Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Highlight: Stalking the Demon, by Ciara Ballintyne

Title: Stalking the Demon
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Seven Circles of Hell #2

Six months ago, the disgraced wizard, Alloran, sacrificed his hand to rescue the woman he loves from his traitorous friend, Ladanyon. Despite saving the city from a demon, his reputation remains tarnished, and the council of wizards has penalised him severely for the practise of banned magic.

Now he learns his desperate efforts to stop Ladanyon led more to damnation than salvation. Finding a solution compels him to breach his sanctions and venture into forbidden places at risk of his life and freedom.

Alloran must choose between saving himself and everything he holds dear.

Book #1

Chapter 1


Alloran rushed through the citadel halls heedless of the rich carpets crushed beneath his heavy boots. Gisayne hung limply in his arms, and her black hair trailed over his elbow. A few people watched him pass, but none offered assistance. Over the past six months, Gisayne collapsed often enough to blunt the urgency and the panic. The faces turning in his direction bore only mild curiosity, oblivious to the fact that this time was different.
Her chest barely rose and fell beneath the thin cream silk of her night gown and robe, and blue tinged the edges of her bee-stung lips. Seven hells, was she dying? As he raced onwards, he clutched her against him and her cold skin pressed against his. With no left hand, he had no way to check for a pulse. A choked-back scream of desperate frustration tightened his chest until it squeezed the breath out of his lungs.
While juggling Gisayne, he fumbled with the latch on the door to the citadel’s hospice. Damn his missing hand to the first hell. When the door finally gave, he shouldered it open and backed into a long room lined with starkly made beds. The few occupied by sick or injured had curtains drawn for privacy. Breidmar, dressed in the red-trimmed white robes of a citadel doctor, bustled over at their entrance.
Orange brows pinched with concern over her violet eyes. ‘Again?’
‘She’s…’ The lump in his throat choked him. He swallowed hard. ‘She’s hardly breathing.’
‘This way.’ Pointing to an empty bed, Breidmar called out and strode to a door at the far end. Before she crossed halfway back, an unfamiliar girl in acolyte’s white appeared in the doorway.
Alloran placed Gisayne on the bed with gentle care. Her slack body slid from his arms, her skin pale. When he let her go, her eyelids fluttered but did not open. Nausea knotted his gut. The last time she’d fainted, the recovery was quick. Now, she looked as if death hovered over her, waiting for the moment to snip the thread of her life.
As Breidmar began checking Gisayne’s vitals, she waved Alloran off. He hesitated. What would he do except wait, patient, and idle while Breidmar tried again to determine what illness affected her? She would try and fail, most likely.
‘Are you sure this is not the falling sickness? It’s supposed to get worse with each successive bout.’
‘She’s not got the right symptoms. No seizures,’ Breidmar responded in precise, clipped tones.
Alloran frowned. He wasn’t an idiot. ‘Then what? These collapses are getting more frequent and more severe! Seven hells take you, tell me. Whatever the illness, it can’t be too complicated for me to understand.’
With her severe lips curving down, she sniffed. ‘No amount of genius can assist you to comprehend a malady I cannot explain. While you’ve made any number of miraculous discoveries, you have no particular expertise in medical matters. Leave this to me.’
‘The title of doctor is reserved only for those who have studied in the citadel, and yet you say you don’t know? After all this time, you must have some notion.’ Wisps of his black hair hung about his face, torn free of their bindings in his haste. He pushed them back with a rough motion. When they slid back into disarray, he tore the leather thong free and began tying his hair back with short, sharp motions.
The doctor scowled at him. At her nod, the acolyte whipped the curtain around the bed in a rattle of rings. The cloth brushed Alloran’s nose; he jerked his head away.
A heartfelt sigh escaped his lips before he retreated to a waiting area that comprised a group of chairs. No, sitting still would be intolerable. He changed direction and paced the length of the room, passing the rows of identical empty beds. His boots echoed in the open space. Sterile and odourless air filled his nostrils.
Apparently, Breidmar shared the sentiments of many people in the citadel. Some blamed him solely for the demons that plagued the city of Ehsan six months earlier, and others accused him of working with the renegade wizard, Ladanyon. Although Alloran wasn’t subjected to a disciplinary hearing, the council’s public announcement that they were banning him from all forms of magic involving the hells only reinforced the blame.
Seven hells, the councillors banned him because some of them felt the same as the other citizens. Those residents who lost loved ones in the battle against Ladanyon’s first-circle demon were the most damning. Councillor Valgon’s wife died, and he made no bones about believing Alloran to be a public menace. I just can’t prove it, was what he said.

