Category Archives: Snippets

Sunday Snippet

 

I’ve worked long and hard to complete my first novel. Any of you who have done it certainly know the work that goes into it.  For our Sunday Snippet I would like to offer you the opening scenes of the book. So, for your reading pleasure (I hope), here is a sneak peek at my novel, ‘Jenny.’ Please remember that this is not the final draft version of the book, so there may be some errors that will be corrected during the final edits. Also, the copyright lies with me. I hope you enjoy the snippet.

Jenny cover as a painting

                           ONE

George Price lifted his goggles and rubbed his eyes. He had been flying all day and now the sun was turning red; the sky a darker shade of blue. He needed to put the old biplane down before the black sheet fell over the Earth, hiding all of its features and obstacles. He realized that he should have landed miles back, near that little town he had seen, but it was too late. The sun would be down before he would be able to find it. George could see that there was certainly plenty of open space to land, below him, but none of it seemed to be anywhere near civilization. He slowly shook his head.

It’s 1928 and the land down there probably still looks the same as it did when the Mexicans owned it.

He lowered the goggles back down to protect his eyes from the blast of air finding its way around the small windscreen.

His right hand gently eased the throttle back and the sound of the big OX5 engine dropped back to less of a roar. As he peered down onto the earth’s muted colors and ever lengthening shadows, he could see a large field off of his lower right wing with a road running through it. Looks to be as good a place as any, he thought. Maybe if I’m lucky, a car will come along and I can get a ride to the nearest town.

If anyone, down there, even owns a car.

He flew in low over the field, eyes fixed on the ground, trying to spot anything that might interfere with his landing. A gopher hole could ruin his whole day, and he had seen enough ruined days. All looked good as he flew only a few feet above the terrain with his head hanging over the side of the JN-4, the air slapping his face and the motor’s exhaust smoke filling his nostrils. Once satisfied he pushed on the throttle to climb and turned to come back around and land. As he circled the field he spotted two riders on horseback, their upturned faces standing out as white spots against the darkening Earth. He waved. They did not wave back.

George pointed the airplane’s nose at the landing spot and slowly dropped down to meet it. He felt the big biplane’s wheels gently touch the ground, and he cut the power back, the engine now idling quietly and the propeller blades revolving lazily in front of him. The machine bounced along the uneven landscape, the wooden tailskid scratching the hard surface like a hand trying desperately to find something to grab, until it finally rolled to a stop. He switched off the engine and suddenly the only sound was the crackling and popping of cooling metal. The field was endless and empty; the departing red sun just above the horizon. He pulled off his leather helmet and goggles, unstrapped himself from the wicker seat and climbed out of the wood and linen fuselage. His feet had barely touched the hard dry surface when he heard the sound of horse’s hooves pounding the ground. He looked over the faded green tail of the airplane and saw the two riders coming his way, ahead of a widening cloud of dust. As they got closer he could see ten gallon hats, rifles; one rider on a large black mount and the other sitting atop a brown and white Appaloosa. He smiled.

They aren’t cars, but a horse will work, too.

They stopped a few feet from the tail of the Jenny. The smile left George’s face quickly as the rider on the black animal pointed the rifle at his head. The other slid his weapon into a saddle holster and climbed off of his two toned horse. “What’re you doing on my land?” he asked as he slowly walked toward George. He appeared to be about fifty with a tanned, weather beaten, face and a large greying moustache.

“Uh…yes, I’m…lost.” answered George, his eyes on the man with the rifle. “Say, could you not point that thing at me?” George turned back to the older man and watched him warily as he stopped ten feet in front of him. The man quickly glanced at the airplane and then, just as quickly, his attention was back on George.

“I’ll have him stop pointing that there rifle at you, boy, when I hear some answers to my questions!”

George could feel the anger welling up inside of him, but had to remind himself that these were two armed men. He did not know them and that made them unpredictable. He willed himself to calm down. “Well, I’m lost, that’s all. Not trying to do anything but find out where I am.” Price kept looking at the man pointing the Winchester Repeater at him and very much wished that he could grab it and beat him about the head with it.

“Lost?” asked the older man. “Don’t you have a compass or something in these machines?” George watched him walk over to the airplane and peer into the rear cockpit.

“Well, yes, but they don’t tell you where you are. Just the direction you’re going.” George turned his eyes back to the rifle still threatening his head. “Is this the way you greet people around here? Up north we say ‘hello’ and offer a handshake.”

