ʻThere is nothing on this earth that has not been here before or will not be here again.’ Do you know where that proverb comes from?”

David shook his head, humbly.

“King Solomon.”

“I know nothing of the Torah,” David admitted.

“You have the rest of your life to learn,” Reb Eli said, his eyes twinkling with warmth. He stood, cupped David’s hand into his, and smiled, “I hope you will honor us at our Shabbat table tomorrow evening.”

Looking out of her window, an hour before she was to bring tea to her father, Sarah saw David approaching for the second time in a week. Her curiosity heightened, she told herself she would go down to the kitchen, ostensibly to get a head start preparing the evening meal.

She could hear murmuring from her father’s study. To get closer, she decided to set the large table in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. As she carefully laid out the dishes, paper napkins and utensils, she could hear David’s voice. Making as little noise as possible, she was able to distinguish his British accent, which she found more eloquent than her father’s. She was enthralled by the tone and gentleness of his voice, and moved closer to the door, listening as he spoke of his reservations and concerns about going to Madame Aziza’s house. She found herself comforted by his direct but gentle manner of speaking. She continued to listen, unaware she was holding her breath. By the time she heard her father invite David for Shabbat dinner, she felt queasy and dizzy. She rushed to the kitchen and squeezed a fresh lemon into a glass of water to revive herself.

Soon after David left, Sarah made certain not to look her father in the eye when she brought tea with milk and biscuits into his study. Sensing something was amiss with his daughter, Reb Eli invited her to join him for tea.

“I’ve left the potatoes boiling on the stove,” she said, hoping to excuse herself.

He asked if she would turn the stove off, then come and join him for a moment. There was something important he wanted to discuss with her. Sarah anxiously obeyed and returned to the study, fearing the rebbe had discovered her eavesdropping.

“Sarah, how would you like to go abroad for a holiday?”

The offer was so unexpected, she responded by asking directly, “Why?”

“You’ve always had a desire to travel. I thought a trip to Europe would please you. I can arrange for you to stay with good friends of mine and perhaps, if you like, Esther could join you.”

Feeling guilty and embarrassed at having just spied on her father’s private conversation, Sarah did not know what to say, and answered without looking at him. “Please don’t worry about me Abba, I’ll be all right.”

Reb Eli was left once again feeling at a loss with his daughter. He prayed every morning and night for guidance, assuring himself, “Everything comes with time and patience.”

Alone in his study, the rebbe sipped tea, which he always found soothing. He was grateful to the British for teaching him the simple pleasure of a good cup of tea. He thought about Phillip’s son, David, whose intelligence and sensitivity were more heightened than in most of the young men he had counseled. He remembered the many times Madame Aziza had been effective in helping them overcome difficulties they had with their sexuality. At first, he had dismissed having anything to do with her. He knew the complexities of human nature and doubted it was possible to change the focus of desire. It wasn’t until she helped his youngest son to be willing to marry and have children that he learned to appreciate her gifts. He, himself, had never met her and knew little about her, other than that she had brought with her from Egypt wondrous secrets for awakening and healing the senses of complex young men.

A more pressing matter from Egypt was on his mind. Abdel Nasser’s inflammatory speeches and the escalation of raids against Israel made him fear that another war was imminent. He prayed Hashem would remember how long the Jews had suffered, how long they had been exiled from their Promised Land. He prayed to Hashem to bestow peace and awaken the hearts of all of Abraham’s children.

 

About the Author

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.

She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.

I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.

Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.

Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”

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First Chapter Reveal: Tell on You by Freda Hansburg

Title: TELL ON YOU
Author: Freda Hansburg
Publisher: Micro Publishing Media
Pages: 248
Genre: Thriller

Tell on You is a psychological suspense novel that best fits within the Gone Girl-inspired niche genre of “grip lit.”   Jeremy Barrett’s obsessive love equals that of Jay Gatsby for Daisy Buchanan, as life imitates art in his private school English class. But his angst-driven infatuation brings dire consequences as he is drawn into the machinations of his disturbed 16-year-old student Nikki Jordan, whose bad intentions rival those of her teacher.  A fast-paced, drama-filled tale, Tell on You reminds readers about the wildness and trauma of adolescence—and the self-defeating behaviors to which adults resort in times of stress. From gaslighting to vicious bullying, poisonous family privilege to the loss of a parent—Freda Hansburg draws on her experience as a clinical psychologist to explore the depths of each dark situation in Tell on You.

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First Chapter:

“ALL RIGHT, LADIES!”

