Category Archives: First Chapter Reveal

First Chapter Reveal: Tell on You by Freda Hansburg

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.



First Chapter:


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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First Chapter Reveal: Chasing Hindy by Darin Gibby

Chasing Hindy

Title: Chasing Hindy
Author: Darin Gabby
Publisher: Koehler Books
Pages: 284
Genre: Thriller

ADDY’S DREAM AS a patent attorney is to help bring a ground breaking energy technology to the world. Addy’s hopes soar when she is wooed by Quinn, an entrepreneur, to join his company that has purportedly invented a car that can run on water using an innovative catalyst. After resigning her partnership to join Quinn, Addy discovers things aren’t as they seem. The patent office suppresses the company’s patent applications and her life is threatened by unknown assailants if she doesn’t resign.

When she is arrested for stealing US technology from the patent office she realizes Quinn has used her. Now, Addy must find a way to clear her name while salvaging her dream of propelling this technology to the world, all while powerful forces attempt to stop her.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble


First Chapter:

ADDY FELT LIKE jumping out of her car and doing a quick happy dance in the middle of stalled traffic. Her excitement at becoming the newest—and youngest—partner at the intellectual property law firm of Wyckoff & Schechter was nearly overwhelming.She grinned at the shadow on the hood of Hindy, her treasured retrofitted cherry red Shelby Mustang. The shadow was created by a barrel-sized, hydrogen-filled balloon that floated above the Mustang’s roof. Gawkers pointed and laughed as the Shelby eased down El Camino pulling the tethered balloon as if in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The balloon—which on one side sported her law firm’s logo, and on the other Hindy in giant cursive script—was just an advertising gimmick to show her passion for alternative energies. It was only strapped to the roof on calm, sunny days when she was travelling at slow speeds using routes that avoided overpasses. The retrofitted Mustang was really powered by four electric motors using electricity produced by solar panels and a conventional fuel cell.

At first, the Wyckoff partners questioned Addy’s prudence in strapping a floating balloon to the roof of any vehicle, but they’d

come to admire the effectiveness of her marketing innovations. They even lifted their champagne glasses at the end of her mentor’s welcome speech acknowledging that her Shelby was responsible for bringing in increasing numbers of the “green” companies sprouting like weeds all over the Silicon Valley— inventive, entrepreneurial companies in need of legal advice and support for their patents.

While the traffic inched forward, Addy chuckled with excitement. “Hindy, ol’ pal,” she said, patting the dashboard, “you and I are going places now! Next time some overzealous cops accuse you of being a traffic hazard, I’ll stare them down and inform them they’re messing with the partner of a highly prestigious law firm.”

Traffic momentarily loosened and Addy eased Hindy forward, careful not to snap the lines tethering the egg-shaped balloon. Addy sang along with Zissy Spaeth, pop rock’s newest and most flashy star, as Zissy belted out her latest hit, Light in Your Eyes, over the radio. In the corner of her eye she noticed a blaze of neon orange.

Her heart stopped. In the car next to her someone was pointing a bazooka-sized gizmo at her balloon. She blinked, trying to clear her vision.

A flare shot out, aimed straight at her floating ball of


Even in the late afternoon sunlight, it was impossible to miss the explosion. The dirigible burst into a giant fireball, then slowly deflated and floated down toward the Shelby’s crimson hood.

Addy stomped on her brakes, hoping the balloon’s momentum would shoot the flaming mass forward. The fireball, safely secured by its fluorescent yellow nylon tethers, crashed down onto the windshield, blocking Addy’s view. She screeched to a halt, slammed her shoulder into the door, flung it open, and darted out, catching the heel of her pump on the doorjamb, which sent her sprawling headlong onto the pavement.

She heard tires squeal and at least a half dozen blaring horns. Stinging pain shot up from her elbow and knees. Thank goodness traffic had been just inching along.

Ignoring the pain, she bolted forward, arms raised, ready

to yank the still-burning fabric off the windshield. Before she got close enough to grab it, the sweltering heat from the flames scorched her cheeks, and she shielded her eyes with her forearm. Just when she reached the hood, a breeze lifted the infernal blob and propelled it directly at her, the nylon cords now seared through.

She braced herself for the fireball when she felt arms wrap around her chest and yank her back, barely in time to avoid the searing molten mass of goo about to descend on her head, threatening to fry her face and melt her hair.

“Are you crazy? What are you thinking?” a deep voice

bellowed in her ear, still holding her tight.

Together they watched what was left of the blimp float like a falling leaf onto the grassy shoulder, just like the Hindenburg did almost eighty years ago.

“Someone clearly doesn’t like you, short stuff,” her rescuer said, now standing next to her stroking his goatee, his face hidden behind dark sunglasses and a low-riding Dodgers cap. “More like out to get you. That was some kind of flare the driver shot at your blimp. I tried to spot his license plate, but it was covered up. Snapped a picture with my phone, though,” the man said fishing it from his pocket. “You can kind of see a tattoo on his forearm. The police will love this.”

Before she could thank him, someone cried out, “Call a fire

truck! The grass!”

Brush fires in California were no joking matter. Addy could smell the smoldering grasses. A strong breeze fanned the flames, pushing the fire toward a row of redwood trees.

Then she heard a whiny voice coming from the milling crowd of stranded passengers who’d gathered to find out what was holding up their homeward commute. “I’ve seen that blimp before. I knew it was trouble,” the whiner complained.

“Yeah, but at least she’s part of the solution,” said someone else. “Her car doesn’t use gasoline. Look at what you’re driving,” he said, sneering at the whiny woman’s crossover SUV.

Addy’s knees buckled, her head spinning. She plopped down onto the pavement and hugged her bare legs. This couldn’t be happening.

Why would someone try to destroy her car? Hindy, her


beloved Mustang, was just a marketing ploy, no worse than a billboard. Hindy’s fuel cell and solar panels were just two modern technologies that Addy hoped someday would become mainstream to the automotive industry. And her purpose was noble. Her “green” car told the world of inventors that she was one of them, that she would secure their patents and protect their investments. Now her expensive marketing project was in jeopardy.

Soon, swarms of firefighters were scrambling around dousing the flames, while police officers attempted to reroute traffic. A well-built bald man flipped out a paper pad and scribbled a few notes. After removing his sunglasses, he swapped the pad for a pocket camera and snapped random shots of the avid crowd.

All four local networks had sent news crews, and Addy knew two of the reporters. They had already run stories about Hindy, praising Addy’s creative marketing, which one reporter said was a refreshing change from the barrage of personal injury commercials littering daytime television.

As Addy told the reporter during her interview, Silicon Valley was going to be known, not just for starting the computer revolution and launching the social networking scene, but now for making the world green. And Addy was their lawyer.

Reality burst her daydream bubble when she was whisked aside by a team of Sunnyvale police officers. She told them what had transpired, hoping it would help them find the sniper. And she pointed out her rescuer, who was showing another pair of police officers the photo on his phone.

At the end of the interview, one of the officers handed her a ticket. “You were carrying a flammable substance without a permit. You’ll need to make a court appearance.”

Addy gasped. “But they shot at me.”

“And we’re not taking it lightly. There’s been a serious crime committed here, but that doesn’t mean you can break the law. If you hadn’t been toting that blimp, none of this would have happened.”

Addy’s eyes narrowed. “Am I’m free to go?” she said,

snatching the paperwork and turning toward Hindy.

“Yes,” the officer said, “but we’re going to need to impound

your vehicle.”

Addy halted. “Hindy? You can’t.”

The other officer beckoned with both hands, big gestures, as if directing an airplane to the gate. A tow truck wedged its way through the onlookers and began backing up in front of Hindy. “But Hindy works perfectly fine,” Addy protested. “The balloon, that was all for show. The hydrogen for the fuel cell is

where the gas tank used to be.”

The officer shook her head. “We need your car for evidence. As I said, a serious crime has just been committed, and we need to take the vehicle to the station for a thorough evaluation.”

“But I need to get home, and get to work tomorrow.”

“There’s always Uber,” said the officer with a shrug.


About the Author

Darin Gibby

In addition to a thriving career as a novelist, author Darin Gibby is also one of the country’s premiere patent attorneys and a partner at the prestigious firm of Kilpatrick Townsend ( With over twenty years of experience in obtaining patents on hundreds of inventions from the latest drug delivery systems to life-saving cardiac equipment, he has built IP portfolios for numerous Fortune 500 companies. In addition to securing patents, Gibby helps clients enforce and license their patents around the world, and he has monetized patents on a range of products.

Darin’s first book, Why Has America Stopped Inventing?, explored the critical issue of America’s broken patent system. His second book, The Vintage Club, tells the story of a group of the world’s wealthiest men who are chasing a legend about a wine that can make you live forever. His third book, Gil, is about a high school coach who discovers that he can pitch with deadly speed and is given an offer to play with the Rockies during a player’s strike. Gil soon discovers, however, that his unexpected gift is the result of a rare disease, and continuing to pitch may hasten his own death.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration degree, he is highly regarded in Denver’s legal and business community as a patent strategist, business manager, and community leader. He is also a sought-after speaker on IP issues at businesses, colleges and technology forums, where he demonstrates the value of patents using simple lessons from working on products such as Crocs shoes, Izzo golf straps and Trek bicycles.

An avid traveler and accomplished triathlete, Darin also enjoys back country fly-fishing trips and skiing in the Rocky Mountains. He lives in Denver with his wife, Robin, and their four children.

His latest book is the thriller, Chasing Hindy.



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First Chapter Reveal: Wild Within by Christine Hartmann

Wild Within banner

Wild WithinTitle: WILD WITHIN
Author: Christine Hartmann
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Genre: Romantic Suspense

A year after a family tragedy, Grace Mori embarks on the journey of a lifetime…

Two thousand, six hundred miles of blistering heat, wilderness, and soul searching—that’s what Grace signed up for when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not a voyage for beginners, but with no husband and her family still recovering from her bother’s death, Grace is more alone than ever.

This trail meant something to her brother, and she’ll hike it in his memory, but she can’t do it alone. So with her brother’s gear and a small group, Grace takes the most important first steps of her life.

Grace finds something more than peace and magic on the trail…

When her first day of hiking ends in heat stroke, Grace is rescued by a handsome, red-haired hiker who calls himself Lone Star. Grace has an immediate connection with him, and their brief encounter leaves her fearing her soul mate has slipped through her fingers. Although he vows to keep in touch, Grace doubts she’ll ever see him again.

When fears become reality, the only people Grace can rely on may be killers…

Grace is surprised to find notes left at supply posts along the trail. Lone Star’s eloquent letters keep Grace going, clinging to the hope she’ll find him—and happiness—at the end of her journey. But as the trail becomes more perilous, menace grows within the group. And when Lone Star’s letters mysteriously stop coming, Grace fears the worst.

As tensions flare and a killer emerges, Grace must battle to survive…and reunite with the man she’s sure is her future.

For More Information

  • Wild Within is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

Early morning sun scorched the grimy car hood and forced its way through the window to burn Grace’s bare arms. She fidgeted as she watched the arid plane of sagebrush and light brown dust roll past. The landscape differed completely from the grassy hills, eucalyptus trees, and fog around her native San Francisco. Occasional yucca plants shouldered their way between low scraggly bushes with more branches than leaves. Small boulders peppered the area, looking like enormous grey cottage cheese curds among rolling, sere hills.

This countryside puts the wild in wilderness.

The car bounced past dry pastures and scruffy woods.

Maybe I should have spent more time reading those trail guides?

A glimpse of the Mexican border made her sit up straight.

Who cares? I’m here.

Grace bounced in her seat with excitement.

This is it.

Grace and her friend Celine were the only people at the five square wooden posts that marked the southern terminus of the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail, a route leading from Mexico to Canada. A few yards away, wind forced its way through the steel border fence like the sound of screeching tires. Celine snapped a few pictures as Grace removed the spiral hiker register from its protective metal box. On the first empty page she wrote: Kenji, you’re with me.

She signed with more bravado than she actually felt.

Grace spurted back to the car. “I want to get going.” But her backpack, resting in the backseat, was in less of a hurry. She coaxed it onto her shoulders with much grunting and straining and stood, slightly bent, for one final snapshot.

“I’ve never lifted anything this heavy. What was I thinking? It’s not a trip to Macy’s where I can throw all the heavy stuff into the trunk.”

“You were thinking you might need some supplies.” Celine surveyed her. “Because you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere. For months.”

“Thanks for the reminder.” Grace straightened with effort. “I’ve been waiting almost a year for this. They say your pack gets lighter as you get used to it. So where’s the trail?”

Celine shrugged. Grace searched the monotonous sand and brush.

“I’ve got the map on my cell.”

But the phone wouldn’t turn on. Grace depressed the controls repeatedly. The screen remained as black as its case.

Come on. My paper maps are buried in my pack.

She took a mental inventory of what lay above them: a one-person tent, a sleeping bag and mat, a wide-brimmed sun hat, extra socks, the head of a toothbrush, all-weather matches, a travel-size deodorant stick, her mother’s homemade rice cakes, and Kenji’s apartment key fastened with a twist tie to the zipper of a first aid kit. The idea of spreading everything out at the base of the monument made her ill.

She pushed more buttons.

Don’t die now.

The screen flickered. She fiddled more and the contrast increased.

“Typical me.” Her hands shook a little as she pinched the trail map to zoom in on her location. “I turned down the brightness last night to save energy. For a second there, I thought I was going to faint. That would’ve made a good Facebook post. Grace Mori’s one second thru-hike of the PCT.”

Celine grinned and poked Grace’s arm. “It’s good to get all the mistakes out of the way at the beginning. Now try to make it through the rest of the day without any more.”

Grace stepped into the sparse brush.

“I already miss you as much as I miss your brother,” Celine called after her. But the wind whipped away her words.

On the trail, Grace’s pent up excitement gave wings to her hiking shoes. They floated across baked earth that meandered through scrub and around boulders. She raced securely down descents and sailed up ascents.

This is so easy.

She covered the next two miles in under an hour. Her initial destination was Lake Morena County Park, eighteen miles away. But her thoughts were of the Canadian border.

Twenty miles a day, for the next four months, before the northern mountains become impassable with snow. In this heat, that idea feels like a mirage.

She looked at her watch.

Nine thirty. Ten more hours of daylight. So I’ll get to Lake Morena with time to spare.

At first, the white circle rising in a cloudless blue seemed a happy part of the scenery. But bit by bit, the sun blazed an ever fiercer hole in the sky. Her short black hair melted into her head and burned her fingers when she touched it.

I should never have given up lightening my hair. Apparently blondes do have more fun, even in the desert.

Her legs pistoned in long strides that searched for cover. But nothing afforded shade.

A tree. A bush. A houseplant, for goodness sake. I’ll take anything.

The trail eventually crossed a highway and meandered through a grove of cottonwood trees. There, Grace slung off her pack, dropped beside it, and dug through her gear.

She squashed a cream-colored hat onto her sweaty brow. Her parched lips drained a water bottle. A rough trunk supported her back.

My shoulders ache. My feet hurt. And this pack weighs a ton. Why did I throw in everything I thought might come in handy? Pre-moistened body wipes? Am I really going to need those out here?

The previous night, she and Celine had discussed her strategy. “I read somewhere a person hiking in direct sun needs at least a gallon of water for every ten miles.” Grace laid out her water containers on the hotel bed. “But one gallon weighs eight pounds. I’ve got a two-gallon collapsible water container and two one-liter bottles. Do you think I should fill them all? That’s close to twenty extra pounds.”

“I think you should follow the rules.”

“That’s a lot of extra weight.” Grace hefted a container from the hotel sink. “Maybe I’ll fill two bottles and leave my larger container partially empty. I’ll drink a lot before I start. And Hauser Creek is on the trail. I can get more water there.”

Celine pursed her lips contemplatively and tossed an empty bottle to Grace. “What if there’s no water in the creek?”

“Then they wouldn’t call it a creek.” Grace chucked the bottle back at her. “It’ll be fine. Like I said, I’ll hydrate like crazy before we set out.”

In the morning, after a brief rest under cottonwoods, Grace continued her hike. She chased lazy clouds in search of shade. They vaporized before she reached them.

Why did I wear pants?

She longed for the hiking skirt in her pack. Then the trail narrowed, and waist-high chaparral brush clung and tore as she battled through. Rough, aggressive limbs and thick, unforgiving leaves pulled at her hiking poles. Grace held them above her head, unable to see her feet. After five minutes of struggle, she reached the other side. Her face dripped with sweat. She looked down.

I love you, pants.

Grace drained her second water bottle as she climbed. At the top of the hill, she paused. Perspiration dripped into her eyes and mouth, but she was too hot to care. In the distance, the border wall and Mexican mountains were still clearly visible. She thought of fishing out her phone for a picture.

Too much effort.

The path leveled out. Her pace slowed. The heat irritated her.

I should have had my hat on from the beginning. Why didn’t I start hiking earlier in the day? Where the heck is Hauser Creek? I need more water.

She wiped a hot tear from her cheek.

What a mess. But there’s no point in crying. Come on Grace.