The mustachioed face continued to examine the machine’s interior. “Flying up in the air in one o’ these damn things seems like an awful stupid thing for a man to be wasting his time with.” Then he turned around and said, “Tommy, put the rifle down.” He turned back towards George.

“I don’t really care how you Yankees do things. I don’t trust strangers who pop out of nowhere and wind up on my property.”

As the rifle was lowered, George took a good look at the other man. He appeared to be in his twenties, and although it tried, his scowl could not hide his baby-face.

“That there’s my son, Tommy. My name is Earl. Earl Baker.” George was preparing to see him extend his hand, but he never did. “I own this land.”

George scanned the darkening terrain all around him and slowly shook his head. “All of it?”

Earl Baker nodded. “Bout as much as you’ can see from here,” he said; but not, it seemed to George, in a bragging way. The tone sounded matter of fact. Like he was simply telling you the way it was. George was almost ready to forgive the rudeness and even the fact that a rifle had been pointed at his head. Maybe if I owned land I wouldn’t be too happy about some dumb pilot landing on it, either, he thought to himself. I’d better just find out where I am so that I can get out of here first thing in the morning.

“Speaking of ‘here’…where is ‘here’?” he asked. “I don’t know how I got so lost. I passed a town back that way. I should have landed.”

“Yep, that was probably Corsicana. It’s about the nearest thing to a big town around these parts. You want bigger; you’ll have to go to Waco, about thirty miles southwest of here. And we’ve got Dallas about the same distance north.”

George looked out toward the darkened horizon. Thirty miles seemed as far away as thirty-thousand miles. He turned back to Earl Baker and shook his head. “Yeah, I don’t know…I just…”

“Pa, it’s getting dark,” interrupted the baby- face. “We’d better be getting home.”

Earl looked up at the sky and nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we better.” He walked back over to his horse and lifted himself up onto the dark brown saddle. “I’ll come back in the morning and check up on ya. Good night.”

“You’re going to leave me here?”

“Hell, son, it ain’t my fault you landed here,” said Earl. “And I don’t ride two people on ole’ Sandy.” He patted the horse’s long white neck and then turned to his son. The baby face shook his head, quickly, back and forth.

“Don’t look at me, Pa, I don’t want him riding with me!”

Earl shrugged his shoulders. “Well, there you have it. Guess you’re sleeping in your machine, tonight.”

The two men wheeled their horses and rode off, disappearing quickly in the dust and darkness, the younger one laughing. Like two ghost riders they vanished as if they had never been. He pulled himself out of his horsehide flying jacket and angrily threw it onto the lower left wing of the airplane. So much for southern hospitality, he thought. Yeah, guess I am sleeping in my machine tonight.

 

The haze and smoke almost obscured the earth but Lieutenant George Price knew that only a few thousand feet below him there were men who were dying, ugly, mud covered deaths. He gazed down over the side of his airplane at the dark brown, pockmarked landscape of no-man’s land that separated the antagonists and thought that it was as close to a vision of hell as he ever hoped to see. His DH-4’s motor drowned out the sound of the thousands of, seemingly endless, exploding artillery shells that blasted away at an already featureless landscape. Suddenly there was the sound of an engine even louder than his own and the tak, tak, tak, of a machine gun. Above all of the deafening noise he could hear the sound of a voice, screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit!” and the bullets making a drumming sound as they pierced the doped canvas sides of the big DE Havilland observation plane; and finally, the stabbing, burning, pain…

 

“What…?” George opened his eyes and was startled to see a dark haired woman, looking at him and beating on the side of the airplane.

“Lord…finally. I was starting the think you might’ve have died!” she said; her voice sweet and calming. Sleep left his eyes and they began to focus. He could now clearly see the small, delicate features in front of him.

“C’mon, now. You climb on outta’ there. C’mon back to the house.” As he came awake his eyes panned the field all around him with the night, hot, and coal black. He gazed into her face and her pale skin made it seem as though someone had turned a light on in the darkness.

“What are you doing out here?” he finally asked her.

“I heard Earl telling how he’d met a pilot who landed his airplane out on his precious land. I couldn’t believe that he and my husband left you!”

Ah yes, Earl, one of my visitors from earlier this evening.

She frowned and let out a deep sigh. “I’m afraid they aren’t too likeable at times.”

