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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The 19th Element - John L Betcher


Western perceptions notwithstanding, the Afghan War did not put Al Qaeda out of business. And despite American bragging to the contrary, Al Qaeda has even conducted successful operations inside the U.S. after 9/11.

It is true that western forces have succeeded in thwarting a number of attempted attacks. But from Al Qaeda's perspective, even worse than failed operations are the West's unbelievably effective cover-ups. Westerners blame nearly all of Al Qaeda's successful offensives on internal malcontents. Gang wars. Freedom Fighters. Drug cartels. Anarchists. Radical extremists. These are the "criminals" who receive the credit for attacks that, in reality, are Al Qaeda's victories.

Although the premier international terrorist organization is very much alive - and deadly - the name of Al Qaeda no longer strikes fear into the hearts of the western world. Of what efficacy is a terrorist group lacking the ability to terrorize? Al Qaeda faces a serious public relations problem. World fear of Al Qaeda is at an all-time low.

There is only one solution. To regain global prominence, Al Qaeda needs an operation so high-profile, and so public, that the world cannot be duped by cover-ups.

It needs something nuclear.

"The 19th Element" is also available for Kindle
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Wednesday, May 6th at Red Wing, Minnesota.

Tuesday's discovery of a dead body washed up on the Mississippi River shore just north of Red Wing had turned the small town into a press Mecca. Television and print media crews from the Twin Cities and Rochester converged on the murder scene, each vying for the most gruesome, and attention-grabbing, visuals possible.

News helicopters swooped up and down the river valley, past the grassy riverbank where the swollen spring currents at the confluence of the Prairie River with its larger counterpart had deposited the corpse.

The body was that of an older man - in his sixties, the Ottawa County Medical Examiner had estimated. Police hadn't released the probable identity of the victim. And despite photographers' best efforts, the only crime photos that made the nightly news programs were of boaters in small craft, gawking in the river channel, and of four Ottawa County Sheriff's Deputies hoisting a vinyl body-bag from the weedy beach into their covered flatboat. The remainder of the news footage showcased well-dressed reporters, looking serious, and speaking with concerned voices about the tragic discovery near the small Minnesota town.

But all that was yesterday.

Today was Wednesday and I was at my office. Becker Law Office. James L. Becker, Attorney-at-Law. Nearly everyone who knows me calls me 'Beck.'

I arrived at this lawyering gig via an unusual route. Following my retirement from more than twenty years of sub rosa military intelligence operations, my wife, Elizabeth, and I decided to move our family to my childhood home of Red Wing. Beth and I had agreed at the time that the relatively crime-free life in rural Minnesota would be a plus for our girls. Having me working near home more of the time would reduce my family's justified worries for my safety. And I could blend in seamlessly in my old home town.

Lawyering would be a fairly easy professional transition for me. I already held a largely-unused law degree from my pre-Agency days. The segue into small town private practice would not be difficult.

So five years ago, Beth and I, and our two children, Sara and Elise, had picked up our lives and come here to live in Red Wing, a Mississippi River town of about twenty thousand. In this setting, we were able to use our real names. And we hoped to regain for our family a sense of normalcy.

Although being an attorney is not difficult, it can be less than exciting. For the sake of appearances, I maintain the cover - but we really don't need the money.

Our family financial situation is a bit more favorable than most, owing entirely to an invention I had patented during my tenure on 'the Team' - a radically new aerodynamic design for sniper bullets.

A change in the shape of a bullet might not seem like much. But after extensive testing, a government defense contractor had happily purchased my patent for quite a lot of money.

Later, I was pleased to learn that incorporation of the bullet design into new sniper rifles allowed a reliable 'kill shot' at up to a mile and a half - a significant improvement over the traditional .50 caliber long-range projectiles. A win-win for both me and the military.
Of course, the defense contractor got the glory. But that wasn't important. Glory is fleeting and fickle. Neither to be sought nor trusted.

Given our financial independence, my new 'job' is really just my new cover. My true vocation really has no proper name. I guess you could say I am professionally wayward. At least, I like that description. It implies a Huck Finn sort of freedom, combined with a Tiger Woods drive for excellence - minus some of Tiger's extra-curricular pursuits, of course.

My professionally wayward approach allows me complete freedom to select causes and goals; but once chosen, it also requires me to pursue all such matters with utter commitment and maximum preparedness. This combination of dedication and preparation has, thus far, assured my success in numerous challenging undertakings.
I am most certainly not a jack of all trades. I am, however, a master of many. Professionally wayward. I definitely like that.

At 9:30 a.m. it had already seemed a long morning at the law office. And I wanted to get the inside info on the floater murder. It was time for an informational visit to my friend in local law enforcement.

When I arrived at the Ottawa County Law Enforcement Center, a five minute drive from my office, the atmosphere was still electric in the wake of the previous day's gruesome discovery. So much so, that I had managed to slip through the usual administrative roadblocks and right into Gunner's inner office.

'Gunner' is Ottawa County's Chief Deputy Sheriff, Doug Gunderson. He's in his mid-forties, six foot, 180 pounds and in pretty good shape. Though he displays a hint of a belly, his body is mostly muscle. Gunner's round face, light complexion and short, reddish-brown hair are not atypical of many fourth-generation Scandinavian immigrants to this area of Minnesota.

Gunner is also one of the very few people in town who has any idea of my true life experiences as a covert intelligence operative during my twenty-year absence from Red Wing.

We had known each other in our youth, and had been casual friends in high school, but hadn't kept in contact until my return to Minnesota five years ago. On one occasion, a few years back, he had pressed me for details concerning my life after leaving Red Wing.

As a professional investigator, he can be irritatingly tenacious.

At the time, it hadn't been my first choice to let Gunner in on my secrets. But he was persistent. My gut told me I could trust him. And a friend in local law enforcement is not a bad thing. So I had elected to come clean about my government past - minus many details, of course. In return, he'd vowed to keep my secrets to himself - a promise he had faithfully fulfilled.