Ciara Ballintyne was born in 1981 in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, one masochistic cat, and one cat with a god complex. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and has been a practising financial services lawyer since 2004. She is both an idealist and a cynic.

She started reading epic fantasy at the age of nine, when she kidnapped Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings from her father. Another two years passed before she began her first attempts at the craft of writing. Confronting the Demon is her debut book.

She enjoys horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D.

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My Favorite Vampire Slayers!

Blog Blitz Headersanguinary final

A Night Shift Novel

Only fifty years left before vampires rule the world.

When Dallas police detective Cami Davis joined the city's vampire unit, she planned to use the job as a stepping-stone to a better position in the department.

But she didn't know then what she knows now: there's a silent war raging between humans and vampires, and the vampires are winning.

So with the help of a disaffected vampire and an ex-cop addict, Cami is going undercover, determined to solve a series of recent murders, discover a way to overthrow the local Sanguinary government, and, in the process, help win the war for the human race.

But can she maintain her own humanity in the process? Or will Cami find herself, along with the rest of the world, pulled under a darkness she cannot oppose?


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My Favorite Vampire Hunters in Film and Television

A Guest Post by Margo Bond Collins

In Sanguinary, Cami Davis is a detective on the Dallas police force, and part of an anti-vampire squad. My depiction of her is absolutely influenced by my love of vampire hunters in film and television. Here's a list of some of my favorite vampire hunters:

Buffy: Because what’s not to love about a snarky blonde cheerleader with a destiny to be a vampire slayer? Add Joss Whedon’s particular brand of brilliance, and Buffy is still one of my favorite vampire hunters, even more than fifteen years after the television series first aired.

The Winchester Brothers:  Normally, these are top five lists. But I’m going to count Sam and Dean Winchester from the television series Supernatural together—it’s virtually impossible to consider them any other way. Technically, Sam and Dean are monster hunters in general, and vampires make up only a small percentage of their hunts—but since Dean was once briefly turned into a vampire and Sam had to contemplate beheading his brother, I think it counts. Plus: they’re just so beautiful.

Peter Vincent: I know that the 2011 remake of Fright Night was not exactly a favorite of either critics or fans. But I love, love, love David Tennant in the role of the stage magician whose dark past makes him a vampire expert.

Blade, Whistler, and Abigail Whistler (I'm counting these guys together, too!): I love the way the Blade film series uses the conventions of vampire film and myth. The dhampir (or half-vampire) as a vampire hunter is one of my favorite semi-obscure vampire myths, and Wesley Snipes does a nice job of being a taciturn, tortured hero in the dhampir role. Film scholar Jeffrey Weinstock has claimed that the vampire film is always about technology, and Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) is the consummate tech guy. Finally, the addition of Abigail Whistler brings the kick-ass heroine into the series, making it just about perfect, as far as I’m concerned.

Pike: In the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she ends up with Pike, a mechanic whose best friend is turned into a vampire. I like Pike because, like Elle in my book Legally Undead, he doesn’t want to kill vampires. In fact, he packs up to get out of town. But then he sticks around to help Buffy figure out that she is, as he says, “the guy. The chosen guy.”

I really wanted to find a film or TV version of Van Helsing to include in this list, but I just couldn’t. The movie Van Helsing was simply laughable, and the Van Helsing character in the various Dracula movies doesn’t seem strong enough. I’d love to hear about any Van Helsings or other vampire hunters I might have missed who should be considered!