“Yeah, I think I met them during one of those times.” George shook his head. “No, I think I’ll stay right here. I don’t think they’d be too happy with me showing up at their house.”

“Oh, I know how to handle the Baker men. I’m not afraid of them.”

George let out a nervous laugh. He remembered the rifle pointed at his face. “Yeah, well I am.”

She folded her arms tightly and a determined look came over her face. “I’m not leaving without you! C’mon out of this thing.” Looking around at the airplane, she added, “It, for sure, can’t be comfortable in there.”

George smiled as he adjusted himself in the seat. “No,” he said. “It, for sure, isn’t.”

“Well, then, what are you waiting for?” She stepped back away from the plane.

George sighed deeply. You must be getting old, Price, he thought to himself. There was a time you would never have turned down a beautiful women’s invitation to go back to her house. And this one is sure hard to say no to.

Oh, what the Hell.

He shook himself awake and began to lift himself up and out of the airplane. He attempted to make as graceful an exit as possible but his foot caught on the edge of the cockpit and he tumbled out head first. Before he knew what had happened he was on his back, in a cloud of dirt and dust, staring up at the young lady’s horrified face. She quickly knelt down beside him. “Are you hurt?” she asked.

George took a deep breath and shook his head. “Only my pride.”

Her horrified expression suddenly changed as she covered her mouth with her hands and began to laugh. He started laughing, too, and held out his hand. “I’m George Price.”

She moved her hands from her face and was smiling. “Well, I hope you fly this machine a lot better than you climb out of it, George Price.” She shook his hand. “Jenny Baker.”

George sat up, pushed against the side of the airplane for balance and was back up on his feet. As he dusted the dry Texas soil off of his trousers, he said, “Jenny. That’s funny.”

Her smiling face suddenly frowned. “My name is funny?”

“No, no…it’s just that this airplane… it’s a Curtiss JN-4 but everybody calls it a, ‘Jenny.’”

The smile returned. “I knew there was something I liked about it as soon as I saw it.”

George stepped up unto the lower left wing of the JN-4 and reached inside the front cockpit. He pulled out a small leather bag.

“Is that all you got?” she asked.

George stepped down off of the wing. “These things don’t carry too much,” he said as he patted the airplane’s fabric side. It made the sound of a bass drum as the vibration bounced around inside the box-like fuselage. He grabbed his jacket and draped it over his arm. “If it’s not absolutely necessary, I don’t take it with me.”

She led George back to a Studebaker pick- up truck with a red body and black fenders. It was hard to see for sure, in the dark, but it looked new. Jenny slid into the driver’s seat and George climbed into the seat next to her, his jacket and traveling bag on his lap. They both slammed their doors shut and the sounds bounced off into the darkness. He watched her as she stepped down on the floor mounted starter button and threw the truck into gear; the motor rattling through the, no longer quiet, evening. They lurched forward and made a bumpy U-turn with the truck’s headlights valiantly trying to light up the darkness. But it was a weak attempt and it seemed as though they had left the earth behind. With no city lights to interfere the stars ruled the night sky and George thought that he could plainly see every constellation that he knew of. Ahead of them, rabbits were caught in the cones of light and disappeared. A coyote, its eyes glowing an eerie red, flashed by quickly across the dirt road. She took her eyes off of the path for a brief moment to look at George. “You can see that I need to go real slow, so it’ll take a while to get to the Baker house.” She locked her eyes back onto the dark road, again.

“I’m in no rush,” George told her. “I’m enjoying the company.” She looked at him and smiled that smile again. In spite of himself, George felt a flow of warmth through his entire body.

Remember, George. She’s married and her husband likes to carry a rifle.

“How did you find me out there?” he asked her.

“Oh, that was easy, really. Earl said that you had landed near the road. This road runs through the entire property.” She made a sweeping motion with her hand as if demonstrating the hugeness of it all. “I thought I’d just keep driving ‘til I saw an airplane. Figured an airplane would be hard to miss.”

George scanned the, ink-like, blackness. “Seems to me that an ocean liner could be sitting out there and I’d miss it.”

She covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. “Well, now, that’s the second time you made me laugh, tonight, Mister Price!”

“Mister Price?” George rolled his eyes. “Oh my God. Please, call me George. My dad is Mister Price.”

She hesitated, but finally said, “Well, okay…George.” Then her expression suddenly changed. She was serious now. “It feels good to laugh. We don’t laugh, much, in the Baker house.”

