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Broken Pieces

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Orangeberry Book Tours – For the Future Generations by Anastasia Faith

In a thirty-first century dictatorship where population control is enforced and knowledge of truth is prohibited, a teenager discovers secrets about America’s past and her own nation’s future.

In the first book of the “For a Generation” series, fourteen-year-old Matthia Hefner has discovered the grim truth about abortion and its effects on society. She embarks on a time travel mission to the past with a plan to save a nation destroyed by abortion, as well as to glean knowledge to save her own country. Can she save the nation and its people in time, or will it be forced to suffer the consequences for its actions?

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Genre - Christian YA Fiction

Rating – PG

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Orangeberry Book of the Day - Time Killer by Todd M. Thiede


Tuesday morning 2 a.m.

Stephen Bjornson wakes up and tries to roll over towards his wife only to find he cannot move at all. His thinking feels slow and hazy as if he has been drugged. He opens his eyes slowly to see that the room is dark with only a small beam of light from the full moon breaking through the drapes. He had opened them earlier to make sure the front gate was shut. His son rarely remembers to shut the gate when he comes home for dinner from the neighbor’s house. He surveys his room and continues to fight the fog in his brain as he can feel something is very wrong.

He tries to stay calm, but his mind and heart are racing. He slowly tries to raise each arm and finds that he is tied down to the bed with duct tape across his chest, torso, and legs. With his arms pinned to his sides, all he can do is turn his head far enough to the left to see that his wife, Gwen, is still there, but she is also taped to the bed. Mr. Bjornson notices Gwen has tape over her mouth. Her brown eyes are wide and look very dark in the moonlit room. Her hair is splayed out and crowns her head like a halo. At first, Stephen thinks he must be dreaming. He can’t imagine why he would be tied to his bed and his angel, Gwen, tied next to him. Then, he shakes his head as nothing is making sense. He closes his eyes and reopens them. He focuses on Gwen and realizes that the halo was created by her messy blonde hair as she struggled to break free from the bonds. She keeps sweeping her gaze away from him to stare towards the foot of the bed and Stephen slowly focuses his gaze on the shape of a person behind the footboard. He is terrified at the thought of some stranger in their house. However, he is having a hard time maintaining focus on any one thought.

Stephen starts to remember the early days of their marriage when they fought over silly things like furniture. He and Gwen had spent three months shopping for bedroom sets, picking at each other’s tastes for traditional or modern furniture. The young couple had taken almost every Saturday to go shopping to fill their home. Giddy and in love, their fights never lasted long and often ended in the bed. In hindsight, maybe that was why they had been so careful in their choices. Stephen wishes their lives could be that easy now – just make love to end an argument. He is not able to remember the last time he and Gwen had made time for intimacy. He keeps thinking that now isn’t the time for memories – like having a daydream at work – but he can’t think about what is more important than remembering the good times with Gwen.

He feels a bouncing sensation next to him on the bed and wakes from his drug-induced reverie. Gwen is bouncing her head and moaning beneath the tape. She keeps staring at him and then throwing her head towards the foot of the bed. He remembers that there is a person standing over him and his wife, just staring across the bed at them, waiting for him to wake up. Stephen vaguely wonders how Gwen can be so awake when he is so tired.

He tries to swallow, but his tongue feels like lead. His mouth feels like it is full of cotton. After a few tries, he squeaks out, “Who are you? What do you want?” He is disappointed in the quiver of his voice so he tries again, hoping to sound more intimidating. “Who do you think you are, coming into my house? What do you want from us? We don’t keep large sums of cash in the house.”

The man just stands there, staring down at Stephen and Gwen, not saying a word. Stephen thinks that it must be a man based on the wide shoulders and body shape. Besides, there is no way a woman would do this, he thinks. This man is wearing a dark ski mask. He is also wearing black leather gloves, which particularly frightens Stephen. He has watched enough forensic shows to know that gloves can make identification of criminals much harder. As he begins to become more aware and able to focus, he sees that the man seems to be very well dressed, wearing an expensive suit, button-down shirt, and tie. The ski mask and leather gloves clash against the business attire and Stephen starts to wonder who would dress so nicely to commit a crime. He feels like he is going to drift off again so he shakes his head and tries to maintain focus on the intruder.

Just when it seems like an eternity has passed since he first tried to roll over in his own bed, he jumps as the man yells, “You wasted my time!”

The voice is so loud and deep, that Stephen believes he feels the rumble through the floor into the bed. He jumps and his eyes open wide. He instantly tries to put on a brave face again and stares the man down. After all, this man is threatening his family. Then, he starts to worry if his kids will be woken up by this man. He doesn’t want them to wake and see any of this. Writhing wildly against his bindings, they don’t give. Fear raises his neck hair. This isn’t a normal burglary.

He decides that he is getting nowhere and tries conversation, which is what he is best at anyways. “What are you talking about? Why are you doing this?” Mr. Bjornson says, his voice quivering. All he can do is lie there, thinking about his children just across the hall from him. He has no idea what this madman knows about his family and if he knows the kids are sleeping right across the hall. While he is very concerned for his and Gwen’s safety, he closes his eyes and quickly asks God to protect his children from harm.

It seems like hours that the suited man continues to stand over them, but only minutes pass. Stephen is scared to speak more, worried that any noise will arouse the kids. Just when the angst is going to force Stephen to say something again the stranger finally speaks again, “You wasted my time…Time is money!” Gwen had been fighting her restraints up until that second yell. She lays completely still except ratcheting her head towards Stephen. He looks back at her and can see the tears spilling from her eyes. The moonlight catches the tears just right that they remind him of his playtime with his daughter the other day when they blew bubbles in the backyard and the sunlight glistened off the bubbles in the air.

The man grabs a pen from the top of Stephen’s dresser. He starts pacing back and forth in front of the bed, clicking the pen over and over again. CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! The clicks echo through Stephen’s head and return him to the moment. The man continues to mumble, “You wasted my time…you wasted my time…you wasted my time.” Gwen, still staring at Stephen nods towards the man. He understands that she expects him to do something, but he is at a loss. He cannot free himself so he focuses on what he can do – continue to try to talk his way out of this.

As he is trying to come up with a plan, the man finally kneels down next to the bed, pen still in hand. He leans over and says, “Stephen, is it okay if I call you Stephen?” Stephen nods his head in reluctant approval. Stephen starts thinking, how does this man know my name? Have I met him before? What does he want from me?

“Stephen, I know you and your type. You don’t have a care in the world outside of you and your family’s own little bubble. You don’t think that your actions have any effect on other people’s lives. You see, Stephen,” he intones, “I once had a nice wife and a daughter just like you. We were happy, just like you; we had the perfect life, just like you. But you see, things are not always as they appear. Are they, Stephen?”

Stephen decides not to answer as he fears that the answer to the question is nothing that he wants to hear, particularly from some aggressive stranger. “Answer me!” the suited man shouts directly into Stephen’s ear. Stephen shakes his head no. “You see, Stephen, my wife packed up all her things one day and decided she was taking my daughter away from me. It seemed that she was leaving me for another man. She said I was wasting her time. I couldn’t provide her with what she needed. She needed financial stability and, even though I had a good job that kept us afloat, it wasn’t enough. Stephen, it wasn’t enough because, every so often, people like you waste my time and I don’t make any money. People like you cost me money and you cost me my family.” That comment was chilling. The man walks over to Gwen.

“Please don’t hurt us!” says Stephen whimpering now, his bravado completely gone. “I love you, Gwen,” he murmurs as he starts to sob. He turns his face away so that Gwen does not see him. He feels compelled to turn back as the man approaches his wife who, despite their distance, he loves dearly.

“Oh poor Stephen, poor, poor Stephen. You didn’t tell him, did you, Gwen? I can call you Gwen, can’t I?” Gwen nods her head reluctantly. She is between sobs because the bed is only shaking on Stephen’s side. She starts fighting at her restraints again, trying to push away from the approaching masked man with her feet, trying to dig her heels in. The tape keeps her from being able to arch her body high enough to move towards the head of the bed. Stephen is sick, watching her suffer this way and he starts to fight his restraints, too.

“You see, Stephen, ever since you and I met a month ago. I have been following you and your family, watching you and Gwen, little Billy and Sandy in your daily lives. Now, I haven’t been able to watch you every day because I have a job and time is money, you know. Nonetheless, I have been watching all of you. And what I have learned from watching you is that you enjoy wasting people’s time. Gwen here is not only wasting other people’s time, she is also wasting your time, Stephen. You see, Stephen, your precious little Gwen is having an affair,” he states matter of factly.