Since then, Gunner and I had 'cooperated' on a few cases. He operated by the book. I, by my own rules. The differing approaches created some conflict. But we shared common goals, and we understood each other well enough to make it work. As a side benefit, being involved with law enforcement activities satisfied my desire for more action than mere lawyering alone could provide.

Gunderson was seated at his desk, deeply absorbed in review of glossy crime scene photographs. He looked up when he heard my voice.

"So what's going on today, Gunner?" I inquired. "Things are hopping around here. Is Oprah planning a visit?" Gunner looked up from his work.

"Becker. Who let you in here?" He was trying to sound irritated.

"Always nice to be welcome," I said.

Following the exchange of further niceties, Gunner answered my question.

"You know damn well what's going on, Beck. Everybody from the Sheriff, to the Mayor, to the frickin' Press is all over our asses to solve this murder case. Deadline is yesterday.

"And of course, the big wigs've gotta fight over the jurisdictional issues. The State guys want in on the investigation. The FBI claims that it oughtta be in charge because the body was found in interstate waters. Actually, our own department has the best claim to the case, since it appears that the murder occurred on our dirt.

"So in short, it's a madhouse right now. No one is in charge. And despite all the activity around here," - Gunner made an arm motion circling his head - "not much investigating is really getting done."

I looked at him, feigning shock.

I'm pretty sure Gunner could sense my lack of sympathy for his bureaucratic hiccups. Gunner frowned at me for a few moments, then lightened up.

"Oh geez. You might as well have a seat," he said at last. "I need a break anyway."
Gunner motioned me to one of his side chairs.

It was stacked full with manila files.

I raised my eyebrows at him.

He returned the look. But the files didn't move.

So I cleared the chair myself, stacking the manila obstacles alongside a similar pile of files already reclining against the wall. Then I sat down.

Commotion continued in the hall outside his office.

With hands crossed comfortably over his torso, Gunner leaned back in the 1960s-vintage vinyl office chair, looking at me as if waiting for something to happen.

"So ...," I began. "Do you know who the unlucky fellow is . . . was?"

I could see that Gunner was trying to project cool and calm - but the butterflies were definitely fluttering in his gut. A murder in Ottawa County was a very big deal. But Gunner wasn't about to let his excitement overtake his professional persona.

"We're pretty sure it was a prof from the U of M Ag Lab at the Ottawa Facility," he said, locking his fingers behind his head.

I noted the obvious perspiration under his arms.

"His wife reported him missing to the Cottage Grove Police early yesterday morning. And he hasn't shown up for work the past two days. Car's missing, too.

"Oh yeah." He paused for dramatic effect. Gunner likes drama. I think he watches too many cop shows on TV.

"There's a large amount of dried blood in the Lab parking lot. We're assuming it will match our victim."

I paused for a moment. Then . . .

"Seems a logical assumption," I said, bypassing the drama. "Have you got a name?"

Gunner looked a little wounded that I hadn't been more impressed with the big blood puddle.

Overcoming his mild disappointment, he leaned forward, referencing the notepad on his desk. "Donald G. Westerman, PhD. Home address is in Cottage Grove. We'll be inviting the wife to the morgue to identify the body as soon as we can make it . . . ah . . . presentable."

The killer had nearly severed Dr. Westerman's head from his body. Some tidying up was prudent before exposing the wife to her husband's corpse.

"Don't s'pose you found a weapon?"

"No such luck. The M.E. is trying to get us a description of the blade. But since it's a slash, that'll probably come back 'inconclusive.' In a stabbing, you can maybe get a cast or something. With a cut, usually its just whether the knife is serrated, and how thick."

Based on my experience with knives, Gunner was probably right about the forensics.
"And at present, no motive either?"

I had all the smart questions.

"Not really," Gunner continued. "Though it is interesting to note that the fellow's lab assistant has also failed to report for work since the murder."

He consulted his notes again.

"One Farris Ahmed. British exchange student in the graduate program at the U of M. Sent a couple deputies by his apartment. No one home. We're working on a search warrant."

In my former military career, I had once encountered a radical Muslim Jihadist who went by the name of Farris Ahmed. It was a common enough name in Arab countries - but given my past experiences, one might understand why this name did not sit quietly in my gut.

"What ethnic derivation is Mr. Ahmed?" I asked. "Muslim Brit?"

"Not strictly relevant, Beck. You know there's no racial profiling in this department." Ah. The company line.

Gunner gave me a steely stare. I waited.

"Officially, we have no word on Mr. Ahmed's ethnicity. We're a small department. We can't do everything at once, for god's sake. Anyway, we try to save the bigotry assignments for the BCA."

The BCA was the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the branch of the State Police charged with criminal investigations. They would likely take a lead role in the investigation, regardless of any Sheriff's Department protests to the contrary.

The mention of the name 'Farris Ahmed,' and the international background of the lab assistant, had further piqued my interest.

"Gunner. You would probably ask the BCA to do this anyway . . . but would you mind checking for any international telephone calls made from the vicinity of the Lab around the time of the murder? I mean, not just the assistant's phone, or the land lines, but anonymous, throw-away cell phones, too?"

"Why?" Gunner replied, leaning forward in his chair. "Do you suspect a connection beyond Minnesota?"

I didn't want to get Gunner off track just because my gut had a twinge - especially with no evidence at all of global foul play. But I wasn't going to ignore my instincts either.
"Well . . . the assistant was from overseas - just thought you'd want to be thorough."

Gunner looked me in the eye before continuing.

Gunner leaned back again in his chair. I surmised I was about to receive some wise advice from the seasoned law man.

"You realize, Beck, that the assistant may be another victim, and not at all culpable in this mess?"

"I suppose that's true," I conceded. "Still, I would appreciate your checking the phone call situation."