Grace was the kind of person who prided herself on being someone people could count on. When her mother’s first attempt at baked Alaska set the kitchen window curtains aflame, teenage Grace doused the inferno in chocolate syrup, then helped her mother take down the gooey mess.

“People in Alaska originally lived in igloos. They probably didn’t have window curtains.” She wiped the counter with a Lysol-soaked dishrag. “Some desserts don’t translate well across climate zones.”

As an adult, Grace volunteered her services as a psychologist for the Friday overnight shift at the Berkeley women’s crisis hotline. There, she comforted agonized rape victims, beaten girlfriends, and conflicted housewives with a sympathetic ear, sensible advice, and a list of referrals she’d personally vetted.

“You’re ready to move out? Don’t forget to take his Rolex. He owes you big time.”

And when tragedy struck her family a year ago, it was Grace who negotiated with the funeral home and the florist. Phoned relatives in San Diego, New Brunswick, and Tokyo. Late at night, in bed alone, she lay exhausted but sleepless.

“How am I going to get through this by myself?”

That blistering day on the trail, she began to lose faith. The merciless, prodding sun became her enemy. It evaporated her enthusiasm, diminished her stamina, and gnawed at her judgment. Her feet dragged along the sandy path without any of their initial eagerness. She refilled her water bottles from the large container in her pack and ignored the voice that told her she would soon run out of fluids.

After another mile, the trail merged with a Jeep road. In the distance, Grace saw a disappearing cloud of dust.

That was a car. I could have asked them for a ride. Maybe they had air conditioning. Some extra water. Maybe they were on their way back to San Diego and would have taken me to a hotel. I could have started the trail again in a few days, when it’s cooler.

She checked the phone’s GPS. Four miles to Hauser Creek.

I’ll make it if I ration my water.

By the time the trail dove into Hauser Canyon’s shaded grove of oaks and sycamores, Grace hated the sun more than she’d ever hated anything. She squinted at the wooded valley. But the only hint that a creek had ever flowed across the parched land was a strip of slightly darker sand meandering through a pile of rocks. Grace’s knees wobbled.

Even in the shade, sweat poured down her face.

It’s past noon. I should eat.

She felt nauseous. Her head pulsed like molten lava in a live volcano crater.

I need to rest.

Her shoulders shrugged out of the pack straps and she sank to the ground. Before thinking better of it, she drank the rest of her water. A small Japanese folding fan, the parting gift from her sister, offered some relief. The hot desert air drew out the fan’s sandalwood scent. The breeze evaporated her perspiration.

She kicked off her shoes and socks, then changed into her skirt. But after thirty minutes of inertia, sweat still dripped from her chin. Sitting made her dizzy, so she lay down. The violent sun tortured her through the leaves, shafts branding her face and body like flames.

I need more water. Have to keep going. A road’s not far ahead. If I lie down in the middle, somebody will find me.

But the idea of crawling out of the partial shade into the glaring sun was too much.

Bees droned near her head.

What’s that? Airplane? Maybe they can see me down here. Call in a rescue.

Her mind drifted up, into the sparse tree branches. It hung there briefly. Then ascended into the smoldering, cloudless sky.

Later, another idea broke through her confusion.

I’m going to die. On my first day on the trail. Kind of a waste. All this equipment. All that money. Geez, I could have spent it on those cell phone-operated blinds for the living room instead. There was that coupon in the Saturday clipper magazine…

Her tongue ran along dry lips.

Hmm. I’m licking a lizard. I wonder if he’ll lick back.

Then Grace thought of nothing.


Christine is giving away 2 $25 Amazon Gift Cards & 20 Wild Within Coffee Mugs!

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• By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
• Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter to receive one $25 Amazon Gift Card & twenty winners will be chosen to receive one Wild Within Coffee Mug
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• Winner has 48 hours to reply.
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First Chapter Reveal: Beautifully Shattered by Courtney Kristel

Beautifully ShatteredTitle: Beautifully Shattered
Author: Courtney Kristel
Publisher: Amazon
Pages: 412
Genre: Romantic Suspense

What would you do if your world fell apart right before your eyes? If everything you held dear was stolen before you had a chance to say goodbye, would you give up or keep fighting? Adalynn Maxwell didn’t decide to give up. She was robbed of her choice.

After years of therapy, Adalynn finally wants to move on and her brother’s sexy best friend Jax lures her further out of her shell. But she doesn’t understand his game and he changes the rules at every turn, making her fall into the waiting arms of the mysterious Doctor Kohen Daniels, whom she can’t seem to avoid. She’s terrified of trusting him, but something about him makes her want to bare her soul.

Adalynn is desperate for that all-consuming love she reads about, but doesn’t believe she deserves it. Her desperation to prove to Jax that she isn’t a little girl anymore may ruin her forever. One wrong decision can change her entire future. She has one last choice to make, but will it be ripped away from her like everything else? Will she pay the ultimate price?

For More Information

  • Beautifully Shattered is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

First Chapter:

Six years later . . .

Every Tuesday is the same for me. I work at the bakery in the mornings, go to my therapy appointment in the late afternoon, and finally I have dinner with the guys. The only thing that changes is the location. I live a simple life, well, as simple as I can manage after causing my parents’ and sister’s death six years ago on my seventeenth birthday.

My body automatically tenses. I stare at the blank eggshell walls in my penthouse and shove those memories in the back of my mind before they can haunt me. I tell myself to relax, but no matter how many times I try to get comfortable on my suede couch, I can’t seem to unwind. Ed Sheeran plays in the background, but the solace I usually feel listening to the calming music is missing. My hands itch to do the one thing that will bring a peaceful calm over me. I visualize using the sharp blade I keep taped underneath my sink, feeling the cold of the steel as it nips my skin. I can practically see the blood dripping down my thigh. I slap those images away, too. I’m not that girl anymore.

As soon as I woke up today, I immediately knew something was off. I can’t put it into words; it’s something that I can feel all the way to my bones. I haven’t been able to shake off this sensation all day. I try concentrating on anything but today’s date. It’s almost as if my mind is in a war with my heart. My soul won’t let me forget and my mind attempts to push me past it, to move on. Something changed between the time I closed my eyes last night and when I opened them this morning.

I’ve been in and out of therapy ever since the accident. My brother, Logan, insists that I continue to see Olivia White since I have made “noticeable progress” with her over the other therapists that I have seen since the accident. If he has to go out of town for work he leaves either Connor or Jax, his two best friends since childhood, to babysit me. In other words I’m not to be left to my own devices.

Within these last six years, Logan has become less of a brother and more of a parent. He moved me from California to Manhattan, sent me to college for a business degree, and bought me a penthouse in walking distance from his place. I refused to move in with him after graduation so he made sure that he didn’t have to wait in New York traffic to visit me. He feels better knowing that I’m close, so I don’t fight him on it.

Before the accident I wouldn’t have stood for Logan treating me like I’m made out of porcelain. After? I allowed it because I didn’t care about anything. Now I’m starting to crave the independence I gave up to my brother without a fight.

He takes protectiveness to a whole new level. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had one of my doctors insert a GPS tracker in me. I can’t really blame him, though. I’m the reason that we have no family and he’s almost lost me twice. He won’t allow there to be a third time.

It’s my night to host this week’s dinner. The boys had to leave for an emergency at the office, but promised to bring dinner. I already laid out the white plates that Logan bought me when he purchased the penthouse. Everything in here is white, just the way I like it. The only color comes from a painting, mounted above my couch, that the interior designer snuck in. It’s a shadow of a girl holding a bright yellow umbrella while the storm rages on, falling from the dark, unforgiving night sky. I allow it to stay because I can’t care about pointless decorations when all my energy goes into not giving up.

I’m antsy, counting the minutes since the guys left. Once they return, they’ll distract me. They’ll buy Thai food to please me, even though Jax hates it, they’ll paint smiles on their faces, and not voice what’s on everyone’s mind. Today, May 21, six years ago, my life was consumed by darkness, stealing my every promise of a happy future.

I grab my phone to see if any of the guys have texted. Nope. I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour staring into space. Fantastic. I can’t wait here and do nothing. I become lost in my thoughts and that’s never good. I force myself off the couch and change into workout clothes. Hopefully a few miles on the treadmill will chase this unnerving feeling out of my gut. I send Logan a quick text while I press the L button in the elevator.

Me: Gonna hit the gym. Bringing my phone. Call when you guys are leaving the office. Love you.

I don’t bother to put away my phone. No matter what he is doing, Logan will always respond to me. Always. Best brother award goes to him.

Logan: No problem. You might get a full hour in. This is taking longer than I expected or I would have waited until tomorrow to handle it. Love you too baby girl.

Logan: Oh and don’t forget to do weights too not just cardio.

I roll my eyes. Of course my meathead brother would remind me to do weights. He is such a body builder.

Me: I understand your need to take over the world so take your time. Just give me a heads up so I can shower.

I tiptoe through the lobby, hating how my footsteps echo on the marble floor. I look down and avoid anyone I pass. I don’t have the energy to smile and nod. Not today. Opening the glass doors to the gym, I ignore the Olympic size pool I can see from the entrance. It’s impossible to miss with the glass walls on one side. The pillars have vines wrapped around them, giving it the appearance of a magical place. I’ve never stepped in there even though it beckons me. From here, I know I’ll secretly love the decor, though, because it reminds me of the Greek Gods. Of him.

I head straight to the treadmill to clear my mind. I still don’t understand the point of continuing this stupid, futile charade of seeing Olivia White every other Tuesday afternoon. I think the whole idea is crazy. Nothing is going to change. I don’t want it to change. I don’t want to move on. I can’t. I need to remember what I did, who we lost.

I deserve to suffer unbelievable pain because of my actions. I am barely able to live now and what Liv wants seems impossible. That little voice in the back of my head thinks differently, though. I can do it. I can learn how to live again. I can have more. I want—

Nope, I shove that thought in the furthest part of my mind along with all the useless ones.

After a quick warm-up on the treadmill, I increase the speed. I focus on the sound of my feet hitting the belt with each step. I control my breathing the way my brother hammered into me at a young age when I got serious about working out. I wanted to strengthen my muscles for swimming. I spent hours upon hours training daily, never obtaining enough sleep. A small trail of sweat drips off my forehead and lands on the belt. My surroundings start to disappear as I replay today’s therapy session in my head.

“Adalynn, what do you think?”

I glance up from my hands and see Liv staring at me. I can tell from her disturbed expression this isn’t the first time she’s attempted to jostle me out of my thoughts.

“What’s the question? Sorry, Liv, I either stopped paying attention the moment I walked in, or the moment you brought up my dead parents and dead sister.”

I gawk at Liv, mortified. I can’t believe I actually said that out loud. I swear under my breath. “Sorry, Liv, I’m just distracted today.”

“Addie, you and I both know that I am used to your . . .” She pauses and I decide to help her out.

“Unique sense of humor?” I joke as I collect my long brown hair into a messy bun.

I wish that I took the time to gather my waves into a nice updo like she has done with her honey hair. She always looks so regal, something that I aspire to be. Even in a simple pair of black jeans, I carry myself as if I don’t have a care in the world. I refuse to let anyone see me as the broken twenty-four year old that I am.

“Let’s go with that. I’m used to your unique sense of humor by now. You can’t offend me. I want you to speak your mind. If you need sarcasm to do that, then by all means, just don’t shut me out, especially today of all days.”

Liv is my favorite therapist out of all of them. She always talks to me like I’m a human being, not just someone she has to focus on for an hour to get paid. I respect her as a person, but I still hate that she’s trying to encourage me to talk about them today. Although I was expecting it; after all it is the anniversary of their deaths. May 21, my birthday.

“Okay, I’m paying attention now. What was the question?”

I know the second the words leave my mouth I’m going to regret it. I should have just continued to tune her out until our session ended. My leg bounces up and down, a nervous habit of mine, when I notice the look she’s giving me. It’s the one that tells me I’m not going to take it well, but she’s going to say it anyways.

“I know discussing your family is extremely difficult, especially today. You can talk about them here, to me.” She pauses. “You think you don’t want to be here.” I manage to give a light nod. She is right after all. I don’t want to be here.

My gaze wanders to the panoramic window behind her like it usually does whenever she exposes my past. I can never seem to hold her gaze. Her thoughtful eyes are more knowing then I would like. I watch the outside world as she studies me. I know she’s waiting until she has my undivided attention before she speaks. I sigh loudly before turning my unwilling violet eyes back to her hazel ones.

“You’re wrong. You want to be here as much as your brother wants you here. There’s a point to this. I want to help you. We can sit here silently the entire time or we can talk. It’s up to you, Adalynn.”

I know I shouldn’t ask, but the words fall out of my mouth before I can stop them. “How are you so sure I want to be here, Liv?”

“You still come, don’t you? You can walk out at any second, but you don’t. You continue to show up for every appointment. Even though you fight with yourself, you still stay until the session is over. You don’t stay because of your brother. You stay because deep down you want to overcome your past, and that scares you.”

Olivia sees the wheels turning in my head. She waits for me to patiently digest what she’s saying. I study my hands again. There’s no point in arguing with her. As much as I hate to admit it, she’s right. It is scary. I don’t think I can move forward, I don’t think I deserve it. What if I fail and let everyone down again?

“Some people feel anger towards their family members because they’re furious that they left. It’s okay to be angry with them, Addie. Whatever you feel is okay. You need to let it out or it will consume you. If you don’t feel like you can talk to me, then talk to anyone you feel comfortable with. Little by little, you need to open up or you will never be able to move forward with your life.”

I bite my lip so hard it bleeds. I focus on that pain then the emptiness inside of me. The little bite isn’t enough so I dig my nails into my palms. Noticing the blood, I slowly relax my hand. I interlace my fingers together so that Liv doesn’t see. I stare at the tiny trail of blood that barely shows. It doesn’t take away the emptiness. I need more.

“I am angry. They died and I didn’t. I’m angry that my world stopped that night and nobody noticed. All night I thought someone would see us, that someone would help us, but nobody stopped. Everyone kept driving. So, yes, I am angry, Liv. My world sank into the darkness and everyone else went on with their lives while the most important people in my life were dying beside me. I was helpless, unable to do anything but . . .”

Words leave me. I can’t finish that thought. It’s too much. Too painful.

The session drags on. Liv continues to demonstrate patience. Towards the end of it, Liv straightens her shoulders as if preparing for battle.

“I need you to start living your life. Go out. Meet new people, even take a vacation. Just live without thinking about the past and how you shouldn’t be having fun because they’re gone, as you put it earlier. The past is just that, the past. You can’t change it; no matter how much you wish you could.”

My thoughts are anywhere but in this gym while I run on the treadmill. I play everything that Liv said on a continuous wheel in my head. It still seems surreal that she thinks I can go a month without seeing her, that I am ready to progress.

I have my doubts. My mind is going in circles. Suddenly I realize that I am sprinting and coming up on my ninth mile. I try to focus on the panel, but my vision has blurred. While chugging my water, I press the down button to slow my pace. As soon as I set my water down in the cup holder and reach for my towel, I’m seeing spots. The world tilts. Blindly I grope for the string to pull the emergency stop. Everything goes black before I hit the still moving track.

When I come to, I’m laying on the floor next to an unbelievably attractive man who’s leaning over to get a clear view of my face. His lips are moving, but all I hear is a loud ringing noise. My head hurts. I try to process what other body parts hurt, but all I can focus on is that it seems like someone took a sledgehammer to my head. I attempt to move and pain shoots up my ankle.

I breathe through the pain. Strong hands squeeze my shoulders. The hot guy is still talking. I can’t understand what he’s saying, or why he’s bending over me. He looks so edible, I end up staring into his dark blue eyes. They remind me of the ocean and a peaceful calm takes over me, but it’s short-lived when the pain comes back with a vengeance. Once the pain subsides to a more manageable level, I can focus on his words.

“Can you hear me? What’s your name? Do you know where you are?” Concern is evident in his voice.

He’s speaking slowly for my benefit. I struggle to sit up, but he presses his strong hands on my shoulders. Mr. Edible smirks at me.

“No you don’t, sweetie. Stay still until I know you’re okay. Can you tell me your name? Do you know where you are?”

The sudden desert that has taken residence in my throat makes speaking impossible. Mr. Edible lifts my head and tilts a cold water bottle to my dry lips. When he starts to pull it away, I grab it and gulp half of the water down.

“You should take sips right now.”

Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I roll my eyes. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“If you have a concussion, you could throw up,” he says.

Today is just not my day. Of course I would be the one to hurt myself on a treadmill and attract a cocky Good Samaritan.

“Adalynn,” I say in a calm voice, answering his question from earlier.

He raises an eyebrow expectantly. Right . . . he asked two questions. He couldn’t just walk away and leave me here. I find it hard to believe that he would be able to turn his back on someone needing help. There’s something about him that screams Mr. Good-Guy.

The light bulb goes off.

“At the gym.” Who has the smug smile now, Mr. Edible?

Gazing into his eyes, I’m aware I’m not fooling him with my casual act. I also know from previous experiences that I need to stay calm so I can talk him down from doing something rash like calling 911. I need to extinguish this situation so I can make it back to my apartment before the guys return. I’ll pretend like everything is fine and go to the doctor tomorrow. Ha, who am I kidding! I’m not going to the doctor tomorrow. I can’t remember the last time I voluntarily went for a check up.