At those words, everyone in the room freezes. Stephen lays completely still, weighing whether there could be truth to the words of this madman. Gwen stops moving either because of his words or because the mask is now only inches from her face. She is staring into his eyes and cannot drop her gaze.

Stephen decides that whether it is true or not, this man is not their marriage counselor and has no right to intrude or reveal their issues like this. He musters up more courage and exclaims, “No, that’s not true. I know my Gwennie loves me and would never do that!” The suited man now leans over and whispers into Gwen’s ear, “Tell him, tell Stephen the truth! He deserves that at the very least. Tell him the truth now.” What had started as a whisper has turned into a menacing hiss in her ear. She flinches as he says truth so loud that her eardrum hurt. Stephen watches, helpless, as his wife pulls her head as far away from the man’s face as possible.

The masked man suddenly rips the duct tape from her mouth in one quick jerk. Gwen screams in pain and then throws her head towards Stephen. “It’s not true, Stephen! I love you with all my heart and would never do that to you or our family!” She is crying again and Stephen is not sure who to believe. Why would a man break into his house and lie about this to him?

“Lies, lies, lies…you are wasting my time again, Gwen. Now tell him the truth. Stop wasting my time. Stop it; stop it, stop it…time is money!” he shouts and hits the bed next to her. “Tell him now!” Stephen is feeling impatient about what this man wants and worries about why his children haven’t come in to see what is going on. He starts to fear the worst about their fate, but asking will only remind the man that they are close by.

Between sobs, Gwen begins to choke out her confession in a small pitiful wail. “Okay, it’s true, Stephen. I met someone else. But I love you and I love our kids! You have to believe me, Stephen, I do love you.” The silence hangs in the air, thick and palpable. Stephen feels a gulf widening between them – the woman he so desperately wanted to protect a minute ago has indeed betrayed him.

Stephen’s eyes widen and he struggles against the tape. A slow look of realization comes across his face. His tears stop and his eyes start to narrow to slits. “So that’s why you missed my work luncheon? Is that why you weren’t there that day to pick up Billy from soccer practice? Have you been busy sleeping around?” Stephen’s voice begins to roar, forgetting about anyone, but the two of them. “Who is it, Gwen? Who is he?” he yells, trying viciously to face her. He succeeds in partially turning his body towards her. The suited man steps back, folds his arms, and watches the argument as it progresses. A smile of accomplishment is visible in the mask’s mouth opening. He seems proud that he caused the two of them to fight.

Gwen continues to cry and shake the bed. “I have been seeing David, one of the dad’s from Sandy’s daycare. I never loved him, Stephen. I just needed more than you have been giving me.” With the last statement, her words sound hollow, as if she is wrung out and tired. Guilt creates an ugly mask of her face as she looks into Stephen’s eyes.

The masked man takes advantage of her pause. “See, Stephen, do you see how she is wasting your time? It’s just like you did to me last month when you wasted my time. Now, here’s the difference between you and me. I am here to help you, Stephen; I am going to rid you of your problem so you are no longer wasting time with Gwen.”

As soon as he finishes this statement, he begins clicking the pen again as if he is nervous. Stephen starts to fight his bonds again to stand between the masked man and his wife, who he knows he still loves. The masked man places his hand between Stephen and Gwen. Then he crawls on top of her, positioning himself so he is straddling Gwen and her body is between his legs. After the humiliation he has faced – being told by a total stranger that his wife is cheating – seeing him on top of her is too much for Stephen. He manages to get a leg free from the tape and starts kicking towards the man. However, the bed is wide and he just grazes his arm. He is waiting for the man to pull up her night gown and rape her, but that doesn’t happen.

The man looks back and forth between the two, savoring her fear and his anger. He then thrusts the pen directly into Gwen’s right eye. He jams it in so hard and so fast that she dies almost instantly from the pen penetrating the brain pan. Blood spatters everywhere and the suited man takes a few seconds to survey the results. Stephen can see the man’s teeth in the mouth hole of the mask. His smile is demonic and growing. Vice grips of trauma lock his body. He feels numb. It is a blessing.

“Just like I said, Stephen, I am here to help you. I’m here to stop you from wasting everyone’s time.” The man stands up from the bed and walks around to Mr. Bjornson’s side to sit next to him. He stops talking directly to Bjornson, but the husband can hear him mumbling, “You wasted my time, you wasted my time, time is money,” over and over again.

Stephen, still lying there in shock, wakes up as if from a dream and starts to scream, “No, No. No. Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to deserve this?”

“Okay, Stephen, here is the situation: I’m going to need you to pay me for the time you took from me. After all, time is money. So for the time you took away from me last month, I figure you owe me $633. That would make us even for the three hours of my time you wasted. Heck, I won’t even charge you for the time I just saved you by taking Gwen out of your life, consider that a gift from me to you,” he says in a very calm business-like voice.

Stephen thinks he must have fallen back into a dream because this cannot be real. Money for the time he took from the suited man? Three hours? This was all about three measly hours of time? Where did he meet this guy? How did he waste three hours of his time? he keeps thinking.

“Where is my money, Stephen? I am going to have to start adding to the bill if you don’t tell me where my $633 are. Time is money! You wouldn’t want to waste any more of my time would you, Stephen?” the suited man asks angrily. Stephen shakes his head slowly, still not understanding.

As the man starts rifling through their things, Stephen finally comprehends he is looking for his money. He proceeds to tell him that his wallet is on his dresser in the corner of the room and that there should be enough to cover it. The suited man walks over to the dresser and grabs his wallet, takes out the money and counts it. “You only have $450 here, Stephen. Where is the rest of it? Quit wasting my time!” he screams.

“My…my…wife may…have some money in her purse. It’s in the closet…probably on the floor,” Stephen says, his voice choked.

“You know what, Stephen, I kind of like you,” the man says calmly as he goes to the closet. “I liked you last month, too. Well, that is before you decided to waste my time. I like the fact that you want me to take the money from your wife’s purse. I mean, it isn’t like she needs it anymore anyhow and, after all; it is your money anyway. Am I right?” The man’s laugh is high pitched and evil. He reaches into the closet, pulls out the purse and takes out some money. “All she has in here, Stephen, is two 100 dollar bills.” With that, the masked man takes out his own personal wallet and puts $17 exactly on Stephen’s dresser. He puts the $650 into his wallet and proceeds to sit back down by Stephen. Stephen tries to take note of the wallet to tell the police later, but then he realizes that he may not be alive much longer either.

“Stephen,” he says, “like I told you earlier, I’ve been following you and your family for about a month and noticed that you like wasting people’s time. I mean, you went to the appliance store and talked to a salesman about a new television for almost an hour two weeks ago and didn’t buy it. Then you went into an open house just last week and walked around talking to the realtor about how you were considering buying a new home. You took about two hours of his time with no intention of buying the house or even calling him back. You were just there wasting his time! Like his trying to make a living is a joke to you and Gwen.”

“I was going to call him back, that isn’t true. I was very interested in that house!” Stephen spits out.

“Sorry, Stephen, I know better. You see, like I said, I was watching you closely and, the moment you walked out of the house, you threw the realtor’s card away, while you and your wife laughed. You both thought the house was disgusting and way overpriced. You discussed how you love your house right now and would never leave it. Now quit wasting my time with lies and accept the fact that I know you better than you think I do,” he says with some finality.

“I am going to do the rest of the world a favor here, Stephen. You are right handed, is that correct?” he asks. No sooner than Stephen nods his head, the man grabs the duct tape from the floor and duct tapes Stephen’s mouth shut. He then walks out of the bedroom only to return a few moments later with bolt cutters. He leans over Stephen and whispers into his ear, “I am going to cut off your thumb and index finger on your right hand.” Stephen blanches. The man continues, “So you can no longer fill out any paperwork or sign anything and waste anyone else’s time like you wasted mine, the realtor, and the appliance salesman.”

He then stands up and cuts off Mr. Bjornson’s thumb and finger. As Stephen lays there in unbearable pain, unable to scream with his mouth taped shut, his face blood red , his temple veins popping thick, the suited man leans back in and whispers, “Don’t worry. You won’t die from this. I want you to live and learn not to waste other people’s time anymore. I also want you tell anyone and everyone to stop wasting people’s time. Tell them all how time is important to you now that you have a second chance. Tell them that they need to be considerate of other people’s time and not just their own. You can do that for me, right, Stephen?” Stephen nods frantically as tears flow from his tortured eyes. He feels himself slipping in and out of consciousness as he feels his blood pumping out of his hand. The masked man tears more duct tape from the roll and wraps it around Stephen’s hand almost like a bandage. “We wouldn’t want you bleeding to death before you can get that message out, would we, Stephen?” Stephen shakes his head no.