"All right, Beck. I'll ask the BCA to do it . . . as a favor to you."

Gunner pretended to think it was a dumb idea. But he has always been a bad actor. My concern wasn't so far-fetched that he was going to ignore it.

"'Course I can't guarantee that the BCA'll do anything about it. They don't work for me, you know."

Gunner aimed a forefinger across the desk at me.

"And if I catch any crap for making this request, you will owe me one."

I had gotten what I wanted. No point picking a fight.

"You have a deal. Thanks. And good luck with the investigation."

"Right. Thanks, Beck. I'm sure I'll be seeing you around."

"Oh, I think you can count on it."

And I left.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Carnal - Jenika Snow

Book three in the Luecross Wolves Series

A past that haunts, but a future that hold only the most carnal of pleasures.

Forest Haven is a picturesque vacation spot, but Alexander knows that the Luecross werewolves lurk just behind the thick tree line. What he doesn't know is that he is being hunted by his kind.

Alexander is a Luecross wolf and although he knows of his heritage, he was kept away from his kind by his adoptive parents. He has grown to fear what he is. Never has he shifted, fighting the temptation over and over again, fearing that if he gave into his basic urges he would end up hurting the people he loved.

Coming across two naked men in a clearing is a sight that brings wicked feelings to Alexander. Not only is he unsure about his emotions, he also realises the wolf that he has tried to suppress for so long is howling to be released.

When Merrick and Landon reveal who and what they really are, they also show Alexander what it means to truly let the beast out, teaching him what carnal pleasures can be unlocked if he just lets his inner wolf free.

To buy this book:
Visit Jenika:

Excerpt From: Carnal

Alexander Dumont wasn’t human, and he had known what he was from the very moment he could speak. His adoptive parents hadn’t been secretive about it, but although they were honest, they were zealots as well. Alex had been taken from his home, hidden amongst humans so he could never be found.
His adoptive parents had kidnapped him.
Granted, they thought they were doing the right thing, but the fact remained that all his life, Alexander knew he had been missing something.
He was a shifter, a wolf. He knew nothing of his heritage, only what his parents had deemed appropriate for him to know. He had heard the story of his “rescue” hundreds of times. Over the years, he had grown to wonder what his kind was really like.
Margareta and Henry had taken him as a baby. Although Alex could feel something inside of him growing, becoming more powerful, he couldn’t chance it breaking free and harming someone he cared about. It had been what he was taught all his life—‘Keep the beast at bay’.
Not only had Margareta and Henry explained what he was, they also told him that shape shifters were feral, carnivorous beasts that preyed on the innocent. He was told if he ever let it free, it would not only take over his very soul, but hurt anyone who got in its way. There was no way Alex could chance that. His parents may have been fanatics, but they had also taken care of him and given him love. They were all he had ever known.
It wasn’t until they passed away last summer that he decided to find out who and what he really was. He just hoped this wasn’t all an enormous mistake.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Namaqualand Book of the Dead - Nerine Dorman

How far will you travel to lay your dead to rest?

Struggling to come to terms with her boyfriend Aidan’s death, Chloë is ill prepared to deal with the violent murder of his best friend. When tantalizing evidence suggests there is more to Aidan’s apparent death than meets the eye, Chloë will not let her lack of material resources keep her from uncovering the truth, even if the truth proves far more dangerous and with a far more sinister nature than she bargained for.

The evening would have petered off in this warm glow if the wail of sirens hadn’t pierced the air outside.

The guys stiffened, muttered and shared dark looks. Hailing from a big city, both Gladys and I were inured to the commotion.

Piet shifted his bulk. “I’d better go take a look.”

“I’ll come with,” said Gerhard.

This left only me, Gladys, Frederik and an ancient fellow by the name of Jaap. It was as if the air had grown solid. The men faced the screen but kept glancing at the door.

The grumble of a diesel engine coughing into life spoke of our departing companions’ urgent desire to leave.

“What’s that all about?” I asked, still unconcerned. After all, what could possibly happen all the way out here that was any worse than in the city?

Frederik gave a deep sigh, taking a long gulp from his Castle. “You tell ’em, Jaap. I don’t have the taste for this.”

Jaap blinked, looking first at Gladys then me. “We have a murderer in Lambert’s Bay. We’ve had six killed in as many months.”

Gladys let out a small gasp. “And the cops?”

Jaap spat, pulling a face. “They say it’s some wild animal, maybe a leopard come down from the mountains, but there are no claw marks and the wounds have allegedly become neater with each kill. But I tell you, no leopard would tear out a man’s throat like he was no better than... And in all my years on the West Coast, no leopard has ever attacked a human. Some of the farmers living out here have never even so much as seen hide nor hair of the cats. To have this happen now...” Jaap shook himself as if to rid himself of a particularly bad thought.

A vision of Phil with his throat slit when they found him exploded in my vision. I didn’t want to go there and of course I hadn’t seen this, but Belinda had told me enough, and I shivered. And there was a world of difference between having one’s throat slit compared to having it torn out. Yet...

The fog of my pleasant alcoholic haze vanished, the words escaping from my lips before I had an opportunity to consider them. “Have there been any strangers moving to Lambert’s Bay? A man. Young. About my age?”

Everyone turned to look at me as if I’d sprouted horns or something. Then I realized my mistake. Good going. Now I had implicated Aidan without first finding him.

Gladys placed her hand on my shoulder as if to suggest she was here to take care of me. Under any other circumstance, I would have shrugged the gesture off, but what I’d just blurted struck me dumb with my stupidity and my face grew warm.

“Forgive Chloe. She’s had a long day. She’s obviously worried about her friend.” Gladys said that as if to suggest I was worried Aidan had been one of the victims, which I was, now that she’d tried to shift the conversation.