“How are you feeling?” he ask as he interrupts my thinking process. “You were out for a couple of minutes. Your forehead’s still bleeding, not as bad though.” Pausing, he moves so he can examine my leg. As he touches my ankle, I wince. “You may have a sprain. You’ll need an X-ray to be sure.”

Ah, it’s my ankle, not my entire leg, that’s a little more comforting. That will be easier to hide from the guys. I need a mirror to know how bad my face looks. From the throbbing pain on my forehead, my guess would be anywhere from horrible or death. My guess is on the latter.

“Fuuuccckkkk!” I draw that one syllable into about twenty, give or take, when he starts twisting my ankle.

“I’m sorry,” he says once I’m done screaming. “I’m just checking for breaks. Do you have a boyfriend that I can call before we head to the hospital?”

That one word causes me to go into full blown panic. I sit up way too quickly, making him drop my ankle on the floor. I’m surprised my earsplitting scream doesn’t break the glass doors. Once the pain subsides, I try to stand only to fail. Graciously, he helps me to my feet and leads me to a nearby bench.

“I really don’t need to go to the hospital,” I tell him when he pulls his cell phone out of his basketball shorts. I wave him off, hoping to convey that this isn’t as bad as it seems. “Honestly this is no big deal, just a scratch.” I shrug, eyes glued to the silver device that will seal my fate.


I hold up my hand, silencing him. “No, really, I’m fine. I just need to go back up to my place. I’m a little lightheaded, but we don’t need to make an unnecessary scene. You don’t need to call anyone. Once the bleeding—”

He cuts me off with a glare that clearly says “don’t mess with him.” The Good Samaritan that I’m somehow stuck with isn’t going to give up.

“Listen, Adalynn, you need stitches. This is too deep for just a Band-Aid.” He stares at my forehead. “You also might’ve suffered a concussion, not to mention you need to have your ankle checked out and be possibly fitted for crutches.

I give him my most pleading look. “Please, just help me to my apartment. I have crutches somewhere in one of my closets from the last time I decided to do a gravity check. The bleeding has stopped. I’ll go to the hospital if I need to. I know all the signs of a concussion. This isn’t my first accident.” And it won’t be my last, I’m sure. Clumsiness doesn’t even begin to describe my unique quality of walking skills.

He shakes his head. “Give me your boyfriend’s number so he can meet you at the hospital.”

Okay, now, I’m mad. Who does he think he is? Good Samaritan or not, he doesn’t get to boss me around. Since standing isn’t an option, I sit up straight, attempting to appear taller. “Look, buddy, I already told you I’m not going to the hospital. So either help me back to my apartment or move out of my way.”

Rubbing his face, he says in a forced calm voice, “Fine Adalynn, you win. But I need to grab my emergency bag from my apartment. You will call me if there are any signs you need to go to the hospital. Take it or leave it.”

Without waiting for a response, he stands and gathers towels to support my ankle. Once he’s satisfied that I’m not going anywhere, he glances down at me with a question in his eyes.

“Fine. Hurry up.”

“I’ll be right back. I don’t need to ask you to stay put because with that ankle you’re not going anywhere.” He gives me one last smirk before walking away. At the door he turns and asks, “And what about your boyfriend, do you need to borrow my phone to call him?” He holds up the phone in question.

“Nope, no boyfriend so nobody to call.”

He shoots me a knowing grin before leaving. Why didn’t I ask for his name? I’m about to have a random, hot, controlling guy escort me to my apartment, and I didn’t even ask for his name. Smart. What was that nonsense about him retrieving his bag? Deciding I don’t really care, I rest my eyes.

They spring open when something cold presses on my ankle. It’s hard to focus at first, but when my I adjust to the bright lights in the gym I see my sexy stranger wielding a bag of ice.

I ask the most basic question that I should have asked from the beginning. “Does my knight in shining armor come with a name? Or should I just pick one from my favorite fairy tales? I have to warn you, though, my fairy tales are different from Disney.”


“Instead of reading to me, my Dad made up his own fairy tales.”

He chuckles. “Do I remind you of the knights in shining armor?”

I shrug. “There weren’t really any knights in shining armor. The princess always saved the day. She didn’t need anyone to rescue her.”

I’m surprised that I just told that information to a stranger. I never open up. Never. There’s something about him that makes me want to bare my soul. Which means I need to shut up. This can only be heading somewhere dangerous.

He rummages into his bag and pulls out a pair of gloves and a white bottle with a spray cap before answering. “Kohen Daniels. Now hold still. This may hurt a little.”

Before waiting for me to catch on, he sprays the liquid on a cotton ball and then gently cleans my forehead. I scream a string of profanity that would make any sailor proud.

“Well, lucky for you I was wrong,” Kohen says after cleaning the wound.

“Oh?” I ask through my teeth. The sting is still fresh in my mind.

“You won’t need stitches. I have butterfly stitches that will keep this closed and it’ll heal nicely.”

He finishes cleaning the wound and applies the final bandage. Lightly he brushes his fingertips over my cheek and down my jaw. As he stares into my eyes, I feel a pull that I have only felt with one other person. Right when I think he is going to lean in, he quickly averts his attention to my ankle.

“I need to wrap your ankle and then I can help you back to your apartment.”

Not trusting my voice, I nod. What just happened? I must have hit my head a lot harder than I thought.

He wraps my ankle with practiced ease. Without asking, I know immediately that he’s a great doctor. Women must fall at his feet with those dark blue eyes and sandy blond hair that can’t seem to stay in place. I know without a doubt that he has an incredible body to match his handsome face. There’s no hiding it, even with a black sweatshirt on. When he’s satisfied with his work, he stands and holds out his hand for me. Smiling, I take it and wobble to his side.


Kohen must have collected my things when I was resting because now he is slinging the strap of my gym bag over his shoulder along with his medical bag. We’re standing so close that all I have to do is look up and our lips will meet. My hands fidget at my sides because I can’t make myself kiss him. The attraction I feel for him is foreign. My heart forever belongs to another.

Slowly, his hands trail from my shoulder to my wrists and back up again. By the second time his hands glide down my arms, goosebumps cover my whole body. As much as I don’t want to look up, I tilt my head back. My violet eyes connect with his azure ones. His hand caresses my face as he leans into me. Logic kicks in at the same time the gym doors bang open.

Kohen manages to angle his body in front of mine and yet he’s still supporting my weight. He watches me as Jax comes running around the corner in a desperate search for something, for me.

“Ads!” he shouts with relief.

I’m ogling him without shame, Kohen forgotten. My gaze is drawn to his brown hair that is styled in it’s usual messy fohawk, his forest green eyes, and his sinfully kissable lips. Everything is the complete package and I haven’t even taken in his body yet. I barely try to fight the pull I always feel when he’s around. He’s wearing a simple maroon dress shirt, first two buttons undone, with the sleeves rolled up displaying his tattooed arms. Once there was a time where I was able to study every picture, every black detail on his tanned arms. I would spend hours tracing every curve of his body.

Suddenly Jax comes to an abrupt halt when he sees the blood on my shirt, the bandage on my forehead, and me balancing on one leg. From the expression on his face, I can tell that his relief is short-lived. Sighing, I pinch the bridge of my nose and helplessly try not to make it obvious that I wished things were different between us, but they’re not. I’m just Logan’s little sister to him now.

“Please don’t start. I’m fine. I was on my way back to my place when you came storming in here.” Taking a deep breath to stall, I silently beg him to not make a big deal of this. I know there’s no use, he’s just as bad as my brother. “Please . . . just don’t, Jax.”

The only way this could be any worse is if Logan found me. At least with Jax I have a small window where he might be reasonable. With my brother I have no chance. It’s always take charge first, ask questions later. I know I only have a minute, maybe two if I’m lucky, to convince Jax not to make a scene. Suddenly I remember Kohen next to me. It’s amazing how just Jax’s presence can command a room.

I hate it.

“Seriously, Jax, I’m fine. Kohen,” I add pointing to the man still holding me upright, “is a doctor and he’s already looked me over. Gave me a clean bill of heath and everything. I just need to stay off the ankle and we both know I have crutches somewhere in my apartment.”

I’m wearing a huge grin knowing that I’ve talked my way out of this until the traitor opens his big fat mouth. “Actually I’ve been trying to convince her to go to the hospital for an X-ray. I don’t think anything is broken, but it wouldn’t hurt to have her examined. There’s a good chance she has a concussion.”

Kill me now.

My grin is now a scowl. I can’t believe Kohen ratted me out. Great, hospital here I come. Jax doesn’t say anything. He smiles that crooked smile I secretly love, the one that says he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Reaching into his black slacks, he grabs his vibrating phone.

“Yeah, man, found her. No idea, I haven’t asked yet. No, you’re going to need to meet us in the lobby. We need to make a quick run to the emergency room. Calm down, she’s fine. Yeah, tell Connor to bring the car around. Oh, I’m sure, I didn’t ask that either.” Pulling the phone away from his ear, he curses quietly so that my brother can’t hear. “Calm down, Logan. She’s fine. Yeah, I know. See you in a second.”

When Jax hangs up, he opens his mouth to speak. I hold up my hand. “No, Jax. Just don’t. Save it, okay? Let’s go before Logan loses his mind.”

I rub the side of my temple, hating that there’s a stranger witnessing the bubble that I live in. Wisely, Jax nods without saying anything. Turning slightly to face Kohen, I give him a weak smile that I don’t feel. “Thanks again for everything.”

Because I can’t help myself and I want to see Jax suffer, I rise up on my good foot and kiss his cheek. I hear a growl and have to bite my lip to keep from beaming.

Kohen smiles down at me, ignoring a steaming Jax. “You’re welcome . . . let’s try to be more careful next time?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Momentarily forgetting about my ankle, I stumble towards Jax, which makes both Jax and Kohen reach for me. There’s one on each side of me, helping me from face-planting.

“Jesus, Ads, stop trying to kill yourself.” I don’t have time to respond before Jax sweeps me up into his arms and cradles me to his chest. Jax grins down at me when I glare at him.

“Thanks for helping her,” he tells Kohen, his green eyes fixed on mine.

Then Jax strolls out of the gym without waiting for a reply. I bury my head into his chest from embarrassment. God, could he act anymore like a caveman? When we reach the door I take a quick look over Jax’s shoulder. Kohen hurls his medical equipment back into his bag.

“You don’t need to carry me,” I tell Jax.

“No, but I want to. Besides if your brother sees me letting you limp your way to the car, I’ll be dead.”

My brain has short-circuited. Jaxon Chandler wants to carry me. He wants me in his arms. I know I’m making a bigger deal out of this then I need to, but I can’t help it. This is Jax. The man that I’ve been in love with for as long as I can remember.

“Besides, most women would love to be in my arms.”

Ignoring the pain in my chest, I smirk at him. “Don’t flatter yourself, Jax, those women only want your money. The rest of us don’t want to hurt your feelings. You’re not as good-looking as you think.” We both know I’m lying. He is the very definition of beautiful.

“Great,” I mumble under my breath when we reach the lobby.

Connor leans against the wall idly typing on his phone while Logan paces. Logan rushes to my side. He tries to grab me from Jax, whose hold on me tightens.

“No, I got her. She doesn’t need to move more than necessary with her ankle.”

Logan nods while sliding off his suit jacket from his buff shoulders to lay it over me. “Thanks, man. You okay, Addie?”

“Of course. I’m a little tired, though, so maybe we should go back up to my place and watch a movie?”

His light blue eyes that are the exact replica of our father’s plead with me not to fight with him. I give him a tight nod. There’s so much of our father in him; his build, his tone of voice, even his brown hair. I have that, too. We both have our mother’s smile. Thanks to our mom I was blessed with her rare shade of violet eyes.

Logan kisses the top of my head. “Not a chance, baby girl,” he says using Dad’s nickname for me. To Jax he says, “Let’s go.”

Putting away his phone, Connor hurries over to the door to hold it open for us. The chill in the spring night air washes over me. I burry myself closer into Jax’s warm chest, secretly loving his potent cologne. I breathe deeply once before watching Connor’s 6’6’’ frame clear out the back seat of his car.

Like my brother, Jax treats me as if I’m a porcelain doll as he maneuvers me in the car. By the time he has the buckle in place I’m covered in goosebumps and it’s not from the cold. Jax is so close, but still so many miles away from me.

After making sure that I’m comfortable in the back, Logan surprises me by manning the wheel. He hardly drives since the accident. He utilizes his massive amounts of money and has a full-time driver. I feel his fear resembles mine in a way, even if he wasn’t there that dreadful night.

I nearly groan when Jax settles himself next to me and Connor slides into the passenger seat. I was hoping that Connor would sit with me. It would be easier to keep my distance from Jax. When we finally arrive at the hospital, Connor rushes to snag a wheelchair for me while the rest of us wait in the car.

Logan breaks the silence. “You didn’t think to call us?”

I turn to face the window. “No, I was a little preoccupied. Besides, I knew you three would make a big deal out of this.” I wave my hand down my body.

Luckily, Connor returns with the wheelchair before Logan or Jax can respond.

“All right, Addie, you know the drill,” Connor says.

Jax picks me up like I’m a child and sets me in the chair. I breathe my first breath of fresh air since being in his arms. Being so close to him yet so far away is torture.

I sigh dramatically for his benefit. “Oh, well thank you, kind sir. I don’t know how I would have made it the whole half a step to the wheelchair without you.”

Someone clutches my hand. I look up and smile at Connor. His tall frame bends slightly so that he can continue to hold my hand while Logan steers me towards the automatic doors. I watch Connor as we near the entrance. Not for the first time, I wish that I felt something for him besides friendship. It would be so much easier to be in love with the blond stud squeezing my hand, but of course I consider him a brother. He brushes his long hair behind his ears. It’s only then that I realize his wrist is missing the pink hair-tie I gave him earlier. Without saying anything, I give him the extra I keep on my wrist just for him. He smiles appreciatively as he gathers his shoulder-length hair into one of those manly ponytails at the bottom of his head.

My anxiety rises the closer I’m wheeled to the hospital’s doors. Ever since the accident, I avoid them. Well, I try to at least; me being accident-prone doesn’t help with my fear since the guys always insist on me seeing a doctor. Logan wheels me into the crowded Emergency Room at New York Presbyterian Hospital, oblivious that I’m dying inside.

Jax walks up to the counter like he owns the place. Flashing the receptionist his trademark smile he says, “I need to have someone look at my friend Adalynn Maxwell. She hit her head pretty badly and we’re worried she might have a concussion.”

He’s so charming it should be illegal. The lady doesn’t shift her focus from the computer screen; apparently there are women immune to Jax’s charm. That’s just too bad. Really, my heart breaks for him.

“You’re going to need to fill this out and wait in the waiting room like everyone else.” She hands him a clipboard with the paperwork attached. When Jax doesn’t make a move for it, Connor is forced to seize it.

“I didn’t introduce myself earlier, my apologies. I’m Jaxon Chandler, as in the owner of Trinity. Which happened to give the largest donation this year at the pediatric fundraising event last week.”

He doesn’t even wait for the light bulb to go off. I’m surprised how fast she recognizes the name of their company. Understanding dawns on me when I glance around. The new self-help posters have the Trinity logo in the lower left corner. What doesn’t their company dabble in these days?

“I would like Miss Maxwell in a private room and to be seen by the best neurologist.”

She’s already standing and walking around the counter. She might be immune to Jax’s charm, but she doesn’t want to piss off their biggest paycheck. I doubt their CEO, who I know just went golfing with Logan, would be happy to hear from a fuming Jax. I have to try extremely hard not to laugh at her sudden willingness to help. It’s hilarious how name-dropping can change people, even in a hospital, where it shouldn’t matter.

“Of course, sir. I can have someone show you to Miss Maxwell’s room right away. Unfortunately you will have to see the on-call doctor, as our head of neurology has the night off. I assure you Miss Maxwell will be in good hands.”

Connor groans with me. Jax ignores both of us. She couldn’t have just kept quiet, could she? No, it’s not like she would have known that Jax isn’t a man to be deterred. I tremble when he slams his strong hands on the counter. He glares at her as if she just said the most outrageous thing in the history of the world.

“That’s unacceptable. I want the best. Make it happen or do I need to call Don?” He reads her name tag. “Mrs. Adams?”

“My apologies, sir. I’ll have someone take her for all the tests while you wait for the doctor. It might take awhile longer since this is his only day off this week.”

Mrs. Adams calls over a nurse to manage the desk before snatching the wheelchair from Logan. The guys are forced to hurry along after us to catch up. I have to hand it to Mrs. Adams, she doesn’t just take it lying on her back. Go her! I pick imaginary lint off my bright orange leggings as Mrs. Adams silently pushes me. I stare straight ahead as we pass through the doors that she has to use a keycard to access. The urge to break the silence is overwhelming.

“I’m sorry about him. He’s harmless, by the way,” I tell her as she wheels me into a room.

“Yeah, he’s like a rabid dog without teeth.” I turn just in time to see Jax slap the back of Connor’s head. “Ow!”