The man now rips back the tape from Stephen’s mouth, taking part of his moustache off with it. He tastes blood. The tape has ripped off some skin. The man then picks up the phone next to the bed, lays the mouthpiece on the pillow next to Stephen’s mouth and proceeds to dial 911. He picks up Stephen’s bloody finger off the floor and uses it to write, “DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME” on the wall as the phone rings. He then calmly walks out of the room, whistling as if he has no care in the world. The song he is whistling is very familiar, but Stephen cannot place it. Stephen recognizes the sound of his back door opening and closing. The man is finally gone. As he starts to feel light-headed, he wonders if he is in a nightmare he cannot escape.

The tickle of the blood dripping down the side of his jaw brings him back to awareness. He hears the operator repeatedly asking if anyone is there. Stephen yells hoarsely into the phone as best as he can, “Please help me, there was a man here in my house! He killed my wife. He…..he hurt me. I’m bleeding and I’m tied up. Please hurry – I’ve lost a lot of…” As he drifts in and out of terrible dreams and thoughts, his mind keeps returning to his children. Did the man hurt them? Are they even alive? He prays that they will not find him like this. With tears now flowing along with the blood, he finally closes his eyes to the darkness of what has happened, his body numbing with the shock. Stephen passes out.

It takes almost ten minutes for the ambulance to arrive, followed shortly by the police. The police knock on the door at first, but hear nothing so they break down the door and rush into the house. They yell as they rush around the house, looking for the family, but no one responds.

The smell of copper from the bloody mess the murderer has left behind consumes them as they move up the stairs. With the medics behind them the police clear rooms one by one potentially destroying evidence. The master bedroom is the first room the paramedics enter upstairs as the door stands slightly ajar. There they find Stephen unconscious with blood dripping from the duct tape bandage on his right hand. His right cheek lies in a small pool of blood from his torn moustache. He is still duct taped to the bed and, next to him, lays his dead wife. The first officer in the room takes one look around and runs to the master bath and vomits up his lunch. Today is his first day, and the pen in her eye and the blood surrounding Stephen is just too much for him to handle.

The police officers go back into the hall to allow the medics to work on Stephen. James is fairly new to the force and has never seen such a violent crime. While he is upset that this happened to the family, he is also excited to be involved in what will likely be a big case for his station. His partner, Bob, is tired and waiting to retire soon. He is trying to pass on his knowledge to James, but feels that sometimes James lacks compassion for others.

James enters six year old Billy’s room. Above the red race car bed, Billy’s name is carved into a piece of driftwood. There are little green army men scattered around the floor as if it was the beaches of Normandy. James sees numerous trophies on his dresser top for various sports. James wonders how Billy could have slept through all the mayhem in his parents’ room. He doesn’t want to startle the boy as this is going to be a terrible night for him. The officer wants to take him out of the house before he can see anything that has happened to his parents just down the hall. He tries to lift the small boy up very carefully as not to wake him.

However, Billy isn’t ever going to wake up. Billy lays in James’ arms like a limp doll. The murderer had smothered him with his pillow and, after he was sure he was dead, he cut off his finger and thumb from his right hand. The lack of bruising around the cuts indicates Billy’s heart was not beating at the time. James says a silent prayer that his future children will never go through this and gently places the boy back down.

Written on the wall in blood, only visible after James turns on the car-shaped lamp, is, “LIKE FATHER LIKE SON”. James can only imagine what this monster has done to the little girl. Right then, he gets a huge lump in his throat as he sees Bob walk out shaking his head.

For some reason, James has to see this other room. Maybe by seeing the chaos, he can understand and control it. Sandy’s room is very upbeat. There are pink walls, a princess bedspread, and dozens of stuffed animals on her bed and dresser. He can feel her presence and happiness just by walking into her world. She is only three yet there she is having been smothered with her own pillow. Her finger and thumb are missing, and just like her brother, they were removed after she was murdered. Written in blood on the wall is, “WHORE JUST LIKE MOM”.

Bob drops to his knees and starts sobbing right there. He thinks of his grandchildren, who are about Sandy and Billy’s ages. What would he do if this ever happened to them? How could a human being do this to children? he thinks. James doesn’t know what to do except pat Bob on the shoulder. He is having the same thoughts, but isn’t as affected since his kids do not exist yet.

As James and Bob re-enter the master bedroom, they see Stephen being transferred to a gurney. He has an IV in his arm. He looks up at them and says in a hoarse voice, “Please check on my kids. They’re down the hall.” The officers exchange a quick knowing look. They assure Mr. Bjornson that they will take care of everything while he gets treated.

Stephen starts to feel woozy from the drugs that were given to him by the paramedics and finally closes his eyes into a deep sleep. As they push Stephen out into the hallway the paramedics ask the police officers if they need to help the children. Bob shakes his head no, putting one finger to his lips to indicate silence; He then puts his head down again to pray.

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Genre – Mystery / Thriller

Rating – PG

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Website http://www.toddthiede.com/

Friday, May 17, 2013

Orangeberry Free Alert - Mirror Amour (Circotica Series) - Jade Hart

Mirror Amour - Jade Hart

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre - Erotica

Rating - R18+

5 (1 reviews)

Free until 19 May 2013

I stared up into his green eyes, lit only by fake candlelight. Noah laced his fingers with mine. "If we do this we don't talk about it ever again. It stays here. In this place. Agreed?
Linden Dylan, genius microbiologist and soon-to-be professor, almost crashes her car when the purple and grey bigtop comes to town. And it was all because of the indecent, and rather thrilling flyer:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Circotica invites you to:
Tassels of Tantalization.
Where fantasies are indulged, and reality is ignored.
One night only.
Strictly R18.
Couples encouraged.
Singles implored.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Linden has fantasies, not that she'd ever tell anyone, and against her strict self-control to stay away, she's drawn to the sinful call of Circotica.
Strong and sexy acrobat, Carson Smith, is only too happy to help bring Linden's fantasies to life, but tonight is Linden's night and she's got her lust set on bookishly handsome, Noah Carmichael, to fulfill them.

*Recommended for R18. New Adult / Adult Erotic Novella*

Orangeberry Book of the Day - January Exposure by Sunny Benson


With a twinkle of deadly silver and a whoosh of stale air, I stabbed my way from law-abiding to law-abreaking. The injured parties, two tires of the mammoth EZ-Move truck parked in my sister Tandy’s driveway, melted across the concrete into a rubbery puddle. I zippered the pocketknife safely back inside my ski jacket, brushed the snow off my jeans, and rubbed my throbbing temples. I didn’t relish sabotage, but hobbling the truck was unavoidable and now irreversible. Unless Tandy’s husband, Rick, strapped on a pair of snowshoes and backpacked the truck out, I’d completed phase one of my plan. Tandy would be livid.

My stomach churned like a snowplow as my boots crunched over the ice toward the house. I clutched the iron railing, maneuvered up the slippery steps, and jabbed the doorbell. Rick opened the door, his brawny upper body crammed into a puffy pink ladies’ jacket. Sweat dampened his wavy brown hair and darkened the matching pink scarf slung around his neck.

“Ellie, it’s six in the morning. Why are you here?” he asked, wariness nudging recognition from his gaze.

“I came to help you move.”

Rick smiled in disbelief. “Seriously?”

“Yeah right. Are you okay? What’s happening?”

Averting his eyes from mine, he shrugged, ripping the shoulder seams of the pink jacket to expose wisps of white stuffing.

I stepped forward and challenged the comfortable distance between us. “An emergency? A calamity? A lobotomy?”

“My life and my decisions are none of your business. Go home.”

“When your life and your decisions involve my sister, it is my business. Besides, Tandy called and invited me over.”

Rick crossed his arms and widened his stance. I considered trying to shove past him, but he stood over six feet tall, and at five-one I didn’t stand a chance. Lucky for me, growing up a small, hockey-playing tomboy, I enjoyed being outsized, outmatched, and underestimated. I leaned forward and scrutinized the triangular gap between his legs. I was small and quick, but could I wiggle through without being Venus flytrapped?

Realizing maneuvering around him and muscling through him weren’t viable options, I resorted to immaturity and brandished my cell phone like a spray bottle of Roundup. “My mom is number one on speed dial. My grandpa Craven is number two.”