MargoBondCollinsAbout the Author Margo Bond Collins is the author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Sanguinary, Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them. _____________________________________________

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Highlight + Giveaway ~ Midway by Melanie Karsak

***Midway is a tie-in novella that complements The Harvesting, Book I in The Harvesting Series.***

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the beginning of the end.

Carnie. Ride jockey. Roustabout. White trash. Tilt girl. Gypsy. Cricket has been called a lot of things, but she never thought survivor of the zombie apocalypse would be one of them. One day she’s barking on the midway, and the next day, the world is eating itself alive.

Cricket, along with Vella, a tarot reader, and Puck, Cricket’s mangy mutt, find themselves running for their lives, but where can you hide when mankind has fallen? Cricket will need help if she hopes to survive.

Luckily for her, we were never really alone, and apparently, magical forces want to keep this tilt girl alive.

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Author Bio:

Melanie Karsak is the author of the Amazon best-selling steampunk series The Airship Racing Chronicles (Chasing the Star Garden and Chasing the Green Fairy) and the award-winning horror/dark fantasy Harvesting Series. She grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and earned a Master's degree in English from Gannon University. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and zombie whisperer, the author currently lives in Florida with her husband and two children. She is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

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Chapter 1


“Tilt-a-whirl, tilt-a-whirl, tilt-a-whirl! Come on ride my tilt-a-whirl! I’ll whirl you round the world,” I barked to the mostly empty aisles at the Allegheny Fairgrounds.

I looked up and down the aisles. The place was like a ghost town. While bags of pink and blue cotton candy hung in the food joints, cherry red candy apples glistened in the sunlight, and over-grown stuffed purple monkeys hung at the game booths, ripe for winning, no one was around to stuff themselves with carnie delights. The smell of kettle corn still perfumed the air, but for a carnival that was usually packed with excited townies, I swore I wouldn’t be surprised if a tumbleweed blew down the row.

After a bit, two young boys came up to my line. They were the only kids around. The older looked to be about twelve. The younger, a good two inches under my height bar, had pulled himself up to full height and tried not to meet my eyes.

“Tickets,” I said to them.

Confidently, the older boy handed me his ticket and passed through. The younger boy hesitated. Guessing he’d be all right, I let him through. The older boy slapped him a high five when they thought they were out of earshot.

I turned the key and started the ride. The boys smiled at me. I waved to them.

“Hey Cricket,” Harv, the balloon-pop agent across the aisle, called to me. “Where is everyone? Allegheny Fairgrounds is usually packed. I’m gonna go hungry.”

I leaned over the gate and twirled my blonde braid, checking out the split ends. “I heard someone say it’s the flu keepin’ people home. You know they closed LAX? I hear it’s gettin’ real serious. You get a flu shot?”

“Naa. Damned thing always gives me the flu. You know, Bud’s got it. He’s been laid up in his RV all day.”

“Anyone been by to see him?”

Harv shrugged. “He’s grouchy when he feels good. I don’t imagine he’d be a barrel of laughs when he’s sick.”

“No man is. Even the common cold has you all actin’ like a bunch of babies.”

“This coming from a blonde,” Harv replied with a laugh.

“You better watch yourself. I’ll come pop your balloons.”

“Baby, a grenade couldn’t pop those balloons,” he said with a laugh.

I turned back to the boys. They were all smiles; round and round they spun. Since no one else was around, I let it run until they signaled they’d had enough.

Around nine o’clock that night, the owner, Mr. Marx, came by. I had not seen a soul on the fairway since the boys left. “Sorry, Cricket. We’re going to teardown to get ready for the jump to Cincinnati. We’re just burning juice and not making a dime. This place is dead; not a soul here.”

“All right then,” I replied, and Mr. Marx wandered off. I realized he hadn’t said a word about when he would pay us for Allegheny Fairgrounds, dead or not.

Moments after he left, the first of the evening fireworks shot across the sky. The dark sky was illuminated with gold and pink. I waited for a moment, expecting to hear the excited oohs and ahhs that usually followed what was a pretty measly fireworks display, but there was nothing, just the pop and crackle of the fireworks, followed by silence. Eerie.