I can tell from her tight smile that Mrs. Adams wishes she were anywhere else right now. Can’t say that I blame her. She starts to help me from the chair, but Jax pushes her out of the way.

“I got her.”

My jaw drops. He needs to stop acting this way in front of Logan. I force myself not to react to his closeness as he lifts me up before gently laying me in the bed.

“Your nurse will be right in.” Mrs. Adams inches her way closer to the door.

“You’re not my nurse?” I ask, surprised.

After a shake of her head, she slips out the door.

“Jax, any doctor would have been fine.” I let my annoyance show in my voice. “I’m pretty sure they all went to medical school, but who knows, some might have gone to clown school.”

Jax ignores me as he makes a point of walking over to Logan, who’s leaning against the far wall across from the bed. I’m still irritated that I’m here when a male nurse knocks on the door. He couldn’t have come at a better time. Being here is making my entire body tense. Pretty soon I’m going to snap. Hopefully nobody is here to witness it.

Forty-five minutes later I have my ankle re-wrapped. Just a bad sprain, thank goodness; I just have to wait for the doctor to go over my CT scan. I survey the room for Jax, but he’s missing. I want to ask where he’s gone, but I don’t want to clue in Logan to my feelings for his best friend. Talk about awkward.

“Don’t be so hard on them, Addie,” Connor says, “You know they’re both just worried.”

I frown at my best friend, hating that he’s right. He’s known me my entire life, and he’s usually the one who makes those two see reason when it comes to me. He’s like another big brother. I love him even if he annoys me 99 percent of the time.

I stare at Logan as he types away on his phone, probably responding to the thousand of emails he receives daily. As I inspect him closer I notice the shadows under his eyes. Without asking, I know he didn’t sleep last night. Most likely he was restless like me, remembering everything we lost. But unlike me, he doesn’t have the gory, haunting memories I do. I’m glad as my brother doesn’t deserve to suffer like me. He’s innocent.

“I know, Connor. I’m not mad at them. I just wish Jax didn’t make a big deal out of this. Between the two of them, I don’t know who’s worse.”

His twin dimples are prominent. “If you haven’t noticed, Jax likes to make a show out of everything when it comes to you.” Before I can say anything, he quickly changes the subject. “Have you picked your dress for the Masquerade Ball yet or are you—” He breaks off when there’s a soft knock on the door.

We all turn to see a tall, muscular doctor with sandy blond hair that just can’t seem to stay in the right place. Tonight is getting better and better.


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First Chapter Reveal: Open Your Heart for Happy Relationships 10 Shift Keys by Eve Picquette

Open Your Heart for Happy Relationships 2Title: Open Your Heart for Happy Relationships: 10 Shift Keys – What Your Angels Have Been Trying to Tell You for Centuries
Author: Eve Picquette
Publisher: Enchanted Eve, Inc.
Pages: 78
Genre: Self Help/Inspiration
Format: Paperback

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How many times have you read or seen something that made you want to change your life and relationships – but you didn’t know how? Introduced by two angels, Hope and Impatience, Open Your Heart for Happy Relationships – What Your Angels Have Been Trying to Tell You for Centuries… answers the “how” question. Eve Picquette shows readers how to:

  • Open their hearts to love
  • Shift their lives, using 10 keys—how-to-do-it ideas created with the help of angels of inspiration—to change in real and satisfying ways.

In this lighthearted, uplifting, and beautifully illustrated gift book, each chapter opens with images of the author’s angels and quotes she believes were angel-inspired sometime in history. Readers may also download companion MP3 Mini Meditations available on They are “Dared to Shift” their thoughts and behaviors and these shifts will improve lives and relationships: • Shift 1: Always Connect to Love • Shift 2: Just Stop It, Really • Shift 3: It’s All About You • Shift 4: It’s Not About You • Shift 5: Give Up on the Past • Shift 6: Expect the Best Future • Shift 7: Appreciate Everything Now • Shift 8: Re-Choose Your Relationships • Shift 9: Handle Conflict with Grace • Shift 10: Love So it Can be Felt.

If you are ready to try these simple shifts, the results will amaze you. Every encouraging and comforting word in this beautifully illustrated self-help book will lead you to the path of peace, happiness, and fulfillment. A treasure to own, it would also serve as a thoughtful, caring, and loving gift.

First Chapter:

You probably would like some magic stardust to change your life and your relationships. You may have been trying to be loving, light hearted and to live a happy life, but it has been less than a success. Perhaps you read something and decide to change. But you don’t know exactly how and quickly fall back into the same patterns, just as I did. This book will give you practical shifts you can make in your life. I will be showing you what the angels had been trying to show me for years: how to shift to love, open my heart, and have happier relationships. If you make these shifts, you will become more relaxed, have more fun, and draw in the very best from your relationships. You will have the magic stardust.

There are only two reasons to make these shifts:

  • You will feel lighter and happier.
  • You will attract people, places and events, which are also lighter and happier.

When you are feeling lighter and happier and have attracted the same, you will find that your relationships have evolved, as well. They will be fixed in amazing ways. The easiest way to explain this is to think about each of your relationships as a teeter-totter. You are on one end and your partner, child, boss, or friend is on the other end. When you shift to lighten your heart, it is like lightening the weight on your end of the teeter-totter. The person on the other end must change, as well. But you cannot control what choices the other person will make. Sometimes the other person may change in ways that are happy and pleasing and keep things in balance. Sometimes the other person will refuse to play and will move away from the relationship. If so, it will be OK. Because you are shifting your life to happiness and love—another partner, friend, or job will show up to take their place. They will have lighter hearts and be in balance with the changes you are making to lighten your heart and enjoy your life.

It would be nice to just ask your angels to sprinkle some stardust on all the difficult people in your life—swish! But, unfortunately, all those people have free choice, so you can only hope to influence them in a positive way. The very best way to influence the difficult people in your life is to connect to love, yourself. Whenever you are not feeling light and happy, just stop whatever you are doing or thinking and connect to love and ask for an open heart. When you do this, it will be like magic stardust for you—your vibration will raise, you will feel better, and this transformation will influence everyone around you in a positive way. The first Shift Key is learning that there is always magic stardust for you. You can always connect to love at any time, in any circumstance.

When I was learning this—I had it all backward. I wanted to get more love from others. But I did not have my own connection to love. I thought if I could change everyone else, I would be happy. As it turns out, I could not get anyone to change even one little bit. I had read many of the self-help books published in the last twenty-five years and become an authority on why I was sabotaging myself, and why my childhood or other experiences might be causing my pain. Everything I learned was helpful, but most of what I learned just made me want to change other people and circumstances beyond my control.

I also thought that working on my own education and accomplishments would make me more lovable and happy. I consistently chose with my head, then second-guessed my choices. I was accepted into medical school, and then chose not to attend. Later I became an attorney, not because I really wanted to be an attorney, but to make up for my “mistake” in not going to medical school. I was mostly concerned with how others would view me. My accomplishments were not from my heart. I am glad for all I accomplished as nothing we learn is ever wasted. But I was mostly operating out of worry and fear, not love.

I later found that I was making two major errors and even though the results were poor – I didn’t know what else to do.

  • First – I was trying my best to be and do what I thought everyone wanted me to be and do.
  • When that didn’t seem to be working out, I often made a second mistake. I waited and hoped that others would change to be who I wanted them to be.

I was trying so hard to do it right and be good enough – I wasn’t really being myself. Then, instead of moving on when a relationship, job or situation did not meet my needs – I waited and waited – hoping that others would somehow change (despite strong evidence to the contrary!).

I wanted to stop wishing and hoping that others would change, so that I could be happy. I asked my angels to show me an answer: How could I love and respect myself and have harmonious and happy relationships, at the same time? This book contains the answers I found. The secret was to connect to love and then shift in the only areas where I had some control – my own thoughts, feelings and actions. When my own heart was right, then everyone and everything around me sorted out with the law of attraction. When I connected to love and my inner world (my heart) was right – so was my outer world.

Our angels have been trying to tell us this down through the ages. However, in the last few years, science is confirming the importance of connecting to love and its impact on our world. Joe Dispenza in his book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, notes research indicating that we are each part of a vast, invisible field of energy, which contains all possible realities and actually responds to our thoughts and our feelings. We can use our minds and emotions to create our reality. The neuroscientist, Dr. Newberg, in his book, How God Changes Your Brain, explains how just thinking of the word God and contemplative practices enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health, no matter the religion or belief – as long as it is based on peace, love and compassion. The Institute of HeartMath research shows that positive thoughts actually add energy to our system and negative thoughts dissipate our energy. Our heart energy extends out three feet and more, influencing whatever is around us, as well as connecting to those we love around the world.

Opening our hearts and feeling love, appreciation and compassion have a powerful beneficial effect on how we relate to life. I learned from Dr. David Hawkins’s book, Power versus Force, that we all vibrate on an energy scale that ranges from low vibrations of despair, loneliness, and sadness up to the higher vibrations of hope, peace, happiness, and joy. Further, whatever level we are at determines what we attract—like attracts like.

  • High vibrations —Happiness, Peace, and Joy
  • On the way up —Hope, Expectation, and Contentment
  • Low vibrations —Despair, Guilt, and Shame

Our emotions are based on how we interpret events and what we are thinking about. Our energy or vibration level is determined by the emotions we feel. Our vibration then determines what we attract and the outcome of our interactions with others and our world. So why don’t we all just move up to joy? Usually because most of us grew up learning unhappy behaviors from our parents, who also wanted to live happy lives, but didn’t know how. Unless we connect to love – it is difficult to

break these unhappy patterns.

So no wonder I was not getting what I wanted! My attitude, emotions, and vibration were often fearful and worried or critical and negative. When I was critical and negative, that was the type of experience I was going to attract. I realized why the Law of Attraction wasn’t working for me. I began to think of my thoughts as a flock of ducks flying through the sky. I could say some nice affirmations about what I wanted – that gave me three or four ducks going in the right direction. However, I had habitual thoughts and feelings of doubt, fear and unworthiness. Those twenty ducks were circling or going the wrong way, so chaos reigned. The universe responded not to my affirmations, but to my primary energy and vibration of fear and doubt. Law of attraction sounded good, if I could just stay in peace and joy – and attract that! But I didn’t know how to shut off the anxious, negative perspective. I found that the easiest way was to simply ask for help and ask to be filled with the energy of unconditional love.

I had signed up to go to an Angel Conference presented by Doreen Virtue, but was hesitant to go. The universe knew I sincerely wanted help—when I ask I always get assistance. I usually recognize the angel’s hand only in retrospect. But this time, I actually heard a voice in my heart say, “Atlanta, Atlanta.” Since the conference was in Atlanta, that helped me find the courage to go. At that time Doreen had recorded a beautiful short meditation. I found the best way to get out of my negative thoughts was by listening to this. All I needed was a few minutes of quiet time. I felt the peace the first time I tried it. Later, if I found my thoughts drifting into negativity, I just paused a moment and asked for help again. I opened my heart to the energy of love and gratitude. I began connecting to light and love this way about fifteen years ago, and it has made a profound difference in my life.

No matter what you are facing, connecting with the source of love and light in the universe (the power running the universe) will help. You may wonder how this will improve your relationships, but when you connect to the power of love, you can see yourself and others with a love that creates miracles. There is a power that spins the world and holds the stars and planets in place. That same power is available to you at all times. You may call it Source, you may call it God; you can think of it as delivered by angels of unconditional love or the power that created the galaxies. It truly does not matter. It is light and love flowing to all of us, no matter what our belief or religion. The power is love, and it does not discriminate. You do not have to believe in it; all you have to do is hold out your hands. It keeps you alive, and you cannot turn it off. You can only temporarily cut off part of the flow—the part that would make you fully alive, vibrant, happy, and at peace.

So your first shift key is to quiet your mind and open your heart. I want to emphasize—I am not recommending some formal meditation practice; often, just five minutes will move you up the emotional scale from fear to hope. The secret is not long meditation, but repeated requests throughout the day and a change in your emotions and vibration. You will receive help and see your situation with the eyes of love. If you ask, you will receive that magic stardust,

When you walk in nature, listen to uplifting music; close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, your heart responds. When you ask for help from Source or the angels of unconditional love, or when you repeat a comforting phrase, you are slowing down enough to notice and connect to the light and power of the universe. If you ask to be filled with the energy of unconditional love, you will feel your vibration rise, and you will feel better. If you are fearful or upset, you will become calmer. If you’re angry or frustrated, you will move up to hope and see answers more clearly. It will help you with the rest of the Shift Keys. It will raise your energy and vibration and make it more likely that you will attract what you want and reach your dreams. But even more important, it will connect you to love. You will see that everything, no matter how it appears, is really working out for you—right now.

You may be thinking that if that worked, it would be a miracle. It is.


You are never alone or helpless. The force that guides the stars guides you too.


If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.

—Alan Cohen

So many mornings I have chosen email over meditation…. I override the call to feel myself—the call to pray, or meditate, or be fully awake. Prayer comes in all forms and each one spoken brings grace to the day. —Danielle LaPorte

Love stretches your heart and makes you big inside. —Margaret Walker

You don’t have to go looking for love when it’s where you come from. —Erhard

You are today where your thoughts brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you. —James L. Allen

Everything that exists, … is vibration in motion—and all of it is managed by the powerful Law of Attraction. —Abraham-Hicks

And my favorite:

If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.  —Ani Pema Chodron


Shift and connect to the energy of love and gratitude every single day. Put five to ten minutes on your calendar today. I cannot urge you more strongly—try it for a week and prove me wrong! I am not talking about long meditation – I believe that most of us are here to live our lives, rather than sit in contemplation. But we need to pause long enough to stop the negative thoughts and emotions, which are cutting off our supply of loving energy. We need to ask to be filled, here and now, with the energy of life, light and the power of love. We need to take the time to be lifted with the energy of love, to raise our vibration and open our hearts.

  • If you feel you have no time, just take a few minutes in the car in a parking lot. I have done some of my best connection in the car, or waiting for an appointment in a place where I could close my eyes and relax. If I am in a really stressful situation, I excuse myself for just five minutes (even if I have to retreat to the restroom). I breathe deeply and ask for calm and clarity or whatever I need. I ask to be filled with light and to see the situation with love. This has helped me respond and make decisions in a clear and positive way.
  • Close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply; ask for help and repeat a soothing phrase. I like the phrase All is well. If you have time, you can use a short meditation or soothing music without words.
  • Ignore any negative thoughts or your to-do list—repeat your request to be flooded with love and light and continue relaxing, breathing slowly.
  • Once you feel some peace and love, if you want, you can also ask for specific help. You can ask for clarity on a problem at work; the ability to see your partner or children with more loving eyes; or the ability to see your own goals clearly, without worrying about everyone else. Then let it go, and continue the day.
  • Do not ask for predictions on the future, because both you and others have free choice. You can choose again at any time, and change your future. The angels do not predict the future, but angel messengers of unconditional love or the love and light of the universe can help you recognize what makes you light and happy and help you move toward the best next step for you. So ask to clearly know what choice will bring you and others the most love and happiness now.
  • Note – This is asking for help in living your life. This is not about channeling, predicting the future, or connecting with anything other than the light of love or Source. The Source of unconditional love and light only wants you to choose and will help you follow your choices – Source, angels or the light of unconditional love never dictates your path, you have free choice. But connecting to love will lighten any path you choose, increasing your freedom and joy.
  • Only accept loving thoughts that lighten your heart. If a thought makes you feel heavy or burdened, it is a lie. Ignore it and expect positive inspiration later. Ask to be raised above critical vibration. See all negative thoughts fade away with the stardust of love. Ask to connect to the loving truth of unconditional love and that loving truth will make you feel light and free.
  • Note: Sometimes you will know that you must do something, like apologize, that you don’t want to do – but thinking of completing that task will lighten your heart with relief and you will feel that it is right and true. Sometimes what is best for you won’t make everyone else happy, but it will make your heart lighter.
  • You will receive help. You may get an immediate thought or idea when you ask and open your heart to unconditional love—or, at a later time, you will hear a song or snippet of conversation, speak with someone, or find a book or magazine article that seems meant to open your eyes to new possibilities or gives you a new insight. But remember – if it is the true direction for you – it will make you feel lighter and happier – not burdened, guilty or fearful. Your inner knowing is from light and love – learn to trust it.



Purpose and Peace

When I first moved to Arizona, I had a job I enjoyed and was living the life I thought I wanted, but life still felt like a daily struggle. I decided to make the drive to work a sort of prayer for help and an appreciation of my blessings. I repeated soothing phrases, over and over, asking my angels and the source of unconditional love and light to lift my energy and give me the grace to enjoy the day and bring good to all I met. By the time I got to work, I was feeling a sense of purpose and a light heart, ready to face the day. I had connected with love and begun to understand that the connection to love, not any external events, was what made me happy.


I wanted to find an interesting program for my daughter when she was going through some difficult experiences. I asked for help, and within a few days I got it. On a flight for a conference, I was seated right next to a woman who was part of an organization that did wonderful weekend programs for teenagers. She was able to tell me all about the program. I took my daughter to this weekend program in Seattle the next week. It was a life-changing event and helped her to come to terms with some of the unhappy things in her life, such as the recent death of her great-grandfather. I knew I had connected to love and had received a wonderful answer.