The drive was quiet after that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dueling Stories

The other day, CJ teased Joe in the comments of Joe’s post about how she had just written a scene where Abe Lincoln was involved in a light saber fight just before the Enola Gay took off. Reading that comment this morning — yes, yes, I’m behind on everything right now. I blame the weather and the fact that I’ve had to pull up carpet and try to dry out several rooms of the house more times than I care to remember over the last two weeks. — I wondered when the two of them became mind readers. While that particular scene isn’t one I would ever have thought of, it is a great illustration of where my head has been since finishing my last project.

Usually, before I finish one project, I have another on the mental draft board, ready to go. Actually, I generally have the next two to three projects lined up. Now, they don’t always go in the order I initially envision, but it is usually one of the two or three I’ve been plotting out and/or researching that moves to the head of the line.

cover1 (1)Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) threw that process out the window. What I didn’t know was it would slam the window shut and try to lock it. You see, I hadn’t planned on writing Sword. At least not anytime in the near future. But, Myrtle the Muse had other ideas and she beat me about the figurative head and shoulders until I gave in and wrote the book. I may have muttered — okay, I screamed and whined and did more than a bit of cursing  — but I gave in, assuming that I’d be able to get back to my schedule as soon as I pushed out the book.

Fast forward to a month or so ago. Sword was finished and off to my editor. I sat down and looked at my notes for both Honor from Ashes, the third book in the Honor and Duty series, and Nocturnal Challenge, the fourth book in the Nocturnal Lives series. My gut was telling me I needed to push out Challenge. It had been back burnered for a bit and the plot was finally coming together in my head.

Except — and you knew there had to be an except, right? — Myrtle the Muse had decided she liked playing with my head. Nooooo, she wasn’t ready for me to move on to another series. She wanted me to at least map out not just the sequel to Sword but the book after that. The dull thudding you heard a week ago was me pounding my head against the wall. There was an accompanying wail of “Why me?”.

Ah, but Myrtle the Muse is nothing if not fickle. After plotting out the next two books, nothing extensive but getting down a few notes on the main plot arc and some world building notes, good ole Myrtle decided that I wouldn’t work on those just yet. Head, meet desk.

Now I have three books in my head, all demanding my attention and a Muse that has decided to go digging through my subconscious looking for something else to bring forth to torment me. Myrtle is an evil Muse and gets off on making my life more difficult than it needs to be.

Seriously, even though I have three strong plots running through my head, I finally figured out what has been stopping me. It isn’t the pretty patterns of my screensaver that comes on if I let the laptop sit too long without doing something. It isn’t even writer’s block. I could write either of the three books right now but they would be far from my best work because I’m not in the right mental space for them at the moment.

No, it is simply that I have put out three (four?) fairly serious novels in a row and I need to do something lighter, dare I say fluffier, right now. (AJ, quit bouncing up and down and high-fiving Jess or I’ll think you are responsible for all the craziness Myrtle the Muse has been putting me through!) So, with the house to myself yesterday, I turned off the internet, streamed a bunch of stuff off Netflix that could run as background noise without distracting me, and gave Myrtle my head. The result was almost 15,000 words on Skeletons in the Closet.  What that means, other than the fact it means AJ and Jess will quit asking me if I’m working on the darned thing, is I have this very strong mix of Texas/Deep South voice in my head, so strong nothing else will get written until this is done.

Or until I kill Myrtle the Muse because it is all her fault.

And, just so you can see how strong Lexie Smithson happens to be, and how screwed up her family life is, here is a short snippet (unedited and from the opening of the novel).

In the beginning . . . .

All my life, my mama’s tried to raise me to be a proper lady.  No, that’s not quite right.  She’s tried to raise me to be a proper SOUTHERN lady, full of refinement and grace, dressed in lace and delicate pastels.  To hear her talk, it’s been a futile effort that’s caused her more than her fair share of gray hair.  And, where the lace and pastels are concerned, she’s right.  Still, she’s managed to get me to say, “yes, ma’am,” and “no, sir”.  For the most part, I’m respectful of my elders, even when they don’t deserve it.  I even wear clean underwear whenever I leave the house – usually without any extraneous holes in it – because Mama is convinced some rampaging bus will find me and strike me down, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

I swear, I think it’s her life’s dream that it will actually happen.  You see, in her world, a trip to the ER has only one ending.  The handsome, rich and oh-so-conveniently single doctor who saves my life will fall madly in love with me.  What she seems to forget is that in a bus vs. me battle, the bus will always win.  So, unless the doctor is also a re-animator, he’d be falling for a corpse and, well, ewwwwww!