I whistled for Puck, my mangy mixed breed and the only male I swore I would ever truly love. After a few minutes, the hound-shepherd mix with honey-colored eyes appeared looking dirty and happy. I found him about a year ago. Well, actually, he’d found me. We were getting ready to leave Crawford County Fairgrounds when he showed up at the tilt begging for scraps. I made the mistake of feeding him a leftover funnel cake, and after that, I couldn’t shake him. He was a mischievous little devil, and Vella, the tarot reader, gave me the idea for his name: Puck. She said it was the name of a rascally faerie creature. It fit him. From that moment on, Puck and I were always together. More than once, a growl and flash of teeth from Puck had gotten me out of a jam. I loved that mangy mutt.

“Up to no good, were ya?” I asked, scratching him on the head. He licked my hand and wagged his tail. I closed up my till and headed to the bunk house to look for some extra muscle to help with the teardown. As I passed through the midway I saw most of the other joints and booths were already closed. Mama Rosie was just closing up the snake show when I came by.

“Marx closed down everyone up here already?” I asked her.

“They’re all sick, Sug,” she replied as she dropped one of her small snakes into her bra. I shivered. Everyone loved Mama Rosie, but no one understood her relationship with her babies. She always had one hanging out of her bra, hanging around her neck, or stuffed in her clothes. Mama was a big woman who liked to wear baggy, loud-colored gowns. I hated sitting next to her at dinner. You never knew when one of the babies might suddenly slither out of her hibiscus-print dress.

I set my box down and helped her push the trailer door closed. “How about you, Mama? You feelin’ all right?”

“I think I ate something bad at lunch, but I’ll be fine. You headed back to the bunks?”

“I guess. I was hopin’ Beau and the boys would come give me a hand.”

“Sug, Beau would give you a hand, arm, leg, or toe if you asked. Why don’t you give that boy a chance?”

“Oh, Mama Rosie, I don’t feel nothin’ like that for him.”

“But you run off with townies often enough.”

“Well, we all have needs.”

Mama Rosie laughed loud. “You got that right. I thought maybe you were hoping someone would marry you out of the life.”

“And give up all this?”

Mama Rosie hooted again, her boisterous laughter filling the empty aisles.

While the smell of Chinese food, funnel cakes, and fried sausage still filled the air, there was no one around. Power was still on, so the midway sparkled in a rainbow of light, but the place was like a ghost town. I had never seen it like that, and since I’d practically grown up in the carnival, that was saying something. Several game booth agents had even left their plush hanging—now that was odd.

As Mama and I passed by Iago’s Traveling Torture show, Mr. Iago came out. I winced. After three years of traveling with Great Explorations carnival, I had yet to warm up to Mr. Iago. His show was creepy. I’d once had a look inside. The place was hung with all kinds of pictures of people being tortured, and he had old torture devices like the rack, an iron maiden, a wheel of fortune, and other small harmful contraptions. Mr. Iago was as creepy as his show. On the outside he looked normal enough, just a funny-looking little bald man with too-big-ears and a pointed nose, but it was what I felt coming from inside him that set me on edge. I never looked him in the eye.

“Mama Rosie, Cricket,” he called politely.

“You headed back too, Mr. Iago?” Mama called cheerfully.

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” he replied softly.

“You make any scratch today?” Mama asked him.

“Well, I don’t like to discuss finances,” he told her in his quiet manner.

“He don’t like to discuss finances,” Mama said mockingly to me. “All right, Mr. Iago. You just go on with yourself then.”

“No offense, Mama Rosie,” he replied quietly.

“Of course not,” she said and rolled her eyes at me.