Deep Happiness

You are so loved, and you will find that when you connect to love, you can feel happiness and peace, no matter what is happening around you. This will help you see your relationships with eyes of love and respond to your partner, family, and friends from a stronger, happier, heart-centered place. You will begin to expect blessings and miracles. You will see the difference in how you relate to everyone when first you open your heart and connect to love.


Childre, D. (1999) The HeartMath Solution, NY HarperCollins

Dispenza, J. (2013) Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Hay House

Dyer, W. (2012) I Am: Wishes Fulfilled (CD)

Newberg, A., Waldman, M. (2010 ) How God Changes Your Brain, Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, NY, Random House

Schmidt, J. (2003) Still, Still, Still MP3

Tabell, R. (2012) The Lord’s Prayer MP3

Picquette, E. (2012) “Connecting to Love,” track on Mini Meditation—Shift Keys MP3

Virtue, D. (2004) Chakra Clearing (book and CD)

For an easy click on book list of all the reference books – go to

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First Chapter Reveal: Meet Me in Barcelona by Mary Carter

Meet Me in Barcelona 2Title: Meet Me in Barcelona
Author: Mary Carter
Publisher: Kensington
Pages: 352
Genre: Mainstream fiction
Format: Paperback/Kindle/MP3 CD, Audiobook, MP3 Audo, Unabridged

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A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.

Carrie Ann wasn’t just Grace’s foster sister. Clever, pretty, and mercurial, she was her best friend—until everything went terribly wrong. Now, as she flees an abusive marriage, Carrie Ann has turned to the one person she hopes will come through for her. Despite her initial misgivings, Grace wants to help. But then Carrie Ann and Jake both go missing. Stunned and confused, Grace begins to realize how much of herself she’s kept from Jake—and how much of Carrie Ann she never understood. Soon Grace is baited into following a trail of scant clues across Spain, determined to find the truth, even if she must revisit her troubled past to do it.

Mary Carter’s intriguing novel delves into the complexities of childhood bonds, the corrosive weight of guilt and blame, and all the ways we try—and often fail—to truly know the ones we love.

First Chapter:

Grace Sawyer had never believed in magic, or miracles for that matter, but that didn’t mean a girl couldn’t pray for a little bit of both. She’d been praying a lot lately. She stepped into her mother’s hospice room and crinkled her nose as the scent of SpaghettiOs and Lysol washed over her. She glanced at her mom’s bedside table. Sure enough, sitting too close to the edge was a chipped brown bowl overflowing with SpaghettiOs, paired with an industrial-sized bottle of Lysol. Grace hesitated. Processed food in a can and industrial-sized cleaners were just the kind of things that could trigger an emotional avalanche inside her. This wasn’t what life should come to in the end. It wasn’t right. If replacing those bits with yellow roses and a nice roast dinner would have changed a single thing about this horrific situation, Grace would have done it lightning quick. This was her mother. The woman who had taken care of everybody else her entire life. Who had opened her heart to homeless, damaged children. She deserved more. But strangely, Lysol and SpaghettiOs were two items Jody Sawyer had insisted on lately. Grace had to fight her instincts, her primal desire to make everything nice, and instead keep each visit as pleasant as possible. She smiled even though neither of her parents had noticed her yet.

Her mother was wide-awake, eyes glued to the television in the corner where a soap opera blared. Before she had moved into this facility, Jody had never watched a soap opera in her life. She wouldn’t have been caught dead eating SpaghettiOs either. The Lysol, on the other hand, was familiar. Grace’s mother had spent her entire life within an arm’s reach of it. Most likely the product of having a revolving door of foster children. Where were they now? Not a single kid from the past had come to visit Grace’s mother. After all she’d done for them. It made Grace rage inside, but her mother hadn’t complained about it once.

Her father, Jim, sat next to the bed on his favorite recliner from home. Jim had put up quite a fuss to get them to allow it in the room, and he was extremely proud of the accomplishment. “I put up my dukes!” he’d say with a grin. Then he’d pump his fists in the air. He’d been practically living here since the doctor had given them the latest grim diagnosis. Grace couldn’t help but think it was probably a welcome relief for her father’s patients. Her father was a psychotherapist, and although he was insightful, Grace had always thought he was a tad too prying. Then again, maybe that was the whole point of going to a shrink. Baring your deepest, darkest secrets. It was Grace’s idea of a worst nightmare. “Hi, Dad,” Grace walked over and planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. He looked almost as thin as her mother. He lowered his newspaper and took off his reading glasses. “Well, hello there, Graceful.”

“How is she?”

“In and out.”

Grace nodded and slowly approached her mother’s bed. “Mom?”

Her mother’s eyes didn’t leave the television set. “Oh, hello,” Jody Sawyer said. “Are you the cleaning lady?”

“Like I said,” her father said. “In and out.”

“It’s me, Mom. I’m your daughter, Grace.”

“My daughter doesn’t clean,” Jody said.

“She’s got that right, “ Jim said.

Grace burst out laughing, then quickly tried to squelch it with a cough. Jody Sawyer pointed to the television and shook her head. She wanted them to be quiet. Grace looked at her father.

“Why don’t you wait for a commercial?” he said. He patted the folding chair next to him. Grace sat. “How was your day, sweetheart?”

Grace reached into her bag and removed two McDonald’s bags. She handed one to her father. He grasped the bag in one hand and squeezed her hand with the other like she’d brought him champagne and caviar. “Actually pretty wild,” she said. “I have news.”

“Do you mind?” her father said.

“Go right ahead.”

He unwrapped his Big Mac and took a bite. “Mm-mmm,” he said. He looked blissful. Grace wanted to bury her face in her sleeve and sob. SpaghettiOs and soap operas, and Mickey D’s? Didn’t they know they deserved better? They were from such a humble generation. Not like the entitled kids of today. Her parents were simple and good people. Let them enjoy what they enjoy. No use forcing kale or tofu burgers on her father now. Grace forced another smile, then reached into the second bag and handed him a napkin.

He winked at her and dabbed his mouth. Then his eyes went to her ring finger. “Did the boy finally pop the question?”

Grace laughed and stretched out her hand in front of her as if examining it for the first time. She hardly ever wore rings or bracelets; they got in the way of playing the guitar. Maybe now she would start. She would wear silver rings with semi-precious gems, like amber, and big chunky bracelets. Maybe even grow her nails and paint them pink. Was that a good enough trade for giving up on her dream? Grace slipped her hands under her legs as if she could shut out making any decisions by sitting on them. “Not yet. But you’re never going to believe this–”

The soap opera went to commercial. A jingle for car insurance came on. “Gracie Ann!” her mother said. She smiled and opened her arms as if Grace had just walked into the room.

“Hi, Mom.” Grace got up and hugged her mother. She felt so frail and tiny in Grace’s arms. Grace could probably pick her up and carry her around the room without breaking a sweat. Not fair, God! Not fair. “You didn’t eat your lunch,” Grace said, glancing at the SpaghettiOs.

“She insisted on them,” her father said.

“I ate ten Os,” her mother said. “I couldn’t possibly eat more than ten Os. I have to watch my figure.”

“If you stuck her in the middle of a cornfield, crows would land on her,” her father said with his mouth full of burger.

“You’re not far behind, Dad,” Grace said.

“Just how we wanted to spend our golden years. Hanging out in a farmer’s field like a couple of straw men,” her father mused in between bites.

Anything would be better than this place, Grace thought. She wished she could bring her parents to a beautiful field at the height of autumn. Give them trees with leaves on fire, and hay that shone like gold underneath an afternoon sun. Give them the smell of apples and the embrace of a warm wind.

“You look beautiful, Grace,” her mother said. Jody Sawyer reached up with a trembling hand and touched the pearls around Grace’s neck. “Is it your birthday?”

“In a few weeks, Mom.”

“Happy birthday, darling.”
“Thank you.”

“How old are you now? Thirteen?”

“I’m turning thirty,” Grace said. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m all better now, Gracie. I can go home now.” Jody Sawyer looked at her husband Jim, as if expecting him to start packing up the room.

“I don’t think today, Mom,” Grace said. Or ever. As much as she tried to shut it out, Grace could hear the doctor’s voice in her head in a constant loop. Maybe a month, six months at the most, we can’t say for sure. All we can do now is make her comfortable.

Make her comfortable? Was there any comfort in knowing you had six months, maybe one?

“Gracie said she has some news,” Jim said.

Her mother clasped her hands under her chin. “I love news,” she said. “And fries,” she called to her husband.

Grace nodded at her father. He picked up the second bag, then passed it up to Jody. It was odd. If Grace gave her the fries before she asked for them, her mother wouldn’t touch them. If Grace waited until Jody voiced a desire for them, Jody ate every single one. Just one of the little mysteries of dementia. What a double whammy. The doctors weren’t sure if fighting off the cancer had brought on the problems with her memory, or if she would’ve been hit with it anyway. There were just no two ways about it; life could be extremely cruel. “Give us the news,” her father said. “Hurry before her show comes back. We’re not allowed to talk during Days of Our Lives.”

“Jake won an all-expense-paid trip to Barcelona,” Grace said.

“Well, I’ll be,” Jim said. “How’d he do that?”

“The veterinarian group had some sort of a raffle,” Grace said. “But Jake didn’t even enter.”

“He won a raffle he didn’t even enter?”
“Dan went to one of the conferences without Jake and entered for him.” Dan was Jake’s partner at the animal hospital. He and Jake were like brothers.

“That was mighty nice of him.”

“But we feel guilty. Dan could have taken the trip himself.”

“I’m sure he filled out an entry for himself as well as Jake.”


“And Jake won. Seems fair to me.”

“But we would be leaving Dan to run the clinic all by himself, and he’d even have to watch Stella.” Stella was the best English bulldog a couple could ever ask for. If she could, Grace would take Stella to Spain. Stella was a hit wherever they went due to her prowess on a skateboard.

“Well, isn’t that special.” Jim slapped his knee. “Jody did you hear that? Gracie and Jake won a trip to Spain.”

He had entirely missed the point that they felt guilty that Dan would be getting the short end of the stick. It made her wonder how often he misunderstood his patients.

“That’s wonderful, dear,” Jody said. Her eyes traveled back to the television.

“I’m not going,” Grace said.

“What do you mean?” her father said.

“There’s a catch.” There always was.

“You have to pay for your hotel?”

“No, it’s all paid for.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“The dates are set in stone. We’d have to go at the end of next week.”


“It’s a ten-day trip. I don’t want to leave Mom for that long.”

“Nonsense,” her father said. “You have to go.”

“I’d be gone for my birthday.”

The soap opera was back. Jody snatched up the remote and aimed it at the television like she was holding it up at gunpoint.

Grace’s father patted her knee. “We’ll celebrate with you when you get back, kiddo. Take it from me, kiddo—life’s too short not to take free trips.” Jody glared at Jim and pressed on the volume until it was almost deafening. A few seconds later, there was a series of soft knocks on the wall behind her bed.

“Sorry, Mrs. Maple,” her father called out. “You have to turn it down, dear.”

“That old bitch,” her mother said. In all Grace’s years growing up, with all the strange boys tearing through the house, and fighting, and even through the whole Carrie Ann ordeal, Grace had never heard her mother curse, let alone direct it at somebody. Jody turned the volume down a smidge and pointed at the television. “He’s the one I like,” she exclaimed. There was a tall man, visible only in silhouette behind a flimsy shower curtain. “They think he’s Flo’s long-lost brother, but actually he’s just escaped from prison where he was convicted of murdering his second wife. Or is it his third? I can’t remember. Second or third wife, take your pick. It’ll come to me. Darn tootin’ he’s totally innocent, but I know that Flo. She’s going to be sniffing around his tight buns like a hound dog short of a bone. Second. Definitely second wife.”

Grace and her father looked at the television. The naked man stepped out of the shower, surrounded by steam. All you could see were his six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Grace supposed they wanted you to imagine something else bulging. This was definitely soft-core porn for women. Tan, and slick, and ripped, and glistening, he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to pick up a towel. He walked up to the bathroom mirror, reached up, and wiped away the condensation. Soon, his gorgeous face came into view. Grace had to stifle a laugh as he began to touch his cheekbones like a blind man trying to see what he looked like. “Isn’t it awful?” Jody said. “Pretending to be someone else? When all he wants to do is search for his wife’s real killer.”

Grace raised an eyebrow at her father. He looked down at his stomach, and in doing so dripped a thick glob of ketchup onto his fraying cardigan. “Didn’t even look like that when we got married,” Jim said.

“I think he must have had plastic surgery after his prison break,” Jody continued. “That’s why he doesn’t recognize himself!”

Jim Sawyer watched his wife with a smile and a shake of the head. “You wouldn’t leave her for ten days,” Grace said to her father.

“They sure did a pretty good job on him though, don’t you think?” Jody said. Based on where her mother was looking you’d think he’d had plastic surgery on his crotch.

“If Jake wants some old man tripping along with him, just say the word and I’ll pack my bags,” Jim said.

Jody glanced at Jim. He winked at her. She smiled back. Then she turned a smile on Grace. It was actually the first genuine smile Grace had seen out of her mother in a week. “You have to go, Carrie Ann.”

Carrie Ann. The words felt like two gunshots to the chest. Just hearing that name come out of her mother’s mouth made Grace’s heart start tripping. She almost shot out of her chair. “I’m Grace,” she said. “Gracie Ann.” Her voice cracked. “Dad?” she said.

“She’s confused, honey. The past and the present, it’s just one big, ugly glob.” Pinpricks of shame began forming at the base of Grace’s spine.

“I’m not confused,” Jody said. “Carrie Ann came to visit me.”

“My God,” Grace said. This time she did shoot out of her chair. Carrie Ann was the only girl foster child the Sawyers had ever taken in. At first she had been like a sister to Grace.

“Who is she married to now?” Jody said. “I can’t remember.”

“Pay no attention to her, Gracie,” Jim said.

“Why can’t I remember?” Jody pressed on her temples with her index fingers, as if she could squeeze the memory out of her head.

Grace took a step toward her mother. “When did she come and visit you, Mom?”
“Grace, I told you she didn’t,” Jim said. “Don’t egg your mother on.”

“I’m not egging her on, Dad, but if Carrie Ann was here, I want to know about it.”

Her father whacked his newspaper on the side of his chair. “I told you she wasn’t! And I should know. I’ve been sitting right here!”

“She’s still such a pretty girl,” Jody said. “She asked about you, Grace. She asked me all sorts of questions about you.”

Jim got up and threw up his arms. “She’s out of her mind!” He began to pace.

“Dad,” Grace said. “Hush.” Her mother suddenly became very still, which meant she was listening. Grace took her father by his arm and led him back to his chair.

“I’m sorry. She won’t remember me saying it.”

“That’s not the point.”

“I can’t help it. Carrie Ann this; Carrie Ann that. I thought we’d put that nuisance behind us for once and for all. Is this what it comes to? Reliving your worst nightmare?”

“I’ve never heard you speak so harshly about Carrie Ann,” Grace said. Her mom was the one who used to say the worst things about Carrie Ann. She said Carrie Ann was evil. She said Carrie Ann was a curse that would follow all of them to their graves. Once she had even said there wasn’t enough Lysol in the world to get rid of that stain. And each insult had cut into Grace like her mother was saying it about her. Her sister. Of sorts. Her own Dickens-like drama. Carrie Ann was the best thing that had ever happened to Grace, and she was the worst. She’d been out of their lives for nearly fifteen years. And Grace had spent every one of them trying, and failing, to put the past behind her. She turned to her father.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”
“That Mom’s been talking about her.”

“Because I don’t want to dredge up all that nonsense. It’s her damn medication. I keep telling the doctor it’s making her worse, and he won’t listen to me.” Her father slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “These people think just because we’re old that we’re stupid. She wouldn’t be so forgetful if she cut down on some of those pills. How do I know that? Because she’s my wife. Because I’ve been married to this woman for forty-four years. You know what he said to me?”


“That snot-nosed doctor, that’s who!”

“What did he say?”

“Put me in my place. In front of my wife. ‘You’re a psychotherapist, correct? Not a psychiatrist? You don’t prescribe medication?’ That’s what the snot-nosed so-called doctor actually said to me. Can you believe that? Some twenty-year-old who just started wiping his own ass. I’m telling you she’s on too many pills! Makes her soupy. He won’t listen to me!”

“It’s okay, Dad. Calm down. It’s okay.”

“I can’t bear hearing her talk about Carrie Ann. Your mother’s the one who told us never to mention Carrie Ann’s name again.”

Forbid us. Forbid us to ever mention her name again. “I know, Dad. I’ll talk to the doctor. Calm down.”

“I always wanted to go to Spain,” Jody said. She turned off the television and patted the side of the bed. So she’d heard and understood the conversation. God, the brain was a mysterious thing.

Grace went over and sat down. “You never told me that.”

“I would hardly share that with a stranger.”

I’m your daughter! She wanted to shout. But her mother couldn’t help it.

“Just keep talking,” her father said. “At least she’s not dredging up ghosts, or drooling over naked stud muffins.”