With a sarcastic sweep of his arm, Rick ushered me inside, silent as he retreated into the living room. Unease replaced my frustration as I eyed the barren, echoing front hall. I pocketed the cell phone, peeled off my ice-encrusted gloves, and hollered for Tandy. After hearing Tandy’s faint reply that she’d be downstairs soon, I slouched against the wall to wait.

All that remained of the entryway furnishings Tandy collected over the years were the framed pictures on the walls. To the left, the stairwell stretched up to the second floor, still plastered with familiar photos of the Anderson family in happier times: grinning in front of North Dakota’s famous albino buffalo, four-wheeling past fields of sunflowers at my grandma and grandpa Johansson’s farm, hiking though the striated rock formations of the Badlands, and ice fishing in parkas and snow pants on Big Cormorant Lake. To the right, in stark contrast to the cheery family photos, the lonely living room held only a china cabinet, several cardboard boxes, and Rick, who seized antique gold-and-cream china from the cabinet and stacked it in one of the boxes.

I fingered the pocketknife through my jacket. “Where are you taking that china?”

Rick continued packing.

“That was my great-grandma Craven’s china. It’s a Craven family heirloom.”

Rick secured the last piece of china into the box.

“My parents gave Tandy that china before she married you.”

Rick taped the bulging box shut, strapped it to a dolly, and pretended I didn’t exist as he rolled the dolly past me. Although Rick and I possessed little in common, we usually went out of our way to be cordial to each other for Tandy’s sake. Apparently the seriousness of the situation warranted forgoing our unspoken pact.

“Jackass,” I said and made an unladylike hand gesture at him as he exited the house.

“Thank goodness you’re here,” my sister said from the second floor. My eyes focused on the debacle shambling down the steps, and my fingers zipped up to my temples and rubbed. Transformed from her usual lovely grace into a lovely disaster, Tandy sported Rick’s oversize attire: a navy ski jacket over a man’s dress shirt, a neon-green pair of boxer briefs, argyle socks pulled up over her knees, and a pair of men’s Italian shoes. A blue winter scarf restrained a tangle of frizzy blonde hair, and her drippy nose shone scarlet. When she reached me, she threw her arms around my neck and sobbed into my shoulder.

“What the hell is going on? Did you find out why Rick is moving out?” I asked.

Pulling away, Tandy sniffled and made a tisk-tisk sound. “Watch the foul language.”

“Excuse me, but it’s a foul situation. Why in the h-e-double hockey sticks are you wearing Rick’s boxer shorts?”

“Because they’re his favorite boxer shorts. They’re quite expensive.”

“I’m confused.”

“I thought maybe he wouldn’t leave without his ski jacket and favorite clothes. But he’s leaving. Oh Lord, he’s leaving me, and I don’t even know why.”

Unable to find the right words of solace, I squeezed her hand.

“Thank goodness Carmen slept at a friend’s last night,” she said, using Rick’s jacket sleeve to dab her teary cheeks. “How can Rick abandon us? And how dare he pack up and steal eight years of her happy childhood memories?”

My neurons fired faster with fury as I visualized my small, sturdy niece, Carmen, and her shining cap of mahogany hair, huge brown eyes, and insatiable enthusiasm.

“How did he pack so much in such a short time?” I asked Tandy.

“I asked him the same question when I woke to an empty house this morning. Apparently, his strategy included forgoing sleep and downing energy drinks. Plus last night he paid three high school boys to help him with the bulky things, like couches and tables.”

Rick banged back into the house, pushing the dolly.

I blocked his path. “You two spent nine relatively happy married years together. Please spare Tandy a few measly minutes and explain your behavior.”

“What’s to explain?” Rick asked, fidgeting with a dolly strap and avoiding our questioning stares. “You’re both smart women. My actions are perfectly apparent. I’m moving out and taking my furniture purchased with my money.”

“Apparent actions, yes,” I said. “Apparent motivation, need for speed, and destination, no. Start with destination.”

“Obviously I’m staying in Fargo,” Rick said. “I’d never leave my princess behind.”

Tandy’s face brightened with hope.

“I’m referring to Carmen,” Rick said, wincing a little when Tandy’s expression collapsed back into melancholy. “Look, Tandy, this conversation is unproductive and needlessly painful. I have boxes to fill and a schedule to keep.” He attempted to maneuver the dolly around me.

Exasperated, I waggled my phone at him and mouthed mother. He glowered at me, but halted and released the dolly.

Tandy dashed to Rick’s side and clamped her hand on his bicep. “Don’t be upset. Please talk to me.” Her eyes brightened with panic as her malfunctioning brain whirred out outlandish explanations. “You can’t be leaving. There has to be another reason. You aren’t surprising us with a new house?”

Rick’s mouth turned down and he kicked at the floor with his boot. “Tandy, please. I’m not surprising you with a new house.”

“It’s been terribly cold and cloudy lately,” she said. “You aren’t suffering from cabin fever?”

Rick twisted his eyes shut and massaged the bridge of his nose. “I’m not suffering from cabin fever.”

The corners of Tandy’s mouth seesawed down and back up. Her eyes twinkled with forced merriment. “You aren’t an undercover operative for the CIA? Your cover hasn’t been blown, forcing you to flee to the Yukon to protect Carmen and me, has it?”

Rick scuffled with a weary smile. “I’m not in the CIA. I’m moving to an apartment, for now, and I’m taking some of the furniture with me. You get the house, I get the furniture. Seems fair to me.”

“But it doesn’t make sense,” Tandy said. “Yesterday you talked about hiring someone to retile the master bath. Yesterday you brought home a new television for the family room. Today I wake up and there’s a moving truck packed full of our furniture in the driveway. You’re only thirty-one, too young for a midlife crisis. It doesn’t make sense.”

Tendons burst through Rick’s neck, and he wrenched his arm out of Tandy’s grasp. “I’ll tell you what doesn’t make sense. Not doing anything to change my crappy mediocre life. I refuse to be like my father, working my bones to the marrow for chump change. When he died, he had nothing to show for a lifetime of hard labor. He was just an uneducated, blue-collar hick farming leased land with next to nothing in his bank account.”

“You’re nothing like your father,” Tandy said. “You have a great job with the railroad, a white-collar job.”

“But I’m stuck in middle management and trapped in a middle-class life. Middle. I’m better than middle.”

Anger kindled in Tandy’s eyes. “So you’re escaping your middle-class life by escaping from me? You think I trap you, hold you back? I enable your success. I care for our daughter. I cook. I clean. I do laundry. I pay bills. It’s my job to enable you to do yours.” Her shoulders slumped, and her head bowed. “It’s fine if you want to change jobs. But please, don’t leave. I love you.”

Rick’s eyes watered and reddened. “It’s too late.”

Tandy threw her arms around him. “Too late for what? Tell me.”

Rick shook his head, squared his shoulders, and wiped his eyes. “Let go.”

“Too late for what?”

Rick’s eyelid started ticking. “Tandy, I said let go.”

Tandy released him and shrank back to where I stood. Not knowing how to help her, I took her hand and squeezed.

“You don’t have the inner drive required to understand what I want or need,” Rick said. He pressed his lips together and finally met Tandy’s watery, pleading eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you, but obviously you need some closure. Fine, cruel to be kind it is. The reality is you are a morally uptight priss obsessed with PTA meetings, church events, and gardening. You’d never make the necessary sacrifices to help me succeed in life. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish packing.”

Tandy’s eyes stalked Rick as he careened into the living room with the dolly. “What sacrifices?” she asked me. “I don’t understand him. When we married nine years ago, he loved me. I know he did. I haven’t changed much. I’ve always loved church and gardening. When did I become so unlovable? Did I grow cellulite or get too many wrinkles? Should I invest in plastic surgery?”

A needle of irritation pricked the compassion I felt for my sister, because she was gorgeous. If she needed plastic surgery, my only hope was having my brain transplanted into a supermodel. “You’re only thirty-one,” I said. “Besides, what would a surgeon change? Your huge violet eyes and high cheekbones? And a lot of women would cheerfully kill their dietitians for a body like yours.”

“Maybe I’m skinny, but my bosom could be bigger. I should get implants.”

I shrugged and glanced down at my chest. Tandy’s bosom could be smaller too.

“I like my life with Rick,” Tandy said. “We have a beautiful home, a wonderful daughter, and great friends. Until today, I thought we were happy.”

Compelled into comforting mode by Tandy’s bewildered expression, I put my arm around her and patted her shoulder. “You did nothing wrong.” I said. “Any man would be lucky to have you as his wife.” I tugged at the hem of the green boxer shorts dangling from Tandy’s hips. “You must be chilly. Why don’t you change back into your own clothes? I’m afraid Rick’s leaving, with or without his favorite pair of boxers.”