When we got back to the bunk houses there were half a dozen people sitting outside at a picnic table listening to the radio. I spotted Mr. and Mrs. Chapman. They owned three of the grab joints; Mrs. Chapman waved to us. She was a biblical woman whose savory corndog breading had won top prize at a competition last year. If you didn’t mind hearing her recite verse all day, she was fine to be around. Red and Neil, two ride jockeys, were there as well. Red ran Big Eli; Neil ran the swings. The resident lot lizard, Cici, was snuggled up to Red. I was surprised to see Vella there as well. Vella, the tarot reader, was a Romanian immigrant who called herself the only authentic Roma, which she said meant gypsy, in America. Even though she was just a little older than me, Vella scared me. She’d never done anything to me and was really nice, but she scared me all the same. The others said she was dead-on accurate with her readings and often had bad news to give. I didn’t want to be around anything like that.

“What’s the news?” Mama Rosie asked.

“Lord, help us! This flu is something else. They have quarantined almost every city on the west coast: LA, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco. . .you name it. They got the national guard on the highways keeping people out,” Mrs. Chapman said.

She was quiet then. We listened: “And inside Portland Central Hospital, military personnel have opened fire on seemingly-rabid patients,” a female reporter was saying. “Reports from the scene indicate that a riot broke out at the hospital when patients, suffering from side-effects of what now seems to be a pandemic flu, began attacking other hospital patients and employees. CDC officials have confirmed that increased violence appears to be associated with the afflicted and continue to advise everyone to avoid direct physical contact with those with the illness. Martial law has been instituted in all major west coast cities and cities across the south. Cities across the northeast and central US have issued a curfew. There have been reports of runs on banks, grocery stores, and fueling stations.”

“What are they sayin’ on TV?” I asked.

Red shook his head. “We can’t get a signal in. No one’s dishes are working.”

“President was on the radio. Told everyone to be calm,” Cici said.

“Easy for him to say. They probably got him stashed in a bunker somewhere,” Mr. Chapman replied.

“Highways are gonna be backed up. And nobody’s gonna be interested in a fair, not at Allegheny and not in Cincinnati. But I bet if we don’t jump, Marx is gonna stiff us,” I told the others.

They nodded.

“Well, if y’all will give me a hand, I’ll pay back the favor,” I told Red and Neil.

“No problem, Cricket. You see Beau around?”

I shook my head. “I just came lookin’ for him.”

“He’s sick,” Vella said. She rarely spoke, so when she did, we all turned to her. “Leave him be,” she added, her voice still thick with her Romanian accent.

Vella had been shuffling her cards the whole time we’d been listening to the radio. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“What do the cards say about this flu, Vella? Should we hit the road? Stay put?” Mama Rosie asked.

“Devil’s work,” Mrs. Chapman whispered under her breath.

“They say the same thing over and over again: the Tower.” She laid out a card for us to see.

When Mr. Iago leaned in to look, I moved away. My skin crawled having him so close. I took a step toward the other end of the table and put my hand on Mrs. Chapman’s shoulder. She patted my fingers. On the card Vella had laid out was the image of a tower on fire, two naked people falling from it to the ground.

“What does it mean?” Mama Rosie asked.

“The end of a way of life. Chaos will pave the way in a new world for those who can survive the destruction.”

“That’s cheerful,” Red said.

Vella picked the card back up. She looked up at me. “Can you let me know when you’re going to head out? I’d like to caravan.”

I smiled and nodded. I wasn’t really interested in her gloom and doom, but I sure didn’t want to be on the road alone in a time like this.

Red, Neil, and I headed back to the rides and started the breakdown process. It wasn’t easy with just the three of us, but Neil was good with the lift, and I had the breakdown down-pat. We had the tilt loaded onto the flatbed in no time.

“I’ve never seen a girl as good with a wrench as you are, Cricket,” Red told me as we headed over to the swings.

“Don’t hurt none that my daddy put one in my hand about a minute after I was born,” I replied with a laugh.

“I met your daddy back in the 80s. We worked Maverick Carnival together for about a year.”

“For real? I didn’t know that.”

“Boy, your daddy, there wasn’t a mark he couldn’t clean out or a townie whose eye he couldn’t catch. I think your daddy was born for the carnie life.”