The men shared an unreadable look. Frederik licked his lips. “No. No strangers we’re aware of. Four fishermen have washed up. Then old Mrs. Kemp, but no one liked the old witch anyway, and then mad Benny, who was walking around at odd hours.”

“In other words, no one who’d be really missed.” Gladys’s disapproval of Frederik’s choice of words was evident.

Frederik continued without giving pause to my friend’s comment. “Come to think of it, no.”

“Except their families!” I said.

Gladys’s fingers tightened on my shoulder.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Blue Heaven" - Jadette Paige

Take him from Heaven’s Seat. Bring him to me. We will protect his sacred head.

Stryver Zorti’s mission appeared simple. Kidnap the Godchild and deliver him to his master. But with the first meeting of the holy man’s azure gaze, desire surged in him to strip bare the god and touch the man within. 

Worshiped all his life, the Godchild is shocked by the stranger who dared lay hands on him, even if to save him from assassins. With a unique name given by his new ally, Blue is freed from the constraints of the holy order for the first time. He revels in the fresh experiences opening to him, then to the passion that sparks between him and the hard-edged, oddly gentle Stryver. But a god does not love, and if discovered, their precarious utopia will shatter, destroying any chance for a future together--that is if the assassins don’t kill them first.

Purchase Blue Heaven at :
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Stryver leaned against the broad trunk, waiting with waning patience. Blue had been fine until the rain. He had melted with the first drops, shivering and gasping until Stryver helped him move under the protection of the oak.

He frowned at Blue where he huddled among the roots’ knobs at the base of the trunk. His knees were drawn up against his chest, his thin arms wrapped around them.

Rain never hurt anyone. Why him? Stryver couldn’t figure it out.

Everything about the holy man confused him—in particular, the reason why someone wanted him dead. He didn’t appear to be a threat to anyone, yet from what Aidal said and what Stryver had witnessed in the cathedral, his life was in imminent danger.

Shaking his head, Stryver dug a cloth-covered bundle from his supply bag. He unrolled half a loaf of bread and a small wedge of cheese. He squatted next to Blue, his own back pressed against the bark. He stared at the holy man, his hand frozen in the act of offering him a share of the bread.

Head lowered, gaze caught on something next to him, Blue held one finger out. A small, black ant crawled onto the tip. He lifted his hand, his gaze centered on the ant.

Uncomfortable with the intensity of Blue’s survey of the insect, Stryver released a low laugh. “You act like you’ve never seen an ant.”

Blue’s gaze stayed riveted on the tiny creature as he murmured, “That is its name?”

Confused even more by the strange question, Stryver shook his head. “Yes. You’ve never seen one?”

“No. It’s different from us. So fragile.”

Disbelief replaced his confusion. “There had to be ants at the monastery.”

“No. Only the monks and myself. No other creatures were ever allowed to enter.”

Stryver looked at the ant. What sort of problems could an ant cause? “Why?”

“No distraction, nothing to influence or interrupt my growth. No threats to my development.”

Amazed at the calm, accepting manner with which Blue repeated this simple mantra, Stryver asked, needing an answer, anything to clear the muddle in his mind, “What is your ability?”

This question brought the azure gaze over to meet his. The gentle patter of the rain striking the dirt road and leaves surrounded them, enfolding them in a secluded place. For the space of a breath, Stryver forgot to look away. Then he blinked, focusing on the ant again, making sure not to stare into the innocent orbs studying him.

“I was instructed not to tell anyone.”

“You can’t tell me your name. Now, it’s your true power. Why the secrets? The last Godchild’s name was proclaimed across the land. People rejoiced in his abilities.”

The finger lowered to the ground. The ant hurried away to resume its work. Blue spoke low, and Stryver had to lean closer to hear. “Some things are best not known.”

Unease rippled along Stryver’s back. So there were reasons why the assassins tried to kill him. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”


“Even if it means life or death for both of us?”

Fresh, crisp, rain-washed air breezed over Stryver’s face with the gentle shake of Blue’s head.

The answer struck Stryver full force. So the odds for this mission to fail had increased. His mortality loomed in front of him. All because of one small, quiet man. Compassion for him and unease for what the future held washed over Stryver.

When he broke the quiet, his words came out low and gruff. “Here. Eat. You have to keep your strength up.”

Blue’s slender fingers broke off a small hunk of bread. Stryver pulled the cheese apart and gave him the larger half.

As he chewed in the peaceful rain, he tried to find a way to discover the truth about the Godchild. His life depended on knowing it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"A Taste of Scarlet" - Evanne Lorraine

Werewolf-whisperer Daniel is the only one who can heal Scarlet’s broken werewolf connection. If he succeeds then the pack’s needs will eclipse his claim on her heart. But if he fails, they’ll both die.

A rare Omega wolf with the gift of healing, Scarlet underwent her first shift to werewolf form while held captive by a pack of rogue Alphas. The abuse shattered her connection with her inner bitch and left her with a severe Alpha-phobia. A broken wolf link put her out of the mating game. But determined to serve a pack in need of her healing, she searches for the legendary werewolf whisperer on the chance he can work the miracle she needs.
Once he roamed North America guiding the broken wolves back to wholeness, but Daniel nearly lost his humanity the last time he tracked a rogue. Escaping from the whisperer business, he spent months in his true werewolf form. Now he’s the lone wolf sheriff in sleepy Cedar Grove. He likes peace and quiet in his territory, same as any good law officer, and the new redhead in town is pure trouble.
Two seconds after they meet, she's disturbing the hell out of his peace. She’s a pack princess and he's not interested in a pack sanctioned mating. Been there, done that, and still paying through the nose for the mistake. Leaving her alone is the right choice, but he can't deny that she smells delicious.