After Tandy changed into her own jeans and a cashmere sweater set, we moved to the kitchen. Only the white cabinets, stove, and fridge remained. With nothing to sit on, we leaned against the wall where the kitchen table used to be.

Tandy wiped her eyes, patted her golden hair, and reverted to her usual good-hostess form. “Would you care for a pop?”

“Sure, thanks.”

I cracked the can open and took a long, bubbly drink. Tandy wrapped a pink SUPER MOM apron around her slim waist, rummaged in the cupboard under the sink, and pulled out a bucket and a rag. She filled the bucket with a mixture of water and lemon Mr. Clean and scrubbed at the linoleum.

“Cleaning?” I asked. “You should be scheming. You need a plan.”

Tandy took a deep breath and blew the air back out. “Cleaning is calming. I should vacuum. Vacuuming is way better than meditation.” She arched an eyebrow at me. “Not that you would know.”

I shrugged and didn’t disagree. My pale, emaciated vacuum hadn’t been fed in over a month.

Tandy dropped the rag. “My turn to ask you something. Why haven’t you ordered me to kung fu Rick’s behind? Not that I would do it.”

“Now there’s the start of a scheme. Incapacitate him and move the furniture back in the house. Mighty Rick doesn’t stand a chance against The Kung Fu Queen.”

After reading an article on spiritual enlightenment in a fashion magazine a few years ago, Tandy signed up for feng shui, meditation, and kung fu lessons. At the time, everyone in my family believed she’d scaled new heights of flakiness, but she surprised us. She stuck with the kung fu and could kick some serious butt. She relished competing, and I often went to cheer and marvel at the personality change she underwent every time she stepped on the mat. Tandy, who classified shut up a swearword, turned calculating and ruthless, landing kicks and jabs with punishing precision. The first time I saw her compete, she reduced her opponent to a quivering lump, and I dubbed her The Kung Fu Queen.

“I don’t have any answers regarding what to do about Rick,” I said. “But on one front you can relax. Furniture-wise, I took care of the problem.”

“Do you realize he packed great-grandma Craven’s china?”

“Trust me, I’ve already done some scheming of my own. The china’s safe. By the way, does he plan to take the heavy china cabinet?”

“I have no idea.”

“Tell Rick it’s his.”

“What did you do?” Tandy nibbled on her lower lip. “You didn’t plant a bomb in it, did you?”

“I’m not that crazy.”

“You are a chemist. The question’s not totally far-fetched.”

I kneaded my temples. “I don’t use TNT or nitroglycerin for testing water quality. Just tell Rick to take the china cabinet. Tell him to take everything.”

“This day can’t possibly get any more bizarre.” Tandy threw up her hands. “What the heck. Why not? I’ll do it.”

Thirty minutes later, Tandy and I stood in the living room and watched Rick close and lock the truck’s rear door, climb in the cab, lean out the window, and wave up the driveway at the house.

“He’s waving like he’s headed downtown for a quick cup of coffee and will be back in ten minutes. What a jerk,” I said.

Tandy opened her mouth to defend him, sighed, and snapped it shut.

Rick started the engine. Growling and groaning, the truck shuddered and swayed and barely budged. After a few minutes of griping, the engine fell silent. I hurried to the entryway and opened the front door. Tandy trailed after me with her brow creased. Rick checked the front tires and ran up the driveway to the rear of the truck. Shouting something, he threw his arms up, punched the side of the truck, and lost his balance on the slippery driveway. He toppled back and flailed his limbs like an overturned beetle.

I couldn’t stifle a snicker. “Isn’t that sweet. He’s making a snow angel.”

“What did you do? Plug the tailpipe with a banana?” Tandy asked. “That’s not so bad. All you have to do is take the banana out, right? Then the truck will work?”

“I did something a bit more permanent.” I showed her the pocketknife and bared the largest blade. “I’ll reimburse EZ-Move for the damages of course. Those truck tires are probably mighty expensive, but it’s worth it.” I closed the knife and zipped it back in my pocket.

Tandy’s lips whitened, and her cheeks reddened. “Darn it, Ellie, you should have asked me first.”

“You would have said no.”

“And you went ahead and did it anyway?”

“Only because I love you.”

“Only because you’re a science nerd know-it-all who thinks I can’t handle my own life.”

“Hey, you called me.”

Rick banged through the front door, tears of frustration brightening his eyes. “The back tires are flat.”

“Gee, that’s too bad, Rick.” I said, feeling the first niggle of doubt creep through me at the sight of his tears. Was Rick about to lose it? What if Rick suspected me? Until then, I hadn’t considered the possibility of backlash. I’d never experienced a truly angry Rick. Over the years he habitually restrained any unpleasant emotions behind a stronghold of slick social grace. My heart rapped an irregular rhythm against my ribs.

“EZ-Move better come out and change the tires,” Rick said. “I sure as hell am not unpacking all that stuff.” He pushed past us and entered the kitchen.

“Oh boy, I’m glad he doesn’t suspect me,” I said. I peered down the hall and into the kitchen. Maybe he wasn’t calling EZ-Move. Had Rick packed the utensils? Maybe he was selecting the sharpest knife from the kitchen to slice my throat like I’d sliced the tires. “Has Rick ever done anything violent?” I asked Tandy.

“Don’t be silly. He never even yells.” Tandy raised her eyebrows. “I do believe you are perspiring, Ellie. Getting a guilty conscience, are we?”

“More like worried about getting caught,” I said.

We edged closer to the kitchen to eavesdrop. I peeked inside, verifying Rick wasn’t sharpening a meat cleaver, and my heart rate returned to normal.

“What do you mean you can’t come until tomorrow?” Rick said into the phone. “You get someone over here pronto. Let me speak with a supervisor.” After a few minutes of arguing with the supervisor, he admitted defeat. “Fine. Tomorrow morning at eight sharp.” He whacked the phone against its cradle several times.

Tandy and I skittered to the living room and sat on the floor.

Seeking an innocuous topic, like most North Dakotans, my mind gravitated toward the weather. “Nice day we’ve been having,” I said. “What is it, ten below today?”

“Only five below,” Tandy said. “But maybe ten below counting windchill. Pretty balmy for January.”

Rick stormed in, his eyes rabid and spittle glistening on his chin. Tandy and I climbed to our feet and backed away.

“I have to unpack the entire truck,” he said. “Those EZ-Move guys refuse to send a tow truck and a replacement truck until tomorrow. Unpacking will take hours, and I have an appointment.” Rick tossed the keys to Tandy. “Aw, forget it. Give these to those idiots when they show up, and tell them to transfer the furniture to the new truck. I’m out of here.” Rick disappeared down the hall, the garage door opener hummed, and his BMW purred away.

Tandy stood and pressed her hand to her forehead. “I can’t believe my husband left me. I’m an unemployed single mother with no job skills and a huge mortgage. I’m doomed.”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t Rick have a death and dismemberment policy with a huge payoff through the railroad? Maybe you should off the bastard.”

Tandy started cackling, her violet eyes radiating crazy. I realized Rick wasn’t the only one who was in danger of losing it.


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Genre – Mystery

Rating – PG13

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Orangeberry Book Tours – The Mountain City Bronzes by Madeleine McLaughlin

When Kevin learns of his mountain town’s evil past, he must struggle to understand his father’s part in it and how it affects himself.

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Genre – Horror

Rating – PG

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Orangeberry Book of the Day - Some Are Sicker Than Others by Andrew Seaward

Chapter 1- Monty

TONIGHT was the night, the night he’d ask her, the night he’d finally lay it all on the line. Monty felt sick and nervous, thrilled and excited, like a thousand butterflies were fluttering against his ribs. But, he had to do it. He had to go through with it. He’d been through too much already to just chicken out now. He’d get up on that stage and deliver his one-year speech at the podium then propose to Vicky in front of everyone at AA. If she said yes, then everything would be perfect—everything would be the way it was supposed to be.

He took a deep breath and felt the outside of his jeans pocket to make sure the little felt box holding the ring was still there. It was; pressed against his thigh, nestled in his pocket, a modest, one-carat diamond that he’d gotten from his mom.