And now Grace couldn’t believe her father had just said “naked stud muffins.” Maybe getting away for a bit wasn’t such a bad idea. Grace turned back to her mother. “Why did you always want to go to Spain?”

“My mother went to Spain. All by herself. When she was in her seventies.”

“I know,” Grace said. It had been just after Grace’s grandfather had died. Her grandparents were supposed to take the trip together. Everyone thought Annette Jennings would cancel the trip. Instead, she buried her husband and packed her bags. Little Annette who had never been outside of her home state. Grace had had many conversations with her grandmother about that trip. She was proud of her too.

“It was really something,” Jim said. “Because in those days seventy wasn’t the new fifty or whatever the kids say today. Seventy was seventy.”

“Tell me about it,” Grace said.

Jody Sawyer straightened up, and her eyes seemed to take in more light. “Well, it’s not like it is now. Women didn’t travel alone back then. Wasn’t that brave? My mother sent me a postcard from Madrid of a beautiful tango dancer in a red dress. The dress was made of actual material—beautiful red silk right on the postcard. I’ll never forget it. She’d only written one sentence on the back. ‘Robert would’ve loved the landing.’ My father was very picking with landings and always impressed when the pilot pulled off a smooth one. Anyway. As soon as I got that postcard I knew my mother was going to be all right. ‘Robert would have loved the landing.’ After she died I spent hours just touching that silky red dress with the tips of my fingers and imagining my mother dancing in the streets of Spain.”

Jody Sawyer looked up and swayed her upper body slightly as if watching her faraway self dance. Then she looked down at her hands, twisting the bed sheet. “Look how ugly and wrinkled I am now.”

“You’re not ugly and wrinkled, Mom. You’re beautiful.”

“I wish I had that postcard now.” Her mother looked up into space. “I lost it.”

Grace hesitated. Did she, or didn’t she? Grace opened the bedside drawer and took out the postcard. Her mother was right. The dress was silky. Grace handed it to her mother and watched her eyes light up. Next her mother gently outlined the edge of the dancer’s dress with the trembling tip of her right index finger. Her fingernail was misshapen, the peach paint flaking. Grace would have to see if they could bring in a manicurist.

Jody looked at Grace, her eyes clear and bright. “Gracie Ann you have to go. Film everything. I’m dying to see Barcelona through you.” Grace must have looked stricken, for her mother laughed and then put her hand over her heart. “Sorry, no pun intended.” Like antennas being manipulated for a clearer signal, sometimes her mother tuned in perfectly. Jody Sawyer laughed again, and Grace couldn’t help but laugh with her.


“Make me feel like I’m there,” Jody said, closing her eyes. “Help me shut out this hospice. Let me see beautiful Barcelona.” She took Grace’s hand and held it. “Do it for me. I’ll feel like I’m with you. Bring a camera. And your guitar,” she added. “You never know.” When Grace still didn’t answer, her mother opened her eyes, and lifted Grace’s chin up with her hand like she used to do when Grace was a child. “Be brave, Gracie Ann. Just like my mother.”

“Like my mother too,” Grace whispered back.





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First Chapter Reveal: The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams by Daphne Michaels

The Gifted 7Title: The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams
Author: Daphne Michaels
Publisher: Daphne Michaels Books
Pages: 130
Genre: Personal Development/Spirituality
Format: Paperback / Kindle

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In The Gifted: How to Live the Life of Your Dreams author, speaker and licensed psychotherapist Daphne Michaels celebrates the nine gifts that are our birthright, guiding readers in how to recognize and use them to transform their lives. In her author’s preface, Michaels reveals how her own journey of life transformation began when she was young and realized that human existence wore two conflicting faces–one of love and joy, and one of fear and despair. She decided then to commit her life to reconciling these two visions because she knew that, irreconcilable though they seemed, together these two faces held the secret to living a life of endless possibility and authentic happiness. Her personal journey and formal education in social science, human services and integral psychology led to the founding of the Daphne Michaels Institute, which has helped hundreds of men and women design the lives of their dreams.

In The Gifted Michaels shows us that the first three “gifts” we must recognize and embrace within us if we are to re-design our lives are Awareness, Potential and Stillness. These three allow us to identify and use the remaining six with a life-changing power: Disharmony, Harmony, Ease, Clarity, Freedom and Engagement. Each of these six relies on the “essential three” for its own power to change our lives, and each has its own gifts–its “children.” By approaching the nine gifts with real-world metaphors, Michaels answers in easily understood ways what for many readers have been lingering questions about personal transformation—such as how it works, what kind of commitment it takes, and why, if we’re committed, real transformation becomes inevitable—and addresses obstacles that readers may have encountered in the past in trying to reach in life a happiness every human deserves.

While the human universe’s face of love is celebrated in The Gifted, so is the face of fear that haunted a young girl decades ago. As Michaels shows us in her book, even Disharmony—the “quagmire” of life born of the human ego’s fear, defenses, delusions and despair—is a gift, too, and one as important as the others if we know how to see it clearly and use it. Once we understand Disharmony, we are ready to understand the real purpose of Harmony in our lives. Disharmony does not need to rule us. It is ours to use as we design the lives of our dreams.

The final gift in The Gifted, Michaels tells us, is the gift of Engagement. Engagement—with the universe and with ourselves—allows us to use all of the other gifts with more power and joy than we ever imagined possible.

That mountaintop decision never left me. It drove my life’s work and over the years led me to understand that there are gifts – nine of them, in fact – that we are all born with but rarely experience in their full glory and potential. These gifts – which make each and every one of us “The Gifted” of this book’s title – are the keys to living lives of endless possibilities and, in turn, achieving an authentic happiness that cannot be lost. They are, in other words, the keys to achieving the life of our dreams.


Life’s greatest mystery is inside us. It is inside every living thing. Like the deep secrets of the universe, the mystery inside us will never be fully explained. By exploring it, however, we can discover gifts available to us that can change our lives forever.

Life’s great mystery is awareness. More basic than thoughts and more primal than instincts, awareness does not require a centralized brain, as scientists have proven through studies with invertebrates like starfish. While these beautiful creatures have no centralized brains, they possess awareness. Starfish, like all invertebrates, use awareness to perceive, eat, grow, reproduce, and survive.

Awareness is so intrinsic to life that it defines life: living means being aware. From the beginning of life – before we take an initial breath – humans demonstrate tremendous awareness. Prenatal psychologists have discovered that we experience, while still in our mother’s womb, not only light and sound but, even more astonishingly, emotion. We kick our legs when agitated by loud noises and sway pleasantly to beautiful classical music. Months before birth we grimace at the taste of sour amniotic fluid and drink heartily when it is sweet. Awareness grows as we grow.

As we develop as human beings, our awareness stretches in all directions – from awareness of our five basic senses to awareness of external events around us, from awareness of our emotions to awareness of our thoughts, from limited awareness of a topic that bores us to an expanded awareness of topics we feel passionate about. Of all the many dimensions of awareness, the highest form is self-awareness. With self-awareness we begin to appreciate just how far awareness actually extends. Just as ocean waters are deeper than the surface of the sea, awareness is deeper than the surface of our physical body or our conscious thoughts. The infinite depth and breadth of awareness is filled with gifts that are ours to receive.

Our Most Valuable Resource

At a time when the entire world seems to be spinning out of control, understanding that awareness is our most valuable and practical personal resource is crucial. Rather than having us search high and low for answers to life’s problems in the same old places, awareness takes us beyond what we already know into realms of endless discovery: Realms where rebirth always follows destruction. Realms where new horizons continually appear in sight. Realms where new solutions inevitably come from our sheer willingness to delve deeper into an invisible resource that is always there and can never be depleted.

When we realize that awareness is our most valuable and practical personal resource, we become confident that we can overcome any challenges keeping us from living the life we’ve always wanted. Through awareness, hope is guaranteed us. The secret to living the life of our dreams begins with understanding that awareness plays a central, crucial role in both the life we’re living now and the one we wish to live.

Increasing Our Awareness

Increasing our awareness is not about discovering answers by asking questions in the usual way. Awareness is more organic than thinking. We can only access it through a deeper connection with the self. And we can only achieve that connection through a special kind of relaxation: not the kind of relaxation that puts us to sleep, but the kind that wakes us up.

Like gymnasts on balance beams, we increase our awareness through a relaxation that calls forth alertness and focus. Relaxed, alert and focused, gymnasts connect to deeper parts of themselves where awareness exists. If they think, they will fall. And when they come off the balance beam, they bring back a special quality to their daily lives.

Self-Guiding Our Awareness

Like gymnasts, we need to come off the balance beam to discover that the gifts we receive from awareness extend farther than we can imagine – into every aspect of our lives. When gymnasts carry their physical strength and mental precision into daily life, their confidence and achievements multiply, bringing even greater success.

Like gymnasts dedicated to developing strength and skill for their sport, we must be dedicated to developing strength and skill in self-guiding our awareness. If we are, we will experience deep awareness even when only a moment’s opportunity is available, and then come off the balance beam of that moment with gifts that multiply through the ways we live and love.

Self-guiding our awareness means tuning it – from a lower awareness felt as cloudy or negative to a higher awareness where we live with a constant sense of possibility. We tune our awareness through the state of our very being – in other words, through the state of our spirit, mind, heart, physical body and dreaming capacity. Being relaxed, alert and focused on all levels tunes our being to the most profound awareness possible, one where pure potential exists. In turn, self-guiding our awareness through tuning our being allows us to bring that potential into every aspect of our lives.

Think of the flight control panel in the cockpit of a high performance aircraft like a Learjet. The panel has all sorts of dials and switches that must be perfectly adjusted for flight. The instrument panel has been carefully designed to keep the sophisticated and complex aircraft functioning.

Humans are even more sophisticated and complex. We, too, however, have instrument panels that have been carefully designed, and we must learn to adjust the state of our being through those panels. Our own dials and switches allow us to tune the Learjet of our life to realms of potential impossible to reach through the physical world. Through our instrument panel we can tune ourselves to an awareness that will show us with astonishing clarity how to face the challenges and opportunities of our lives.

Our Inner and Outer Life

Through awareness we discover an amazing truth: that our inner and outer lives are a continuous stream, and so much so that we cannot separate the two. We discover that our life begins in a place deeper than our cells, a place where pure awareness exists. From this place of pure awareness our life streams through countless layers of our inner being, just as an old-fashioned movie projector’s light shines through film. Our story plays out on the screen of our life, but it has already been written and etched into the film’s frames. Some of the frames we inherited. Some we invented. Some we should have discarded, but didn’t. Some we hold for the future. Some we hold for others. Some we enjoy seeing played on the screen of our lives, while others we wish we could have cut out of the production altogether. But by the time we realize that our inner and outer life is one continuous stream, our movie is already playing in theaters. We directed it, and we were, we realize, asleep.

We may try hopelessly to change the movie of our life as it plays on the screen. We may stand up in the theater and stick our hands in the flow of light. We may jump up and down screaming that we hate the movie. We may cause such commotion that the movie no longer makes sense to us or anyone else watching it. We may deny that the movie is our life and swear that someone who didn’t really know us wrote the script. We may storm out of the theater; but as we stomp up the aisle trying to contain our dismay, we see our wiser self in the projector room waving, trying to get our attention. Our wiser self is shouting: “The movie playing is interactive! While you can’t stop it from rolling, you can dramatically change it through awareness!”

Interacting With Our Life’s Movie

When we learn to tune the state of our being so that we are both deeply connected to our inner self and fully engaged in life, we live as though we are the gymnast on the balance beam, but are not limited by its narrow margin of space. We are completely free to move about in our life however we choose as long as we remain aware. We are flexible, relaxed, strong, clear, focused; and we are able to think, feel and engage life at its highest potential. We live and love creatively, and the gifts we receive multiply exponentially. Our awareness makes everything we touch a gift to ourselves and others. Every thought we have is a gift; every word we speak is a gift; every idea we consider is a gift. Through awareness we realize that life itself is a gift and that the movie of our life is indeed interactive. We realize that everything is connected to everything else, and that interacting with life’s movie can bring enormous changes in amazingly brief periods of time.

Through awareness an entire landscape of potential will appear before us. Life will never be the same again. We will realize we have been blessed with an incredible opportunity to live the life of our dreams – and the only question is “Will I answer – with sincerity and commitment – opportunity’s knock?”

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First Chapter Reveal: Ghost of the Gods by Kevin Bohacz

Ghost of the Gods 7Title: Ghost of the Gods
Genre: Techno-Thriller
Author: Kevin Bohacz
Publisher: Mazel & Sechel
Pages: 437
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Was it the accumulated wounds to the environment that had finally triggered the nanotech plague or was it simply one more step in a shrewdly crafted plan to replace us with humans 2.0? As I write this at least one pair of these transhumans breathe the same air as us, and there are likely many more. They may look like us, they may even be almost human, but they are also cybernetic and will live for an extraordinary length of time. Trust me, their goals are not the same as ours. It was not a natural plague that almost drove humankind to extinction but an attack from within, turning our own biology against us. Scientists discovered all too late an artificial entity, a sentient machine foolishly created in the image of god, had been studying us and genetically altering us for longer than we can imagine. Perhaps it is because of this god-machine that we evolved into creatures who can think and speak and know our own mortality? This silicon god is so different from us that we may never truly understand it, but what we do know is that it is terrifyingly intelligent and it hates us. What we do know is that it tried to eradicate us from the face of our planet and then stopped for no discernible reason. What we do know is that its work is not done.

First Chapter:

Kathy Morrison – Pueblo Canyon, Arizona – January 21, 0002 A.P.

Northeast of Sedona, Arizona, was the tiny settlement of Pueblo Canyon. Dr. Kathy Morrison was walking through the crunchy snow, returning from a house call. She was obsessed with a need to act that was growing more urgent with each passing day. She did not see the sunrise or the stunning Arizona red stone vistas that surrounded her. How could she remain silent with all she knew? She had proof the govern- ments of the world had lied and everyone was in danger. Entire librar- ies could be filled with material published about the nanotech plague without a single page accurately portraying the truth about what had happened two years ago. On the Internet, official disinformation rapidly became historical fact. Unimpeachable government officials and leading experts explained how the plague was caused by genetically engineered COBIC bacteria. They presented evidence showing that COBIC had been weaponized by the addition of a lethal nanotech payload called a seed, supposedly the first self-replicating nanotech ever devised by humans. The charges stated that through a conspiracy of negligence and criminal intent, the smart weapon escaped into the wild, where it multiplied. Both development and release were declared crimes against humanity. Many in the scientific community were wrongly sentenced to prison or death in televised military tribunals.

Kathy walked past the settlement’s schoolhouse and heard the smiling voices of young children inside but could not smile herself. It was the government who was the true criminal, not the scientists. Everyone, including schoolchildren, learned the lie of how nanotech COBIC supposedly collected into a waterborne supercolony and that the military had destroyed it, ending the threat. None of the few who knew the truth dared mention the god-machine or its deep infestation into the biosphere. That information, as well as any proof of the truly advanced nature of this technology, was violently suppressed. These seeds were everywhere and in everything. Yet almost everyone be- lieved they were not infected, and the government encouraged this lie with a mix of bribes, solitary confinement, and worse. Reports to the contrary, which had been issued by the CDC during the plague, were dismissed as part of the criminal conspiracy. Only a small number of people knew the god-machine was the true threat and that the military had failed to destroy it.

It was to stop humankind’s damage to the biosphere that the god- machine had begun its bloody work. The machine operated as if it was the very immune system of the planet and humans had become an invading contagion. Long before the threat was understood to be any- thing other than biological or chemical, vast numbers of people were being murdered in what were soon called kill-zones. The best doctors and scientists in the world were initially out of their depth. They could not explain how this agent, which killed with the devastating speed and 100 percent lethality of a chemical weapon, only affected people and not animals. Its selectivity was like a virus targeting very specific DNA. They could not explain the zones of sudden death that were miles in diameter and bloomed out of nowhere. Even more so, it was inconceivable that someone standing one foot outside a kill-zone lived while those within the zone died. It was far too late once they’d finally discovered what humanity was truly up against.

On the day the old world ended, it was in response to the U.S. Navy’s destruction of a supercolony that the god-machine had struck back with an escalating barrage of kill-zones like none before. In a matter of hours billions of people were dead. When the nanotech plague ended that day for unknown reasons, the world’s governments declared victory. Kathy was maddened that the public was ignorant of every critical fact in a global catastrophe that had nearly driven humankind to extinction. No one was safe. The horror could happen again without warning.

Kathy washed her hands after seeing her last patient of the morning, then headed to her study. The dining room of the two story prairie farmhouse had been converted into an examining room where she saw her patients. The house itself was at least a hundred years old. Upstairs were two large bedrooms, one of which had been converted into a study. She was the only fully qualified medical doc in Pueblo Canyon, which meant she worked long hours. Her grueling residency after graduat- ing from Harvard Medical had been easy compared to life in Pueblo Canyon, but also far less rewarding.