Jeremy Barrett clapped to get the attention of his second period Advanced Placement English class.  When they continued talking, he barked:  “Hey!”  Eleven pairs of adolescent eyes turned toward him and the buzz of their conversations died down.  The Forrest School demanded academic excellence along with the steep tuition.  These daughters of wealthy New Jersey bedroom communities mostly rose to the challenge.  Jeremy found them a pleasure to teach.

He scanned the room, mentally taking attendance and ticking off today’s borderline violations of the school dress code.  Here, a bit of exposed belly or cleavage, there, some serious piercing.  He frowned, but not over the wardrobe issues.  No one had called in absent today, but someone was missing.

“Anyone know where Heather is?”  They were all enmeshed in a tapestry of tweets, texts and posts.  If one fell off the cyber trail for more than fifteen minutes it drew the herd’s attention.  Cellphones were supposed to be turned off, but there were always a few cheaters.  Probably more than a few.

But nobody offered an explanation for Heather’s absence.

Jeremy shrugged off his unease about the missing girl and began his lecture.  The Great Gatsby, one of his favorite novels.  The latest movie remake, combining 3D and JayZ, had piqued his students’ interest when he’d shown it in class.  Personally, Jeremy considered the film an over-the-top, gaudy spectacle that turned Nick Carraway into a derelict and mangled Fitzgerald’s gorgeous prose and dialogue.  But his students ate it up.

“So, let’s come back to our discussion of how Fitzgerald used water imagery.”  A loud rapping on the open classroom door interrupted.  Jeremy looked over to see the principal’s administrative assistant, Mrs. Marvin, wearing a prim suit and a pinched expression.

He scowled at the interruption.  “What is it?”

“Mr. Donnelly would like to see you.”

“Now?”  Jeremy’s tone bore the outrage of a surgeon interrupted in mid-operation.

Mrs. Marvin looked back at him, stone-faced.  “Right away, he said.  I’m to stay and monitor your class.”

Her words provoked a chorus of murmurs among his students, which Jeremy put a stop to with a loud “Shhh!  Start reading the last three chapters.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

A prickle of anxiety clenched Jeremy’s stomach as he walked down the hall to the principal’s office.  Nothing to do with any childhood memories of disgrace, for Jeremy had been a diligent, rule-abiding student.  His peccadilloes –well, transgressions – a recent development.  He’d promised himself he’d get his act together.  But – Donnelly.  What did he know?

The principal rose as Jeremy entered his office.

A room designed to elicit tranquility rather than fear, it boasted a pastoral view of the green athletic field through French doors that led out onto a small balcony.  Set on an estate, the Forrest School resembled a plantation more than an institution. Still, as Mr. Donnelly pointed him toward the sofa, Jeremy’s hands felt clammy.  He mentally prepared defenses, but kept coming up short.

“Thank you for coming so promptly, Jeremy.”  The principal wore a gray pin-striped suit today, dressing the part of CEO.  Probably to stay on a par with the parents, many of whom were CEO’s.

“Of course.”  Jeremy nodded.  “What did you want to see me about?”  He winced inwardly.  An English teacher, ending a sentence with a preposition.

Mr. Donnelly didn’t appear to notice.  He drew up his hands to form a steeple, touching his lower lip.  Sunlight from the French doors reflected off his glasses.  He looked like a church.  A folded piece of paper rested on his lap.  “It’s about Heather Lloyd.”

Jeremy drew a breath.  Bad, but not the worst.  “She’s absent this morning,” he said.  “Has something happened?”

“That’s what I’d like to understand.”  The principal passed the paper to Jeremy.  “I received this email from Heather’s mother this morning.”

Jeremy unfolded the paper and read the message, his mouth turning to dust.  Finishing, he looked up at Mr. Donnelly in silence.

“Jeremy,” the principal demanded, “what is this all about?”

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Nonfiction Author Interview: Mark Oristano

Mark Oristano has been a professional writer/journalist since the age of 16.

After growing up in suburban New York, Oristano moved to Texas in 1970 to attend Texas Christian University.  A major in Mass Communications, Mark was hired by WFAA-TV in 1973 as a sports reporter, the start of a 30-year career covering the NFL and professional sports.

Mark has worked with notable broadcasters including Verne Lundquist, Oprah Winfrey and as a sportscaster for the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network and Houston Oilers Radio Network.  He has covered Super Bowls and other major sports events throughout his career.  He was part of Ron Chapman’s legendary morning show on KVIL-FM in Dallas for nearly 20 years.

In 2002 Oristano left broadcasting to pursue his creative interests, starting a portrait photography business and becoming involved in theater including summer productions with Shakespeare Dallas. He follows his daughter Stacey’s film career who has appeared in such shows as Friday Night Lights and Bunheads.