As he picked up his pace, he made a left onto Thirteenth Street, being careful not to slip on the icy asphalt. It was a beautiful night. The moon was out and the stars were shining, like diamonds impregnated in a coal-black sky. What a wonderful night to be clean and sober. What a wonderful night to be alive. To think, all he had to do was quit drinking and he could’ve felt like this his entire life—no more shaking, no more seizing, no more getting up to puke in the middle of the night. If he’d just listened to his parents and stopped a little sooner, he could’ve avoided all those years of suffering and pain. All those nights of lying face down in a puddle of his own blood and urine, praying for God to come and take him away, his hands around a bottle, his head above the porcelain, and that sick, vile poison bubbling inside his veins. Those trips to the emergency room in some random state hospital just so he could get pumped full of fluids and strapped down to a bed, while nurses with bad breath, bad hair, and bad makeup stuck a tube down his dick just so he could pee. Christ, what a fucking nightmare. Thank god it was finally all over. Thank god he finally found a way to stay clean.

As he rounded the corner, the AA house appeared before him, all lit up and decorated like some grand, old hotel. It was a redbrick, renovated, four-story school building that the city had bought and transformed into an AA meeting hall. It was tucked inside the corner of York and Thirteenth Street, a few blocks off of Colfax, between the zoo and the park. And tonight it looked absolutely majestic covered with hundreds of twinkling, red, blue, and green Christmas lights. There were lights on the trees and wreaths on the doorway and a sign on the overhang that said, Happy New Year!

It was only seven-thirty, but the place was already busy, packed with people milling around on the front porch. They were laughing, talking, and slurping down cups of coffee, embers of cigarettes glowing red between their lips. Jesus, look at them all. In less than an hour, he was going to be up in front of them, standing at that podium, pouring out his guts. The very thought of it made him feel queasy and he wondered if maybe he should just take off and run. He could grab Vicky and get the hell out of here and take her some place where they could be alone. Some place quiet, like a candlelit restaurant or maybe that cute lodge up in Nederland—the one with the Jacuzzi and the view of the mountains, right there at the entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park. If they started now, they could be up there in an hour, under the stars, alone in the dark—no meetings, no prayers, no counselors, no sponsors, just the two of them naked in each other’s arms.

He smiled as he pictured the image of Vicky’s naked body curled in his arms—her lips, her eyes, her soft, wet kisses, her face in his hands, her legs coiled tightly around his hips. Unfortunately, he knew that it was only wishful thinking, because there was no way in hell Vicky would let him back out now. She’d probably kick his ass just for even mentioning it. This AA crap was more serious to her than life itself. In fact, to her, it was life. She believed that if she missed even one measly meeting, then she’d be risking the chance of relapsing again. Monty, on the other hand, didn’t take any of this crap seriously, and the only reason he went was because of her. He knew that if he didn’t at least try, he might lose her, and that was something he couldn’t risk.

He pushed open the iron gate and started up the porch staircase, one hand on the railing, the other over the ring. When he got to the top, he stood on his tiptoes, searching for Vicky through the busy crowd. But, he couldn’t see her. There were too many people, and the haze of the cigarette smoke seemed to blur his sight. He leveled his heels and took a step backward then reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He scrolled to Vicky’s name at the bottom of the directory then typed in a message that said, “Where are you?”

Just as he hit the send button, he could feel someone watching him, like the current of a riptide pulling him out to sea. He looked up and there he saw her, smiling like an angel from underneath the garland of a brightly lit Christmas wreath. She was dressed in jeans and a fuzzy, white sweater, her face blushed with winter, her smile so damn sweet. He put away his phone and moved towards her quickly, the snow on the porch crunching beneath his feet. When he got to her, he threw his arms around her, then kissed her lips and kissed her cheeks. She tasted sweet like cinnamon candy or one of those red and white striped peppermints.

“I missed you,” he said, as he pulled her in close, her face in his hands, her arms around his neck.

“I missed you too, baby.”

“You did?”

“Of course, I did.”

Monty smiled and squeezed her tighter, feeling his face against the warmth of her skin. “Did you have a good Christmas?” he asked, looking down at her, at the thick, black curls falling over her forehead.

She nodded and smiled up at him, her chin resting against the base of his neck. “I sure did. I’ve been busy. Getting everything ready for next week.”

“Oh yeah? You getting excited?”

“Oh Monty, I can’t wait. I’ve been getting the house all set up. I’ve probably been to Bed, Bath, and Beyond like four times in the last week, just buying all sorts of stuff—stuff I didn’t even know I needed. I got Tommy a new bed with cute blue and white, bear-imprinted bed sheets, matching pajamas and fuzzy bear slippers. It’s going to be so great. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a mommy again.”

“I’m happy for you, Vicky. I really am. That’s so awesome.”

“Thanks, baby. Only one more week and he’s all mine—no grandparents, no supervisors, nothing—just me and him, like old times.”

Monty leaned forward and gave her a deep kiss on the forehead, while caressing her cheek with his hand. “You’re a good mom,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks baby, you’re sweet. You’ve been a good friend to us. You’re a big part of Tommy’s life. He loves you, you know?”

“I love him too. He’s a good kid.”

They smiled at each other for a while as the Christmas lights twinkled all around them on the porch. Then Vicky took his hand and pulled it towards her and held it against the crease of her neck. “Hey, wait a minute,” she said, as if she suddenly remembered something, her eyes widening to the size of two silver dollar coins. “What about you? We haven’t even talked about you yet. How was your trip?”

Monty hesitated and looked away from her. Damn. He was hoping he wouldn’t have to get into this just yet. “It was okay, I guess.”

“Just okay? Didn’t you get to spend some quality time with your parents?”

Monty snickered. “I don’t know if I’d call it quality time.”

“Aw, why not? Weren’t they happy to see you?”

“Oh…I don’t know. It’s weird now. Different.”

“How so?”

Monty sighed and turned away from her, moving his eyes out across the snow-covered park. He didn’t want to think about it tonight, but all he could see was his mother and the look on her face when he first asked for the ring. She didn’t laugh or cry or throw her arms around him. She didn’t even break a smile as she handed over the ring. It was as if she was holding her breath, waiting for something bad to happen, waiting for the walls to crumble in again. And at that moment, he knew that things would never be better. He knew that he’d probably never get to hug her again. She’d always look at him like he was some kind of monster who could snap at any moment and hit her in the face again.

He shut his eyes and took a deep breath inward, rubbing his hands against the bridge of his nose.

“Monty?” Vicky whispered, moving in towards him, her hand rubbing against the back of his neck. “Are you okay?”

“No, not really.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s just—” He shook his head and looked away from her. The words were like pieces of hot metal lodged in his throat.

“What is it, baby? Come on, you can tell me.”

“It’s my mom.”

“What about her?”

“I don’t know, it’s like she’s afraid of me or something—afraid I’m going to start drinking again. I mean, she couldn’t even bring herself to hug me. She couldn’t even look at me without bursting into tears. And anytime my dad got up and left us together, she’d always find an excuse to leave the room. She either had to do the dishes or fold the laundry—it was like she was afraid to be alone in the same room with me. I just wish I knew what I could do to make her trust me—what I could say to prove to her that I’m going to be okay.”

“Well, I guess it’s just going to take some time. I mean, it’s only been a year. It’s going to take some time to build up that trust again.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just wish I knew how to make it go faster.”

“Well, just keep working your program and going to your meetings and everything will eventually work itself out.”

Monty scoffed. “You really believe that?”

“Of course, I do. It’s the only thing that keeps me going. If I didn’t believe that then what would be the point? You know?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Hey, come on, baby. Cheer up. It’ll get better. I promise. You remember what it says in the Big Book about promises, don’t you?”

Monty just looked away and shrugged his shoulders. He really didn’t want to hear this AA crap right now. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Yeah, you do. Come on, you remember.” She started reciting the words slow and easy, as if she actually expected Monty to join in: “No matter how far down the scale we’ve gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows, and our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Are these extravagant promises?” Vicky paused and looked up at Monty, waiting for him to say the verse.

“We think not,” he said halfheartedly, not really believing it himself.

“They are being fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes…”


“And they will always materialize if we…what?”

“Work for them.”

“That’s it! You got it, baby!” Vicky squealed and wrapped her arms around him then leaned forward and gave him a big, wet kiss on the cheek. “See. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?”

“No. Not really.”

“Uh! And just why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess I just don’t get it.”

“Well, what don’t you get?”

“I don’t get how God is supposed to keep me sober.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be God, Monty. You know that. It can be whatever you want it to be.”

“Can it be you?”


“Can it be you? Can you be my higher power?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Why not?”

“Because it just doesn’t work that way.”

“It’s worked pretty good so far. I mean, you’re the only reason I quit drinking. You’re probably the only reason I didn’t kill myself.”

“Please don’t say that, Monty.”

“Well it’s true.”

“I know, but—”

“—but what?”