Besides, having somehow managed to survive a close encounter of the nearly fatal kind, the last thing I’d be interested in is finding a man to settle down and raise a passel of kids with.  Not that it would deter Mama one little bit.  Hell, she’d probably arrive at the ER with her minister firmly in tow, a marriage license burning a hole in her hand bag, all ready to fill in the blanks and make me a married woman.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, my mama rarely lets reality interfere with her plans.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can deal with Mama’s plans and manipulations.  I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out how.  All I have to do is make sure I look both ways before crossing the street.  Of course, the odds of a bus hitting me here in Misty Creek are about as good as the odds of Hell freezing over.  So I figure I’m safe – at least for the time being.

Knock on wood.

Because sure as my name’s Lexie Smithson, the minute I get married and move out, Mama will be packing her bags to join me.  It won’t matter if I want her to or not.  All she’d care about is finally being able to get away from Papa and the rest of the family.  It wouldn’t even matter that I’m the least favorite of her kids.  Like I said, reality rarely interferes with my mama’s plans.

Of course, I am an ungrateful and unobliging child.  I’ve no more found a bus to hit me than I’ve been able to keep the family skeletons in the closet.  The former I have no control over and the latter, well, I swear I don’t mean to let them out.  At least not usually.  It’s just that they make so much noise, what with all their moaning and the rattling of their bones.  Sometimes I just can’t help it.

It doesn’t help that it always seems to happen at the worst possible time.  Like when Mama’s women’s group was meeting in our parlor last Sunday after church.  Mama had just served the iced tea and lemon pound cake.  She’d even managed to make the house smell more like a garden than a funeral parlor.  Everything had been as close to perfect as was ever possible in our place.

Then Aunt Minnie decided she just had to join in on the fun.

Now I ask you, was it my fault she wanted to be a part of the meeting?  She’d been a member of that women’s group since the very first meeting more than twenty years ago.  Everyone there knew her.  Just as Mama knew she was there – how could you forget?  Besides, all Aunt Minnie had wanted was to find out what the no-account scoundrel of an ex-husband of her had been doing with the new church secretary.  Really.

I swear, those women sure did over-react when Aunt Minnie rattled in and sat on the settee next to Miss Pearl.  You’d have thought Miss Pearl had seen a ghost the way she shrieked and then fainted dead away.  Okay, maybe Aunt Minnie smelled a bit.  But we’d buried her in her best Sunday-go-to-meeting dress and it was just as pretty that afternoon as it had been at her funeral six months ago.  Mr. Perez, the local undertaker, had even been by just the day before to give Aunt Minnie one of her treatments.  So she looked pretty much like she had before she passed.  Sure, her skin sagged a bit more than it used to and she had a slightly yellow tinge, but that was all.  Really.

Besides, old Missus McIntyre was wearing enough lilac scent to cover the smell.

There’s more. Heaven help me, there is more. And Lexie is proving that, despite all her mother’s training and hope, she is not a proper Southern lady. Not the way she has elbowed every other story out of the way so I will finally write hers. Now she is demanding I get my second cup of coffee of the morning and get back to work on her story. I’ve spent enough time working on something else.  😉

Open House

In a couple of my blogs I’ve written about story ideas. Sometimes, I get the inspiration from paintings, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, but mostly I get ideas from real life experiences. There is one event that, although I have not used it yet, continues to stick with me. It is one of those experiences we all have that remains lurking in the back of our minds for months or even years. In this case, it was an open house I conducted just last year.

An open house is when a home seller, either through a realtor or by themselves, opens up their home for an afternoon for prospective buyers to parade through and give it a look-over. I’m sure you have all seen an “open house” sign in front of a home at some point. Anyway, as a real estate investor, I occasionally use this exercise when placing a property on the market. Actually, it has proven to be a rather effective tool by consolidating at least several individual showings into just a few hours.

One of the drawbacks to conducting an open house, however, is that anybody in the neighborhood or off the street may stop in, whether they are a serious buyer or not. Sometimes, neighbor families of up to four or five will stop in just out of sheer curiosity. This is what I like to cynically call, “real estate tourism.” Of course, these are not true prospects and, in a practical sense, a waste of time for sellers when the bottom line of the real estate business is all about “the numbers.”