To buy your copy from Loose Id:
Visit Evanne at:

Still fuzzy from a long day’s sleep, Scarlet perched on the edge of the couch, tying her boots and soaking in the peace and quiet and the fresh country air. The living room’s picture window framed a postcard view to the west. Rich green mountain forest edged the pale gold pasture. Closer to the old farmhouse, her grandfather’s prized lawn was framed by small trees and shrubs he’d selected with such love and care. Nearby maple trees were already shedding bright autumn leaves.

The late Saturday afternoon sun sparked fire off raindrops still clinging to the newly bared branches. With a little start, Scarlet realized the sun was heading for the horizon. Hastily, she finished knotting her bootlaces, grabbed her favorite soft brown hoodie, tugged it on, and stuffed her mini-wallet inside the top’s kangaroo pocket.

If she didn’t hurry, the market would close for the weekend. Though missing a few meals would improve her hipline, eating nothing but canned goods until the only grocery store in Cedar Grove reopened on Monday did not appeal to her. Neither did the thought of wasting hours on a drive back to Treeland to buy groceries. Not when she could use those same hours accomplishing the task she’d come to the mountains to do: seek the help of the legendary werewolf whisperer. With a little luck, she’d find the whisperer and become an integrated werewolf, the Omega her pack needed so desperately.

For the million and tenth time, she wondered what kind of werewolf the whisperer was — a sensitive Psi, maybe even a female, she hoped.

Once outside, she eyed the long drive curving down the hill toward town. With the time it took to open the garage, start the car, and navigate the winding road, walking would be almost as quick. She grimaced at her full hips. A fast walk would do her good. Besides, the shortcut through the woods beckoned like an old friend.

Twilight faded rapidly in the mountains. To the east, a ghost moon shimmered through wispy clouds. As she stepped into the old-growth forest, a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the lengthening shadows of the coming night made her shiver.

Danger waited for her, lurking somewhere in the near future.

Ignoring the prickle of premonition, she pulled her hoodie more snugly around her neck and hurried along the woodland path to town.

Fifteen minutes later, the last glow of the afternoon sun lingered over the mountains as she crossed Main Street.

The town of Cedar Grove hadn’t changed much in the decade since she’d last visited.

The same storefronts filled one solid block and still reminded her of a western movie set. A post office, a tiny library, a hardware store, a feed and seed with a fuel station attached, three taverns, and Morton’s all crowded together. A pristine white church, two dozen fat, comfortable bungalows, a two-story block of concrete, an all-grades-in-one school, and a park were scattered along the stretch of two-lane asphalt between the storefronts and the bridge that marked the end of the tiny community.

On the threshold of Morton’s Market, her steps slowed and then halted. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck quivered in warning. Every instinct she possessed shrieked that an Alpha male lurked inside.

Her heart stuttered and tripped into overdrive, her mind racing as she stared at the store. The business’s open hours — ten to six — were lettered on the glass doors right under the words MORTON’S GROCERIES, MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY.

Tomorrow was Sunday. She squinted at the clock on the back wall. The plain black-and-white face read a quarter to six.

On any other night, she would have tucked her dormant tail between her legs and run back through the woods all the way to the safety of the old house. But not tonight. How could she track the whisperer if she was too cowardly even to buy groceries?
Her arm trembled as she reached for the handle. No cringing, she reminded herself firmly. She was on a mission. Wimping out at the first sign of an Alpha wouldn’t cut it. She wasn’t a submissive Beta, and even a flawed Omega did not cower. Besides, she was still in charge, not her inner bitch. Nothing would ever change unless Scarlet took action.

Abruptly she pushed into the store. Grabbing a basket, she scurried toward the dairy section clear in the back.

She spotted the Alpha instantly. Aggression rolled off shoulders big enough to block the coming moonlight. Even in human form, he prowled toward her — a powerful male in his prime, pure lethal poetry in motion, and scary as hell.

As Scarlet fought to hold her ground, she felt her inner wolf hum for the first time in a decade. Her breath caught; she was afraid to breathe, afraid to believe. She’d endured so many treatments, sessions with the visiting Omega, meetings with Alphas to overcome her phobia of the dominant males, but nothing had worked to restore her damaged connection to her inner Omega bitch.

Hope beat wildly at her Omega’s gentle but unmistakable nudge toward the Alpha, infusing Scarlet with badly needed courage. Perhaps the connection wasn’t as damaged as she and the pack had believed. The link responding so soon made her impulsive trip to the mountains seem more like a valid inspiration and less like a desperate chase after myths.

Her wolf’s message came through loud and clear: this Alpha was different.
In a good way?

Gradually her heart rate slowed to something almost normal, her knees firmed, and she took a step forward. Alpha or not, her wolf had responded to him, and that was all that mattered.

Suddenly she couldn’t look directly at him. A weird tingling washed over her skin. If she’d been wearing fur, it would have fluffed. In challenge or dare, she wondered. Definitely not in terror, which was freakily strange for her.

Determined and more than a little curious, she braved another step.

As he came closer, she forced herself to meet his gaze. Instantly his dark gray eyes pinned her in place.

She quickly dropped her focus to the floor, quivering with tension, but she didn’t panic. Her inner bitch made a throaty sound of approval. The sudden urge to grovel and show him her throat washed over her, making staying upright a challenge.

When she darted another look, he’d halved the distance separating them. He stopped, glanced down at his hip, and glared at an insistent buzz from his pager. A deep rumble of irritation issued from his throat. The sound was so loud, she could’ve sworn it shook the pyramid display of microwave popcorn on his left.

Once again, she sensed his focus locking on her.

“Stay,” he growled at her. Then he whirled and strode off, disappearing down the soups and spices aisle.

For a few seconds, she remained glued to the spot. Slowly the tension eased, and she pried loose her death grip on her shopping basket. The strangest part of the encounter was the need she felt to obey him. For the past decade, she’d been terrified of all Alphas, some more than others, but none of them had ever compelled her to do anything. She’d never considered the difference between fear and obedience until now.