“But you just can’t say that to me.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not fair.”

“To who?”

“To me! Look Monty, I don’t want to be your only reason for living. I don’t want to be your only hope of surviving this thing.”

“Well, what do you want?”

“I want you to be happy. I want you to stop punishing yourself and start living your life again.”

“That’s a little easier said than done, don’t you think?”

“No Monty. It’s not. You just have to want it. You have to want it for yourself. Look, no one but you is going to keep you sober, and the quicker you realize that, the easier it’s going to be. I mean, you say you want to speed things up and have a better relationship with your parents, right?”


“So, what are you doing about it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, it’s already been a year and you’re still on your fourth step, right?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So, I’m already on step twelve.”

“Well, I like to take my time, I guess.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Hey, come on, don’t be nasty. I’m trying, aren’t I? I mean, I’m doing this silly one-year speech tonight. Hell, if it was up to me, I’d skip the whole damn thing.”

“You know I’d never let you get away with that.”

“Yeah, I know. Why do you think I’m still here? Like I said, if it wasn’t for you, I would’ve never gotten sober. I wouldn’t have even made it through that first week. You may not want to hear it, but you saved me, Vicky. You’re the only reason I didn’t end up killing myself.”

“I know, but I just wish you’d take this program a little more seriously. I wish you’d do it for yourself instead of for me. I mean, what would you do if something were to happen? What would you do if you were to lose me?”

“Oh come on. Don’t talk like that. Nothing bad is going to happen. We’ve been through too much already to have some bullshit happen again. Besides, I’d never let anything bad happen to you. You’re too damn important to me. I love you, Vicky.”

“I love you too, Monty.”

Monty smiled and stared at her for a while in the haze of the cigarette smoke as the snow floated off the overhang of the porch. Then, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead, kissed her nose, and kissed her lips. “Come on,” he said, as he took her hand and pulled it forward, motioning towards the front of the house. “We better get going. We don’t want to be late.”


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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – R

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Review: The Mountain City Bronzes by Madeleine McLaughlin

The Mountain City BronzesThe Mountain City Bronzes by Madeleine McLaughlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What were the main themes of the book? Murder, learning the truth about the past.

Describe 2 different settings or locations. Kevin running through the corridors of the jail, the town people searching the mountain side for the missing children.

Were you able to connect with the main character and why? I connected with the father. He had a heavy burden to carry knowing what he did about the missing children.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Pain and Gain – The Untold True Story by Marc Schiller (Excerpt)

Chapter 1


"Adversity is a fact of life. It can't be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it."

- Unknown -

It is important for me to give the reader an understanding of who I was and who I had become through my personal experiences prior to my kidnapping in 1994. This will help explain my acts during these events and, more importantly, why I was able to survive them and continue on with my life afterwards.

I was born on a rainy winter day in August 1957 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My family and my country were going through turmoil. My grandparents had emigrated from Russia in the early 1920s and had chosen Argentina because of its economic prowess and political stability. Of course, all that changed after Juan Peron took power in a coup in the 1940s and the country began its long slide as the world’s third-largest economic power.

As went the country, so did the economic condition of my family. I was the second child. My older sister, Michelle, was born almost five years to the day before me. When I was born, my family’s situation had become precarious, and we were forced to move into my grandmother’s house, which was also shared by my father’s younger brother. I always joked with my dad. I said it looked as though I had brought bad luck, since prior to my birth they had lived a comfortable middle-class life.

So that was where I spent the first six years of my life. We had three families sharing the same house, trying collectively to make enough money to pay for food and other necessities. In 1964, a distant uncle who lived in the United Sates visited us. Dismayed at what he saw, he persuaded my father’s younger brother and his mother to immigrate to the US. He tried to talk sense into my father and make him move also, but my father decided that he was a patriot and would sink with the ship.

So, at the end of 1964, we were basically homeless. My father’s economic situation had gotten worse, and the only thing he could do now to get enough money to eat was selling socks door to door. We were forced to move from the city to a rural area called Gonzalez Catan. Here was the Wild, Wild West, and gauchos still roamed the prairie. Our little house had no running water, and the scarce electricity was not enough to light two lamps at the same time.

It was a little pink house with two bedrooms and an old-fashioned kitchen. It was rustic, simple—bare bones, as certain prefabricated houses can be, but it was home. At least we had a small parcel of land where we could grow some food and have a few chickens to provide us with eggs. Our closest neighbor was about two miles away; it was pure desolation. My school was a one-room building with a dirt floor about four miles from the house. I made the trek every day and hunted for frogs or tried to kill snakes along the way. Once or twice a month, the garbage truck would actually show up on the one and only paved road. I caught a ride to school by hanging on the back of the truck.

During the summer, we went swimming at the water hole where horses drank. I spent most of my free time wandering the fields, inventing new adventures. That year, my brother, Alex, was born, and the situation seemed dimmer than ever. My father’s brother came to visit and again tried to persuade my father to leave and immigrate to the US. Father was adamant. He would not budge.

Finally, in 1965, the situation became so dire that my father gave in and left for the US. The four of us, my mother, my sister, Michelle, who was twelve, my brother, Alex, who was a few months old, and I, at seven, were left behind to fend for ourselves in a hostile environment. After my father left, our situation deteriorated further. We had no one to tend the few crops we had. Our few chickens were dying and laid no more eggs.

We resorted to eating a mush my mother prepared, and to this day I have no clue what was in it. It just looked like white paste that you could use to hang wallpaper. We also had plenty of wild blackberries that my mom used to make compote. Sometimes, we ate that five days a week. I have never been able to eat anything with blackberries since those days. Years later, my sister sent me a ten pound jar of blackberry jam for my birthday—very funny.

After a while, my father was able to send some money so we could buy food. That was wonderful, but there was no supermarket or convenience store in our neighborhood, so my mother had to go into the city to buy groceries. She left at five o’clock in the morning and did not return until one o’clock the following morning. She had to carry the grocery bags for miles, since there was no public transportation where we lived. We three children were left to fend for ourselves, and after dark we simply sat in a room together and waited.

Finally, in May of 1966, my father had saved enough money to bring us to America. Michelle stayed home to care for Alex while Mother and I went to the city to see if someone could give us some hand-me-down clothing for the trip. Our wardrobe was nonexistent; you really didn’t need much clothing where we lived. We lucked out after going from place to place and received enough clothes to get on the plane to our new home. It may be surprising that those days were as grim as they may sound. Bring back no bitter memories, no sadness, and no negative feelings.

In fact, my memories are happy ones. It was a time when I felt totally free. There was no pressure, and I was able to grow up free from the complications that can often deluge a child in big cities. Because I was free to explore the environment, I developed the self-assurance I would need to be able to survive no matter what circumstances I might encounter. This episode in our lives gave me the internal fortitude and self-reliance that would help me survive in the difficult situations that were to come.


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Genre – True Crime

Rating – PG

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Straight Dope by LeRon Barton (Excerpt)

When money is made, anything can happen

            I was born in a middle class neighborhood in Cincinnati. Both of my parents are still together and I have three sisters. Back in the day, Cincinnati was one of the top ten places to have a family. The midwest was where the factories where, so you could get a good job and it was a safe city to live in. My childhood as a whole was great, about the best ever. I could do anything I want, I had great friends, went to the best schools, and everything was safe. My high-school was ranked number five in the country as far as public schools. My Father worked as at the post office and my Mom was a nurse. I'ma tell you something about my Mom: she grew up in downtown Cincinnati and was a hustler. She knew the game and knew what she wanted. You wasn't running no game on her. My parents and I had a little falling out though, due to my activity in the streets and we do not speak anymore. 

How I got into the drug game?

Well I used to work at the Andrew Jurgens company and had been there for about ten years making 60, 70 grand. I had never gotten into the street game at that time because I am a opportunist, a bottom line guy. I only deal with things that the bottom line has a plus sign by it, you know. So while all my buddies were slinging crack and weed, I didn't see that there was enough money for me to be a street boy out there and the reward level wasn't good. I had a cousin in the south who was dating this big drug dealer in Atlanta. So while I was visiting, he asked me what a pound of weed goes for in Cincinnati? I tell him $1100, $1200 and that I can check with some of my buddies. What he does is gives me ten pounds, tells me to hit him back with $7,000, and gives me 30 days to see what happen. I get back home and I am thinking okay, I have 30 days to get rid of this, so I should be able sell them for a stack a piece and I will have three grand. What happens is I call my buddy, he comes over and checks out all of them, and boom, they were all gone as soon as I got home! Instead of 30 days it took me three hours!