“He loved it. That’s the truth,” I replied. I loved talking about my daddy. Since he’d died three years ago, I felt so lonely for him. Anytime someone had a story to share about him I was all ears.

Daddy had just finally saved and borrowed enough to buy a used tilt-a-whirl when he started looking a little red in the cheeks from time to time. My daddy had always been a ride jockey, but now he would be a ride owner, and a “tilt man,” a title that made him proud. He liked the idea of tweaking the ride, playing with the gears and brakes. It was a dream for him. Not a month after getting the ride, however, I found him lying dead of a heart attack. He’d been working on one of the cars. Doctor said a life full of eating nothing but carnival food will do that to you. I’d thought about leaving the carnival, but after my daddy had worked so hard, I couldn’t. I became a tilt girl. The ride was like his living memorial. Every time a child smiled or laughed on that ride, I knew my daddy was smiling in heaven.

“I never did meet your mama,” Red told me then turned to Neil. “You ever meet her?”

Neil shook his head. “Someone said you look like her, Crick.”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I probably wouldn’t know her anymore. Last time I talked to her she said she’d dyed her hair red,” I replied. My mom and dad had split when I was young. She had married and started a new life. We rarely talked. She was like a stranger to me. I didn’t think on her much.

We worked on the swings. They were an easy break down, and we were done and packed in less than two hours. The Big Eli, as we called the Ferris Wheel, was another story altogether, and it was already after one in the morning.

“Let’s get it first thing tomorrow,” Red said. “I’m feeling my bones.”

Relieved, I nodded. I didn’t want the boys to know, but every muscle in my body was aching, and Puck had started whining for his dinner an hour before. I wasn’t going to argue. “Just knock in the mornin’,” I called to Red. “I’m over by the creek at the edge of the west parking lot. Wasn’t room left in the back when I got here,” I added.

“Well, that will teach you not to play around in town next jump,” Red replied with a laugh, and we went our separate ways, Neil and Red chatting as they went the other direction.

Back in the parking lot, I crawled into the cab of my truck, my home away from home. When I was a game agent, I used to drive a small RV, but I needed a semi to haul the tilt so I gave up my RV, managed to get a CDL license, and now lived in the cab of my truck. It wasn’t too bad, and if it started to feel real tight, I would stay in the bunk house.

I dug around until I found a can of food for Puck. I placed a small bowl on the ground and sat beside him, petting him while he ate, looking at the view. My spot by the creek wasn’t bad. I could hear the sound of the rushing water. Besides, the parking lot was dead. There wouldn’t be any noise.

After Puck had gobbled down his meal, he jumped in the cab, and we snuggled together on the small cot behind the seat. I pulled the curtain closed, and we called it a night.





Catherine Stine

Contemporary/Paranormal Teen Romance
Released October 24, 2014

Internet followers, beauty, power. It all sounded good. Until it transformed into a terrifying reality Dorianna couldn’t stop. 

When her father is jailed, her mother ships Dorianna to her aunt’s house. Dorianna yearns to build a new identity, but the popular Lacey bullies her—mostly for getting attention from her ex, Ander.

Ander takes Dorianna to Coney Island where Wilson, a videographer, creates a stunning compilation of her. She dreams of being an online sensation, tired of being plain and lonely, and vows she’d give anything to go viral. Wilson claims he’s the Prince of Darkness and offers her the beauty and fame she's dreamed of—warning her that a pledge has its downsides.  Dorianna has no idea of how dire those consequences might be.

Buy links:  Evernight Teen    Amazon       


On the way to my new school, I catch a glimpse of my face in a shop mirror. Even though I hate mirrors, I force myself to look. No one needs to remind me I’m plain.

Leaning forward, I examine my pale skin with its tracery of blue underneath. It looks like granny spider veins. And I never smile all the way. That would expose my wonky teeth—one front tooth slightly over the other. 

My hair’s limp, but it’s auburn with peachy highlights. I’ve got that going for me, at least. Lifting up a lock, I admire its warm glow in the September sun. And there’s still a hint of eagerness in my eyes––they haven’t knocked that out of me. It’s hope, whispering, “Maybe this place will be different. Maybe they won’t walk past me as if I’m floating dust.”