A veteran stage actor in Dallas, Mark Oristano was writer and performer for the acclaimed one-man show “And Crown Thy Good: A True Story of 9/11.”

Oristano authored his first book, A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game. A Sportcaster’s Guide offers inside tips about how to watch football, including stories from Oristano’s 30-year NFL career, a look at offense, defense and special teams, and cool things to say during the game to sound like a real fan.

In 2016 Oristano finished his second book, Surgeon’s Story, a true story about a surgeon that takes readers inside the operating room during open heart surgery. His second book is described as a story of dedication, talent, training, caring, resilience, guts and love.

In 1997, Mark began volunteering at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, working in the day surgery recovery room. It was at Children’s that Mark got to know Kristine Guleserian, MD, first to discuss baseball, and later, to learn about the physiology, biology, and mystery of the human heart. That friendship led to a joint book project, Surgeon’s Story, about Kristine’s life and career.

Mark is married and has two adult children and two grandchildren.

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About the Book:

 

What is it like to hold the beating heart of a two-day old child in your hand?  What is it like to counsel distraught parents as they make some of the most difficult decisions of their lives?

Noted pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Kristine Guleserian has opened up her OR, and her career, to author Mark Oristano to create Surgeon’s Story – Inside OR-6 With a top Pediatric Heart Surgeon. 

Dr. Guleserian’s life, training and work are discussed in detail, framed around the incredibly dramatic story of a heart transplant operation for a two-year old girl whose own heart was rapidly dying.  Author Mark Oristano takes readers inside the operating room to get a first-hand look at pediatric heart surgeries most doctors in America would never attempt.

That’s because Dr. Guleserian is recognized as one of the top pediatric heart surgeons in America, one of a very few who have performed a transplant on a one-week old baby. Dr. Guleserian (Goo-liss-AIR-ee-yan) provided her expertise, and Oristano furnished his writing skills, to produce A Surgeon’s Story.

As preparation to write this stirring book, Oristano spent hours inside the operating room at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas watching Guleserian perform actual surgeries that each day were life or death experiences. Readers will be with Dr. Guleserian on her rounds, meeting with parents, or in the Operating Room for a heart transplant.

Oristano is successful sportscaster and photographer and has made several appearances on stage as an actor. He wrote his first book A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game, and continues to volunteer at Children’s Medical Center.

“We hear a lot about malpractice and failures in medical care,” says Oristanto, “but I want my readers to know that parts of the American health care system work brilliantly. And our health care system will work even better if more young women would enter science and medicine and experience the type of success Dr. Guleserian has attained.”

Readers will find all the drama, intensity, humor and compassion that they enjoy in their favorite fictionalized medical TV drama, but the actual accounts in Surgeon’s Story are even more compelling. One of the key characters in the book is 2-year-old Rylynn who was born with an often fatal disorder called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and was successfully treated by Dr. Guleserian.

Watch the Book Trailer at YouTube.

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What made you decide to become a published author?

I’ve been writing journalistically since age 16 (back in 1968.) I wrote my first book seven years ago. A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football.  I was a football broadcaster for 30 years.

Would you consider your latest book, Surgeon’s Story, to be a one of a kind?  How so?

In terms of the immediacy of the story as we watch Dr. Kristine Guleserian in the operating room, and the way she deals with the incredibly challenging problems of pediatric heart surgery, yes, I’d say it’s rare. Dr. Guleserian is one of only 9 women in the U.S. board certified in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, so you know it’s a special story.

Where is your writing sanctuary?

Just my office at home. Although someday I’m going back to Santorini, Greece for a week to sit on a hotel balcony, drink coffee, and write.

What do you believe a writer should not do as far as getting his or her book published?

Don’t compromise your values. Don’t listen to people who tell you how your book “should” be written. Be true to yourself first.

What inspires you?

I love telling stories. As a sportscaster, broadcasting football games was a storytelling exercise. I work now as a stage actor, and that’s obviously storytelling.

What is one thing you learned about your book after it was published?

That people were amazed it was so short.

Why do you love to write non-fiction?

I’d much rather tell real stories about real people. I’m not very good at making up fiction.

You’re concocting a recipe for a best selling book.  What’s the first ingredient?

A topic that makes people’s eyes bug out.

What’s one fun fact about your book people should know?

That you don’t have to be a medical student or a doctor to understand it. Lots of charts, photos, and explanations for the lay person.

Aside from writing, what’s your passion?

Acting.

What’s next for you?

Lunch.

 

 

 

 

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