With the cold, hard numbers in mind, one open house showing I specifically remember was early last summer when an elderly woman, perhaps in her 70s or 80s, stopped in with a friend. The woman, Edie, was interested only in seeing the house since we had cleaned it up. And actually, she and I talked mostly about everything but the house. She talked about her family and about when she was young, during World War Two.

Yes, when thinking about “the numbers,” as I mentioned, she was wasting our time. But, aside from being so friendly and kind-hearted, she actually was interesting.

However, what sticks in mind the most about Edie was her Alzheimer’s disease, which had her repeating her stories three or four times. In the beginning, it seemed rather sweet, but to this day, even a year later, I wonder how she handles it and hope, as I get older, that I don’t have to find out firsthand what it is like to forget that I already told “that story.” I wonder if she ever figures out that she tells the same stories and does the same things two, three or four times over again. At the time, she didn’t seem to grasp that she was repeating her stories, but what I still wonder most is if she gets frustrated by it all.

Then, a week or two later, as you might have expected, Edie stopped by to tour the house again. She was so curious and enthusiastic about seeing the home “for the first time” since we had cleaned it up.

It really hit my heart both times to watch Edie go through this. Her friend seemed to take it all in stride, though, probably because Alzheimer’s is a fact of life that, thus far, is out of our mortal control.

While this experience may or may not influence any of my stories or other fictional writings, it is obvious it has had an effect and, having written this, probably something I’ll remember for quite a while.

 

Sunday snippet

Vengeance(Good morning, all, and welcome to our first Sunday snippet. For the next month or so, we’ll be posting short(ish) excerpts from things we have published or that are close to being published. I’m going to kick things off with a snippet from Vengeance from Ashes, the first book of the Honor and Duty series I’m writing under the pen name Sam Schall. So, without any further ado, here we go. Of course, as with everything on the site, copyright resides with the author of the post. Thanks!)

Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)
by Sam Schall

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years in Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. Still they had come close. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

Just as she knew she’d been betrayed by the government she’d served and had been ready to die for.

What she didn’t know was why. Why had she been betrayed? Worse, why had those who’d served loyally at her side been targeted?

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s infirmary for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit – hell, as far as she knew it was his overt – approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the infirmary. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what had happened.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. Even though she hadn’t been ready to believe them, they had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Even so, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her that the best course of action was to remain silent unless it was imperative that she speak. That wasn’t to say there hadn’t been times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore the scars to prove it. All she wanted now was to live through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved hand closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain, she staggered back. The short chain connecting her ankles tripped her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw. But don’t get your hopes up that it means the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those poor bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was happening?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and then closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It didn’t take long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were soft voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything – not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was – Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to do anything foolish, he turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, almost a week later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know her fears were true – the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her unit, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right along with her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right – or at least as all right as anyone could be after being sentenced to the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She had just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner. It could have been something worn by any worker on the docks or in a warehouse. That should have reassured her but for one thing. There was nothing about the guard’s manner to indicate she was about to be freed. In that moment, she’d come the closest to breaking her rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to” than she had been since her first few days on Tarsus.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back before locking her safety harness in place but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if FleetCom was afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation. Nor had she asked for one. It would be a long time before she forgot that lesson. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that almost always resulted in painful punishment. She might not be on Tarsus any longer but that didn’t mean things would be any different here. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus and she wasn’t willing to risk it now that she was home.

Freed of her restraints and alone, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Almost exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on taking that route out. At least not anymore. No, there were others who needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead – or worse – before she actually found it.

At least the guard didn’t close the physical door. For the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. It might not be the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet. That didn’t matter. All that did was the fact that the open cell door gave her at least some semblance of not being completely cut off from all other life on the planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, Ashlyn remained where she was, motionless except for the rise and fall of her chest and the slow blinking of her eyes. She listened, counting his footsteps as they slowly faded away. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she had focused on what was directly in front of her. She had not wanted to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her look around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a just a little.

Once convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking to her left, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone – again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching over security monitors see her curiosity or her concern.

This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on the military courts to finally get it right. Once free, she’d deal those who’d betrayed her and then she’d find a way to free those who had been sent to the penal colony with her. After that, she really didn’t give a damn about what happened.

***

Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1) and all my other novels are available from Amazon or you can check out our “Publications Page” for a complete listing and links.