That's what I call a come up (we both laugh). Thats what got the hook in me. Now I am making good money at my job, real good money but dang, I made $3000 in three hours? I gotta stick with this, you know what I am saying?

            Me not knowing the game, I'm thinking, okay I'm a get these and bang 'em off not knowing how things work. This is what I learned down the road, when people start knowing you have a quanity of drugs, you become a target and I didn't know that at first. So I started to bang 'em off, riding to Atlanta, and I quit working overtime. I'm making $3000 a week, thats an extra $12,000 a month you hear me? So I am stacking the first couple of months and I started needing way more than that ten, so now I am like, if I buy ten will you front me ten? My connect said yeah and it got to the point that I would go to the A, leave with 20, call some folks, and sometimes they would be waiting for me in my driveway! I didn't even have to take the pounds in my house.

            The thing about the drug game is that whether it is meth, coke, weed, whatever it is, if you got the best price and the right stuff, you can't keep enough of it, it's gone. I couldn't keep enough of them because I am selling the pounds for $1000 and they are going for $1200 on the streets. Now as I was getting savvy, I learned a couple of things: Never be greedy in the drug game. Never keep it in your house if you have to, because when the robbery boys come and stick a gun your mouth, they are going  to ask where the drugs and the money. I'd rather give them they money than the drugs, because you can always make it back.

You know and I know, with that kind of success, your name starts ringing and in the hood, information goes like wild fire......

It got off the hook.  After six months I had over 70 grand in profit, so I quit my job. Now I have been there for ten years, but that one week in Atlanta was not enough. So my ex wife and I started going down to Atlanta three times a week.


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Genre – NonFiction / Sociology

Rating – PG

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Author Interview – Richard Stephenson

How do you promote this book? Every way I could think of.  I created a blog that gets 800 to 1,000 views a day.  Two twitter accounts with a combined following of over 18K.  Facebook ads, ads with Kindle Nation Daily, cross promotion with other indies, and paid ads on a lot of sites.  The most effective advertising I did was releasing a sneak peek of the first seven chapters of “Collapse” months before the release.  The sneak peek raised a lot of interest and on my first day on Amazon, my book managed to sneak on to the top 100 list for one of its categories.

Will you write others in this same genre? Writing a four book series, working on book two right now.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Civilization is fragile.

Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot? All three of the main characters are facets of my own personality.  My law enforcement career gave me a lot of material to use as well.

How important do you think villains are in a story? Extremely.  The good guys can’t shine without villians.

Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Absolutely.  Three more left in the “New America” series.

Have you started another book yet? I’m eleven chapters into book two.

What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out? Google, without a doubt.  I can’t imagine what authors did before the Internet.  The amount of research I did would have taken me a couple of years without the internet.  It is also very handy to have the cloud and to be able to immediately pick up writing on a different device.

Do you have any advice for writers? Don’t quit your day job.  If writing isn’t your passion and truly something you love, you will be disappointed when it doesn’t pay the bills.  Write because you love telling a good story.

What do you do to unwind and relax? Video games and movies.

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Genre – Dystopian

Rating – R

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Blog http://rastephensonauthor.blogspot.com/

Orangeberry Book of the Day - Primal by DA Serra

Chapter One

Samuel slips the knife to Rex.

Wilkins rocks forward onto his toes, to get a clear look at Ben, who sits in reverence with his head dropped forward, exposing the pale smooth nape of his vulnerable neck. The air is rank with odor from damp armpits, oily hair, and decaying gums. It’s the smell of rot. When Wilkins has guard duty on Sunday mornings, he watches Ben Burne, because it makes him feel hopeful here among the human scrap meat. He is drawn to the devotion on Ben’s face, and so he doesn’t notice the jagged-edged homemade blade as it is passed from one inmate’s hand to the next, underneath the lip of the stainless steel pew.

Rex hands the knife to Heto.

This ascetic chapel with a plastic altar is populated every Sunday by lifers who, if given the chance, would slash God’s throat. They attend services as an alternative to sitting in their cells. Wilkins thinks about how no one wants to be here, no one except Ben. Ben is enraptured. He communes with the hanging wooden crucifix lost in a personal reverie: Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee. The lime paint of the prison’s cinder block wall doesn’t tint Ben’s face in the same ghoulish way it colors the skin of the other inmates. Wilkins wonders if this is a sign. Yes, he thinks it is. Yes, God is trying to tell him something. He has cast the glory of His forgiveness on Ben Burne.

Ben nods his head in prayer. He has lost a lot of hair for only fifty-three years old; the penitentiary food and harsh soap are hard on the body. Ben has managed to stay muscular by lifting weights in his cell and using the window bars for chin-ups. He raises his face. Real tears swim in his eyes as he swells with piety.

Ben, with his reputation, is a celebrity here; as long as Ben is around with his superior air and his attention grabbing ways, well, it pisses off some of the others who feel just as deserving, just as tough. And they are just as tough — they just aren’t as smart. In any room, in every room, Ben is the puppet master.

Heto passes the knife to Leon.

Leon is an obelisk of a man: tall, thick, and sitting directly behind Ben. A grisly anticipation ripples through the room, knowing glances are exchanged and eyes light up, giddy with expectation. Wilkins tilts his head, sensing a palpable shift in the room. His eyes narrow; where is it coming from? He scans the pews up and down. He peers underneath at the shoes solidly on the floor. What is it? He can’t place it. At the altar, the chaplain prays fervently for each of these men’s souls. He feels some solace in knowing that at least he has saved one man. He has saved the soul of Ben Burne.

The inmates in Leon’s row shudder eagerly. Leon likes holding everyone’s attention this way. They are waiting for his move. He tenses first. Then, his jaw drops slightly open. Saliva moistens his mouth and a drop of spit forms on his canine tooth. Right next to him, the skinny hollow-eyed inmate giggles in a small sharp burst - the sound of caged madness. Leon’s fingers clench around the knife. Ready. He springs up! The chaplain looks. Leon’s knife hand juts up and then powers down toward Ben’s bare neck. Miraculously, Ben’s hand jerks up and grabs the blade. It sinks deep into his palm. He makes no sign of pain. He closes his fist around it and the two men stand in a struggle of power and will. The room erupts. They are animals sprung loose - clawing and fighting. Wilkins battles through the melee to get to Ben and Leon who are locked eye-to-eye and motionless as blood gushes from Ben’s closed fist. Wilkins is almost there when an inmate jumps him from behind reaching for his weapon. With eyes in the back of his head, Ben uses his other hand to karate chop the inmate, breaking his neck and sending him to the floor without even a scream. Wilkins regains himself, grateful to Ben, who has not taken his eyes off Leon. Wilkins pulls his gun out and shoots four rounds into the ceiling. The fighting stops at the sound of the gunshots. Other guards burst in. Wilkins moves in next to Leon where he and Ben are frozen in inert combat with the blade closed into Ben’s fist. Wilkins levels his weapon at Leon’s head.

Ben scolds, “Leon, this is a place of worship.”

Flooded with adrenaline, Wilkins rests his weapon on Leon’s temple and adds, “And I hope you’ve been praying.”

Ben turns his eyes calmly to Wilkins, “Not in God’s house.”

A tremulous silence, they all wait for Wilkins’ decision: life or death. He has the choice. He could pull the trigger and no one would care. One less animal to feed and cage. Society might shake its head, but it would be grateful to be rid of him. At this moment, with the muzzle of the gun at Leon’s temple, and with everyone waiting, the choice is his. He could take this life. He wants to take this worthless life. The muscles in his face give a little. His blood calms. Two other guards sense it and step forward grabbing Leon. They slam him to the cement floor breaking his jaw and his nose. They pull his arms behind his back and cuff him. Other guards have taken charge of the rioting rabble and order is harshly restored. Ben opens his hand. Wilkins carefully pulls the embedded knife from Ben’s palm.

“I’ll take you to the infirmary,” Wilkins says.

Ben nods, turns to leave with him, but then stops and asks the chaplain, “Father, are you all right?”

The shaken chaplain nods. He drops to his knees and says a prayer for Ben’s soul. Wilkins leads Ben out of the chapel and down the hall toward the infirmary.

Wilkins is amazed at Ben’s ability to withstand the pain and asks, “How did you do that?”

“God did that - saved us both - you and me. But evidently he has turned his attention to other things because it hurts like a motherfucker now.” These two men almost smile at each other. How strange, Wilkins thinks, to see the budding of humanity in a man with this kind of history. What was it that turned Ben Burne?

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Genre – Thriller

Rating – R

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