Finally free of his power, she scurried toward the dairy section, still shaken and not at all sure she could have defied him if he hadn’t left. Then she dashed on through the frozen section, scored a gallon of coffee ice cream, and grabbed a squirt bottle of chocolate sauce. Two jars of Nutella joined the rest of the items in her basket. She quickly headed toward the front of the store, but a tempting display of Honey Crisp apples beckoned her to detour.

Apples and Nutella — practically health food, she mused. Her belly growled. Less rattled with each passing second, she added a can of coffee, backtracked for a pint of cream, fresh eggs, bacon, and bread. Hips be damned. She needed strength. A female did not thrive on Nutella alone.

With the Alpha gone, the too-brief connection with her inner bitch disappeared.
The store’s familiar aromas of earthy root vegetables, slightly sour spilled milk, aging meat, and pine-scented cleaner calmed her until she was certain her usual nervousness around Alphas had exaggerated the episode with the strange male.

Her boots made businesslike taps on the industrial vinyl floor as she hurried to the checkout.

An old-fashioned shiny counter bell sat on the customer’s check-writing shelf. She gave it a pat. A round face sporting Benjamin Franklin-style glasses and smelling faintly of bay rum popped up from behind the counter, beaming. “You must be Charlie’s granddaughter.”

Scarlet drew back, startled. Then she registered his infectious grin. It was a smile that made it impossible not to smile back. “Yes, I am.”

“Heard he’d left the place to you.” He nodded to himself with satisfaction. “Charlie used to bring you in here when you were just a little bit of a girl. You haven’t been back for a while. But I’d have known those auburn curls and Charlie’s chin anywhere.” He pulled the groceries from her basket, setting each item on the counter and inspecting them. “Cracked egg. Wait right here. I’ll get another carton.”

Scarlet darted a nervous peek toward where she’d last seen the Alpha. “Please don’t bother.”

“No bother.” The grocer, Frank Coleson — according to his name tag — hitched off, favoring one hip, and vanished in the direction of the dairy section.

When he returned with a new carton, Scarlet glanced back at the store’s front windows where the gloom of night continued to thicken.

Fear hadn’t been what she’d felt with the Alpha. Not exactly. Whatever she’d felt, though it wasn’t quite fear, was still scary. She wasn’t anxious to test his strange power with a second encounter.

With painstaking deliberation, the grocer checked each item’s price as he rang up her total and then printed a receipt. He pushed his glasses farther up his nose and tilted his head, peering at the cash register tape.

“Better double-check.” His eyes flickered from the groceries to the itemized bill and back again, ticking off each purchase during his meticulous bagging.

She swallowed a sigh of frustration, but she couldn’t bring herself to snap at him. Surely her reluctance had nothing to do with obeying the Alpha’s command to stay?
Finally he gave a happy little bounce. “Everything’s copacetic, ready to go.”

“What do I owe you?” Scarlet pulled out her wallet.

Mr. Coleson shook his head, clearly offended. “Oh no, we’ll send a monthly bill.”
“Then thank you.” She reached for the sack of groceries.

He frowned, clutching the bag to his concave chest. “I’ll carry your order out to your car.”

Scarlet took a quick scan of the store. Seeing no sign of the dominant male, she again reached for her groceries. “Thank you, but that’s not necessary. I walked.”

Approaching footsteps thudded, growing louder the closer they came until the sound drowned out everything except the pounding of her heart.

He was back. Scarlet fought an urge to run.

Her inner bitch hummed back to life, startling Scarlet again. A response to the Alpha? There was nothing else it could be. The Omega stretched, arching her back, and sniffed appreciatively, all but shoving Scarlet toward the Alpha.

Oh what she wouldn’t give for five minutes of solid communication with her long-dormant wolf.

While Scarlet was distracted by her inner bitch, the beaming Mr. Coleson set her groceries on the counter behind him.

“Sheriff, good to see you. Have you met Scarlet?”

“’Fraid not.”

Sheriff? Didn’t that just put the frosting on her cake? For the first time, she registered the uniform. How to make an Alpha even worse — give him a badge and gun. She turned, making herself meet the male’s gaze.

Blinking to dissipate the power of his stormy gray eyes, she took in his strong nose, heavy brows, and full lips quirking at the corners. Like most Alphas, he was breath-catchingly gorgeous and dripping with sensual charisma. No doubt he’d worn out batons staving off the local women.

A whiff of his leather, woods, and wild-animal-sex fragrance liquefied her knees.
“Scarlet walked,” Mr. Coleson said reprovingly. “She needs a ride home.”

“I’ll handle it.” The sheriff unloaded a loaf of rye, a package of Havarti, and a bag of chips on the counter, watching her all the while. “Ring me up.”

“Sure thing.” The traitorous Mr. Coleson moved jauntily, ringing and bagging.

Clearly he was oblivious to the tension between her and the sheriff, not to mention unaffected by the Alpha’s incredible scent. Good thing too; if he noticed they weren’t exactly human, there’d be hell to pay. She didn’t need more complications.

Despite her effort to stand still, Scarlet fidgeted under the weight of the sheriff’s scrutiny, wishing she could grab her groceries and go, but his steady gaze held her as surely as if she’d been bound and gagged. An image of herself in cruel silver chains with a filthy rag stuffed in her mouth flashed through her mind’s eye, leaving her shaky and nauseated. Her inner bitch’s presence vanished.

The sheriff took both bags in one capable-looking hand, cupped her elbow with the other, and steered her out of the store. “Take it easy, Red. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Now he read minds too? No, he’d probably caught scent of her fear. Goddess knew the depressing tang was all she could smell. There was nothing she could do about her telltale odor, but she didn’t have to cower and snivel. She straightened her spine.


“You here for a visit?”

“Something like that.”

His light grip on her arm firmed until her bones felt the squeeze. He stopped.
Instantly she regretted evading his question.