I’ve been here in Brooklyn for four days, shuffled away from family chaos to my Aunt Carol’s house. She’s nice so far, but I don’t really know her. It’s too bad we could never afford to fly east for family reunions. I do know she’s a fundraiser for a public radio station, and owns one floor in a brownstone. And that she eats vegetarian, and neatly folds the nubbly throws on her earth-tone Pottery Barn couch.

And she’s the sister of my screw-up father.

I’m not sorry I left Wabash. School there was a train wreck. It got so lonely, watching the reigning couples kissing their way down the halls. I wanted someone’s arms around me, too, or at least another good friend after Jen. But it wasn’t meant to be, after gossip spread that my father was sent to jail for committing moral turpitude. My mom took to her bed, and I took over. We were struck with loss and horror and shock all at once. Mom needed me last spring. I tried to help in any way I could, until she insisted that I needed a total break from the family. Or was it Mom who needed the break?

I’m going to suck it up. I am. If she needs the break, she can have it. Maybe I need one, too. I’m determined to pump myself up to face a different army of kids.

Ambling down Montague Street, past the cute boutiques, I soak in the balmy September sun and survey my new stomping grounds. These Brooklyn streets are as delicious as strawberry shortcake. The narrow shops are a wonder of necklaces, handmade with glass bits and bottle tops, and leafy bracelets fashioned from green computer chips.

The caffeine-laced scents wafting from the cyber café draw me in. As I walk by, I sneak looks at the lean, fox-quick boys with scruffy hair, low-slung belts, and tees that read Neon Pandas and Oubliettes of Onyx. Bands I’ve never heard of, since out in Hoosier Land they mostly play country music.

I smile, picturing myself talking to a slinky boy who makes me my very own playlist—he’d call it Songs for a Brooklyn Beauty. A girl can dream, right?

Turning down Court Street, a woman breezes past me in a black jumpsuit. Another dramatic beauty in thigh-high boots floats by, with two dachshunds tugging against their pink leashes. As I glance back at her, I imagine her working as a Broadway actress, dancing across a stage in those fancy boots.

Just then, one of her dogs works free of her grasp, and streaks into the street. “Hey!” I call. “Hey, pup!” I dash after it, grab the pink leather strap, and coax it back toward the curb as a bakery van careens around the corner, the driver pounding on his horn.

The booted lady runs over to me. “Thanks so much!” she says, breathless.

“Happy to help. Couldn’t let your sweet dog be hit.” Our eyes meet as I hand her the leash, and her smile touches me. I watch for another moment as she walks demurely on.

Everything here vibrates with possibility, if I block out my dread of school. It’s my chance to figure out who I want to be, which I couldn’t quite do back home. I can’t wait to let my old, stale-kernel life rot on the vine, and start over.

Reading the sign on a red colonial stone building, I sway with sudden trepidation: School. Ivy sprints up its scholarly walls, and its walkway is marked with marble planters. Each one bursts with purple chrysanthemums, as if this is the cheeriest high school ever. I’m here, no turning back. Look, you’re smart, I tell myself, you tested in and even got a scholarship here. Maybe private school kids are easier on new students. Unlikely, but I’ll give it my best.

Author Bio:
Catherine Stine’s YA novels span the range from science fiction to dark fantasy to modern horror. Her futuristic thriller, Fireseed One was a finalist in YA and SF in the USA News International Book Awards and an Indie Reader Approved notable. Its companion novel, Ruby’s Fire was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Awards. She also writes new adult fiction as Kitsy Clare, and her Art of Love series (Model Position and Private Internship) is about Sienna’s artistic perils in NYC. Her YA paranormal, Dorianna is her new YA horror from Evernight Teen. Catherine’s love of dark fantasy came from her father reading Edgar Allen Poe to her when she was a child. She was also addicted to science fiction as a teen. The freakier the better! She teaches workshops in writing speculative fiction and is a member of RWA, SFWA and SCBWI.

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