Walking through the living room with her coffee, Kathy stopped to tend the fire. The house was heated by a large stone fireplace and stream radiators fed by an ancient, temperamental oil furnace in the basement. The warmth from the fire was soothing; the other rooms of the house were too cold and empty. She picked up a favorite photograph of her and Mark Freedman from the mantel. A tear ran down her cheek as she stared at his face. They had lived together for a year after the plague before Mark had ended their relationship and moved out. He had told her it was hopeless and he was right. Now they were very close friends. He lived in a house only a hundred yards from hers. She still loved him, though worked hard to convince herself otherwise. She thought about how they had been thrown together at the CDC’s BVMC lab in Atlanta when the plague was just emerging. Mark was a Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist. His years of research on primordial bacteria had proven COBIC was a living fossil. Thanks to him, this tiny creature had been crowned the oldest known form of motile life on Earth. He had literally discovered the missing link between the great kingdoms of plant and animal. This prize winning work made Mark the expert on a bacterium, which was now also the carrier of a nanotech plague. For this reason he quickly became invaluable to the CDC and Kathy. His work with COBIC predated the plague by a decade and had no connec- tion to nanotech infected COBIC, though in retrospect the coincidences were hard to ignore.

Kathy was growing agitated as she climbed the stairs. She’d been worried to distraction for the past eight weeks since Mark had left Pueblo Canyon to find this thing he’d started calling a singularity. He believed this singularity was proof that more of his kind now existed and that when he found it he would also find more hybrids like himself. He should have been back by now. She refused to allow herself to imagine him dead.

The steps creaked with sounds that had grown familiar, yet she felt vulnerable and alone for so many reasons. Mark was their leader and with him gone the weight of leadership was on her shoulders. She thought about all the people at Pueblo Canyon who knew the dangerous truth about the government’s lies. Most of the doctors and scientists who had fought the plague with her had died in Atlanta at the BVMC lab. All of the survivors from the lab who knew the truth now lived here in Pueblo Canyon. If the government wanted to ensure their official lies were never exposed, making everyone at Pueblo Canyon disappear was the smart way to start.

Kathy sat down at her desk. The room had wonderful light from a row of three old wood framed windows. The glass was not insulated and radiated cold, making the space feel like a refrigerator, but she didn’t care. The sunlight warmed her soul. Kathy sipped her coffee while gazing out at her view of the small community. Pueblo Canyon was such a peaceful, secluded place. A small collection of buildings were scattered about the broad, uneven snow covered base of the canyon. Smoke drifted from chimneys as people worked at various chores. She spotted two men tending to livestock in one of the paddocks just beyond all the buildings. They’d both been well respected medical researchers at the BVMC lab. She had treated one of them a week ago for a nasty animal bite. Not far on either side of the canyon floor, mountainous red stone walls rose almost a thousand feet to meet the high plateau. With its natural fortifications, it had been an ideal place to end their exodus from a devastated world two years ago.

When they’d arrived, Pueblo Canyon had been an isolated horse ranch abandoned decades ago. Now it was in good repair with new structures being added almost every month. Food had even been grown the past spring, summer, and fall. A small crop of pumpkins had been especially successful. The well water was sweet and the air was pure. At night the sky was filled with so many stars that it filled the soul with wonder. Electricity had been restored about a year ago. All wireless phones companies had been nationalized. Through broadband wireless, the Internet was back and thriving. All the original settlers had stayed on even after the government had begun rebuilding, and the benefits of moving to the large protectorate cities like Manhattan, Chicago, and Los Angeles became substantial. Some of the settlers had contacted their extended family members. As a result, their little community had grown, including more than a few children. Without invitation, new- comers had even started to arrive in Pueblo Canyon. In the beginning it had been rare for anyone to stumble upon the reclusive settlement and even rarer for them to stay.

Every so often a transient would arrive because of Internet rumors. Conspiracy blogs claimed that certain small towns in New Mexico and Arizona had been passed over by the nanotech plague because of experimental government technology located there. Sedona was one of the few towns that had made it onto everyone’s conspiracy list, along with Roswell and Los Alamos. Sensible people wrote off the blogs in the same spirit as crop circles or energy vortexes. There were, however, others who made their living by searching for grains of truth buried in the wildest rumors. Kathy was concerned trouble might start if a reporter actually uncovered something even stranger than the experi- mental government technology they were seeking. What would happen if they uncovered a small group of ex-CDC scientists and doctors who had discovered ancient technology and a truth more dangerous to the new world order than a nanotech plague? The truth was that humans were no longer the most advanced hominids on Earth.

By the time the sun filled the canyon with light, Kathy had been typing rapidly into her notebook computer for hours. From her windows she had watched the sun travel a good distance. Its rays cast moving shadows along the surrounding red stone walls, changing their appear- ance by the hour. It was a natural diorama as surreal and beautiful as anything imaginable. At different times of day, different stone shapes came into view and then faded like ghosts. Some of the shapes appeared to be human faces, while others were giants locked in mortal combat. Thousands of years ago Indians had named these natural statues and spun legends around them. Kathy’s eyes were growing blurry as she glanced up from her screen at the red stone phantoms on the canyon walls. She was trying to get her ideas completely down before she lost some of the details. She had failed. She could think so much faster than she could type. It felt like such a luxury to have a computer and elec- tricity to run it. Not so long ago the best she had were spiral notebooks and a gas lantern. The world they had lost was coming back in many ways, but it felt more like a failed experiment being retried one last time than any kind of real hope for a lasting future. She looked at the words on the screen. Her journal had grown to thousands of pages of historical manuscript. She was speaking truth to power. In these times, that was a dangerous thing to do. The journal that she’d begun while they were fleeing from the ruins of Atlanta had ripened from a whim into an obsession. Now all her free time was devoted to her writing.

On the old fashioned paper calendar on her desk, the square for today’s date read January 21. It looked the same as all the other squares before and after it. A notepad on her desk had the word darkness sketched on it in different sizes and lettering. Every version of the word seemed to embody despair. The old world had ended on January 21 two years ago when the plague reached its crescendo and then stopped. Darkness was the name given to that bloody day and what followed, a name that had spread on its own until everyone had adopted it. Today was the Eve of Darkness 0002 A.P. – year two after the plague.

The plague had come so quietly, so unexpectedly. What everyone mistook as isolated pockets of death in remote jungles was, in truth, the end of times. Perhaps if she and the others at the CDC had been quicker to recognize what was happening, more could have been done, more lives could have been saved. Kathy felt terrible guilt under the glaring spotlight of that historical fact. She knew it had been her responsibility, her team of CDC doctors and scientists who were the leaders in the fight. She’d had the best chance of anyone to stop the nanotech plague and had failed miserably. As a result, a new world, a new dark age, had begun.

Just as children leave the womb in agonizing pain, this new world was born in the agony of an entire species. Kathy knew her kind was doomed; those of the parent breed would die out at a natural pace.

Though no one had found another hybrid like Mark or her ex-patient Sarah, Kathy suspected by now there had to be hundreds, and their numbers would be growing. You were not born a hybrid—you made yourself a hybrid. Under the right conditions, nanotech seeds could be forced to replicate in vast numbers and migrate deep into the cerebral cortex, where they penetrated the nuclei of cells and took root. The result was gray matter that was partially organic and partially nanotech. Like a fossil slowly forming as its original organic material is leached away and replaced with minerals, the nanotech seeds slowly replaced organic neurons with nanotech constructs. Kathy was deeply troubled by the entire concept. Once a brain had been infested and nanotech circuitry now did the thinking, were you still the original person or some kind of perfect computer simulation of what had once been human? What about the soul, the essence of life? Was it still there?

Kathy cared for Mark. She desperately wanted to believe he was the same person. She prayed he was the same person but hoping and praying was not enough. Doubts remained. Sarah acted so alien and at fleeting moments Kathy thought she’d caught Mark acting like Sarah. The risk of losing what made her uniquely human terrified Kathy and kept her from trying to take that irreversible step of becoming like Mark. With his nanotech mind and flawlessly maintained biology, he could live endlessly with the body of a middle aged man. Even his skin had become a faultless, smooth, expanse of silk without a single freckle or mole. She would grow old and wrinkled. He would outlive her by generations, maybe even forget her, and that thought stabbed shards of ice into her heart.

Hybridization, the greatest adventure imaginable, was within her grasp, yet her fingers refused to close around it. Even if she remained herself after the transformation, aspects of her humanity would inevitably erode away. Human life was filled with little rattles and squeaks. Life was not perfect. It was never meant to be. If you removed the specter of death, didn’t you also lose the very ingredient that brings emotional vibrancy to life? Didn’t death give everything its meaning?

In prehistoric times, seventy thousand years ago, some disaster had caused what evolutionary biologists call a population bottleneck. The number of Homo sapiens in the world had been reduced in that bottleneck to six hundred mating pairs. Homo sapiens ancestor Homo Heidelbergensis might have been alive seventy thousand years ago. Homo Neanderthals were alive until twenty-eight thousand years ago. Homo Floresiensis were alive until a mere twelve thousand years ago. Those six hundred pairs of Homo sapiens went out to conquer the world and replace all other human species. Every man and woman alive today was descended only from the DNA of those six hundred mating pairs. There could be a similar number of transhumans alive today. What would future scientists write about this parallel circumstance that launched a new human race? Was this a repeat of something that had happened seventy thousand years ago? Kathy knew Mark believed the answer was yes. He was unshakably convinced the god-machine had been shepherding our evolution ever since we separated from the great apes. One night while they were still together as a couple, Mark had explained to her that without a genetic advantage it was extremely dif- ficult to become a hybrid, but not impossible. Taking brain damaging overdoses of drugs as he and Sarah had would fail if you lacked the required gene mutations. Part of what this rare bit of mutated nucleic material did was entice otherwise inert nanotech seeds into repairing damaged brain tissue, which contained the mutation. Carried within this mutated DNA was a dormant blueprint of changes needed to build neurons that had seeds for nucleuses. Large scale repairs made by seeds using the DNA blueprints created clusters of nanotech neurons capable of spreading the same restructuring into nearby neurons. To her medically trained ears this sounded like a terribly dangerous biological chain reaction.

Mark had then explained there was a safe purely mental path open to almost everyone. The instructions were stored forever inside the god-machine and our DNA. If she could develop conscious control in her dreams, she could learn to operate the thought-interface while in that state of altered awareness. A very gradual all inclusive restructur- ing could then be switched on. The mental switch was thrown by using an intense single-mindedness to push the throughput on the thought- interface above a threshold. This critical threshold was calculated based on the amount of free-swimming nanotech COBIC in the body. Kathy knew scientists had a name for this altered state of awareness Mark was describing—it was called lucid dreams. Becoming a hybrid that way could take a lifetime of dedication and practice. Mark had told her he could increase the level of COBIC in her body, which would give her a huge advantage. Still, the entire process sounded like a test of mental worthiness. Kathy could not help thinking about how closely Mark’s description fit the teachings of many religions from Tibetan Buddhists and their Dream Yoga to North American Indians and their dream journeys. Were the similarities only a coincidence or had information been leaking from the god-machine into religious teachings for time immemorial?

Kathy glanced out the windows at children playing in the snow and felt a deep sense of loss. She could hear their faint shouts of joy. Where did children fit into this coming transhuman world? How would this new race reproduce? Would they give birth to hybrid infants, or would their children be born human and then undergo restructuring? Without death, at some point birth would have to stop to prevent over- population from destroying the planet. Childhood could become rare or even obsolete. The entire human population would age but not show it. Kathy imagined a planet inhabited by physically perfect men and women who were nothing but gray Methuselahs deep in their hearts. Would evolution also stop or would the transhumans change over time evolving through self-reconstruction? Kathy tapped out a few more sentences into her journal.

What a horrible irony that immortality, the dream of every human, finally arrives but with a price that is too high to pay. It is immortality born from the death of billions of innocent lives. Who could choose to benefit from that kind of bloodletting? I only hope the hybrids remain more human than machine. I hope they do a better job of stewardship over this little blue planet than we did.

Outside, a scattering of snow had begun to fall. A cold wind rattled the window frames, and Kathy wrapped the day blanket around her shoulders. At this higher altitude over a foot of snow covered the ground. Thousands of feet lower there was only rain and mud where in past years there would have been a blanket of white. Many of the trees had autumn leaves and new green leaves on the same branches. The surreal landscape was incriminating evidence of what our disregard had wrought. The effects of global warming had not stopped with the nanotech plague. For now, the symptoms were continuing to worsen. Kathy sipped her cup of coffee. The dark brew was a soothing reminder of a comfortable world that was forever lost. She returned her attention to reworking the preface for her journal.

Approximately 30 percent of humanity survived the nano- tech plague. In the aftermath, interruptions in food, medical, and shelter killed a quarter of those who’d survived. Ironically, most of those who died in what is now euphemistically called the “supply shortages” lived in the industrialized world. Those with a simpler way of life survived in larger numbers because they did not depend on support from big industries and infra- structure. Industrialized countries, which had not fared so well, lost closer to 90 percent of their people. Unchecked fires swept through many of the great cities of the world, reducing large swaths to charred rubble. The European and Asian land wars over resources then destroyed much of the infrastructure that had been spared in those regions. In North America droughts caused by global warming further strained the food supply and sparked massive wildfires in the western half of the continent. North America has now become a land of two separate societies, the Protectorates and everywhere else, collectively labeled as the Outlands. Two years after the nanotech plague ended, life is slowly recovering and even beginning to flourish in spots. Yet North America has become a much darker and different place than what anyone could have imagined.

Industry and commerce are reemerging but with very dif- ferent markets and goals. With the population so drastically reduced, and abandoned stores overflowing with goods, much of what was considered toys of the rich are now owned by the masses. From the richest to the poorest, everyone has large screen televisions, computers, appliances, cars, and clothes. What most do not have is basic security in the form of food, medical care, and protection from crime. The chasm between the haves and have-nots is still growing but no longer measured in material possessions. With violence and deception having become the pocket change of everyday life, that chasm is now measured in lifespan. Existence in so many places has reverted back to something closer to that experienced by stone age humans: a life that is short and brutal.

North America’s population is precariously holding at thirty million while Europe is at fifty. There are fears that the numbers are still falling. The population of North America and Europe is tiny when compared to Asia or Latin America. Asia still has over a billion people and Latin America has about two hundred million. In North America the Native population, which had been less than 2 percent of the total, is now closer to 10. A viral rumor is that the scales had been tipped back by God for how we’d abused each other. Ironically, this rumor is closer to the truth than most would guess, except the acts of god were those of an ancient nanotech machine and the misuse turned out to be what we did to the environment and

not just each other. In a pattern similar to indigenous people, rural populations outweigh the cities’ but not for long. As the protectorates become more established, the population will inevitably migrate to the sanctuary offered by these new city states run by the United States Alliance Government (USAG). This corrupt partnership between the remains of the United States government and a handful of the largest corporations in the world now controls all—

Distant engine sounds jolted Kathy from her writing. It was the low rumbling of a heavy vehicle. Was someone coming? She’d walked past the settlement’s parking lot on the way back from her last house call. None of the vehicles had been taken out. The sound grew faint, then disappeared. The acoustics of the canyon and surrounding land could play tricks. Her heart was pounding. For a brief moment she allowed herself to hope it was Mark returning. So much could have gone wrong while he was out there searching for his singularity. It could all be a trap. The complete list of scientists wanted in connection with the nanotech plague had never been published. Through friends still inside the government, Kathy had learned Mark was at the top of the secret watch list of traitors. As a Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist he was an obvious target. His work with COBIC certainly added reason- able sounding grounds, but the true reason for his appearance on that list had nothing to do with his research. He was on that list because of what he had become. He was on that list because nobody outside the top-secret maze of government agencies could ever be allowed to learn that Mark was no longer fully human.

Mark was risking too much to find this singularity. Kathy wanted to believe he’d told her everything, but she could never be sure all the ideas that came out of his mind were his own. His brain was a nanotech organ connected to a global wireless network. In a very real sense he had become a node in the nervous system of an artificial life form, the god-machine. Kathy hated that cold, destructive silicon monster. She was no longer sure Mark felt the same way. By his own admission, the god-machine used the n-web to implant memories inside his brain. That was how it communicated. Instantly he would simply remember some fact or experience as if it were his own. With all that swirling inside his head, the chances for delusion were very real. Mark believed the god-machine was hundreds of millions of years old and that it was a medical tool built by some lost civilization. Kathy could easily believe the idea that the god-machine was originally a medical device. Just by looking at how it had healed Mark of his diabetes was confirmation. Yet she had serious doubts it was a hundred million year old relic. She was an epidemiologist; part rational scientist and part medical detective. In her mind, applying the principle of Occam’s razor to Mark’s relic theory would lead anyone who was objective to the conclusion that a much simpler explanation had to be the answer.

She thought of what it would feel like to see him driving into Pueblo Canyon today. Her eyes teared up, knowing she’d long ago betrayed him in her mind. Every day while they were still living together, she’d feared a machine instead of a man would wake up next to her in their bed. As his doctor she knew Mark was still undergoing a slow conversion of his brain into nanotech. She’d decided after he’d left, if he did become a machine it would be better that he never returned. On the last day she’d seen him, it was clear his humanity was still intact. His emotions seemed strong and genuine. He was embarking on a great adventure. He would discover whether hybrids were behind this singularity or not. Yet Kathy knew there was something important he was concealing. She was his confidante but lately there had been many things he had not told her. Hours after he had gone, a neighbor had delivered a letter that had been slipped under their door. Mark had known the neighbor was out for the day and that Kathy would not receive it until he was far away. She picked up the wrinkled sheet of paper from her desk and read it once more, for the hundredth time.