“May I see some identification?” His sensual mouth tightened, and Alpha power edged the mild words.

She fought the rising tide of fear at the sharp tone of his suspicion and lost the battle. She looked away from his tight face, unable to meet his eyes, and then darted peeks at him through her lashes. Technically he’d asked a nice, respectful question, but she wasn’t silly enough to believe refusing to answer was a real option.

Tingling licks of flame teased her skin wherever his gaze brushed it; it felt as if he’d actually touched her. While she fumbled for her ID, heat streaked up her neck. Great. The redhead’s curse — an ugly blush was searing her face.

After an age, her clumsy fingers extracted her driver’s license from the leather case.
He took the identification and studied it with a stony expression. “Any other picture ID?”

“No.” She bit her tongue to keep from adding anything else she’d regret.

“Is this your current address?”

For a second, she thought his gray eyes warmed. A wild imagination was so not helpful. Especially not when dealing with Alphas, a subspecies of werewolf totally missing the humor gene. She almost answered yes automatically before she caught the trick in his question. With a lift of her chin, she said, “It’s my permanent address. Currently I’m staying at my grandfather’s place. He left it to me.”

He didn’t answer right away.

“Satisfied?” she hissed like a shrew.

This time she didn’t imagine the sparkle in his eyes or the quirk at one corner of his surprisingly generous lips, and new hot spots sparked to life in her breasts and between her legs.

“No.” He gave her another long, slow perusal, finally handing back her driver’s license. “Not by a long shot.”

"Happy Birthday, Nancy Tobin" by Lillian Grant

If you woke up on your 40th birthday to a half-naked twenty-six year old stud-muffin offering to light your candles, could you say no?  Nancy Tobin can’t --and why would she want to?

Cover by April Martinez

To purchase Lillian's book at Loose Id:

Visit Lillian's web site:

Suddenly single on the eve of her fortieth birthday, Nancy Tobin’s not sure turning middle-aged is worth celebrating. She's stuck in a dead-end job as the boss’s bitch with only her morose Labrador for a companion. What does she have to party about? Maybe if she ignores the whole birthday thing, it will just go away.
Hot, twenty-six-year-old Jake Turner has other ideas. When he bumps into Nancy at the library, he sees a woman in need of a wake-up call. Determined to unleash the beauty hidden beneath the sad façade, he schemes to relight her spark. He wants to give her a birthday to remember but he ends up being the one who can't forget: a visit to his apartment becomes a weekend in his bed where he discovers an offbeat, unpredictable, sexually adventurous woman he never wants to let go.
With Jake, Nancy can do anything, her life can be whatever she chooses. But this new and exciting relationship teeters on the edge of destruction when her soon-to-be ex-husband reveals the reason for Jake’s initial interest in her. Can Nancy trust Jake when he finally tells her he loves her?


Nancy walked toward the library. What bright spark thought it was a good idea to build a university campus on the side of a hill and park the library right at the top? Thank God she was finally fit enough to climb the stairs without having to stop to catch her breath halfway up.

When she arrived at her destination, her first port of call was the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Sipping the warm liquid, feeling the caffeine invade her senses, she wondered what excitement the day held. No doubt it would begin with putting last night’s returns on the shelf. Then she’d be at Cynthia’s beck and call. She grimaced. They should just change her job title from library assistant to Cynthia’s bitch. She chuckled. Maybe she would suggest it at her next staff review.

Footsteps approached. She poured the last of her coffee into the sink, put her cup in the dishwasher, and escaped. Small talk was horrendous at the best of times; in the mornings, it was completely unbearable. No one gave a crap about the latest episode of Big Brother or what the weather was supposed to do all week.

 Why waste your breath on such trivial bullshit?

Nancy heard giggling as she pushed her second full cart around the corner into the row she needed. She came to a halt and stared with disgust at the aisle’s occupants. The library on a Friday morning!
“Excuse me; would you like to take this somewhere else?”

The couple pulled apart, and Nancy glared at them. The boy slowly removed his hand from inside his companion’s shirt and zipped up his pants. They didn’t even have the decency to be embarrassed about being caught.

The blonde piece stuck her nose in the air and barged past Nancy. Her liberally pierced male companion smirked as she dragged him along behind her. No doubt they would find some other equally inappropriate place to copulate.

Not willing to go quietly, the young girl sneered at Nancy and turned to her partner in crime. “Miserable, dried-up old bag. I bet she’s never had a man in her pants.”

Nancy shook her head. The stories she could tell would turn their hair gray, although she’d never considered screwing anyone at the library, not even in her wildest dreams. Why did youngsters assume middle-aged people had never had a life? Dear God, did that mean her parents had been like rabbits, with nothing but sex on their minds? She closed her eyes and shuddered with disgust as she deliberately pushed the thought aside and turned to racy memories of her own youth.

She’d been a typical teenage girl, her bedroom wall covered with posters of virile young men and her head full of love and sex. However, her first sexual encounter had been far from typical. Underage, she had sneaked into a club with her friend Fiona to see a local band, Freddie and the Slayers. Fiona had been madly in love with the lead guitarist, even though he had only had eyes for Nancy. A gorgeous sex god, resplendent in tight black leather pants and a loose white shirt open to the waist. His light brown hair had fallen halfway down his back in a mass of soft curls, and when he’d stared at her, his cobalt blue eyes had given the impression he could read her mind. He’d been a showman with a reputation for being a hard-drinking, hard-living whore who picked up women and discarded them wherever he went.

It seemed his reputation was well earned. Nancy still remembered the pain of losing her virginity and the humiliation when the back doors of the panel van had been flung open and the rest of the band -- and Fiona -- had stood staring at them. That was the last time she had ever seen Fiona.

The boys had chuckled and made some comment about the “shagging wagon” as the guitarist climbed off her, cock still semierect. At his request, she had written her number on the back of his hand, but she’d never expected Christopher to call. On reflection, it might have been better if he never had.

Lost in her memories, Nancy jumped when a hand squeezed her shoulder.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I spoke to you twice.”

Nancy turned around. Stunned, she stared at the gorgeous specimen who had interrupted her. Had he sought her out after their impromptu skirmish in the corridor the day before? She mentally shook herself. Get a grip. Of course not. Look at him. He was only about twenty-five, if that. Yesterday she’d only seen those big smoky brown eyes ringed by long dark lashes. They gave the impression he wore eyeliner. She looked closer. Now she could see the gorgeous eyes were complemented by a square jaw, high cheekbones, and short dark hair.

She became aware she was staring at him and the fact that he was still waiting for a reply. She smiled.

“Not your fault. I was miles away. What can I do for you?”

“Were they pleasant?”

“Were what pleasant?”

“The thoughts.”

Nancy shrugged. “Not really, just memories from another life. So what can I help you with?”

“The lady at the desk told me to try looking over here for a copy of the Kama Sutra, but I can’t find it. Any ideas?”

Nancy stared at him, opening and closing her mouth a couple of times. The students game enough to check out that tome usually hid it in a pile of textbooks. They certainly didn’t accost her in the aisles and ask for help finding it. “Why would you want the Kama Sutra? What the hell are you studying?”

The young man folded his arms and chuckled. “Don’t tell me you’re a prude. Surely someone as pretty as you is a woman of the world?”

Okay, so he majored in bullshit. The reflection in this morning’s mirror pulled no punches, and pretty was stepping way beyond reality.

“Flattery will get you nowhere, young man.”

He smiled at her, his eyes seeming to twinkle with amusement. It appeared she’d become his latest plaything. The batteries in his Game Boy must have gone flat.



“My name’s Jake, Jake Turner.”

Well, Mr. Smoky Eyes had a name. It suited him. Not that she needed to know his moniker. They were ships in the night. No doubt he had some blonde bimbo tucked away somewhere, ready to scratch his itch. Nancy could see the wall clock over his shoulder. Time was marching on. Cynthia would be doing her rounds soon. Woe betide anyone caught shirking.

“Well, Jake, if we have a copy, it will be in the next aisle.”

“Thank you.” His lopsided grin made her heart beat faster. “Lovely to bump into you again.”

Despite her best intentions, her face broke into a smile. “You’re most welcome. Now move along.”

He leaned his shoulder against the shelf. “Not until you tell me your name.”

The familiar stomp of Cynthia’s size 10 shoes approached, but he still didn’t move.

Nancy. Now get out of here before I get in trouble.” She waved her hands to shoo him along.

“Okay, Nancy. Thank you for your help.”

She watched him wander away. When he slid his hands into his front pockets, pulling his jeans tight, she couldn’t help but notice his firm backside. At the end of the aisle, he glanced over his shoulder and winked at her.

“Maybe I’ll bump into you again.”

Caught with her gaze drilling his backside, Nancy felt her face flush and turned the other way as she fumbled and dropped a book on the floor with a loud thud. She bent down and scooped it up just as Cynthia arrived in the aisle and glared at her.

Nancy, get a move on. You’re not paid to socialize with the students. If that book’s damaged, the cost will be coming out of your wages.”

With great difficulty, Nancy fought the urge to flip her the bird, afraid Cynthia would look back around the corner and catch her. Alone again, she glanced down the now empty corridor toward where Jake had disappeared. What did he mean about maybe bumping into her again? Her heart skipped a beat at the thought that he might come back.

* * * * *

Nancy sat alone at the table near the student café. Despite her best intentions not to, she searched the male population for Jake. He must have been teasing. Why would a cute young guy be interested in her? She stared at the nubile female bodies as they walked past, their belly buttons proudly displaying all manner of trinkets and tattoos and yelling to the world, I’m young, supple, and the best shag you could ever have. She looked down at herself and saw the roll of flab above her waistband. Her body appeared to yell, I’m old and saggy and too fucking tired to care if I ever shag again. Why would he even give her a second thought? Perhaps it was a dare or a joke.

“Excuse me; is this seat taken?”

The voice dragged Nancy back to reality, and she looked up, surprised to see a familiar face. Her cheeks burned, and she struggled to speak.

“No, please, feel free.”

Jake slid into the seat next to her. “So, Nancy, we meet again. Are you stalking me by any chance?”
Nancy was quick to shake her head. While she had been hoping to see him again, she had no intention of revealing that to anyone. She could barely believe it herself. Was she so desperate for love she would latch on to the first male who showed a glimmer of interest? No matter why she attracted him, with her track record, she should avoid good-looking young men like the plague. “No, absolutely not. Are you sure you’re not stalking me? I was here first.”

His deep, sexy chuckle resonated through her. “Touché. You guessed it. Someone is paying me to follow you.”

“Well, they’re wasting their money, I can assure you. There is nothing to see here.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Did you miss me?”

Nancy tore her eyes away from his and tried to sound nonchalant. “I haven't given you a moment’s thought since you left the library.”

He put his hand over hers, and she felt the blood rush to her cheeks again. When he leaned closer, she closed her eyes. The smell of his musky cologne and the feel of his breath on her face as he whispered in her ear made her stomach lurch and her heart rate lift.

“Liar, but it’s okay. I’ve been thinking about you too.”

Nancy opened her eyes and snapped her head around to glare at him. No one in their right mind would think about her. She refused to be the butt of anyone’s joke. Her hand hovered in midair as she fought the urge to slap his face. Jake leaned back and put his arm up. Deciding he wasn’t worth it, Nancy dropped her hand and snatched her empty Coke bottle off the table instead.

She clenched her teeth. “Fuck off, you git; you’re not funny,” she spat out.

Without another word, she got up and stomped back to the library, tears of frustration stinging her eyes. Stupid, stupid woman!