Please forgive me for being a poor friend. I always planned on explaining everything when I got back but the singularity is growing so powerful I’m no longer sure I’ll be able to return as soon as planned. The singularity is more risky than I told you. It has evolved into something like a black hole, a mental- emotional gravity well. It’s sucking in all the data from the n-web around it and growing stronger as if feeding on the data itself. I don’t know what effect it will have on me when I’m closer to it. Will it devour my mind in some kind of continuous data-flood? I believe this singularity is the side effect of a tribe of hybrids increasing in numbers and reaching a kind of critical mass, but for what purpose? I don’t know.

Sarah has experienced and believes the same things I do. We think it could even be a precursor to something new and wonderful, possibly the next evolutionary step for hybrids. I thought I had reached an evolutionary plateau, but I am only an embryo.

I know I told you a week ago that Sarah had disappeared, taking one of the Humvees, but that was not entirely true. When Sarah left, I knew where she was heading and what she was doing. She’s gone off to lay the groundwork to locate the singularity. She’s been in the Outlands, traveling east on Interstate 40 for days. When she stops each day, she tries to get a bearing on where she senses the singularity is located. In her last message, she was certain it was northeast of Pueblo Canyon. I will be heading in the opposite direction on Route 40 doing the same thing. We are trying to act like a pair of radio receivers triangulating in on a target. Once we get a reliable bearing, we’ll both head toward it from opposite angles. The n-web doesn’t exactly work like radio signals, but the metaphor is close enough. I know you don’t trust Sarah and think she’s unreliable and reckless. So just trust my judgment. If I didn’t need her help, I would not have gotten her involved.

Kathy stopped reading the letter. She hated the idea of Mark taking so many risks to find more of his kind. She hated it even more knowing that Sarah was out there probably traveling with him by now. For some time Sarah had been acting increasingly unpredictable and even spooky. Who knew what that twentysomething female hybrid was capable of doing? She was a wild card in every sense. Kathy could as easily imagine her trying to kill Mark as seduce him. She balled up the letter and threw it in the wastebasket. She wanted to scream. She stared at the crumpled letter inside the basket and wanted to kick the wastebasket across the room. Why hadn’t Mark called or e-mailed?

The engine sounds returned. Kathy wrestled one of the windows open. Snowflakes were coming inside as she listened to the sounds faintly reverberating down the natural echo chamber of the canyon walls. She could feel tiny vibrations in the windowpane. The sound was slowly glowing louder. Any doubts that someone was driving toward the settlement were erased. Vehicles rarely came to their isolated community. The only way in or out was a dirt road, which was nearly impassable over the final ten-mile span of broken terrain. Only if you knew the concealed detours could you arrive by vehicle. As a result, outsiders came almost exclusively on foot or by horse.

Kathy was racing down the stairs before she realized it. She grabbed her coat almost as an afterthought. The frigid air attacked her. The porch was slippery with thin patches of ice where the sun never reached. She began shivering while slipping on her parka. Four hundred yards in the distance, she saw through a curtain of bare trees a black boxy shape negotiating an incline in the dirt road. A second identical shape appeared on the road, then went out of sight. They could be Humvees but something didn’t feel right. Mark and Sarah had each taken one of the military Humvees that had been part of the exodus from Atlanta. Why hadn’t the lookouts or the patrols that scouted out as far as the highway called this in? Kathy pulled out her cell phone and saw no service on the display. She was out of contact. A skittish feeling was taking root in her stomach.

At the sounds of boots crunching in snow, she turned to see Carl Green trudging his way from the cabin where he and his new bride lived. Carl stepped up onto her porch and tromped the snow from his boots. A mug of coffee was in his hands and an M16 was slung over his back. Carl had been her boss at the BVMC lab before the old world had ended.

“Expecting visitors?” asked Carl with a hint of nervousness.

“I don’t know,” said Kathy. “I thought, maybe Mark… My phone’s out. Is yours working?”

Carl checked his phone, then shook his head. Now Kathy was scared. A third black shape jounced down the same incline in the road, then a fourth and a fifth. Her world became surreal. Whatever was coming no longer sounded like Humvees, but more like powerful truck engines or maybe construction equipment. Kathy looked back at her door and thought about going inside and locking it. A vehicle reached the en- trance to the ranch. Its roofline was the first thing she clearly saw, then a squat rectangular body with a wedge shaped snout that looked like it belonged on an amphibious craft. It was a Stryker armored fighting vehicle with four huge tires on each side and an evil looking Gatling machine gun mounted in an electric roof turret. The camouflage paint was a dark mixture of black and smoky grays.

“Shit,” said Carl as he dumped the remainder of his coffee into the snow and unslung his rifle.

“You don’t know,” said Kathy.

“What, are you crazy?” he snapped. “They’re here because of Mark and Sarah. We knew this would happen one day. Word they live here had to leak out sooner or later.”

The lead armored vehicle came to a stop. Its engine idled like a purring monster. No hatch opened. No greetings were offered. As the other vehicles arrived, they formed an offensive formation with a combined firing position over the entire settlement. This was not a standoff. The settlement was heavily armed, but their odds were poor against this kind of armored force and the airpower they could call in for support. Kathy felt like her world had been quietly slumbering and a bad dream was about to begin. The vehicles had Peacekeeper insignia. The Peacekeepers were a despised branch of military law enforcement that patrolled the Outlands. The name Peacekeeper was Orwellian. The only peace they kept was that of the grave. If any kind of resistance was encountered, Peacekeeper rules of engagement were to respond with overwhelming firepower. Entire towns had been erased with the after- math broadcast on government run television as victories of civilization.

Kathy knew she had to quickly take charge of this situation before it veered fatally out of control. She took in her surroundings. Almost everyone was standing outside their homes or places of work. Many of the men and women were armed. They had riot guns, M16s, and other military hardware. For now their weapons were pointed down. Kathy thought about her lookouts stationed in the surrounding high ground of the canyon walls. They had to be aiming their shoulder fired missiles at the Peacekeepers right now, including a prized Javelin antitank missile. With luck they could take out one of the Strykers, but what would happen next? In addition to the remaining wolf pack of Strykers, Kathy knew Apache helicopters or even worse would be unleashed. A-10 Warthog ground attack jets might come screaming out of the sky to murder them all. She was subconsciously praying in a repeated whisper to her friends and neighbors, “Hold back, don’t fire….”

“What?” said Carl.

“Nothing,” she said. “I have to do this!” She started walking toward the lead vehicle. “Everyone, put down your weapons,” she called out. “We can’t fight them. It would be suicide.”

She repeated herself louder and with more authority in her voice. Looking around, she saw some of the people doing as she ordered, then more. As she kept walking, behind her she heard the sounds of weapons being laid on the ground. A rear hatch on the lead vehicle lowered like a drawbridge. Six heavily armed soldiers came out, followed by a pair of corporate mercenaries who had officers’ rank. In this new upside down world, the corporate mercenaries were the officers. All the Peacekeepers wore their standard full body armor and helmets, which many believed made them impervious to most weapons. Hatches dropped on some of the other vehicles with more heavily armored troops emerging. The two officers from the lead vehicle strode toward her as the storm troopers fanned out, confiscating weapons and body searching people for anything concealed. The ranking officer, a major with a badly pockmarked face, took her picture with his tablet. He stared at the tablet, not acknowledg- ing her presence. She knew he was checking her against a database.

“Kathy Morrison. What a pleasure to meet Mark Freedman’s wife,” said the pock faced man. “I am Major Kohl and this is my second in command, Captain Hillman.”

“A pleasure,” said Kathy. “Just for the record, Mark and I are not married.”

“A legal technicality, I’m sure.” “What do you want?”

“I’d have thought that was obvious. Are you playing games with me?” Kohl turned toward Hillman. “It’s time to clarify ourselves. Captain, why don’t you make it clear what we want.”

Hillman spoke softly into a boom mic suspended in front of his lips. Distant weapons echoed in rapid fire. Kathy defensively dropped to her knees while glancing around in shock. Everyone she could see was doing the same, except the Peacekeepers. No one appeared injured. She stood and faced off against Kohl. The man had a smirk on his face. “There are armed surveillance drones circling far above us right now, watching everything,” said Kohl. “We have authority to engage with lethal force anyone pointing weapons at a Peacekeeper. Your perimeter security on the canyon walls have been neutralized by our drones.” Kohl sounded like a judge reading a verdict he particularly enjoyed. “Why the surprised look?” he asked. “Did you honestly think we don’t have a strategy and just stumble around looking for trouble?”

“You’re fucking monsters!” shouted Kathy.

“Thank you. Coming from a terrorist’s wife, that’s a compliment I accept. Now, I am going to ask only once. Where are the terrorists Mark Freedmen and Sarah Mayfair?”

From behind her a strong pair of hands clamped over her wrists and pulled them back brutally. She felt plastic handcuffs being applied. As they were cinched up, the bands cut into her skin. She tried to yank free and ended up facedown in the snow with a sharp pain in the back of her skull. The bastard had hit her with something hard. With her wrists cuffed, she was unable to get up and barely able to turn on her side in the snow. Rough hands grabbed her. As she was hauled away, she saw her own blood smeared into the snow where she’d fallen.

Kathy felt exhausted. She and a select few of the others has been strip searched as a group and then separated into different rooms. Still naked, her arms and legs were secured to a chair by plastic cuffs. She knew she’d been stripped to humiliate her. She knew the reasons for everything they did, but knowing provided no advantage. Their tactics were working. Her head ached from what she suspected was a mild concussion. The outside windows were open and the room was freez- ing. She could not stop her teeth from chattering. She felt humiliated and wretched. So far, in escalating severity, she had been questioned, threatened, and then beaten. She knew the sadistic blows had not left any lasting damage—so far. A doctor’s black bag had been set on a nearby table. She imagined all kinds of surgeon’s tools and drugs inside that bag. A drawn out animal cry of pain came from one of the adjoining rooms.

Moments later the door opened, and Kohl walked in, followed by a woman who was dressed like a medic. A cruel looking man carrying a towel with bloodstains on it came in behind them. Once again Kohl’s eyes slowly examined her nakedness. She wanted to look away but refused to give him that small victory. She was breathing rapidly. The door was closed and locked. She kept glancing at the bloody towel and wondering whose blood was on it.

“Why are you making us hurt you?” asked Kohl. “Just tell me where Mark and Sarah have gone. Let’s end this before permanent damage is done.”

The cruel looking man removed a long dissecting knife from the black bag. Something broke deep inside Kathy. She was terrified in a primitive, uncontrollable way. Yanking at her restraints and crying, she felt the blood draining from her head. The room was spinning.

The next thing Kathy knew, her face and hair were dripping with cold water. Someone had drenched her. She realized she must have fainted. A large gauge IV line was tapped into her arm and connected to a bag of saline. The windows were still open. She did not feel as cold as she should have. Her thinking was sluggish. The doctor inside her made a diagnosis of hypothermia.

The cruel looking man was holding the long dissecting knife and staring at her chest. There was a terrible thirst in his stare. The woman medic had turned her back. Kohl was gazing at her with pitiless black eyes. He leaned in close to whisper into her ear.

“We will keep at this, you know.”

His breath was stale, and she felt the warm moisture of his words on her face.

“We will not stop. We will keep you alive with fluids while we cut deep into you again and again. At some point you will tell us what we want to know. Why sufferer permanent damage? You’re a doctor. You know what losing too much blood can do to the organs. Just tell us where Mark and Sarah are hiding.”

Kathy felt something cold against her skin and knew it was the knife. Kohl turned away.

“Wait!” sobbed Kathy. “I’ll tell you everything! Everything!”

She knew she was broken. God help her. She’d imagined she was tougher than this. Her entire body was on fire. She was terrified of feeling the sting of that knife and at the brink of fainting again.

“Go on,” said Kohl.

He sat down in a chair facing her, then motioned to the medic and her day blanket was draped around her. The smell of the soft wool made her cry. The IV line was removed. The medic clipped the plastic cuffs from her body and handed her clothing to cover herself. The windows were closed. Kathy felt wrenched and defeated. She was babbling ev- erything she knew. It came out of her in torrents as if she were vomiting out inner secrets along with her soul. She was afraid to stop talking out of fear of what might happen after she was of no use.

Kathy Morrison – Pueblo Canyon, Arizona – January 23, 0002 A.P.

It was morning outside. Kathy was locked in her bedroom. She knew a guard was stationed just outside her door. From the windows, she’d seen guards patrolling the grounds. Even though she was exhausted, she’d been unable to sleep more than an hour or two at a stretch. She knew she was headed for life in a prison work camp run by some corpo- ration. She was about to become low cost labor for the machine. Again and again in her mind she’d gone over the secrets she’d given up last night. None of it would be much use in hunting Mark down. She heard a helicopter approaching. The sound grew deafening. The windows were blanketed with a whiteout of snow as if a blizzard was raging outside. A few minutes later her door opened and in walked a face she recognized, accompanied by Kohl and Hillman. The face looked more haggard than she remembered it. General McKafferty glanced at Kohl and then stared directly at her. His half-moon shaped face was an ugly visage with a mouth that formed a kind of crack that was pretending to be a smile.

“You deserved the treatment you received,” said McKafferty. “We will find the traitors and that will be the end of it. Your information was helpful and for that your government thanks you. I honestly think you believe you did the right thing by helping terrorists. You really don’t understand what they’ve become or what they’ve done. Do you?”

“I know what you’ve become,” said Kathy.

“Understand this,” growled McKafferty. “I will do anything to keep these terrorists from launching another nanotech plague.”

“Are you’re insane!” shouted Kathy. “You know the truth!”

“Kohl, Hillman, leave us,” ordered McKafferty. The room emptied and the door was closed.

“You can make all the noise you want about that one state secret you think you know. No one will believe a prisoner. But I want to be very clear, Morrison. If you have left anything out of your confession, held even one detail back, then I will personally see to it that you stand before a military tribunal with the traitors. I will see you executed. Do you understand me?”

Kathy nodded while looking away from the man.

“Fine, get dressed in something warm. There’s no need to pack. You’re leaving. Oh, by the way, your journal was very interesting reading. I especially enjoyed the part where you described me as a professional thug and what was it? Ah… that’s right. The ugliest bastard you’d ever seen.”

McKafferty was grinning with a hideous display of self-satisfaction. Kathy’s mind raced to her computer with its encrypted drive. That journal was lost but not an older backup copy. That one had to be safe. McKaf- ferty and his jackals couldn’t have found it too. The backup was stored on an encrypted waterproof thumb drive called an IronKey. The small metal fob was hidden in a crevice at the base of a red stone formation known as Indian Foot. Mark knew the spot and what she would want done. She was about to become one of the disappeared. Her journal was now her life’s purpose. Mark would retrieve it and send it out over the Internet for everyone to read: dangerous truths from a missing and possibly dead unsung hero.

The late afternoon’s stormy sky cast its pall over the settlement. Kathy was being frog marched toward a black unmarked helicopter. On either side of her, a firm, large hand gripped each arm. She could see faces in windows while others were outside watching as she passed. The faces were unreadable. She could tell deep feelings were being masked out of fear. Only their eyes were saying good-bye.

The helicopter door opened as she approached. She was bodily lifted up and in by her escorts. More hands seized hold of her inside the cockpit. She was maneuvered into a seat next to a window. A safety harness was pulled too tight. She looked at the seats facing her and was surprised to recognize McKafferty.

As the chopper lifted into the air, feeling lost, Kathy looked out across Pueblo Canyon. She knew she would never return again. This was her first step toward becoming one of the disappeared. As the helo banked, she saw a smoke trail lance down from a canyon wall toward

her. The helo jinked hard. Her world shook violently. A second missile smashed one of the Strykers, swallowing it in an orange fireball. That had to be the work of their only Javelin. Through the window she saw a firefight had erupted. Her fingers tightened into fists. The Peacemaker machine was rolling into motion, creating their hideous brand of peace. With mechanical precision they began grinding Pueblo Canyon under- foot. In a maelstrom of Gatling machine gun fire and explosions she saw people running and falling as they were torn apart. She was screaming at the Peacekeepers to stop while hitting the window with her fists, her eyes blurred with tears of rage.

She heard McKafferty shouting, “Goddamn it, Kohl, stand down!”

The carnage went on as the helicopter banked away, gaining speed and elevation in what felt like evasive maneuvers. Her view of Pueblo Canyon was replaced with peaceful red stone formations and trees. Kathy banged her fist against the glass one last time. She turned her burning eyes on McKafferty.

“You bastard… Why couldn’t you have left us alone? No one had to die. No one!”

“I’ve been onboard this chopper sitting on the ground for over an hour,” he growled. “That made me a nice fat target, but no one took a potshot until you came onboard. That missile was from your friends. I’d say it had your name on it, not mine. Is there something else you’re holding back that you want to tell me?”

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